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Getting Past the Next Three Months

  • The bad news: COVID cases have exploded, hospitalization numbers are surging and most people may be slow to get vaccinated.
  • The good news: the fatality rate is dropping and vaccine distribution could start next month.
  • The question is, which news will the bond market pay more attention to? Our guess is the latter.
  • Black swans aside, markets often discount major economic trend shifts over a year in advance. While we may see rate volatility near-term, investors will ultimately look past the short-term rising death toll, knowing things will improve in 2021. Rate predictions and 5 cents will get you 5 cents, but vaccines, a steepening yield curve and ongoing government support do suggest that 5-year yields are at or near their bottom.

Inflation Watch

  • Above-target inflation drives mortgage rates higher. But central banks are telling borrowers not to fret until core inflation runs above the 2% mid-point target. The experts don’t expect that for months. The key word being “expect.”
  • A handful of prominent investors, like Stan Druckenmiller, have made headlines projecting that inflation could overshoot the 2% target by a long shot. Why? He and others say investors aren’t paying enough attention to:
    • Astronomical government spending
    • Deglobalization
    • Pandemic/trade-related supply bottlenecks.
    • Record savings (much of which will be spent in 2021).
    • Firming commodity prices.
  • Institutional rate analysts are also on alert. In the bond market, “the inflation risk premium has risen to around a five-year high,” Bank of America says. Capital Economics adds: “an upside risk for core inflation is brewing given the relatively strong recovery so far in the labour market.” It projects “the economic recovery will far outperform consensus expectations.” TD also reports that “price growth is likely to continue to edge up…”
  • Meanwhile, not a single economist surveyed by Bloomberg thinks Canadian inflation will exceed 2% next year. “…Eventually, what is likely to dominate is the weakness in demand,” BofA concedes. And with lingering unemployment from structural economic damage, wage inflation seems far-fetched in the short- to medium-term.
  • The Fed itself projects no rate hikes until 2023, until inflation is “modestly” above 2%. But it has been quick to remind people that this is not “an unconditional commitment.” Many economists don’t expect consistent 2% inflation for at least 2-3 years. In fact, only three of 55 economists surveyed by Bloomberg currently predict core U.S. inflation will exceed 2.1% next year.
  • All that said, almost no one seems worried about inflation risk, and in financial markets, when nobody seems worried, that’s when we worry. It’s unlikely that inflation will soar in the next five years. That’s a fact. But inflation doesn’t need to skyrocket for mortgage rates to pop 100+ basis points. That’s why managing rate risk with a fair-penalty 5-year fixed remains a valid play for the majority.

BMO Update

  • Curiously, BMO pulled its 5-year fixed rate specials this week.
  • It has added the following special fixed rates:

The 40-year-old (Homeowner) Virgin

Universal Pictures
  • Even his half-million-dollar action figure collection wouldn’t be enough to buy Andy Stitzer an average Toronto home. Chronic price escalation is making our youth wait longer and longer to consummate their first purchase. That story…

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  • Ralph Doncaster says:

    Trader’s also know the trend is your friend. And the trend for the last 2 decades has been lower interest rates. You’re probably right that we are at a short-term bottom, but you’ve also said repeatedly that you can’t time the market…

    • The Spy says:

      Hey Ralph, Timing rates and managing risk are easy to confuse. The former is impossible for virtually everyone beyond the very near term. The later is fundamental to most mortgage term decisions.

      The best analogy I’ve seen came from Scott Adams who said: “If a weather expert tells you what the weather will be on a specific day next year, you can safely ignore him. If he tells you a hurricane is heading your way, it’s a good idea to get out of the way, even if the storm ends up turning. That’s playing the odds.” And that’s risk management.

      And yes, the trend is your friend, until it’s not. We’re not about to call the end of ~2% inflation long-term. But in most secular trends there are smaller cyclical trends. Rates are no different. The market believes it sees an end to the current down cycle ahead. Folks can decide for themselves if that justifies being more conservative with term selection. We report. You decide.

  • Jim says:

    Have economists ever been ahead of the curve?

    • The Spy says:

      Hey Jim, Yep, but generally speaking, not consistently enough to rely on. Economists real value is not in their hopelessly innacurate models and forecasts but in the bits and pieces of insight they share about larger economic concepts.

  • Harry says:

    I have 4 rental properties and all of them are uninsured and are on variable rate, I have started locking the rates up and recently TD offered 1.69% , 4 year fixed which I accepted for 2 of my properties. Wondering if I should do the same for remaining two properties. On these properties currently I have 3 year variable @ 1.60% and their term is going to be over in 2023. Is this good idea, thx

  • Dr-P says:

    Economists are notorious for missing the turns in the economy. They are rear-view mirror kind of people.

  • Harry, that’s a very good rate for a rental. Often banks will charge 10-20bps more on a rental mortgage than owner-occupied.
    Between now and 2023 you may not save anything by switching to the 4yr fixed at 1.69%, but if you have to renew in 2023 you could be looking at a rate of well over 2%.

    It’s a touch choice. Whichever you choose, you are still in a very good financial position.

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