In her semi-annual testimony to Congress, Fed Chair Yellen said that the Fed expects that economic progress will call for "further gradual increases" in the federal funds rate. She also said that it would be "unwise" to wait too long to hike rates. Yellen later added that the Fed will consider in coming months when to begin to reduce the Fed's holdings of MBS. Of note, she said that the Fed will not sell MBS to shrink the holdings, but rather will stop replacing principal reductions. The expected pace of tightening by the Fed increased a little after her testimony, causing MBS to decline.
The recently released Fed Minutes and testimony from Fed Chair Yellen have provided more detail in some areas about future Fed policy. There are two primary tools that the Fed is currently using, bond purchases and the fed funds rate. Bond purchases from the Fed, which include both Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS), exert a direct influence on mortgage rates. The added demand for MBS from the Fed raises MBS prices. Since mortgage rates are set based on MBS prices, this helps keep mortgage rates low. The Fed's portfolio of MBS has been growing at a scheduled pace as the Fed has been reinvesting principal payments received and adding new MBS. The Fed has been tapering its bond purchases, though, and the Minutes indicated that the purchases of new MBS will end in October as expected. After that time, the Fed plans to continue to reinvest principal payments received, which will hold the size of its portfolio steady, at least until the first fed funds rate hike. Principal payments have been averaging $16 billion per month, so investors were pleased that the reinvestment will continue for quite a while. The fed funds rate, a very short-term interest rate, has [...]