Morning Report: The push-pull of monetary policy

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2732 3.75
Eurostoxx index 391.38 -1
Oil (WTI) 70.81 0.11
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.98%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.55%

Stocks are higher this morning as trade tensions with China eased somewhat over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are down small.

The Trump Administration is pushing Congress to get a long-term funding deal done by the August recess.

There won’t be much in the way of market-moving data this week – housing starts and retail sales will be the only possibilities. We will have Fed-speak every day however.

As the yield curve flattens, it is attracting more and more attention. Chris Whalen argues that Fed manipulation of the curve is the driving force behind the flattening. By paying interest on excess reserves, the Fed has pushed up short term rates far further than demand for credit would imply – in fact he argues that if the Fed stopped paying interest on excess reserves, the Fed Funds rate would get cut in half. On the other side of the coin, fears of taking losses on its QE portfolio has caused the Fed to hold down long-term rates. Finally, he argues that the reason for the growth in nonbank lending has been due to unwritten guidance from the government to the big banks: don’t go lower than 680 on FICO scores. There is a conflict between macroprudential regulation and monetary policy, which is inhibiting credit growth despite the FOMC’s attempts to stimulate it. Whalen argues that credit growth is not high enough to really stimulate a recovery and that is due to hard caps the regulators have imposed on commercial and industrial lending, construction finance, and multifamily lending. I wonder if credit is behind the lack of housing construction despite such high demand.

As rates rise, we are seeing more and more money flow into passively-managed bond funds. One of the interesting dynamics of passively managed indices is the self-reinforcing mechanism of the investing itself. For example, look at the FAANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google). Their weight in the S&P 500 is based on their market caps. So, as these companies outperform the S&P 500, their weighting in the index increases, which causes passive investors to buy more in order to maintain their weighting. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here is where it gets strange in bond-land. Companies with the most debt end up dominating the index. So in theory, as a company gets more risky (by issuing more debt), passive investors demand more of their debt. So unlike passive equity investment, which builds on strength, passive bond investing builds on weakness. This means that there should be much more room for index outperformance with actively managed bond funds than with passively managed bond funds.

Interesting chart from David Stockman:


If the ratio of net worth to income is going to revert to the mean, that means either asset prices are going to crash, or incomes are going to rise. I think the latter is what will occur.

Morning Report: Awaiting the Fed

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2652 0.25
Eurostoxx index 387.17 2.14
Oil (WTI) 67.45 0.19
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.99%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.55%

Stocks are flat as we await the FOMC decision. Bonds and MBS are down small.

Mortgage Applications fell 2.5% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 4%.

The economy added 204,000 jobs last month according to the ADP Employment Report. This was higher than expectations and is above the Street estimate for Friday’s jobs report. Medium sized firms (50-500 employees) added the most jobs, and Professional and Business Services sector had the most growth. Construction added a lot of jobs as well.

ADP by sector

The FOMC announcement is scheduled for 2:00 pm EST today. No changes in rates are expected, but investors will be looking to see if the Fed changes its language about inflation running below target. The latest PCE index came in at 2%, which is the Fed’s target. The second-order question will be to see whether the Fed changes their 2% rate from a symmetric target to a ceiling. The most likely outcome will be a “steady as she goes” statement and any changes will be communicated at the June meeting with a fresh set of economic forecasts. Today’s announcement should be a nonevent.

The Fed Funds futures are predicting a 6% chance of a hike at the May meeting and a 94% chance of a 25 basis point hike at the June meeting.

The labor shortage is so acute in the Rust Belt that some towns are paying people to move there. Most of these small towns have a major demographic problem – younger workers moved to the cities in response to the Great Recession, leaving only the older workers who are now retiring. The fear is that labor shortages will prompt employers to leave, which will create a downward spiral.

Consumer advocates worry that Mick Mulvaney is not going to blow up the CFPB, but will neuter it with a thousand cuts. That said, the rhetoric from the left is a bit overblown. Mick Mulvaney said: “When I took over, we had roughly 26 lawsuits ongoing,” he told the House Appropriations Committee on April 18. “I dismissed one, because the other 25 I thought were pretty good lawsuits.”