Morning Report: Consumer inflation remains under control

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2898 9.5
Eurostoxx index 378.25 1.14
Oil (WTI) 69.66 0.71
10 year government bond yield 2.95%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.64%

Stocks are higher this morning on positive trade comments out of China. Bonds and MBS are up.

The European Central bank left rates unchanged, which is helping bonds rally.

Inflation at the consumer level came in weaker than expected, with the Consumer Price Index rising 0.2% MOM and 2.7% YOY. Both numbers were 10 basis points below Street estimates. Ex-food and energy, they were up 0.1% / 2.2%, which pretty close to the Fed’s target. Falling health care costs, which make up about 10% of the index, helped offset increasing housing costs.

Increased housing costs are fueling a rise in home improvement activity. Both The Home Despot and Lowes are surging following results. Consumer Comfort rose for the first time in 5 weeks. Despite the run over the last month, the index is at highs not seen since 2000 (as are most of the consumer confidence / sentiment indices).

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 204,000, which is another 50 year record. When you take into account population growth, the number becomes even more dramatic:

Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, but it is still expected to pack a wallop and dump a lot of rain. The hurricane is expected to dump 20-30 inches of rain over the area, which means flooding issues well inland. Servicers should expect to see an uptick in DQs going into the end of the year. Note that fewer households have flood insurance this time around. “Residents of these states are materially less prepared than they were in the past to deal with the financial consequences associated with major flooding events,” said Robert Hartwig, a risk-management and insurance professor at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business.

Ex-US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is getting into the mortgage business, joining the advisory board of Blend, which is a consumer finance start-up that handles online mortgage applications for the GSEs and some of the larger banks.

Doug Kass made the great observation about the business media and the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis, recalling Mickey Mantle’s observation: “I didn’t know how easy the game of baseball was until I entered the broadcasting booth.”

HUD Secretary Ben Carson plans on doing more to remove zoning impediments to multifamily construction, though his approach will be different than the Obama Adminstration’s. He plans on using Community Development Block Grant funds to encourage changes in zoning. The Obama admin sued localities directly, with the most prominent case being Westchester County in New York. Westchester County ended up being able to fend off HUD for the most part, which kind of shows the futility of that exercise. Westchester should have been a lay-up. Separately, the House is looking at regulatory costs and multifamily construction, which supposedly account for 30% of the cost of multi fam homebuilding according to NAHB.

Morning Report: Small Business Confidence soars

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2833 7.5
Eurostoxx index 385.12 0.21
Oil (WTI) 67.99 0.79
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.88%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.58%

Stocks are higher this morning after the Turkish Lira rallied 6%. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Import prices were flat in July but were up just under 5% on a YOY basis. This was pretty much all driven by oil prices which are inherently volatile and self-correcting.

Small business optimism is near record highs according to the NFIB. Availability of workers remains a big concern, and we are seeing record levels of compensation increases. Note that many of these comp increases are planned, so there will be a 9 month lag before it shows up in the government data. Credit availability is a non-problem. The biggest headache for small business is availability / quality of labor, not the cost of labor. I don’t know that we have cost-push labor inflation quite yet, but if that is the case, then it won’t be good for mortgage rates as it will primarily affect the long end of the curve.

NFIB

HUD is electing to discontinue the Obama Administration’s controversial interpretation of the AFFH rule from the 60s, which means it no longer will be suing towns to force them to change their zoning codes to allow multi-family housing. HUD will focus on eliminating regulatory impediments to building more housing, and will tie grants to measures which increase building. In other words, The Obama Admin used a stick approach, while the Trump Admin will use a carrot approach.

Home prices rose 0.7% MOM and 6.8% YOY in June according to CoreLogic. They are forecast to rise 5% over the next year. Sales in the red-hot markets are down double digits as affordability issues and lack of inventory crimp activity.

The Despot reported better than expected earnings as homeowners choose to fix up their existing place instead of trying to move in a tight real estate market. Better weather helped the company rebound from their sales miss in the first quarter.

Morning Report: Second quarter GDP revised downward

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2695 -8.5
Eurostoxx index 376 -3.9
Oil (WTI) 72.39 -0.39
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.83%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.53%

Stocks are lower this morning on overseas weakness. Bonds and MBS are flat.

The third estimate for first quarter GDP came in lower than expected, as an upward revision in the price index and a downward revision in consumer spending lowered the third and final estimate from 2.2% to 2%. The price index was revised upward from 1.9% to 2.2%, while consumer spending was revised downward from 1% to 0.9%. Housing was actually a negative in the first quarter. I may sound like a broken record, but from 1959 to 2002, housing starts averaged 1.5 million per year, with a much smaller population. Post-bubble, we have averaged around a million per year. Just to get supply and demand into balance probably requires 2 million starts, which would do wonders for GDP. Incidentally, yesterday’s inventory figures prompted the Atlanta Fed to take up its tracking estimate for second quarter GDP to 4.5%.

The drop in the 10 year yield has probably been influenced by the Fed Funds futures, which have been inching towards one more hike this year as opposed to 2. Current probability levels:

  • No more hikes: 11%
  • One more hike 44%
  • Two more hikes: 42%
  • Three hikes 2%

While the US economic data probably supports more hikes in interest rates, wage growth remains muted, and the sell-off in emerging markets is being viewed as a canary in the coal mine for global growth. Finally fears of a trade war are bearish for the economy, which would give the Fed another excuse to hold off in either September or December.

Initial Jobless Claims increased to 227k last week, which is still an astoundingly low level. Meanwhile corporate profits were revised upward in the first quarter from 0.1% to 2.7%.

Ben Carson testified in front of the House Financial Services Committee yesterday, where he laid out some of the changes he has implemented at HUD. He has made some changes with the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program (aka reverse mortgages) to put the insurance fund on sounder footing. He is emphasizing the removal of lead paint and other hazards in HUD housing, and has suspended the Obama-era scheduled cut in the FHA mortgage insurance premium. HUD is concerned about the number of FHA cash-out refinances, which have increased from 45% of refis to 60% in the last year. (As an aside, since rate / term refi opportunities are largely gone, so you would expect to see an increase in the percentage of cash-outs).

Why socially responsible investing sounds like a nice idea, but isn’t a free lunch. You can “do good” but you should be prepared to underperform.

Morning Report: New Home Sales jump

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2745 -14.5
Eurostoxx index 379.79 -5.22
Oil (WTI) 69.07 0.49
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.89%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are lower this morning on continued trade tensions. Bonds and MBS are up

Economic activity decelerated in May, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators were a drag on the index (probably an effect of trade issues) while employment-related indicators had a positive impact once again. This index is a meta-index of 85 different sub-indices, and while it is backward-looking and generally not market moving, it provides a good global snapshot of the economy.

The trade war is beginning to have some real economic effects as the CFNAI indicated. While it is primarily limited to steel, many companies that use it as an input are raising prices, which is going to have a few negative effects on the economy – first firms that use steel and cannot pass on price increases are probably going to lay off workers, while the inflationary pressures from increased prices will keep the Fed raising interest rates. Retaliatory tariffs from our partners are causing US exporters to shift production overseas. Note that lumber tariffs are increasing the price of home construction, which is another drag on the economy.

Given the recessionary potential of trade wars the shape of the yield curve is going to become a bigger talking point for the business press and will be watched closely by the Fed. The shape of the yield curve essentially means the difference between short term rates and long term rates. The most common description is the 2s-10s spread, which is about 34 basis points at the moment. When the yield curve is strongly upward sloping (in other words, the 10 year yield is a lot higher than the 2 year yield) it generally means one of two things: either (a) the market is worried about inflation, and is therefore requiring a high interest rate to entice people to invest in Treasuries long term, or (b) the economy is so strong that investors prefer to put their money in more risky assets and therefore Treasuries have to offer a higher rate to get people interested. For the most part, the US yield curve has been in the second camp.

As the Fed has been raising the Fed Funds rate, the yield on shorter-term paper (like the 2 year) has been going up faster than the rate on the 10 year. Historically, the yield curve has flattened during tightening cycles, so this is nothing to be alarmed about. If the yield curve inverts, then that has historically been associated with the Fed overdoing it and it is taken as a recessionary signal. In the current environment, the flattening of the yield curve looks more like typical curve behavior during a tightening cycle, and not a signal of a recession. Don’t forget the yield curve has been highly influenced by central bank behavior. The Fed could drive up long-term rates by hinting at the possibility of selling some of its portfolio. Bottom line, the business press will be talking about the curve more and more, especially if the trade war begins to snowball and we start seeing a combination of rising input costs with a slowing out output.

New Home sales increased 6.7% MOM and 14.1% YOY to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 689,000. This is the highest print since November last year. Interestingly, sales rose in the South, but fell everywhere else. In the West, where the supply shortage is most acute, sales fell by 9% MOM and are flat YOY. Both the median and average sales price fell, which is surprising given the torrid pace of home price appreciation in the home price indices like Case-Shiller and the jump in existing home sales prices according to NAR. It appears that more sales at the lower price points was behind the drop. Luxury sales have been more or less flat for the past year. Eventually tax reform is going to have an effect on the top end of the market, as luxury real estate is simply more expensive due to the changes in mortgage interest and the fact that most of the $1MM+ inventory is in high tax states. We will get more of a read on new homes this week as Lennar and KB both report earnings.

Fears of rising interest rates have clearly had no negative effects on new home sales. Given the acute housing shortage and the fact that rates are still very low historically, this isn’t really a surprise.

new home sales

The Trump Administration announced a plan to reorganize many governmental agencies. The biggest one would merge the Department of Labor and the Department of Education into one agency. On the housing side, USDA loans would be moved from USDA to HUD, which is where they probably belonged in the first place. VA loans will remain under the VA however. Community Development Block Grants would move to Commerce from HUD. The document discusses the need to reform the GSEs and lays out broad ideas, but nothing concrete.

Morning Report: Housing starts disappoint again

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2705 -3.5
Eurostoxx index 393.19 0.82
Oil (WTI) 70.93 -0.38
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.06%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.65%

Stocks are lower this morning after North Korea pushed back on the proposal to end their nuke program. Bonds and MBS are higher after the the 10 year decisively pushed through the 3% level yesterday.

The 10 year hit 3.10% yesterday on no real news. If the inflation numbers aren’t all that bad, why are rates increasing? Supply. The government will need to issue about $650 billion in Treasuries this year compared to $420 billion last year. Note that one of the downsides of protectionism will be seen here – when the US buys imports from China, they usually take Treasuries in return. Less trade means less demand for paper.

Rising rates may present problems for active money managers. The average tenure is 8 years, so this is the first tightening cycle they have ever seen. For the past decade, cash and short term debt have not been any sort of competition for stocks and long term bonds. Note that the 1 year Treasury finally passed the dividend yield on the S&P 500. Stocks and bonds are going to see money managers allocate more to short term debt.

Despite rising rates, financial conditions continue to ease. The Chicago Fed National Financial Conditions Index is back to pre-crisis levels. Note that doesn’t necessarily mean we are set up for another Great Recession – the index can stay at these levels for a long time, and we don’t have a residential real estate bubble. That said, this index can be one of those canaries in a coal mine for investors – at least selling when it goes from negative to positive.

NFCI

Mortgage Applications fell 2.7% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 4%. The refi index is at the lowest level in almost 10 years, and the refi share of mortgage origination is at 36%. The typical conforming rate fell a basis point to 4.76%.

April Housing starts came in at 1.29 million, down 4% MOM but up 11% YOY. The Street was looking for 1.32 million. Building Permits 1.35 million which was right in line with estimates. Multi-family was the weak spot. Note that March’s numbers were unusually strong (relative to recent history), so April was a bit of a give-back.

Industrial production rose 0.7% last month while manufacturing production rose 0.5%. Capacity Utilization rose to 78%.

New York State is suing HUD to force them to continue to use the Obama-era standard of enforcing AFFH. HUD delayed the rule after numerous local governments were unable to implement policies in time.  Andrew Cuomo’s statement: “As a former HUD Secretary, it is unconscionable to me that the agency entrusted to protect against housing discrimination is abdicating its responsibility, and New York will not stand by and allow the federal government to undo decades of progress in housing rights,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The right to rent or buy housing free from discrimination is fundamental under the law, and we must do everything in our power to protect those rights and fight segregation in our communities.”  Of course overt housing discrimination hasn’t existed for half a century, but that isn’t what this is about.  The issue is zoning ordinances and multi-fam construction. Expect to see more of this sort of thing in blue states as the housing shortage gets worse.

Morning Report: Number of unemployed equals number of job openings

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2680 9.75
Eurostoxx index 390.81 0.81
Oil (WTI) 70.9 1.84
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.00%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.63%

Stocks are higher this morning after the US pulled out of the Iran deal. Bonds and MBS are down, with the 10 year trading over 3% again.

The Iran deal was never ratified by the Senate, so it never reached the level of “treaty.” It was basically a deal with the Obama Admin and Iran.

Oil had a volatile day yesterday and is rallying again. China is the biggest customer of Iranian oil, so in theory it shouldn’t affect the US all that much, but WTI will follow Brent on the relative value trade. Note that a sustained oil price over $70 is estimated to be about a 0.7% drag on GDP growth.

Inflation at the wholesale level moderated last month, with the producer price index rising 0.1% MOM and 2.6% YOY. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.1% / 2.3% and the core rate rose 0.1% / 2.5%.

Job openings hit 6.6 million last month, which is a new record for the index, which goes back to early 2000. The quits rate increased to 2.3%. The quits rate has been stuck in a 2.2% – 2.3% range for what seems like forever. Fun fact: The number of job openings has hit the number of unemployed for the first time.

JOLTs vs unemployed

The labor shortage is particularly acute in construction, which is part of the reason why housing starts have been short of demand. This shortage has extended to home remodeling as well.

While everyone seems to focus on the CPI / PPI / PCE inflation measures and imagines that a single point estimate accurately reflects the cost of living, it doesn’t. First the relative weights of different goods and services differ. For example, PCE and CPI will weight healthcare differently, as well as owner-equivalent rent. The St. Louis Fed notes that the differences in inflation between regions of the US can be substantial as well.

Mortgage Applications fell 0.4% last week as purchases fell 0.2% and refis fell 1%. Tough times for the smaller originators.

Despite the slim pickings out there, mortgage credit has contracted a bit this year. Overall, it was a mixed bag, as government credit contracted on less streamlines while conventional increased as jumbos rose. Government credit has been tightening since early 2017, when the government began to crack down on serial VA IRRRL shops.

How have things changed at the CFPB or the (BCFP) under Mick Mulvaney? Despite the ululating in the press, not that much. One of the panelists warned industry lawyers not to advise their clients that the CFPB is relaxing its enforcement activities. So far, the biggest change we have seen is that the name has been changed back to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, which was the way it was written into Dodd-Frank.

Fair Housing groups are suing HUD over Ben Carson’s delay of the Obama-era re-interpretation of AFFH – affirmatively furthering fair housing. Their complaint is that HUD didn’t provide advance notice before suspending the rule,. which would have required communities to “examine and address barriers to racial integration and to draft plans to desegregate their communities.” HUD delayed the compliance deadline until 2024. In practice, this means that HUD wants communities to change or eliminate their zoning ordinances to include more multi-family housing in wealthier neighborhoods.