Morning report: Dallas home prices and the lagging Northeast.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2692.5 6
Eurostoxx index 358.13 0.76
Oil (WTI) 51.75 0.19
10 year government bond yield 3.06%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.89%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on as we await a speech from Jerome Powell. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Same store sales increased 7.7% last week according to Redbook. This would indicate that Black Friday was strong.

 

Consumer confidence from its multi-decade peak in October, driven by fears of of an economic slowdown. It is funny – the index asks people about their current state and then asks about their expectations for the future. The current state is at almost record highs while the future state is lower. This was the opposite for most of the Obama administration – the current state numbers were lousy, but people were optimistic for the future. Historically, consumer confidence was kind of an inverse gasoline price index, but the media is so heavily invested in talking down the “Orange Man Bad” economy that CNN damn near has an “impending recession” countdown monitor ticking in the lower right hand corner of the screen.

 

House prices rose 6.3% in the third quarter, according to the FHFA index. Prices were strongest in the Pacific Northwest / Mountain states. Prices were weakest in the Dakotas, Alaska, Louisiana, and Connecticut.

 

The Case-Shiller Home Price Index was flat MOM, and up 5.1% YOY. “Home prices plus data on house sales and construction confirm the slowdown in housing,” says David
M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices.  “Sales of both new and existing single family homes peaked one year ago in November 2017. Sales of existing homes are down 9.3% from that peak. Housing starts are down 8.7% from November of last year. The National Association of Home Builders sentiment index dropped seven points to 60, its lowest level in two years. One factor contributing to the weaker housing market is the recent increase in mortgage rates. Currently the national average for a 30-year fixed rate loan is 4.9%, a full percentage
point higher than a year ago.”

 

Freddie Mac is out with their housing forecast for the next couple of years. Their view is that the market will adjust to the big slowdown we saw in 2018 and resume modest growth. That said, they see originations down slightly in 2019 and 2020, largely driven by a continued uptick in interest rates, but the worst of the decline is behind us. Purchases activity will increase, however the refi business will continue to decline. Interestingly, they see housing starts continue to lag historical levels despite the pent-up demand.

 

freddie outlook

 

The new 2019 conforming limits are out, and the new limit for SFR is 484,350, a 6.9% increase from 2018. Hi bal limits for SFR is 726,525. The multi-unit limits also increased by the same percentage.

 

Yesterday, I mentioned an article in the Wall Street Journal about the Dallas home market and how it is the “canary in the coal mine” for the US real estate market. Builders are beginning to have to offer discounts / amenities in order to attract buyers, who are becoming more cautious following a rise in real estate markets. The Dallas market is interesting because Texas is more restrictive in terms of cash-out refinances. Take a look at the charts below. Dallas is the grey line. You can see they largely missed out a lot of the torrid growth during the bust years, but prices held up during the bust (they barely fell). However, take a look at the chart on the right, which shows the relative performance of several MSAs following the quarter when the US in general bottomed (late 2011). Dallas has well outperformed the US, and their appreciation is comparable to Silicon Valley. The Dallas market does indeed look toppy, and probably has more in common with the high flyers than the rest of the US. The median house price to income ratio is Dallas is 6, versus 4.4 for the rest of the US. Note as well how poorly the NYC metro area is doing. Fairfield County, CT (Stamford / Bridgeport), North Jersey (Newark) and Westchester (NYC area) are all just barely off the bottom. They have barely participated in the rebound seen in the rest of the country.

NYC MSAs

Morning Report: Red October ends

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2704 19.25
Eurostoxx index 361.06 5.53
Oil (WTI) 66.46 0.28
10 year government bond yield 3.14%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.89%

 

Stocks are recovering as we end the worst month for stocks in a while. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Facebook reported last night and rose despite a revenue miss. GM is up 10% pre-open on blowout earnings, while GE cut its dividend to a penny. Earnings are generally good this quarter, although if you focused only on the indices you would figure they were terrible.

 

Home prices rose 5.8% in August, according to the Case-Shiller home price index. Las Vegas led the way with 14% growth. San Francisco and Seattle were the other big winners. Underneath the headline number, we are starting to see some month-over-month declines if you look at the seasonally adjusted indices. Ultimately wages need to catch up with the new reality of higher interest rates and higher home prices.

 

Despite what is going on in housing, consumer confidence remains strong, with the consumer sentiment indices just off multi-decade highs. Historically this index has reflected gasoline prices (gas prices up, consumer confidence down), but that has broken down over the past couple of years. This confidence has allowed companies to raise prices for the first time in a decade, with a laundry list of firms from consumer staples to airlines increasing prices in reaction to increased costs, particularly fuel. Some companies are not raising prices, but cutting sizes. Wages are picking up, but they are generally lagging some of these increases in the inflation indices.

 

Freddie Mac sees home sales improving in 2019 despite an uptick in mortgage rates. Originations are expected to be flat at $1.65T while home price appreciation and GDP growth are expected to moderate. The 30 year fixed rate mortgage is expected to average around 5.1% for the year, and then jump an additional 50 basis points in 2020.

 

freddie mac mortgage rates

 

Janet Yellen told a conference that the current deficit track is unsustainable, and that if she had a magic wand, she would raise taxes and cut retirement spending.

 

Part of the inflation puzzle has always been healthcare inflation, especially in prescription drugs. Amazon looks to be entering the Rx business, and CVS is piloting a free delivery subscription program. Health care is a big part of the inflation picture and perhaps these big can take a bite out of inflation via their market strength.

Morning Report: Personal incomes and spending rise

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2811 7.75
Eurostoxx index 391.64 0.72
Oil (WTI) 69.72 -0.41
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.95%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are higher as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are up on news that the Bank of Japan will continue to hold down rates.

Personal spending and personal income rose 0.4% in June, according to BEA. Inflation remains under control with the PCE price index up 2.2% YOY and the core rate up 1.9%. The income and spending numbers were in line with expectations, and the inflation numbers were a touch below. Good news for the bond market as we start the FOMC meeting. Separately, another strong number out of the Chicago PMI.

personal income

The employment cost index rose 2.9% in the second quarter with wages and salaries increasing 2.9%. Benefit costs increased 2.9%.

Punch line: wages and salaries up 2.9%, inflation up 2.2% – we are seeing real wage growth despite all the stories in the press that wages are stagnant.

Home prices rose 6.4% in May according to the Case-Shiller home price index. San Francisco, Seattle and Las Vegas all reported double-digit gains. All MSAs are beginning to correlate a little tighter, with the spread between fastest and smallest falling to 10 percentage points, which is much smaller than the 25 ppts we saw during the bust years and the 20 ppt average since 2001. My guess is that this is a function of the improving job market in the Midwest and working through the last of the foreclosure inventory in the Northeast.

Mission creep out of the GSEs? Some Republican congressmen are calling foul as Fannie and Fred started a pilot program where they buy low downpayment loans and pair them with MI from Arch. Many in Congress would like to see Fannie and Freddie reduce their footprint in the mortgage market, not increase it. The FHFA has justified this move as necessary to perform their affordable housing mission. This will be a constant partisan battle, between Republicans who are alarmed by the fact that the US taxpayer bears the majority of the credit risk in the US mortgage markets and Democrats who are alarmed by the lack of affordable housing.

Young people are shunning construction jobs. The share of younger (under 24) workers in the construction industry has fallen 30% since the bubble days. The number of workers in the industry has fallen as well – from 11.7 million in 2006 to 10.2 million 10 years later. The typical construction job stays open for 39 days nationally, and many builders are hiring ex-cons to meet demand. The obvious answer would be for builders to raise pay to attract people, but what do you do if you are in the starter home business? Between higher wages and regulatory costs, your starter home might be unaffordable to people with the starter income. Note the industry has promised to train 50,000 workers over the next 5 years, but this is a drop in the bucket.

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: Markets cool on a June hike after Italian elections

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2700 -18
Eurostoxx index 384.87 -4.95
Oil (WTI) 66.97 -0.91
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.87%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.54%

Stocks are lower this morning as Italian sovereign debt is getting slammed on the election results. Bonds and MBS are up on the flight to quality.

Over the weekend, Italy failed to establish a coalition of Eurosceptics and their president rejected a Eurosceptic finance minister. The fact that Italy came so close to electing a government that would consider exiting the EU has bond traders selling Italian sovereigns. Between this and Brexit, many observers are wondering if the whole EU experiment is beginning to unravel. How much of this is merely symbolic remains to be seen, but in the meantime the flight to quality trade is on, and that means lower rates.

Italian 10 year bonds are trading at 3.16%, which is up 143 basis points over the past several days. Spain is wider as well, while the rest of the Eurozone (Germany, France) is tighter. The canary in the coal mine for rates however will be the Eurozone banks, and cost of credit protection is going up. Unicredit and San Paolo Imi are up almost 100 basis points, Deutsche Bank (which has other non-Italian headaches) is up 40, and most other Euro banks are up modestly. As of now, this is mainly a European bank phenomenon, however Citi is also up small.

US yields are lower across the board, from the 2 year to the 30 year. Convexity buying will probably give the move legs at least for the near term. The Fed Funds futures are now handicapping a 78% chance for a hike at the upcoming meeting. It was at 95% a week ago. If the Italian debt problem gathers momentum, it will inevitably cause financial stress to rise and that will give the Fed an excuse to sit the next meeting out. As long as inflation is behaving, they can afford this luxury. Falling oil prices are helping as well.

fed funds futures

The Italian vote will probably be sometime this fall, so it at least appears as there won’t be an immediate resolution. Bottom line for the mortgage originators, like the Brits did in 2016, the Italians just might have saved your year.

Aside from Italy, we have a lot of data this week, with GDP on Wednesday, personal income / spending on Thursday, and the jobs report on Friday. European newsflow will be the dominant force, however any sort of weakness in the numbers will probably have an outsized impact as the Street is really leaning the wrong way here.

Home prices increased 6.5% YOY in March, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Seattle, San Francisco, and Las Vegas all posted double-digit increases, while Chicago and Washington DC brought up the rear.

Consumer confidence increased in May, according to the Conference Board. The Present Situation component increased more than the Expectations component. This is surprising given that these consumer confidence indices are often an inverse gasoline price index.

6 trends from the MBA Secondary conference last week: The main points are that margins are falling and volumes are shrinking. Many independent originators are not going to make it through the year. JP Morgan may increase it footprint in FHA after the regulators loosened the thumbscrews. Ginnie Mae will issue a report this summer talking about the future of digital mortgages for the industry. The GSEs are looking to implement technology to allow originators to sell off servicing rights easier, and there remains a need for ways to increase the credit box for the first time homebuyer, who is still often shut out of the market.

Speaking of the first time homeuyer, they decreased activity in the first quarter, according to Freddie Mac. Homes purchased by first time homebuyers slipped by 2% to 411,000. 81% of first time homebuyers used low down-payment mortgages.

First time homebuyers are going to struggle to compete with all-cash buyers. Now, a new startup intends to disrupt homebuying by allowing borrowers who need a mortgage to offer cash instead to the seller (essentially the startup bears the risk if the borrower somehow can’t get a mortgage). “We’re taking that single value proposition that a lot of these institutions and iBuyers have, which is access to capital, and we’re democratizing that capital for the benefit of consumers instead of using it for corporate profits,” said Ribbon CEO Shaival Shah. “Cash discounts that consumers earn from our program flow directly back to the consumer. Based on our early deal volume, customers are seeing an average of 5 percent savings to the purchase price by using Ribbon.” The startup is backed by Bain Capital and a few others.

Interesting perspective in the “robots are going to take our jobs” scare. Historically, improvements in farming, technology, industry have caused jobs to disappear. Obama Administration economist Austan Goolsbee argues that if robots and AI increase productivity (meaning we get more output from less input) that makes us richer. The question for jobs is inevitably how fast the adjustment process happens. The longer it takes, the easier the transition. The paper reads quite easily for an academic paper and provides some needed perspective.

Again, on a personal note, I am still looking for a senior capital markets / securities analyst position so if anyone has any leads, please let me know.

Morning Report: New Home Sales and prices soar

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2682 10.5
Eurostoxx index 383.28 0.1
Oil (WTI) 68.68 0.01
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.99%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

Stocks are up this morning on strong earnings by Caterpillar. Bonds and MBS are down.

New Home Sales rose 4% MOM and 8.8% YOY to an annualized pace of 694,000 in March. The median sales price was$337,200 and the inventory of 301,000 represented about 5 month’s worth. The number was well above Street estimates, however the confidence interval for this estimate is invariably wide.

Consumer Confidence improved to 128.8 in April as tax cuts have pushed sentiment to post-recession highs.

Home price appreciation is accelerating, with the Case-Shiller Home Price index up 6.8% YOY. We saw double-digit annual increases in San Francisco, Seattle, and Las Vegas.

The FHFA House Price Index reported a bigger increase – 7.2% YOY. The FHFA index only covers conventional loans, so it is a narrower index than Case – Shiller. The increases ranged from 4.8% in the Middle Atlantic to 10.3% in the Pacific.

FHFA House Price Index

What is the issue with the lack of home construction? Lack of labor. The construction industry has about 250,000 unfilled jobs right now, according to the NAHB. At the peak of the bubble, there were about 5 million people in construction; today that number is closer to 3.8 million. Many of these workers found employment in other industries (especially energy extraction) and aren’t about to go back. Immigration restrictions are another headache, as the government estimates that 13% of the construction workforce is working illegally. Finally, the opiod epidemic is particularly problematic in an industry where people are likely to be injured on the job and in pain generally. Ultimately, wages will have to increase to the point to lure a new generation of construction workers out of their climate controlled offices.

Round numbers always bring out the strategists, and as the 10 year sits close to the 3% level, we are seeing pieces discussing the asset allocation implications. Since the financial crisis, the earnings yield on the S&P 500 has been higher than the 10 year, although the premium is at the lowest level since 2010. One strategist thinks the 1950s are a good analogy for investors, where interest rates gradually rose as the memories of the Great Depression faded and the economy was strong. As an aside, Jim Grant discusses how the big retail investor trade in the 1950s was the leveraged curve flattener, where people would borrow short term money to invest in long-term Treasuries. That trade worked until the bond market crashed in the late 50s and a lot of people got carried out.

Is demand falling for houses? According to Redfin’s Housing Demand Index it is. “Abnormally late winter weather and an early Easter likely delayed homeowners planning to list their homes for sale in March,” said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. “While inventory levels are still not nearly high enough to meet strong buyer demand, we do expect new listings to pick up in April and May.”

The House has introduced legislation to end regulation by enforcement by the CFPB. HR 5534 would require the CFPB to provide guidance on its regulations and to establish a framework for monetary penalties.