Morning Report: Inflation remains under control

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2705 8.75
Eurostoxx index 391.2 -1.24
Oil (WTI) 71.51 0.37
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are breathing a sigh of relief after the Consumer Price Index comes in lower than expectations. Bonds and MBS are up as well.

The headline Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% MOM / 2.5% YOY. Ex-food and energy it rose 0.1% / 2.1%. Higher gasoline prices pushed the index up, while falling healthcare and communications price increases pulled it lower. While the Fed focuses on PCE, and not CPI it is a welcome development for bonds and shows that the 3% level has held again on the 10-year.

Initial Jobless Claims were flat last week at 211,000. For those keeping score at home, this is pretty much a 48 year low.

Royal Bank of Scotland will finally put the mortgage crisis behind it as it settles with the US government with a $4.9 billion fine. The fine was lower than expected and the stock is up 6% this morning in UK trading.

Want to get the absolute best price for your home? List it on Tuesday at 5:00 pm local time. No, really.

California is close to mandating that all new homes come with solar panels. The mandate will probably raise the cost of a new home by about $10,000 although the money will eventually get recouped with lower energy bills – the CA Energy Commission estimates that the typical homeowner will save $80 a month, which would more than offset the $40 additional mortgage cost. CA’s average electric bill is only $90 a month to begin with, so that $80 number seems suspect.

The White House is looking to keep Interim BCFP Director Mick Mulvaney in for a longer period, at least through the end of the year. The WH is rumored to want NCUA Chairman Mark McWatters as the permanent head of the CFPB. McWatters is viewed as a pragmatist and has a reputation for working with people on both sides of the aisle.

Morning Report: Number of unemployed equals number of job openings

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2680 9.75
Eurostoxx index 390.81 0.81
Oil (WTI) 70.9 1.84
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.00%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.63%

Stocks are higher this morning after the US pulled out of the Iran deal. Bonds and MBS are down, with the 10 year trading over 3% again.

The Iran deal was never ratified by the Senate, so it never reached the level of “treaty.” It was basically a deal with the Obama Admin and Iran.

Oil had a volatile day yesterday and is rallying again. China is the biggest customer of Iranian oil, so in theory it shouldn’t affect the US all that much, but WTI will follow Brent on the relative value trade. Note that a sustained oil price over $70 is estimated to be about a 0.7% drag on GDP growth.

Inflation at the wholesale level moderated last month, with the producer price index rising 0.1% MOM and 2.6% YOY. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.1% / 2.3% and the core rate rose 0.1% / 2.5%.

Job openings hit 6.6 million last month, which is a new record for the index, which goes back to early 2000. The quits rate increased to 2.3%. The quits rate has been stuck in a 2.2% – 2.3% range for what seems like forever. Fun fact: The number of job openings has hit the number of unemployed for the first time.

JOLTs vs unemployed

The labor shortage is particularly acute in construction, which is part of the reason why housing starts have been short of demand. This shortage has extended to home remodeling as well.

While everyone seems to focus on the CPI / PPI / PCE inflation measures and imagines that a single point estimate accurately reflects the cost of living, it doesn’t. First the relative weights of different goods and services differ. For example, PCE and CPI will weight healthcare differently, as well as owner-equivalent rent. The St. Louis Fed notes that the differences in inflation between regions of the US can be substantial as well.

Mortgage Applications fell 0.4% last week as purchases fell 0.2% and refis fell 1%. Tough times for the smaller originators.

Despite the slim pickings out there, mortgage credit has contracted a bit this year. Overall, it was a mixed bag, as government credit contracted on less streamlines while conventional increased as jumbos rose. Government credit has been tightening since early 2017, when the government began to crack down on serial VA IRRRL shops.

How have things changed at the CFPB or the (BCFP) under Mick Mulvaney? Despite the ululating in the press, not that much. One of the panelists warned industry lawyers not to advise their clients that the CFPB is relaxing its enforcement activities. So far, the biggest change we have seen is that the name has been changed back to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, which was the way it was written into Dodd-Frank.

Fair Housing groups are suing HUD over Ben Carson’s delay of the Obama-era re-interpretation of AFFH – affirmatively furthering fair housing. Their complaint is that HUD didn’t provide advance notice before suspending the rule,. which would have required communities to “examine and address barriers to racial integration and to draft plans to desegregate their communities.” HUD delayed the compliance deadline until 2024. In practice, this means that HUD wants communities to change or eliminate their zoning ordinances to include more multi-family housing in wealthier neighborhoods.

Morning Report: Jerome Powell agrees with market on interest rates

Vital Statistic:

Last Change
S&P futures 2667 -3
Eurostoxx index 388.93 -0.56
Oil (WTI) 70.09 -0.62
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.55%

Stocks are lower as we await the Trump Administration’s decision on the Iran deal. Bonds and MBS are down small.

The Administration is set to announce later today whether they intend to stay in the Iranian deal or abandon it. Oil has been rallying on expectations Trump will leave.

Jerome Powell said that market expectations (i.e. the Fed Funds futures) are more or less in alignment with the Fed’s expectations for the future path of interest rates. The December Fed funds futures are predicting about a 10% chance of one more hike this year, a 44% chance of 2 more and a 39% chance of 3 more. Over the past month, the central tendency has become more hawkish.

fed funds probability 2

Small Business Optimism remains strong, according to the NFIB. More businesses are planning on increasing capital expenditures, while hiring remains strong and we are seeing evidence of increased compensation. Profitability increased as well, which indicates that productivity is increasing, and that some of this CAPEX is going towards labor-saving technology. Finding qualified workers continues to be the biggest issue surrounding small business. “There is no question that small business is booming,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Consumer spending, the new tax law, and lower regulatory barriers are all supporting the surge in optimism across all small business industry sectors.”

Despite the hurricane-related spike in delinquences, overall DQ rates have been falling, according to CoreLogic. Home price appreciation, in addition to more stringent underwriting standards are the driving force behind it. The foreclosure rate is down from 0.8% to 0.5%, and the 30 day DQ rate is down to 4.8% from 5.0%. As you would expect, TX and FL are experiencing rising DQ rates, but the rest of the nation is down.

Tesla stock has more or less recovered from its conference call induces swoon from last week. The bonds are at the lows however, trading at 88. Note there is a divergence also in NFLX, which has bonds in the low 90s, while the stock is a highflyer.

NYS AG Eric Schneiderman resigned from office after reports came out that he abused 4 women. Schneiderman was an AG cut in the same cloth as Eliot Spitzer, and hated the financial industry about as much as he did (FWIW the feeling was mutual). When Spitzer announced his resignation, cheers went up on the floor of the NYSE.

Freddie Mac is getting into the business of providing lines of credit against MSR portfolios. Nonbank servicers face liquidity issues when loans they are servicing go delinquent. They are required to make the mortgage payment to the ultimate investor of the mortgage until the loan is brought current or foreclosed. Banks generally have no problems with this, but nonbank issuers generally don’t have the balance sheet to withstand heavy advances activity. Fannie Mae only requires 6 months of advances, but Ginnie Mae has no similar relief. Policymakers are concerned about the ability of nonbank servicers to withstand a period of prolonged stress if delinquencies spike.

Homebuyer sentiment hit an all-time high according to the Fannie Mae Home Purchase Sentiment Index. “The latest HPSI reading edged up to a new survey high, showing that consumer attitudes remain resilient going into the spring/summer home buying season,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “High home prices and good economic conditions helped push the share of Americans who think it’s a good time to sell to a fresh record high. However, the upward trend in the good-time-to-sell share seen since last spring has done little to release more for-sale inventory. The tightest supply in decades, combined with rising mortgage rates from historically low levels, will likely remain a hurdle for mobility and a persistent headwind for home sales.”

Morning Report: Goldilocks moment with unemployment and inflation

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2670 6.9
Eurostoxx index 388.46 1.44
Oil (WTI) 70.62 0.89
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.94%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.54%

Stocks are higher this morning as oil tops $70 a barrel. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls 164,000 (lower than estimates)
  • Unemployment rate 3.9%
  • Average hourly earnings +.1% MOM / 2.6% YOY
  • Labor force participation rate 62.8%

This was the second month in a row where the labor force participation rate fell. The labor force fell by 236k, while the population increased by 175k. Wage inflation remains present, however it is still unlikely to drive higher inflation in the overall economy. The unemployment rate fell to the lowest since early 2000. This report takes some pressure off the bond market, and makes another run at 3% for the 10 year less likely.

unemployment rate

The drop in the unemployment rate along with moderate wage growth is somewhat of a Goldilocks moment for the Fed. The Philps Curve is an older economic model which suggests that inflation should rise as unemployment falls, which makes sense: Unemployment falls -> workers become scarce -> wages rise -> those costs get passed on to consumers. In reality, the relationship between unemployment and inflation has been weak (R^2 = .27). The low r-squared gives away the weakness of the model – it is too simplistic, plus the unemployment rate might not be the best measure of employment strength since it ignores the long term unemployed. However, if you look at the plot below, you can see we are at a very “Goldilocks” point, which is denoted by the yellow star.

Phillps Curve

The upcoming week will have the consumer price index and the producer price index, but that should be the only market-moving data. We will have some Fed-speak as well today and Wednesday.

Donald Trump has until May 12 to renew the Iran deal. Israel calls the deal fatally flawed, while Iran says the US will regret not renewing it. West Texas Intermediate is trading over $70 on fears the deal will not be renewed.

Doctors tend to have difficulties getting a mortgage early in their careers – they usually have a high level of student loan debt, no savings and the earnings early on can be low. Mortgages that carry a higher interest rate but don’t require downpayments are becoming more popular for this market. These loans can carry an interest rate 25 -100 basis points over prevailing rates. although they usually don’t require PMI. One catch – the prepay speeds on these mortgage will almost certainly be high.

The CFPB dodged a bullet – PHH will not appeal the DC Circuit’s ruling that rejected their claim that the single-director structure is unconstitutional. There are other cases in the process that also use that claim, so it is possible the question may come to SCOTUS. If one of these cases makes it to SCOTUS, the only one with standing to defend the agency is the Administration, who probably won’t defend it.

Merger news: Mutual of Omaha is buying Synergy One. Synergy One will be a wholly-owned subsidiary and will continue to operate out of San Diego.

Morning Report: Awaiting the Fed

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2652 0.25
Eurostoxx index 387.17 2.14
Oil (WTI) 67.45 0.19
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.99%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.55%

Stocks are flat as we await the FOMC decision. Bonds and MBS are down small.

Mortgage Applications fell 2.5% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 4%.

The economy added 204,000 jobs last month according to the ADP Employment Report. This was higher than expectations and is above the Street estimate for Friday’s jobs report. Medium sized firms (50-500 employees) added the most jobs, and Professional and Business Services sector had the most growth. Construction added a lot of jobs as well.

ADP by sector

The FOMC announcement is scheduled for 2:00 pm EST today. No changes in rates are expected, but investors will be looking to see if the Fed changes its language about inflation running below target. The latest PCE index came in at 2%, which is the Fed’s target. The second-order question will be to see whether the Fed changes their 2% rate from a symmetric target to a ceiling. The most likely outcome will be a “steady as she goes” statement and any changes will be communicated at the June meeting with a fresh set of economic forecasts. Today’s announcement should be a nonevent.

The Fed Funds futures are predicting a 6% chance of a hike at the May meeting and a 94% chance of a 25 basis point hike at the June meeting.

The labor shortage is so acute in the Rust Belt that some towns are paying people to move there. Most of these small towns have a major demographic problem – younger workers moved to the cities in response to the Great Recession, leaving only the older workers who are now retiring. The fear is that labor shortages will prompt employers to leave, which will create a downward spiral.

Consumer advocates worry that Mick Mulvaney is not going to blow up the CFPB, but will neuter it with a thousand cuts. That said, the rhetoric from the left is a bit overblown. Mick Mulvaney said: “When I took over, we had roughly 26 lawsuits ongoing,” he told the House Appropriations Committee on April 18. “I dismissed one, because the other 25 I thought were pretty good lawsuits.”

Morning Report: Where is the private label MBS market?

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2645 -1.75
Eurostoxx index 385.49 0.17
Oil (WTI) 67.92 -0.65
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

Stocks are lower as we begin the FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Construction spending fell 1.7% MOM but is still up 3.6% YOY. Bad weather in the Northeast and Midwest probably drove the decrease. Residential construction was down 3.5% MOM and up 5.3% YOY.

Manufacturing downshifted in April, but is still reasonably strong according to the ISM Manufacturing Report. Steel tariffs were mentioned several times as an issue. A few comments from the piece:

  • “[The] 232 and 301 tariffs are very concerning. Business planning is at a standstill until they are resolved. Significant amount of manpower [on planning and the like] being expended on these issues.” (Miscellaneous Manufacturing)
  • “Business is off the charts. This is causing many collateral issues: a tightening supply chain market and longer lead times. Subcontractors are trading capacity up, leading to a bidding war for the marginal capacity. Labor remains tight and getting tighter.” (Transportation Equipment)

The US economic expansion is now the second-longest on record. Low inflation and low interest rates have made that possible. Despite the increase in interest rates, Fed policy is still highly expansionary, so as long as inflation behaves this could go on for a while longer.

expansions

House prices rose 1.4% MOM and 7% YOY, according to CoreLogic. About half of the MSAs are now overvalued according to their model.

Corelogic overvalued

Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney is looking for ways to save money. Sharing desks and moving to the basement are possibilities. As an aside, this article belongs on the opinion page.

The private label MBS market used to be a $1 trillion market – last year it was only about $70 billion. What is going on? Regulation may appear to be the culprit, but it really isn’t. There are still all sorts of unresolved issues between MBS investors and securitizers. The biggest surround servicing – how do investors get comfort that the loan will be serviced conflict-free, especially if the issuer has a second lien on the property. How do investors get comfort that the issuer won’t solicit their borrower for a refinance? A lack of prepay history is also a problem – it makes these bonds hard to model and price. Many investors also remember the crisis years, when liquidity vanished and investors were unable to sell, sometimes at any price.

Issuers were content for a lot of years to simply feast on easy refi business – rate and term streamlines which were uncomplicated and simple to crank out. Warehouse banks were reticent to fund anything that didn’t fit in the agency / government box, so why not concentrate on the low-hanging fruit? Investors were able to pick and choose from all sorts of distressed seasoned non-agency paper trading in the 60s and 70s. Most of that paper ended up being money good. But in that environment, why would anyone be interested in buying new issues over par? If you are a mortgage REIT, why not buy and lever new agency debt with interest rates at nothing and a central bank that is actively supporting the market?

Now that the easy refi business is gone, will we see a return of this market? Perhaps, but there probably still is a big gulf between what borrowers and investors are willing to accept and the governance issues remain unsolved.

Morning Report: Spending / Incomes up, PCE inflation at target

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2679 7.6
Eurostoxx index 385.1 0.46
Oil (WTI) 67.48 -0.62
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

Stocks are higher after a slew of new mergers were announced. Bonds and MBS are up small.

We have a big week ahead with the FOMC meeting starting tomorrow and the jobs report on Friday. The Street isn’t looking for any changes in interest rates at the May meeting, but will focus as usual on the language of the statement. For the jobs report, the expectation is 190k new payrolls and 2.7% annual wage inflation.

Pending Home Sales were up marginally from February, but were still down on an annual basis, according to NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index. Bad weather in the Northeast pushed down pending sales, however all parts of the country were down. Again, blame low inventory and falling affordability.

Personal Incomes rose 0.3% in March, while personal spending rose 0.4%, in line with expectations. The PCE index was up 2% YOY and the core PCE index was up 1.9%. This is the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation and it is right where they are targeting. Income growth was the weakest since last Fall, however.

The big debate right now is whether there is any slack in the labor market. Anecdotal evidence abounds that companies are struggling to find qualified workers. However, Econ 101 says that we should be seeing higher wage inflation as a result and that isn’t happening (at least not yet). Some theories are claiming this is a market failure and that employers are artificially holding down wages (which is then used as an argument for more government intervention in the labor market). I suspect the issue is that there are three big forces holding back wage growth. First, inflation is low – if companies cannot pass along price increases to their customers, they aren’t going to be raising wages. Second, lower wage jobs are competing with technology which is only getting better and cheaper. And finally, the long-term unemployed represent a reservoir of slack that companies know they can tap if needed. FWIW, I think the first and third explanations explain it, and find the idea that employers are somehow colluding to keep wages low to be wholly unconvincing. Take a look at the chart below, which shows wage increases versus inflation. You are seeing actual wage growth.

wages vs inflation

For now it looks like the 3% level in the 10 year has held. What drove the sell-off – it wasn’t like there was anything data-wise to support it. JP Morgan blames CTAs using momentum strategies to short the 10-year. Chinese selling has also been rumored to be a factor. We won’t be able to confirm or deny that theory for a couple of months. CTA funds have been net short Treasuries since September, however a momentum signal in mid-April caused people to pile into the trade and that apparently drove the late month sell-off.

Steve Mnuchin is “cautiously optimistic” on trade talks with China. The subject will include intellectual property and joint ventures.

Defect risk decreased on a MOM basis but was up on a YOY basis, according to the First American Loan Defect Index. The biggest risk was in the sand states, while the lowest risk was in the Rust Belt.