|10 year government bond yield
|30 year fixed rate mortgage
Stocks are higher this morning on overseas strength. Bonds and MBS are up.
Lots of housing data to chew through. Let’s start with existing home sales, which increased 11.8%, according to NAR. While this month-over-month print of 5.51 million sounds impressive, we are still down on a YOY basis. Lower rates are helping, and we are beginning this season with a little more inventory to work with. We had 1.63 existing homes for sale, which represents a 3.6 month supply. A balanced market needs something like 6 months. Prices are still rising – the median house price rose by 3.6% – but the rate of appreciation has slowed. The median home price came in at $249,500, and that puts the median house price to median income ratio just over 4. Historically that is a high number, but lower interest rates help the affordability issue. The first time homebuyer represented 32% of home sales, an increase from last year but still below the historical average of around 40%.
Housing starts fell 8.7% to 1.16 million, a disappointing number. We saw a huge decrease in single family construction – from an annualized pace of 970k to 805k. Last February, the number was 900k so this is a big drop. One note of caution – the margin for error on these numbers is huge (around 17%), so there is a good chance this gets revised upward in subsequent releases. Building permits were a little better – falling only 2% to 1.3 million. Housing construction has largely been absent from this recovery, and could provide a huge boost to the economy if it ever gets back to normalcy (around 1.5 million units a year).
More evidence that home price appreciation is slowing: the Case-Shiller home price index rose 4.3% in January, the slowest pace since 2015. In general, 2018 was a year to forget for the mortgage industry as rates rose 100 basis points. They have now given back most of those gains, so perhaps 2019 will be a bit brighter, although if you have been counting on MSR unrealized gains to paper over weakness in lending, the Q1 mark is going to be harsh.
The economy seems to be slowing, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. It edged downward to -.29 in February, and the 3 month moving average is negative as well. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 different economic indicators, of which many are leading as well as lagging. While it is too early to start declaring 2019 a slow-growth year, the first quarter is looking weak.
The FHA is backing away from a 2016 decision to loosen credit – it is now tightening standards and flagging more loans as “high risk.” The biggest effect will be for the first time homebuyer, and FHA estimates that 40,000 loans or so might be affected. At the heart of the issue is a 2016 decision to no longer require a manual underwrite for FHA loans with FICOs below 620 and DTIs above 43. FHA was largely a backwater pre-crisis, and most of these types of loans were subprime. As the subprime market disappeared, FHA stepped in to fill the void. Home Ready and Home Possible have emerged as low downpayment competitors, and FHA has suffered from negative selection bias. While FHA permits very low credit scores, most lenders don’t go as low as FHA permits in the first place.
Trump nominates free-marketer Steven Moore to the Federal Reserve Board and Paul Krugman isn’t taking it well. For a little economics inside-baseball, this resembles the Spacely Sprockets / Cogswell Cogs rivalry in the economics profession. Since most of the free-market caucus comes from the University of Chicago, they are called “fresh water economists” and Krugman comes from Ivy / Coastal academia (Princeton) so his school is called “salt water” economists. In terms of ideological bent, the fresh water economists are much more non-interventionist than the salt water economists, who support direct government intervention in the markets and economy. Steven Moore is a true believer in the free market approach, and to be honest, most of the Fed and academia are not. A little diversity of opinion is not a bad thing….