Morning Report: Fed decision day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2851 -1.25
Eurostoxx index 382.92 2.82
Oil (WTI) 58.48 0.39
10 year government bond yield 2.60%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.27%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as we begin the FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC decision is set to be announced at 2:00 pm EST. Be careful locking around that time. They aren’t going to raise interest rates, but the focus will be on the dot plot and their interest rate forecast for 2019. There will also be interest in the size of the balance sheet, but it won’t be market moving.

 

The stock market has been rallying on hopes that the Fed will be taking 2019 off. Note that FedEx reported disappointing numbers, which is a canary in the coal mine for the global economy. The stock and bond markets have been sending different signals about the economy, with the stock market rising (signalling strength) and interest rates falling (signalling weakness). Part of this has been due to global growth concerns – especially in Europe and China. Global weakness doesn’t necessarily translate into a recession for the US, but it is a reach to think it won’t affect us at all.

 

Mortgage Applications rose 1.6% last week as purchases rose 0.3% and refis increased 4%. Mortgage rates drifted lower and are at the cheapest in a year.

 

The NAHB / Wells Fargo Housing Market Index was flat at 62 as we kick off the Spring Selling Season. Sales ticked up, but traffic is way down. Overall, the new home sales market is similar to where we left off in fall. We will get a read on existing home sales this Friday. We are seeing some evidence of cooling in housing markets, especially in the Northeast. According to the Redfin competitive numbers, places like Greenwich CT are at 9 on a scale of 1 – 100. Even erstwhile hot markets like San Diego have been cooling. The heat is in the laggard markets, with places like Harrisburg PA and Indianapolis doing very well.

 

greenwich

Indianapolis

 

Morning Report: Gap between appraisals and homeowner perception widens slightly

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2802 5
Eurostoxx index 374.06 0.81
Oil (WTI) 57.27 0.47
10 year government bond yield 2.62%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.28%

 

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

 

Inflation at the wholesale level came in below expectations, mirroring the consumer price index. The headline PPI rose 0.1% MOM / 1.9% YOY. Ex-food and energy the index rose 0.1% / 2.5% YOY.

 

Mortgage Applications rose 2.3% last week as purchases rose 4% and refis fell 0.2%. The MBA noted an uptick in FHA activity. “Purchase applications have now increased year-over-year for four weeks, which signals healthy demand entering the busy spring buying season. However, the pick-up in the average loan size continues, with the average balance reaching another record high. With more inventory in their price range compared to first-time buyers, move-up and higher-end buyers continue to have strong success finding a home.” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting.

 

The gap between a homeowner’s perception of their home’s value and the number that the appraiser comes up with is starting to widen a touch. The Quicken Home Price Perception Index fell slightly in February, although the difference between perception and appraisal is pretty tight historically. For most MSAs, appraisals are coming in higher than homeowners expect, which is good news for the cash-out refi business. Given the direction in interest rates, home price appreciation is going to drive refi activity going forward.

 

Quicken HPPI

 

Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloane appeared before the House yesterday to get called on the carpet for aggressive sales practices. “We have gone above and beyond what is required in disclosing these issues in our public filings, we have worked to remedy these issues, and, most importantly, we have worked to address root causes that allowed them to occur in the first place,” Sloan said in his written testimony to the House Financial Services Committee. “As a result, Wells Fargo is a better bank than it was three years ago, and we are working every day to become even better.” he said in a written statement.

Morning Report: New home sales surprise on the upside

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2786.75 -4
Eurostoxx index 376.51 0.03
Oil (WTI) 56.07 0.4
10 year government bond yield 2.70%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The economy added 183,000 jobs in February, according to the ADP Employment Survey. The Street is looking for about 180,000 additions in Friday’s employment situation report, so the ADP numbers seem to be in line.

 

Mortgage applications decreased 2.5% last week as purchases fell by 2.6% and refis fell 2%. The typical mortgage rate rose by 2 basis point to 4.67%.

 

The ISM non-manufacturing index expanded in February, which means that the services sector is picking up momentum.  The biggest issues seem to be potential trade issues, labor shortages and trucking costs.

 

New Home Sales rose by 621,000 in December. This is up 3.7% from the downward-revised November number, but down 1.5% from a year ago. For the full year, 622,000 homes were sold, which is slightly higher than the 613,000 sold in 2017. The median price was $318,000, while the average price was $377,000. The median sales price has been declining over the past year after peaking in November 2017 at $343,400. This demonstrates the shift from luxury to entry-level home construction to meet demand. This is a reversal of the early years of the crisis, when the luxury end of the market was the only part that was working.

 

Note that new home sales are about where they were during the 60s – 80s. Pretty amazing when you take into account that the US population has increased by close to 60% since 1970.

 

new home sales

 

Here is a copy of the letter that NAR, MBA, and a host of other housing advocates sent to Joseph Otting, Acting Director of the FHFA regarding GSE reform. It urges FHFA to go slow, work to maintain the 30 year fixed rate mortgage, and allow the GSE’s to act as a counter-cyclical buffer.

 

The Fed is catching up to the markets. Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said it could be “several meetings” before the Fed gets enough clarity on the economy to make a move in interest rates. In many ways, he is acknowledging what the Fed Funds futures have been saying for a while now – that the Fed is going to wait and see how the 2018 hikes affect the economy before making any further moves. Since monetary policy generally acts with a 9 – 15 month lag, it means that the economy still hasn’t factored in the Sep and Dec hikes from last year.

Morning Report: Atlanta Fed predicts Q1 GDP will come in at 0.3%

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2793.25 3.2
Eurostoxx index 374.38 -0.84
Oil (WTI) 56.73 0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are up on trade hopes. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Construction spending fell 0.6% in December, but was up 1.2% on a year-over-year basis. While the government shutdown may have had an effect on public construction spending, private construction spending was down the same amount. Housing continues to punch under its weight class, falling 1.4% MOM and 1.5% YOY. Public housing construction was even worse, falling 5% MOM and 20% YOY.

 

Now that more people are shopping for real estate online at sites like Zillow, Redfin and Realtor.com, the photos you use to show your property take on greater importance. Certainly it pays to have someone who knows what they are doing to photograph your home to put it in the best light, as opposed to simply posting photos from your phone. Now, with photo editing software getting cheaper and cheaper, more people are using edited photos to show their place. Some of this is innocuous: like photoshopping out your personal stuff in the kitchen and some of it is not: adding a pool or removing a wall. Given that 20% of homes are bought sight unseen, this is no longer a trivial, theoretical issue. It takes on even more importance given the move towards computer-generated appraisals.

 

Mortgage rates tend to vary across states. For example, the cheapest state to borrow in is California, where the average rate is 4.74%. The most expensive is NY, where the average rate is 4.96%. The US average is 4.84%. You would think that judicial versus non-judicial foreclosure laws would explain the difference (you can live in your foreclosed house for years in NY), but maybe there is more going on here. Guess what the second-lowest rate state is: New Jersey, which has a pretty similar foreclosure legal structure.

 

Yesterday I mentioned that strategists and the Atlanta Fed are extremely bearish on Q1 GDP growth, figuring that it will come in under 1%. A couple of points: First, Q1 GDP has been weak for the past several years. It might be a measurement issue or something spurious, but that is one reason economists might be cheating down the number a tad. Second, if Q1 GDP comes in around 1%, you can probably forget about any rate hikes this year. For what its worth, the Fed Funds futures are predicting a 94% chance of no hikes this year and a 6% chance of 1 hike.

 

HUD Secretary Ben Carson plans to leave the Administration at the end of Trump’s term, where he will return to the private sector.

Morning Report: Homeownership rate jumps in Q4

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2814 6.75
Eurostoxx index 376.36 1.22
Oil (WTI) 56.49 0.7
10 year government bond yield 2.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.44%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on real news. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The big data this week will be the jobs report on Friday. Jerome Powell said in his Humphrey-Hawkins testimony that he would like to see further wage increases, which should calm the bond markets if the average hourly earnings number comes in a bit hotter than expected. Other than that, we will get new home sales and the ISM data.

 

The homeownership rate ticked up to 64.8% in the fourth quarter, according to the census bureau. This is up from 64.4% in the third quarter and 64.2% a year ago. The homeownership rate has been slowly ticking back up after bottoming at 62.9% in 2016. Note that we are nowhere near the highs of around 69.2% during the bubble years. Bumping up that number by lending to Millennial borrowers is going to drive the mortgage business going forward, and will have to replace the rate / term refi business that drove earnings for years.

 

homeownership rate

 

28 organizations, including the MBA, NAR and a whole host of affordable housing advocates sent a letter to Acting FHFA Director Otting counseling him to go slow in GSE reform.  “A well-functioning housing finance system should provide consistent, affordable credit to borrowers across the nation and through all parts of the credit cycle without putting taxpayers at risk of a bailout,” the letter states. “We urge policymakers to take these principles into account to ensure that access and affordability are preserved under the current, and any future, housing regime.” FHFA had indicated it was willing to make some reforms without Congress, which prompted the letter. Any true GSE reform will require legislation.

 

Despite a strong Q4 GDP print of 2.6%, first quarter estimates are in the 0% to 1% range. Does the economy “feel” like it rapidly decelerated in the past couple of months? Some of the numbers suggest it – as in personal income and consumption.  I don’t sense it, but that’s what the pros are saying. As a general rule, people’s subjective assessment of the economy is often influenced by their personal partisan values. When Democrats are in charge, Republicans tend to feel the economy is worse off than it really is, and the same goes in reverse. During the Obama years, the professional economists (including the Fed) were consistently high on their GDP estimates. Now, during the Trump years, professional economists seem to be undershooting the numbers – i.e. actual growth numbers out of the BEA are much higher than forecast. I doubt there is any tampering going on, but it is something to keep in mind, especially when locking around big economic events.

Morning Report: 2018 GDP highest in 12 years.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2788 -6.75
Eurostoxx index 371.36 -1.22
Oil (WTI) 56.82 -0.13
10 year government bond yield 2.67%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.34%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Fourth quarter GDP came in at 2.6%, a deceleration from the third quarter reading of 3.4%, but much higher than many in the political economic punditry were predicting. Consumer spending rose 2.8%, while inflation rose 1.6%. Inflation fell from 1.8% in the third quarter. For 2019, GDP came in at 2.9%, the highest reading since 2006.

 

Initial Jobless Claims rose to 225,000 continuing a string of extremely low readings.

 

One of the most politically explosive issues these days concerns wage growth – why it seems to be so low and what can be done about it. Many will misinterpret cherry-picked numbers to make the claim that wages have not increased for 40 years, which is preposterous. That said, wage growth has been running in the high 2s, and with inflation around 2%, that equates to under 1% real wage growth. Modest, but certainly not what you would expect, especially this far into a recovery, especially with unemployment running below 4%. If the numbers don’t appear to comport with common sense, often times there is an issue with the numbers.  That seems to be the case here. It turns out that wage growth is quite a bit higher, and it is due to the measurement problems inherent in the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s calculations. The BLS basically adds up wages paid and divides it by hours worked. If higher paid older workers are exiting, and younger lower paid workers are entering it will depress the averages, and it won’t accurately measure the growth that someone who has stayed in the labor force for the entire year has seen. Take a look at the chart below, where the Fed imputed average wage growth from census data as opposed to the BLS. Wage inflation jumps from 3% to 5%, which makes a lot more sense given the current economic numbers.

 

average hourly earnings vs census

 

Toll Brothers reported an increase in pretax earnings and sales for the first quarter of 2019. Orders declined in a big way however, falling 24% in units and 31% in dollars, driven primarily by weakness in California. Home price appreciation has been moderating in the hotter markets, and it is especially pronounced in the luxury segment, where Toll resides. The cancellation rate jumped to 9.6% from 5.3% a year ago. Tax reform limited the mortgage interest deduction, and the luxury segment is most prominent in high tax states, so those two effects are squeezing demand.

 

Realtor.com predicts this year’s Spring Selling Season could be the weakest in years despite rising inventory. While lower rates have improved conditions compared to late 2018, we are still weaker than early 2018.