Morning Report: Existing Home Sales rise

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2955 4.5
Oil (WTI) 57.79 0.24
10 year government bond yield 2.03%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.01%

 

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

 

Business sentiment in Germany hit a 5 year low, which is pushing Bund yields lower. The US Treasury market is being pulled by overseas weakness, but many are trying to interpret the US yield curve’s flattening as a recessionary indicator. Don’t buy it. Rates will probably meander lower unless we get indications of persistent 2%+ inflation. Separately, Trump tweeted that the Fed doesn’t know what it is doing, though he denied considering demoting Jerome Powell.

 

We have a lot of housing data this week, with the Case-Shiller and the FHFA Home Price indices. We will also get new home sales. The only potential market mover is personal income / personal spending on Friday. The third revision of first quarter GDP will be released on Thursday.

 

Existing home sales rose 2.5% in May, according to NAR. Total Sales came in at 5.34 million, a drop of 1% on a YOY basis. The median home price rose to $277,700 from $265,100 a year ago. Falling mortgage rates are helping home sales as the 30 year fixed rate mortgage flirts with the 4% level again. Inventory is still tight however, at only a 4.3 month supply.

 

Economic activity picked up in May, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators led the increase, which jumped from -.48 to -.05. This means the economy is more or less growing on trend after a weak April. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 economic indicators, so it really is a lagging index. It isn’t a market-mover.

 

Signs of life in the private label securitization market? Cerberus (a large private equity firm) did the first post-crisis HELOC securitization last week. HELOC securitization was only done during the bubble years, and many of these loans turned sour in the housing bust. Cerberus only issued the most senior AAA tranche, and it priced at L+105, a bit worse than the initial price talk. Cerberus did not sell any of the junior pieces.

 

Ginnie Mae has let Loan Depot out of the penalty box. Ginnie Mae has been focused on prepayment speeds for VA loans, which is an indication that a lender is churning VA loans through the IRRRL process. “The removal of such a restriction is based on the Issuer having demonstrated to Ginnie Mae’s satisfaction that (a) its prepayment speeds are substantially in-line with those of equivalent multi-Issuer cohorts, and (b) such improved performance is sustainable,” the agency said in a statement.

 

Freddie Mac is rolling out a new rehab loan: the CHOICERenovation loan. It will allow the buyers to roll the renovation costs into the loan, permit them to begin renovations after they move in, and the homeowner can act as his own contractor. “There’s a fair amount of housing with deferred maintenance,” Danny Gardner [Senior VP of single-family affordable lending at Freddie Mac] said in an interview. Cash-strapped buyers “should be very willing to undertake those issues if they can get houses at an affordable price.” The program is not available quite yet, but it should be out sometime this summer.

 

Contrary to expectations, professional investors are still buying starter homes and renting them out. Investors purchased 20% of the houses in the bottom third of the national price range in 2018, which is 5% more than the historical average. Many expected the REO-to-Rental trade to fizzle out as investors would ring the register. So far, that hasn’t happened, as home construction remains firmly mired in recessionary territory.

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Morning Report: Wages and interest rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2851 -35
Oil (WTI) 62.46 0.8
10 year government bond yield 2.43%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.15%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after rhetoric between the US and China hardened over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The rhetoric over trade intensified over the weekend, with both China and the US blaming each other for the impasse. As promised, the US hiked tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods on Friday and blamed China for reneging on its deal. In response, China said it would never surrender, and has raised tariffs on about $60 billion worth of US goods starting on June 1. FWIW, the issue with China is not so much tariff-related, it is intellectual property related.

 

This week is relatively data-light, at least as far as market-moving data is concerned. We will get housing starts and the NAHB Housing Market Index, along with a lot of Fed-speak.

 

Uber priced its IPO on Friday at $45 a share, and the stock ended up opening at $42. It never broke above the IPO price for the entire day. The record for IPOs has been downright awful and they have gone from being an almost sure thing to a greatest fool tournament. Historically, bankers would underprice IPOs by about 10% – 20%, so that investors would get a nice bump on the first day. Of course this means the company left some money on the table, but everyone was generally happy with that arrangement. Today, all the value is extracted in the pre-IPO funding rounds, so by the time it hits the public stock exchanges the companies are fully valued (if not overvalued). I have to imagine the big institutional investors are going to start turning these things down.

 

The share of 43%+ DTI loans going to Fannie and Freddie has almost doubled over the past couple of years from 15% to 30%. This is triggering more debate over the “QM patch” that allows safe harbor for loans with DTIs over 43% as long as they are GSE loans. This provision is slated to expire in 2021, but affordable housing advocates are pushing for it to be extended. Interestingly, the Urban Institute says that while default rates for 45+ DTI loans were higher prior to the crisis, that is no longer the case. Urban Institute has an agenda to push, so counterintuitive findings like that might be the result of some statistical jiggery-pokery and further examination is warranted.

 

Neel Kashkari is making the argument that rates should stay low due to income inequality. This is not necessarily a new argument – Janet Yellen said she was willing to let the labor market “run hot” for a while to wring all of the slack out of the labor market. Historically, the Fed has shied away from political footballs like income inequality, fiscal policy, etc given the fact that the Fed handles banking regulation and the Fed Funds rate – tools that aren’t suited to tackle either issue. In fact, you could make the argument that loose monetary policy increases inequality due to the fact that it pushes up asset prices. Here is another issue: if low rates increase the cost of shelter more than it helps increase wages, it could in fact be a negative for those that rent. Note that he isn’t arguing that the Fed should cut rates, but he is in favor of waiting to see if inflation returns.

 

That said, wage growth has been strong over the past couple of years as the labor market has strengthened. If you compare the yield on the 10 year bond to wage growth, historically they have correlated reasonably well. Over the past couple of years, the 10 year yield has fallen while average hourly earnings have increased. Given that labor’s share of GDP is still around historical lows, wages have to rise further to reach historical averages.

 

wage growth versus interest rates

Morning Report: Small mortgage origination has fallen

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2867 -17
Oil (WTI) 61.91 -0.21
10 year government bond yield 2.45%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.17%

 

Stocks are lower as the trade-driven sell off continues. Bonds and MBS are up. Note Jerome Powell will be speaking around lunch time. Also, the long-awaited Uber IPO will price after the bell.

 

Inflation at the wholesale level increased 0.2% MOM and 2.2% YOY in April according to the Producer Price Index. Ex-food and energy, they rose 0.1% / 2.4%. We will get the consumer price index tomorrow.

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 228k last week.

 

FHFA Chairman Mark Calabria said that Fannie and Freddie may be released from conservatorship even if Congress doesn’t accomplish housing reform. He also signalled that Congress would have an “entire Congress” – i.e. at least 2 years to hash out a solution. Calabria has not said that he would end the “net worth sweep” which sends all of the GSE profits to Treasury, which has created capital shortages for the GSEs.

 

Fewer and fewer mortgages are being made in the lower price tiers, which is having an impact on entry-level borrowers.  The article blames lender focus on the jumbo space, but that probably isn’t really the driver. They look at the number of low balance mortgages (10k – 90k) being originated today versus 10 years ago. It turns out that the number of small loans is definitely lower. I think there are a few factors going on here: First, 2009 was the beginning of the big wash-out in real estate prices and the number of homes in that price range was a lot higher in 2009 than it is today. In other words, home price appreciation is the biggest driver. Second, compliance costs are simply much higher, and as the MBA has demonstrated, costs to originate have been rising relentlessly. FWIW, there is demand for low balance mortgages – the prepay speeds are much lower so investors are willing to pay up for them – but that probably doesn’t offset higher costs. Finally, it is hard to get loan officers excited about an 80k mortgage when they are only making 75 basis points on it to begin with. Given that an 80k mortgage requires as much effort as a 800k mortgage, it makes sense for loan officers to focus on larger loan balances.

 

small loans

Morning Report: Blowout ADP jobs number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2945.83 2.3
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 63.37 -0.27
10 year government bond yield 2.50%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.18%

 

Stocks are higher as we await the FOMC decision. Bonds and MBS are up. Markets should be quiet this morning as most of Europe is closed for May Day.

 

Today’s Fed decision is set to be released at 2:00 pm. No changes in policy are expected and it should be a nonevent.

 

Pending Home Sales rose 3.8% in March, according to NAR. Activity increased pretty much everywhere except for the Northeast. Falling mortgage rates have helped boost activity and we are seeing a bit of an improvement in the inventory balance. Pending home sales reached a level of about 5 million, which is the same level as we saw in 2000. We have 50 million more people since then, which means there is a lot of pent-up demand.

 

The ADP jobs report came in at an increase of 275,000 jobs in April. This was well above the Street expectation of 180,000 for Friday’s jobs report. Professional and business services led the charge, and we also saw an increase in construction employment. The service sector added 223,000 jobs, the biggest increase in two years. With the Fed out of the way, 2019 could be better economically than people were thinking. Note that Trump is still jawboning the Fed to cut rates.

 

ADP report

 

Mortgage Applications fell for the fourth straight week, dropping 4.3%. Purchases fell 4% and refis fell 5%. “Mortgage rates were lower last week, with the 30-year fixed rate declining to 4.42 percent, as concerns over global growth, particularly in Germany, outweighed more positive domestic news on first quarter GDP growth and business investment,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Applications to refinance and purchase a home both fell, but purchase activity still remained slightly above year ago levels. The drop in refinances were driven by fewer FHA and VA loan applications, which typically lag the movement of conventional loans.”

 

Freddie Mac bumped up its origination forecast for 2019 by 4% to $1.74 trillion as rates have fallen. They expect the 30 year fixed rate mortgage to be 4.3% at the end of the year, and home price appreciation to moderate to 3.5%.

Morning Report: Fed Day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2648.75 6
Eurostoxx index 357.92 0.9
Oil (WTI) 53.82 0.51
10 year government bond yield 2.73%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.59%

 

Stocks are higher after good numbers out of Apple. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC announcement is scheduled for 2:00 pm EST. Nobody expects the Fed to make any changes to the Fed Funds target rate, but there is talk that the Fed might announce an early end to balance sheet reduction. Note there will be a press conference after the announcement – apparently Powell will hold one after every meeting, unlike Janet Yellen who only held them after the Mar, Jun, Sep and Dec meetings.

 

Pulte reported fourth quarter numbers that disappointed the Street, but the 11% drop in orders is what got everyone’s attention. Gross margins also fell. The company said that traffic decreased YOY in October and November, but rebounded in December. That said, the company said there is less certainty about demand heading into this spring selling season than the industry has experienced in recent years. The stock was down about 6% early in Wed trading.

 

Home price appreciation continues to slow, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Prices rose 5.2% YOY, down from 5.3% the prior month. “Home prices are still rising, but more slowly than in recent months,” says David M. Blitzer, Managing
Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The pace of price increases are being dampened by declining sales of existing homes and weaker affordability. Sales peaked in November 2017 and drifted down through 2018. Affordability reflects higher prices and increased mortgage rates through much of last year. Following a shift in Fed policy in December, mortgage rates backed off to about 4.45% from 4.95%. Housing market conditions are mixed while analysts’ comments express concerns that housing is weakening and could affect the broader economy. Current low inventories of homes for sale – about a four-month supply – are supporting home prices. New home construction trends, like sales of existing homes, peaked in late 2017 and are flat to down since then. Stable 2% inflation, continued employment growth, and rising wages are all favorable. Measures of consumer debt and debt service do not
suggest any immediate problems.”

 

The Trump Admin poured cold water on the notion that they would release Fannie and Fred from government control without Congressional involvement. Earlier in January Joseph Otting, head of the FHFA said:  “The Treasury and White House viewpoint is that the [FHFA] director and the secretary of Treasury have tremendous authority and that they would act, I think, independent of legislation if they thought it was the right thing to do.” This was taken as bullish for the stocks, sending Fannie Mae up from about $1.00 at the end of 2018 to close to $3.00. Since housing finance reform is going to be politically difficult, investors have been betting that the government would be more likely just to recapitalize and release the GSEs.

 

Freddie Mac’s survey is out for 2019. They anticipate one more Fed Funds rate hike, and think mortgage rates will average around 4.7% and GDP growth will slow to 2.5% in 2019 and 1.8% in 2020. They anticipate a slight uptick in housing starts, to 1.3 million per year, which is still well below the historical 1.5 million level. Home price appreciation is set to decelerate as well, to 4.1%. Mortgage originations are expected to finish 2018 at $1.6 trillion and increase to $17 trillion next year.

 

Home prices are falling in Silicon Valley – the first YOY declines since 2012. In San Jose, prices fell 8%, although they are so high – the median price is almost a million – that they are probably still overvalued by a wide margin. What is driving this? Believe it or not, the stock market. Many buyers rely on stock compensation to make the downpayment, and with the FAANG stocks having sold off, that is getting harder to do. Second, high house prices have made people reluctant to move there – after all a high salary is not as enticing if you end up giving it all back in rent or mortgage payments.

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: Red October ends

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2704 19.25
Eurostoxx index 361.06 5.53
Oil (WTI) 66.46 0.28
10 year government bond yield 3.14%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.89%

 

Stocks are recovering as we end the worst month for stocks in a while. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Facebook reported last night and rose despite a revenue miss. GM is up 10% pre-open on blowout earnings, while GE cut its dividend to a penny. Earnings are generally good this quarter, although if you focused only on the indices you would figure they were terrible.

 

Home prices rose 5.8% in August, according to the Case-Shiller home price index. Las Vegas led the way with 14% growth. San Francisco and Seattle were the other big winners. Underneath the headline number, we are starting to see some month-over-month declines if you look at the seasonally adjusted indices. Ultimately wages need to catch up with the new reality of higher interest rates and higher home prices.

 

Despite what is going on in housing, consumer confidence remains strong, with the consumer sentiment indices just off multi-decade highs. Historically this index has reflected gasoline prices (gas prices up, consumer confidence down), but that has broken down over the past couple of years. This confidence has allowed companies to raise prices for the first time in a decade, with a laundry list of firms from consumer staples to airlines increasing prices in reaction to increased costs, particularly fuel. Some companies are not raising prices, but cutting sizes. Wages are picking up, but they are generally lagging some of these increases in the inflation indices.

 

Freddie Mac sees home sales improving in 2019 despite an uptick in mortgage rates. Originations are expected to be flat at $1.65T while home price appreciation and GDP growth are expected to moderate. The 30 year fixed rate mortgage is expected to average around 5.1% for the year, and then jump an additional 50 basis points in 2020.

 

freddie mac mortgage rates

 

Janet Yellen told a conference that the current deficit track is unsustainable, and that if she had a magic wand, she would raise taxes and cut retirement spending.

 

Part of the inflation puzzle has always been healthcare inflation, especially in prescription drugs. Amazon looks to be entering the Rx business, and CVS is piloting a free delivery subscription program. Health care is a big part of the inflation picture and perhaps these big can take a bite out of inflation via their market strength.