Morning Report: Home prices rise 3.7%

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2914 -17
Oil (WTI) 61.64 -0.64
10 year government bond yield 2.48%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.22%

 

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

 

The Fed noted that asset prices are high, along with corporate debt levels in its latest Financial Stability Report. Debt to asset ratios at publicly traded firms are near 20 year highs. Part of that is simply interest rates: when rates fall dramatically and the cost of borrowing decreases, firms will swap equity for debt, often issuing debt and using the proceeds to buy back stock.

 

Home Prices rose 3.7% YOY in March, according to CoreLogic. Below is a map of the overvalued and undervalued areas of the US. Interestingly, most of California is considered to be fairly valued to undervalued despite the torrid price appreciation of the past 7 years. This is largely due to CoreLogic’s methodology, which compares home prices to disposable income. Incomes have been rising in California, while they have been stagnant in the Deep South. Which is why “cheap” real estate like the Florida panhandle is considered overvalued, while San Diego is not.

 

Corelogic overvalued

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Morning Report: Mortgage jobs continue to fall

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2899 -48
Oil (WTI) 61.36 -0.58
10 year government bond yield 2.48%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.22%

 

Stocks are lower after Chinese stocks got rocked overnight. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The Chinese stock market fell 6% overnight, perhaps on trade war fears. Trump tweeted about re-establishing Chinese tariffs next Friday, but Chinese media largely buried the story.

 

There isn’t much in the way of economic data this week aside from inflation data on Thursday and Friday. We do have a lot of Fed-speak though. The Fed has a communications issue, with the Fed Funds futures predicting a rate cut in 2019, while the debate internally seems to be between maintaining current policy and perhaps having to raise rates further. The Fed Funds futures are a bit of a mystery, given that economic data is nowhere close to recessionary. The consensus at the Fed seems to be wait and see, and aside from a few mentions of the Fed undershooting their inflation target, nobody seems to be pushing for rate cuts.

 

With Herman Cain and Steve Moore out of the picture, Donald Trump still has two seats to fill at the Fed. Former budget official Paul Winfree is being mentioned as a possible nominee.

 

The Spring selling season has not done much to increase mortgage banking jobs. In April, there were 318,000 people employed in the mortgage banking space, a drop of 4% from a year ago and a decline of 1% from the previous month. Separately, a shortage of construction labor is acting as a constraint on the homebuilding market. Much of the job decrease has been in the non-bank mortgage banking sector.

 

mortgage banking jobs

Morning Report: Strong jobs report

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2928 9
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 61.85 0.04
10 year government bond yield 2.56%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.20%

 

Stocks are higher after the strong payroll number. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 263,000
  • Unemployment rate 3.6%
  • Labor Force participation rate 62.8%
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.2% MOM / 3.2% YOY
  • Employment – Population ratio 60.8%

Overall it was a Goldilocks report for the markets. Stocks are happy about the payroll number while bonds like the wage data. Note the unemployment rate is at the lowest level since Jimi Hendrix did the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. We saw an uptick in construction workers as well as health care.

 

unemployment rate

 

The Washington Post noted how difficult finding truck drivers has become: McClane Company is a large trucking and warehouse firm that specializes in moving food and grocery items around the country. They are advertising truck driving jobs for $70,000 a year and a $6,000 sign on bonus in Jessup, Pennsylvania, but even at that level of pay it’s been tough to get enough people in the door.

 

Steve Moore withdrew his name from consideration to join the Fed after it appeared the he wouldn’t have the votes to get confirmed. Establishment Republicans are not ready for non-traditional types to join the Fed, though it might be a good thing, if only to break the group-think that goes on there.

 

Ginnie Mae is taking a look at 90%+ LTV cash out refinancings. They put out a request for input. Initially, they were looking at the prepay speeds for VA IRRRL loans, and how it was affecting GNMA MBS investors, but it looks like they are now broadening their focus as VA loans still have higher prepay speeds than comparable FHA or Fannie / Freddie loans. Specifically, VA refis occur earlier than FHA refis, and high LTV VA cashouts have higher prepay speeds than comparable FHA cash-outs. FHA cash outs are limited to 85% LTV, while VAs can go up to 97.5%, and the funding fee can be financed. It looks like GNMA is not looking at tightening the restrictions for VA refis, but it is more interested in perhaps creating new GII pools for shorter duration loans (i.e. fast prepays).

 

VA versus FHA speeds

Morning Report: The Fed maintains rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2928 4
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 62.94 -0.66
10 year government bond yield 2.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.23%

 

Stocks are up this morning after the Fed maintained rates. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

As expected, the Fed maintained the Fed Funds rate at current levels, although they did tweak the rate on overnight reserves. During the press conference, Jerome Powell pushed back against the idea that the Fed’s next move will be a cut. Rates initially fell down the 2.46% level, but overnight retraced that move and we are back at levels we saw before the meeting. The Fed was surprised by the strength in both the job market and the overall economy and the fact that inflation remains lower than they would like to see.

 

At the press conference, a number of journalists asked about the market’s forecast for another rate cut. Powell stressed that the Committee’s view is that the current level of interest rates is “appropriate” and that core inflation was running close to the Fed’s target of 2% for most of 2018. The Fed Funds futures trimmed their estimates for a 2019 rate cut, from a 2/3 chance to more 50/50.  MBS spreads are slightly wider (meaning mortgage rates are a touch higher relative to the 10 year than they were yesterday).

 

Fed fund futures dec 2019

 

Construction spending fell 0.9% MOM and 0.8% YOY in March, according to the Census Bureau. Residential construction drove the decrease, falling 1.8% MOM and 8.4% YOY. Ex-residential construction, spending was solid, but we could see a downward revision in Q1 GDP estimates due to the resi numbers.

 

Productivity rose 3.6% in the first quarter as unit labor costs fell 0.9%. Q4’s productivity number was revised upward to 1.3%. Not sure what drove the decrease in unit labor costs – wages have been rising – but the problems with measuring productivity in this economy have been noted before. Regardless, the drop in labor costs and higher output mean inflation should remain below the Fed’s 2% target.

 

Initial jobless claims rose to 230k last week.

 

Lumber prices have been falling after spiking at record levels last year. Given that this is the time of year we should see more demand, this is surprising. The driver has been weather and continued weakness in homebuilding. Lower commodity prices should increase the margins for homebuilders and hopefully incent more homebuilding. Note that the S&P homebuilder ETF is up 25% this year.

 

What would happen to mortgage rates if we release Fannie and Freddie from conservatorship? Currently, Fannie and Freddie debt is treated as sovereign debt by investors, in other words, they believe the government will stand behind the debt if the GSEs run into trouble. This lowers their cost of funds, which gets passed on to borrowers in lower mortgage rates. If Fannie and Freddie are released from conservatorship, and the government no longer backs their debt, it will increase mortgage rates overall (their debt will definitely NOT be AAA), and will probably impact their ability to do perform the affordable housing part of their mandate. It is important to remember the reason why Fannie and Freddie were privatized in the first place – it was done in the 1970s to paper over the debt being issued to fund the Vietnam war. In a way, the government was using off-balance sheet financing, similar to the special purpose vehicles banks were using in the mid 00s. If there is more than 20% outside ownership in the subsidiary, then the parent is no longer required to consolidate the subsidiary’s debt on its balance sheet. In other words, they don’t have to claim that debt on their books, even if they are guaranteeing it. This accounting sleight of hand lowered the US debt numbers in the 1970s and it was hoped that this would help fight rising inflation (obviously that did not work). It may turn out that there would not be a bid for new Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stock without a government credit wrapper, which means that hopes for a fully privatized Fannie and Freddie might turn out to be impossible to achieve.

Morning Report: Blowout ADP jobs number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2945.83 2.3
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 63.37 -0.27
10 year government bond yield 2.50%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.18%

 

Stocks are higher as we await the FOMC decision. Bonds and MBS are up. Markets should be quiet this morning as most of Europe is closed for May Day.

 

Today’s Fed decision is set to be released at 2:00 pm. No changes in policy are expected and it should be a nonevent.

 

Pending Home Sales rose 3.8% in March, according to NAR. Activity increased pretty much everywhere except for the Northeast. Falling mortgage rates have helped boost activity and we are seeing a bit of an improvement in the inventory balance. Pending home sales reached a level of about 5 million, which is the same level as we saw in 2000. We have 50 million more people since then, which means there is a lot of pent-up demand.

 

The ADP jobs report came in at an increase of 275,000 jobs in April. This was well above the Street expectation of 180,000 for Friday’s jobs report. Professional and business services led the charge, and we also saw an increase in construction employment. The service sector added 223,000 jobs, the biggest increase in two years. With the Fed out of the way, 2019 could be better economically than people were thinking. Note that Trump is still jawboning the Fed to cut rates.

 

ADP report

 

Mortgage Applications fell for the fourth straight week, dropping 4.3%. Purchases fell 4% and refis fell 5%. “Mortgage rates were lower last week, with the 30-year fixed rate declining to 4.42 percent, as concerns over global growth, particularly in Germany, outweighed more positive domestic news on first quarter GDP growth and business investment,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Applications to refinance and purchase a home both fell, but purchase activity still remained slightly above year ago levels. The drop in refinances were driven by fewer FHA and VA loan applications, which typically lag the movement of conventional loans.”

 

Freddie Mac bumped up its origination forecast for 2019 by 4% to $1.74 trillion as rates have fallen. They expect the 30 year fixed rate mortgage to be 4.3% at the end of the year, and home price appreciation to moderate to 3.5%.

Morning Report: FOMC begins

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2940 -2.9
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 64.46 1.2
10 year government bond yield 2.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.18%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after Google missed earnings last night. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The FOMC begins its 2 day meeting this morning. The result should be announced tomorrow at 2:00 pm. No changes are expected in policy.

 

The employment cost index rose 0.7% in Q1, driven by a 0.7% increase in wages and a 0.7% increase in benefit costs. On an annualized basis wages and salaries increased 2.9% and benefits increased 2.6%.

 

Home Price Appreciation continues to slow, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price index. The index increased 4% YOY, compared to 4.2% in the previous month. “The pace of increases for home prices continues to slow,” says David M. Blitzer, Managing Director
and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Homes began their climb in 2012 and accelerated until late 2013 when annual increases reached double digits. Subsequently, increases slowed until now when the National Index is up 4% in the last 12 months. Sales of existing single family homes have recovered since 2010 and reached their peak one year ago in February 2018. Home sales drifted down over the last year except for a one-month pop in February 2019. Sales of new homes, housing starts, and residential investment had similar weak trajectories over the last year. Mortgage
rates are down one-half to three-quarters of a percentage point since late 2018.

 

“The largest year-over-year price increase is 9.7% in Las Vegas; last year, the largest gain was 12.7% in Seattle. Regional patterns are shifting. The three California cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego have the three slowest price increases over the last year. Chicago, New York and Cleveland saw only slightly larger prices increases than California. Prices generally rose faster in inland cities than on either the coasts or the Great Lakes. Aside from Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tampa, which saw the fastest gains, Atlanta, Denver, and Minneapolis all saw prices rise more than 4% — twice the rate of
inflation.”

 

 

Morning Report: Surprisingly strong GDP report

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2939 -3.25
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 63.11 -0.18
10 year government bond yield 2.51%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.23%

 

Stocks are flattish as we end the month of April. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

We have a decent amount of data this week, along with a Fed meeting. The biggest news will be the jobs report on Friday, although we will get income / spending data and the ISM.

 

Q1 GDP came in at a much higher than expected 3.2% versus the 2.3% growth that was expected. Even better, the inflation rate came in much lower than expected, which should mean the Fed is out of the way. The 10 year bond yield traded below 2.5% for the first time in 2 months, despite having the strongest Q1 growth in 4 years. Note that consumption didn’t drive the increase in growth (it only came in at 1.2%) – the growth was driven by exports  – which at a minimum should end the talking point that Trump’s trade wars are alienating our trading partners.

 

GDP

 

The immediate market reaction was subdued. The 10 year bond yield drifted lower, stocks were flat, and the Fed Funds futures didn’t change all that much – still predicting a 1/3 chance of no moves this year and a 2/3 chance of a rate cut.

 

In terms of the individual components, the trade numbers were affected by both an increase in exports (3.7%) and a drop in imports (-3.7%). Durable goods consumption fell 5.3%, which is probably related. Residential continues to be a persistent weak spot (-2.8%), and a bit of a head-scratcher given the sheer lack of inventory. Increased investment was driven by an increase in intellectual property (8.6%), which offset a decrease in building (-0.8%).

 

Housing’s contribution to GDP has been shrinking since the late 80s. The financial crisis caused it to fall from about 18% to 15%, and in the past decade it has been more or less stuck there. It looks like housing is again beginning to decline as a percent of GDP, and it is now below 15%. If housing can get back to at least normalcy, that should provide a good bump for GDP growth.

 

housing GDP

 

Personal Incomes rose 0.1% in March, which was below expectations. Consumption surprised to the upside. Inflation remains tame, with the headline PCE number up .1% MOM / 1.5% YOY and the core up 0.2% / 1.6% YOY.

 

New FHFA Director Mark Calabria has an ambitious agenda for housing reform, including solving problems with servicing, fixing the QM patch, and eventually releasing the GSEs from conservatorship. He is emphatic that he does not want to see the mortgage market return to the pre-2008 days.