mortgage

Experts see lower unemployment, higher rates

Slightly higher inflation?

While central bankers fret about the risk of abnormally low inflation, the economists surveyed are expecting a modest rise in prices over the next year. "Rents are rising, and energy prices could also rise," notes Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

Michael Cox“Obamacare is fanning the fire of an already enormous political rift in America, one that's very harmful to long-term progress and growth.”

-- W. Michael Cox, Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business.

On average, the experts look for a 2.1 increase in the Consumer Price Index over the course of the next year. That's compared with just a 1.6 percent increase in retail prices during the 12 months that ended in January.

Prices are being pressured by "stronger domestic and global demand," according to John Silvia, the chief economist for Wells Fargo.

As for the core rate of inflation -- excluding food and energy -- the panel expects relatively little change from the recent pace.

Risks and headwinds

The economists tended to diverge most in their responses when asked to identify the single biggest economic headwind of 2014.

A handful pointed to economic challenges related to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, or the Washington political scene. Others cited possible pressures related to the Federal Reserve's actions, including the current slowing of its monthly asset purchases.

Bob McTeer, the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, is among those concerned about Obamacare. "Higher (health insurance) premiums will reduce discretionary spending, says McTeer, now a distinguished fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

"Obamacare," says W. Michael Cox, a professor at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business, "is fanning the fire of an already enormous political rift in America, one that's very harmful to long-term progress and growth."

Lawrence Yun“Rents are rising and energy prices could also rise.”

-- Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors.

Simonson is concerned about broader federal government impacts. He cites worries associated with "congressional inaction or delay on key legislation: debt ceiling, appropriations, highway reauthorization." He says all of that could "cause businesses to delay investments."

Beyond Obamacare

Those who anticipate some tension as the Fed backs off its stimulus include Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics.

The possible headwind he envisions? "The Federal Reserve mishandling QE tapering (winding down its asset purchases) leads to an interest rate spike and financial market turmoil," he writes.

Still, Zandi is relatively bullish about the outlook. He expects housing to drive a stronger economy, with unemployment falling below 6 percent next year.

Three of the responding experts expressed concerns about financial stresses migrating from overseas. William Poole, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, is worried about China. "Its financial system is increasingly risky," writes Poole, currently serving as a senior fellow for the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

4 things to learn from the survey

Conclusions to draw from the survey:

For savers:

  • Short-term interest rates could remain steady this year and next, which doesn't bode well for returns on savings vehicles.

For those managing debt:

  • With no immediate Federal Reserve rate hikes likely, 2014 may be your last hurrah for paying down variable-rate credit cards.

For homeowners:

  • The economists expect 10-year Treasury yields will be higher in 12 months, meaning mortgage rates also will be higher.

For investors:

  • Modest job creation and economic growth are forecast. If the economy misses the mark, brace for volatile financial markets.

By Greg McBride, CFA, chief analyst at Bankrate.com.

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