Morning Report: Trump calls China a currency manipulator

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2853 24.5
Oil (WTI) 54.76 -.04
10 year government bond yield 1.75%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.92%

 

Stocks are higher after China stopped the devaluation of the yuan and fixed it at a higher than expected rate. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Treasury officially called China a “currency manipulator” yesterday for the first time since 1994. This is a specific term used when the country in question intervenes in the currency markets and has a large trade surpluses. That said, it is also largely symbolic in that it doesn’t have any real consequences. It brings the IMF into the loop and that is about it. In essence it is a political move.

 

The 10 year bond was up something like 24 ticks yesterday, but we did not see much movement in MBS, particularly up in the rate stack. If you were looking for big improvements in the 4%+ note rate range, you were disappointed. As a general rule, MBS will lag the moves in Treasuries, especially large ones. If the 10 year seems to find a level around these prices, then eventually mortgage rates will follow. But it generally seems like mortgage rates take a “wait and see” posture after big moves. If we get some sort of trade detente with China, it is likely we will give back a big chunk of this rally and mortgages seem to be wary of this.

 

Home prices rose 0.4% MOM and 3.4% YOY according to CoreLogic. This is despite lower rates from a year ago. Prices are rising at the lower price points and languishing at the higher price points. That said, incomes are rising and that should push prices higher, especially combined with lower rates.

 

Grandpa, tell me again about when people paid to lend money? We know all about negative yields in the sovereign debt markets, with investors paying over 50 basis points per year for the privilege of lending to the German government. We have seen some corporate bonds trade at negative yields, so why not mortgages, too? Jyske Bank in Denmark is offering 10 year mortgage bonds with a negative coupon. Nordea Bank may be following suit as well, by offering 30 year mortgage bonds with negative coupons. Denmark’s government bond yields -50 basis points already, and some banks in Denmark are offering 30 year mortgages with rates as low as 50 basis points. Home prices are up 24% over the past 2 years in Denmark.

 

You have to wonder what the Fed is thinking here – no matter what they do, it seems long term rates globally are being drawn into a vortex of negative rates. Mohammed-El Arian talked about this at the MBA secondary conference in May – the 10 year yield is going to be pulled down by global rates no matter what the Fed does. The US has to feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of government bonds: of the major players, only Greece, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, China, and India have higher yields.

 

The service economy cooled in July, according to the ISM non-manufacturing PMI. It fell from 55.1 to 53.7, which means the sector grew, just at a slower rate than June. That said, this is the lowest reading since August of 2016, which is a concern. The report usually has some anecdotes and I thought this was interesting: “Tariffs continue to push costs higher, and customers are looking for more discounts due to mortgage-rate fluctuations.” (Construction). We have a housing shortage and builders are experiencing softening prices?

 

Black Knight Financial Services said that July home affordability is at an 18 month high. Falling interest rates have translated into a 15% increase in buying power. The share of median income needed to make principal and interest payments on the average home fell from 23.3% to 21.3% in November 2018. In the early 80s, when mortgage rates were double digit, this percentage was closer to 40%.

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Morning Report: Donald Trump, The Fed, and housing affordability

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2801 -3.75
Eurostoxx index 385.19 -1
Oil (WTI) 69.83 0.37
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.85%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.50%

Stocks are lower after the Trump Administration threatened more tariffs on Chinese goods. Bonds and MBS are down.

Donald Trump jawboned the Fed a little yesterday, saying he was “not thrilled” with interest rate hikes.  “I am not happy about it. But at the same time I’m letting them (the Fed) do what they feel is best.” For all the histrionics in the business press, this was pretty mild stuff. As a general rule, presidents respect the independence of the Federal Reserve and don’t criticize policy all that much. Obama never criticized the Fed’s monetary policy but of course he never had to deal with a tightening, so there wasn’t much to complain about. Alan Greenspan was considered “The Maestro” by the business press, so both Clinton and GWB gave him a wide berth. That said, Richard Nixon criticized the Fed, and Jimmy Carter installed a political hack (G William Miller – who was a complete disaster) to run the bank, so it isn’t like political meddling is unheard of. FWIW, the correlation between rising bond yields and criticism of the Fed is about 1, so expect more as we move from a secular bull market in bonds to a secular bear market.

Trump has doubled down by tweeting about the Fed and the dollar this morning: “China, the European Union and others have been manipulating their currencies and interest rates lower, while the U.S. is raising rates while the dollars gets stronger and stronger with each passing day – taking away our big competitive edge. As usual, not a level playing field….The United States should not be penalized because we are doing so well. Tightening now hurts all that we have done. The U.S. should be allowed to recapture what was lost due to illegal currency manipulation and BAD Trade Deals. Debt coming due & we are raising rates – Really? Farmers have been on a downward trend for 15 years. The price of soybeans has fallen 50% since 5 years before the Election. A big reason is bad (terrible) Trade Deals with other countries. They put on massive Tariffs and Barriers. Canada charges 275% on Dairy. Farmers will WIN!”

These comments are smacking the dollar this morning, which is pushing up the 10 year yield. The comments have made no changed to the Fed funds futures, which are still predicting an 85% of a 25 basis point hike in September and a 58% chance of another hike in December.

Note Russia is dumping Treasuries. Most of its position has been liquidated. This was in response to sanctions imposed earlier this year.

Housing affordability has been falling as rates and prices rise. The most affordable places in the US are the Northeast and the Midwest. The Midwest is the most affordable despite having the highest regional mortgage rates. There is a surprising amount of variation between mortgage rates in different parts of the country – a range of 25 basis points. The Northeast has high prices (but low rates) and the Midwest has low prices (but high rates). Affordability is back to 2009 levels.

mortgage rates regional

At least one commentator thinks housing has peaked for this cycle. As a general rule, housing construction is an early cycle phenomenon – in other words it generally leads the economy out of a recession. Since this expansion is very long in the tooth, it would follow that housing might have peaked. The problem with that theory is that housing didn’t show up in the early recovery – it kept falling well after the recession ended. FWIW, between the shortage we currently have and the fact that building margins are still healthy indicates housing has room to run.