G20 Summit signals global shift on rates and trade - Movement Mortgage Blog

Leaders from 20 of the world’s most powerful economies met this week in Germany for the annual G20 Summit, a confab of monetary policymakers to discuss global economics.

The focus of this year’s G20 was squarely on the new administration in the U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist stances were articulated and defended by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as other leaders sought to soften the new U.S. stance on trade. Simultaneously, world leaders were forced to grapple with the shifting sands on interest rate policy in the U.S. and other nations after a decade of easy money is beginning to lose luster.

In reaction, world markets have been a bit uneasy this week as investors are weighing the G20, the Trump team’s health care and tax agenda, and violence in Great Britain.

I’ll dig into these themes briefly in a moment, but first let’s dissect the G20, what it is and why it matters.

The G20 (stands for Group of Twenty) is an international forum for the governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies. They include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom and the U.S. The 20th member is the European Union.

Together, the G20 members make up 85 percent of the gross world product and two-thirds of its trade. The G20 was formed in 1999 and has met at least once a year since 2008 to study, review and promote policy issues that relate to international financial stability.

The focus of this year’s G20 Summit rested on Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and how he would represent the U.S. Mnuchin was reported to be polite, friendly, pragmatic and well-versed in international economics. “That’s why I think we can do good business together,” Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters, according to Bloomberg.

However, many pro-globalism leaders reported concerns that Mnuchin insisted on moving away from commitments to resist protectionism on trade and to finance the fight against climate change.

Another major issue world economic leaders faced at the G20 is the shifting winds on monetary policy. With the U.S. Federal Reserve raising interest rates in March, and will likely raise again two more times this year, other central banks have been forced to follow suit in order to protect their currency. Banks in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain all raised rates immediately after the Fed hiked its short-term rates last week.

Major central banks in Japan, England and the European Union, while not raising rates, are now facing the reality that aggressive cheap money policies can’t last much longer. Even if central banks in Japan and Europe don’t raise rates now, the chances that their accommodative policies will continue become smaller. As rates in the U.S. move up, other nations would be left with much weaker currencies if they didn’t respond accordingly.

“At the very least, the Fed’s desire to step up the pace of policy normalization has changed the conversation at many central banks globally,” said economist Sean Callow in Sydney, Australia told Reuters.

Here in the U.S., mortgage interest rates and equities have been lower this week as investors digested these world events — but were also faced with Republicans in Washington postponing a vote on major health care legislation. A failure to replace Obamacare by Trump’s administration could raise doubts about how successful some of his other pro-business policies will unfold.

On the housing front, sales of new single-family homes increased by 6.1 percent in February over January, with 592,000  units sold. New home sales increased across all regions except the Northeast, where sales retreated by about 9,000 units from January. The Midwest (+21,000 homes), the South (+11,000) and the West (+11,000) were the strongest regions. Warmer than average weather may have also helped push home sales up, despite rising interest rates.

For mortgage professionals, the past week’s events continue to solidify our view that rates will slowly rise as moderate, but not exceptional, economic growth continues.