Morning Report: Homebuilder sentiment sinks

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2674 -22
Eurostoxx index 353.27 -1.53
Oil (WTI) 57.07 -0.13
10 year government bond yield 3.06%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.89%

 

Stocks are lower as yesterday’s sell-off continues through the global markets. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Yesterday, the bond market rallied (rates fell) while we saw almost no movement in TBAs. What is going on? In technical terms, the basis increased. The basis is the difference in yields between the mortgage backed security and the risk free rate (measured by Treasuries). What drives the basis? Probably the biggest driver is interest rate volatility, which has been increasing. Mortgage Backed Securities are a bit different than normal bonds – they have negative convexity, which means they pay a little more than Treasuries with the same credit risk (i.e. none) but they have higher interest rate risk instead. MBS hate, hate, hate volatility in the bond markets, which is why you will sometimes see the 10 year yield down 3 or 4 basis points, excitedly run a scenario expecting to see an improvement, and get bupkis.

 

The issues in the market are beginning to affect the Fed Funds futures, which are now predicting a 68% chance of a hike in December. That estimate was closer to 80% a month ago.

 

Goldman believes growth will slow to the low 2% range for the first half of next year, and then drop to the high 1% range for second half. Their belief is that the Fed will succeed in slowing the economy, without sending it into a recession. The fiscal stimulus from tax cuts will be fading as well. FWIW, the experts and strategists consistently overestimated what growth would be in during the Obama administration and are consistently wrong to the downside since Trump became elected. If Goldman is right, expect the yield curve to flatten.

 

Homebuilder sentiment weakened in October, according to the NAHB / Wells Fargo housing sentiment index. Labor shortages and declining traffic are the culprits. The index fell from 68 to 60, which was the biggest drop in years. While an index level over 50 indicates favorable conditions, the sentiment that has driven the homebuilder XHB down 25% this year has finally begun to hit the builders themselves.

 

XHB chart

 

The sell-off in the stock market has been particularly harsh on the erstwhile darlings – the FAANG stocks. These stocks have entered a bear market (defined as 20% or more lower from the highs). Remember Bitcoin? About one year ago, it made its meteoric rise from roughly 7,000 to 20,000 in the span of 3 weeks. Where is it now? Under $4,500 and unable to get out of its own way.

 

bitcoin chart

 

Goldman believes growth will slow to the low 2% range for the first half of next year, and then drop to the high 1% range for second half. Their belief is that the Fed will succeed in slowing the economy, without sending it into a recession. The fiscal stimulus from tax cuts will be fading as well. FWIW, the experts and strategists consistently overestimated what growth would be in during the Obama administration and are consistently wrong to the downside since Trump became elected. If Goldman is right, expect the yield curve to flatten.

 

 

Morning Report: Homebuilders are either cheap of the recovery is still a ways off

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2928 -5.7
Eurostoxx index 383.56 -0.73
Oil (WTI) 71.89 1.11
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.09%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.87%

Stocks are lower this morning as oil rallies and China cancels trade talks. Bonds and MBS are down.

We have a lot of important economic data this week, including housing data, GDP, personal income / spending, and also the FOMC meeting. Given how much rates have jumped over the past month, the markets are set up well for a dovish surprise. In other words, if the Fed’s language isn’t as hawkish as people are fearing, we could see a snapback lower in rates. 2s-10s are trading at 26 bps, up from 21 a week ago.

Several strategists think the Fed is going to slow down the pace of normalization if they see the yield curve invert. While inverted yield curves don’t cause recessions, they tend to forecast them. Overseas weakness will play a part here, with Europe and China potentially slowing down. Of course this time is indeed different, as this is the first time the Fed has owned so much of the market. As I have said before, the signal to noise ratio of the yield curve’s slope is pretty lousy right now, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Economic activity continued to hum along in August, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators increased, while employment was flat.

NAR notes that the housing market is becoming more balanced (with respect to leverage) between buyers and sellers, however it is still largely a seller’s market. Inventory is nowhere near a balanced level but, it is showing signs of at least bottoming out. 2015-2017 were years of high single-digit reductions in inventory. Affordability issues driven by rising rates and prices are drawing out more sellers, and making buyers more cautious. We are still nowhere near a balanced market, let alone a buyer’s market, but the imbalance may be reversing.

Ultimately, the key to balance is supply, as in homebuilding. Builders have been able to rely upon rising prices to drive growth, however affordability issues are going to make that a harder slog. Ultimately they will have to build more units to exhibit the growth that investors want to see. The age of homes in the US has been increasing for a long time.

age of homes

Note that JP Morgan just downgraded the whole sector, although valuations are close to peak cycle levels. P/E ratios for the big players are in the 8x – 12x range, which is typically where they bottom. The homebuilding sector is very cyclical, which means they will trade at single digit P/E ratios during the boom cycles, and 30x-50x ratios during down cycles. Generally speaking those valuation levels would normally be associated with housing starts in the 1.5 – 2.0 million unit range. This presents something of a conundrum: either investors are wrong about the homebuilders and they are cheap, or the return to normalcy in terms of housing starts is still years away on the horizon.

Wells announced that they will look to cut the workforce by 5% – 10% over the next 3 years, through attrition and displacements. The mortgage business wasn’t mentioned specifically in the press release. The bank is going through a big restructuring, and making an investment in technology, risk management and compliance. USAA announced job cuts as well. The industry is heading into the dreaded Q4 and Q1 and volumes / margins are lousy.

The FHFA is creating a new index that determines housing affordability. Current affordability indices generally use rules of thumb (house prices versus incomes) and generally create a static model of incomes. FHFA’s index will include a pro-forma analysis of what the mortgage will look like 3 years down the road. It is still a work in progress, but it will be interesting to see what an affordability plot looks like over time. Here is one that looks at the typical mortgage payment as a percentage of income (using 20% down and median home prices / incomes). While home prices are high relative to income, rates are still extremely low compared to the 90s, let alone the 80s.

mortgage payment as a percent of income

Morning Report: Q2 GDP revised upward

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2899 -1
Eurostoxx index 385.81 0.35
Oil (WTI) 69.08 0.55
10 year government bond yield 2.88%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.55%

Stocks are flat this morning after GDP came in better than expected. Bonds and MBS are down small.

Mortgage Applications fell 1.7% last week as purchases fell 1% and refis fell 3%. This is despite a drop in rates.

Second quarter GDP was revised upward to 4.2% from 4.1%, which was higher than the street estimate of 4.0%. The main revisions were to consumption (downward) and fixed residential investment (upward). Inventories were a drag on GDP, which means that we should see a bump to Q3’s numbers. The GDP price index was also revised up a touch, from 1.8% to 1.9%. All of this provides a good environment for the Fed to ease back from the zero bound.

Mortgage bankers made $580 per loan in the second quarter, an increase from $118 in the first quarter. Banks cut costs aggressively (dropping production costs per loan by about $1,000) however declining volumes offset that, and this turned out to be the weakest quarter since the MBA began keeping records in 2008. That $580 represents a profit of 21 basis points per loan, which was a drop form 24 bps a year ago. Fee income dropped to 341 bps from 370 in the first quarter. Refis continue to decline, with purchases accounting for 81% of all volume.

Here is something wild. Last night, there were no trades in the JGB market (the world’s second largest bond market). This is the 7th time this has happened this year. The Bank of Japan basically controls the market, and trading has dried up. We live in interesting times, at least if you are a central banker.

Pending Home sales fell 0.7% in July, according to NAR. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the housing market’s summer slowdown continued in July. “Contract signings inched backward once again last month, as declines in the South and West weighed down on overall activity,” he said. “It’s evident in recent months that many of the most overheated real estate markets – especially those out West – are starting to see a slight decline in home sales and slower price growth.” Blame tight supply, which has driven up prices to unaffordable levels.

The housing slowdown has not been lost on the stocks of the homebuilders, who despite strong earnings (and an incredibly strong stock market) are down 14% YTD. At some point, the sector will be unable to rely on increasing ASPs and will have to pump up volume to show growth. Despite the clear need for new housing, especially at the starter level, builders seem content to meter their growth and plow excess cash into buybacks.

Morning Report: James Bullard says no further rate hikes are warranted

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2722 3.75
Eurostoxx index 392.17 0.2
Oil (WTI) 71.3 -0.06
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

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

Import prices rose 0.3% MOM and 3.3% YOY, driven by oil. Ex-energy import prices were flat.

St. Louis Federal Reserve Head James Bullard said that interest rates may already be at the level where they are no longer stimulating the economy. There are “reasons for caution in raising the policy rate further given current macroeconomic conditions” he said in his prepared remarks. Bullard has generally been considered a dove, so this is not much of a surprise. He is also a non-voter. He believes that there is little in the inflationary pressures being signaled in the market.

With respect to inflation signalling, he has a point. The spread between the 30 year bond and the 5 year bond is now the narrowest since 2007. Note that the yield curve generally flattens during tightening phases and is probably not signifying the type of deflationary period that 2007 did. Given all of the QE over the past decade, the signals from the bond markets are heavily distorted and should be taken with a grain of salt. Note short Treasuries is one of the biggest hedge fund trades on the Street.

flat yield curve

Are the homebuilders set to outperform going forward? They have suffered more than the market during the recent declines, but the environment should be favorable for the sector going forward. With a shortage of housing, high demand and rising prices, the sector should be in good shape. The problem for investors? The sector is highly cyclical, and the stock behavior reflects that. In other words, earnings will rise and fall, and the multiple will expand and contract, dampening the effect. So, if the average multiple is typically mid-teens, don’t be surprised if P/E ratios fall to the high single digits during boom times.

Q2 GDP is currently tracking at 3.7%.

Sen Pat Toomey says that the Trump Administration doesn’t have the authority to pull out of NAFTA, since it was passed by Congress. On the other hand, the Admin does have the authority to pull out of the Iran Deal, as well as the Paris Accords because they were only deals with the Obama Administration and not the US – never ratified by Congress.

Morning Report: Initial Jobless Claims lowest since 1969

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2652.75 8.25
Eurostoxx index 382.29 2.12
Oil (WTI) 68.61 0.56
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.00%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are higher this morning on strong earnings from Facebook. Bonds and MBS are up.

The ECB maintained its current policy and made some cautious comments, which is pushing up bonds in Europe. US Treasuries are following along on the relative value trade.

The 10 year has made a pretty sizeable move over the past month or so, and mortgage rates typically lag. So don’t be surprised if mortgage rates continue to tick up, even if the 10 year finds a home at the 3% level.

The homeownership rate was flat in the first quarter at 64.2%. It is up from 63.6% a year ago however. It bottomed in the second quarter of 2016 at 62.9%.

Durable Goods Orders increased 2.6% in March, following a strong February. Ex-transportation, they were flat however and core capital goods, which is a proxy for business capital investment, fell slightly. February’s already strong numbers were revised up slightly.

Retail inventories fell 0.5% while wholesale inventories increased by the same amount.

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 209,000 last week, which is the lowest number since 1969. When you adjust for population growth, the number becomes even more dramatic:

initial jobless claims divided by population

Deutsche Bank is scaling back its US operations to focus on becoming a more Euro-centric bank. It is hard to believe, but almost 20 years ago, the bank decided to make a big foray into the US market by buying Banker’s Trust and Alex Brown.

Moody’s is worrying about the next area of opportunity in the mortgage market: cash-out refinances. As many CLTVs are approaching 75%, homeowners may choose to do a cash-out to either consolidate higher rate debt, or perhaps do home improvements. The other opportunity remains refinancing FHA loans that have accumulated enough equity to qualify for a conforming loan without MI. Finally, those who still have ARMs might find the relative attractiveness of a 30 year fixed to be a compelling switch. In an environment of rising home prices and rising interest rates, these will be the only game in town.

Homebuilders are facing rising input costs – sticks and bricks, if you will. Framing lumber prices are up 16% this year, and plywood is up 33%. Inventory is so tight that builders are able to pass these costs onto homebuyers. A tight labor market remains an issue for the industry as well. All of this points to higher home prices going forward.

For those wondering if we are indeed at the end of the credit cycle, here is WeWork’s bond offering, which came in at $700 million with bonds paying 7.875%. Borrowing money at 7.875% for 5% cap rate office space? Set that aside for the moment. They introduced a new financial concept, called “community-adjusted EBITDA,” which not only strips out interest, depreciation and amortization, and taxes, but also ignores general and administrative, marketing, and design / development costs. That has to be the first time I have ever heard this term before, and it should just be renamed EBBS – or earnings before bad stuff.