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.

Morning Report: GDP comes in better than expected

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2673 -1.5
Eurostoxx index 384.63 0.87
Oil (WTI) 67.92 -0.27
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.97%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are flat this morning after GDP came in higher than expected. Bonds and MBS are up small.

The advance estimate of first quarter GDP came in at 2.3%, higher than the Street 2.0% estimate. Consumption rose 1.1%, in line with estimates, and inflation was lower than expected at 2%. In many ways, this was a Goldilocks type report, with decent growth and controlled inflation. The savings rate increased to 3.1%, compared to 2.6% in the fourth quarter. One note of caution: the first quarter has had some quirky measurement issues over the past several years, which has subjected it to subsequent upward revisions. The tax cuts will probably have a similar effect this time around.

GDP

Wage inflation is picking up, according to the Employment Cost Index which rose 0.8% for the quarter and is up 2.7% for the year. Wages and salaries increased 0.9% compared to 0.5% in the previous quarter. For the Fed, these two reports this morning are great news. Real wage growth (2.7% increase in wages and salaries less a 2% increase in inflation) with moderate growth and inflation.

Consumer sentiment slipped from March’s 14 year high in April to a still strong 98.8.

The Fed Funds futures are predicting a 93% chance of another 25 basis point hike at the June meeting.

North and South Korea pledged to de-nuclearize the peninsula and declare an official end to the 50 year old Korean War.

Freddie Mac is introducing its 3% down product for first-time homebuyers – HomeOne. With an Affordable Second, the LTV can go as high as 105%. Income and geographic limits are intended to reach a broad audience.

The CFPB has fixed the “black hole” issue in TRID.

Morning Report: Initial Jobless Claims lowest since 1969

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2652.75 8.25
Eurostoxx index 382.29 2.12
Oil (WTI) 68.61 0.56
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.00%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are higher this morning on strong earnings from Facebook. Bonds and MBS are up.

The ECB maintained its current policy and made some cautious comments, which is pushing up bonds in Europe. US Treasuries are following along on the relative value trade.

The 10 year has made a pretty sizeable move over the past month or so, and mortgage rates typically lag. So don’t be surprised if mortgage rates continue to tick up, even if the 10 year finds a home at the 3% level.

The homeownership rate was flat in the first quarter at 64.2%. It is up from 63.6% a year ago however. It bottomed in the second quarter of 2016 at 62.9%.

Durable Goods Orders increased 2.6% in March, following a strong February. Ex-transportation, they were flat however and core capital goods, which is a proxy for business capital investment, fell slightly. February’s already strong numbers were revised up slightly.

Retail inventories fell 0.5% while wholesale inventories increased by the same amount.

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 209,000 last week, which is the lowest number since 1969. When you adjust for population growth, the number becomes even more dramatic:

initial jobless claims divided by population

Deutsche Bank is scaling back its US operations to focus on becoming a more Euro-centric bank. It is hard to believe, but almost 20 years ago, the bank decided to make a big foray into the US market by buying Banker’s Trust and Alex Brown.

Moody’s is worrying about the next area of opportunity in the mortgage market: cash-out refinances. As many CLTVs are approaching 75%, homeowners may choose to do a cash-out to either consolidate higher rate debt, or perhaps do home improvements. The other opportunity remains refinancing FHA loans that have accumulated enough equity to qualify for a conforming loan without MI. Finally, those who still have ARMs might find the relative attractiveness of a 30 year fixed to be a compelling switch. In an environment of rising home prices and rising interest rates, these will be the only game in town.

Homebuilders are facing rising input costs – sticks and bricks, if you will. Framing lumber prices are up 16% this year, and plywood is up 33%. Inventory is so tight that builders are able to pass these costs onto homebuyers. A tight labor market remains an issue for the industry as well. All of this points to higher home prices going forward.

For those wondering if we are indeed at the end of the credit cycle, here is WeWork’s bond offering, which came in at $700 million with bonds paying 7.875%. Borrowing money at 7.875% for 5% cap rate office space? Set that aside for the moment. They introduced a new financial concept, called “community-adjusted EBITDA,” which not only strips out interest, depreciation and amortization, and taxes, but also ignores general and administrative, marketing, and design / development costs. That has to be the first time I have ever heard this term before, and it should just be renamed EBBS – or earnings before bad stuff.

Morning Report: Stocks sell off as 10 year breaches 3% level

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2626.5 -9
Eurostoxx index 379.58 -3.53
Oil (WTI) 67.53 -0.22
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.02%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.59%

Stocks are lower this morning after yesterday’s interest rate-driven sell-off. Bonds and MBS are down.

The 10 year breached the 3% mark yesterday, which served as a catalyst for a substantial stock market sell-off. Of course 3% is just a round number, but it is the highest rate since 2014. Some pros are looking for a global slowdown in the economy, which could make some corporate borrowers vulnerable. We certainly appear to be in the late stages of a credit cycle. Junk-rated bond issuance has been on a tear over the past few years, reaching $3 trillion as yield-starved investors have had to reach into the lower credits to make their return bogeys. That said, corporate bond spreads are still at historical lows, (investment grade spreads are still half of what they were as recently as early 2016. Let’s also not forget that much of the bond issuance over the past 8 years went to refinance old debt at higher interest rates – in other words it was a net positive for these companies.

We are now going to see just how much of the huge rally in financial assets over the last decade was due to the inordinate amount of stimulus coming out of the Fed. As stocks now have to compete with Treasuries, some changes in asset allocations are to be expected and the riskier assets are going to bear the brunt of the selling. Keep things in perspective, however. Interest rate cycles are measured in generations.

100 years of interest rates

One of the benefits of QE has been to goose asset prices (which was kind of the whole point). Increasing people’s net worth would increase spending and therefore increase GDP. It probably worked, however that hasn’t been costless. One of the problems with increasing real estate prices is that it shuts people out from places where there is opportunity (California in particular). If you already own property in CA and have been experiencing torrid home price appreciation, you can move since your increased home equity can be used to purchase another expensive property. But if you live in the Midwest were home price appreciation has been less, you might not be able to take that job in San Francisco since you can’t afford to live there. That said, negative equity was probably a bigger problem and home price appreciation did mitigate that issue.

Mortgage Applications fell 0.2% last week as purchases were flat and refis were down 0.3%. Conforming rates increased 6 basis points, while government rates increased 1. ARMs decreased to 6% of total applications. A flattening yield curve makes ARMs less and less attractive relative to 30 year fixed mortgages.

Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney has made some changes at the Bureau. First, he is ending the pursuit of auto lenders, which Dodd-Frank prohibited. The Cordray CFPB did an end-around by going after the big banks behind some of the auto financing, and that will end. Second, Mulvaney will no longer make public the complaint database against financial services companies, saying that “I don’t see anything in here that I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government.” Finally, he plans to change the name from the CFPB to the BCFP. All of this is in keeping with Mulvaney’s commitment to follow the law and go no further.