Morning Report: Earnings growth accelerates

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2870.5 -9
Eurostoxx index 372.33 -1.26
Oil (WTI) 67.74 -0.02
10 year government bond yield 2.92%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are lower this morning on overseas weakness. Bonds and MBS are down.

Jobs report data dump:

  • Payrolls up 205,000
  • Unemployment rate 3.9%
  • Average hourly earnings up 2.9%
  • Labor force participation rate 62.7%

The payroll number and the wages were higher than what the Street was looking for, which explains the reaction in the bond market. The labor force participation rate fell as 467,000 workers dropped out of the labor force. A big decrease was seen in the 16-19 year old category, which would mean summer jobs ending. With more and more schools starting in before Labor Day, perhaps it is time for BLS to make some re-adjustments in their seasonality calculations. In terms of sectors, professional and business services rose by the most, followed by health care. Surprisingly, construction increased going into what is a seasonally slow period and despite the jump in same store sales, retailers shed jobs. Overall, a decent report, which should keep stock investors happy and will also give bond investors something to fret about. Wage growth is getting close to a 3-handle and that will be a big number.

In response to the jobs report, the December Fed Fund futures raised their 2 hike probability to 75%.

The Trump administration continues to hammer out a trade deal with Canada and Mexico. Separately, the deadline passed for an additional 200MM in Chinese tariffs, which means he can implement them at any time.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling penned an editorial in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, where he laid out a framework for dealing with the GSEs. His solution will be to run everything through Ginnie Mae, with private capital taking the first loss position, and the taxpayer taking a catastrophic loss position. It would create a common securitization platform and still maintain some sort of affordable housing fund. Originators would have to get a private credit enhancer to guarantee the loan. The private credit enhancer would have to be market-based and have a bank-like balance sheet. Note that this is the first bipartisan housing reform bill, which means we may be getting closer to having the political will to de-nationalize the US mortgage market.

Skilled construction labor is hard to find. 83% of builders report some sort of shortage for rough carpenters. It is even worse for subcontractors. With those sorts of shortages, we should see wages accelerate. It is inevitable. The 9-occupation trade shortage is as big as it has ever been.

Morning Report: Goldilocks jobs report and the FOMC minutes

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2740 2
Eurostoxx index 381.23 -0.36
Oil (WTI) 42.31 -0.63
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.82%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.52%

Stocks are flattish this morning as a good jobs report offsets the new tariffs that went into effect this morning. Bonds and MBS are up.

Jobs report data dump:

  • Payrolls up 213,000 (street was looking for 190,000)
  • Unemployment rate 4% (.2% increase, street was looking for 3.8%)
  • Labor force participation rate 62.9% (.2% increase)
  • Average hourly earnings +.2% MOM / 2.7% YOY (in line with expectations)

Overall, a good report – strength in payrolls, and an increase in the labor force participation rate. The labor force increased by 600k, where the number of unemployed increased 500k and the number of employed increased 100k. Of those 500k added to the ranks of the unemployed, 200k were re-entrants to the labor force. The achilles heel (at least as far as those looking for wage growth) has been the reservoir of the long-term unemployed. This will help ease some of the labor shortage, which has been a constraint on growth. It will also raise the non-inflationary growth rate for the economy overall, which is kind of like a speed limit. For the Fed, this is a bit of a Goldilocks report – it gives them the breathing room to lift rates gradually which limits the risk of a recession.

The FOMC minutes didn’t really reveal much new information. Most pointed to the strong labor market and cited several statistics (JOLTS, unemployment rate, regional Fed surveys) to point to a tight labor market. “Several” members (i.e. a minority) thought that there was still some slack in the market as the long term unemployed are re-entering the labor market. Note this morning’s jobs report bears that out. The members also discussed the slope of the yield curve, and whether the flattening was telling them anything. Interestingly, only “some” participants thought that the Fed’s asset purchase program (i.e. QE) was affecting the shape of the yield curve, and therefore distorting the information sent from it. Kind of begs the question – if QE didn’t affect the shape of the yield curve, then what was the point? Or even more importantly, why do they still have $4.5 trillion worth of bonds on the balance sheet?

Fed assets

The Fed also thought about the possibility of a trade war and how that would end up slowing down the economy. They also thought that they might have to raise the Fed funds rate further than they had anticipated earlier: “With regard to the medium-term outlook for monetary policy, participants generally judged that, with the economy already very strong and inflation expected to run at 2 percent on a sustained basis over the medium term, it would likely be appropriate to continue gradually raising the target range for the federal funds rate to a setting that was at or somewhat above their estimates of its longer run level by 2019 or 2020.”

The Fed Funds futures turned slightly more hawkish on the minutes, with the probability of a Sep hike increasing from 75% to 80% and the chance of a Sep and Dec hike hitting 53%.

In other economic news, the trade deficit fell to the lowest level in 18 months. Not sure how much of that is due to tariffs already in place.

Tariffs (especially lumber) are wreaking havoc on the entry-level new housing market. Builders generally have to purchase things like land and materials up front before they build and get paid for the construction. When materials prices are artificially supported by tariffs, that increases their risks, and makes them pull back.

Morning Report: Why we haven’t seen much wage growth (yet) and what the left gets wrong about labor markets

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2743 9.7
Eurostoxx index 388.45 1.55
Oil (WTI) 65.49 -0.32
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.91%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.54%

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

We should have a relatively quiet week coming up, with not much in the way of data and no Fed-speak.

Friday’s jobs report was pretty much a Goldilocks report as far as the markets are concerned. Strong job growth, with respectable (but controlled) wage growth is exactly what the Fed wants to see. Tomorrow, we will get the JOLTS job openings report, which should show job openings of around 6.5 million.

Academics are scratching their heads trying to figure out why wage growth is so slow with unemployment below 4%. With the economy at “full employment” at least according to the unemployment numbers, how can so many jobs still be created? And if unemployment is below 4% and we are at a record number of job openings, where is the wage growth?

First of all, the jobs report had wage growth at 2.7%, and the core PCE inflation rate is 2%. So, we do have inflation-adjusted (i.e. real) wage growth. Second, productivity is a puzzle. It has been low for a decade, and part of the issue is that productivity is notoriously hard to measure, especially when valuable goods are “free” or hard to measure. Think of social media, which has all sorts of entertainment value and productivity enhancing value, yet is supposedly free. Yes, you are paying with your data, but what is your data worth? Productivity calculations need a dollar value. Productivity has been low, but there is a huge uncertainty range around that number.

I think a huge part of the issue is the fact that the unemployment rate excludes anyone who has been unemployed over 6 months, and there is a huge reservoir of workers on the sidelines who want to return to the labor force. Companies know this, and all they have to do is relax their standards (i.e. hire people who have been out of the labor force for a while) and they will fill their positions. At the end of the day, this is a numbers game. The employment-population ratio has been steadily increasing since 1970 as women have entered the workforce. It peaked in 2000, bottomed after the Great Recession, and has been steadily working its way upward. The demographic factor (retiring baby boomers) is probably getting overplayed here, as most people no longer can retire at 65 (and there really is no reason why most can’t continue to work).

Leftist economics are arguing that employers are somehow colluding to keep wages low, and therefore are suggesting a panoply of policy levers designed to artificially force up wages and increase unionization. Aside from non-competes in the rarefied air of Silicon Valley engineers, generally this doesn’t happen – cartels are almost impossible to make work (witness OPEC) and there are simply too many employers who don’t compete with each other to coordinate it, even if they wanted to.

Instead of jumping to the “market failure” conclusion, the answer is that there is more slack in the labor market than the numbers suggest. There may be a mismatch of skills, where there is high demand in areas where there aren’t a lot of available workers (skilled trades, data scientists) but overall the employment population ratio doesn’t lie. The last time we saw decent wage growth was the 90s, where the employment-population ratio was around 63%. The latest number was 60.4%. That difference in a population of 326 million is about 8.5 million jobs. That is about 3 year’s worth of job growth, without population growth which is still measurable at 0.7% a year. Even if you take into account the 6.5 million job openings, you still have probably 2 million extra workers on the sidelines. IMO, that is your answer about wage growth, not monopsony of collusion, which is just a specious argument for more government intervention in the labor markets.

Chart: Employment-population ratio.

employment population ratio

House price appreciation continues apace, and between rising price and interest rates, the monthly house payment on the median house with 20% down has increased by $150 a month, according to Black Knight Financial Services. Income growth at 2.7% is not going to keep up with home price appreciation, which is running at around 6% a year. When rates were falling, we were able to paper over that issue with lower mortgage payments, but that game is over. Housing starts are still way too low, and that question is even more perplexing than wage growth.

Note that private equity is now building homes for rent, which should alleviate some of the supply problem. It was only a matter of time until new entrants saw the opportunity that the big builders have been sitting on. Politicians are getting sick and tired of the lack of housing supply (especially at the lower price points).

Friday’s jobs report reversed the Euro-driven drop in the June Fed Funds futures. At one point, they were predicting a 81% chance of a hike. Now it is back up to a near certainty. The December futures are predicting a 40% chance of 4 or more hikes this year and a 60% chance of 3 or less.

Morning Report: No, we are not in another housing bubble

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2716 10
Eurostoxx index 387.8 4.74
Oil (WTI) 66.4 -0.63
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.92%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.48%

Stocks are higher after a Goldilocks employment report. Bonds and MBS are down.

Jobs report data dump:

  • Payrolls up 223,000 (expectation was 190,000)
  • Unemployment down to 3.8%
  • Labor force participation rate 62.7% (a drop)
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.3% / 2.7%

The Street was looking for wage growth of 0.2% MOM, but the annual number was in line with expectations. The wage growth print shouldn’t move the needle as far as the Fed is concerned. The employment – population ratio increased a tad as the population increased by 183k and the number of employed increased by 293k. We saw another good jump in construction jobs. Bottom line, a good report for equity markets, and a push for the bond market.

In merger news, Citizens Bank is acquiring Franklin American Mortgage. This deal should vault Citizens into a top-15 mortgage lender, bulk up its servicing portfolio and diversify its origination mix.

Italy has found a solution to its political crisis with a new coalition government that will be installed on Friday. Treasury yields should probably be higher, however tough trade talk out of the Trump Administration is keeping them lower. Even the International Steelworkers is against new tariffs, and if you can’t even get the unions on your side it says a lot…

Hard to believe it is here already, but the hurricane season is just beginning. CoreLogic estimates that 7 million homes are at risk in what NOAA expects to be a normal or above normal season. Note the National Flood Insurance program is set to expire right in the middle of the season.

Construction spending increased in April, according to the Census Bureau. Residential construction rose 4.4% MOM and 9.7% YOY.

Manufacturing accelerated in May, according to the ISM report. Employment expanded sharply. New order and production also grew.

As usual, the ISM report showed employers having difficulty finding qualified labor. Labor shortages are a theme these days, but you aren’t seeing the growth in wages you would expect. I wonder if part of the issue is application tracking systems, which seize on keywords and therefore have to be gamed somewhat. How many applicants are unaware of this or are simply bad at it? And if so, how many qualified workers are being screened out and never get presented before a set of eyes? I suspect ATS are good for companies in bad times, when there are a surfeit of applicants, but work against them when the labor pool is tighter.

An interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal today about the credit box and the possibility of another housing bubble. The authors point to the way home prices have outstripped income growth and posits that a widening credit box (i.e. new 3% down loans from Freddie) are contributing. The authors suggest that underwriters tighten standards, and the government tighten loan parameters to prevent another foreclosure crisis when the market turns.

With regard to home price appreciation, is it due to widening credit standards, or is it due to restricted supply? In other words, is it a housing start problem or a MCAI (mortgage credit availability index) problem? The chart below is of the MBA’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index, which shows a loosening of standards since the bottom, but also demonstrates we are nowhere near the standards that existed during the bubble (and pre-bubble days).

MCAI long term

FHA and the GSEs are stepping in on low downpayment loans because there is a complete and utter void in the private market. Prior to the crisis, FHA was a sleepy backwater of the mortgage market, targeted toward low income first time homebuyers. Afterward, its share grew because it was the only game in town. Let’s not conflate FHA mortgages with neg-am pick a pay loans of the bubble years. IMO the issue is a lack of supply (heck the appreciation is the highest in places like San Francisco, where the median price is double the limit on a FHA loan). Housing starts around 2 million for the next several years is what will be needed to cool off home price appreciation (along with the REO-to-rental types ringing the register on their portfolios).

Morning Report: Goldilocks moment with unemployment and inflation

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2670 6.9
Eurostoxx index 388.46 1.44
Oil (WTI) 70.62 0.89
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.94%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.54%

Stocks are higher this morning as oil tops $70 a barrel. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls 164,000 (lower than estimates)
  • Unemployment rate 3.9%
  • Average hourly earnings +.1% MOM / 2.6% YOY
  • Labor force participation rate 62.8%

This was the second month in a row where the labor force participation rate fell. The labor force fell by 236k, while the population increased by 175k. Wage inflation remains present, however it is still unlikely to drive higher inflation in the overall economy. The unemployment rate fell to the lowest since early 2000. This report takes some pressure off the bond market, and makes another run at 3% for the 10 year less likely.

unemployment rate

The drop in the unemployment rate along with moderate wage growth is somewhat of a Goldilocks moment for the Fed. The Philps Curve is an older economic model which suggests that inflation should rise as unemployment falls, which makes sense: Unemployment falls -> workers become scarce -> wages rise -> those costs get passed on to consumers. In reality, the relationship between unemployment and inflation has been weak (R^2 = .27). The low r-squared gives away the weakness of the model – it is too simplistic, plus the unemployment rate might not be the best measure of employment strength since it ignores the long term unemployed. However, if you look at the plot below, you can see we are at a very “Goldilocks” point, which is denoted by the yellow star.

Phillps Curve

The upcoming week will have the consumer price index and the producer price index, but that should be the only market-moving data. We will have some Fed-speak as well today and Wednesday.

Donald Trump has until May 12 to renew the Iran deal. Israel calls the deal fatally flawed, while Iran says the US will regret not renewing it. West Texas Intermediate is trading over $70 on fears the deal will not be renewed.

Doctors tend to have difficulties getting a mortgage early in their careers – they usually have a high level of student loan debt, no savings and the earnings early on can be low. Mortgages that carry a higher interest rate but don’t require downpayments are becoming more popular for this market. These loans can carry an interest rate 25 -100 basis points over prevailing rates. although they usually don’t require PMI. One catch – the prepay speeds on these mortgage will almost certainly be high.

The CFPB dodged a bullet – PHH will not appeal the DC Circuit’s ruling that rejected their claim that the single-director structure is unconstitutional. There are other cases in the process that also use that claim, so it is possible the question may come to SCOTUS. If one of these cases makes it to SCOTUS, the only one with standing to defend the agency is the Administration, who probably won’t defend it.

Merger news: Mutual of Omaha is buying Synergy One. Synergy One will be a wholly-owned subsidiary and will continue to operate out of San Diego.