Morning Report: REO-to-Rental trade earned 9% over the past 5 years

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2718.5 -4.5
Eurostoxx index 394.21 1
Oil (WTI) 72.15 0.66
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.10%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.65%

Stocks are lower this morning on bad earnings from Cisco. Bonds and MBS are down small.

The US and China will enter trade talks over the next couple of days. Both sides have signaled willing to make some compromises, so this could potentially be good for interest rates.

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 222k last week, while the Philly Fed improved to 34.4 which is a strong reading. The Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose a respectable 0.4%.

One of the reasons why starter homes have been so tough to find has been the REO-to-rental trade, where professional investors scooped up REO properties early in the crisis and rented them out. CoreLogic crunched the numbers and it turns out the trade made about 9% per year for the past 5 years. Impressive return in an environment of financial repression. Most of the return came from home price appreciation however, so if prices begin to level out, some of these professional investors will turn sellers. This is especially true if they had these properties in funds with a life. As short term interest rates rise, the low single-digit rental return will have more competition.

rental return

While longer-term bonds can be used as a proxy to estimate future inflation, Treasury Inflation Protected Securities represent a direct measure of inflationary expectations. The Fed invariably mentions TIPS in their meeting minutes. The breakeven rate of inflation has hit a 4 year high in this market at 2.2%. This means that an investor would need 2.2% in the consumer price index to be indifferent between buying Treasuries and TIPS, which pay a return equal to the interest imputed in the bond plus the consumer price index.

2/3 of the mortgage originated in April were purchase loans, according to Ellie Mae’s Origination Insight Report. Fewer loans in the pipeline is speeding up processing times, as the average time to close fell to 41 days. The average FICO score ticked up to 723.

CSFB thinks 3.5% on the 10 year will be the level to trigger a stock market exodus, although rates could stall out somewhere south of that for a while.

The hits just keep coming for Wells. The WSJ reports they added or changed information for some business customers during an anti-money laundering audit. Wells states that it was an internal matter only: “This matter involves documents used for internal purposes. No customers were negatively impacted, no data left the company, and no products or services were sold as a result.” This is only going to increase the voices in DC calling for the bank to be broken up. It already is not allowed to increase its balance sheet. At some point, it might make sense for Wells to spin off Wachovia and its securities unit.

GoBankingRates calculated what you can get for $300k in every state. The best value? West Virginia, where $300k will get you 3,347 square feet. Worst? Washington DC, which gets you 581 square feet.

The CFPB recently issued new rules to fix the TRID “black hole” issue.

CFPB Interim Chairman Mick Mulvaney reiterated his commitment to tame the CFPB by ending regulation by enforcement at NAR’s Legislative Trade Meeting and Expo. Student loan debt was also discussed, and while the CFPB doesn’t have a magic wand to make the debt go away they will continue to ensure that students understand the risks they are taking and also will go after predatory student loan collection practices.

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: 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: 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.

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.