|10 year government bond yield
|30 year fixed rate mortgage
Stocks are up as we head into the FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are flat.
The FOMC will meet today and tomorrow, with the interest rate announcement expected Wednesday at 2:00 pm. The Fed Funds futures are predicting no change in rates. That doesn’t necessarily mean the markets will ignore what is going on, as subtle changes in language can have out-sized effects on the markets. One such word is “symmetric.” The word symmetric refers to the Fed’s 2% inflation target, and how much they will tolerate inflation above that target. The Fed desperately wants to avoid the low inflation / low growth trap that evolved in Europe and Japan, and is signalling to the markets that they will allow inflation to run above 2% for an extended period of time.
The Fed will also be watching the overnight repurchase market, to ensure we don’t have another situation like late September where overnight rates spiked over 10%. This was due to a shortage of cash in the market. While this sort of thing doesn’t affect mortgage lending directly, it does raise the cost of borrowing for MBS investors, which can cause them to sell these securities to raise cash. That flows through to rate sheets. While the shortage caught the Fed flat-footed in September, they have been discussing the issue, so hopefully we don’t see another replay at the end of this month.
Fannie and Freddie are tightening the restrictions for their Home Ready and Home Possible programs. Previously, borrowers with incomes at the Area Median Income (AMI) were qualified for these 3% down programs; now they will be limited to borrowers at 80% of the AMI. This is all part of the strategy to reduce Fan and Fred’s overall risk prior to setting them free. Note that they are currently interviewing banks to handle the IPO, which will be somewhere between $150 billion and $200 billion. This would dwarf the record for the largest IPOs in history – Saudi Aramco and Alibaba – by over 6x.
Despite a glut of McMansions in some areas, Toll Brothers beat estimates and forecasted a strong 2020. The company noted demand increased throughout the year, and the recent weeks have been stronger than the prior quarter, which is encouraging given that typically you see a slowdown this time of year. Douglas C. Yearley, Jr., Toll Brothers’ chairman and chief executive officer, stated: “Fiscal 2019 ended on a strong note. Building on steady improvement in buyer demand throughout the year, our fourth quarter contracts were up 18% in units and 12% in dollars, and our contracts per-community were up 10% compared to one year ago. Through the first six weeks of fiscal 2020’s first quarter, we have seen even stronger demand than the order growth of fiscal 2019’s fourth quarter. This market improvement should positively impact gross margins over the course of fiscal 2020.”
Small business optimism grew in November, according to the NFIB. Recession worries faded into the background, and impeachment remains little more than a curious albeit boring sideshow, similar to the Clinton impeachment saga which had zero effect on the markets. Improving labor conditions were a big driver, with 26% of firms planning on raising compensation in the coming months – the highest in 30 years. (BTW, this is music to the Fed’s ears). It looks like the drag from the 2017-2018 rate hikes are behind us, and the headwind has turned into a tailwind courtesy of the recent rate cuts.
Productivity declined in the third quarter as output increased 2.3% and hours worked increased 2.5%. Unit labor costs increased by 2.5%.