The Feds cut rates, but mortgage rates go up -Why?

Most people think if the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates, mortgage rates will go down as well. This simply is not true. The rates you pay on credit cards, auto loans, and mortgage rates are not set by the Federal Reserve. However the Federal Reserve does affect what is known as the Federal Fund Target Rate. Here are the details.

Federal Fund Rate
The Federal Reserve meets on a regular basis to monitor the Federal Fund Target rate. They decide during this meeting whether to increase or lower the rate. So the target is the rate. The real rate changes daily, but is usually real close to the target rate determined by the fed. The Federal Fund Rate is the rate that the banks charge each other for overnight loans. If a bank is low on funds it borrows the money from a fellow bank. The loan will be based on the Federal Fund rate set by the Federal Reserve. Banks are required to keep a certain amount of reserves in their bank or vault, typically around 10%. So at the end of the day if the bank only has 9 % reserves in the bank, they are required to borrow the rest from another bank at the Federal Fund rate. Understanding the Federal Fund rate is key to understanding why a rate cut with the Federal Reserve does not dictate mortgage interest rates.

Investment Groups
Now we are going to take a look at how investment groups dealing with mortgage paper do business. These groups of investors convince pension managers and insurance companies to invest their money in their investment fund. They then turn around and lend that money to people like you and me that need mortgages. Typically these investors will turn around and sell these loans on the secondary market at Wall Street for a nice profit. The process is continued over and over.

Mortgage backed Securities
Let’s assume you are the head of the investment fund. Your job is to make as much money as you can on the loans you have in your portfolio, so you can sell them easily on Wall Street. So the higher the interest rate for the borrower the more money everyone makes. Wall Street will bundle these loans which are commonly called “mortgage backed securities.” These securities are traded on Wall Street just like any other stock. As long as investors on Wall Street are buying mortgage backed securities all is good.

As the head of a investment fund are you going to be more worried about the Federal Fund Rate (the rate banks charge other banks to borrow money) or will you be concerned with the markets performance of mortgage backed securities? If you guessed mortgage backed securities you guessed right. The manager will be more concerned about how the market is dong for what it has to sell in its pool of loans. So the mortgage backed securities market dictates interest rates we pay.

So it is very simple to see that the Federal Reserve rate is the rate at which banks borrow money from each other overnight. This will not have much of an affect on how consumers borrow money over 30 years. However the lowest rates in history were at a time when the Feds cut interest rates at an all time low. So indirectly the Fed Fund Rate can affect mortgage interest rates. But it is important to understand that it does not directly affect mortgage rates. The Federal Reserve affects financial markets, which in turn could affect mortgage interest rates down the road. But typically mortgage rates are affected by the market for Mortgage Backed Securities. So if the Federal Reserve drops rates on Monday, that does not mean interest rates will drop on Tuesday.

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