Morning Report: The Fed cuts rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2983 0.5
Oil (WTI) 57.51 -1.04
10 year government bond yield 2.00%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.07%

 

Stocks are flat after the Fed cut interest rates 25 basis points. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The Fed cut the Fed Funds rate by 25 basis points yesterday, which was in line with what the markets were expecting. Bonds sold off (rates higher) initially but eventually worked their way back to unchanged on the day and rates are lower this morning. The volatility in bonds did widen MBS spreads a little, which means that mortgage rates didn’t necessarily follow the 10 year yield lower.

 

The markets seemed to take the fact that Esther George and Eric Rosengren dissented in stride. Both voted against cutting rates. Jerome Powell’s press conference was a bit surreal given that his body language gave the impression he didn’t actually believe his “insurance cut for maintaining the recovery” narrative very much. If you watch the press conference, you’ll see him struggle with a question from Bloomberg’s Michael McKee regarding how cutting interest rates in an economy awash in capital will have any effect. Powell mentioned slowdowns in Europe and China several times, and that probably gave away the game.  This was a rate cut in response to global weakness, certainly not US economic numbers nor Trump’s jawboning. Since using monetary policy as a tool to help foreign economies is not in the Fed’s job description, he can’t come right out and say it.

 

You can’t help the feeling that global central banks have engineered a sovereign debt bubble globally and now have no idea what to do about it. Their exit strategy is to create inflation, which would send money out of bonds, but cutting rates is causing bonds to get more expensive, exacerbating the bubble. The result has been a situation that makes zero economic sense: why would anyone pay to lend money, let alone to a government with a debt to GDP ratio of 240% (Japan)? I guess it is one of those things that people will eventually wake up to en masse. In other words, “it won’t matter until it matters, and then it will be the only thing that matters.” But the #1 rule of bubbles is that they go on longer and go further than anyone expects.

 

The Fed funds futures moved marginally in response to the rate cut. The markets are now pricing in about an 85% chance of one more cut this year, and are handicapping a better than 50% chance of a cut in September.

 

fed funds futures

 

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the FHA is going to announce a move to lower the limit for cash out refinances to 80 LTV from 85 LTV.  “The risk at 85% is more than what we think is appropriate to bear and more than what we think we should expose taxpayers to,” said Keith Becker, the FHA’s chief risk officer. This change will bring FHA loans in line with Fannie and Freddie which cap cash outs at 80%.

 

In another change, a HUD proposal has been circulated that would reverse an Obama-era standard for fair lending – the disparate impact standard – and replace it with a 5-step framework to demonstrate that discrimination occurred. In other words, it will put the burden of proof back on the regulator to prove the lender intended to discriminate. I don’t have the actual proposal, so there isn’t much to go on quite yet.

 

In other economic news today, initial jobless claims came in at 215k, construction spending fell 1.3% and the ISM Manufacturing index slipped to 51.2.

 

 

Morning Report: Strong jobs report

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2928 9
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 61.85 0.04
10 year government bond yield 2.56%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.20%

 

Stocks are higher after the strong payroll number. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 263,000
  • Unemployment rate 3.6%
  • Labor Force participation rate 62.8%
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.2% MOM / 3.2% YOY
  • Employment – Population ratio 60.8%

Overall it was a Goldilocks report for the markets. Stocks are happy about the payroll number while bonds like the wage data. Note the unemployment rate is at the lowest level since Jimi Hendrix did the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. We saw an uptick in construction workers as well as health care.

 

unemployment rate

 

The Washington Post noted how difficult finding truck drivers has become: McClane Company is a large trucking and warehouse firm that specializes in moving food and grocery items around the country. They are advertising truck driving jobs for $70,000 a year and a $6,000 sign on bonus in Jessup, Pennsylvania, but even at that level of pay it’s been tough to get enough people in the door.

 

Steve Moore withdrew his name from consideration to join the Fed after it appeared the he wouldn’t have the votes to get confirmed. Establishment Republicans are not ready for non-traditional types to join the Fed, though it might be a good thing, if only to break the group-think that goes on there.

 

Ginnie Mae is taking a look at 90%+ LTV cash out refinancings. They put out a request for input. Initially, they were looking at the prepay speeds for VA IRRRL loans, and how it was affecting GNMA MBS investors, but it looks like they are now broadening their focus as VA loans still have higher prepay speeds than comparable FHA or Fannie / Freddie loans. Specifically, VA refis occur earlier than FHA refis, and high LTV VA cashouts have higher prepay speeds than comparable FHA cash-outs. FHA cash outs are limited to 85% LTV, while VAs can go up to 97.5%, and the funding fee can be financed. It looks like GNMA is not looking at tightening the restrictions for VA refis, but it is more interested in perhaps creating new GII pools for shorter duration loans (i.e. fast prepays).

 

VA versus FHA speeds

Morning Report: Home price appreciation is slowing

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2910.5 -2
Eurostoxx index 389.7 -0.8
Oil (WTI) 65.66 1.29
10 year government bond yield 2.59%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.34%

 

Stocks are flattish this morning as we await earnings from some of the FAANG heavyweights. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

 

Existing home sales fell 4.9% in March to a seasonally adjusted annualized level of 5.21 million. A decrease was expected since February’s numbers were stronger than expected. On a year-over-year basis, sales are down 5.4%. The median home price rose 3.8% to $254,400, and it looks like home price appreciation is slowing down here as well. Inventory remains the problem, with 1.68 million homes for sale, representing a 3.9 month supply. A balanced market would be closer to 2.6 million homes for sale. In addition, we have a glut at the luxury price points and a shortage at the entry-level price points. Days on market increased YOY to 36 from 30. First time homebuyers represented a third of all transactions. Historically that number has been closer to 40%.

 

Home prices rose 0.3% MOM in February and are up 4.9% YOY, according to the FHFA House Price Index. Note the difference in price appreciation versus the NAR numbers (+4.9% versus +3.8%) – this reflects the fact that the FHFA index excludes jumbos, which is where there real slowdown is being seen, especially in high tax states.  Take a look at the YOY price appreciation comparison regionally and check out the difference between this time last year in home price appreciation on the West Coast.

 

FHFA regional

 

Herman Cain has withdrawn his name from consideration to the Fed. A handful of Republican senators expressed reservations about his nomination, which was probably enough to make his actual confirmation unlikely. The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer, said Cain’s “failure to garner adequate support should not be used as a pathway by Senate Republicans to approve Stephen Moore, who is equally unqualified, and perhaps more political.”

 

The Trump Administration is taking a look at downpayment assistance programs – generally government programs that help borrowers put together their 3.5% down payment for a FHA loan. As you would expect, borrowers who need help scraping together 3.5% are riskier, and indeed the default rates on these mortgages are double those of a traditional FHA mortgage (and FHA DQs are much higher than conventional DQs). HUD promulgated new guidance for downpayment assistance programs last week tightening documentation rules. Ballard Spahr summarizes the new guidance here.

Morning Report: Productivity revised downward

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2755.25 3.75
Eurostoxx index 386.61 -0.28
Oil (WTI) 65.11 -41
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.95%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.54%

Stocks are higher this morning as trade negotiations continue with China. Bonds and MBS are down.

Italian bond yields are higher this morning, but so far the market seems to have concluded that this will not snowball into a larger European problem. That said, continuing issues in Italy will provide at least a marginal bid for Treasuries.

Mortgage applications rose 4% last week as purchases and refis rose the same amount. Grazie.

Nonfarm productivity was revised downward to 0.4% from 0.7% in the second estimate for first quarter productivity. Output increased 2.7% and hours worked increased 2.3%. Unit Labor Costs were revised upward from 2.8% to 2.9%. Compensation increased 3.3% and productivity increased 0.4%. Since productivity increases drive standard of living improvements and wage gains, this somewhat explains the anemic wage growth we have been seeing. These numbers are going to concern the Fed a little, given that it might increase inflationary pressures, at least at the margin. Productivity is notoriously hard to measure however, so it carries with it a lot of uncertainty. The theme of the US post-crisis has been low productivity.

productivity

Freedom mortgage was penalized for serial VA refinancings. As part of their punishment, they are no longer allowed to issue mortgages into multi-issuer pools, which will severely reduce the number of potential investors for their paper. This is a temporary restriction, and they could be out of the doghouse as soon as next year. A couple of other lenders – Sun West and NewDay also were penalized.

Wells has sold its branches in the Rust Belt to Flagstar Bank. They will continue their presence in mortgage lending, commercial and wealth management however.

The FTC and DOJ held a hearing on the potential competition issues between the Zillow and Redfin online real estate duopoly. It also covered in more general terms the effects of companies like Zillow and Redfin on the brokerage model in general. Will technology end the need for a realtor? Perhaps for the experienced and professional buyer, but probably not for everyone else. Fees could be affected though.

Steve Mnuchin urged President Trump to exempt Canada from steel and aluminum tariffs. While tariffs are in general counterproductive, it is important to remember the US has much lower tariffs than our trading partners.

tariffs

The media discovers FHA lending. And no, FHA lending is not the same as the no-no loans of the subprime days.

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: Wells Fargo gets a $1 billion fine

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2691.25 -1.75
Eurostoxx index 381.41 -0.54
Oil (WTI) 67.9 -0.39
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.92%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.45%

Stocks are lower this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat.

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators took a step back in March, following unusually strong readings in January and February. Employment-related indicators drove the decline, however weather could have played a part. “The LEI points to robust economic growth throughout 2018,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, director of business cycles and growth research at the Conference Board. “While the Federal Reserve is on track to continue raising its benchmark rate for the rest of the year, the recent weakness in residential construction and stock prices—important leading indicators—should be monitored closely.”

Regulators are close to fining Wells Fargo $1 billion. This stems from force-placed auto insurance and improperly charged lock extensions. An internal review found that up to 20,000 customers had their cars repossessed due to these improper insurance charges.

Donald Trump tweeted about how OPEC’s manipulation of oil prices will not be tolerated. “Looks like OPEC is at it again,” Trump said on Twitter. “Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!” OPEC fired back, claiming that oil prices reflect geopolitics and not manipulation.

Maxine Waters introduced legislation to increase scrutiny of FHA servicers. The bill aims to improve compliance with loss mitigation actions to prevent foreclosures. It will also establish a process for borrowers to register complaints and make appeals if they believe they are being treated unfairly. I am not sure what chance this has of actually becoming law, but government MSRs already trade far back of Fannie MSRs, and I can’t imagine this helps things.

Here is a new metric for measuring affordability: payment power. It basically is a metric that looks at MSAs on a granular level. it measures incomes versus available inventory and calculates how many people can afford the PITI payments for the typical home for sale. It takes into account changes in incomes (say due to an employer entering or leaving), interest rates and property taxes. Unsurprisingly, the Midwest has the best payment power levels, while the West Coast has the least.

Nice fixer-upper just went for $1.23 million in the Bay Area.