In early 2009, the Fed embarked on a $1.25 trillion mortgage-backed securities (MBS) purchase program to help keep mortgage rates low and stimulate the economy. The amount purchased varied from week to week, reaching a peak of $33.2 billion in the week of March 25, 2009. The Fed has been gradually reducing the size of its purchases at a pace consistent with a March 31 conclusion of the program, and the most recent weekly purchases have been down to around $10 billion.
As the date nears, the big question is what will happen when the MBS purchase program ends. This program is unprecedented, making the outcome difficult to predict, and forecasts vary widely. Estimates for the impact on mortgage rates from the conclusion of the program vary from an increase of one percent to no change. Those who predict higher mortgage rates point to a basic change in the fundamental supply and demand. The added demand from the Fed was widely credited with moving rates lower, and a decrease in demand would typically push rates higher. However, other economists argue that investors respond only to unexpected news. In this view, since the Fed has telegraphed the end of the program for months, there should be little reaction around March 31. The Fed itself has indicated that they expect a modest increase in mortgage rates due to the end of the program.