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As Stocks Tumble, Lenders Take a Hit

down-stock-marketThe Dow Jones industrial average closed down 1,200 points on Monday, after having dropped 1,500 points earlier in the day. This came on the heels of a 666-point drop in the Dow last Friday. With the Standard & Poor’s index down in four out of the last five sessions and Nasdaq won the last six out of eight, what’s causing this level of investor skittishness, and what does it mean for the housing industry?

The Washington Post throws the stock turmoil into stark relief, pointing out that the Dow “has swung more than 2,100 points in the last two sessions, a decline pushing more than 8 percent and shattering long-term momentum.” The Post cites changes at the Fed as one likely contributing factor, with new Fed Chair Jerome Powell having just taken over from the departing Janet Yellen. While Powell, who was officially sworn in on Monday, is widely expected to continue many of the cautious policy approaches championed by Yellen during her time in the role, a new Fed Chair can nevertheless contribute a level of uncertainty into the economic landscape.

The Post cites investor concerns that Powell and the Fed will accelerate interest rate hikes, which could slow the economy. The Fed increased their benchmark interest rates to a range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent in December, but left them unchanged at last week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. Analysts expect another rate hike to come in March, following the first FOMC meeting under Powell, with several more rate hikes being widely predicted throughout 2018. Further interest rate hikes would drive up mortgage rates, which, when combined with widespread affordability and inventory issues throughout many parts of the country, could make the difference between many potential homebuyers choosing to purchase a home or stick with the rental market.

In a video posted to the Fed’s website Monday, Powell said, “Today, unemployment is low, the economy is growing, and inflation is low. Through our decisions on monetary policy, we will support continued economic growth, a healthy job market and price stability." Powell also stated his belief that the financial system is now stronger and more resilient than in the days of the housing crisis. “We intend to keep it that way," Powell added. "My colleagues and I will remain vigilant, and we are prepared to respond to evolving risks."

During an appearance on CBS Sunday Morning, Yellen praised Powell, saying, “I've worked with Gov. Powell for five years, very constructively," Yellen said. "He is thoughtful, balanced, dedicated to public service. I've found him to be a very thoughtful policymaker."

As one of Yellen’s final acts, the Fed announced on Friday that it would restrict Wells Fargo’s growth due to “widespread consumer abuses." The Fed is limiting Wells Fargo from growing any larger than its total assets at the end of 2017 until such time as “sufficient improvements” have been made. In response, Wells Fargo announced that it would be replacing four directors by the end of the year. Shares of Wells Fargo stock fell 9.2 percent on Monday, as of this writing.

During an appearance on CNBC’s Power Lunch, veteran banking analyst Dick Bove downplayed the impact of the Fed’s actions, saying, “There will be no reduction in the ability of this company to lend money, take in deposits, or operate the way they have historically.”

Investors are likely also watching the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds. As the Post explains, “Bond yields are rising as the Federal Reserve trims its U.S. bond holdings. The U.S. Treasury is also having to borrow more money, partly because of the tax cuts, and issuing more debt tends to raise yields.”

There are other potential landmines on the horizon as well. After a brief government shutdown followed by a stopgap agreement in late January, the government is once again poised to shut down unless the House and Senate can come to terms. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office announced that if the debt ceiling is not raised by mid-March, “the government would be unable to pay its obligations fully, and it would delay making payments for its activities, default on its debt obligations, or both.”

David Kelly, Chief Global Strategist for JPMorgan Asset Management, told ABC News, "It's like a kid at a child's party who, after an afternoon of cake and ice cream, eats one more cookie and that puts them over the edge."

On Monday, Wells Fargo shares sank $5.91 to $58.16, a drop of 9.22 percent. Bank of America closed at $30.26, down 5.29 percent. JPMorgan Chase dropped 4.80 percent to close at $108.80.

About Author: David Wharton

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