Morning Report: October was hard on MBS investors

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2728 4
Eurostoxx index 364.84 0.76
Oil (WTI) 62.92 -0.35
10 year government bond yield 3.21%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.96%

 

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

 

The highlight of this week will be the FOMC meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. Typically they fall on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I guess they moved it for election day this year. No changes in monetary policy are expected and the Fed Funds futures market is assigning a 93% probability of no change in rates. Aside from the FOMC meeting, the only other market moving news will be PPI on Friday. Whatever happens Tuesday is probably not going to be market-moving. Best bet: Ds narrowly take the House, Rs retain the Senate, gridlock rules Washington.

 

October was a rough month for MBS investors, the kind folks who set our rate sheets. MBS underperformed Treasuries by 37 basis points, the worst since immediately after the election. Yes, the Fed is reducing the size of its MBS holdings, but that isn’t what makes MBS outperform and underperform. Volatility in the Treasury markets can be great for bond investors, but is is toxic for MBS investors.  You can see we October was a period of high volatility in the bond market (shown below with a “VIX” for Treasuries). Volatility causes losses losses for MBS investors and makes them less likely to “bid up” securities, which translates into a phenomenon where rates don’t improve as much as you would think when rates fall, and negative reprices happen frequently.  The Fed’s reduction of its balance sheet has been going on for years, and it isn’t all of a sudden going to manifest itself in rates.

TYVIX

 

Fannie and Freddie reported strong numbers and paid about $6.6 billion to Treasury between them. Fannie Mae has paid in total about $172 billion to Treasury since the bailout.

 

Jerome Powell thinks the current period of low inflation and low unemployment could last “indefinitely.” Historically, inflation usually increased as unemployment fell (which was measured by the Phillips Curve). He thinks that relationship has broken down over time. He notes that the last two booms were not ended by goods and services inflation, they were ended by burst asset bubbles. Since we don’t seem to have any asset bubbles brewing at the moment, this set of affairs could last a while. I wonder how much of the historical unemployment / inflation was due to union contracts which included explicit inflation cost of living increases. Regardless, he is correct that we don’t have anything resembling a stock market bubble or real estate bubble, and changes in inventory management have probably done a lot to get rid of the historical cause of recessions, which is an inventory glut.

 

Isn’t this a perfect encapsulation of the cognitive dissonance in the business press right now? They don’t like the guy in office, so they constantly feel like the economy is awful (Consumer confidence is definitely a partisan phenomenon). Classic example of why you always have to take consumer confidence numbers (and the business press) with a grain of salt….

Cognitive DIssonance

 

Morning Report: Housing starts jump

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2908.75 -3
Eurostoxx index 378.74 0
Oil (WTI) 69.94 0.09
10 year government bond yield 3.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.78%

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

Mortgage applications increased last week despite a big uptick in rates. The overall index rose 1.6%, driven by a 4% increase in refis and a 0.3% increase in purchases. FWIW, I wonder if there is some sort of strange adjustment related to the Labor Day holiday going on. Rates hit a 7 year high, with the conforming 30 year fixed hitting 4.88%.  ARMs increased to 6.5% of all activity.

Housing starts rose to an annualized pace of 1.28 million in August, which is up over 9% on a MOM and YOY basis. Permits disappointed however, falling just under 6% on a MOM and YOY basis. Multi-fam (which is notoriously volatile) drove the decline in permits and the increase in starts. Single family permits were up about 6%. Geographically, the action was in the West and South, while the Northeast and Midwest were flat / barely up.

Housing starts will probably take a step back in the next few months as construction workers will be occupied rebuilding North Carolina.  Labor remains an issue for new home construction, but the tariff-driven spike in lumber prices is over, and futures are trading at 18 month lows.

lumber

Fannie Mae thinks growth has peaked for this cycle and that the second quarter’s torrid growth rate of 4.2% was artificially boosted by inventory build ahead of tariffs. This had the effect of borrowing growth from future quarters. In all fairness, they are probably correct – a 4.2% growth rate is so far above historical trend that it is almost by definition unsustainable. Housing continues to punch below its weight as affordability issues weigh on sentiment. Note that the number of people saying it is a good time to buy a house has hit the lowest level since the survey began 8 years ago. Blame rising rates and home price appreciation outstripping income growth.  FWIW, they are somewhat bearish on consumer spending going into the 4th quarter, which seems to defy a lot of data we are getting about retailer activity.

Insured losses form Hurricane Florence will be in the $1.7 to $4.6 billion range.

Morning Report: Fannie Mae revises downward 2018 housing forecast

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2855.5 3.8
Eurostoxx index 383.49 2.43
Oil (WTI) 65.92 0.02
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.84%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.58%

Stocks are higher this morning on optimism of a deal with China. Bonds and MBS are up small.

Late August is a generally dull time to begin with, and this week promises more of the same. We will get some housing data (Existing home sales, new home sales, FHFA price index) and one possible market-moving report (durable goods) but that is about it. We will get the FOMC minutes on Wednesday as well.

Liquidity is drying up in the bond market as it usually does this time of year. Note that the short bond position is one of the biggest on the Street, so we could see some quick rallies in the 10 year.

Flagstar has been released from special oversight that limited its corporate options to pay dividends, make acquisitions, etc.

Luxury apartments in NYC are falling in price, after years of torrid growth. Some are blaming the new tax laws, however some could be from falling foreign demand. We are seeing the same thing in London. Note that luxury properties in the suburbs of NYC are doing the same thing. You can’t give away properties priced at $1MM +

Fannie Mae cut their housing forecast for 2018 for the 4th time this year. They are looking for $1.67T in originations this year and $1.7T next year. The 30 year fixed rate mortgage is expected to average 4.5% this year and 4.7% next year. They are also forecasting a major slowdown in GDP growth, from 3% this year to 2.3% next year.

Morning Report: Trump Admin recommends privatizing the GSEs

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2767 14
Eurostoxx index 384.04 3.19
Oil (WTI) 67.44 1.9
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.92%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are higher on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat.

The Trump administration released a set of principles around privatizing the GSEs. It is more or less the same thing as before – the goal is to lessen the government’s footprint in the mortgage market. The idea would be to have Fannie and Fred issue MBS with a catstrophic government guarantee – in other words, some private mortgage insurer would bear the initial losses and the government would only step in if the losses exceeded that number. That is all well and good, however there are all sorts of issues that remain before private label MBS can do the heavy lifting of the mortgage market.

First and foremost, there is a huge gulf between what the MBS investor market requires as a rate of return and current mortgage rates. In a perfect world, PL MBS would trade at similar levels to Fannie / Freddie MBS, but they won’t. There are huge governance issues that need to be resolved. For just one example, will the servicer (who is probably the issuer, who may also have a second lien) service the loan to benefit the MBS holder or themselves? What about reps and warranties? I went into more depth about this whole issue here. These uncertainties need to be priced in, which means that the bid / ask spread between private label and FNMA MBS is so large that nobody would take out a mortgage at the rate the private label investors require. That is a necessary but not sufficient requirement to bring back private money into the US mortgage market.

Taking the GSEs out of conservatorship is going to require legislation, and to be honest it isn’t a priority for either party. As far as DC is concerned, yes it would be nice if the government could lessen its footprint in the mortgage market, but people are getting loans, and the market is functioning normally. It just isn’t a priority.

The US borrower believes that the 30 year fixed rate mortgage is nothing unusual. In fact, it is a distinctly American phenomenon, where the borrower bears no risk. In the rest of the world, mortgages are adjustable rate, and not guaranteed by the government. In other words, the borrower bears the interest rate risk and the bank bears the credit risk. In the US, the bank bears the interest rate risk and the taxpayer bears the credit risk. Upsetting that apple cart is going to be a tough slog politically.

Finally, the news did nothing for the stocks of Fannie and Fred, which continue to languish. When the government took over Fannie and Fred, they left 20% of the common outstanding. This was an accounting gimmick to prevent the government from having to consolidate Fan and Fred debt on its balance sheet (incidentally, this was the reason why LBJ privatized the GSEs in the first place). The government could not take the GSEs through a bankruptcy without creating chaos in the mortgage market. So they left 20% outstanding and decided to deal with the bankruptcy part later. The stock should be worthless, but it is a litigation lottery ticket.

FNMA chart

A Federal Judge ruled yesterday that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional. The PHH case never made it to SCOTUS, but it will be interesting if this one does. At some point, the CFPBs structure will make it to SCOTUS, and the only one with the standing to defend the agency is the government.