Morning Report: Trump tries to talk down the dollar

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2905 -14.5
Oil (WTI) 54.68 0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.69%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.86%

 

Stocks are lower after a bunch of non-US political headlines over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Overseas, currencies and bond yields are focusing on elections in Italy and Argentina, as well as protests in Hong Kong. Protestors shut down the Hong Kong airport over the weekend.

 

The week ahead will have a few important data points, but nothing likely to be market-moving. We will get inflation at the consumer level tomorrow, retail sales / productivity / industrial production on Thursday, and housing starts on Friday. There doesn’t appear to be any Fed-speak this week, so things should be quiet absent overseas political developments. Congress is on vacation until Labor Day, so things should be quiet in DC as well.

 

Building materials prices rose 0.7% (NSA) in July, but are down overall year-over-year. Despite tariffs, softwood lumber prices are down 20% over the past year, while other products like gypsum are down less. Roofing materials (tar / asphalt) were flattish-to-down as well. Rising home costs are due more to labor, land, and regulatory costs than they are due to sticks and bricks.

 

After rising for a decade, average new home sizes are falling as builders pivot away from luxury buyers to first time homebuyers. In 2018, the average size of a single family dwelling was 2,588 square feet, down from 2,631 the year before. Builders had largely decided to relegate the first time homebuyer to the resale market and focused on McMansions and luxury urban apartments during the immediate aftermath of the housing crash. Townhomes are also increasing in popularity, with 69,000 sales last year, the most since 2007. This is the sector growing the fastest.

 

Prepay speeds were released on Friday, and we saw some eye-popping CPRs on the government side: 2018 FHA had a CPR of 30.7%, while VA was almost 50%. People who loaded up the boat on MSRs in 2017 and 2018 have been killed.

 

The Fed is looking at the idea of a countercyclical capital buffer as a way to mitigate the credit cycle. The idea would be to have the banks hold more capital (i.e. lend less) when the economy shows signs of overheating and then allow them to hold less (i.e. lend more) when the economy goes into a down cycle. This would only apply to the Citis and JP Morgans of the world – banks with more than 250 billion in assets. “The idea of putting it in place so you can cut it, that’s something some other jurisdictions have done, and it’s worth considering,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a late July press conference. It is an interesting idea, although reserves are typically sovereign debt, and this sounds a bit like adding buying pressure to a market that certainly does not need it.

 

Trump tweeted about the dollar, arguing that it should be weaker. Note this is a yuge departure from the strong dollar policy that every other president has supported. “As your President, one would think that I would be thrilled with our very strong dollar,” he tweeted. “I am not! The Fed’s high interest rate level, in comparison to other countries, is keeping the dollar high, making it more difficult for our great manufacturers like Caterpillar, Boeing, John Deere, our car companies, & others, to compete on a level playing field. With substantial Fed Cuts (there is no inflation) and no quantitative tightening, the dollar will make it possible for our companies to win against any competition. We have the greatest companies in the world, there is nobody even close, but unfortunately the same cannot be said about our Federal Reserve. They have called it wrong at every step of the way, and we are still winning. Can you imagine what would happen if they actually called it right?”

 

The strength in the dollar is more due to the relative strength of the US economy versus its trading partners, along with various carry trades. A carry trade is where you borrow money in a low yielding currency like the Japanese yen and invest the proceeds in a high-yielding government bond like the US Treasury. The net effect of a strong dollar is to make our exports more expensive to foreign buyers, make imports cheaper for US consumers and to lower interest rates in the US. The problem is that the ones who benefit from a weaker dollar (exporters) are loud and visible, while the beneficiaries (everyone else) aren’t even aware they are benefiting from it. Note that as the US has pivoted from a manufacturing-based economy to a service / IP based economy, the currency has a smaller and smaller impact on things.

 

Chart US dollar index (1989 – Present):

 

dollar

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Morning Report: Trump’s tariff tweet send bond yields lower

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2941 -11.5
Oil (WTI) 55.51 1.04
10 year government bond yield 1.90%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.96%

 

Stocks are lower after yesterday’s Trump Trade Tweet. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Donald Trump sent bonds higher yesterday afternoon with this tweet saying that trade talks had broken down between the US and China, and he was therefore imposing an additional 10% tariff on $300 billion in goods from China. This sent stocks reeling, and the 10 year bond yield down about 10 basis points. MBS were slow to react, however we did have some reprices late in the day. If you look at the box scores above, you’ll see we finally have a 3 handle on the 30 year fixed rate mortgage. Commodities were also slammed, with oil down 8%.

 

The escalation in the tariff wars caused some strategists to bump up their probabilities of a September rate cut. Goldman’s Jan Hatzius sees a 70% chance of 25bps, 10% of 50, and 20% of no change at the FOMC meeting next month. This was mirrored in the Fed funds futures market, however the 50 basis point cut looks unlikely. They Sep futures are pricing in an 85% chance of another 25 bps. They were pricing in a 56% chance of a rate cut before the tweet came out.

 

Some of the rally in bonds yesterday was almost certainly due to convexity-related buying, which means hedge adjustment activity. This sort of buying is invariably violent and temporary, which means mortgage backed securities will probably lag the move for a day or two. That said, the path of least resistance for rates remains down, especially since overseas bond yields followed along. The German Bund now yields negative 48 basis points. In fact, their longest term bond – 29 years – is now negative. Think of it: tying your money up for 29 years to get…. absolutely nothing. This is the fixed-income equivalent of buying Salon.com stock at 1000x pageviews in 1999.

 

bund

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 164k (in line with expectations)
  • Unemployment rate 3.%
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.3% MOM / 3.2% YOY (better than expectations)
  • Labor force participation rate 63%
  • Employment / population ratio 60.7%

Overall a good report, and now stock bullish given the Fed’s new posture. Wage growth is picking up and average hourly earnings keep trending upward despite PCE inflation that is stuck in the high teens.

 

average hourly earnings

Morning Report: Consumer inflation remains muted

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2787 2
Eurostoxx index 372.85 -1
Oil (WTI) 57.27 0.47
10 year government bond yield 2.65%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.32%

 

Stocks are higher with a general “risk-on” feel to the tape. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Lael Brainard speaks this morning and then the Fed enters its quiet period ahead of next week’s FOMC meeting.

 

Consumer inflation rose 0.4% MOM in February. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.4% and is up 2.1% YOY. Inflation remains under control, which should give the Fed the leeway to hold the line on rates next week. Falling energy prices at the end of 2018 helped keep the index under control, and we are seeing evidence that medical costs are finally stabilizing. Medical goods fell 1% MOM and services were flat. Stabilizing medical costs should translate into stable health insurance costs, which leaves more room for wage increases.

 

medical cpi

 

Retail Sales in January rose 0.2%, a touch higher than expectations. Those looking for a big rebound after December’s anemic numbers were disappointed. Given the strong consumption numbers in Q4 GDP, the holiday shopping season remains a bit of a mystery. The government shutdown is a possible explanation, and while it certainly hit the shops at Tyson’s Corner, the rest of the nation was unaffected. Note that the Fed’s consumer credit report showed that revolving credit increased only 1.1% in December and 2.9% in January, both well below run rates we have seen in the months leading up to it

 

Nancy Pelosi doesn’t support impeaching Trump. This is probably a tacit admission that the Mueller report isn’t going to contain anything we don’t already know.

 

Small business optimism rebounded in February. Earnings trends fell as many contractors were temporarily sidelined due to the government shutdown. Employment trends also slipped, probably for the same reason. Plans for expansion rose, however they are still below levels we saw in 2017-2018, which were extremely strong. Actual hires were the highest in years, and small business still finds a shortage of qualified workers. I am curious as to whether the “shortage of qualified workers” means (a) nobody around knows how to do the job, (b) nobody around knows how to do the job and can pass a drug test, or (c) nobody around that knows how to do the job will accept what I am willing to pay.

Morning Report: Foreclosure starts lowest in 18 years

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2720 4
Eurostoxx index 362.25 3.31
Oil (WTI) 54.26 -0.3
10 year government bond yield 2.70%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.40%

 

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

 

Donald Trump stressed bipartisanship and unity at the State of the Union address, and reiterated his demands for border wall funding but stopped short of invoking emergency powers to get one built. Predictably, the reaction to the speech fell along partisan lines.

 

Mortgage Applications fell 2.5% last week as purchases fell 5% and refis rose 0.3%. This was a disappointment given that rates fell about 7 basis points, however the prior week had the MLK holiday adjustment so maybe there is some technical adjustment noise happening. Despite lower rates on a YOY basis, applications are down about 2% annually.

 

The service sector continued to grow in January, albeit at a slower pace, according to the ISM Non-Manufacturing Report. Some of this may have been government shutdown-driven. Employment rose, while new orders fell.

 

Foreclosure starts in 2018 decreased to 576,000, the lowest level in 18 years. Foreclosure completions were 175,000, another 18 year low. These numbers are 40% below their pre-recession averages. Higher loan quality in the aftermath of the credit crisis is a contributing factor, however the performance of refinances are better than purchases, which also is driving these numbers.

 

Housing reform and CFPB regulations may be headed for a conflict if what is called the “GSE patch” is not renewed when it expires in 2021. The CFPB discourages loans with debt to income ratios above 43%, but also permits GSE backed loans to fall under the QM umbrella, even though they permit DTIs up to 50%. Roughly a third of GSE loans fall in the 43-50% DTI range, which could become non-QM loans once the patch expires. The Urban Institute recommends that the GSEs replace the DTI rule with a 150 basis point cap over APOR to determine eligibility under QM.

 

Home prices rose 0.1% MOM and 4.7% YOY according to CoreLogic. Since house prices have been rising faster than incomes, affordability has suffered. Falling interest rates masked that issue most of the post-crisis period, but the music has stopped. CoreLogic now estimates that 33% of the housing stock in the US is now overvalued.  Separately, Redfin now estimates that the West Coast is a buyer’s market.

 

Corelogic overvalued

Morning Report: Retail sales strong

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2432.5 -38.5
Eurostoxx index 331.96 -3.2
Oil (WTI) 45.4 -0.32
10 year government bond yield 2.77%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.60%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after yesterday’s furious rally. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Was there any particular catalyst for yesterday’s move in stocks? Not really. Markets don’t go up in a straight line, and they don’t go down in a straight line either. Bonds sold off heavily, but you didn’t see as much action in TBAs. They were down, but not like the 10 year. TBAs have been lagging the move in the bond markets anyway.

 

Home prices rose 5.5% in October, matching the move we saw in September. The usual suspects saw the biggest increases: Las Vegas, and San Francisco. Phoenix is now showing strength as well. Affordability remains the most pressing issue: “Home prices in most parts of the U.S. rose in October from September and from a year earlier,” says
David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The combination of higher mortgage rates and higher home prices rising faster than incomes and wages means fewer people can afford to buy a house. Fixed rate 30-year mortgages are currently 4.75%, up from 4% one year earlier. Home prices are up 54%, or 40% excluding inflation, since they bottomed in 2012. Reduced affordability is slowing sales of both new and existing single family homes. Sales peaked in November 2017 and have drifted down since then.”

 

Retail sales were the strongest in 13 years for last week, with same store sales up 7.8%. Since consumption is 70% of the economy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some strategists bumping up their Q4 GDP estimates.

 

Note that due to the government shutdown, the Commerce Department won’t be releasing economic numbers. We won’t be able to get tax transcripts out of the IRS, but FHFA should be running normally, so you should be able to get case numbers for FHA loans, and Ginnie Mae securitization markets should function normally.

 

The Trump Administration expressed confidence in Jerome Powell, and said that he is safe. There is a precedent for the President showing Fed Chairmen the door – Jimmy Carter dumped G. William Miller after a year on the job, though he kicked him upstairs to Treasury and nominated Paul Volcker.

Morning Report: The real reason why markets are selling off

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2355.25 13.5
Eurostoxx index 335.24 -1.43
Oil (WTI) 53.35 0.82
10 year government bond yield 2.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.60%

 

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

 

Not a lot of news to work with, but most of the business press is fixated on the stock market sell-off and trying to craft a narrative that Trump (or the government shutdown) is behind it. This is nonsense. There is a sea change in the market’s perception that the Fed has overshot, and you can see it the chart below, which shows the expected Fed Funds rate for a year from now.

 

Fed fund futures dec 2019

 

Right now, the central tendency is that there will be no more rate hikes in 2019. But take a close look at the implied probabilities today and compare them to where they were a month ago. At the end of November, the markets figured there was a 23% chance that there would be no further changes, a 37% chance of one more hike, and a 25% chance of two more hikes. Look at the probabilities now: 59% chance the Fed does nothing in 2019, a 17% probability they hike 25 basis points, and a 19% probability the next move is a rate cut. That is a tremendous change in market perception in just under a month, and THAT is what is driving the markets. Not the government shutdown. Not Trump jawboning Powell about interest rates, especially since the markets are saying that Trump is right. Hard for the business press to massage that point.

 

FWIW, the Atlanta Fed is predicting Q4 GDP to come in at 2.7%. If there is a recession coming in 2019, today’s numbers sure are not signalling one.

 

There is concern in the economy that housing is slowing down, but in all honesty, housing never really recovered all that much, at least as far as building is concerned. We still have such a deficit between supply and demand that any fears of another 2008 – style market collapse are misplaced. Bottom line: the US taxpayer has been bearing the credit risk of 90% of all new origination over the past 10 years. The banking system does not have the mortgage credit risk issues it did during the bubble days – the private label mortgage market does not have the footprint it did a decade ago.

 

There is fear of a drop in global demand, and that is what the declines in commodity prices are saying. The Chinese economy is living on borrowed time, as they have a massive real estate bubble that will burst at some point. Europe continues to muddle through, and Japan’s start-stop economy is beginning to hiccup again. Fears of a global economic slowdown are a valid fear, however the punch line from that is ultimately lower global interest rates, which is a plus for the US, not a negative.

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