Economy Watch: U.S. Top Oil, Gas Producer; Mortgage Refi Dips, Interest Rates Rise; Data Drought, Debt-Ceiling Jitters

Domestic oil and natural gas production is expected to be larger than Russia or Saudi Arabia this year. Prepayment activity declined sharply in August as mortgage rates continued to rise. And more federally generated data was delayed on Monday.

Not much economic data is coming from the federal government these days, but on Friday the U.S. Energy Information Administration did manage to release a report on American oil and natural production – and this might be bigger news under other circumstances – called “U.S. expected to be largest producer of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons in 2013.” In other words, domestic oil and natural gas production is expected to be larger than even Russia or Saudi Arabia this year, and the largest in the world for the first time in many decades.

“Since 2008, U.S. petroleum production has increased 7 quadrillion Btu [British thermal units], with dramatic growth in Texas and North Dakota,” the report says. “Natural gas production has increased by 3 quadrillion Btu over the same period, with much of this growth coming from the eastern United States. Russia and Saudi Arabia each increased their combined hydrocarbon output by about 1 quadrillion Btu over the past five years.”

The reason for the upsurge in domestic energy production? Fracking and other newish recovery techniques. “Increasing production was achieved by applying horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to low-permeability rocks,” according tot he report. “In many fields (in basins such as the Permian, Uinta, and Powder River) enhanced oil recovery techniques such as CO2 injection are also boosting production from conventional reservoirs.”

Mortgage Refi Dips as Interest Rates Rise 

Lender Processing Services released its August Mortgage Monitor on Monday, which found that prepayment activity — historically a good indicator of residential mortgage refinance activity — declined sharply in August as mortgage rates continued to rise. Because of those rate increases, a large portion of borrowers have been effectively shifted out of the “refinancible” population, according to LPS.

“We have seen prepayments decline by more than 30 percent since May, when mortgage interest rates began climbing approximately 100 basis points to where we are today,” LPS senior vice president Herb Blecher noted in a statement. “In December 2012, the population of potentially refinance-eligible borrowers stood at roughly 10 million. However, refinance activity during that time, along with rising interest rates, have shrunk that pool to just 5.7 million borrowers as of August.”

Blecher added that while higher interest rates may have the effect of tamping down refinance activity, they might also contribute to a new appetite for home equity loans among homeowners. After bottoming out at the beginning of 2012, home prices are now at their highest levels since 2009, and borrowers who bought or refinanced within the last few years are likely to have accumulated additional equity in their homes.

Data Drought, Debt-Ceiling Jitters

More federally generated data was delayed on Monday, namely the Congressional Budget Office’s monthly review of the federal deficit – which has been trending down lately because of higher revenues and post-sequestration spending levels. Also not appearing early this week are the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on job openings, and numbers on the trade deficit.

Wall Street apparently got a case of the jitters to begin the week on Monday, perhaps worried that the lunatics are running the asylum on Capitol Hill, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 136.34 points, or 0.9 percent. The S&P 500 was off 0.85 percent and the Nasdaq dropped 0.98 percent.