United States Prime Rate

also known as the Fed, National or United States Prime Rate,
from the interest-rate specialists at www.FedPrimeRate.comSM

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Third FOMC Meeting of 2009 Adjourned: Prime Rate Remains at 3.25%

FOMC votes to leave short-term rates unchanged; Prime Rate holds at 3.25%The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the Federal Reserve has just adjourned its third monetary policy meeting of 2009 and, in accordance with our most recent forecast, has voted to leave short-term interest rates at their current levels. Therefore, the benchmark target range for the federal funds rate will remain at 0% - 0.25%, and the Wall Street Journal® Prime Rate (also known as the U.S., national or Fed Prime Rate) will remain at the current 3.25%.

Here's a clip from the FOMC press release:

"...Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in March indicates that the economy has continued to contract, though the pace of contraction appears to be somewhat slower. Household spending has shown signs of stabilizing but remains constrained by ongoing job losses, lower housing wealth, and tight credit. Weak sales prospects and difficulties in obtaining credit have led businesses to cut back on inventories, fixed investment, and staffing. Although the economic outlook has improved modestly since the March meeting, partly reflecting some easing of financial market conditions, economic activity is likely to remain weak for a time. Nonetheless, the Committee continues to anticipate that policy actions to stabilize financial markets and institutions, fiscal and monetary stimulus, and market forces will contribute to a gradual resumption of sustainable economic growth in a context of price stability.

In light of increasing economic slack here and abroad, the Committee expects that inflation will remain subdued. Moreover, the Committee sees some risk that inflation could persist for a time below rates that best foster economic growth and price stability in the longer term.

In these circumstances, the Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote economic recovery and to preserve price stability. The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and anticipates that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period. As previously announced, to provide support to mortgage lending and housing markets and to improve overall conditions in private credit markets, the Federal Reserve will purchase a total of up to $1.25 trillion of agency mortgage-backed securities and up to $200 billion of agency debt by the end of the year. In addition, the Federal Reserve will buy up to $300 billion of Treasury securities by autumn. The Committee will continue to evaluate the timing and overall amounts of its purchases of securities in light of the evolving economic outlook and conditions in financial markets. The Federal Reserve is facilitating the extension of credit to households and businesses and supporting the functioning of financial markets through a range of liquidity programs. The Committee will continue to carefully monitor the size and composition of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet in light of financial and economic developments.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Elizabeth A. Duke; Charles L. Evans; Donald L. Kohn; Jeffrey M. Lacker; Dennis P. Lockhart; Daniel K. Tarullo; Kevin M. Warsh; and Janet L. Yellen..."

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Second Lien Plan Will Help Homeowners Struggling with Second Mortgages

Second Mortgages
Second Mortgages
The Obama administration has a new plan to help homeowners who are struggling to keep up with their second mortgages. It's called the Second Lien Program, and it will be active in about a month. Here's a clip from the Treasury Department website:

"...The Second Lien Program announced today will work in tandem with first lien modifications offered under the Home Affordable Modification Program to deliver a comprehensive affordability solution for struggling borrowers. Second mortgages can create significant challenges in helping borrowers avoid foreclosure, even when a first lien is modified. Up to 50 percent of at-risk mortgages have second liens, and many properties in foreclosure have more than one lien. Under the Second Lien Program, when a Home Affordable Modification is initiated on a first lien, servicers participating in the Second Lien Program will automatically reduce payments on the associated second lien according to a pre-set protocol. Alternatively, servicers will have the option to extinguish the second lien in return for a lump sum payment under a pre-set formula determined by Treasury, allowing servicers to target principal extinguishment to the borrowers where extinguishment is most appropriate..."

And here's some more insight from a Bloomberg article:

"...Mortgage delinquencies increased to a seasonally adjusted 7.88 percent of all loans in the fourth quarter, the highest in records going back to 1972, according to figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington. Loans in foreclosure rose to 3.3 percent, up from 2.04 percent a year earlier.

Obama’s overall plan to reduce foreclosures by modifying mortgages targets as many as 4 million homeowners. As many as half of the participants in the mortgage-modification program may be eligible for the second-lien assistance, administration officials said.

Congressional Action

The administration also intends to urge action by Congress to make Hope for Homeowners easier to use and more accessible, the administration officials said. The program is primarily aimed at borrowers who are “underwater,” owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

No other legislative changes are required for the administration’s revised housing plans to take effect, the officials said.

The new measures may ease mortgage investors’ concerns that the biggest banks and servicers would be tempted to rework too many loans under the program in order to bolster their home- equity portfolios, Laurie Goodman, an analyst at Amherst Securities Group LP in New York, said in a telephone interview.

“Certainly, it appears that the Treasury has listened to first-lien investors,” Goodman said. Today’s announcement “goes a very long way toward addressing their objections,” she said.

Second-Lien Program

The second-lien program should be up and running in about a month, the officials said. They estimated that about 75 percent of all U.S. mortgages are managed by servicers that already have agreed to participate in the government’s modification programs. Servicers are administrators in the relationship between lenders and borrowers.

The mortgage initiative offers subsidies to servicers and lenders, including bond investors, to help lower borrowers’ housing payments to 31 percent of their income. Because modifications are voluntary, the Treasury is offering incentive fees to encourage participation in the program.

The $12,000 in possible incentive fees has several components. Many of the fees are paid over time, as an incentive for borrowers and servicers to strike deals that will last.

When modifying first mortgages, servicers can receive $1,000 up front, and $1,000 per year for three years. If the mortgage being modified is eligible and not yet delinquent, they can also receive $500, for a maximum possible total of $4,500.

Reducing Principle

Then borrowers who make their new payments can get up to $1,000 per year for five years, up to a total of $5,000. This money is paid to the lender or investor who holds the first mortgage, and it reduces the borrower’s principle.

When a second mortgage is also modified, the servicer on that mortgage can get a $500 up-front fee, plus $250 per year for three years, for a maximum possible total of $1,250. The borrower also is eligible for an additional $250 per year for five years, again paid toward the principle on their primary mortgage..."

"...The Treasury announced today that second-mortgage holders will be given a subsidy to reduce the borrower’s interest rates to as low as 1 percent. Alternatively, the lien holder could receive as much as 12 cents on the dollar to retire the debt. There also are incentives in place for first-mortgage holders.

In the case of a sample borrower with a $250,000 interest- only first mortgage with a 6 percent rate, leading to housing expenses equal to 40 percent of the borrower’s income, the government may pay about $2,625 annually to help reduce those payments for five years, according to an Amherst Securities Group report in February.

If that borrower also had a $43,942 second mortgage with an 8.6 percent rate, the government may bear half of the $2,336 annual cost of reducing the payment for five years under the plan announced today, according to data released by the Treasury..."

Even more insight from a recent Associated Press article:

"...During the housing boom, lenders readily gave out "piggyback" second loans that allowed consumers to make small down payments or avoid them entirely. While home prices soared, such mortgages were even extended to borrowers with poor credit scores and people who didn't provide proof of their incomes or assets.

But those loans, which are attached to about half of all troubled mortgages, have been an obstacle to efforts to alleviate the housing crisis. That's because borrowers who are trying to get their primary mortgage modified at a lower monthly payment need the permission of the company holding the second mortgage.

The new plan aims to get rid of that roadblock, administration officials said. "We're offering even more opportunities for borrowers," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a statement.

The new incentives are estimated to help up to 1.5 million borrowers with second mortgages, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan said. While data on how many household have been helped by the Obama administration's housing plans are not available, Donovan told reporters there have been "hundreds of thousands of applications."

The administration's second mortgage initiative will be funded out of $50 billion in financial rescue money already allocated. As an incentive to modify second loans at lower interest rates, mortgage companies would get $500 upfront for each modified loan, plus $250 a year for three years as long as the borrower doesn't default.

Similarly, borrowers would get up to $1,000 over five years applied to the principal balance of their primary mortgage, and the government would pick up part of investors' costs as well. Lenders would also be given the ability to remove second mortgages entirely in exchange for larger government payouts.

The administration also plans to give mortgage companies $2,500 payments to entice them to participate in the "Hope for Homeowners" program. It was launched by the government last fall but has so far has been a failure, proving unattractive to banks required to absorb large losses.

It was supposed to allow 400,000 troubled homeowners to swap risky loans for traditional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with lower rates. Instead only one loan has received final approval, with about 50 more in the works and fewer than 1,000 applications.

The program has been stymied by high fees, complex regulations and a requirement that banks absorb large losses. The Obama administration supports legislation in Congress to ease those restrictions.

Meanwhile, the faltering economy is causing the housing crisis to spread. Nationwide, nearly 804,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice from January through March, up from about 650,000 in the same period a year earlier, according to RealtyTrac Inc., a foreclosure listing firm..."

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Futures Market 100% Certain Prime Rate Will Hold At 3.25% After Wednesday's Fed Meeting

prime rate forecastThe Fed's next decision on short-term interest rates will be on Wednesday, and the futures market is now 100% certain that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will vote to leave short-term rates at their current levels. This means the U.S. Prime Rate will remain at the current 3.25%.

Rate News from Canada: Overnight Rate Now 0.25%

Last Tuesday, the Bank of Canada, which is Canada's central bank, cut its benchmark overnight target interest rate from 0.5% to 0.25%, which in turn caused the Canadian Prime Rate to drop from 2.50% to 2.25%. Canada's overnight rate is now on par with the Fed's benchmark rate. 0.25% is a brand new record low for Canada's central bank (the bank was founded in 1934) and it's the lowest it can possibly go. Here's a clip from the press release issued last week:

"...In an environment of continued high uncertainty, the global recession has intensified and become more synchronous since the Bank's January Monetary Policy Report Update, with weaker-than-expected activity in all major economies. Deteriorating credit conditions have spread quickly through trade, financial, and confidence channels. While more aggressive monetary and fiscal policy actions are underway across the G20, measures to stabilize the global financial system have taken longer than expected to enact. As a result, the recession in Canada will be deeper than anticipated, with the economy projected to contract by 3.0 per cent in 2009. The Bank now expects the recovery to be delayed until the fourth quarter and to be more gradual. The economy is projected to grow by 2.5 per cent in 2010 and 4.7 per cent in 2011, and to reach its production capacity in the third quarter of 2011. Given significant restructuring in a number of sectors, potential growth has been revised down. The recovery will be importantly supported by the Bank's accommodative monetary stance..."
In other economic news:

  • According to the latest Commerce Department report on new home sales, the cost of a brand new home at the end of last month was about the same as it was at the end of 2003. The latest figures were released last Friday, with the median price on a newly built home dropping from $208,700 during February to $201,400 during March. Click here for historical prices and a chart.
  • Preliminary existing home sales figures were released by the National Association of Realtors® last Thursday. The report indicated that the median price on a previously occupied home has increased since the start of 2009:

    -- January: $164,800
    -- February: $168,200
    -- March: $175,200

    Click here for historical prices and a chart.

As of right now, the investors who trade in fed funds futures at the Chicago Board of Trade have odds at 100% (as implied by current pricing on contracts) that the FOMC will vote to leave the benchmark target range for the Federal Funds Rate at its current level at the April 29TH, 2009 monetary policy meeting.

Summary of the Latest Prime Rate Forecast:
  • Current odds that the Prime Rate will remain at the current 3.25% after the April 29TH, 2009 FOMC monetary policy meeting is adjourned: 100% (certain)
  • NB: U.S. Prime Rate = (The Federal Funds Target Rate + 3)

The odds related to federal-funds futures contracts -- widely accepted as the best predictor of where the FOMC will take the benchmark Fed Funds Target Rate -- are constantly changing, so stay tuned for the latest odds.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Futures Market 97% Certain Prime Rate Will Hold At 3.25% After The April 29 Fed Meeting

prime rate forecastLast Friday, the Labor Department announced that American employers shed another 663,000 jobs last month, and that the unemployment rate rose from 8.1% for February to 8.5% for March. Employers have eliminated over 5 million jobs since the recession began at the end of 2007, and the total number of jobless people in the USA is now 13.2 million.

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that there were 669,000 new claims from unemployment benefits during the week that ended on March 28, 2009. During the week that ended on March 21, there were 5,728,000 people collecting an unemployment check across the country.

In housing news, the latest S+P / Case-Shiller report on home prices was released last Tuesday. The following are some notable price declines for the January 2008 through January 2009 period:

  • San Francisco: -32.4%
  • San Diego: -24.9%
  • Phoenix: -35.0%
  • Miami: -29.4%
  • Los Angeles: -25.8%
  • Las Vegas: -32.5%
  • Detroit: -22.6%

Over the past 9 years, Detroit has fared the worst of all the major metropolitan areas. The home price index for Detroit came in at 77.56 for January 2009. The baseline score of 100.00 is associated with home prices during January 2000. So, the price of a typical, single-family home in Detroit was down 22.44% when comparing its price during January 2000 to its price during January 2009. Yikes! In contrast, and for some perspective, the index for the New York City metro area came in at 181.28, which indicates an increase of 81.28% for the same period.

Also from Tuesday, The Conference Board reported that its Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) was a very somber 26.0 during March 2009. For the CCI, the baseline 100.00 score is pegged to 1985 survey data.


As of right now, the investors who trade in fed funds futures at the Chicago Board of Trade have odds at 97% (as implied by current pricing on contracts) that the FOMC will vote to leave the benchmark target range for the Federal Funds Rate at its current level at the April 29TH, 2009 monetary policy meeting.

Summary of the Latest Prime Rate Forecast:
  • Current odds that the Prime Rate will remain at the current 3.25% after the April 29TH, 2009 FOMC monetary policy meeting is adjourned: 97% (very likely)
  • NB: U.S. Prime Rate = (The Federal Funds Target Rate + 3)

The odds related to federal-funds futures contracts -- widely accepted as the best predictor of where the FOMC will take the benchmark Fed Funds Target Rate -- are constantly changing, so stay tuned for the latest odds.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Homebuilders Offering Mortgage Rates Below 4 Percent

Homebuilders Offering 4 Percent Mortgages
Home builders Offering 4 Percent Mortgages
Home builders like Lennar, Hovnanian Enterprises and Toll Brothers are offering qualified customers mortgage rates below 4% in an effort to generate sales. Here's a clip from a recent WSJ article:

"...As mortgage rates fall to near historic lows, some home builders are offering even lower interest rates, in an effort to lure buyers amid the slow spring selling season.

The latest sales promotion: Lennar Corp. is offering a fixed 3.625% rate over the life of a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. The deal is besting average rates that have fallen below 5% nationwide, but it comes as other builders are reporting mixed results from similar incentives.

Hovnanian Enterprises Inc.'s recent offer of a 3.99% rate sparked "underwhelming" interest from home buyers, says Dan Klinger, president of the builder's mortgage operation. "It wasn't like we needed crowd control," says Mr. Klinger.

Earlier this year, luxury builder Toll Brothers Inc. was offering a 3.99% interest rate in many of its developments nationwide, but today that rate is no longer available nationally. Toll executives have said that the promotion boosted traffic to its Web site, but the low rate alone hasn't been enough to break weak consumer confidence that is still weighing on the market.

Bargain mortgage rates are the latest sales strategy from builders struggling to sell homes. Mounting unemployment continues dogging the sector, because people without jobs, or those afraid of losing one, are unlikely to purchase, no matter how low the rate.

Since the downturn began, builders have tried everything from free tropical vacations to subsidized closing costs in order to move inventory. They then cut costs and even offered layaway plans for down payments.

For home buyers, the low mortgage rates from the builders represent significant savings. But be wary of the fine print: Lennar is offering the 30-year rate "on select homes," and the loan amount cannot exceed $417,000. The minimum credit score is 700, which is a relatively high score in the current environment. In addition, it could be hard for buyers to come up with the minimum 10% down payment that Lennar requires to qualify for the 3.625% rate.

The builders' low rates may help first-time home buyers, "but it's not going to goose the trade-up market," says Thomas Lawler, a housing economist. "That's because most trade-up buyers use the equity from their previous home for a down payment, and that equity often doesn't exist any more."

KB Home is one builder that isn't chasing buyers with low mortgage rates, for now. Instead, the Los Angeles builder is focusing on offering smaller houses that are competitively priced with foreclosed houses. The strategy seems to be helping KB, which reported on Friday that its sales improved more than some analysts expected..."

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