Morning Report: Blowout housing starts number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3315 -7.25
Oil (WTI) 57.83 -0.74
10 year government bond yield 1.79%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.88%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as US investors return from a 3 day weekend. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Housing starts hit a 13 year high, rising to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 1.6 million. This is up 17% from November and 41% above a year ago. The caveat: the uncertainty around this number is pretty high, so it might get revised downward next month. That said, we have heard from the builders that they are seeing high traffic and no seasonal slowdown. Housing has been the missing link from the post-crisis recovery, and there clearly is unsatisfied demand. If this is the year we finally see homebuilding begin to meet demand, then current GDP estimates for 2020 are way too low. Note Larry Kudlow just laid a marker: GDP growth will hit 3% this year. Compare this to the current estimates of 1.2% – 2%.

 

housing starts

 

It should be a relatively quiet week, although Davos is going on, which means lots of CNBC interviews in the snow. The theme seems to be environmental this year. We don’t have much in economic data (nothing market-moving at least) and no Fed-Speak. We will get some housing data, with the FHFA House Price index and NAR’s existing home sales report tomorrow.

 

Job openings fell to 6.8 million in November, according to the JOLTS survey. While this is below the 7 million openings we have become accustomed to, it is still quite elevated and speaks to a robust labor market. The quits rate remained at 2.3%. Job openings fell in manufacturing, which is probably related to Boeing’s 737 woes.

 

US home sales prices rose 6.9% in December, according to Redfin. Falling interest rates have boosted home affordability, which is translating into higher prices

 

Redfin price chart

Morning Report: Purchase applications are the highest in over a decade

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3282 -5.25
Oil (WTI) 58.13 0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.79%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.87%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as China and the US sign a Phase I deal on trade. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Note we will have some Fed-speak later this morning.

 

Trump characterized his Phase I deal with China as a “big, beautiful monster” and encouraged farmers to buy bigger tractors. China is agreeing to purchase an additional $200 billion of US goods over the next two years, which represents about half of the US trade deficit. Energy, agricultural, and industrial exports are all set to increase, while the US will cancel new tariffs on cellphones and laptops. Some other tariffs will be reduced while others will remain in place.

 

Mortgage applications increased 30% last week as purchases rose 16% and refis rose 43%. This was the first week after the holidays, so there is probably are some weird adjustments playing out. Rates fell 4 basis points to 3.87%. Most notably, purchase activity increased 8% from a year ago and is at the highest level since October 2009.  A few homebuilders specifically mentioned on their earnings calls that they are seeing no season slowdown this year. At any rate, the Spring selling season is just around the corner. Note that while we are at a 10 year high on the purchase index, we are still well below bubble levels

 

MBA purchase index

 

Inflation at the wholesale level remains below the Fed’s target, with the headline producer price index up 0.1% MOM and 1.3% YOY. Ex-food and energy, it rose 0.1% and 1.1%. While the producer price index is not the preferred inflation index for the Fed, it confirms we are still not seeing much in the way of inflationary pressures.

 

 

Morning Report: Iranians protest the government

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3277 12.25
Oil (WTI) 59.13 0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.85%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.88%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as we anticipate a phase 1 trade deal with China this week. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Earnings season kicks off this week with the major banks all reporting. JP Morgan, Wells, and Citi all report tomorrow. We will get inflation data, retail sales and housing starts this week as well. With the Fed on hold for the moment (and probably through the election), economic data will become less of a market-mover unless it is way out the expected range. Neel Kashkari thinks the next move for the Fed could be a rate cut. “If I were to guess the next rate move, my guess (on) the balance of risks, is that it will be down and not up.” The Fed funds futures agree, handicapping a better-than-50% chance that rates will get cut this year.

 

fed funds futures

 

Iran admitted shooting down an airliner by mistake over the weekend, which has shifted the focus from the US killing a military leader. It looks like there are major protests in Tehran right now. So far, we are not seeing any big effects in the oil market, although North America uses a different benchmark than the rest of the world.

 

HousingWire lays out some predictions for 2020. One big one refers to recruiting. As of 11/24, originators could officially move from a bank to a non-bank or another state and keep originating mortgages while they wait for the new license. This will almost certainly make recruiting for non-banks easier.

 

Mortgage credit availability decreased in December by 3.5%, according to the MBA. “Credit availability fell in December after three months of expansion, driven by drops in both conventional and government supply,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Perhaps most noteworthy was a 6 percent drop in government credit supply because of changes to the Veterans Administration loan program, which eliminated loan limits for certain borrowers as of Jan 1, 2020. This likely prompted many investors to remove VA programs in high cost counties from their offerings. There was also a reduction in streamline refinance programs, as slightly higher rates slowed the refinance market at the end of 2019.”

Morning Report: Meh jobs report

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3280 4.25
Oil (WTI) 59.52 0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.85%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.88%

 

Stocks are higher as it looks like hostilities are cooling between the US and Iran. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls + 145,000
  • Unemployment rate 3.5%
  • Labor force participation rate 63.2%
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.1% / 2.9%

Overall a meh report. Nothing special. Manufacturing payrolls fell by 12,000 which sort of meshes with the weak ISM report. Wage growth remains positive but below the sort of levels we were seeing a few months ago.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 214,000 last week. No other economic data today, but we do have a lot of Fed-speak.

 

Want to give a compliance officer a heart attack? Go after a negative review on Yelp by trashing the borrower’s credit profile. Mount Diablo Lending was fined $120,000 for doing just that – “Your credit report shows 4 late payments from the Capital One account, 1 late from Comenity Bank which is Pier 1, another late from Credit First Bank, 3 late payments from an account named SanMateo. Not to mention the mortgage lates. All of these late payments are having an enormous negative impact on your credit score.” Note: credit profiles are confidential information, and your company should have procedures to protect it. Getting into a tiff with a declined borrower on Yelp is not a good way of going about that.

 

Remember when Quicken and United Wholesale got into a pricing war about this time last year? Well, it looks like Quicken just signed a 4 year contract with the NFL to be its exclusive mortgage sponsor. “Over the years we’ve been a brand and a company that likes to do big epic things,” Casey Hurbis, chief marketing officer for Quicken, said in an interview.

 

Corporate CEOs and consumers have differing views on the economy. CEOs think a recession in 2020 is the biggest risk, while almost all CFOs see the economy slowing next year. If you look at the chart below, CEO confidence is about where it was going into 2009, which quite simply makes no sense.

 

CEO confidence

 

 

Morning Report: December jobs come in hotter than expected.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3239 3.25
Oil (WTI) 61.57 -1.04
10 year government bond yield 1.82%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.88%

 

Stocks are slightly higher this morning despite an Iranian rocket attack last night. Bonds traded as high as 1.7% overnight before falling back to more or less unchanged levels.

 

The ADP jobs report came in stronger than expected, at 202,000. November’s weak reading was also revised upward. Note nonfarm payrolls are expected to come in at 164,000 on Friday, so there may be some upside.

 

Mortgage applications were largely unchanged during the holiday period, with the composite index falling 1.5%. Refis fell by 8% while purchases increased by 5%. “Mortgage rates dropped last week, as investors sought safety in U.S. Treasury securities as a result of the events in the Middle East, with the 30-year fixed mortgage rate declining to its lowest level (3.91 percent) since early October,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Despite lower rates, refinance volume decreased these last two weeks, and we expect that it will slowly trail off in the first half of 2020 as long as mortgage rates remain in this same narrow range. Homeowners would need to see a sharp drop in rates to reinvigorate the refinance wave seen in 2019.”

 

While the ISM manufacturing index was weak in December, the non-manufacturing index definitely was not. One quote from a builder: “Weather and the holiday season have had an impact on residential new construction sales and production. While demand is outstripping supply in the housing market, business is down due to global trade insecurity causing affordability, labor and cost pressures.” (Construction). Given the weakness in lumber prices, I am not sure how trade is affecting construction. If anything, the issue is labor.

 

Speaking of homebuilding, Lennar reported 4th quarter earnings that surpassed analyst expectations. Rick Beckwitt, Chief Executive Officer of Lennar, said, “During the fourth quarter, the basic underlying housing market fundamentals of low unemployment, higher wages and low inventory levels remained favorable. Against this backdrop, our homebuilding gross margin in the fourth quarter was 21.5%, while our focus on making our homebuilding platform more efficient resulted in an SG&A percentage of 7.6%, an all-time, fourth quarter low. In addition, our financial services business performed extremely well with fourth quarter earnings of $81.2 million, an all-time, quarterly high.” Revenues increased 9% as deliveries rose 13% and average selling prices fell 3% (as Lennar focuses more on the entry-level market where the demand is strongest).

Morning Report: Some predictions for 2020

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3242 -1.25
Oil (WTI) 62.87 -0.74
10 year government bond yield 1.80%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.88%

 

Stocks are flattish this morning as Iranian tensions ease. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

 

The trade deficit fell to a 3 year low as imports fell and exports rose. The Trump Administration has said that a Phase 1 deal with China will be signed at the White House on January 15. Separately, the Senate is expected to vote on the new USMCA (the replacement for NAFTA) this month.

 

The Bernank is suggesting that the Fed not rule out the use of negative interest rates. “The Fed should also consider maintaining constructive ambiguity about the future use of negative short-term rates, both because situations could arise in which negative short-term rates would provide useful policy space; and because entirely ruling out negative short rates, by creating an effective floor for long-term rates as well, could limit the Fed’s future ability to reduce longer-term rates by QE or other means.” He also supported the Fed’s current “makeup” policy where the Fed will allow inflation to run above its intended target for an extended period to “make up” for the past decade where it had run below its target.

 

Interesting new model for home ownership. Fleq is a Los Angeles based startup that buys homes on behalf of a buyer and rents it back them while offering them the chance to buy it from Fleq bit by bit. It is different than the “rent-to-own” model. The buyer (really a tenant) will pay market rent, which is then reduced as the tenant buys more of the property. If the tenant has 5% equity, they 5% of all taxes and maintenance costs. They also get to treat the property as if they own it, meaning they can paint it how they want, etc. I guess it makes sense for someone who falls in love with a house but can’t get a mortgage at the moment. It allows them to move into the home without having to get a mortgage and lets them repair their credit / income / whatever and then go the traditional mortgage route. Don’t know how much interest there will be in this, but it is a novel concept.

 

Some predictions for the 2020 housing market. “In 2020, more home-building activity and consequent growth in supply should tame down home price gains,” said Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist. “That’s a healthy development for potential home buyers. Southern cities should once again do better than most other markets.”. Another: “Real estate fundamentals remain entangled in a lattice of continuing demand, tight supply and disciplined financial underwriting,” said George Ratiu, senior economist at Realtor.com. “Accordingly, 2020 will prove to be the most challenging year for buyers, not because of what they can afford but rather what they can find.” Punch line: rates will stay around 3.8%, and existing home sales will fall as fewer properties will be available for sale. Of course, that assumes builders will remain cautious. The NAHB expects single family starts to grow 4% to 920,000, which is still below the number we need to keep up with population and obsolescence. The chart below shows population-adjusted starts by decade:

 

starts by population

 

 

Morning Report: Welcome to 2020

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3251 20.25
Oil (WTI) 61.07 0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.88%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.95%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after China eased reserve rates overnight. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Announced job cuts (in other words, press releases discussing layoffs) fell to 32,845 in December according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. “Confidence was high heading into the last month of the year. With some resolutions occurring in the trade war and strong consumer spending in the fourth quarter, companies appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach as we head into 2020,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “The sectors with the highest number of cuts this year were all dealing with trade concerns, emerging technologies, and shifts in consumer behavior. We tracked a lot of hiring activity in these industries as well as cuts,” said Challenger. Separately, initial jobless claims fell to 222k last week.

 

Mortgage Applications fell by 5% as purchases and refis fell by the same amount. “The 10-Year Treasury yield increased [the week ending December 20] amid signs of stronger home building activity and solid consumer spending, leading to a rise in conventional conforming and jumbo 30-year mortgage rates to just under 4 percent,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “With this increase, conventional refinance application volume fell 11 percent. Refinance applications for government loans did increase, even though rates on FHA loans picked up. The change in the mix of business has kept the average refinance loan size smaller than we had seen earlier this year.”

 

The Trump Administration is saying that a Phase 1 deal is done, and everyone is waiting on translation. “It’s got great stuff in it,” he [Trade Advisor Peter Navarro] said. “It’s got essentially the same chapter we had in the May deal that the Chinese walked away from on intellectual property theft. So that’s a good deal….For Wall Street … financial market access for the banks, insurance companies and credit card companies,” he added.

 

Happy new year, and here’s to a prosperous 2020, with housing starts above 1.5 million, originations over $2.2 trillion and a 30 year fixed rate mortgage below 3.5%. Hey, it could happen.