Morning Report: Blowout housing starts number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3315 -7.25
Oil (WTI) 57.83 -0.74
10 year government bond yield 1.79%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.88%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as US investors return from a 3 day weekend. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Housing starts hit a 13 year high, rising to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 1.6 million. This is up 17% from November and 41% above a year ago. The caveat: the uncertainty around this number is pretty high, so it might get revised downward next month. That said, we have heard from the builders that they are seeing high traffic and no seasonal slowdown. Housing has been the missing link from the post-crisis recovery, and there clearly is unsatisfied demand. If this is the year we finally see homebuilding begin to meet demand, then current GDP estimates for 2020 are way too low. Note Larry Kudlow just laid a marker: GDP growth will hit 3% this year. Compare this to the current estimates of 1.2% – 2%.

 

housing starts

 

It should be a relatively quiet week, although Davos is going on, which means lots of CNBC interviews in the snow. The theme seems to be environmental this year. We don’t have much in economic data (nothing market-moving at least) and no Fed-Speak. We will get some housing data, with the FHFA House Price index and NAR’s existing home sales report tomorrow.

 

Job openings fell to 6.8 million in November, according to the JOLTS survey. While this is below the 7 million openings we have become accustomed to, it is still quite elevated and speaks to a robust labor market. The quits rate remained at 2.3%. Job openings fell in manufacturing, which is probably related to Boeing’s 737 woes.

 

US home sales prices rose 6.9% in December, according to Redfin. Falling interest rates have boosted home affordability, which is translating into higher prices

 

Redfin price chart

Morning Report: Bonds adjust to the prospect of no more rate cuts

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3083 7.25
Oil (WTI) 56.97 0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.84%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.92%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after Chinese President Xi Jinping committed to lowering tariffs and institutional transaction costs. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The markets expect to see some sort of phase 1 trade deal with China in the coming weeks. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that China and the US are considering rolling back some tariffs. Separately, the Chinese central bank lowered rates to deal with a liquidity crunch.

 

There isn’t much data this week (as is typical after the jobs report) however we do have a lot of Fed-Speak so, we could see some movement in the bond markets as we adjust to the pause. For those keeping score at home, the December Fed Funds futures are signalling only a 5% chance of another rate cut this year. A month ago, they were handicapping a 44% chance of another cut.

 

fed funds futures

 

Home prices rose 3.5% YOY according to CoreLogic. By their models, 36% of the top 100 MSAs are overvalued (including the NYC area), while 23% were undervalued and 41% were fairly valued. Their model compares housing values to disposable incomes to come up with a valuation score. They are forecasting home price appreciation to accelerate to 5.6% over next year. Note that Realtor.com said that listing prices rose 4.3% in October to a high of 312,000.

 

Corelogic overvalued

 

About 0.6% of all originations went DQ within 6 months, according to Black Knight Financial Services. While this is much lower than the pre-bubble years, it has been steadily increasing since the housing market bottomed. The concentration is primarily in first time homebuyers. Foreclosures remain under control, at levels last seen in 2005.

Morning Report: Housing affordability improves

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2919 -16.25
Oil (WTI) 52.07 -0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.83%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on trade concerns and lower than expected inflation readings. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Inflation at the wholesale level came in well below expectations, with the headline producer price index falling 0.3%. Ex-food and energy, it fell by the same amount. On a year-over-year basis, the headline rose 1.4% and ex-food and energy it rose 2%. While the Fed doesn’t pay too much attention to the CPI and PPI, it will certainly fuel fears that they are losing the battle against deflation.

 

Small business optimism fell in September, according to the NFIB.  “As small business owners continue to invest, expand, and try to hire, they’re doing so with less gusto than they did earlier in the year, thanks to the mixed signals they’re receiving from policymakers and politicians,” saidNFIB President and CEO Juanita D. Duggan. “All indications are that owners are eager to do more, but they’re uncertain about what the future holds and can’t find workers to fill the jobs they have open.” The point about jobs is crucial to understanding the current economic environment. While there are fears that we may enter a recession, they are rare when the labor market is this tight, and we are more likely to see increasing wage growth and consumer spending. Not a recipe for a recession.

 

NFIB

 

Home prices rose 0.4% MOM and 3.6% YOY, according to CoreLogic. They anticipate that home price appreciation will approach 6% in the next year, driven by lower rates. Of the top 100 metro areas, 37% are overvalued, while 23% were undervalued. The Rust Belt, interior California, and parts of the Northeast are the most undervalued.

 

Corelogic overvalued

 

Speaking of home price appreciation. California has enacted statewide rent control, which limits rent increases to 5%, and makes it harder to evict non-payers. Of course when you have a dearth of housing, artificially depressing the rate of return on that investment is a strange way of encouraging it. But this law is all about messaging, not substance. Notwithstanding the state of CA, housing affordability is at a 3 year high right now, according to Black Knight, driven by lower interest rates. This is quite the reversal from November last year when affordability was at a 9 year low.

Morning Report: Strong retail sales

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2857 14.5
Oil (WTI) 54.92 -0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.59%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.84%

 

Stocks are up after strong retail sales numbers. Bonds and MBS are flat. The German Bund hit a new low this morning, trading at negative 66 basis points.

 

Strong retail sales numbers out this morning. The headline number was up 0.7%, well above the Street expectations of 0.4%. The control group, which strips out volatile gas and autos, was up 1.0% MOM, exceeding the Street estimate by 0.7%. Note that Trump’s delay of Chinese tariffs means they won’t hit until mid-December, or after the holiday shopping season. These numbers bode well for the back-to-school shopping season, which is the second most important of the year. Note that Walmart also reported strong numbers this morning, another bellwether for the retail sector. Expect strategists to take up their GDP estimates on these figures.

 

In other economic news, initial jobless claims rose to 220,000 last week, while industrial production fell 0.2% MOM and rose half a percent YOY. Capacity Utilization fell to 77.5%. The industrial and manufacturing numbers are probably influenced by trade.

 

Productivity rose 2.3% in the second quarter, way more than expectations as output rose 1.9%, hours worked fell 0.4% and compensation rose 4.8%. The biggest surprise however came in the revisions, where compensation in the first quarter was revised upward from -1.5% to +5.5%! These are inflation-adjusted numbers, so we had real compensation growth of 5.2% in the first half of the year. Where was the growth strongest? Manufacturing.

 

With the inversion of the yield curve, the business press is chattering about an imminent recession. Don’t buy it. Most of them are talking their partisan book and are sticking with their preferred narrative: (Trump’s trade war is causing a recession!). It helps that it is the most convenient and easy to explain scenario, and let’s face it: it is hard to talk about overseas interest rates when most journalists wouldn’t know a Bund if it bit them in the begonias. Reality check: you generally don’t get recessions with a dovish Fed, unemployment at 50 year lows, strong consumer spending and accelerating wage growth. In fact, the bullish case is that with strong wage growth, overseas deflation keeping inflation in check, and a dovish Fed, you could see what a scenario similar to the mid / late 90s. Food for thought.

 

The new FHA guidance for condos is available in its unpublished form here. The new rule will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register (which should be any day now) and will make more condos eligible for FHA insurance.

 

Home prices rose 3% in July, according to Redfin. “July home prices and sales were weaker than I had expected, especially given that falling mortgage rates have been luring homebuyers back to the market since early spring,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “Even though we’ve seen increased interest from homebuyers—especially compared to a year ago when mortgage rates were climbing—uncertainties in the overall economy and talk of a looming recession have people feeling jittery about making a huge purchase and investment. But I think the odds are that we won’t see a recession within the next year. If rates stay low and the economy continues to grow, we’ll see more homebuyers come back in a serious way in 2020, and the market will be much more competitive.” Home sales were down 3.4%, while supply fell by the same amount. In terms of price, the previously hot markets of San Jose and Seattle fell, while many of the laggards (like Cleveland and Rochester) rose.

 

Redfin price chart

Morning Report: Incomes and spending rise

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3004 -17.5
Oil (WTI) 57.21 0.34
10 year government bond yield 2.06%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.07%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC begins its 2 day meeting today. The decision is expected to come out at 2:00 pm tomorrow afternoon.

 

Personal consumption and personal incomes came in as expected, with consumption rising 0.3% and personal incomes rising 0.4%. The core PCE inflation index (which is the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) rose 0.2% month-over-month and 1.6% YOY, which was slightly lower than expectations. Finally, disposable personal income rose 0.4%, while the savings rate was 8.1%. Overall, this report won’t move the needle with respect to the Fed’s thinking about the economy. The economy is moving along, and inflation remains below the Fed’s target rate.

 

You can see how much the savings rate has increased since the bubble days. Remember when the business press was wringing its hands over the drop in the savings rate?

 

savings rate

 

Home Prices rose 0.2% MOM and 3.4% YOY according to the Case-Shiller home price index. YOY home price appreciation has been decelerating for some time as higher interest rates and higher home prices begin to bite. Erstwhile market darling Seattle reported a YOY decline of 1.2%, while the gainers were Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tampa.

 

Bloomberg has an interesting chart of the global real estate and looks at home prices versus rents and incomes. It shows Canada and New Zealand as the most vulnerable markets. It doesn’t show China, which has a huge bubble and probably doesn’t fit on the diagram. Scandinavia also has a bubble issue as well. For those that admire the Scandinavian economies, remember that whenever a country appears to have have “cracked the code” economically (like the US in the 20s, Japan in the 80s, etc) it usually has a real estate bubble lurking in the background.

 

Note that despite all the talk about real estate bubbles in the US, we are actually on the cheap side, as is Japan.

 

global real estate

 

The US vacancy rate was 6.8% for rental properties and 1.5% for homeowner housing in the second quarter of 2019. The homeownership vacancy rate of 1.5% is the lowest since 1981, and illustrates the supply issue that is only going to get worse as homebuilding fails to keep up with household formation.

 

 

Morning Report: Foreign investment in US real estate falls

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2984 -0.5
Oil (WTI) 57.04 0.24
10 year government bond yield 2.07%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.09%

 

Stocks are flattish after erstwhile market darling Netflix stunk up the joint with lousy earnings. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Initial Jobless Claims were flat at around 219k last week.

 

Negotiations continue over spending and the debt ceiling, which will probably be hit in September. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin cited “progress” in negotiations, and there is general agreement on the “top line” which includes spending increases from the previous year. That said, Republicans want some spending cuts elsewhere to offset the increase, and Democrats are against cuts. We’ll see if this goes to the mat (and another shutdown), but in the end, we’ll probably just raise the ceiling again and things will go on their merry way. Remember the last time we had a long shutdown, lenders were unable to get tax transcripts out of the IRS so it is something to keep in mind.

 

The Fed’s Beige Book of economic activity showed that the economy continued to expand at a “modest” pace, with slightly higher sales and flat manufacturing. Employment grew at a modest pace, and appears to be decelerating somewhat, especially as the slack in the labor market gets taken up. The Boston Fed noted that tariffs are having a negative effect, and at least one company is moving some production overseas to escape them. The proposed 5% tariff on Mexican goods was mentioned as a significant shock.

 

Canary in the coal mine for international asset markets, particularly China? International buyers of US residential real estate fell by 36% over the past year, following a 20% decrease in the prior year. China has been dealing with a real estate bubble for years, and prices are way out of whack compared to incomes – you can see just how bad it is here. This may explain some of the emerging weakness at the high end, especially in the big West Coast markets like San Francisco, Vancouver, and Seattle. The first step in any bursting bubble is a “buyer’s strike,” followed by rising inventory, and then finally a market-clearing event. We may be at the first stage right now.

 

Macroeconomically, a downturn in China means several things. First, they are going to try and export their way out of it, which means more trade tensions especially if they go the currency devaluation route. Second, it will mean a global growth slowdown, which will act as an anchor on global interest rates. Don’t worry about inflation, the world is awash in capacity. Finally, it could mean a return to a time like the 1990s, where the US was able to have its cake and eat it too, with fast growth but little to no inflation. I wonder if the Fed sees the same thing (after all central bankers do coordinate policy somewhat) and that is part of the reason why they are planning on easing when there is absolutely zero evidence the US is entering a recession.