Morning Report: Quits rate jumps in May

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2781 -11
Eurostoxx index 382.05 -4.2
Oil (WTI) 73.29 -0.82
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.85%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.53%

Stocks are lower this morning after Trump threatened tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Bonds and MBS are flat.

China has vowed to retaliate if the Trump Administration follows through on its threat to impose 10% tariffs on about $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Since China imports far less than $200 billion from the US, they may have to come up with other measures to retaliate – anything from denying visas to limiting tourism and increasing regulatory measures. Strategists are beginning to warn that the trade war could derail the recovery.

Inflation at the wholesale level increased in June, according to the PPI. The headline number rose 0.3% MOM / 3.4% YOY. Ex food and energy, it was up 0.3% / 2.8% and ex food energy and trade services 0.3% / 2.7%. Services and motor vehicles drove the increase.

Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court yesterday. He is generally a regulatory skeptic, and has ruled against overreach in the past. He has already weighed in on the CFPB, which he believes is unconstitutional. From CFPB vs PHH, writing for the majority: “The CFPB’s concentration of enormous executive power in a single, unaccountable, unchecked Director not only departs from settled historical practice, but also poses a far greater risk of arbitrary decision-making and abuse of power, and a far greater threat to individual liberty, than does a multi-member independent agency. The overarching constitutional concern with independent agencies is that the agencies are unchecked by the president, the official who is accountable to the people and who is responsible under Article II for the exercise of executive power.” That said, Kennedy was already considered a vote against the CFPB, so the nomination won’t move the needle there.

Kavanaugh has also ruled against the EPA, which generally ignored the “cost” side of the “cost / benefit” analysis of regulations during the Obama Administration. Overall the regulatory environment for the financial industry could get a little easier with Kavanaugh on the Court.

Speaking of the CFPB, Brian Johnson has been tapped to be the #2 of the agency. He replaces Leandra English, who resigned last week.

Small business optimism remains elevated despite trade concerns, according to the NFIB Small Business Optimism Survey.  Employment continues to grow, with 1 in 5 firms adding employees in June on net. Sales are up overall, but margins appear to be facing pressure from higher labor and input prices. Credit needs are being fully met.

Job openings fell to 6.6 million in May, which was just off the record high of 6.8 million set in April. Hires were strong at 5.8 million, led by health care and social assistance. The big number was the quits rate, which is one of the best leading indicators of wage inflation. It rose to 2.4%.

quits rate

The big question remains: how much slack is there really in the labor market? Most of the official numbers imply there is none. Yet, there is only modest wage inflation. I suspect the employment-population ratio tells the real story, and that number has yet to really recover from the Great Recession. Demographics are part of the story, but as people work longer, the assumption of 65 = retirement might have to change. I suspect many of those who are retired would gladly take a job if offered.

For the construction sector, the number of unfilled jobs hit a record high. That sector has been facing labor constraints for quite some time, and this partially explains why housing starts have been so far below what is needed to meet demand.

construction labor market

Mortgage Applications increased 2.5% last week as purchases rose 7% and refis fell 4%. Last week included the 4th of July, so there are all sorts of adjustments baked into that number. Refis fell under 35%, the lowest number since August 2008. ARMS decreased to 6.3%. Overall rates fell about 3-4 basis points last week.

Meanwhile, the MBA’s mortgage credit availability index improved last month as increases in conventional and jumbo availability offset a contraction in government.

Morning Report: 75% of the US Treasury market is under water

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2773.25 10.1
Eurostoxx index 383.72 1.4
Oil (WTI) 74.01 0.21
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.86%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.50%

Stocks are higher this morning as trade war fears recede. Bonds and MBS are down.

Earnings season begins this week, with a bunch of the big banks reporting on Friday.

The biggest econ data will be the PPI and CPI on Wednesday and Thursday. For the most part it should be a quiet week.

Leandra English has resigned from the CFPB. She was the Deputy Director for Richard Cordray, and believed she should have been given the job instead of Mick Mulvaney. She sued in Court and lost. Now that Kathy Kraninger has been nominated, she is gone.

Donald Trump will announce his SCOTUS pick at 9:00 pm tonight. The favorites are Brett Kavanaugh and Thomas Hardiman.

Interesting stat: 75% of the US Treasury market trades under par. This is the highest percent ever recorded (we started measuring this in the 80s). In the past, it generally peaked around 50%, which happened at the end of Fed tightening cycles and was usually a buying opportunity. I would note that these were in the context of a secular bull market in bonds. In secular bull markets, you buy the dip. We are now in a secular bear market in bonds and that changes the dynamic.

100 years of interest rates

The REO-to-Rental Trade was a big winner over the past several years. Hedge funds and pension funds bought foreclosed properties for pennies on the dollar, fixed them up and rented them out, earning high single digit returns. As home prices rise, you would think these people will start ringing the register. Turns out they are doubling down. Professional investors are buying up homes in urban areas with good schools. This is making things even tougher for the first time homebuyer who is struggling to find a starter homes. That said, it isn’t a ridiculous number – last year major investors bought 29,000 homes, which is a drop in the bucket compared to total existing home sales of 5.45 million.

Morning Report: Goldilocks jobs report and the FOMC minutes

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2740 2
Eurostoxx index 381.23 -0.36
Oil (WTI) 42.31 -0.63
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.82%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.52%

Stocks are flattish this morning as a good jobs report offsets the new tariffs that went into effect this morning. Bonds and MBS are up.

Jobs report data dump:

  • Payrolls up 213,000 (street was looking for 190,000)
  • Unemployment rate 4% (.2% increase, street was looking for 3.8%)
  • Labor force participation rate 62.9% (.2% increase)
  • Average hourly earnings +.2% MOM / 2.7% YOY (in line with expectations)

Overall, a good report – strength in payrolls, and an increase in the labor force participation rate. The labor force increased by 600k, where the number of unemployed increased 500k and the number of employed increased 100k. Of those 500k added to the ranks of the unemployed, 200k were re-entrants to the labor force. The achilles heel (at least as far as those looking for wage growth) has been the reservoir of the long-term unemployed. This will help ease some of the labor shortage, which has been a constraint on growth. It will also raise the non-inflationary growth rate for the economy overall, which is kind of like a speed limit. For the Fed, this is a bit of a Goldilocks report – it gives them the breathing room to lift rates gradually which limits the risk of a recession.

The FOMC minutes didn’t really reveal much new information. Most pointed to the strong labor market and cited several statistics (JOLTS, unemployment rate, regional Fed surveys) to point to a tight labor market. “Several” members (i.e. a minority) thought that there was still some slack in the market as the long term unemployed are re-entering the labor market. Note this morning’s jobs report bears that out. The members also discussed the slope of the yield curve, and whether the flattening was telling them anything. Interestingly, only “some” participants thought that the Fed’s asset purchase program (i.e. QE) was affecting the shape of the yield curve, and therefore distorting the information sent from it. Kind of begs the question – if QE didn’t affect the shape of the yield curve, then what was the point? Or even more importantly, why do they still have $4.5 trillion worth of bonds on the balance sheet?

Fed assets

The Fed also thought about the possibility of a trade war and how that would end up slowing down the economy. They also thought that they might have to raise the Fed funds rate further than they had anticipated earlier: “With regard to the medium-term outlook for monetary policy, participants generally judged that, with the economy already very strong and inflation expected to run at 2 percent on a sustained basis over the medium term, it would likely be appropriate to continue gradually raising the target range for the federal funds rate to a setting that was at or somewhat above their estimates of its longer run level by 2019 or 2020.”

The Fed Funds futures turned slightly more hawkish on the minutes, with the probability of a Sep hike increasing from 75% to 80% and the chance of a Sep and Dec hike hitting 53%.

In other economic news, the trade deficit fell to the lowest level in 18 months. Not sure how much of that is due to tariffs already in place.

Tariffs (especially lumber) are wreaking havoc on the entry-level new housing market. Builders generally have to purchase things like land and materials up front before they build and get paid for the construction. When materials prices are artificially supported by tariffs, that increases their risks, and makes them pull back.

Morning Report: Gen X hit hardest by Great Recession

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2733 19.7
Eurostoxx index 382.97 2.89
Oil (WTI) 74.32 0.2
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.85%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.54%

Stocks are higher this morning on rumors that the Trump Administration is dialing back its plans for tariffs on European autos. Bonds and MBS are flat.

The minutes from the June FOMC meeting are coming out at 2:00 pm today. Be careful locking around then since they could be market-moving.

The service economy continues to plow ahead, according to the ISM Non-Manufacturing Survey. Higher input prices, tariffs, and labor shortages are the biggest worries. Trucking shortgages are increasing prices, and that has the potential to push up inflation since it touches just about every business, at least indirectly.

The economy added 177,000 jobs last month according to the ADP Survey. This was a touch below street estimates. Note that ADP numbers have generally been higher than the government’s for the past several months. The Street is looking for 191,000 jobs in tomorrow’s payroll report. While the payroll number will be important, for the bond market, it will all come down to the average hourly earnings number.

Initial Jobless Claims ticked up to 231,000 last week. Separately, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas noted there were 37,000 announced job cuts in May.

Tariffs on about $34 billion worth of Chinese exports are set to go into effect tomorrow. Beijing has announced it will retaliate with more tariffs the “instant it goes into effect.” Trade fears have been weighing on the stock market, and we are seeing some effects in commodity prices. Today’s minutes will probably discuss the issue at length. On one hand, this trade war is pushing up commodity prices, which is inflationary and should encourage the Fed to lean hawkish, at least at the margin. On the other hand, trade wars are an economic drag, which should encourage more dovishness. The Fed generally considers commodity inflation to be transitory, so on net trade wars should encourage dovishness, at least at the margin.

Oil prices have been a problem for while now, as WTI crude now trades close to $75 a barrel. Oil prices have been rising due to Venezuela issues and pressure on Europe to not buy Iranian oil. Trump tweeted that OPEC should increase production, which caused Saudi Arabia to announce it would increase output and Iran to announce that his pressure on them have added about $10 to the price of oil in the first place.  At the end of the day however these issues affect North Sea Brent prices, which really only matter to East Coast refineries. The rest of the country uses US domestic oil. Higher gas prices do make consumers surly and the Administration wants to see them down ahead of midterms this fall.

Here are the hottest real estate markets in June, according to Realtor.com. Note it isn’t the names you would think.

Interesting chart in today’s Journal about which breaks down the labor force participation rate by age cohort. The press keeps harping on the job market for entry level workers (essentially the Millennial Generation) however if you look at the labor force participation rate for that cohort, it is lower than the year 2000, but not by much. Nor is the problem the 55+ cohort (baby boomers). They are close to all-time highs. It is Gen X that is the issue – their cohort peaked around 83% in 2000 and now is closer to 80%. It is this generation that was hit hardest by the Great Recession (nailed right during the peak earnings years) and has yet to recover.

labor force participation rate by age cohort

Morning Report: ISM strong, tight labor market, Fed Funds still see a coin toss for 2 hikes this year.

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2737 10
Eurostoxx index 380.51 3.77
Oil (WTI) 75 1.06
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.87%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.52%

Stocks are up this morning as emerging markets rally overnight. Bonds and MBS are flat.\

Today should be quiet as markets close early ahead of the 4th of July holiday.

Manufacturing continued to plow ahead in June, according to the ISM PMI Index. The responses from the survey participants show that the trade war is having some impact. One food and beverage company mentioned that they were shifting some production to Canada in order to escape Chinese retaliatory tariffs on US products. Inflationary pressures are present in higher commodity prices, and we are seeing secondary pressure from transportation (higher oil prices and driver shortages are pushing up prices here). Pretty much every commodity is seeing price increases, and there are material shortages in aluminum, steel, and electronic components. Overall, this is a strong manufacturing reading, which is usually associated with 5.2% GDP growth. Of course, manufacturing isn’t the driver of the economy it used to be, but it is still a strong reading.

The Fed is going to pay close attention to this report, particularly the part about labor shortages. From their standpoint, inflationary pressures from commodity price inflation are generally considered transitory and therefore temporary. An old saw in the commodity markets is that the cure for high prices is high prices. The potential dampening effect from trade battles will also concern them. IMO, until you start seeing wage inflation pick up in a meaningful way the Fed will consider this a push. Note we will get some insight into this on Thursday when the minutes from the June meeting are released.

The Fed funds futures are still handicapping a 76% chance of a 25 bp hike in September and a 45% chance of one in December as well.

Fed Funds probability CME

Construction spending rose 0.4% in May, and is up 4.5% on an annualized basis. Residential construction was up 0.8% MOM and 6.6% YOY, as an increase in private resi construction was offset by a drop in public housing spending. Manufacturing construction took a step back, which will be something to watch (could just be noise, but could be trade-related). Meanwhile retail (specifically mall-related construction) is in the doldrums as vacancy rates soar.

Home price appreciation accelerated in May, according to the CoreLogic Home Price index. Prices rose 1.1% MOM and are up 7.1% YOY. The housing shortage is well-documented, and the problem is most acute at the entry-level. Higher rates and low inventory is also preventing some people from moving. CoreLogic estimates that 50% of the mortgage market has a rate of 3.75% or lower. According to CoreLogic’s model which compares home price appreciation to income appreciation, we are seeing large pockets of overvaluation, particularly in Florida, the West Coast, the sand states, and parts of the Eastern Seaboard. The Midwest remains cheap.

Corelogic overvalued

Trump is reportedly mulling whether to pick a new Chief of Staff. One of the potential candidates is current CFPB Chairman Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney is currently doing double duty as OMB and CFPB head, so a change for him would be unlikely, but the possibility is still there. Here are the implications of a change and who might replace him.

Labor shortages continue to be an issue in the Midwest. Companies are now less squeamish about hiring ex-cons. In Elkhart, (where the labor market is so tight it sports a 2% unemployment rate and even the KFC is offering sign-on bonuses), companies are hiring convicted felons (except sex offenders) and are waiving drug tests. It is a back-to-the future scenario, where the labor market is suddenly transported back to 1955.

Morning Report: New Down Payment Assistance programs

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2728.75 9.5
Eurostoxx index 379.91 3.04
Oil (WTI) 73.39 -0.06
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.84%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.52%

Stocks are higher this morning on end-of-quarter window dressing. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Personal incomes rose 0.4% in May while personal spending rose 0.2%. Incomes were in line with estimates, while spending was lower. The June FOMC statement said that consumer spending was accelerating – no evidence of that in this report. Services spending drove the decline, and we could be seeing evidence that higher gasoline prices is affecting discretionary expenditures. Inflation was in line with expectations at the MOM level, and a hair above expectations on an annual basis. The core PCE index ex-food and energy came in at 2%, which is right where the Fed wants it. April’s income and spending numbers were revised downward. Don’t be surprised if strategists take down some of their Q2 GDP forecasts on these numbers.

The Chicago PMI improved to 64 from 62, which is a 5 month high. New Orders and order backlog drove the increase. We are seeing some signs of inflation brewing, with extended lead times, and a 7 year high on the prices paid index. Businesses were asked about how trade was affecting their operations. About 25% said they were having a significant impact, 40% said there was a minimal impact, and the rest were either unsure or insulated from trade issues.

KB Home reported strong numbers, with a 170 basis point increase in gross margins, 10% revenue growth, and a 50% increase in operating income. ASPs were up 4% to 401,800, and order growth was 3%. Backlog was the second highest on record. The stock is up 7% pre-open.

Interesting theory about the lack of construction workers: opiods. Between users and those that have been convicted of crimes related to usage, many workers are shut out of the work force. 80% of homebuilders report shortages in subcontractors.

The Senate will hold hearings on July 12 and 19th for Kathy Kraninger’s nomination to run the CFPB. The conventional wisdom is that she is not intended to be confirmed, but is to be an excuse to keep Mick Mulvaney in charge of the agency.

Deutsche Bank failed its stress test, while State Street, Goldman and Morgan Stanley got dinged.

Many Millennials are struggling to get a down payment for a home, and now some companies are working to help them get it. One company will supply up to a $50,000 downpayment if the borrower rents out a room on Air B&B and shares the income with the company. These loans are appealing to borrowers who might qualify for a FHA or 3% down Fannie loan but don’t want to pay the MI and other costs. While there are fears that we are bringing back the bad old days of the real estate bubble, here is the MBA’s mortgage credit availability index. We are a long way away from the days of the pick-a-pay mortgage.

MCAI long term

Morning Report: Second quarter GDP revised downward

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2695 -8.5
Eurostoxx index 376 -3.9
Oil (WTI) 72.39 -0.39
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.83%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.53%

Stocks are lower this morning on overseas weakness. Bonds and MBS are flat.

The third estimate for first quarter GDP came in lower than expected, as an upward revision in the price index and a downward revision in consumer spending lowered the third and final estimate from 2.2% to 2%. The price index was revised upward from 1.9% to 2.2%, while consumer spending was revised downward from 1% to 0.9%. Housing was actually a negative in the first quarter. I may sound like a broken record, but from 1959 to 2002, housing starts averaged 1.5 million per year, with a much smaller population. Post-bubble, we have averaged around a million per year. Just to get supply and demand into balance probably requires 2 million starts, which would do wonders for GDP. Incidentally, yesterday’s inventory figures prompted the Atlanta Fed to take up its tracking estimate for second quarter GDP to 4.5%.

The drop in the 10 year yield has probably been influenced by the Fed Funds futures, which have been inching towards one more hike this year as opposed to 2. Current probability levels:

  • No more hikes: 11%
  • One more hike 44%
  • Two more hikes: 42%
  • Three hikes 2%

While the US economic data probably supports more hikes in interest rates, wage growth remains muted, and the sell-off in emerging markets is being viewed as a canary in the coal mine for global growth. Finally fears of a trade war are bearish for the economy, which would give the Fed another excuse to hold off in either September or December.

Initial Jobless Claims increased to 227k last week, which is still an astoundingly low level. Meanwhile corporate profits were revised upward in the first quarter from 0.1% to 2.7%.

Ben Carson testified in front of the House Financial Services Committee yesterday, where he laid out some of the changes he has implemented at HUD. He has made some changes with the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program (aka reverse mortgages) to put the insurance fund on sounder footing. He is emphasizing the removal of lead paint and other hazards in HUD housing, and has suspended the Obama-era scheduled cut in the FHA mortgage insurance premium. HUD is concerned about the number of FHA cash-out refinances, which have increased from 45% of refis to 60% in the last year. (As an aside, since rate / term refi opportunities are largely gone, so you would expect to see an increase in the percentage of cash-outs).

Why socially responsible investing sounds like a nice idea, but isn’t a free lunch. You can “do good” but you should be prepared to underperform.