Morning Report: Gap between appraisals and homeowner perception widens slightly

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2802 5
Eurostoxx index 374.06 0.81
Oil (WTI) 57.27 0.47
10 year government bond yield 2.62%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.28%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Inflation at the wholesale level came in below expectations, mirroring the consumer price index. The headline PPI rose 0.1% MOM / 1.9% YOY. Ex-food and energy the index rose 0.1% / 2.5% YOY.

 

Mortgage Applications rose 2.3% last week as purchases rose 4% and refis fell 0.2%. The MBA noted an uptick in FHA activity. “Purchase applications have now increased year-over-year for four weeks, which signals healthy demand entering the busy spring buying season. However, the pick-up in the average loan size continues, with the average balance reaching another record high. With more inventory in their price range compared to first-time buyers, move-up and higher-end buyers continue to have strong success finding a home.” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting.

 

The gap between a homeowner’s perception of their home’s value and the number that the appraiser comes up with is starting to widen a touch. The Quicken Home Price Perception Index fell slightly in February, although the difference between perception and appraisal is pretty tight historically. For most MSAs, appraisals are coming in higher than homeowners expect, which is good news for the cash-out refi business. Given the direction in interest rates, home price appreciation is going to drive refi activity going forward.

 

Quicken HPPI

 

Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloane appeared before the House yesterday to get called on the carpet for aggressive sales practices. “We have gone above and beyond what is required in disclosing these issues in our public filings, we have worked to remedy these issues, and, most importantly, we have worked to address root causes that allowed them to occur in the first place,” Sloan said in his written testimony to the House Financial Services Committee. “As a result, Wells Fargo is a better bank than it was three years ago, and we are working every day to become even better.” he said in a written statement.

Morning Report: Consumer inflation remains muted

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2787 2
Eurostoxx index 372.85 -1
Oil (WTI) 57.27 0.47
10 year government bond yield 2.65%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.32%

 

Stocks are higher with a general “risk-on” feel to the tape. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Lael Brainard speaks this morning and then the Fed enters its quiet period ahead of next week’s FOMC meeting.

 

Consumer inflation rose 0.4% MOM in February. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.4% and is up 2.1% YOY. Inflation remains under control, which should give the Fed the leeway to hold the line on rates next week. Falling energy prices at the end of 2018 helped keep the index under control, and we are seeing evidence that medical costs are finally stabilizing. Medical goods fell 1% MOM and services were flat. Stabilizing medical costs should translate into stable health insurance costs, which leaves more room for wage increases.

 

medical cpi

 

Retail Sales in January rose 0.2%, a touch higher than expectations. Those looking for a big rebound after December’s anemic numbers were disappointed. Given the strong consumption numbers in Q4 GDP, the holiday shopping season remains a bit of a mystery. The government shutdown is a possible explanation, and while it certainly hit the shops at Tyson’s Corner, the rest of the nation was unaffected. Note that the Fed’s consumer credit report showed that revolving credit increased only 1.1% in December and 2.9% in January, both well below run rates we have seen in the months leading up to it

 

Nancy Pelosi doesn’t support impeaching Trump. This is probably a tacit admission that the Mueller report isn’t going to contain anything we don’t already know.

 

Small business optimism rebounded in February. Earnings trends fell as many contractors were temporarily sidelined due to the government shutdown. Employment trends also slipped, probably for the same reason. Plans for expansion rose, however they are still below levels we saw in 2017-2018, which were extremely strong. Actual hires were the highest in years, and small business still finds a shortage of qualified workers. I am curious as to whether the “shortage of qualified workers” means (a) nobody around knows how to do the job, (b) nobody around knows how to do the job and can pass a drug test, or (c) nobody around that knows how to do the job will accept what I am willing to pay.

Morning Report: Mark Calabria to testify in front of the Senate today

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2757 7
Eurostoxx index 366.36 1.6
Oil (WTI) 54.46 0.56
10 year government bond yield 2.65%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

We have some inflation data, with the consumer price index flat MOM and up only 1.6% YOY. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.2% MOM and 2.2% YOY. At the wholesale level, the producer price index fell 0.1% and 2% YOY. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.2% MOM and 2.5% YOY. Inflation remains under control, despite rising wage pressures which is a bit of a Goldilocks scenario, especially with respect to the Fed.

 

December retail sales were disappointing, falling 1.2%. The control group, which excludes volatile sectors like autos and building materials, fell 1.7%. This data was delayed by the government shutdown – we should be getting Jan numbers tomorrow.

 

Initial Jobless Claims rose to 239,000 last week.

 

It looks like Trump is going to sign the spending deal hashed out in Congress that provides some of the money he requested for the southern wall. He will continue to look for other options to get funding as well. Whether that includes declaring a national emergency to siphon fund from DOD is anyone’s guess.

 

Mark Calabria is set to testify before the Senate today as it considers his nomination to run FHFA, the housing regulator that oversees Fannie and Freddie. Calabria is a libertarian, and has questioned the government’s role in the mortgage market – particularly the support it gives the 30 year fixed rate mortgage, which is a distinctly American product which wouldn’t exist without government subsidies. Calabria has also been critical of the whole mortgage securitization market in general, believing that banks should hold (and service) more of their loans. The vote is expected to fall along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against.

 

The 30 year fixed rate mortgage is an anomaly that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world that I am aware of. In most other countries, mortgages are adjustable rate, and banks hold them without government backstopping the credit. In other words, the borrower bears the interest rate risk, and the bank bears the credit risk. In the US, the lender bears the interest rate risk and the taxpayer bears the credit risk. Calabria has been critical of this product, arguing that it artificially inflates housing values which is a valid criticism. Of course the 30 year fixed rate mortgage isn’t the only subsidy out there – the tax treatment of mortgage interest is another, and flood insurance is another. These programs makes housing more affordable relative to incomes, which means it will be vulnerable to shocks. Does that mean these programs cause bubbles?  Not necessarily, since we have seen housing bubbles in several countries that don’t have these supports.

 

Mortgage delinquencies continue to fall, as the 30 day DQ rate hits the lowest level in 10 years. 30 day DQs fell from 5.2% to 4.1% over the past year, while foreclosures fell from 0.6% to 0.4%. CoreLogic CEO Frank Martell said, “On a national basis, we continue to see strong loan performance. Areas that were impacted by hurricanes or wildfires in 2018 are now seeing relatively large annual gains in the share of mortgages moving into 30-day delinquency. As with previous disasters, this is to be expected and we will see the impacts dissipate over time.”

Morning Report: Congressional Democrats take aim at BB&T / Suntrust merger

Vital statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2714 -8
Eurostoxx index 360.39 2.36
Oil (WTI) 52.28 -0.41
10 year government bond yield 2.64%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are down this morning on overseas weakness. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

There is a possibility we could see another government shutdown at the end of the week. Talks over the weekend concerning border security funding went nowhere. For the financial industry, it will make funding loans for government employees more difficult, but everything else should be transparent.

 

Consumer staples companies are raising prices as commodity prices, transportation and labor costs increase. “The good news is that competitors are raising [prices] in those categories as we speak,” Church & Dwight Chief Executive Matthew Farrell said on a conference call last week when the company reported higher quarterly sales and lower profits. The Fed has been anxious to create more inflation, and it looks like they have finally succeeded. Does this mean we are headed for a repeat of 1970s inflation? Probably not – at least not in the near future. But it does mean the Fed Funds futures might be a touch too sanguine about monetary policy in 2019.

 

Speaking of inflation, we will get the consumer price index and the producer price index this week, which should be the only market-moving data.

 

Maxine Waters thinks the STI / BBT merger requires “serious scrutiny” “This proposed merger between SunTrust and BB&T is a direct consequence of the deregulatory agenda that Trump and Congressional Republicans have advanced,” Waters said in a statement to American Banker. “The proposed merger raises many questions and deserves serious scrutiny from banking regulators, Congress and the public to determine its impact and whether it would create a public benefit for consumers.” IIRC, all the “deregulaton” did was raise the ceiling for stress tests to $250 billion in assets. And that was due to the fact that many small banks were spending a lot on compliance and risk management for a portfolio of traditional bank loans. While it is entirely possible that someone at East Podunk Savings and Loan may blow himself up selling protection on a basket of CDO squareds, it is highly unlikely as well. And imposing all sorts of regulatory burdens on these banks under the guise of tackling systemic risk was on the wrong side of the cost / benefit ledger.

 

 

Morning Report: Inflation is tame, gas is not

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2708 9.25
Eurostoxx index 360.56 -1.71
Oil (WTI) 56.32 0.07
10 year government bond yield 3.11%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.94%

 

Stocks are higher as oil stabilizes. Bonds and MBS are up. The 10 year is trading at 3.11%, quite the drop from the 3.27% levels of last week.

 

Inflation remains largely under control according to the Consumer Price index. The CPI in October rose 0.3% MOM and 2.5% YOY, right in line with street forecasts. Ex food and energy, it was up 0.2% MOM and 2.1% YOY.

 

A couple of trade groups wrote letters of support for Kathy Kraninger as head of the CFPB. The agency has been led by Mick Mulvaney, who also head OMB, as Acting Director. Kraninger is the supposed replacement. If she isn’t confirmed by the Senate in the lame duck session, the nomination returns to the President and Mick Mulvaney stays in charge for another 210 days. Kraninger promises to reform the CFPB in the same way Mick Mulvaney is, by ending “regulation by enforcement” and being more transparent about what the rules actually are.

 

It usually pays to keep tabs on markets unrelated to your own. While people have been focusing on the oil market, and the bear market in oil, we are seeing the opposite effect in natural gas. Oil has lost about 24% over the past month. Natural gas gained more than that this week. Seriously. Natural gas closed last Friday at around $3.70 a contract and closed yesterday at around $4.70 a contract. Many commodities, especially natgas, is extremely sensitive to weather forecasts – if you go to the New York Stock Exchange, you’ll see CNBC on the trading floor. If you go to the a commodity exchange like the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, they have on the Weather Channel. So, if you get a forecast for an extra-cold winter, the price can skyrocket. As the link above explains, while we are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, supply is not the driver here, storage is. And if we have an unusually cold winter, the amount of gas in storage can fall to dangerously low levels, which means higher prices. There are rumors going around of a hedge fund that is short Natgas and in trouble, but who knows? Regardless, it is something to watch.

 

natural gas

 

Speaking of keeping tabs on other markets, watch the corporate bond markets. General Electric has issues. While everyone is aware of what is going on the stock price, the bonds are down about 15 points since early October. In bond market terms, for a household name like GE, that is a lot. Bonds trading in the low 80s aren’t necessarily distressed, but this is GE we’re talking about. If this snowballs, we should see a tightening of credit overall. It probably won’t affect the MBS market and mortgage pricing, but it will almost inevitably act as a drag on interest rates overall, and it could keep the Fed at bay.

 

Chart: Financial Stress Index:

 

financial stress index

Morning Report: October was hard on MBS investors

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2728 4
Eurostoxx index 364.84 0.76
Oil (WTI) 62.92 -0.35
10 year government bond yield 3.21%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.96%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are down small.

 

The highlight of this week will be the FOMC meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. Typically they fall on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I guess they moved it for election day this year. No changes in monetary policy are expected and the Fed Funds futures market is assigning a 93% probability of no change in rates. Aside from the FOMC meeting, the only other market moving news will be PPI on Friday. Whatever happens Tuesday is probably not going to be market-moving. Best bet: Ds narrowly take the House, Rs retain the Senate, gridlock rules Washington.

 

October was a rough month for MBS investors, the kind folks who set our rate sheets. MBS underperformed Treasuries by 37 basis points, the worst since immediately after the election. Yes, the Fed is reducing the size of its MBS holdings, but that isn’t what makes MBS outperform and underperform. Volatility in the Treasury markets can be great for bond investors, but is is toxic for MBS investors.  You can see we October was a period of high volatility in the bond market (shown below with a “VIX” for Treasuries). Volatility causes losses losses for MBS investors and makes them less likely to “bid up” securities, which translates into a phenomenon where rates don’t improve as much as you would think when rates fall, and negative reprices happen frequently.  The Fed’s reduction of its balance sheet has been going on for years, and it isn’t all of a sudden going to manifest itself in rates.

TYVIX

 

Fannie and Freddie reported strong numbers and paid about $6.6 billion to Treasury between them. Fannie Mae has paid in total about $172 billion to Treasury since the bailout.

 

Jerome Powell thinks the current period of low inflation and low unemployment could last “indefinitely.” Historically, inflation usually increased as unemployment fell (which was measured by the Phillips Curve). He thinks that relationship has broken down over time. He notes that the last two booms were not ended by goods and services inflation, they were ended by burst asset bubbles. Since we don’t seem to have any asset bubbles brewing at the moment, this set of affairs could last a while. I wonder how much of the historical unemployment / inflation was due to union contracts which included explicit inflation cost of living increases. Regardless, he is correct that we don’t have anything resembling a stock market bubble or real estate bubble, and changes in inventory management have probably done a lot to get rid of the historical cause of recessions, which is an inventory glut.

 

Isn’t this a perfect encapsulation of the cognitive dissonance in the business press right now? They don’t like the guy in office, so they constantly feel like the economy is awful (Consumer confidence is definitely a partisan phenomenon). Classic example of why you always have to take consumer confidence numbers (and the business press) with a grain of salt….

Cognitive DIssonance

 

Morning Report: The CFPB wants to define the term “abusive.”

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2810 2.75
Eurostoxx index 364.61 -0.6
Oil (WTI) 71.52 -0.5
10 year government bond yield 3.18%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.95%

 

Stocks are flattish this morning after yesterday’s huge rally. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

We will get the minutes of the September FOMC meeting today at 2:00 pm. Be careful locking around that period. They usually aren’t market-moving, but you never know.

 

Lots of people are returning from the MBA conference in Washington, DC, so let’s catch up on the economic data from the past couple of days.

 

Job openings hit a record (going back to 2000) last month as 7.1 million positions went unfilled. The quits rate was unchanged at 2.4%. The quits rate has been steadily inching upward and we are back to early 2001 levels. The quits rate is generally considered to be a predictor of wage inflation.

 

quits rate

 

Retail sales for September disappointed at the headline level, rising only 0.1%. The control group, which strips out autos, gas stations, and building materials rose 0.5%, which was towards the higher end of expectations. Department Stores were especially weak, which isn’t surprising given that Sears just filed for bankruptcy. Overall, consumption for the third quarter looks to have been strong, which will support a good GDP number.

 

Industrial production rose 0.3% last month, and manufacturing production rose 0.2%. Capacity Utilization was steady at 78.1%. Manufacturing was up about 3.5% YOY, which is an inflation-adjusted number. If you add back 2.5% inflation, we are looking at 6% nominal growth, which is a very respectable number. Suffice it to say that whatever trade wars seem to be occurring have yet to show up in the numbers. Also, with capacity utilization stuck below 80%, we don’t have inflationary pressure from more marginal (and costly) production being used.

 

Mortgage applications fell 7% last week as purchases fell 6% and refis fell 9%. Seasonal adjustments are primarily responsible; unadjusted applications were more or less flat, which is kind of impressive given that rates rose about 16 basis points in the previous two weeks.

 

CFPB Chairman Mick Mulvaney told the MBA conference that regulation by enforcement is dead. Regulation by enforcement was a prime tactic of the Cordray regime, which was characterized by intentionally vague rules. Dodd-Frank inserted the term “abusive” into the vernacular, and while words like “fair” and “unfair” have been litigated over the past century such that we all have a pretty good legal idea of what they mean, “abusive” is still pretty much a blank canvas. The CFPB is working on a definition of what the term actually means.

 

“We know what ‘unfair’ is,” Mulvaney said. “We know what ‘deceptive is; I’m not sure we know how to define ‘abusive.’ This is an example of how we are looking at issues….”We are still Elizabeth Warren’s child, for better or worse. We’re not the FDIC; we’re not the SEC…I want the Bureau to get there, to where we are associated with other regulators and not controversial because of its partisan circumstances, which colors what half of Americans think of it.”

 

“Partisan” is a good description of how the agency was initially staffed. Here is one lawyer’s description of how things went. The agency ensured that only Democrats who were inherently hostile to the financial industry were hired to staff out the agency. Mulvaney may have different goals than Richard Cordray, but the rank-and-file of the agency do not.

 

Trulia noted that price reductions at the high end of the market accelerated in July and August. Over 17% of US listings had a price cut during August. Between tax reform, higher rates, and higher prices it was only a matter of time before we started seeing an impact at the higher price points. Don’t forget that in the aftermath of the crisis, luxury real estate was about the only sector that was working for homebuilders. While the West Coast has been able to absorb that inventory, the East Coast definitely has not. Indeed, tony NYC suburbs are swollen with $1 million + properties for sale, and some have gone as far as to ban “for sale” signs.

 

Trump continued to jawbone the Fed, calling it his “biggest threat.” FWIW, there isn’t a politician on the planet that actually likes tightening cycles, but most have the common sense not to say anything about.