Morning Report: Trump calls for 100 basis points and more QE

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2922 0.5
Oil (WTI) 56.11 0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.55%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.78%

 

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

 

No economic data this morning, and we wait for Jackson Hole comments later this week.

 

Trump called on the Fed to cut rates by 100 basis points and should re-embark on quantitative easing. “Our Economy is very strong, despite the horrendous lack of vision by Jay Powell and the Fed, but the Democrats are trying to ‘will’ the Economy to be bad for purposes of the 2020 Election,” Trump tweeted. “Very Selfish! Our dollar is so strong that it is sadly hurting other parts of the world. [Interest Rates] over a fairly short period of time, should be reduced by at least 100 basis points, with perhaps some quantitative easing as well….If that happened, our Economy would be even better, and the World Economy would be greatly and quickly enhanced-good for everyone!”

 

The Home Despot reported better than expected earnings this morning. Falling lumber prices caused them to take down their sales estimates, and they are worried about how tariffs will impact sales. “We are encouraged by the momentum we are seeing from our strategic investments and believe that the current health of the U.S. consumer and a stable housing environment continue to support our business,” CEO Craig Menear said in a prepared statement. “That being said, lumber prices have declined significantly compared to last year, which impacts our sales growth. As a result, today we are updating our sales guidance to account primarily for continued lumber price deflation, as well as potential impacts to the U.S. consumer arising from recently announced tariffs.”

 

Ballard Spahr weighs in on the new disparate impact rule. Disparate Impact is a concept that was intended to put the burden of proof on the defendant, not the plaintiff. If a lender’s customer base doesn’t reflect the demographics of the relevant market, then it is assumed the lender is guilty of discrimination. While a Texas court upheld the concept, it did institute some guardrails to prevent abuse. HUD’s new guidance was intended to reflect that decision.

 

The relief for lenders turns on the use of algorithms to make lending decisions. Since most lenders use DU or LP automated underwriting systems, the big question is whether this insulates them from discrimination charges. Ballard Spahr believes it does. “However, if the use of the model is an “industry standard,” the defendant is relieved from liability if it uses the model “as intended by the third party” that created it.  It appears that the second defense could apply in a variety of situations, including when a mortgage lender uses the automated underwriting systems of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.”

 

The Business Roundtable officially ended the era of shareholder value yesterday and declared that it would focus on “all stakeholders.” Though this document is largely symbolic, it is an attempt by business to play along with the new populism emerging in the Democratic Party. “The American dream is alive, but fraying,” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chairman of Business Roundtable. “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.

 

To me, this document is indicative of several trends: first the emerging populism in both political parties, second a tight labor market, and third the emergence of indexing as the primary long-term investing vehicle. We are seeing the left become more comfortable in their historic role of being a check on big business, while the right is talking about antitrust and Big Tech. Neither party seems particularly hospitable and the “third way” Democrats are battling an increasingly mobilized left. The tight labor market is also playing a part, as companies need to attract employees and this might be the second-to-last resort to try and attract them. Of course the last resort is to raise wages and hire the long-term unemployed, and that may be on the horizon.

 

The indexing angle is probably the most significant. When most of the largest shareholders in the S&P 500 are index funds and ETFs, you have take into account they don’t have the motivations that money managers had a couple decades ago. 20 years ago, money managers were paid to beat the market and pick good stocks. Those that did so were rewarded with inflows and their managers were paid big bonuses. That was the Peter Lynch model. Today, the biggest money managers aren’t interested in beating the market. They aren’t paid to do that. They are paid for minimizing tracking error and fees, which means they aren’t paid much since the skill set is completely different. They couldn’t care less if XYZ Inc’s CEO is a bum who makes bad decisions – as long as their fund holds the requisite 2.49856% of net asset value in XYZ, they have done their job. Indexers largely vote the way Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) recommends, and ISS has its own set of priorities. Punch line: companies can get away with this because their largest shareholders don’t have any skin in the game.

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Morning Report: Housing starts disappoint

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2791.5 -5
Eurostoxx index 371.78 -0.4
Oil (WTI) 55.5 0.03
10 year government bond yield 2.66%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.35%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on overseas tensions between India and Pakistan. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Jerome Powell heads to Capitol Hill today for his first day of Humphrey-Hawkins testimony. While this events are ostensibly to allow Congress to question the Fed about monetary policy, they are really nothing more than a posturing exercise for politicians to hop on their respective ideological hobby-horses. Expect Democrats to focus like a laser on income inequality, too big to fail banks, and fair lending. Expect Republicans to focus on inflation worries, banking regulation, and the return of the bond vigilantes. The markets will be listening for information on balance sheet reduction and further hikes this year. This probably won’t be market-moving.

 

Housing starts fell to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 1.08 million, a double-digit percentage drop on both a month-over-month and annual basis. As a general rule, winter housing starts numbers can be volatile due to the weather, however this is simply an awful number. The street was looking for 1.25 million, which is still a depressed number. Remember, between 1959 and 2002, we averaged 1.5 million housing starts a year. The last time we saw that sort of building was 2006.

 

housing starts

 

The Home Despot reported fourth quarter earnings this morning, and forecasted weaker-than-expected comparable sales. Part of this is a technical aspect of their accounting conventions, but it does speak to weakness in home improvement spending.

 

Economic activity slowed in January, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators drove the decline. How much of this was temporary due to tariff issues / government shutdown remain to be seen. Employment remained positive.

 

More sellers are cutting prices this winter in order to move their homes, according to Redfin. 21% of home sellers are reporting a price decrease, which is a post-crisis high. “Many sellers listed their homes late last year just as rising prices and mortgage rates were starting to price out their core pool of potential buyers,” said Las Vegas Redfin agent Jennifer Brockman. “Meanwhile, some buyers are starting to think that waiting to purchase a home could pay off, especially as listing inventory continues to rise. In this new market reality, buyers may have negotiating power now that they won’t have in the spring and summer.”

 

redfin price drop

Morning Report: Small Business Confidence soars

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2833 7.5
Eurostoxx index 385.12 0.21
Oil (WTI) 67.99 0.79
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.88%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.58%

Stocks are higher this morning after the Turkish Lira rallied 6%. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Import prices were flat in July but were up just under 5% on a YOY basis. This was pretty much all driven by oil prices which are inherently volatile and self-correcting.

Small business optimism is near record highs according to the NFIB. Availability of workers remains a big concern, and we are seeing record levels of compensation increases. Note that many of these comp increases are planned, so there will be a 9 month lag before it shows up in the government data. Credit availability is a non-problem. The biggest headache for small business is availability / quality of labor, not the cost of labor. I don’t know that we have cost-push labor inflation quite yet, but if that is the case, then it won’t be good for mortgage rates as it will primarily affect the long end of the curve.

NFIB

HUD is electing to discontinue the Obama Administration’s controversial interpretation of the AFFH rule from the 60s, which means it no longer will be suing towns to force them to change their zoning codes to allow multi-family housing. HUD will focus on eliminating regulatory impediments to building more housing, and will tie grants to measures which increase building. In other words, The Obama Admin used a stick approach, while the Trump Admin will use a carrot approach.

Home prices rose 0.7% MOM and 6.8% YOY in June according to CoreLogic. They are forecast to rise 5% over the next year. Sales in the red-hot markets are down double digits as affordability issues and lack of inventory crimp activity.

The Despot reported better than expected earnings as homeowners choose to fix up their existing place instead of trying to move in a tight real estate market. Better weather helped the company rebound from their sales miss in the first quarter.

Morning Report: Markets now predicting a 50% chance of 4 hikes this year

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2724 -6.25
Eurostoxx index 393.28 1.09
Oil (WTI) 71.74 0.78
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.04%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are lower this morning on earnings and retail sales. Bonds and MBS are down on hawkish comments out of Europe.

Retail Sales rose 0.3% in April, according to Census. The control group rose 0.4%. Both numbers were in line with consensus estimates. There is a push-pull effect in the numbers as tax cuts will encourage spending, while higher gas prices will depress it.

Speaking of retail sales, comps at the Home Despot came in lower than expected, although some of that was weather-related. The company noted that traffic in May has been strong. As home affordability gets worse, home improvement projects generally increase as people renovate instead of moving to a nicer home. The builders (and mortgage originators) have noted that the Spring Selling Season has been a dud this year.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey came in at 20, higher than expected, while homebuilder sentiment improved to 70. Strong pricing is being offset by weak traffic, particularly among the first time homebuyer. Separately, inventories were flat in March, which will probably cause some houses to take down their estimate for first quarter GDP growth.

What would happen if you listed your home at $1? Would the subsequent bidding war get you to the correct price? It certainly would create a huge buzz around your home and that will probably help. That said, there are problems associated with that tactic. First, you will get all sorts of low-ballers who will only clog up the process. More importantly, the sites like Realtor.com, Zillow etc generally have searches with price ranges. In other words, if you expect your house to be worth $500,000 and you list it for $1, it won’t show up if the buyer sets a $400,000 – $600,000 search range.

HUD is seeking comment on the Supreme Court’s Disparate Impact ruling and whether HUD’s current policy is consistent with the ruling. Disparate Impact means that you can get slammed for discrimination even if you didn’t intend to discriminate, but your numbers are not consistent with the population.

The Fed Funds futures now are handicapping a 50% chance of 4 rate hikes this year.

Fed Funds probability CME

A combination of higher budget deficits and low unemployment has Goldman predicting a 3.6% 10 year yield by the end of 2019. This is the first time since WWII when we have had a combination of increasing deficits and falling unemployment. “”The sizeable demand boost provided by the recent deficit-increasing tax cuts and spending cap increases at a time when the economy is already somewhat beyond full employment is a striking departure from historical norms that is likely to contribute to further overheating this year and next and tighter monetary policy in response.” Of course the labor force participation rate is quite low, as is the employment-population ratio, two numbers that are not captured by the unemployment rate. Until you start to see wage inflation, the Fed will be content to go slow.