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: Gen X hit hardest by Great Recession

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2733 19.7
Eurostoxx index 382.97 2.89
Oil (WTI) 74.32 0.2
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.85%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.54%

Stocks are higher this morning on rumors that the Trump Administration is dialing back its plans for tariffs on European autos. Bonds and MBS are flat.

The minutes from the June FOMC meeting are coming out at 2:00 pm today. Be careful locking around then since they could be market-moving.

The service economy continues to plow ahead, according to the ISM Non-Manufacturing Survey. Higher input prices, tariffs, and labor shortages are the biggest worries. Trucking shortgages are increasing prices, and that has the potential to push up inflation since it touches just about every business, at least indirectly.

The economy added 177,000 jobs last month according to the ADP Survey. This was a touch below street estimates. Note that ADP numbers have generally been higher than the government’s for the past several months. The Street is looking for 191,000 jobs in tomorrow’s payroll report. While the payroll number will be important, for the bond market, it will all come down to the average hourly earnings number.

Initial Jobless Claims ticked up to 231,000 last week. Separately, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas noted there were 37,000 announced job cuts in May.

Tariffs on about $34 billion worth of Chinese exports are set to go into effect tomorrow. Beijing has announced it will retaliate with more tariffs the “instant it goes into effect.” Trade fears have been weighing on the stock market, and we are seeing some effects in commodity prices. Today’s minutes will probably discuss the issue at length. On one hand, this trade war is pushing up commodity prices, which is inflationary and should encourage the Fed to lean hawkish, at least at the margin. On the other hand, trade wars are an economic drag, which should encourage more dovishness. The Fed generally considers commodity inflation to be transitory, so on net trade wars should encourage dovishness, at least at the margin.

Oil prices have been a problem for while now, as WTI crude now trades close to $75 a barrel. Oil prices have been rising due to Venezuela issues and pressure on Europe to not buy Iranian oil. Trump tweeted that OPEC should increase production, which caused Saudi Arabia to announce it would increase output and Iran to announce that his pressure on them have added about $10 to the price of oil in the first place.  At the end of the day however these issues affect North Sea Brent prices, which really only matter to East Coast refineries. The rest of the country uses US domestic oil. Higher gas prices do make consumers surly and the Administration wants to see them down ahead of midterms this fall.

Here are the hottest real estate markets in June, according to Realtor.com. Note it isn’t the names you would think.

Interesting chart in today’s Journal about which breaks down the labor force participation rate by age cohort. The press keeps harping on the job market for entry level workers (essentially the Millennial Generation) however if you look at the labor force participation rate for that cohort, it is lower than the year 2000, but not by much. Nor is the problem the 55+ cohort (baby boomers). They are close to all-time highs. It is Gen X that is the issue – their cohort peaked around 83% in 2000 and now is closer to 80%. It is this generation that was hit hardest by the Great Recession (nailed right during the peak earnings years) and has yet to recover.

labor force participation rate by age cohort

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?