Morning Report: Weak housing starts number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2821.25 14.5
Eurostoxx index 376.34 2.01
Oil (WTI) 59.65 0.83
10 year government bond yield 2.45%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.08%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on overseas strength. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Lots of housing data to chew through. Let’s start with existing home sales, which increased 11.8%, according to NAR. While this month-over-month print of 5.51 million sounds impressive, we are still down on a YOY basis. Lower rates are helping, and we are beginning this season with a little more inventory to work with. We had 1.63 existing homes for sale, which represents a 3.6 month supply. A balanced market needs something like 6 months. Prices are still rising – the median house price rose by 3.6% – but the rate of appreciation has slowed. The median home price came in at $249,500, and that puts the median house price to median income ratio just over 4. Historically that is a high number, but lower interest rates help the affordability issue. The first time homebuyer represented 32% of home sales, an increase from last year but still below the historical average of around 40%.

 

Housing starts fell 8.7% to 1.16 million, a disappointing number. We saw a huge decrease in single family construction – from an annualized pace of 970k to 805k. Last February, the number was 900k so this is a big drop. One note of caution – the margin for error on these numbers is huge (around 17%), so there is a good chance this gets revised upward in subsequent releases. Building permits were a little better – falling only 2% to 1.3 million. Housing construction has largely been absent from this recovery, and could provide a huge boost to the economy if it ever gets back to normalcy (around 1.5 million units a year).

 

housing starts

 

More evidence that home price appreciation is slowing: the Case-Shiller home price index rose 4.3% in January, the slowest pace since 2015. In general, 2018 was a year to forget for the mortgage industry as rates rose 100 basis points. They have now given back most of those gains, so perhaps 2019 will be a bit brighter, although if you have been counting on MSR unrealized gains to paper over weakness in lending, the Q1 mark is going to be harsh.

 

The economy seems to be slowing, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. It edged downward to -.29 in February, and the 3 month moving average is negative as well. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 different economic indicators, of which many are leading as well as lagging. While it is too early to start declaring 2019 a slow-growth year, the first quarter is looking weak.

 

The FHA is backing away from a 2016 decision to loosen credit – it is now tightening standards and flagging more loans as “high risk.” The biggest effect will be for the first time homebuyer, and FHA estimates that 40,000 loans or so might be affected. At the heart of the issue is a 2016 decision to no longer require a manual underwrite for FHA loans with FICOs below 620 and DTIs above 43. FHA was largely a backwater pre-crisis, and most of these types of loans were subprime. As the subprime market disappeared, FHA stepped in to fill the void. Home Ready and Home Possible have emerged as low downpayment competitors, and FHA has suffered from negative selection bias. While FHA permits very low credit scores, most lenders don’t go as low as FHA permits in the first place.

 

Trump nominates free-marketer Steven Moore to the Federal Reserve Board and Paul Krugman isn’t taking it well. For a little economics inside-baseball, this resembles the Spacely Sprockets / Cogswell Cogs rivalry in the economics profession. Since most of the free-market caucus comes from the University of Chicago, they are called “fresh water economists” and Krugman comes from Ivy / Coastal academia (Princeton) so his school is called “salt water” economists. In terms of ideological bent, the fresh water economists are much more non-interventionist than the salt water economists, who support direct government intervention in the markets and economy. Steven Moore is a true believer in the free market approach, and to be honest, most of the Fed and academia are not. A little diversity of opinion is not a bad thing….

 

 

Morning Report: The Fed catches up with the markets

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2817 -10
Eurostoxx index 380.22 -0.62
Oil (WTI) 60.12 1.09
10 year government bond yield 2.51%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.22%

 

Stocks are lower after the Fed cut interest rates. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

As expected, the Fed maintained the Fed Funds rate at current levels and took down their forecast for the end of year. The December dot plot showed a central tendency in the 2.72% (using the lower bound of the range) and the March plot showed a central tendency of 2.37%. The forecast for 2019 GDP was lowered from 2.3% to 2.1%, while the unemployment rate was increased from 3.5% to 3.7%. PCE inflation was more or less unchanged at 2%.  The Fed Funds futures increased their probability of a 2019 rate cut from about 25% to about 40%.

 

dot plot

 

The Fed also tweaked their balance sheet runoff plan, increasing the amount they reinvest each month by $15 billion. This only affects Treasuries – MBS will continue to run off.

 

Stocks initially rallied on the Fed announcement, but then sold off on fears the Fed sees something the markets don’t. Bonds rallied on the Fed announcement, with the 10 year yield falling to 2.53%. MBS were slow to follow, but we did see some reprices towards the end of the day. With rates even lower this morning, expect to see a big move down in mortgage rates. FWIW, Fannie Mae has taken down their prediction for the 30 year fixed rate mortgage from 4.8% to 4.4%.

 

What does some of this mean for mortgage bankers? 2019 won’t necessarily be as bad as people feared for origination, and if you have been aggressively marking your servicing portfolio in order to paper over a price war, you might have a problem.

 

Banks that refocused their mortgage lending towards high-end buyers in the aftermath of the financial crisis are seeing the winds shift. Jumbo origination has been falling as prices at the high end have been peaking out and tax reform has limited the value of the mortgage interest deduction. Many non-banks focused on the first time and moderate income buyer. Many banks were offering amazing jumbo terms, presumably in an attempt to cross sell the more lucrative asset management business.

 

 

Morning Report: Fed decision day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2851 -1.25
Eurostoxx index 382.92 2.82
Oil (WTI) 58.48 0.39
10 year government bond yield 2.60%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.27%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as we begin the FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC decision is set to be announced at 2:00 pm EST. Be careful locking around that time. They aren’t going to raise interest rates, but the focus will be on the dot plot and their interest rate forecast for 2019. There will also be interest in the size of the balance sheet, but it won’t be market moving.

 

The stock market has been rallying on hopes that the Fed will be taking 2019 off. Note that FedEx reported disappointing numbers, which is a canary in the coal mine for the global economy. The stock and bond markets have been sending different signals about the economy, with the stock market rising (signalling strength) and interest rates falling (signalling weakness). Part of this has been due to global growth concerns – especially in Europe and China. Global weakness doesn’t necessarily translate into a recession for the US, but it is a reach to think it won’t affect us at all.

 

Mortgage Applications rose 1.6% last week as purchases rose 0.3% and refis increased 4%. Mortgage rates drifted lower and are at the cheapest in a year.

 

The NAHB / Wells Fargo Housing Market Index was flat at 62 as we kick off the Spring Selling Season. Sales ticked up, but traffic is way down. Overall, the new home sales market is similar to where we left off in fall. We will get a read on existing home sales this Friday. We are seeing some evidence of cooling in housing markets, especially in the Northeast. According to the Redfin competitive numbers, places like Greenwich CT are at 9 on a scale of 1 – 100. Even erstwhile hot markets like San Diego have been cooling. The heat is in the laggard markets, with places like Harrisburg PA and Indianapolis doing very well.

 

greenwich

Indianapolis

 

Morning Report: Job openings, and the Fed.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2833.5 3
Eurostoxx index 381.78 0.68
Oil (WTI) 48.46 -0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.60%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.27%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on overseas strength. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The big event this week will be the FOMC meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. No changes are expected in interest rates, and the Street will be focused primarily on the dot plot and whether it is catching up with what the Fed Funds futures are saying. The December 2018 dot plot predicted that the end of 2019 Fed Funds rate would be in the 2.75% – 3% range, in other words two more rate hikes in 2019. A Reuters poll of economists forecasts 1 more hike this year. On the other hand, the markets are predicting a Fed Funds rate in the 2.25% – 2.5% range – in other words no change. To be fair, there has been a major change in market sentiment since December, but one of the two (the experts or the markets) has clearly got it wrong. In December, only 2 out of the 17 forecasts expected the Fed to not hike this year, and nobody was looking for a rate cut. The futures on the other hand are handicapping a 75% chance of no hike and about a 25% chance of a rate cut. This is a massive expectations gap.

 

Other than the FOMC meeting, there isn’t much in the way of important economic data. We will get leading economic indicators on Thursday, and existing home sales on Friday.

 

There were 7.58 million job openings at the end of January, which is close to the record set back in November. The 2018 data series was also revised upward, with about 353,000 additional job openings on average. The quits rate was 2.3%, which is where it has been for most of 2013 after that series was revised. The quits rate describes the number of people who are leaving their current job to get another, so it tends to lead increases in wage growth.

 

job openings

 

The housing industry is driven at least partially by new home construction, and there is a noted labor shortage in that sector. The problem is most acute in skilled trades, like electricians and plumbers, but unskilled supply is still an issue. The job opening rate for construction was 3.9% last month, as opposed to 3.3% a year ago. The quits rate edged up for the sector as well, rising to 2.5%.

 

 

Morning Report: New home sales still anemic historically

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2821  9
Eurostoxx index 380.4 1.8
Oil (WTI) 58.12 -0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.60%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.28%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on overseas strength, particularly in China and Japan. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

New Home Sales fell to 607,000 in January, according to the Census Bureau. This is down 7% MOM and 4% YOY. New Homes Sales is a notoriously volatile number, and the margin for error is generally in the mid-teens %. Still 607,000 is roughly in line with historical averages over the past 50 years. That said, population has grown since then, so it isn’t really comparable. Take a look at the chart below, which is new home sales divided by population – we are still only at levels associated with the depths of prior recessions. In other words, we are still in very early innings with the housing recovery, and you can make an argument that the recovery hasn’t even begun yet.

 

new home sales divided by population

 

Industrial Production rose 0.1% in February, and January’s initial 0.6% drop was revised upward to -0.4%. Manufacturing production fell 0.4%, while January’s 0.9% drop was revised upward to -0.5%. Capacity Utilization fell to 78.2%, while Jan was revised up again. So, Feb wasn’t great, but January wasn’t as bad as it initially appeared to be.

 

We have entered the quiet period for the Fed ahead of their meeting next week. No rate hikes are expected, although we will get new economic forecasts and a new dot plot. Sentiment regarding the Fed has changed massively over the past few months. As of now, the the Fed funds futures are estimating that there is a 75% chance the Fed does nothing this year, and a 25% chance they cut rates by 25 basis points. The fed funds futures are pricing a 0% chance of a hike. While Trump’s jawboning of the Fed was bad form, and you generally don’t want to see presidents doing that, you also can’t escape the fact that the Fed Funds futures and the markets think he was right!

 

 

Morning Report: Housing cycles and bond markets.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2815 -4
Eurostoxx index 377.4 1.8
Oil (WTI) 58.12 -0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.63%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.28%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell slightly to 224k last week.

 

Durable Goods orders increased 0.4% in February, driven by an increase in commercial jet orders. Ex-transportation, they were down 0.1%. Core capital goods increased 0.8% as companies continue to plow capital back into expansion opportunities. Much of the increase in capital expenditures was in machinery, which is a positive sign for manufacturing. Still, economists are cautious on Q1 GDP, with many forecasting sub 1% growth for the quarter.

 

Construction spending rose 1.3% MOM and is up 0.3% YOY. Residential construction was down on a MOM and YOY basis. Housing continues to punch below its weight. Since construction is seasonally affected, January numbers tend to be a bit more volatile and have less meaning than summer numbers.

 

The MBA released its paper on CFPB 2.0, where they list out their recommendations for the CFPB. Much of what they say is similar to what Mick Mulvaney and Kathy Kraninger have been doing – increasing transparency regarding rulemaking and giving more guidance on what is legal and illegal. The Obama / Cordray CFPB was purposefully vague in promulgating rules, which makes life easier for regulators but makes it harder for industry participants. Regulation by enforcement was the MO of the Cordray CFPB, which ended with the new Administration, and the MBA agrees.

 

Specific to the mortgage business, the MBA recommends that the CFPB allow loan officers to cut their compensation in response to competitive dynamics, to extend the “GSE patch” which means loans that are GSE / government eligible are automatically considered to be QM compliant, to allow mortgage companies to pass on error costs to loan officers, and to raise the cap on points and fees.

 

CoreLogic looks at home price appreciation and the economic cycle. The punch line: While the current expansion is just short of a record length, and home price appreciation is declining, it doesn’t necessarily mean that house prices are in for a decline. In fact, housing typically weathers recessions quite well. I could caveat that the chart below only looks at a bond bull market. The 1978 – 1982 timespan of the misery index and inflation marked the bottom of the Great Bond Bear Market that lasted from the mid 1950s to the early 80s. The Great Bond Bull Market that began in the early 80s ended a few years ago, and while a bear market probably hasn’t begun yet the tailwind of interest rates falling from 17% to 0% isn’t going to be around this time. Finally, there are a few massive supports for the real estate market: rising wages, low inventory, and demographics. It is hard to imagine another 2008 happening if the economy peters out.

 

corelogic home prices

Morning Report: Gap between appraisals and homeowner perception widens slightly

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2802 5
Eurostoxx index 374.06 0.81
Oil (WTI) 57.27 0.47
10 year government bond yield 2.62%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.28%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Inflation at the wholesale level came in below expectations, mirroring the consumer price index. The headline PPI rose 0.1% MOM / 1.9% YOY. Ex-food and energy the index rose 0.1% / 2.5% YOY.

 

Mortgage Applications rose 2.3% last week as purchases rose 4% and refis fell 0.2%. The MBA noted an uptick in FHA activity. “Purchase applications have now increased year-over-year for four weeks, which signals healthy demand entering the busy spring buying season. However, the pick-up in the average loan size continues, with the average balance reaching another record high. With more inventory in their price range compared to first-time buyers, move-up and higher-end buyers continue to have strong success finding a home.” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting.

 

The gap between a homeowner’s perception of their home’s value and the number that the appraiser comes up with is starting to widen a touch. The Quicken Home Price Perception Index fell slightly in February, although the difference between perception and appraisal is pretty tight historically. For most MSAs, appraisals are coming in higher than homeowners expect, which is good news for the cash-out refi business. Given the direction in interest rates, home price appreciation is going to drive refi activity going forward.

 

Quicken HPPI

 

Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloane appeared before the House yesterday to get called on the carpet for aggressive sales practices. “We have gone above and beyond what is required in disclosing these issues in our public filings, we have worked to remedy these issues, and, most importantly, we have worked to address root causes that allowed them to occur in the first place,” Sloan said in his written testimony to the House Financial Services Committee. “As a result, Wells Fargo is a better bank than it was three years ago, and we are working every day to become even better.” he said in a written statement.