Morning Report: Homebuilders are either cheap of the recovery is still a ways off

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2928 -5.7
Eurostoxx index 383.56 -0.73
Oil (WTI) 71.89 1.11
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.09%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.87%

Stocks are lower this morning as oil rallies and China cancels trade talks. Bonds and MBS are down.

We have a lot of important economic data this week, including housing data, GDP, personal income / spending, and also the FOMC meeting. Given how much rates have jumped over the past month, the markets are set up well for a dovish surprise. In other words, if the Fed’s language isn’t as hawkish as people are fearing, we could see a snapback lower in rates. 2s-10s are trading at 26 bps, up from 21 a week ago.

Several strategists think the Fed is going to slow down the pace of normalization if they see the yield curve invert. While inverted yield curves don’t cause recessions, they tend to forecast them. Overseas weakness will play a part here, with Europe and China potentially slowing down. Of course this time is indeed different, as this is the first time the Fed has owned so much of the market. As I have said before, the signal to noise ratio of the yield curve’s slope is pretty lousy right now, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Economic activity continued to hum along in August, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators increased, while employment was flat.

NAR notes that the housing market is becoming more balanced (with respect to leverage) between buyers and sellers, however it is still largely a seller’s market. Inventory is nowhere near a balanced level but, it is showing signs of at least bottoming out. 2015-2017 were years of high single-digit reductions in inventory. Affordability issues driven by rising rates and prices are drawing out more sellers, and making buyers more cautious. We are still nowhere near a balanced market, let alone a buyer’s market, but the imbalance may be reversing.

Ultimately, the key to balance is supply, as in homebuilding. Builders have been able to rely upon rising prices to drive growth, however affordability issues are going to make that a harder slog. Ultimately they will have to build more units to exhibit the growth that investors want to see. The age of homes in the US has been increasing for a long time.

age of homes

Note that JP Morgan just downgraded the whole sector, although valuations are close to peak cycle levels. P/E ratios for the big players are in the 8x – 12x range, which is typically where they bottom. The homebuilding sector is very cyclical, which means they will trade at single digit P/E ratios during the boom cycles, and 30x-50x ratios during down cycles. Generally speaking those valuation levels would normally be associated with housing starts in the 1.5 – 2.0 million unit range. This presents something of a conundrum: either investors are wrong about the homebuilders and they are cheap, or the return to normalcy in terms of housing starts is still years away on the horizon.

Wells announced that they will look to cut the workforce by 5% – 10% over the next 3 years, through attrition and displacements. The mortgage business wasn’t mentioned specifically in the press release. The bank is going through a big restructuring, and making an investment in technology, risk management and compliance. USAA announced job cuts as well. The industry is heading into the dreaded Q4 and Q1 and volumes / margins are lousy.

The FHFA is creating a new index that determines housing affordability. Current affordability indices generally use rules of thumb (house prices versus incomes) and generally create a static model of incomes. FHFA’s index will include a pro-forma analysis of what the mortgage will look like 3 years down the road. It is still a work in progress, but it will be interesting to see what an affordability plot looks like over time. Here is one that looks at the typical mortgage payment as a percentage of income (using 20% down and median home prices / incomes). While home prices are high relative to income, rates are still extremely low compared to the 90s, let alone the 80s.

mortgage payment as a percent of income

Author: Brent Nyitray

Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It's a scientific fact. - Homer Simpson

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