Morning Report: Small Business Optimism still at record levels

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2881 -13
Eurostoxx index 370.66 -1.75
Oil (WTI) 74.94 ..67
10 year government bond yield 3.25%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.97%

 

 

Stocks are down this morning as the global sell-off continues. Bonds and MBS are down after taking yesterday off.

 

Small business optimism hit its third highest reading in September. This survey goes back 45 years, so that is an impressive data point. “This is the longest streak of small business optimism in history, evidence that tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks are paying off for the economy as a whole,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita D. Duggan. “Our members say that business is booming and prospects continue to look bright.” We are also seeing plans translate into actual spending, especially in capital expenditures. For a long time, businesses were saying they planned to increase investment in their businesses, but they weren’t actually doing it at the moment. That has changed.

 

NFIB

 

While the sell-off in US stocks is gaining some attention, Asian markets are at 17 month lows, driven by emerging markets and trade fears. The IMF just downgraded global growth for the first time in two years, based on the same issues. Chinese market weakness is encouraging more selling. This weakness is putting additional pressure on the Chinese currency, which only adds to the trade tensions between the US and China.

 

The higher interest rate bet (short Treasuries) is the biggest trade on the Street right now, and many hedge funds rang the register last week when rates spiked. The net speculative short position fell to 740k from 756k the week before. Implied volatility in bond options also increased, which means the market is expecting further big moves. Volatility tends to beget volatility, so we could have a bumpy road ahead. Be careful floating.

 

Fun fact: There have only been 4 years where bonds had a negative yearly return in the past 50 years: 1994, 1999, 2009 and 2013. This year is looking like it could be another. That said, the bond bear market was already well underway in the late 60s, having begun about 10 years earlier, when the ultra – low interest rate environment from the Great Depression and WWII ended. In other words, the most relevant comparison to the current economic climate is the the 1950s and 1960, which this data range ignored.

 

The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index declined in September. “The US economy is very strong now. Demand for workers is likely to continue growing rapidly in the coming quarters, but with the unemployment rate now at 3.7 percent, recruiters have their work cut out for them. They will have to bring more people off the sidelines faster. In the meantime, businesses will have to squeeze more out of their current workers, either by increasing working hours or raising labor productivity. Labor market tightness varies across occupations and geographies. However, for the nation we expect the unemployment rate to go down to 3.5 percent or even lower in 2019. We also expect labor force participation and productivity to gradually increase, and wages to further accelerate” said Gad Levanon, Chief Economist, North America, at The Conference Board.

 

Hurricane Michael is threatening the Florida Panhandle and Georgia, and will probably dump a lot of rain on the Eastern Seaboard this week.

 

hurricane track

Morning Report: Controversial CA housing bill dies in committee

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2716.75 10
Eurostoxx index 380.83 0.06
Oil (WTI) 67.63 1.11
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.84%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.44%

Stocks are higher this morning as earnings from the financials continue to pile in. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Mortgage Applications increased 5% last week as purchases rose 6% and refis rose 4%. The refi share was 37.8%, the lowest in a decade. Purchase activity was up on a YOY basis however. Mortgage rates were generally flat as international tensions and the FOMC minutes dominated the news.

2017 was a tough year for the mortgage industry, as profits per loan were more or less cut in half, from $1,346 to $711. Revenues per loan were up, as higher loan balances driven by home price appreciation were offset by lower margins due to competitive pressures. Volumes were down 20% overall, and down 9% on a comparable basis. While revenues per loan increased, costs were up more, and productivity fell.

The IRS’s computer system crashed yesterday due to all the last minute e-filers. If you were unable to file yesterday, you are in luck – the IRS gave you an extra day to get it in without penalty.

Most consumers don’t rate shop when getting a mortgage. This is a surprise since the savings is actually pretty big: between $1,000 and $2,000 over the life of the loan when getting a single competing quote. It increases to $2,000 – $4,000 when the borrower gets 5 competing quotes. Why more don’t do that is a mystery.

An unprecedented bill (SB 827) allowing the state to overturn local zoning ordinances died in committee yesterday. California has an acute housing shortage, and affordable housing advocates had been pushing hard for a bill that would force cities to accept dense multi-family housing complexes within a half mile of rail stops. The bill’s early demise was a blow to affordable housing advocates and environmentalists, who want to reduce the need for driving.

The IMF is warning that years of 0% nominal interest rates have created risks in the financial system, with valuations of risky assets stretched and some late-stage credit cycle behavior. The subprime auto sector in the US is one case in point, and we have multiple residential real estate bubbles globally, especially in China and Canada. That said, the banking system is much more safe and capitalized now than it was 10 years ago. They warn that investors aren’t positioned for a sharp increase in inflation and interest rates over the next several years. Which is probably the right bet – if the Chinese credit and real estate bubble implodes, it will be deflationary, not inflationary.

A very NYC scene..

Morning Report: Housing starts still below demand

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2698 16.25
Eurostoxx index 379.67 1.95
Oil (WTI) 66.26 0.05
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.83%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.44%

Stocks are higher this morning as China relaxes ownership restrictions on domestic manufacturers. Bonds and MBS are flat.

We have a lot of Fed-speak today, especially in the morning. Separately, Trump announced two Fed nominees: Richard Clarida of Columbia, to be the Vice Chairman of the Fed and Michelle Bowman, previously a bank executive from Kansas. For all of his criticism of the Fed while on the campaign trail, Trump has nominated pretty much middle-of-the-fairway people to the Board.

Housing starts came in at 1.32 million, better than expectations but still well below what is needed to meet demand. Building Permits came in at 1.35 million. Single family starts fell, while multi rose. Most of the increase was in the Midwest.

Industrial Production rose 0.5% last month, while manufacturing production rose 0.1%. Capacity Utilization increased to 78%. So far we aren’t seeing any tariff effects in the numbers.

Bank of America announced earnings yesterday, and lumped mortgage banking income into the miscellaneous “all other income” category. What an ignominious end to Countrywide. Bank earnings season continues.

Independent mortgage bankers saw profit per loan get cut in half last year as refis dried up and the business got more competitive. Refis fell from 36% of all origination volume to 25%.

Zillow crunched the numbers and looked at the typical homebuyer in 2017. The typical buyer is 40 years old, making 87k. Millennials make up 42% of the cohort. They typically spend about 4.3 months finding a home. Interestingly, despite the size of the investment, most homebuyers only contacted 1 lender. Here is what is important to homebuyers when thinking about a lender:

lender characteristics

The median home was sold in 81 days, and that includes the closing process. This means the typical home was on the market for only 1 month. This is 8 days faster than 2016.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition has a new report showing how acute the housing shortage is at the low end. Only 35 affordable and available rental homes exist for every 100 extremely low income renter households. Rising home prices and mortgage rates are reducing affordability, however interest rates are still extremely low historically. In the early 80s, a the first year’s mortgage payment consisted of 99% interest, 1% principal.

The IMF forecasts that global growth will hit 3.9% this year, the fastest since 2011, driven by emerging Europe, and the US.