Morning Report: The Fed is looking for new recessionary indicators

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2790 16
Eurostoxx index 384.01 2.61
Oil (WTI) 70.92 0.54
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.86%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.53%

Stocks are higher after China made some conciliatory comments regarding the trade situation. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Inflation at the consumer level remains under control, with the consumer price index rising 0.2% MOM / 2.9% YOY. Ex-food and energy it rose 0.2% / 2.3%. These numbers were more or less in line with Street expectations. Energy, especially petroleum drove the increase in the index. Housing also pushed up the index, while autos and utilities exerted downward pressure.

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 214,000 last week, which is at levels we haven’t seen since the early 1970s (when we had a draft).

Loan performance continues to improve, according to CoreLogic. The 30+ DQ rate fell from 4.8% to 4.2% in April. DQ rates are near historic lows, except for FL, TX, and LA which are still dealing with the fallout from Hurricane Harvey. The national foreclosure rate fell by 10 basis points to 0.6%. Home price appreciation of 7% is helping matters. In fact, home equity is increasing rapidly, but HELOC are not.

As the 2s-10s spread decreases, many in the financial press are worrying whether the slope of the yield curve is signalling a recession. We already have some strategists calling for the yield curve to invert sometime in 2019. An inverted yield curve (where short term rates are higher than long term rates) has historically been a strong recessionary signal. As a general rule, the yield curve flattens during tightening cycles. In fact, it did invert in the late 90s (before the stock market bubble burst) and during the real estate bubble (before the Great Recession).

tightening cycles

Recent Fed research indicates the 2s-10s spread may not be the best signal of an upcoming recession. It suggests the spread between the 3 month T bills and 18 month Treasuries could be more predictive. Another signal is the Eurodollar futures market. The idea is that the Fed would use these indicators as a yellow signal and stop tightening before they risk a recession.

To me at least, the last two recessions had very little to do with the Fed. We had a stock market bubble, and we had a residential real estate bubble. To say the Fed caused those recessions implies that these bubbles would have kept on going had the Fed just stayed away (or stopped tightening sooner). That is a big assumption – all bubbles eventually come to an end, and when they do you have a recession. The tightening may have been the catalyst to initiate the recession, that is a question of “when,” not “if.” We were going to have a recession given we had a bubble in place already. And the Fed might have been guilty of causing the bubble in the first place, but that is a separate question.

Of course, all bets are off when it comes to this yield curve versus the past. The size of the Fed’s balance sheet relative to the economy is vastly different this time around. Pre-Great Recession, the Fed had about $800 billion worth of assets. Now it is about $4.4 trillion. To draw comparisons, you would have to estimate where the 10 year would have been without Operation Twist, QE1, QE2, and QE3. Punch line, the yield curve may in fact invert if the Fed continues to tighten and inflation remains under control. The signal-to-noise ratio of the yield curve is extremely low, so take it with a grain of salt.

Morning Report: Small Business sentiment near 45 year high

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2789 2.25
Eurostoxx index 387.87 -0.07
Oil (WTI) 66.04 -0.06
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.98%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.59%

Stocks are higher this morning on reports of an agreement with North Korea. Bonds and MBS are down.

The FOMC meeting begins today. The Fed Funds futures are handicapping a 91% chance of a rate hike tomorrow.

Trump and Kim signed an agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. There is no timetable, but not much in the way of concrete agreements, however Trump did pledge to end military exercises with South Korea.

Inflation at the consumer level remains under control, as the Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% MOM / 2.8% YOY. The core rate rose 0.2% MOM / 2.2% YOY. These numbers were all in line with street estimates. Aside from energy, healthcare costs (hospital, Rx) drove the increase.

Small business optimism remains strong, as the NFIB index hit its second highest level in its 45 year history. Compensation increases hit a 45 year high as a net 35% of small businesses increased wages. 58% of employers reported openings, but half couldn’t find qualified applicants. I will say this again, I suspect the biggest culprit in the “labor shortage” is the plethora of application tracking systems which pre-screen job applications. They may have been a help during the days of high unemployment when finding the right employee was like finding a needle in a haystack. Nowadays, they the computer systems are probably screening out potential fits before anyone gets to see the resume. There are all sorts of articles about how these systems have to be gamed, and most people probably don’t.

NFIB

The strong economy and good home price appreciation are contributing to a drop in delinquencies, according to CoreLogic. 30 day DQs dropped by 10 basis points to 4.3% in March. The foreclosure rate fell from 0.8% to 0.6%. In the first quarter, the typical homeowner saw a $16,300 increase in home equity.

Declining margins has lenders bearish, according to the latest Fannie Mae lender sentiment survey. “Lenders remain bearish this quarter as they continue to face headwinds from rising mortgage rates, tight supply, and strong home price appreciation, which have drastically reduced refinance activity and restrained home purchase affordability,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “These factors have combined to squeeze mortgage origination volumes and have increased competitive pressures. Increased competitiveness will likely persist as a top driver of lenders’ mortgage business strategy. We expect this will prompt businesses to turn to cost-cutting as a means of managing their bottom lines, with payroll reduction likely to assume a more prominent role in future belt-tightening efforts.”

Morning Report: Inflation remains under control

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2705 8.75
Eurostoxx index 391.2 -1.24
Oil (WTI) 71.51 0.37
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are breathing a sigh of relief after the Consumer Price Index comes in lower than expectations. Bonds and MBS are up as well.

The headline Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% MOM / 2.5% YOY. Ex-food and energy it rose 0.1% / 2.1%. Higher gasoline prices pushed the index up, while falling healthcare and communications price increases pulled it lower. While the Fed focuses on PCE, and not CPI it is a welcome development for bonds and shows that the 3% level has held again on the 10-year.

Initial Jobless Claims were flat last week at 211,000. For those keeping score at home, this is pretty much a 48 year low.

Royal Bank of Scotland will finally put the mortgage crisis behind it as it settles with the US government with a $4.9 billion fine. The fine was lower than expected and the stock is up 6% this morning in UK trading.

Want to get the absolute best price for your home? List it on Tuesday at 5:00 pm local time. No, really.

California is close to mandating that all new homes come with solar panels. The mandate will probably raise the cost of a new home by about $10,000 although the money will eventually get recouped with lower energy bills – the CA Energy Commission estimates that the typical homeowner will save $80 a month, which would more than offset the $40 additional mortgage cost. CA’s average electric bill is only $90 a month to begin with, so that $80 number seems suspect.

The White House is looking to keep Interim BCFP Director Mick Mulvaney in for a longer period, at least through the end of the year. The WH is rumored to want NCUA Chairman Mark McWatters as the permanent head of the CFPB. McWatters is viewed as a pragmatist and has a reputation for working with people on both sides of the aisle.