Based on information released on Thursday, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke joined in with millions of homeowners to save money last year. He refinanced the mortgage on his Washington, D.C. home. Bernanke’s financial disclosure documents revealed he refinanced into a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at an interest rate of 4.25%. In 2011, the average interest rate for a 30-year mortgage was 4.45%.
In early July, the same product fell to its lowest level since it was introduced in the 50s – 3.49%. Like others, Chairman Bernanke has simply taken advantage of the Federal Reserve monetary stimulus policies, which have kept interest rates at ultra-low levels for the last few years.
Other Bernanke Disclosures
Bernanke has owned the three-bedroom, 2,108 square-foot condominium since 2004. In 2009, Bernanke refinanced the mortgage at an interest rate of 5.375 percent for an amount that ranges from $500,000 to $1,000,000. The Office of Government Ethics requires officials to give a range of values when disclosing their assets. The real estate website Zillow estimates the market value of the property at between $883,769.
In addition to the condominium reported in the 2011 disclosure documents, Bernanke also listed income in the range of $1.07 million to $2.28 million – mainly cash in a checking account, two annuities, and money market accounts. The variable and fixed annuities, which comprise up a retirement plan from Princeton University, are managed by TIAA-CREF.
Each annuity has a value of between $500,000 and $1,000,000. He received a combined income on the two annuities of $30,000 to $100,000 in 2011. Bernanke also has shares in a mutual fund with Vanguard International Growth Fund with a value of $1,000 to $15,000.
In addition, the Federal Reserve Chairman earns a minimum of $150,000 in royalties from two college textbooks he authored. The royalties from one book earned Bernanke between $50,000 and $100,000. The other book brought $100,000 to $1,000, 000 in payment. Bernanke has an annual income of $199,700. The U.S. Congress determines the salary for the Fed chairman.
The figures reported on the disclosure for 2011 remain unchanged from the documents filed by Bernanke in 2010.
Fed May Take Action
A t a speech given in Wyoming in late August, Bernanke made it obvious the Fed plans to do something at its upcoming policy meeting September 12-13 to stimulate the weak economy. The latest jobs situation report release on Friday makes it even more likely the Fed will invoke another round of quantitative easing (QE).
Quantitative easing refers to the Fed’s policy of purchasing government notes called Treasuries. QE stimulates the financial system by making it more liquid. Liquidity, in theory, makes more money available to lenders to loan out to consumers and business owners and keeps interest rates low.
QE, Interest Rates and Mortgages
Since the economic collapse in late 2008, the Fed has implemented two rounds of quantitative easing-- amounting to nearly $2 trillion. QE has been instrumental in driving down interest rates to record low levels for home mortgages and other loans. However, the monetary policy has not had the overall impact on the economy the Federal Reserve hoped it would.
When the Fed buys huge amounts of Treasury notes (bonds), the prices of the instruments will increase. The yield, which consist of the interest rate paid to bond investors, moves in an inverse relationship to bond prices. If the price of bonds increase, the interest rate paid to investors goes down. If bond prices decrease the yield earned by investors goes up.
What this means for potential homebuyers and homeowners refinancing their homes, the interest rate charged for mortgages moves in direct correlation with the yield on bonds. Therefore, if the yields on bonds decrease, which usually happens with quantitative easing, borrowers can expect to benefit in the form of lower interest rates when obtaining mortgages or refinancing their homes. Conversely, an increase in bond yields means borrowers can expect to pay higher mortgage interest rates.