Morning Report: Mortgage credit expands

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2858 -14
Oil (WTI) 61.94 0.24
10 year government bond yield 2.45%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.15%

 

Stocks are lower after the US imposed further tariffs on Chinese goods. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

As promised, the US increased tariffs on about $200 billion of Chinese goods as trade talks continue. The Chinese vowed to retaliate, and that sent the Chinese stock market up sharply overnight. Both parties say they want to strike some sort of deal and it is possible this could get walked back.

 

Inflation at the consumer level rose 0.3% MOM and 2.0% YOY, right in line with the Fed’s target. Ex-food and energy, they were up 0.2% / 2.1%. Although the Fed doesn’t really pay too much attention to CPI (they prefer PCE), it keeps the Fed at bay, probably through the 2020 election.

 

Uber priced its IPO at $45 a share last night, towards the bottom of the range. The bankers claim that was due to market conditions, but the IPO market has been lousy in general, partly because all of the value is extracted in the funding rounds prior to the IPO, which means they are coming to the market priced for perfection. The lousy performance of Lyft’s IPO didn’t help matters either. A labor standoff with its drivers isn’t helping either.

 

Neel Kashkari discusses why we aren’t seeing inflation even at 3.6% unemployment. His main point is that the unemployment rate uses a measure of the labor force that is probably understated. You have to be actively looking for a job to be considered part of the labor force, and people who have been unemployed for over 6 months no longer count. The tell, therefore is wage growth. Given productivity has been running at around 1.5% and inflation is running around 2%, then non-inflationary wage growth should be around 3.5%. Since we are closer to 3%, there is still slack in the labor market. He also cited two interesting stats: First, of the people that got jobs in April, 70% said they weren’t looking for work in March. That suggests that many of these workers were on disability, which is basically long-term unemployment. The fact that they are coming back is a good sign. Second, the fall in the labor force participation rate offsets the unemployment effect. To get an apples-to-apples comparison of today’s job market versus the late 90s, 2.3 million more prime age workers (age 25-54) would need to have jobs. This also explains why wage growth has been running below what it should.

 

Usury laws are back. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez want to cap credit card interest rates at 15%. I guess the hope is that credit card companies will say “yes, we were overcharging you and we’ll still make money at 15%, so here you go.” In reality, all they will do is stop issuing cards to people with FICOs below a certain level. Credit card debt is unsecured, which means that the lender generally gets little to nothing if the borrower defaults.  So, they assign a probability of default and multiply the interest by 1 minus the default rate and decide whether that return is acceptable compared to other debt instruments. By the way, these ideas aren’t new. Much of this had been tried and rejected over the past 100 years, but i guess in politics and finance, knowledge is cyclical, versus cumulative as it is in the sciences.

 

Mortgage credit standards loosened last month as more lenders embraced non-QM lending. The MBA’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index increased for everything except government loans, which fell. The drop in government is probably due to VA loans, which are under scrutiny right now. By the way, although the chart below is close to highs, it doesn’t go back to the bubble years. Compared to then, credit is still much, much tighter. The current index of 190 or so is still a fraction of the 900 level which characterized the days of “pick a pay” loans.

 

MCAI

Morning Report: VA sends subpoenas to several lenders

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2875 -15
Oil (WTI) 61.27 -0.13
10 year government bond yield 2.43%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.17%

 

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

 

Trade fears have been the driver of negative sentiment in the markets this week after Trump tweeted that he is considering increasing tariffs on Chinese goods this week. It turns out that Beijing sent a marked-up agreement that basically reneged on most of their former commitments, which is what drove the response from the US.

 

There were 7.5 million job openings at the end of March, according to BLS. The quits rate was unchanged at 2.3%. Quits rose in real estate and fell in construction. Job openings are pretty much close to record levels and exceed the numbers we saw in 2000. This is the 13th straight month where the number of openings has exceeded the number of unemployed.

 

Mortgage applications rose 2.7% last week as purchases rose 4% and refis rose 1%. We saw a good week for the spring home buying season, as a 5 percent increase in purchase applications–both weekly and year-over-year–drove the results,” said MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting Joel Kan. “Average loan amounts also stayed elevated, with government purchase applications rising to the highest in the survey. Even with slower price appreciation in higher-priced markets, home prices are still rising enough to push average loan sizes higher.” The increase in government applications was driven by VA purchase activity. The typical 30 year fixed rate mortgage fell 4 basis points to 4.27%.

 

Speaking of VA loans, the government has sent subpoenas to at least 8 lenders seeking information regarding delinquencies and prepayments. VA prepay speeds have been an issue for both the government and investors. VA has recently put out a request for input from various stakeholders regarding VA loans and prepay speeds and is considering making some high LTV VA loan ineligible for GNMA multi-issuer pools, which would almost certainly negatively affect pricing.

 

Newco spelled backwards reported a first quarter loss, due to a negative mark on their MSR book. The mark was probably due more to interest rates than anything else, as both prepayments and delinquencies fell. Yet another instance where investors have loaded up the boat buying MSRs ahead of an expected increase in interest rates, only to see them head back down. This has pretty much been the story for the past several years.

Morning Report: Mortgage jobs continue to fall

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2899 -48
Oil (WTI) 61.36 -0.58
10 year government bond yield 2.48%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.22%

 

Stocks are lower after Chinese stocks got rocked overnight. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The Chinese stock market fell 6% overnight, perhaps on trade war fears. Trump tweeted about re-establishing Chinese tariffs next Friday, but Chinese media largely buried the story.

 

There isn’t much in the way of economic data this week aside from inflation data on Thursday and Friday. We do have a lot of Fed-speak though. The Fed has a communications issue, with the Fed Funds futures predicting a rate cut in 2019, while the debate internally seems to be between maintaining current policy and perhaps having to raise rates further. The Fed Funds futures are a bit of a mystery, given that economic data is nowhere close to recessionary. The consensus at the Fed seems to be wait and see, and aside from a few mentions of the Fed undershooting their inflation target, nobody seems to be pushing for rate cuts.

 

With Herman Cain and Steve Moore out of the picture, Donald Trump still has two seats to fill at the Fed. Former budget official Paul Winfree is being mentioned as a possible nominee.

 

The Spring selling season has not done much to increase mortgage banking jobs. In April, there were 318,000 people employed in the mortgage banking space, a drop of 4% from a year ago and a decline of 1% from the previous month. Separately, a shortage of construction labor is acting as a constraint on the homebuilding market. Much of the job decrease has been in the non-bank mortgage banking sector.

 

mortgage banking jobs

Morning Report: Strong jobs report

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2928 9
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 61.85 0.04
10 year government bond yield 2.56%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.20%

 

Stocks are higher after the strong payroll number. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 263,000
  • Unemployment rate 3.6%
  • Labor Force participation rate 62.8%
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.2% MOM / 3.2% YOY
  • Employment – Population ratio 60.8%

Overall it was a Goldilocks report for the markets. Stocks are happy about the payroll number while bonds like the wage data. Note the unemployment rate is at the lowest level since Jimi Hendrix did the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. We saw an uptick in construction workers as well as health care.

 

unemployment rate

 

The Washington Post noted how difficult finding truck drivers has become: McClane Company is a large trucking and warehouse firm that specializes in moving food and grocery items around the country. They are advertising truck driving jobs for $70,000 a year and a $6,000 sign on bonus in Jessup, Pennsylvania, but even at that level of pay it’s been tough to get enough people in the door.

 

Steve Moore withdrew his name from consideration to join the Fed after it appeared the he wouldn’t have the votes to get confirmed. Establishment Republicans are not ready for non-traditional types to join the Fed, though it might be a good thing, if only to break the group-think that goes on there.

 

Ginnie Mae is taking a look at 90%+ LTV cash out refinancings. They put out a request for input. Initially, they were looking at the prepay speeds for VA IRRRL loans, and how it was affecting GNMA MBS investors, but it looks like they are now broadening their focus as VA loans still have higher prepay speeds than comparable FHA or Fannie / Freddie loans. Specifically, VA refis occur earlier than FHA refis, and high LTV VA cashouts have higher prepay speeds than comparable FHA cash-outs. FHA cash outs are limited to 85% LTV, while VAs can go up to 97.5%, and the funding fee can be financed. It looks like GNMA is not looking at tightening the restrictions for VA refis, but it is more interested in perhaps creating new GII pools for shorter duration loans (i.e. fast prepays).

 

VA versus FHA speeds

Morning Report: The Fed maintains rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2928 4
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 62.94 -0.66
10 year government bond yield 2.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.23%

 

Stocks are up this morning after the Fed maintained rates. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

As expected, the Fed maintained the Fed Funds rate at current levels, although they did tweak the rate on overnight reserves. During the press conference, Jerome Powell pushed back against the idea that the Fed’s next move will be a cut. Rates initially fell down the 2.46% level, but overnight retraced that move and we are back at levels we saw before the meeting. The Fed was surprised by the strength in both the job market and the overall economy and the fact that inflation remains lower than they would like to see.

 

At the press conference, a number of journalists asked about the market’s forecast for another rate cut. Powell stressed that the Committee’s view is that the current level of interest rates is “appropriate” and that core inflation was running close to the Fed’s target of 2% for most of 2018. The Fed Funds futures trimmed their estimates for a 2019 rate cut, from a 2/3 chance to more 50/50.  MBS spreads are slightly wider (meaning mortgage rates are a touch higher relative to the 10 year than they were yesterday).

 

Fed fund futures dec 2019

 

Construction spending fell 0.9% MOM and 0.8% YOY in March, according to the Census Bureau. Residential construction drove the decrease, falling 1.8% MOM and 8.4% YOY. Ex-residential construction, spending was solid, but we could see a downward revision in Q1 GDP estimates due to the resi numbers.

 

Productivity rose 3.6% in the first quarter as unit labor costs fell 0.9%. Q4’s productivity number was revised upward to 1.3%. Not sure what drove the decrease in unit labor costs – wages have been rising – but the problems with measuring productivity in this economy have been noted before. Regardless, the drop in labor costs and higher output mean inflation should remain below the Fed’s 2% target.

 

Initial jobless claims rose to 230k last week.

 

Lumber prices have been falling after spiking at record levels last year. Given that this is the time of year we should see more demand, this is surprising. The driver has been weather and continued weakness in homebuilding. Lower commodity prices should increase the margins for homebuilders and hopefully incent more homebuilding. Note that the S&P homebuilder ETF is up 25% this year.

 

What would happen to mortgage rates if we release Fannie and Freddie from conservatorship? Currently, Fannie and Freddie debt is treated as sovereign debt by investors, in other words, they believe the government will stand behind the debt if the GSEs run into trouble. This lowers their cost of funds, which gets passed on to borrowers in lower mortgage rates. If Fannie and Freddie are released from conservatorship, and the government no longer backs their debt, it will increase mortgage rates overall (their debt will definitely NOT be AAA), and will probably impact their ability to do perform the affordable housing part of their mandate. It is important to remember the reason why Fannie and Freddie were privatized in the first place – it was done in the 1970s to paper over the debt being issued to fund the Vietnam war. In a way, the government was using off-balance sheet financing, similar to the special purpose vehicles banks were using in the mid 00s. If there is more than 20% outside ownership in the subsidiary, then the parent is no longer required to consolidate the subsidiary’s debt on its balance sheet. In other words, they don’t have to claim that debt on their books, even if they are guaranteeing it. This accounting sleight of hand lowered the US debt numbers in the 1970s and it was hoped that this would help fight rising inflation (obviously that did not work). It may turn out that there would not be a bid for new Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stock without a government credit wrapper, which means that hopes for a fully privatized Fannie and Freddie might turn out to be impossible to achieve.

Morning Report: Blowout ADP jobs number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2945.83 2.3
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 63.37 -0.27
10 year government bond yield 2.50%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.18%

 

Stocks are higher as we await the FOMC decision. Bonds and MBS are up. Markets should be quiet this morning as most of Europe is closed for May Day.

 

Today’s Fed decision is set to be released at 2:00 pm. No changes in policy are expected and it should be a nonevent.

 

Pending Home Sales rose 3.8% in March, according to NAR. Activity increased pretty much everywhere except for the Northeast. Falling mortgage rates have helped boost activity and we are seeing a bit of an improvement in the inventory balance. Pending home sales reached a level of about 5 million, which is the same level as we saw in 2000. We have 50 million more people since then, which means there is a lot of pent-up demand.

 

The ADP jobs report came in at an increase of 275,000 jobs in April. This was well above the Street expectation of 180,000 for Friday’s jobs report. Professional and business services led the charge, and we also saw an increase in construction employment. The service sector added 223,000 jobs, the biggest increase in two years. With the Fed out of the way, 2019 could be better economically than people were thinking. Note that Trump is still jawboning the Fed to cut rates.

 

ADP report

 

Mortgage Applications fell for the fourth straight week, dropping 4.3%. Purchases fell 4% and refis fell 5%. “Mortgage rates were lower last week, with the 30-year fixed rate declining to 4.42 percent, as concerns over global growth, particularly in Germany, outweighed more positive domestic news on first quarter GDP growth and business investment,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Applications to refinance and purchase a home both fell, but purchase activity still remained slightly above year ago levels. The drop in refinances were driven by fewer FHA and VA loan applications, which typically lag the movement of conventional loans.”

 

Freddie Mac bumped up its origination forecast for 2019 by 4% to $1.74 trillion as rates have fallen. They expect the 30 year fixed rate mortgage to be 4.3% at the end of the year, and home price appreciation to moderate to 3.5%.

Morning Report: FOMC begins

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2940 -2.9
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 64.46 1.2
10 year government bond yield 2.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.18%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after Google missed earnings last night. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The FOMC begins its 2 day meeting this morning. The result should be announced tomorrow at 2:00 pm. No changes are expected in policy.

 

The employment cost index rose 0.7% in Q1, driven by a 0.7% increase in wages and a 0.7% increase in benefit costs. On an annualized basis wages and salaries increased 2.9% and benefits increased 2.6%.

 

Home Price Appreciation continues to slow, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price index. The index increased 4% YOY, compared to 4.2% in the previous month. “The pace of increases for home prices continues to slow,” says David M. Blitzer, Managing Director
and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Homes began their climb in 2012 and accelerated until late 2013 when annual increases reached double digits. Subsequently, increases slowed until now when the National Index is up 4% in the last 12 months. Sales of existing single family homes have recovered since 2010 and reached their peak one year ago in February 2018. Home sales drifted down over the last year except for a one-month pop in February 2019. Sales of new homes, housing starts, and residential investment had similar weak trajectories over the last year. Mortgage
rates are down one-half to three-quarters of a percentage point since late 2018.

 

“The largest year-over-year price increase is 9.7% in Las Vegas; last year, the largest gain was 12.7% in Seattle. Regional patterns are shifting. The three California cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego have the three slowest price increases over the last year. Chicago, New York and Cleveland saw only slightly larger prices increases than California. Prices generally rose faster in inland cities than on either the coasts or the Great Lakes. Aside from Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tampa, which saw the fastest gains, Atlanta, Denver, and Minneapolis all saw prices rise more than 4% — twice the rate of
inflation.”