How Will the Fed’s Vote to Raise Rates Impact Mortgages?

December 20, 2018

The Federal Reserve voted to raise interest rates on Wednesday--the fourth time this year. The real estate industry is watching closely to see how the latest round of increases will impact mortgage rates heading into 2019. While the Fed’s short-term interest rate is not directly tied to mortgage rates, it does usually have an influence on borrowing costs.

Fed's vote to raise rates

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The Federal Open Markets Committee announced after its two-day December meeting that it would be raising the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to a targeted range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. This follows raises this year in March, June, and September, and marks the ninth time the Fed has raised its rate since December 2015 (when its rate was nearly zero).

“[The] rate hike means borrowing gets costlier, especially for credit cards, home equity lines of credit, and borrowers with adjustable rate mortgages,” says Greg McBride, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. “Consumers should aggressively pay down debt, refinance into fixed rates, and grab zero percent credit card offers to insulate against additional rate hikes and accelerate debt repayment.”

Can the housing market withstand potentially higher rates heading into 2019? The housing market has been among one of the first sectors of the U.S. economy to slow in recent months. “Low levels of new construction this decade and low borrowing costs fueled sharp price gains, particularly in coastal cities” that have prompted a slowdown in the housing market, The Wall Street Journal reports.

“All of the market was priced as if a 4 percent mortgage would last forever,” Glenn Kelman, chief executive at Redfin, told WSJ. “Consumers had forgotten what a more normal mortgage rate is.”

More mortgage rate volatility is expected in 2019. “Low interest rates have been the key ingredient in this almost 10-year-old bull market and the prospect of rising rates is if it makes other investments look more appealing, it makes growth harder to come by,” McBride says. “Those are the kind of things that make stock investors sell first and ask questions later. And so that’s why we’ve seen the volatility that we have here in 2018. And that’s not going to change as we go into 2019.”

The Fed said its decision to raise rates again was due to strengthening labor markets and economic activity. “Job gains have been strong, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement. “Household spending has continued to grow strongly, while growth of business fixed investment has moderated from its rapid pace earlier in the year. On a 12-month basis, both overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy remain near 2 percent. Indicators of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed, on balance.”

FOMC members have hinted at two rate hikes in 2019. That is down from a previous projection of three rate hikes for next year.

The Fed Finishes the Year With a Fourth Rate Hike,” (Dec. 19, 2018); “Federal Reserve Raises Rates at December Meeting,” HousingWire (Dec. 19, 2018); and “Smaller Fed Moves Have Bigger Market Impacts,” The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 18, 2018) [Log-in required.]