Why Are Bond Yields Rising? Will Mortgage Rates Follow?
Bond markets have tanked in the past several weeks, driving yields upward. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been wiped out in global bond markets. Ten-year government bond yields in Canada have risen 50 basis points (bps) in the past month as Treasury yields have jumped 32 bps. The rate increases in sovereign European bonds have been even greater, up roughly 60 bps for core Europe, albeit from extremely low levels. At today’s postings, 10-year Government of Canada bonds (GOCs) yields are at about 1.80% while 10-year Treasuries are at 2.24%.
In contrast, shorter-term yields are little changed. Yields on bonds worldwide coming due in one to three years — those most tied to interest-rate expectations — have remained little changed. Basically, fixed-income investors are signaling that they don’t expect central banks to begin hiking rates anytime soon. Indeed, JPMorgan Chase & Co. added to economic pessimism yesterday by revising down its estimate of U.S. Q2 growth to 2% from an earlier 2.5% on the heels of weaker-than-expected retail sales data.
This comes a month before the Fed’s next meeting where policy makers will resume their debate over whether the economy is robust enough to warrant the first interest-rate hike since 2008. I don’t expect the Fed to raise rates in June and even a September rate hike is in question. So why are longer-term bond yields rising?
Bond markets were overbought earlier this year with widespread economic pessimism, especially in Europe, and ongoing deflation fears. In recent weeks, however, oil prices have rebounded with West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude, the U.S. benchmark, climbing more than $17 a barrel from a six-year low of $43.46 on March 17. WTI is currently hovering around $60.00 a barrel. This rise in oil prices has dissipated fears of widespread deflation.
Euro pessimism has also diminished. After spending the end of last year slashing 2015 growth forecasts for the euro zone, economists are raising estimates again. As recently as February economists were calling for the euro zone to grow 1.1% this year. Now they’ve raised their median forecast to 1.4%, according to a Bloomberg survey.
Overbought positions have corrected. Data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission show investors started 2015 with the biggest bet on U.S. government bonds in seven years. By the end of the first quarter, more than half that position was gone.
Will Higher Bond Yields Lead to Higher Mortgage Rates in Canada?
Probably not, at least for variable mortgage rates, even though interest rate spreads at financial institutions have been further squeezed. This has been one of the most competitive spring mortgage markets in years. Fixed mortgage rates could rise roughly 30 basis points if bond yields rise further. But today’s release of negative producer prices in the U.S. and disappointing retail sales suggest that further rate hikes will be muted.