Morning Report: March rate cut comes into view

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3143 11.25
Oil (WTI) 49.46 0.19
10 year government bond yield 1.36%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.54%

 

Stocks have stabilized this morning and rates are up a touch from their intra-day all time lows yesterday. At one point, the 10 year Treasury was trading at 1.31%. This morning, Treasuries are down a touch and MBS are flat. For the most part, MBS underperformed Treasuries yesterday.

 

Mortgage applications rose 1.5% last week as purchases increased 6% and refis fell by 1%. “Last week appears to have been the calm before the storm,” said MBA Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni. “Weaker readings on economic growth caused a slight drop in mortgage rates, bringing them back to their level two weeks ago, but applications overall moved 1.5 percent higher. Refinance applications for conventional loans dropped a bit, but FHA refinances increased more than 22 percent. Purchase volume remained strong, supported both by low rates and the increased pace of construction over the past few months. With housing supply at low levels, new inventory is a positive development for prospective homebuyers.”

 

The Coronavirus issue has spooked the Fed funds futures market. The futures are now predicting a 1 in 3 chance of a rate cut at the March meeting. Just one  month ago, the March futures were handicapping a 4% chance. Take a look at the December futures, which are now forecasting 2 or 3 cuts this year.

 

fed funds futures

 

Note that Dallas Fed President said yesterday: “It is still too soon to make a judgment about how it might relate to monetary policy. I still think we are a number of weeks away from being able to make the judgment” whether a rate change is required.” The April futures are already pricing it in.

 

Coronavirus fears didn’t do much to dampen US consumer confidence, which rose again. Historically consumer confidence has been an inverse of gasoline prices, in other words, when gasoline rises, consumers get salty and vice versa. Oil is now trading below $50 a barrel, and the refineries are beginning to switch from heating oil to gasoline refining. Good news for the summer driving season.

 

Luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers reported lower than expected earnings this morning and the stock is getting hammered pre-open (down about 9%). Earnings were down big and revenues missed guidance.

Morning Report: Rates steady

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3239 12.25
Oil (WTI) 51.46 0.19
10 year government bond yield 1.37%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.55%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as coronavirus fears ease. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The 10 year bond yield traded briefly yesterday below the 2016 closing low of 1.37%. So far, that level seems to be holding. The trader in me thinks that any sort of good news on the coronavirus front will send rates back up 10 – 20 basis points. Big moves generally have decent retracements, and the 1.37% seems to be providing technical support. Note that the German Bund is not at record lows and any bounce up in rates there will be felt in the US. While it feels like the path of least resistance is down in rates over the long term, that might not be the case over the next few weeks. Lock accordingly.

 

Home prices rose 0.4% MOM and 2.9% YOY according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Separately, the FHFA House Price Index rose 0.6% MOM and 5.1% YOY. The FHFA index only looks at homes with conforming mortgages, so it excludes jumbos and distressed.

 

It looks like economic growth improved in January, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Note that Goldman and others are taking down Q1 GDP growth estimates based on Coronavirus.

 

Intuit is buying Credit Karma, which will help the company create a “personalized financial assistant” to help people manage their money. Credit Karma bought Approved, a digital mortgage platform in 2018, and this will be part of the strategy. “We wake up every day trying to help consumers make ends meet. By joining forces with Credit Karma, we can create a personalized financial assistant that will help consumers find the right financial products, put more money in their pockets and provide insights and advice, enabling them to buy the home they’ve always dreamed about, pay for education and take the vacation they’ve always wanted.”

 

Joe Biden has a housing plan, which includes returning to the Obama-era CFPB practices (presumably regulation by enforcement action), spending $100 billion on affordable housing, and a tax credit of up to $15,000 for first time homebuyers. The plan also includes aid for low-income renters and a task force to combat homelessness.

Morning Report: Fed Nominee Judy Shelton probably is done.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3384 6.25
Oil (WTI) 52.06 0.65
10 year government bond yield 1.60%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.68%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after some strong earnings reports out of the tech sector. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Retail Sales came in at 0.3% as expected.

 

It looks like Judy Shelton may not make it through the nomination process as the business press gangs up on her and a couple Republicans voice concerns. The issue with Shelton is that she hasn’t rejected the gold standard and she casts doubt that the conventional wisdom of central banking is correct. This may be unfortunate, as global central banks are prone to groupthink. Given the strength of the US economy (strongest labor market in 50 years) why would the Fed be increasing its balance sheet? I wouldn’t be surprises to see her withdraw her name over the long President’s Day weekend.

 

Inflows to bond funds could hit $1 trillion again in 2020. Investment dollars are flowing to high grade corporate bonds and Treasuries. This wall of money will keep a ceiling on bond yields, and should continue this process of rates slowly grinding lower throughout the year. Good news for the mortgage banking business.

 

The homeownership rate increased to 65.1% in Q4, the highest in six years. The millennial cohort rate increased by 1.1% to 37.6%. Note that the rental vacancy rate at 6.4% is the lowest in 34 years.

 

Fannie Mae reported net income of $14.2 billion in 2019. Under an agreement with Treasury, Fannie will be allowed to keep it as they build up their capital to eventually go for sale.

Morning Report: Two Fed nominees head to the Hill.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3362 -17.25
Oil (WTI) 51.26 0.05
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.68%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on coronavirus fears. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Consumer prices rose 0.1% MOM and 2.5% YOY in January, according to the CPI. Ex-food and energy, they rose 0.2% MOM and 2.3% YOY. The Fed doesn’t really pay too close of attention to the CPI, preferring the Personal Consumption Expenditures data. Regardless, inflation is not at a level to trigger any sort of rate hike.

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 205,000. The labor market continues to roll along.

 

The percentage of homes that sold above list price fell to a 3 year low in 2019, according to Zillow. On average, 19.5% of homes sold above list in 2019, while 21.5% did in 2018. This seems counter-intuitive given the supply / demand imbalance overall – NAR has existing home supply at roughly 3 months’ worth, well below 6.5 months, which is considered a balanced market. So what is going on? The real estate market is seasonal, and many people try and move during the summer months, which means home prices are negotiated in the late winter / spring. Early 2019 was marked by a continuing Fed tightening regime – we had multiple rate hikes in 2018 as the Fed wanted to get off the zero bound. This raised mortgage rates, which crimped affordability. The Fed only started easing in July, by which time the lion’s share of transactions are over. By the time mortgage rates fell meaningfully, 2019 was already in the books. 2020 should be a lot better, and judging by some of the comments from the builders, the spring selling season started early this year.

 

Jerome Powell’s Humprey-Hawkins testimony was largely uneventful, and today two of Trump’s Fed nominees head to the Senate for testimony. One of the nominees – Christopher Waller – is uncontroversial and should have no issues. The other one – Judy Shelton – has raised some eyebrows. Shelton has been critical of the Fed’s large balance sheet and its policy of paying interest on reserves. The policy of paying interest on excess reserves restricts credit needlessly, as she characterizes it as “paying banks to do nothing.” She is quite dovish and there are questions over whether she supports the gold standard, which is akin to pitching the idea of bloodletting to the AMA.

 

While we generally take for granted the idea that the Fed will maintain a larger balance sheet, this chart really puts into perspective how much things have changed. Pre-crisis the Fed had roughly $800 billion in assets. Now it is around $4.3 trillion. Has equity gone up 5x? um, no.

 

Fed assets

 

Credit rating agency Fitch is cautioning the CFPB from removing debt-to-income as a measure of a borrower’s ability to pay. The CFPB is considering using a measure like the difference between the borrower’s rate and the normal “market” rate, however Fitch thinks it is incomplete:

“Spread to APOR is a good measure of default risk. However, many factors can affect the price of a loan, some of which may have little to do with the borrower’s repayment capacity; these include liquidity, market movements, or attributes that present a low risk of loss to the lender, for example, a low loan-to-value. Aggressive lending programs could result in borrowers having a low APR but a high DTI and LTV where they cannot afford the loan but the risk of loss to the lender is low.”

 

Morning Report: Goldman sees the unemployment rate falling to 3.25% this year

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3362 9.25
Oil (WTI) 50.51 0.72
10 year government bond yield 1.58%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.66%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as China begins to restart industrial production. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Jerome Powell goes to the Hill today for his semi-annual Humphrey Hawkins testimony. The Fed is closely monitoring the Coronavirus issue with respect to global growth. With this being an election year, the questioning will probably be more focused on political posturing (what would you do about income inequality? what would you do about affordable housing?) than anything else. I doubt there will be anything market-moving in the testimony, but you never know.

 

Small Business started the year off strong, according to the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index. “2020 is off to an explosive start for the small business economy, with owners expecting increased sales, earnings, and higher wages for employees,” said NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg. “Small businesses continue to build on the solid foundation of supportive federal tax policies and a deregulatory environment that allows owners to put an increased focus on operating and growing their businesses.” Labor continues to be an issue: “Finding qualified labor continues to eclipse taxes or regulations as a top business problem. Small business owners will likely continue offering improved compensation to attract and retain qualified workers in this highly competitive labor market,” Dunkelberg concluded. “Compensation levels will hold firm unless the economy weakens substantially as owners do not want to lose the workers that they already have.”

 

Speaking of the labor market, Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jan Hatzius sees the unemployment rate falling to 3.25% this year. That would be the lowest since 1953. But first, the Boeing and Coronavirus issues need to recede into the rear-view mirror.

 

The Trump Administration released its 2021 budget, which cut social programs and increased defense spending. Some housing related programs were hit, such as the Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund, which are funded by a 4 basis point charge on Fannie and Freddie origination. The Community Development Block Grants would be eliminated. As a general rule, these proposed budgets are not meant to become law (one of Obama’s budgets received exactly zero votes) – but are more statements of priorities. It also cuts Medicare and Medicaid, which means it would get no support from Democrats.

 

 

Morning Report: Strong jobs report

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3340 -3.25
Oil (WTI) 50.38 -0.32
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.68%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as investors sell winners. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 225,000
  • Unemployment rate 3.6%
  • Average hourly earnings up 3.1% annually
  • Labor force participation rate 63.4%
  • Employment-population ratio 61.2%

Overall, a strong report. Certainly payrolls were way above the 158,000 expectation. Construction gained workers, which comports with what we have been hearing from the builders – that they are ramping up for 2020. Wage growth and payroll growth remain strong, and more people are entering the workforce, with the participation rate up and a rise in the employment-population ratio.

 

The NAHB notes that 63 million households are unable to afford a $250,000 home. Interesting stat from the piece: “A previous post discussed the often-cited estimate that a $1,000 increase in the price of a median-priced new home will price 158,857 U.S. households out of the market for the home.  A second post discussed the related estimate that a quarter point increase in the mortgage rate will price out 1.3 million.”

 

On the other side of the spectrum, Redfin notes that luxury home prices are rising again as interest rates fall. “Demand for luxury is improving. That’s showing up primarily in an increase in sales right now, but it’s also putting some slight upward pressure on prices,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “We’re ending the year in a much better position than we started, which is a good sign for 2020. I expect price growth to return to at least 3% to 5% by spring.”

 

 

Morning Report: Fed day

ital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3286 8.25
Oil (WTI) 53.98 0.22
10 year government bond yield 1.62%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.71%

 

Stocks are higher as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The Fed is set to announce its decision at 2:00 pm this afternoon. No changes in rate policy are expected, however there might be some news regarding the balance sheet and overnight rates. It probably won’t be market-moving, but just be aware.

 

Mortgage applications rose 7.2% last week as purchases rose 5% and refis rose 8%. “Mortgage applications continued their strong start to the year, as borrowers acted on the drop in mortgage rates last week. Rates were driven lower by investors’ increased concern about the economic impact from China’s coronavirus outbreak, in addition to existing concerns over trade and other geopolitical risks,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “With the 30-year fixed rate at its lowest level since November 2016, refinances jumped 7.5 percent. Purchase applications grew 2 percent and were 17 percent higher than the same week last year. Thanks to low rates and the healthy job market, purchase activity continues to run stronger than in 2019.” Note that there was an adjustment due to the Martin Luther King holiday.

 

Pulte reported better than expected earnings yesterday. Revenues were flat, but the 33% increase in new order stood out.  “As demonstrated by our 33% increase in orders, the recovery in housing demand that began earlier this year gained momentum through the fourth quarter as we realized strong sales across all buyer groups,” said Company President and CEO Ryan Marshall. “Strong demand for new homes is benefiting from favorable market dynamics including improved affordability in part due to low mortgage rates, high employment and consumer confidence, and a generally balanced inventory of new homes,” added Marshall. The stock was up about 5% yesterday.

 

Consumer confidence perked up in January, according to the Conference Board. “Consumer confidence increased in January, following a moderate advance in December, driven primarily by a more positive assessment of the current job market and increased optimism about future job prospects,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director, Economic Indicators, at The Conference Board. “Optimism about the labor market should continue to support confidence in the short-term and, as a result, consumers will continue driving growth and prevent the economy from slowing in early 2020.”

 

Strong consumer confidence, better homebuilding numbers and low rates mean that 2020 could be better than people are thinking for the mortgage industry. CNBC polls show that growth is expected to be 2% next year. Seems low if December’s housing starts weren’t a fluke, and judging by what we are hearing from the builders, it might not be. Those hoping for a recession will be encouraged by the inverting yield curve, but in this age of central bank intervention the signal doesn’t carry the weight it used to.