Morning Report: Existing home sales fall as prices increase

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2992 -2.25
Oil (WTI) 53.87 -0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.03%

 

Stocks are flattish as earnings come in. We should be hearing from heavyweights such as Tesla, Boeing, Caterpillar, Ford and Microsoft. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Mortgage Applications fell 12% last week as purchases fell 4% and refis fell 17%. Mortgage rates increased 10 basis points and increased to 4.02%. “Interest rates continue to be volatile, with Brexit votes and ongoing trade negotiations swinging rates higher or lower on any given day,” said MBA Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni. “Last week, mortgage rates jumped 10 basis points and were above 4 percent for the first time since September. The increase in mortgage rates caused refinance applications to drop 17 percent, and by more than 20 percent for conventional loans. Borrowers with larger loans are the most sensitive to rate changes, and with rates climbing higher last week, the average size of a refinance loan application fell to its lowest level this year.”

 

Existing home sales fell 2.2% in September, according to NAR. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said that despite historically low mortgage rates, sales have not commensurately increased, in part due to a low level of new housing options. “We must continue to beat the drum for more inventory,” said Yun, who has called for additional home construction for over a year. “Home prices are rising too rapidly because of the housing shortage, and this lack of inventory is preventing home sales growth potential.” The median home price increased 5.9% to 272,100 and the supply of available homes came in at 1.83 million units, or about 4 month’s worth of inventory.

 

Home prices rose 0.2% MOM and 4.6% YOY in August, according to the FHFA House Price Index. Home price appreciation is definitely decelerating this year, compared to 2018, although lower rates will probably re-accelerate growth in the markets with tighter inventory.

 

FHFA regional

 

FHFA Director Mark Calabria said that he is willing to wipe out the shareholders of Fannie and Freddie if needed to protect taxpayers. “If the circumstances present themselves where we have to wipe out the shareholders, we will.,” he said at testimony in front of the House Financial Services Committee. He added that he believes that shareholders should have lost their stakes in the GSEs when the government rescued them in 2008. Fannie and Fred were put into conservatorship, with the government owning 79.9% of the companies. This was done largely to prevent disruption to the mortgage market if the companies were to enter formal bankruptcy, and also to prevent the government from having to consolidate all of Fannie’s debt on its own balance sheet. His comments at least leaves the door open for some recovery value for common stockholders if the GSEs are reformed. FWIW, the Obama administration was absolutely steadfast in their belief that the stock was worthless, and a change in administrations will probably return to that stance.

 

 

Morning Report: Why we haven’t seen much wage growth (yet) and what the left gets wrong about labor markets

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2743 9.7
Eurostoxx index 388.45 1.55
Oil (WTI) 65.49 -0.32
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.91%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.54%

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

We should have a relatively quiet week coming up, with not much in the way of data and no Fed-speak.

Friday’s jobs report was pretty much a Goldilocks report as far as the markets are concerned. Strong job growth, with respectable (but controlled) wage growth is exactly what the Fed wants to see. Tomorrow, we will get the JOLTS job openings report, which should show job openings of around 6.5 million.

Academics are scratching their heads trying to figure out why wage growth is so slow with unemployment below 4%. With the economy at “full employment” at least according to the unemployment numbers, how can so many jobs still be created? And if unemployment is below 4% and we are at a record number of job openings, where is the wage growth?

First of all, the jobs report had wage growth at 2.7%, and the core PCE inflation rate is 2%. So, we do have inflation-adjusted (i.e. real) wage growth. Second, productivity is a puzzle. It has been low for a decade, and part of the issue is that productivity is notoriously hard to measure, especially when valuable goods are “free” or hard to measure. Think of social media, which has all sorts of entertainment value and productivity enhancing value, yet is supposedly free. Yes, you are paying with your data, but what is your data worth? Productivity calculations need a dollar value. Productivity has been low, but there is a huge uncertainty range around that number.

I think a huge part of the issue is the fact that the unemployment rate excludes anyone who has been unemployed over 6 months, and there is a huge reservoir of workers on the sidelines who want to return to the labor force. Companies know this, and all they have to do is relax their standards (i.e. hire people who have been out of the labor force for a while) and they will fill their positions. At the end of the day, this is a numbers game. The employment-population ratio has been steadily increasing since 1970 as women have entered the workforce. It peaked in 2000, bottomed after the Great Recession, and has been steadily working its way upward. The demographic factor (retiring baby boomers) is probably getting overplayed here, as most people no longer can retire at 65 (and there really is no reason why most can’t continue to work).

Leftist economics are arguing that employers are somehow colluding to keep wages low, and therefore are suggesting a panoply of policy levers designed to artificially force up wages and increase unionization. Aside from non-competes in the rarefied air of Silicon Valley engineers, generally this doesn’t happen – cartels are almost impossible to make work (witness OPEC) and there are simply too many employers who don’t compete with each other to coordinate it, even if they wanted to.

Instead of jumping to the “market failure” conclusion, the answer is that there is more slack in the labor market than the numbers suggest. There may be a mismatch of skills, where there is high demand in areas where there aren’t a lot of available workers (skilled trades, data scientists) but overall the employment population ratio doesn’t lie. The last time we saw decent wage growth was the 90s, where the employment-population ratio was around 63%. The latest number was 60.4%. That difference in a population of 326 million is about 8.5 million jobs. That is about 3 year’s worth of job growth, without population growth which is still measurable at 0.7% a year. Even if you take into account the 6.5 million job openings, you still have probably 2 million extra workers on the sidelines. IMO, that is your answer about wage growth, not monopsony of collusion, which is just a specious argument for more government intervention in the labor markets.

Chart: Employment-population ratio.

employment population ratio

House price appreciation continues apace, and between rising price and interest rates, the monthly house payment on the median house with 20% down has increased by $150 a month, according to Black Knight Financial Services. Income growth at 2.7% is not going to keep up with home price appreciation, which is running at around 6% a year. When rates were falling, we were able to paper over that issue with lower mortgage payments, but that game is over. Housing starts are still way too low, and that question is even more perplexing than wage growth.

Note that private equity is now building homes for rent, which should alleviate some of the supply problem. It was only a matter of time until new entrants saw the opportunity that the big builders have been sitting on. Politicians are getting sick and tired of the lack of housing supply (especially at the lower price points).

Friday’s jobs report reversed the Euro-driven drop in the June Fed Funds futures. At one point, they were predicting a 81% chance of a hike. Now it is back up to a near certainty. The December futures are predicting a 40% chance of 4 or more hikes this year and a 60% chance of 3 or less.