Morning Report: Existing Home Sales fall

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2856 -5.75
Eurostoxx index 383.91 -0.25
Oil (WTI) 67.32 0.89
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.82%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.58%

Stocks are modestly lower this morning after Paul Manafort was found guilty and Michael Cohen copped a plea. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Paul Manafort was found guilty of fraud and tax charges and there was a mistrial on the other charges. Nothing was found on the Russian front. Ex Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pled guilty to FEC violations, which relates to the Stormy Daniels case. Whether this ends up getting legs remains to be seen. FWIW, the markets are saying it is no big deal.

We will get the FOMC minutes today at 2:00 pm. Given the lack of liquidity in the markets, we could see some market movement in what should otherwise be a non-event.

Mortgage applications rose for the first time in 6 weeks as purchases rose 3% and refis rose 6%. Overall they rose 4.2%. Mortgage rates were unchanged, so that is a surprising jump in refi activity. Given that the index is sitting at lows not seen since the turn of the century, it doesn’t take much of a bump in activity to move the index.

Existing home sales fell again for the fourth month in a row. They fell 0.7% on a MOM basis and are down 1.5% on a YOY basis. This is the fifth straight month of YOY declines. It looks like much of the decline was attributable to weakness in the Northeast. The median house price rose 4.5% to 269,600.  Current estimates of median income are around 61,500, so that puts the median house to median income ratio around 4.4x. While other measures of housing affordability remain decent, this one is flashing red for valuations overall. The MP / MI ratio ignores interest rates, which are the biggest determinant of affordability, but over time house prices correlate with incomes, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see home prices begin to take a breather.

Median House Price to Median Income Ratio

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell assured Senator Tim Scott that the Fed remains independent despite the jawboning from Trump. Powell said in a radio interview: “We do our work in a strictly nonpolitical way, based on detailed analysis, which we put on the record transparently, and we don’t … take political considerations into account,” Powell told the radio show. “I would add though that no one in the administration has said anything to me that really gives me concern on this front.” Separately, Dallas Fed Chairman Robert Kaplan said that the Fed only needs to hike 3 or 4 more times to get to neutral.

Morning Report: Existing home sales fall, financial stress increases in Europe

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2798.25 -2
Eurostoxx index 384.88 -0.74
Oil (WTI) 68.98 0.72
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.89%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.51%

Stocks are flattish this morning as earnings continue to come in. Bond and MBS are down.

This should generally be a quiet week with regards to market-moving data, although we will get the first estimate of Q2 GDP on Friday. Aside from that, we do get some real estate data with existing home sales today and the FHFA House Price Index tomorrow.

Existing home sales fell 0.6% in June, according to NAR. They are down 2.2% on a YOY basis. Blame low inventory. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says closings inched backwards in June and fell on an annual basis for the fourth straight month. “There continues to be a mismatch since the spring between the growing level of homebuyer demand in most of the country in relation to the actual pace of home sales, which are declining,” he said. “The root cause is without a doubt the severe housing shortage that is not releasing its grip on the nation’s housing market. What is for sale in most areas is going under contract very fast and in many cases, has multiple offers. This dynamic is keeping home price growth elevated, pricing out would-be buyers and ultimately slowing sales.”

Other stats from the report:

  • median home price 276,900 (up 5.2%)
  • Inventory 1.95 MM homes (4.3 month’s worth)
  • Days on market 26 days (down from 28 last year)
  • First time buyers 31% of sales
  • All-cash transactions 22% (up from 18% last year)
  • Sales rose in the Northeast and Midwest, fell in the South and West

Manufacturing activity picked up in June, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. May’s abrupt downturn appears to have been a spurious data point, and not an indication of a change in trend. Employment and production-related indicators drove the increase in the index. So far, we aren’t seeing trade issues reflected in the production indices, however there is the possibility that manufacturers are stockpiling inventory and accelerating some production ahead of sanctions which is masking the effect. That said, we would expect to see a drop in the employment indicators, which isn’t happening.

Liquidity in the bond market is starting to dry up, at least if you measure by bid/ask spreads. Dodd-Frank rules were intended to curb proprietary trading but not market-making. Markets continued to function after the law was implemented, which gave some comfort to regulators that they were on the right track. Now that QE is ending, some of the market structure problems are getting exposed. Banks are less involved in market making and we are seeing bid / ask spreads increase in many markets. This is so far largely a European problem, however an anecdote from one fund who had trouble unwinding an Italian bond position is worrisome. They had a position in Italian sovereign debt and had trouble getting bids larger than $10 million, which is a miniscule trade – especially for G7 sovereign debt. So far it hasn’t had a huge effect in the US, but this is something to watch, especially the next time we get a credit crunch. Investors may find entire swaths of the bond market go no-bid, which will include the ETFs linked to these bonds. Tight bid-ask spreads and regulations might be good news for investors and taxpayers in normal times, but they aren’t free.

Despite the issues in the Euro bond markets, stress in the financial system did decrease slightly last month, according to the St. Louis Fed. Historically we are at very low levels, however the Fed is still employing extraordinary measures to support the market, so the past isn’t really all that comparable.

financial stress index

Interesting concept for real estate investors: Now there are a couple of online platforms that allow people to bid on single-family rental properties on line. Not sure what the fee is to transact, but the company also helps connect the investor with a mortgage lender and a property manager.

CFPB nominee Kathy Kraninger took a lot of heat from Democrats on Friday regarding her role in the Trump Administration’s border family separation policies. Not sure how much OMB (her current role) has in DOJ and DHS policy making but Democrats spent a lot of time on the issue. There is a lot of concern that she doesn’t have the financial regulatory background to run the agency, however her nomination does allow the Administration to reset the clock on Mulvaney’s tenure and he gets to stay if she doesn’t get confirmed by the Senate. Either way, the CFPB is getting reined in.

Morning Report: Almost a third of all MSAs are overvalued

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2771 -0.75
Eurostoxx index 383.16 -1.13
Oil (WTI) 65.91 0.84
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.93%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

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

Initial Jobless Claims fell by 3,000 to 218,000, while the Index of Leading Economic Indicators increased by 0.2%, below expectations. This index is predicting that growth will moderate in the coming months. Note that Goldman has taken its Q2 GDP estimate up to 4%, which is a torrid pace.

Mortgage Applications rose 5.1% last week as purchases rose 4% and refis rose 6%. Mortgage rates were more or less unchanged for the week.

Existing Home Sales fell 0.4% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.43 million. Existing Home Sales are down 3% on a YOY basis, making this the third consecutive month with a YOY decline. The median house price hit a record, rising 4.9% to $264,800. While restricted supply has been an ongoing issue, the market is beginning to feel the pinch of rising rates and prices. The first time homebuyer accounted for 31%, which is a decrease and well below the historical norm of 40%. At current run rates, we have about 4.1 month’s worth of inventory. Some realtors noted that potential sellers are pulling their homes off the market for fear they won’t find a replacement. We need a dramatic increase in home construction to fix the issue and so far we are seeing modest increases.

Speaking of home price increases, the FHFA reported that prices rose 0.1% MOM in April and are up 6.4% YOY. Since the FHFA index ignores jumbo and non-QM, this is prime first-time homebuyer territory. Home price appreciation is beginning to converge as the laggards like the Mid-Atlantic (which covers NY and NJ) are picking up steam. The dispersion a year ago was huge.

CoreLogic estimates that a third of all MSAs are now overvalued. The last time we hit this level was early 2003, just before the bubble hit its stride. It is natural to ask if we are in another bubble, and IMO the answer is “no.” The term “bubble” gets thrown around so much that it has lost its meaning. The necessary conditions for a bubble (magical thinking on the part of buyers and the financial sector) just aren’t there. China has a bubble. Norway has a bubble. The US does not.

CoreLogic overvalued metros

The US coastal and Rocky Mountain areas have the most overvalued residential real estate, but aside from that it is still cheap / fairly valued elsewhere. Either the overvalued MSAs will start building more homes, or the employers in those MSAs will begin to move more operations to cheaper areas. You can see that already with Amazon.com de-emphasizing Seattle. Some MSAs become to cheap to ignore (the Rust Belt, for instance) and others become so expensive that companies cannot attract entry-level talent anymore. For a hotshot MIT data scientist, working at Google or Facebook sounds very cool, but if you can’t afford an apartment are you really going to be willing to work there?

Foreclosure starts fell in May to 44.900, which is a 17 year low. The foreclosure rate of 0.59% is the lowest in 15 years. At the current rate of decline, the foreclosure inventory is set to hit pre-recession levels later this year. The Northeast still has a foreclosure backlog to deal with, but the rest of the country has moved on.

FHFA regional

HUD is asking for public input into its disparate impact rules, which were dealt a blow at SCOTUS. Disparate impact is a highly controversial legal theory that says a company is guilty of discimination even if they didn’t intend to discriminate – if the numbers don’t match the population the lender is guilty, no questions asked. That theory was dealt a blow with a 2015 ruling that said the plaintiff must be able to point to specific policies of the lender that explain the disparate impact. HUD is now looking to tweak the language to conform to this ruling.

Incoming CFPB nominee Kathy Kraninger is getting some static from Democrats due to her position at DHS. They are asking questions about her role in the zero tolerance policy and child separations. Elizabeth Warren is putting a hold on her nomination until she answers these questions. That may not be a disappointment to the Administration however. The gameplan may be to slow-walk a new CFPB nominee in order to keep current Acting CFPB Chairman Mick Mulvaney at the helm of the agency.

Morning Report: 10 trades below 3% of dovish FOMC minutes

Vital Statistic:

Last Change
S&P futures 2726 -4
Eurostoxx index 392.54 -0.07
Oil (WTI) 71 -0.84
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.98%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.61%

Stocks are lower after Trump threatened more tariffs on autos. Bonds and MBS are up on the dovish FOMC minutes.

Initial Jobless Claims ticked up to 234,000 last week.

Existing home sales fell 2.5% in April, according to NAR. Sales fell to an annualized pace of 5.46 million, down from 5.6 million in March, which was also the Street estimate. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says this spring’s staggeringly low inventory levels caused existing sales to slump in April. “The root cause of the underperforming sales activity in much of the country so far this year continues to be the utter lack of available listings on the market to meet the strong demand for buying a home,” he said. “Realtors® say the healthy economy and job market are keeping buyers in the market for now even as they face rising mortgage rates. However, inventory shortages are even worse than in recent years, and home prices keep climbing above what many home shoppers are able to afford.”

Other tidbits from the report: the median home price increased 5.3% to $257,900, inventory of 1.8 million homes represents a 4 month supply, days on market fell to 26 days, and the first time homebuyer was 33% of all transactions.

US house prices rose 1.7% in the first quarter, according to the FHFA House Price Index. On a YOY basis, they were up almost 7%. The West Coast continued to lead the pack with high single-digit growth rates, and the Middle Atlantic showed an acceleration of growth. Over the past 5 years, the Middle Atlantic (NY, NJ, PA) has been the slowest appreciating region, growing just over half the rate of the West Coast.

FHFA regional

The FOMC minutes were a bit more dovish than expected – the Fed Funds futures are now handicapping a 37% chance of 4 hikes this year, down from the mid 40% yesterday. The FOMC is worried about a trade war with China depressing economic activity. On inflation, they emphasized the symmetry of the inflation goal. “Most participants viewed the recent firming in inflation as providing some reassurance that inflation was on a trajectory to achieve the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective on a sustained basis.” Overall, nothing was all that new, just a re-affirmation of symmetry, meaning that the 2% target is not a ceiling.

Dallas Fed Head Robert Kaplan thinks the Fed has about 4 more hikes to go before it is at a “neutral” stance. He also discussed his views of inflation above 2%: “I want to run around 2, and if we got a little bit above it and I thought it would be short-term and not long-term, I could tolerate it”

As anyone who attended the Secondary Conference could tell you, mortgage banking is going through a rough stretch right now. Digitalization of mortgage banking has compressed margins and volumes are down. Even people that want to move are finding a dearth of inventory. What could be the catalyst to turn things around? Buy-side firms ringing the register on the REO-to-rental trade. That would bring back enough purchase activity to allow some of the smaller firms to retrench and get their costs under control. Wishing for falling rates is probably a long shot, although if the 10 year finds a level here, we could see rates come in a little, but probably not enough to bring back refis.

Refi activity is going to be concentrated in two areas: cash out to refinance credit card debt, etc, and FHA refis into conforming once the homeowner has enough equity to get under the 80% LTV threshold and avoid having to pay PMI.

While the mortgage business is going through a rough patch, quarterly profits for banks are spiking (tax reform has some effects here). The banking sector largely sat out the M&A boom that has been common throughout other industries. The US market is still about the least concentrated banking market on the planet. Is it time for some M&A? 

Morning Report: 10 year pushing towards 3%

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2675 3.9
Eurostoxx index 381.41 0
Oil (WTI) 67.33 -1.07
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.97%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.51%

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

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin signaled that the US is ready to discuss a truce in the trade war with China. He characterized his mood as “cautiously optimistic” and said he won’t make a commitment on timing. Beijing welcomed the announcement. Separately, Mnuchin also discussed easing sanctions on Rusal which sent aluminum prices back down.

Existing home sales rose on a month-over-month basis in March, but are down on an annual basis according to NAR. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says closings in March eked forward despite challenging market conditions in most of the country. “Robust gains last month in the Northeast and Midwest – a reversal from the weather-impacted declines seen in February – helped overall sales activity rise to its strongest pace since last November at 5.72 million,” said Yun. “The unwelcoming news is that while the healthy economy is generating sustained interest in buying a home this spring, sales are lagging year ago levels because supply is woefully low and home prices keep climbing above what some would-be buyers can afford.”

The median home price was $250,400, up 5.8% YOY. Inventory is down over 7% YOY to 1.67 million units, which represents a 3.6 month supply at current sales levels. A historically balanced market would be 6.5 month’s worth. Properties stayed on market for an average of 30 days, which is down almost a week YOY. The first time homebuyer accounted for 30% of sales, and all-cash sales were 20% of transactions.

Commodity price inflation has pushed the 10 year yield to 3%. Many technical analysts consider that to be confirmation that the 3 decade bull run in bonds is over. The one caveat is that the sell-off is being driven by rising commodity prices which tends to be temporary, especially if it doesn’t translate into wage growth. You can see the pop in yields post-election below. Hard to believe we were sub 1.8% in late October 2016.

This week will have some important data to the bond market, with GDP and the employment cost index on Friday. We will also get a slew of housing data with existing home sales, new home sales, and Case-Shiller.

The Street estimate for Q1 GDP is 2%. Generally speaking, the estimates from the banks are lower than the estimates from the regional Federal Reserve banks.

Economic activity moderated in March, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production and employment indicators fell. February’s reading was unusually strong, however. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 different economic indices, and can be volatile. It isn’t a market-mover.

A paper suggests that the ratings agencies largely got it right with the bubble-era RMBS. The AAA tranches (even subprime) were largely money good, and the study pours cold water on the popular narrative that inflated ratings on RMBS caused the financial crisis.

The big banks are rushing to launch websites and apps for mortgages as volume contracts. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan have either launched or plan to launch mortgage banking tech products in response to Rocket Mortgage from Quicken. The company claims that 98% of its customers in the first quarter (some $20 billion in origination) accessed Rocket at some point in the application process. That is an astounding number, though I wonder if that includes push notifications that the borrower didn’t necessarily respond to or interact with.

Speaking of tech, HUD is looking into allegations of housing discrimination by Facebook. Facebook uses big data to allow advertisers to slice and dice the demographics any way they want to target their specific market. What if advertisers decide to target some demographics and not others? That is considered non-problematic for things like consumer products, but housing could be a different story.