Morning Report: New home sales surprise on the upside

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2786.75 -4
Eurostoxx index 376.51 0.03
Oil (WTI) 56.07 0.4
10 year government bond yield 2.70%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The economy added 183,000 jobs in February, according to the ADP Employment Survey. The Street is looking for about 180,000 additions in Friday’s employment situation report, so the ADP numbers seem to be in line.

 

Mortgage applications decreased 2.5% last week as purchases fell by 2.6% and refis fell 2%. The typical mortgage rate rose by 2 basis point to 4.67%.

 

The ISM non-manufacturing index expanded in February, which means that the services sector is picking up momentum.  The biggest issues seem to be potential trade issues, labor shortages and trucking costs.

 

New Home Sales rose by 621,000 in December. This is up 3.7% from the downward-revised November number, but down 1.5% from a year ago. For the full year, 622,000 homes were sold, which is slightly higher than the 613,000 sold in 2017. The median price was $318,000, while the average price was $377,000. The median sales price has been declining over the past year after peaking in November 2017 at $343,400. This demonstrates the shift from luxury to entry-level home construction to meet demand. This is a reversal of the early years of the crisis, when the luxury end of the market was the only part that was working.

 

Note that new home sales are about where they were during the 60s – 80s. Pretty amazing when you take into account that the US population has increased by close to 60% since 1970.

 

new home sales

 

Here is a copy of the letter that NAR, MBA, and a host of other housing advocates sent to Joseph Otting, Acting Director of the FHFA regarding GSE reform. It urges FHFA to go slow, work to maintain the 30 year fixed rate mortgage, and allow the GSE’s to act as a counter-cyclical buffer.

 

The Fed is catching up to the markets. Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said it could be “several meetings” before the Fed gets enough clarity on the economy to make a move in interest rates. In many ways, he is acknowledging what the Fed Funds futures have been saying for a while now – that the Fed is going to wait and see how the 2018 hikes affect the economy before making any further moves. Since monetary policy generally acts with a 9 – 15 month lag, it means that the economy still hasn’t factored in the Sep and Dec hikes from last year.

Morning Report: Atlanta Fed predicts Q1 GDP will come in at 0.3%

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2793.25 3.2
Eurostoxx index 374.38 -0.84
Oil (WTI) 56.73 0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are up on trade hopes. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Construction spending fell 0.6% in December, but was up 1.2% on a year-over-year basis. While the government shutdown may have had an effect on public construction spending, private construction spending was down the same amount. Housing continues to punch under its weight class, falling 1.4% MOM and 1.5% YOY. Public housing construction was even worse, falling 5% MOM and 20% YOY.

 

Now that more people are shopping for real estate online at sites like Zillow, Redfin and Realtor.com, the photos you use to show your property take on greater importance. Certainly it pays to have someone who knows what they are doing to photograph your home to put it in the best light, as opposed to simply posting photos from your phone. Now, with photo editing software getting cheaper and cheaper, more people are using edited photos to show their place. Some of this is innocuous: like photoshopping out your personal stuff in the kitchen and some of it is not: adding a pool or removing a wall. Given that 20% of homes are bought sight unseen, this is no longer a trivial, theoretical issue. It takes on even more importance given the move towards computer-generated appraisals.

 

Mortgage rates tend to vary across states. For example, the cheapest state to borrow in is California, where the average rate is 4.74%. The most expensive is NY, where the average rate is 4.96%. The US average is 4.84%. You would think that judicial versus non-judicial foreclosure laws would explain the difference (you can live in your foreclosed house for years in NY), but maybe there is more going on here. Guess what the second-lowest rate state is: New Jersey, which has a pretty similar foreclosure legal structure.

 

Yesterday I mentioned that strategists and the Atlanta Fed are extremely bearish on Q1 GDP growth, figuring that it will come in under 1%. A couple of points: First, Q1 GDP has been weak for the past several years. It might be a measurement issue or something spurious, but that is one reason economists might be cheating down the number a tad. Second, if Q1 GDP comes in around 1%, you can probably forget about any rate hikes this year. For what its worth, the Fed Funds futures are predicting a 94% chance of no hikes this year and a 6% chance of 1 hike.

 

HUD Secretary Ben Carson plans to leave the Administration at the end of Trump’s term, where he will return to the private sector.

Morning Report: Homeownership rate jumps in Q4

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2814 6.75
Eurostoxx index 376.36 1.22
Oil (WTI) 56.49 0.7
10 year government bond yield 2.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.44%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on real news. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The big data this week will be the jobs report on Friday. Jerome Powell said in his Humphrey-Hawkins testimony that he would like to see further wage increases, which should calm the bond markets if the average hourly earnings number comes in a bit hotter than expected. Other than that, we will get new home sales and the ISM data.

 

The homeownership rate ticked up to 64.8% in the fourth quarter, according to the census bureau. This is up from 64.4% in the third quarter and 64.2% a year ago. The homeownership rate has been slowly ticking back up after bottoming at 62.9% in 2016. Note that we are nowhere near the highs of around 69.2% during the bubble years. Bumping up that number by lending to Millennial borrowers is going to drive the mortgage business going forward, and will have to replace the rate / term refi business that drove earnings for years.

 

homeownership rate

 

28 organizations, including the MBA, NAR and a whole host of affordable housing advocates sent a letter to Acting FHFA Director Otting counseling him to go slow in GSE reform.  “A well-functioning housing finance system should provide consistent, affordable credit to borrowers across the nation and through all parts of the credit cycle without putting taxpayers at risk of a bailout,” the letter states. “We urge policymakers to take these principles into account to ensure that access and affordability are preserved under the current, and any future, housing regime.” FHFA had indicated it was willing to make some reforms without Congress, which prompted the letter. Any true GSE reform will require legislation.

 

Despite a strong Q4 GDP print of 2.6%, first quarter estimates are in the 0% to 1% range. Does the economy “feel” like it rapidly decelerated in the past couple of months? Some of the numbers suggest it – as in personal income and consumption.  I don’t sense it, but that’s what the pros are saying. As a general rule, people’s subjective assessment of the economy is often influenced by their personal partisan values. When Democrats are in charge, Republicans tend to feel the economy is worse off than it really is, and the same goes in reverse. During the Obama years, the professional economists (including the Fed) were consistently high on their GDP estimates. Now, during the Trump years, professional economists seem to be undershooting the numbers – i.e. actual growth numbers out of the BEA are much higher than forecast. I doubt there is any tampering going on, but it is something to keep in mind, especially when locking around big economic events.

Morning Report: Housing starts disappoint

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2791.5 -5
Eurostoxx index 371.78 -0.4
Oil (WTI) 55.5 0.03
10 year government bond yield 2.66%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.35%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on overseas tensions between India and Pakistan. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Jerome Powell heads to Capitol Hill today for his first day of Humphrey-Hawkins testimony. While this events are ostensibly to allow Congress to question the Fed about monetary policy, they are really nothing more than a posturing exercise for politicians to hop on their respective ideological hobby-horses. Expect Democrats to focus like a laser on income inequality, too big to fail banks, and fair lending. Expect Republicans to focus on inflation worries, banking regulation, and the return of the bond vigilantes. The markets will be listening for information on balance sheet reduction and further hikes this year. This probably won’t be market-moving.

 

Housing starts fell to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 1.08 million, a double-digit percentage drop on both a month-over-month and annual basis. As a general rule, winter housing starts numbers can be volatile due to the weather, however this is simply an awful number. The street was looking for 1.25 million, which is still a depressed number. Remember, between 1959 and 2002, we averaged 1.5 million housing starts a year. The last time we saw that sort of building was 2006.

 

housing starts

 

The Home Despot reported fourth quarter earnings this morning, and forecasted weaker-than-expected comparable sales. Part of this is a technical aspect of their accounting conventions, but it does speak to weakness in home improvement spending.

 

Economic activity slowed in January, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators drove the decline. How much of this was temporary due to tariff issues / government shutdown remain to be seen. Employment remained positive.

 

More sellers are cutting prices this winter in order to move their homes, according to Redfin. 21% of home sellers are reporting a price decrease, which is a post-crisis high. “Many sellers listed their homes late last year just as rising prices and mortgage rates were starting to price out their core pool of potential buyers,” said Las Vegas Redfin agent Jennifer Brockman. “Meanwhile, some buyers are starting to think that waiting to purchase a home could pay off, especially as listing inventory continues to rise. In this new market reality, buyers may have negotiating power now that they won’t have in the spring and summer.”

 

redfin price drop

Morning Report: Fed Day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2648.75 6
Eurostoxx index 357.92 0.9
Oil (WTI) 53.82 0.51
10 year government bond yield 2.73%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.59%

 

Stocks are higher after good numbers out of Apple. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC announcement is scheduled for 2:00 pm EST. Nobody expects the Fed to make any changes to the Fed Funds target rate, but there is talk that the Fed might announce an early end to balance sheet reduction. Note there will be a press conference after the announcement – apparently Powell will hold one after every meeting, unlike Janet Yellen who only held them after the Mar, Jun, Sep and Dec meetings.

 

Pulte reported fourth quarter numbers that disappointed the Street, but the 11% drop in orders is what got everyone’s attention. Gross margins also fell. The company said that traffic decreased YOY in October and November, but rebounded in December. That said, the company said there is less certainty about demand heading into this spring selling season than the industry has experienced in recent years. The stock was down about 6% early in Wed trading.

 

Home price appreciation continues to slow, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Prices rose 5.2% YOY, down from 5.3% the prior month. “Home prices are still rising, but more slowly than in recent months,” says David M. Blitzer, Managing
Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The pace of price increases are being dampened by declining sales of existing homes and weaker affordability. Sales peaked in November 2017 and drifted down through 2018. Affordability reflects higher prices and increased mortgage rates through much of last year. Following a shift in Fed policy in December, mortgage rates backed off to about 4.45% from 4.95%. Housing market conditions are mixed while analysts’ comments express concerns that housing is weakening and could affect the broader economy. Current low inventories of homes for sale – about a four-month supply – are supporting home prices. New home construction trends, like sales of existing homes, peaked in late 2017 and are flat to down since then. Stable 2% inflation, continued employment growth, and rising wages are all favorable. Measures of consumer debt and debt service do not
suggest any immediate problems.”

 

The Trump Admin poured cold water on the notion that they would release Fannie and Fred from government control without Congressional involvement. Earlier in January Joseph Otting, head of the FHFA said:  “The Treasury and White House viewpoint is that the [FHFA] director and the secretary of Treasury have tremendous authority and that they would act, I think, independent of legislation if they thought it was the right thing to do.” This was taken as bullish for the stocks, sending Fannie Mae up from about $1.00 at the end of 2018 to close to $3.00. Since housing finance reform is going to be politically difficult, investors have been betting that the government would be more likely just to recapitalize and release the GSEs.

 

Freddie Mac’s survey is out for 2019. They anticipate one more Fed Funds rate hike, and think mortgage rates will average around 4.7% and GDP growth will slow to 2.5% in 2019 and 1.8% in 2020. They anticipate a slight uptick in housing starts, to 1.3 million per year, which is still well below the historical 1.5 million level. Home price appreciation is set to decelerate as well, to 4.1%. Mortgage originations are expected to finish 2018 at $1.6 trillion and increase to $17 trillion next year.

 

Home prices are falling in Silicon Valley – the first YOY declines since 2012. In San Jose, prices fell 8%, although they are so high – the median price is almost a million – that they are probably still overvalued by a wide margin. What is driving this? Believe it or not, the stock market. Many buyers rely on stock compensation to make the downpayment, and with the FAANG stocks having sold off, that is getting harder to do. Second, high house prices have made people reluctant to move there – after all a high salary is not as enticing if you end up giving it all back in rent or mortgage payments.

Morning Report: Ginnie is increasing scrutiny of non-bank lenders

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2642 0
Eurostoxx index 357.3 2.93
Oil (WTI) 52.35 0.36
10 year government bond yield 2.73%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

 

Stocks are flat as we begin the FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Despite the end of the shutdown, we will have to wait for economic data. Two big reports this week – GDP and personal incomes – have been delayed.

 

Economic activity picked up in December, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators and employment drove the increase. Note that the CFNAI is a meta-index of a number of announced economic indices, and the government shutdown has decreased the amount of data going into the index. We’ll see the same effect next month as well, so the index won’t be as accurate as it usually is. Regardless, the CFNAI is an amalgamation of previously released data, so it doesn’t move markets.

 

Ex-Fed Head Narayana Kochlerakota thinks the Fed should consider easing at the next meeting. His argument is that the Fed has been falling short in maintaining inflation at its 2% target and that notwithstanding the latest unemployment data we are still not at full employment. He is looking at the percentage of prime age people (age 25-54) who are currently employed. We are just south of 80%, and were closer to 82% during the late 90s. Given that the number of prime age people in the US is roughly 100MM, then we have about 2 million more jobs to create in order to get to back to where we want to be. Interestingly, he not only advocates maintaining the current balance sheet, he thinks it should increase about 4% a year to grow in lockstep with the economy.

 

employment population ratio

 

Guess what has been one of the best performing assets so far this year (almost tripled in under a month). If you guessed the GSEs, you would be correct. The market is betting that shareholders won’t get wiped out when / if housing reform happens this year. Check out this chart of Fannie Mae:

 

fnma chart

 

Ginnie Mae is stepping up oversight of its partners, particularly non-bank lenders, telling some that they must improve some financial metrics before they will be granted more commitment authority, which is the ability to securitize FHA and VA loans. The government is concerned that non-bank lenders have replaced a lot of the traditional banks in servicing government loans. Indeed, they have – nonbanks now service 61% of government loans, up from 34% at the end of 2014. FHA was largely a backwater of the mortgage market pre-crisis, however post crisis, it has picked up the load that subprime left. Servicers for government loans have a lot more liquidity demands than servicers for GSE loans – and in a downturn the advances liability could take out undercapitalized mortgage bankers. VA lenders can face what is called no-bid risk, which can be a disaster for many servicers without a line of credit to cover advances and loan buyouts.