Morning Report: Housing starts disappoint

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2791.5 -5
Eurostoxx index 371.78 -0.4
Oil (WTI) 55.5 0.03
10 year government bond yield 2.66%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.35%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on overseas tensions between India and Pakistan. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Jerome Powell heads to Capitol Hill today for his first day of Humphrey-Hawkins testimony. While this events are ostensibly to allow Congress to question the Fed about monetary policy, they are really nothing more than a posturing exercise for politicians to hop on their respective ideological hobby-horses. Expect Democrats to focus like a laser on income inequality, too big to fail banks, and fair lending. Expect Republicans to focus on inflation worries, banking regulation, and the return of the bond vigilantes. The markets will be listening for information on balance sheet reduction and further hikes this year. This probably won’t be market-moving.

 

Housing starts fell to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 1.08 million, a double-digit percentage drop on both a month-over-month and annual basis. As a general rule, winter housing starts numbers can be volatile due to the weather, however this is simply an awful number. The street was looking for 1.25 million, which is still a depressed number. Remember, between 1959 and 2002, we averaged 1.5 million housing starts a year. The last time we saw that sort of building was 2006.

 

housing starts

 

The Home Despot reported fourth quarter earnings this morning, and forecasted weaker-than-expected comparable sales. Part of this is a technical aspect of their accounting conventions, but it does speak to weakness in home improvement spending.

 

Economic activity slowed in January, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators drove the decline. How much of this was temporary due to tariff issues / government shutdown remain to be seen. Employment remained positive.

 

More sellers are cutting prices this winter in order to move their homes, according to Redfin. 21% of home sellers are reporting a price decrease, which is a post-crisis high. “Many sellers listed their homes late last year just as rising prices and mortgage rates were starting to price out their core pool of potential buyers,” said Las Vegas Redfin agent Jennifer Brockman. “Meanwhile, some buyers are starting to think that waiting to purchase a home could pay off, especially as listing inventory continues to rise. In this new market reality, buyers may have negotiating power now that they won’t have in the spring and summer.”

 

redfin price drop

Morning Report: More inflation data

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2660.75 19
Eurostoxx index 347.9 2.9
Oil (WTI) 52.57 0.91
10 year government bond yield 2.89%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.72%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Donald Trump got into it with Democrats on live TV yesterday over funding for the wall. He said he would be “proud” to do a partial government shutdown in order to obtain funds for border security. “Partial government shutdown” all but screams that this shutdown will be symbolic only – usually the only thing they shut down are the monuments around DC – but that doesn’t always happen. As a general rule, the mortgage market should not be affected, but things like tax transcripts etc could be delayed. This sounds like it is all for show as both parties play to their respective bases.

 

Inflation at the wholesale level came in a hair above expectations, with the headline producer price index rising 0.1% MOM /  2.5% YOY. Ex-food and energy, the number was 0.3% / 2.7%. The Fed doesn’t necessarily put a lot of stock in the PPI, but it does show that inflation is beginning to creep above the Fed’s target of 2%. Building labor costs (which not only show up in direct wages, but also inputs like transportation) are being offset somewhat by declining commodity prices and strength in the US dollar.

 

Home prices rose 5.4% YOY in October, according to CoreLogic. “Rising prices and interest rates have reduced home buyer activity and led to a gradual slowing in appreciation. October’s mortgage rates were the highest in seven and a half years, eroding buyer affordability. Despite higher interest rates, many renters view a home purchase as a way to build wealth through home-equity growth, especially in areas where rents are rising quickly. These include the Phoenix, Las Vegas and Orlando metro areas, where the CoreLogic Single-Family Rent Index rose 6 percent or more during the last 12 months.”

 

CoreLogic estimates that 35% of all MSAs are overvalued, including the NY-NJ-LI area. This is interesting given that this area has barely rebounded off the 2012 lows, and has massively underperformed the rest of the US. This is evidence of the lack of wage growth in this area, primarily driven by secular changes in the financial services industry. Some of this was undoubtedly being driven by 0% interest rates, but a lot of it is technology replacing people.

 

NYC MSAs