Morning Report: Case-Shiller continues to move higher

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2724 1.5
Eurostoxx index 378.31 1.12
Oil (WTI) 68.22 0.14
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.88%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are flattish this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are up.

Consumer confidence slipped in June, according to the Conference Board. The decline, while still high by historical standards, was driven more by a drop in the outlook than it was by a decline in current conditions.

Home price appreciation continued in April, with some real eye-popping moves in a few MSAs. Seattle and Las Vegas were up 13%, YOY, San Francisco was up 11%. Bringing up the rear was Chicago and Washington, up 3%. While the index has hit its 2006 peak, it is important to remember these are nominal (i.e non-inflation adjusted) numbers. If you adjust for inflation, Dallas, Denver and Seattle have regained their bubble peaks, while everyone else is still lower. Inventory is still tight, but the picture is improving.

Case-shiller

Housing demand was up 7% in May, according to Redfin. Redfin measures housing demand by counting the number of offers and requests for home tours. Demand is actually down from a year ago, but the market is still a seller’s market.

Fears of a trade war are causing big asset allocations into government bonds. The government bond ETF GOVT saw record volume on Friday of $600 million. Momentum traders are beginning to pile into the long Treasury trade. Morgan Stanley is calling the top in yields. “While trade tensions have yet to negatively impact U.S. economic data noticeably, the Fed has started to hear more concern from business contacts. We see risk that such tension will impact economic data more in the coming months, even if a benign outcome comes to pass eventually.” FWIW, the Fed Funds futures are still handicapping a toss-up between 1 or 2 more hikes this year.

For mortgage originators, trade fears are probably going to help keep the 10 year below 3%, though it probably won’t be enough to bring back refi volume or to save the year.

Speaking of saving the year, in the second quarter cost cutting was a #1 or #2 concern for 30% of all mortgage originators. Last year, only 11% saw cost cutting as a #1 or #2 concern, focusing more on consumer-facing technology and process streamlining. In the first quarter, mortgage bankers reported a loss on production for only the second time in 10 years.

Morning Report: New Home Sales jump

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2745 -14.5
Eurostoxx index 379.79 -5.22
Oil (WTI) 69.07 0.49
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.89%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are lower this morning on continued trade tensions. Bonds and MBS are up

Economic activity decelerated in May, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators were a drag on the index (probably an effect of trade issues) while employment-related indicators had a positive impact once again. This index is a meta-index of 85 different sub-indices, and while it is backward-looking and generally not market moving, it provides a good global snapshot of the economy.

The trade war is beginning to have some real economic effects as the CFNAI indicated. While it is primarily limited to steel, many companies that use it as an input are raising prices, which is going to have a few negative effects on the economy – first firms that use steel and cannot pass on price increases are probably going to lay off workers, while the inflationary pressures from increased prices will keep the Fed raising interest rates. Retaliatory tariffs from our partners are causing US exporters to shift production overseas. Note that lumber tariffs are increasing the price of home construction, which is another drag on the economy.

Given the recessionary potential of trade wars the shape of the yield curve is going to become a bigger talking point for the business press and will be watched closely by the Fed. The shape of the yield curve essentially means the difference between short term rates and long term rates. The most common description is the 2s-10s spread, which is about 34 basis points at the moment. When the yield curve is strongly upward sloping (in other words, the 10 year yield is a lot higher than the 2 year yield) it generally means one of two things: either (a) the market is worried about inflation, and is therefore requiring a high interest rate to entice people to invest in Treasuries long term, or (b) the economy is so strong that investors prefer to put their money in more risky assets and therefore Treasuries have to offer a higher rate to get people interested. For the most part, the US yield curve has been in the second camp.

As the Fed has been raising the Fed Funds rate, the yield on shorter-term paper (like the 2 year) has been going up faster than the rate on the 10 year. Historically, the yield curve has flattened during tightening cycles, so this is nothing to be alarmed about. If the yield curve inverts, then that has historically been associated with the Fed overdoing it and it is taken as a recessionary signal. In the current environment, the flattening of the yield curve looks more like typical curve behavior during a tightening cycle, and not a signal of a recession. Don’t forget the yield curve has been highly influenced by central bank behavior. The Fed could drive up long-term rates by hinting at the possibility of selling some of its portfolio. Bottom line, the business press will be talking about the curve more and more, especially if the trade war begins to snowball and we start seeing a combination of rising input costs with a slowing out output.

New Home sales increased 6.7% MOM and 14.1% YOY to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 689,000. This is the highest print since November last year. Interestingly, sales rose in the South, but fell everywhere else. In the West, where the supply shortage is most acute, sales fell by 9% MOM and are flat YOY. Both the median and average sales price fell, which is surprising given the torrid pace of home price appreciation in the home price indices like Case-Shiller and the jump in existing home sales prices according to NAR. It appears that more sales at the lower price points was behind the drop. Luxury sales have been more or less flat for the past year. Eventually tax reform is going to have an effect on the top end of the market, as luxury real estate is simply more expensive due to the changes in mortgage interest and the fact that most of the $1MM+ inventory is in high tax states. We will get more of a read on new homes this week as Lennar and KB both report earnings.

Fears of rising interest rates have clearly had no negative effects on new home sales. Given the acute housing shortage and the fact that rates are still very low historically, this isn’t really a surprise.

new home sales

The Trump Administration announced a plan to reorganize many governmental agencies. The biggest one would merge the Department of Labor and the Department of Education into one agency. On the housing side, USDA loans would be moved from USDA to HUD, which is where they probably belonged in the first place. VA loans will remain under the VA however. Community Development Block Grants would move to Commerce from HUD. The document discusses the need to reform the GSEs and lays out broad ideas, but nothing concrete.

Morning Report: Trump Admin recommends privatizing the GSEs

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2767 14
Eurostoxx index 384.04 3.19
Oil (WTI) 67.44 1.9
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.92%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

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

The Trump administration released a set of principles around privatizing the GSEs. It is more or less the same thing as before – the goal is to lessen the government’s footprint in the mortgage market. The idea would be to have Fannie and Fred issue MBS with a catstrophic government guarantee – in other words, some private mortgage insurer would bear the initial losses and the government would only step in if the losses exceeded that number. That is all well and good, however there are all sorts of issues that remain before private label MBS can do the heavy lifting of the mortgage market.

First and foremost, there is a huge gulf between what the MBS investor market requires as a rate of return and current mortgage rates. In a perfect world, PL MBS would trade at similar levels to Fannie / Freddie MBS, but they won’t. There are huge governance issues that need to be resolved. For just one example, will the servicer (who is probably the issuer, who may also have a second lien) service the loan to benefit the MBS holder or themselves? What about reps and warranties? I went into more depth about this whole issue here. These uncertainties need to be priced in, which means that the bid / ask spread between private label and FNMA MBS is so large that nobody would take out a mortgage at the rate the private label investors require. That is a necessary but not sufficient requirement to bring back private money into the US mortgage market.

Taking the GSEs out of conservatorship is going to require legislation, and to be honest it isn’t a priority for either party. As far as DC is concerned, yes it would be nice if the government could lessen its footprint in the mortgage market, but people are getting loans, and the market is functioning normally. It just isn’t a priority.

The US borrower believes that the 30 year fixed rate mortgage is nothing unusual. In fact, it is a distinctly American phenomenon, where the borrower bears no risk. In the rest of the world, mortgages are adjustable rate, and not guaranteed by the government. In other words, the borrower bears the interest rate risk and the bank bears the credit risk. In the US, the bank bears the interest rate risk and the taxpayer bears the credit risk. Upsetting that apple cart is going to be a tough slog politically.

Finally, the news did nothing for the stocks of Fannie and Fred, which continue to languish. When the government took over Fannie and Fred, they left 20% of the common outstanding. This was an accounting gimmick to prevent the government from having to consolidate Fan and Fred debt on its balance sheet (incidentally, this was the reason why LBJ privatized the GSEs in the first place). The government could not take the GSEs through a bankruptcy without creating chaos in the mortgage market. So they left 20% outstanding and decided to deal with the bankruptcy part later. The stock should be worthless, but it is a litigation lottery ticket.

FNMA chart

A Federal Judge ruled yesterday that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional. The PHH case never made it to SCOTUS, but it will be interesting if this one does. At some point, the CFPBs structure will make it to SCOTUS, and the only one with the standing to defend the agency is the government.

Morning Report: Almost a third of all MSAs are overvalued

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2771 -0.75
Eurostoxx index 383.16 -1.13
Oil (WTI) 65.91 0.84
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.93%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are flattish this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are up small.

Initial Jobless Claims fell by 3,000 to 218,000, while the Index of Leading Economic Indicators increased by 0.2%, below expectations. This index is predicting that growth will moderate in the coming months. Note that Goldman has taken its Q2 GDP estimate up to 4%, which is a torrid pace.

Mortgage Applications rose 5.1% last week as purchases rose 4% and refis rose 6%. Mortgage rates were more or less unchanged for the week.

Existing Home Sales fell 0.4% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.43 million. Existing Home Sales are down 3% on a YOY basis, making this the third consecutive month with a YOY decline. The median house price hit a record, rising 4.9% to $264,800. While restricted supply has been an ongoing issue, the market is beginning to feel the pinch of rising rates and prices. The first time homebuyer accounted for 31%, which is a decrease and well below the historical norm of 40%. At current run rates, we have about 4.1 month’s worth of inventory. Some realtors noted that potential sellers are pulling their homes off the market for fear they won’t find a replacement. We need a dramatic increase in home construction to fix the issue and so far we are seeing modest increases.

Speaking of home price increases, the FHFA reported that prices rose 0.1% MOM in April and are up 6.4% YOY. Since the FHFA index ignores jumbo and non-QM, this is prime first-time homebuyer territory. Home price appreciation is beginning to converge as the laggards like the Mid-Atlantic (which covers NY and NJ) are picking up steam. The dispersion a year ago was huge.

CoreLogic estimates that a third of all MSAs are now overvalued. The last time we hit this level was early 2003, just before the bubble hit its stride. It is natural to ask if we are in another bubble, and IMO the answer is “no.” The term “bubble” gets thrown around so much that it has lost its meaning. The necessary conditions for a bubble (magical thinking on the part of buyers and the financial sector) just aren’t there. China has a bubble. Norway has a bubble. The US does not.

CoreLogic overvalued metros

The US coastal and Rocky Mountain areas have the most overvalued residential real estate, but aside from that it is still cheap / fairly valued elsewhere. Either the overvalued MSAs will start building more homes, or the employers in those MSAs will begin to move more operations to cheaper areas. You can see that already with Amazon.com de-emphasizing Seattle. Some MSAs become to cheap to ignore (the Rust Belt, for instance) and others become so expensive that companies cannot attract entry-level talent anymore. For a hotshot MIT data scientist, working at Google or Facebook sounds very cool, but if you can’t afford an apartment are you really going to be willing to work there?

Foreclosure starts fell in May to 44.900, which is a 17 year low. The foreclosure rate of 0.59% is the lowest in 15 years. At the current rate of decline, the foreclosure inventory is set to hit pre-recession levels later this year. The Northeast still has a foreclosure backlog to deal with, but the rest of the country has moved on.

FHFA regional

HUD is asking for public input into its disparate impact rules, which were dealt a blow at SCOTUS. Disparate impact is a highly controversial legal theory that says a company is guilty of discimination even if they didn’t intend to discriminate – if the numbers don’t match the population the lender is guilty, no questions asked. That theory was dealt a blow with a 2015 ruling that said the plaintiff must be able to point to specific policies of the lender that explain the disparate impact. HUD is now looking to tweak the language to conform to this ruling.

Incoming CFPB nominee Kathy Kraninger is getting some static from Democrats due to her position at DHS. They are asking questions about her role in the zero tolerance policy and child separations. Elizabeth Warren is putting a hold on her nomination until she answers these questions. That may not be a disappointment to the Administration however. The gameplan may be to slow-walk a new CFPB nominee in order to keep current Acting CFPB Chairman Mick Mulvaney at the helm of the agency.

Morning Report: Housing starts jump despite increasing lumber prices

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2752 -28
Eurostoxx index 382.86 -3.1
Oil (WTI) 64.89 -0.96
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.88%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are lower this morning on increasing trade tensions with China. Bonds and MBS are up.

Trump threatened $200 billion in sanctions on Chinese goods, which sent global markets down and bonds up. This is in addition to the $50 billion in tariffs he threatened on Friday. Stock market investors are swapping out of S&Ps and Nasdaqs into smaller cap stocks, as they are more insulated from international trade tensions.

Housing starts improved to 1.35 million in May, which is up 5% MOM and 20% YOY. Building permits came in at 1.3 million, down 5% MOM, but up 8% YOY. Most of the activity was in the Midwest, where they increased by 100k. The Northeast was down, while everywhere else was flattish. Tariffs on Canadian lumber certainly aren’t helping. Lumber prices peaked in May and are starting to decline, but they have had quite the run. The NAHB report yesterday discussed lumber prices are hurting builder confidence.

lumber

Trump formally nominated Kathleen Kraninger to replace Mick Mulvaney as the head of the CFPB. This promised to be a contentious confirmation fight, and the usual suspects are already complaining. That may actually work out in the Administration’s favor however. The tougher the confirmation fight, the longer Mick Mulvaney can remain in place and fix some of the excesses of the Bureau. Under the Vacancies Act, Mulvaney’s term as Acting Director expires on June 22. He can remain in place while her nomination is pending. If she is defeated, he would get another 210 days. If that nominee is defeated, he gets another 210. So basically, this gambit would keep Mick Mulvaney in place until 2020.

Where are Millennials moving? Where the jobs are.

Morning Report: Will the US economy have a Wile E Coyote moment in 2019?

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2765.5 -19
Eurostoxx index 385 -3.9
Oil (WTI) 65.16 0.1
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.91%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are lower this morning on trade fears. Bonds and MBS are up.

We will get a lot of housing-related data this week, but nothing should be market-moving. We will get housing starts and building permits tomorrow, existing home sales on Wednesday, and house prices on Thursday. Otherwise, should be a relatively quiet week.

The NAHB Housing Market Index (a sentiment indicator for the homebuilders) fell to 68 last month from 70. Rental markets are softening in some of the more pricy MSAs.

OMB official Kathy Kraninger is supposedly the front-runner to replace Mick Mulvaney as the permanent director of the CFPB. The confirmation process will probably take at least through the end of the year. She is not viewed as any sort of financial regulatory expert, so expect to see a lot of objections from Democrats over the nomination.

Ben Bernanke thinks the US economy will have a Wile E Coyote moment in 2019 or 2020 when the tax cut stimulus wears off. His point is that we are enacting fiscal stimulus at “exactly the wrong time” when the economy is already at full employment. Of course the statement about full employment is debatable. The unemployment numbers indicate we are, but the employment-population ratio does not. The employment-population ratio currently stands at 60.4%, and pre-crisis, we were around 63%. That 2.6% difference works out to be about 8.5 million people. We are getting some modest real wage growth (average hourly earnings are up 2.7% YOY and the core PCE index is growing at 2%) however broad-based wage growth probably isn’t going to happen until the EP ratio gets back up around 63%. Yes, there is a demographic element to this with the baby boomers retiring, but that is overplayed. Many people who are retiring in their 60s would rather work. You can see just how bad the Great Recession was. Most of the gains that started in the 60s with women entering the workforce were given back. The “retiring boomers” narrative has a kernel of truth in it, but it isn’t driving it.

employment population ratio

The FAANG stocks are now worth more than the entire UK stock market. While people talk about short Treasuries as being the most crowded trade on the Street, it doesn’t hold a candle to the FAANGs

FAANG

Goldman’s model now suggests the US economy grew at 4% in the second quarter. Friday’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey was the catalyst for the upgrade.

The government is trying to clarify the Volcker Rule, which prohibits banks from proprietary trading. So far, it seems to be clouding the issue as opposed to clarifying it. Ultimately trades held for less than 60 days are considered proprietary trades although there is a carve-out for hedging and market-making. Given the drop in commissions over the past 20 years, and sub-penny bid ask spreads, the economics of market-making are terrible to begin with, but the regulatory uncertainty probably seals the deal. The next crash is not going to be pretty.

Morning Report: Fed hikes rates as expected

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2786 8
Eurostoxx index 389.9 1.7
Oil (WTI) 67.03 0.39
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.94%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.61%

Stocks are higher after the FOMC raised interest rates a quarter of a point. Bonds and MBS are up.

As expected, the Fed raised the Fed funds rate by 25 basis points to a range of 1.75% – 2%. The economy is clicking on all cylinders, with unemployment down, consumer spending up and business investment increasing. They took up their estimates for 2018 GDP growth to 2.8% from 2.7%, took up core PCE inflation to 2% from 1.9% and took down their unemployment rate forecast to 3.6% from 3.8%. The dot plot was increased slightly and the Fed funds futures shifted to a 60/40 probability of 2 more hikes this year.

Bonds initially sold off on the announcement, touching 3% at one point, but have since rallied back. The ECB also announced that it will stop buying bonds in September, depending on the data. Bunds are rallying on that statement and the 10 year could be rallying on the relative value trade. The Fed noted that longer-term inflation expectations have not changed, and they didn’t change their outlook for inflation from 2019 onward. One other thing of note: the Fed is going to start having press conferences after every meeting in order to disabuse people of the idea that the Fed can only hike in December, March, June and September.

Jun-Mar dot plot comparison

In other economic news, initial jobless claims fell to 218,000 last week, while retail came in way higher than expected, rising 0.8% for the headline number and 0.5% for the control group, which excludes gasoline, autos and building materials. Restaurants and apparel were the big gainers, increasing 1.3% and 1.5%. Consumer discretionary spending is back, as the FOMC statement indicated.  Finally, import and export prices were higher than expected, with increasing energy prices pushing up imports and higher ag prices increasing exports.

Outgoing Republican Congressman Darrell Issa is supposedly one of the finalists who will be appointed as the head of the CFPB. The Administration has said that it will abide by its June 22 deadline to appoint a permanent head of the CFPB. Acting Chairman Mick Mulvaney is not involved in the selection process. Mark McWatters, a former banking regulator is another top choice, and probably makes more sense than Issa.

The May real estate market was the strongest on record, according to Redfin. Prices rose 6.3% and the average home was on market 34 days. In Denver, the time on market was under a week. Over a quarter of the homes sold in May went over their listing price. San Jose saw a price increase of 27% YOY to a median home price of over $1.2 million.

Note that rents rose by 3.6%, which is tilting the rent-vs-buy decision a little. Interestingly, Sam Zell, a famous real estate financier, thinks the multifam market is topping and should become less attractive going forward.

Affordable home advocates are touting a statistic that shows a minimum wage worker cannot afford a 2 bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. That is an awfully high bar – heck entry level investment bankers can’t afford a 2 bedroom apartment either. That is why young adults usually have roommates. I get there is a shortage of affordable housing, but that is a completely disingenuous statistic. Sam Zell is probably correct, however there could in fact be a glut of luxury apartments and a shortage of affordable ones.