Morning Report: Upbeat housing forecast from Fannie Mae

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3252 7.25
Oil (WTI) 61.78 -0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.88%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.97%

 

Stocks are higher as investors are largely taking the day off. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Mortgage applications fell by 5% last week as purchases and refis both fell by the same amount. “The 10-Year Treasury yield increased last week amid signs of stronger homebuilding activity and solid consumer spending, leading to a rise in conventional conforming and jumbo 30-year mortgage rates to just under 4 percent. With this increase, conventional refinance application volume fell 11 percent,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Refinance applications for government loans did increase, even though rates on FHA loans picked up. The change in the mix of business has kept the average refinance loan size smaller than we had seen earlier this year.” 

 

Fannie and Freddie both took up their estimates for 2020 economic growth and housing forecasts. Underpinned by a strong labor market, housing will finally take a leadership position in economic growth. “Housing appears poised to take a leading role in real GDP growth over the forecast horizon for the first time in years, further bolstering our modest-but-solid growth forecasts through 2021,” said Fannie Mae Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Doug Duncan. “In our view, residential fixed investment is likely to benefit from ongoing strength in the labor markets and consumer spending, in addition to the low interest rate environment. Risks to growth have lessened of late, as a ’Phase One’ U.S.-China trade deal appears to be in place and global growth seems likely to reverse course and accelerate in 2020. With these positive economic developments in mind, we now believe that the Fed will hold interest rates steady through 2020.”

 

The actual numbers are here. They see housing starts rising to 1.315 million units, and the 30 year fixed rate mortgage falling to 3.6%. Origination volume is expected to fall slightly to $2.04 trillion from $2.15 trillion in 2019. Purchase volume is expected to increase and refis are forecasted to fall. GDP growth is expected to come in at 1.9%

Morning Report: Fannie Mae gets more bullish on housing and the economy

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3195 -3.25
Oil (WTI) 60.88 -0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.93%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.96%

 

Stocks are flat this morning on no major news. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 234k last week. The prior week had a big jump to over 250k, which really didn’t comport with other labor market data. 234,000 is still above where we were a couple weeks ago, though. As of now, assume this is just noise but it there is going to be a turnaround in the labor market, initial jobless claims is where it first shows up.

 

Fannie Mae has taken up their estimates for housing in 2020. Tuesday’s strong housing starts numbers, combined with what we are hearing out of the homebuilders, indicate that the US housing market will be an “engine of growth” for the economy in 2020. All of the talk about a trade-driven recession was more partisan wishful thinking than anything else. Fannie expects new home sales to increase 12% in 2020, and has taken up their forecast for GDP growth from 2% to 2.2%. “We now expect single-family housing starts and sales of new homes to increase substantially, aided by a large uptick in new construction as builders work to replenish inventories,” Duncan said. “Despite the expected increase in the pace of construction, the supply of homes for sale remains tight and strong demand for housing is continuing to drive home prices higher.”

 

Separately, Fannie is offering early retirement to 25% of its workforce as the company readies itself for sale. “As is common in many American companies, Freddie Mac is offering employees who meet certain age and tenure requirements a voluntary opportunity to retire early. As we prepare for our next chapter, we anticipate this will help realign our workforce to create a company attractive to outside investors as well as current and future employees,” a spokesman for Freddie Mac said in an email statement.

 

Shades of things to come? Sweden is ending its 5 year experiment with negative interest rates. Their central bank expects rates to remain at 0% for the next few years. Global interest rates are rising as a result, with the German 10 year Bund trading at negative 22 basis points, and the Japanese Government Bond trading at a hair under 0%.

 

Home prices rose 5% in November, according to Redfin. Listings fell by 5.9%, while sales increased 3%. “Given that inventory is falling quickly, we’d expect to see even stronger price growth, especially when compared to last year’s soft market,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “The fact that homes are selling faster indicates that there are buyers ready to pull the trigger and take advantage of low interest rates. If lack of inventory and high demand continues, buyers who take a wait-and-see approach could face less favorable conditions in the spring season like bidding wars and faster price growth.” Note that the biggest gains were in the areas hardest hit by the real estate bust: Detroit, Camden and Bakersfield.

Morning Report: Fannie and Freddie are interviewing investment banks

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3138 3.25
Oil (WTI) 58.87 -0.14
10 year government bond yield 1.82%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.98%

 

Stocks are up as we head into the FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC will meet today and tomorrow, with the interest rate announcement expected Wednesday at 2:00 pm. The Fed Funds futures are predicting no change in rates. That doesn’t necessarily mean the markets will ignore what is going on, as subtle changes in language can have out-sized effects on the markets. One such word is “symmetric.” The word symmetric refers to the Fed’s 2% inflation target, and how much they will tolerate inflation above that target. The Fed desperately wants to avoid the low inflation / low growth trap that evolved in Europe and Japan, and is signalling to the markets that they will allow inflation to run above 2% for an extended period of time.

 

The Fed will also be watching the overnight repurchase market, to ensure we don’t have another situation like late September where overnight rates spiked over 10%. This was due to a shortage of cash in the market. While this sort of thing doesn’t affect mortgage lending directly, it does raise the cost of borrowing for MBS investors, which can cause them to sell these securities to raise cash. That flows through to rate sheets. While the shortage caught the Fed flat-footed in September, they have been discussing the issue, so hopefully we don’t see another replay at the end of this month.

 

Fannie and Freddie are tightening the restrictions for their Home Ready and Home Possible programs. Previously, borrowers with incomes at the Area Median Income (AMI) were qualified for these 3% down programs; now they will be limited to borrowers at 80% of the AMI. This is all part of the strategy to reduce Fan and Fred’s overall risk prior to setting them free. Note that they are currently interviewing banks to handle the IPO, which will be somewhere between $150 billion and $200 billion. This would dwarf the record for the largest IPOs in history – Saudi Aramco and Alibaba – by over 6x.

 

Despite a glut of McMansions in some areas, Toll Brothers beat estimates and forecasted a strong 2020.  The company noted demand increased throughout the year, and the recent weeks have been stronger than the prior quarter, which is encouraging given that typically you see a slowdown this time of year. Douglas C. Yearley, Jr., Toll Brothers’ chairman and chief executive officer, stated: “Fiscal 2019 ended on a strong note. Building on steady improvement in buyer demand throughout the year, our fourth quarter contracts were up 18% in units and 12% in dollars, and our contracts per-community were up 10% compared to one year ago. Through the first six weeks of fiscal 2020’s first quarter, we have seen even stronger demand than the order growth of fiscal 2019’s fourth quarter. This market improvement should positively impact gross margins over the course of fiscal 2020.”

 

Small business optimism grew in November, according to the NFIB. Recession worries faded into the background, and impeachment remains little more than a curious albeit boring sideshow, similar to the Clinton impeachment saga which had zero effect on the markets. Improving labor conditions were a big driver, with 26% of firms planning on raising compensation in the coming months – the highest in 30 years. (BTW, this is music to the Fed’s ears). It looks like the drag from the 2017-2018 rate hikes are behind us, and the headwind has turned into a tailwind courtesy of the recent rate cuts.

 

Productivity declined in the third quarter as output increased 2.3% and hours worked increased 2.5%. Unit labor costs increased by 2.5%.

Morning Report: Quiet week ahead

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3120 7.25
Oil (WTI) 57.79 0.24
10 year government bond yield 1.78%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.93%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after China agreed to take more steps to protect US intellectual property. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The upcoming week should be relatively quiet with the Thanksgiving holiday. SIFMA is recommending early closings for Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday will have some important economic data with GDP and personal incomes, but with the Fed on hold, economic data is going to take a backseat. Note Jerome Powell is expected to give a speech tonight after the market close.

 

The CFPB is taking a look at loan originator compensation, and is thinking about relaxing some of the rigid rules regarding variations in compensation. The biggest issue surrounds state loan programs, which are meant to make a mortgage more affordable and help get people into homes. Most of these programs have strict limits on how much the originator is permitted to make on a loan, and is often well below what the lender will make on normal conforming loans. This rule change will allow loan officers to lower their compensation to make these programs work financially for the lender. The Bureau is also looking at allowing lenders to decrease LO comp on loans where there are errors due to LO mistakes.

 

The investment community (firms like Blackrock, PIMCO, and Fidelity) are encouraging the Trump Administration to include an explicit government guarantee for Fannie and Freddie loans in its housing reform. The Trump Administration’s plan to privatize the GSEs does not contemplate an explicit government guarantee – and they would like to reduce the size of the government’s footprint in the mortgage market. Note they never had one – the GSEs were “government sponsored” entities, which doesn’t mean “government guaranteed.” Fannie and Fred were always public-private hybrids. Any sort of explicit government guarantee would require legislation, and that is probably going to be almost impossible absent another crisis.

 

 

Morning Report: Fannie / Freddie sale by 2022?

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3088 -6.25
Oil (WTI) 57.59 0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.83%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.00%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on weak overseas economic data. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Initial Jobless Claims rose to 225k last week. We are still at extremely low levels historically. Jerome Powell will be testifying today at 10:00 am. Nothing earth-shattering came out of his testimony yesterday, although he pushed back on Trump’s suggestion that the Fed should cut rates below zero.

 

Inflation at the wholesale level came in a little hotter than expected, with the Producer Price Index rising 0.4%% MOM and 1.1% YOY. Ex-food and energy, it rose 0.3% MOM and 1.6% YOY. These readings are still well below what the Fed would like to see, which is inflation at 2%.

 

Mark Calabria said that Fannie and Fred could be ready to exit government conservatorship by 2022. “If all goes well, 2021, 2022 we will see very large public offerings from these companies,” Calabria said at an event sponsored by the American Association of Residential Mortgage Regulators and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors. “The consent decree will be able to give that window where they can go to market, do an offering and still operate under a way where we’ve got some prudential safeguards.” Fannie and Fred stock fell on the news. Fannie’s stock has been a trader’s dream, with plenty of volatility to play with.

 

FNMA chart

Morning Report: Risk-on feel as China and US strike a trade deal

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3088 12.25
Oil (WTI) 57.27 0.94
10 year government bond yield 1.88%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.97%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after the US and China agree to remove tariffs. China also made some high profile arrests to stem the tide of fentanyl coming into the US. The fentanyl issue was a key part of the US’s issues with China. Bonds and MBS are down on the “risk-on” trade.

 

After a dismal start to the year, the luxury end of the market (homes over $1.5 million) rebounded in the third quarter as rates fell. Prices rose 0.3% on average, but they had been falling since 2018. Manhattan was hit particularly hard on the new mansion tax. Florida was the beneficiary as prices rose over 100% in West Palm and some of the other nearby areas. Previously hot markets like San Diego also remained in the losing category. “Because recession fears peaked over the summer, I expected luxury home prices and sales to dip. But it appears that nerves alone weren’t enough to scare off wealthy homebuyers,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “The U.S. economy grew faster than expected in the third quarter, partly as a result of healthy consumer spending. Those results, along with flat luxury home prices and rising sales, go to show that Americans are basing their spending habits on their own personal financial situation rather than concerns about global economic tensions. For many, that means strong incomes and good employment prospects.”

 

Fannie Mae is out with their housing forecasts for 2020. They anticipate the 30 year fixed rate mortgage will continue to fall, hitting 3.5% by the end of 2020, and home prices will rise about 4%. Interestingly, they do not anticipate any sort of pickup in housing starts – in fact they anticipate they will be flat with 2019. Despite the drop in rates, they anticipate origination volumes will fall to 1.86 trillion from 2.04 trillion as the refinance share of the market falls from 37% to 31%.

 

New York Fed President John Williams said that the FOMC sees no reason to cut interest rates further: “The three rate cuts we did were very effective at managing the risks” slowing global growth and trade uncertainty present to the U.S. economy, New York Fed President John Williams said at a Wall Street Journal event in New York. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans echoed the same sentiment.

 

Finally, we know that gathering strength in the US economy is helping push rates higher. It is important to note that rising rates is not simply a US phenomenon. US Treasuries don’t trade in a vacuum – they are always going to be subject to moves in overseas rates. For now, the key overseas interest rate to watch is the yield on the German Bund, which has increased by 45 basis points since early September. The Bund still has a negative yield, but it is now -27 basis points after bottoming at -72 basis points 2 months ago.

 

bund

Morning Report: Existing home sales fall as prices increase

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2992 -2.25
Oil (WTI) 53.87 -0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.03%

 

Stocks are flattish as earnings come in. We should be hearing from heavyweights such as Tesla, Boeing, Caterpillar, Ford and Microsoft. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Mortgage Applications fell 12% last week as purchases fell 4% and refis fell 17%. Mortgage rates increased 10 basis points and increased to 4.02%. “Interest rates continue to be volatile, with Brexit votes and ongoing trade negotiations swinging rates higher or lower on any given day,” said MBA Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni. “Last week, mortgage rates jumped 10 basis points and were above 4 percent for the first time since September. The increase in mortgage rates caused refinance applications to drop 17 percent, and by more than 20 percent for conventional loans. Borrowers with larger loans are the most sensitive to rate changes, and with rates climbing higher last week, the average size of a refinance loan application fell to its lowest level this year.”

 

Existing home sales fell 2.2% in September, according to NAR. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said that despite historically low mortgage rates, sales have not commensurately increased, in part due to a low level of new housing options. “We must continue to beat the drum for more inventory,” said Yun, who has called for additional home construction for over a year. “Home prices are rising too rapidly because of the housing shortage, and this lack of inventory is preventing home sales growth potential.” The median home price increased 5.9% to 272,100 and the supply of available homes came in at 1.83 million units, or about 4 month’s worth of inventory.

 

Home prices rose 0.2% MOM and 4.6% YOY in August, according to the FHFA House Price Index. Home price appreciation is definitely decelerating this year, compared to 2018, although lower rates will probably re-accelerate growth in the markets with tighter inventory.

 

FHFA regional

 

FHFA Director Mark Calabria said that he is willing to wipe out the shareholders of Fannie and Freddie if needed to protect taxpayers. “If the circumstances present themselves where we have to wipe out the shareholders, we will.,” he said at testimony in front of the House Financial Services Committee. He added that he believes that shareholders should have lost their stakes in the GSEs when the government rescued them in 2008. Fannie and Fred were put into conservatorship, with the government owning 79.9% of the companies. This was done largely to prevent disruption to the mortgage market if the companies were to enter formal bankruptcy, and also to prevent the government from having to consolidate all of Fannie’s debt on its own balance sheet. His comments at least leaves the door open for some recovery value for common stockholders if the GSEs are reformed. FWIW, the Obama administration was absolutely steadfast in their belief that the stock was worthless, and a change in administrations will probably return to that stance.