Morning Report: The CFPB eyes the GSE patch

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3025 1.5
Oil (WTI) 53.61 0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.07%

 

Stocks are flattish as we head into FOMC week. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The FOMC begins its two day meeting on Tuesday, and is expected to cut rates by 25 basis points. We will also get the jobs report on Friday, so this should be a busy week.

 

While the Fed is ostensibly cutting rates to ward off a potential recession, the economic data has been surprisingly robust. Despite trade fears, GDP growth in the second quarter topped 2%, and earnings season has been robust. The “Powell Put” as it has been dubbed, is the expectation that rates are going down and that will support the stock market. That said, the global economy is slowing and that is pushing down interest rates. Note the German 10-year is again pushing negative 40 basis points, and the Chinese are having issues in their banking system. Meanwhile, the US consumer is alive and well as the biggest canary in the coal mine for the US consumer – UPS – reported a 14% increase in quarterly profit.

 

Last Thursday, the CFPB announced that it was willing to let the “GSE patch” expire in 2021. The GSE patch allows loans with DTI ratios above 43 to fit in the QM bucket if they are approved for sale to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. “The top line is the patch is going to expire,” [CFPB Director Kathy] Kraninger said in a meeting with reporters. “We are amenable to what a transition would look like.” The CFPB has put out a public request for comment on the new rules, and is working to ensure that there are no disruptions in the mortgage market. This is important given that 1/3 of the Fan and Fred loans have DTIs over 43%. It is possible that FHA will pick up the slack, however FHA has been tightening credit standards as well, requiring FICOs above 620 to go over 43%. Note that a quarter of FHA lending has DTI ratios over 50% (FHA permits up to 57%), but it is more likely that these loans will end up as securitized non-QM loans. There are still many issues to be resolved before the private label market returns to its former glory, but this may force those issues to finally get ironed out. This may be why the government considers this to be a key part of GSE reform – it will shrink the GSE’s footprint in the market, and also increase the credit quality of their loans.

 

The Trump Administration had indicated they wanted to get GSE reform done before the 2020 election, however that is looking like it won’t happen. Mark Calabria, head of the FHFA, think this is more likely to happen within the next 5 years. By far the biggest issue is whether the government will continue to guarantee MBS issued by the GSEs. The government guarantee was never explicit prior to the financial crisis, and the government floated a trial balloon during the crisis about not guaranteeing these securities. Bill Gross of PIMCO threatened to stop buying Fan and Fred MBS if the government did that and that was the end of that discussion. Note Bill had just loaded up the boat in his Total Return Fund with agency MBS and made a killing when the government formally guaranteed them, so he was talking his book so to speak.

 

Housing security is a big issue for seniors. With the end of defined benefit pension plans, most people are living on Social Security and savings. One proposal would allow seniors to use pretax earnings in their IRA or 401k plans to pay off mortgage debt without triggering taxes and penalties.

Morning Report; GDP comes in better than expected

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3014 7.5
Oil (WTI) 56.51 0.84
10 year government bond yield 2.08%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.05%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after good numbers from Google, sorry Alphabet, and Q1 GDP came in better than expectations. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The US economy grew at 2.1% in the second quarter, a deceleration from the 3.1% recorded in the first quarter, but higher than the Street estimate of 1.8%. Note that the Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now model was predicting only 1.3% growth as of yesterday, which is a big miss, so perhaps this number will eventually get revised down.

 

In terms of the internals, consumption rebounded rising 4.3%, compared to only 1.1% in the first quarter. Inflation rose 2.3% on the headline number, while the core PCE rose 1.8%. Disposable income rose 4.4%, or 2.5% after inflation and the savings rate fell from 8.5% to 8.1%. Trade was a drag on growth, with exports falling 5.2% and imports flat. Investment was disappointing, falling 5.5% however the first quarter was revised upward from 1% to 3.1%. The economy’s old bugaboo, housing, fell 1.5%. It is strange to think we have a such pent-up demand for housing yet it remains a headwind but here we are. Inventories fell as well.

 

GDP

 

The Fed Funds futures moved slightly. A rate cut next week is more or less a sure thing, and the futures are predicting an 80% chance of a 25 bp cut and a 20% chance of a 50 bp cut. This is realistically the last data point before the Fed meets next week, although consumption and PCE will be released on the day the meeting begins.

 

The homeownership rate fell in the second quarter, falling to 64.1% from 64.2% in the previous quarter. This rate of 64% was more or less the norm prior to the big homeownership push from the government in the mid 90s. It topped 69% during the bubble years and then fell below 63% during the bust. The rental vacancy rate was flat at 6.8%, which again is consistent with historical norms. It is an interesting series the vacancy rate was quite low during the high interest rate 1970s and quite high during the bubble years.

 

vacancy rate

Morning Report: German bonds set a record streak of negative yields

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3023 1.5
Oil (WTI) 56.79 0.84
10 year government bond yield 2.07%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.04%

 

Stocks are flat as we await earnings from market heavyweights like Amazon and Alphabet. Facebook’s numbers beat the street, while Tesla disappointed. Bonds and MBS are down small.

 

New home sales came in weaker than expected, but at least exhibited positive growth. In June, we saw new home sales of 646,000, which was up 7% MOM and 5% YOY. New home inventory 338k units, which represents a 6.3 month supply.

 

Durable Goods orders rose 2% in June, according to Census. Ex-transportation, they rose 1.2%, and ex-transportation and defense they rose 3.1%. Non-defense capital goods orders (ex-aircraft) rose 1.9%, which shows that businesses are expanding capacity.

 

In other economic news, initial jobless claims fell 13k to 206,000.

 

The ECB opened the door to future stimulus this morning, saying they saw rates lower over the next 12 months. The German Bund is slightly stronger, however we are still close to record low yields at negative 37 basis points. The Bund set a record for the longest streak of days in negative territory – now 79. This eclipses the record set in 2016. What exactly does “negative yield” mean? It means the German 0s of ’29 is trading at 103.66. It is a zero coupon bond, meaning it pays no periodic interest. You pay 103.66 and on August 15, 2029, you will get back 100.

 

german bund yield

 

To get an idea of how much things have changed in Europe, remember the PIIGS? The PIIGS were an acronym for Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain – all high-yielding sovereign debt that had fiscal issues. Where are they now? All yielding less than the US 10 year, with Greece at 1.95%, Portugal at 38 basis points, Ireland at 11 basis points, Italy at 1.48% and Spain at 33 basis points. Don’t forget, a huge swath of the European corporate sector trades with negative yields.

 

Most (if not all) of these countries have debt-to-GDP ratios well over 1, so we are seeing a real-time test of the hypothesis that government debt levels don’t matter. The granddaddy of debt to GDP ratios is Japan, sitting at 2.4x and its 10 year bond yields negative 15 basis points. Who knows how all this ends up, but we have a global sovereign debt bubble of epic proportions.

 

Bill Gross used to call the US the “cleanest dirty shirt” in the world. Indeed. For all the handwringing over debt to GDP ratios, the US debt to GDP ratio sits at just over 1, and a good chunk of that is owned by the Fed. Essentially, the low yields overseas cannot help but act as an anchor for US yields, which means unless the bubble overseas pops, I can’t see an impetus to push rates dramatically higher. And the first rule of bubbles is that they go on longer and go further than anyone expects.

Morning Report: Existing home sales disappoint, but some internals are better

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2999 -8.5
Oil (WTI) 56.94 0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.06%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Today is a big day for earnings, with numbers coming out for Ford, Boeing, Caterpillar, Facebook, and Tesla.

 

House prices rose 0.1% in May, according to the FHFA House Price Index. They were up 5% on a YOY basis. Home price appreciation has been decelerating across the board, but it is most pronounced in the Pacific and Mountain regions.

 

FHFA regional

 

Mortgage Applications fell by 2% last week as purchases and refis fell by the same amount. This was despite a 4 basis point drop in rates.

 

Existing Home Sales fell 1.7% in June, according to NAR. “Home sales are running at a pace similar to 2015 levels – even with exceptionally low mortgage rates, a record number of jobs and a record high net worth in the country,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. Yun says the nation is in the midst of a housing shortage and much more inventory is needed. “Imbalance persists for mid-to-lower priced homes with solid demand and insufficient supply, which is consequently pushing up home prices,” he said.

 

Inventory was 1.93 million units, which represents a 4.4 month supply. Historically a balanced market had 6 – 6.5 months’ worth of supply. As Yun notes above, there is a big mismatch in inventory, with a complete dearth of properties at the low / mid price points. McMansions abound, however. Despite these issues, the first time homebuyer accounted for 35% of sales in June, which is approaching the historical norm of 40%. The first time homebuyer had been largely MIA for most of the post-crisis timeframe, accounting for 30% of sales (or even less). On the flip side, investors (represented by all cash sales) fell to 10%. With home price appreciation leveling out, we may start to see some funds who raised capital for the REO-to-Rental trade in the aftermath of the crisis ring the register and sell some of these properties as the funds wind down. Certainly cap rates are not what they were 10 years ago.

 

The median home price reached an all-time high of 285,700. Sentier Research has the median income at $63,400 as of May 2019. This puts the median house price to median income rate at just about 4.5x. Historically this is a very high number, however it is important to note that interest rates will influence this number. If you look at other metrics besides incomes and prices, homes are not that expensive on a historical basis.

 

 

Morning Report: John Williams moves markets yesterday

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3003 6.5
Oil (WTI) 55.74 0.54
10 year government bond yield 2.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.08%

 

Stocks are up this morning after Mr. Softee beat earnings estimates. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Signs of a recession? Not really. The Conference Board’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators was flat at -.3% in June, while the markets were expecting an uptick. “The US LEI fell in June, the first decline since last December, primarily driven by weaknesses in new orders for manufacturing, housing permits, and unemployment insurance claims,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Senior Director of Economic Research at The Conference Board. “For the first time since late 2007, the yield spread made a small negative contribution. As the US economy enters its eleventh year of expansion, the longest in US history, the LEI suggests growth is likely to remain slow in the second half of the year.”

 

New York Fed Head John Williams sent bond yields lower yesterday when his prepared remarks to an academic conference were released. They said: “Take swift action when faced with adverse economic conditions” and “keep interest rates lower for longer” when you do cut rates.” The markets immediately took this as an endorsement for a 50 basis point cut when the Fed meets next week. A spokesman from the NY Fed clarified that comment later, saying that he was referring to studies based on 20 years of monetary policy and was not referring to the FOMC meeting next week. A cut next week is pretty much expected, and the only question is whether it will be 25 or 50 basis points.

 

After Williams’ comments, the Fed Funds futures actually started handicapping a 70% chance for a 50 basis point cut and only a 30% chance of a 25 basis point cut. They had previously been forecasting a 25% chance for a 50 basis point cut. They ended up settling on 40% chance. There is some more Fed-speak today, and then they will enter the quiet period ahead of next week’s meeting.

 

FHFA Director Mark Calabria says the Trump Administration should be releasing a plan to deal with Fannie and Freddie sometime in August or September.

Morning Report: Foreign investment in US real estate falls

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2984 -0.5
Oil (WTI) 57.04 0.24
10 year government bond yield 2.07%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.09%

 

Stocks are flattish after erstwhile market darling Netflix stunk up the joint with lousy earnings. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Initial Jobless Claims were flat at around 219k last week.

 

Negotiations continue over spending and the debt ceiling, which will probably be hit in September. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin cited “progress” in negotiations, and there is general agreement on the “top line” which includes spending increases from the previous year. That said, Republicans want some spending cuts elsewhere to offset the increase, and Democrats are against cuts. We’ll see if this goes to the mat (and another shutdown), but in the end, we’ll probably just raise the ceiling again and things will go on their merry way. Remember the last time we had a long shutdown, lenders were unable to get tax transcripts out of the IRS so it is something to keep in mind.

 

The Fed’s Beige Book of economic activity showed that the economy continued to expand at a “modest” pace, with slightly higher sales and flat manufacturing. Employment grew at a modest pace, and appears to be decelerating somewhat, especially as the slack in the labor market gets taken up. The Boston Fed noted that tariffs are having a negative effect, and at least one company is moving some production overseas to escape them. The proposed 5% tariff on Mexican goods was mentioned as a significant shock.

 

Canary in the coal mine for international asset markets, particularly China? International buyers of US residential real estate fell by 36% over the past year, following a 20% decrease in the prior year. China has been dealing with a real estate bubble for years, and prices are way out of whack compared to incomes – you can see just how bad it is here. This may explain some of the emerging weakness at the high end, especially in the big West Coast markets like San Francisco, Vancouver, and Seattle. The first step in any bursting bubble is a “buyer’s strike,” followed by rising inventory, and then finally a market-clearing event. We may be at the first stage right now.

 

Macroeconomically, a downturn in China means several things. First, they are going to try and export their way out of it, which means more trade tensions especially if they go the currency devaluation route. Second, it will mean a global growth slowdown, which will act as an anchor on global interest rates. Don’t worry about inflation, the world is awash in capacity. Finally, it could mean a return to a time like the 1990s, where the US was able to have its cake and eat it too, with fast growth but little to no inflation. I wonder if the Fed sees the same thing (after all central bankers do coordinate policy somewhat) and that is part of the reason why they are planning on easing when there is absolutely zero evidence the US is entering a recession.

Morning Report: Housing starts disappoint

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3009 0.35
Oil (WTI) 59.54 -0.07
10 year government bond yield 2.09%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.12%

 

Stocks are flat as bank earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Another month, another disappointing housing starts number. Starts fell from an annualized pace of 1.3 million to 1.22 million in June, according to Census. Building permits were a mixed bag, falling to 1.25 million, however May’s numbers were revised upwards. Both starts and permits were below street expectations.

 

Despite the disappointing housing starts number, builder confidence rose one point to 65 in July. Demand remains strong, however labor shortages, few buildable lots and rising construction costs are making it difficult to build at the lower price points, where the demand is particularly acute.

 

Mortgage applications fell 1.1% last week as purchases fell by 3.8% and refis rose 1.5%. Rates increased, with the 30 year fixed rate mortgage rising by 8 basis points to 4.12%.  “Mortgage rates increased across the board, with the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rising to its highest level in a month to 4.12 percent, which is still below this year’s average of 4.45 percent,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Coming out of the July 4 holiday, applications were lower overall, with purchase activity slipping almost 4 percent. Refinance applications increased, with activity reaching its highest level in a month, driven mainly by FHA refinance applications. Historically, government refinance activity lags slightly in response to rate changes.”

 

Bank of America reported strong earnings this morning. Mortgage origination volume was up 56% YOY to $18.2 billion.  Separately, Quicken announced they originated $32 billion in the second quarter.

 

Second quarter growth in China fell to 6.2%, the lowest level in 27 years. The implications for this will revolve primarily around inflation and Fed policy. The Chinese economy has a real estate bubble of epic proportions, and once that bursts it will have ramifications in the urban high-end market, but it will also be felt in lower inflation numbers. China will probably try and export its way out of the slowdown, although tariffs will make it difficult. That said, a slowdown in emerging Asia and Europe will usher in even lower interest rates.

 

 

Morning Report: Retail Sales strong

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3019 5.35
Oil (WTI) 59.54 -0.07
10 year government bond yield 2.13%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.10%

 

Stocks are flattish as earnings season kicks off. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

June Retail Sales came in much higher than expectations. The headline number was up 0.4% MOM and 3.4% YOY. The control group, which excludes volatile products like autos, gas, and food was up 0.7%, well above the 0.3% Street estimate. May’s numbers were revised upwards as well. The upside surprise in retail sales pushed up the 10 year from 2.09% before the number to 2.13% after. Since consumption is such a big component of the economy, expect to see Q2 GDP estimates to be revised upwards.

 

Despite the strong retail sales numbers, the street is still handicapping a 25% chance of a 50 basis point cut and a 75% chance of a 25 basis point cut at the July FOMC meeting. I can’t believe we are talking about rate cuts when the economy is this strong, but here we are…

 

fed funds futures

 

In bank earnings, JP Morgan reported an increase in net income, but mortgage banking revenue was down 17% QOQ and YOY, driven by an unfavorable mark on the MSR portfolio. Volume increased 14% YOY to 24.5 billion. Wells also reported stronger earnings, with origination volume increasing to $33 billion. Margins fell from 105 basis points to 98, and it looks like they took a hit to their servicing portfolio as well.

 

Industrial Production was flat in June, driven by a drop in utility output. Manufacturing production was up 0.4%. Capacity Utilization increased as well, from 75.6% to 75.9%. So, despite all the concern about tariffs, we aren’t seeing it flow through to the numbers yet.

 

The FHA has been trying to figure out a way to bring more lenders back into the program after many exited in the aftermath of the housing crisis. The Obama administration aggressively fined lenders for minor errors which pushed banks largely out of FHA lending. The Trump Administration is changing enforcement policies and is working to bring more clarity to to the program. A number of trade groups however have argued that the reforms don’t go far enough, and don’t provide enough certainty to encourage banks to re-enter the business.

 

30 day delinquencies fell 0.7% YOY to 3.6%, according to CoreLogic. The only places that saw increases were due to hurricane-related issues. Flooding in the Midwest could boost these numbers in the future however. The foreclosure rate fell from 0.5% to 0.4% as well.

Morning Report: Powell discusses homebuilding

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3009 6.5
Oil (WTI) 60.31 0.26
10 year government bond yield 2.14%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.11%

 

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

 

Two Fed governors (Bostic and Barkin) pushed back on the need to cut rates to maintain the expansion yesterday. That might have explained the increase in the 10 year yesterday afternoon.

 

Inflation at the wholesale level rose 0.1% month over month and 2.3% YOY, according to the Producer Price Index. Ex-food and energy, it was flat MOM and up 2.1% YOY. Inflation remains comfortably stuck in a range around 2%.

 

Jerome Powell mentioned homebuilding in his Humphrey-Hawkins testimony yesterday. He blamed tariffs and labor shortages for the lack of building. That said, the underbuilding phenomenon didn’t just start in the last couple of years – housing starts have been at recessionary levels since 2008, and we have had an acute shortage of housing for at least 7 years. Something else is going on, although immigration restrictions and tariffs certainly don’t help matters. But that isn’t the explanation. When you look at new home sales divided by population, you can see just how much we have underbuilt:

 

new home sales divided by population

 

The CFPB has been upping its spending on consumer financial education. Democrats are complaining that it shifts the burden of consumer protection from the financial industry to consumers. That said, the enforcement budget has increased.

 

Jim Grant argues in the WSJ for a return to the gold standard.

Morning Report: Powell soothes US stock indices

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3002 6.5
Oil (WTI) 60.62 0.26
10 year government bond yield 2.08%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.08%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after Jerome Powell hinted strongly that the Fed would cut rates at the July meeting. The S&P 500 is at record levels and is flirting with the 3000 level. Bonds and MBS are down small.

 

Oil prices are rallying as tensions rise in the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian considers the Strait to be its territorial waters, and has been hassling warships going through the area for decades. The latest incident involves a British oil tanker. Persian Gulf tensions largely impact North Sea Brent prices more than West Texas Prices (which most of the US uses).

 

If the Fed is cutting rates, why aren’t yields going lower? Bond yields are higher across the board globally, with the German Bund yielding -26 basis points on hints that the ECB could launch further stimulus plans. The Bund yielded -38 bp last week, so perhaps US bond yields are simply following what international bonds are doing. Don’t forget, the last time the Fed Funds rate was in the 150 – 175 basis point range (May of 2018) the 10 year was about 2.9%. So, the Fed could cut rates 75 bp by the end of the year and we could see yields go nowhere. Look at the chart below, which plots the 10 year bond yield versus the Fed Funds rate:

 

10 year vs Fed Funds rate

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 209k last week, which was a touch below expectations. Regardless, the last time we were at similar levels was during the Vietnam War when we had a military draft.

 

Consumer prices rose 0.1% in June, according to the Consumer Price Index. The core CPI, which excludes food and energy rose 0.3%. On a YOY basis, the headline number rose 1.6% and the core index rose 2.1%. That said, the Fed prefers to use the PCE index, which shows inflation to be lower. The CPI overweights housing compared to the PCE, which is why it shows higher levels.

 

Jerome Powell’s Humphrey-Hawkins testimony dominated the headlines, but the FOMC minutes also confirmed his outlook.

Participants judged that uncertainties and downside risks surrounding the economic outlook had increased significantly over recent weeks. While they continued to view
a sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective as the most likely outcomes, many participants attached significant odds to scenarios with less favorable outcomes. Moreover, nearly all participants in their submissions to the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), had revised down their assessment of the appropriate path of the federal funds rate over the projection period that would be consistent with their modal economic outlook.

 

Separately, Larry Kudlow emphasized that Trump has no plans to fire Powell. The Fed’s independence from politics makes it highly unlikely he could do so in the first place, however Jimmy Carter did do it to G William Miller, kicking him upstairs to Treasury and hiring Paul Volcker to run the Fed.

 

The first hurricane of the 2019 Atlantic season looks like it will hit Louisiana.