Morning Report: ECB cuts rates and bonds rally

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3009.5 5.25
Oil (WTI) 54.37 -1.44
10 year government bond yield 1.68%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.89%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after the European Central Bank cut rates and announced new stimulus measures. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The European Central Bank cut its deposit rate to -50 basis points from -40 bps and re-instated bond purchases of 20 billion euros a month. This is sending down yields, with the German Bund now trading at -62 basis points. Separately, the Bank of Japan is also looking at measures to push their negative interest rates even lower.

 

Inflation remained under control with the consumer price index up 0.1% MOM / 1.7% YOY. The core rate, which strips out food and energy rose 0.3% MOM / 2.4% YOY. Medical care and shelter drove the increase in the index, while lower energy costs pushed it down.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 204,000 in the holiday shortened week.

 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the US is “seriously considering” issuing a 50 year bond. “We would do this in a way that if there is demand it’s something that we would meet. I personally think it would be a good thing to expand the U.S.′ borrowing capabilities,” Mnuchin said. “I would say it’s obviously quite attractive for us to extend and derisk the U.S. Treasury borrowing. So we’re also looking at extending the weighted average maturity of the Treasury borrowing to derisk this for the U.S. people.” Mnuchin also pushed back against Trump’s view that we need negative interest rates in the US, as negative interest rates wreak havoc on bank earnings, and a weak banking sector does not make a foundation for a strong economy.

 

Separately, Mnuchin said that the Trump Administration has approved the plan to reorganize the GSEs. “We are actively negotiating an amendment try to get it done by the end of the month” What “actively negotiating an amendment” means is unclear, but it probably refers to the net worth sweep of Fannie and Freddie’s profits to Treasury. Since that was done via executive order during the Obama administration, it should be able to be undone the same way. Full legislation is probably going to be impossible heading into an election year, judging by the way testimony went in the Senate.

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Morning Report: Trump pushes for negative interest rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2983.5 5.25
Oil (WTI) 57.96 0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.73%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.85%

 

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

 

We saw a big uptick in rates yesterday, with not much of a catalyst. It could just be position-squaring ahead of the expected stimulus announcements tomorrow from the ECB, although some pointed to the government bond auction. Regardless, these things happen. While the path of least resistance for interest rates clearly seems to be down, there will be inevitable retracements along the way – markets don’t go straight up or straight down.

 

Mortgage applications increased 2% last week as purchases rose 5% and refis increased about half a percent. “Mortgages rates continued to decline over the holiday-shortened week, with the 30-year fixed rate decreasing five basis points and remaining near three-year lows,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Refinances were essentially unchanged, up just 0.4 percent, but August overall was the strongest month of activity so far in 2019.”

 

Steve Mnuchin, Mark Calabria, and Ben Carson appeared before the Senate yesterday to discuss GSE reform. The discussion fell predictably along partisan lines, with the left fretting about affordable housing while the right wanted to reduce the government’s footprint and risk in the system.

 

Meanwhile, Trump called on the “boneheads” at the Fed to cut interest rates, even below 0% if necessary. Trump is arguing that we should lower rates considerably in order to refinance our government debt into longer term loans, say 50 or 100 years. Note that cutting interest rates to 0% will wreak havoc on the banking system, as Europe is finding out. Check out the chart of Deutsche Bank, which has been annihilated by negative interest rates.

 

Deutsche Bank

 

Mortgage fraud decreased in the second quarter, according to CoreLogic.

Morning Report: GSE reform

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2981 9.25
Oil (WTI) 55.12 -1.14
10 year government bond yield 1.57
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.74%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after the jobs report. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 130,000, lower than expectations, and the ADP report
  • Unemployment rate 3.7%, unchanged
  • Labor force participation rate 63.2%, unchanged
  • Employment-population ratio 60.9%
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.4% MOM / 3.2% YOY, above expectations

Overall, a disappointing report given the big ADP number, but the ADP generally predicts the final numbers, which means this data probably gets revised upwards. The employment-population ratio continued to edge up, which is good, although we still are nowhere near pre-crisis levels. This indicates that wage growth will remain in a Goldilocks range: enough to beat inflation, but not too hot to worry the Fed.

 

employment population ratio

 

The Trump Administration released its GSE reform plan. The plan states that ” the existing Government support of the secondary market should be explicitly defined, tailored, and paid-for, and the GSEs’ conservatorships should come to an end, subject to the preconditions set forth in this plan.” The government’s guarantee should “stand behind significant first-loss private capital and would be triggered only in exigent circumstances.” “Single-family guarantors should be required to maintain a nationwide cash window through which small lenders can sell loans for cash, and also should be prohibited from offering volume-based pricing discounts or other incentives to their lender clients.” The government support for the GSEs under the preferred stock purchase agreement would be replaced with an explicit, paid for guarantee backed by the US government for paying principal and interest on MBS. The plan would end (or at least modify) the “net worth sweep” which would allow the GSEs to rebuild capital. The GSEs would still have a role to promote affordable housing. FNMA stock is looking down about 6% on the open.

 

Michael Burry, of The Big Short fame, sees a bubble in indexing and passive investment ETFs. Passive investments now account for half of the stock market as more investors pile into these low-fee investment vehicles. “Trillions of dollars in assets globally are indexed to these stocks,” Burry said. “The theater keeps getting more crowded, but the exit door is the same as it always was. All this gets worse as you get into even less liquid equity and bond markets globally.” Certainly the leveraged ETFs – the triple long and triple short types – will become hopelessly illiquid in a market distortion. Burry runs a hedge fund, so he is talking his book a little but like all investment crazes, the more money that goes into the asset class, the more marginal each incremental trade becomes. Eventually, you might see a return to active stock management as they begin to outperform, especially small caps.

Morning Report: Homeownership rate jumps in Q4

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2814 6.75
Eurostoxx index 376.36 1.22
Oil (WTI) 56.49 0.7
10 year government bond yield 2.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.44%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on real news. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The big data this week will be the jobs report on Friday. Jerome Powell said in his Humphrey-Hawkins testimony that he would like to see further wage increases, which should calm the bond markets if the average hourly earnings number comes in a bit hotter than expected. Other than that, we will get new home sales and the ISM data.

 

The homeownership rate ticked up to 64.8% in the fourth quarter, according to the census bureau. This is up from 64.4% in the third quarter and 64.2% a year ago. The homeownership rate has been slowly ticking back up after bottoming at 62.9% in 2016. Note that we are nowhere near the highs of around 69.2% during the bubble years. Bumping up that number by lending to Millennial borrowers is going to drive the mortgage business going forward, and will have to replace the rate / term refi business that drove earnings for years.

 

homeownership rate

 

28 organizations, including the MBA, NAR and a whole host of affordable housing advocates sent a letter to Acting FHFA Director Otting counseling him to go slow in GSE reform.  “A well-functioning housing finance system should provide consistent, affordable credit to borrowers across the nation and through all parts of the credit cycle without putting taxpayers at risk of a bailout,” the letter states. “We urge policymakers to take these principles into account to ensure that access and affordability are preserved under the current, and any future, housing regime.” FHFA had indicated it was willing to make some reforms without Congress, which prompted the letter. Any true GSE reform will require legislation.

 

Despite a strong Q4 GDP print of 2.6%, first quarter estimates are in the 0% to 1% range. Does the economy “feel” like it rapidly decelerated in the past couple of months? Some of the numbers suggest it – as in personal income and consumption.  I don’t sense it, but that’s what the pros are saying. As a general rule, people’s subjective assessment of the economy is often influenced by their personal partisan values. When Democrats are in charge, Republicans tend to feel the economy is worse off than it really is, and the same goes in reverse. During the Obama years, the professional economists (including the Fed) were consistently high on their GDP estimates. Now, during the Trump years, professional economists seem to be undershooting the numbers – i.e. actual growth numbers out of the BEA are much higher than forecast. I doubt there is any tampering going on, but it is something to keep in mind, especially when locking around big economic events.

Morning Report: REO-to-Rental exit time?

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2706 1
Eurostoxx index 359.39 -0.56
Oil (WTI) 55.07 0.02
10 year government bond yield 2.70%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.40%

 

Stocks are flattish this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

 

The upcoming week will be data-light, as is typical the first week of every month. Jerome Powell speaks on Wednesday, and that is about it. Productivity and costs on Wed could be interesting, but there just isn’t going to be much to move bonds.

 

The money for the government runs out on Feb 15 and we are back to a possible shutdown. Judging by the jobs report, it doesn’t appear the government shutdown had much (if any) effect on the overall economy. If we have another shutdown, we should probably see the same old situation of the inability to process VOEs for Federal employees, but that is it.

 

Rental prices for 1 bedroom apartments fell a couple of percent last year. Not sure about the methodology for the study, but it does comport with several other studies that show rental prices falling, at least in luxury areas. For the real estate sector, this is probably good news. One of the best post-crisis trades has been the REO-to-Rental trade, where professional investors and hedge funds purchased distressed foreclosures, fixed them up and rented them out. Cap rates in the aftermath of the crisis were high single digits, which were super attractive given the 0% interest rate environment. Tack on home price appreciation and you have a phenomenal trade. Unfortunately, phenomenal trades rarely stay that way, and between rising mortgage rates and falling rents, cap rates are getting squeezed, and it might be time for some of these investors to exit the trade. Ultimately that means we should see a lot more starter homes for sale which will alleviate the inventory problem we are currently experiencing.

 

Bill Gross is retiring from money management. The Bond King ruled the Great Bond Bull Market of 1982 – 2016 and is stepping out as we head into what should be a decades-long secular bear market in bonds.

 

Fannie and Fred will be released from Federal conservatorship subject to tight market-share restrictions under a new plan released by Senate Republicans. Fan and Fred would retain their role as mortgage guarantors, and would be subject to competition. “We must expeditiously fix our flawed housing finance system,” Crapo, an Idaho Republican, said in a statement. “My priorities are to establish stronger levels of taxpayer protection, preserve the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, increase competition among mortgage guarantors and promote access to affordable housing.” That is a tall order and pretty much forecloses any sort of radical change of the housing finance system. If the social engineering aspect (affordable housing) and the subsidies (30 year fixed rate mortgage) will remain, we are pretty much looking at the same system we had pre-bubble. The model that seems to have gained the most traction is putting the government in the second-loss position, with PMI taking the first loss position. It would represent a bit of a step of re-introducing free market economics in what is one of the most nationalized housing finance systems on earth.

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.