Morning Report: Bonds down on Italian fears

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2393 -92.4
Oil (WTI) 24.51 -2.39
10 year government bond yield 1.08%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.44%

 

Stocks are down big this morning as we continue the volatile markets. Bonds are getting slammed, where the US Treasury is following the carnage in Europe.

 

Volatility begets volatility, and that is what we are seeing. Oil is now at a 17 year low. The ironic thing is that gasoline prices will be ridiculously low for the summer driving season, but there will be nowhere to go. European bonds are selling off due to fears that the Italian economy is going to be so bad that they will need a bailout from Germany. The German Bund has picked up 50 basis points in yield, going from -78 basis points on Friday to -28 today. The US Treasury is being pulled along for the ride.

 

Washington is putting together a panoply of measures to try and support the economy while everyone hunkers down at home. It looks like the government is going to give everyone $1,000 in a couple of weeks to get people through this tough time. Multiple industries will probably get some sort of help, with hospitality and airlines at the front of the line. As oil falls, the frackers will be soon behind, and I suspect the mall REITs will be next. Companies are suspending stock buybacks left and right, which may explain some of the sogginess in the stock market.

 

Homebuilder sentiment fell in March to 72, which is still strong. I have heard that construction activity has been suspended in the Bay Area, and I saw that Loan Depot has ceased accepting loans from all of the counties surrounding San Francisco.

 

Housing starts came in at 1.6 million again in February. Building Permits were 1.45 million. February was probably too early to be affected by Coronavirus, so March will be a better tell.

 

Mortgage applications fell 8% last week as purchases fell 1% and refis fell 10%. Between margin calls and a lack of investor appetite for refis, mortgage rates backed up last week. Don’t forget that mortgage backed security investors detest volatility in the bond market. It makes hedging their portfolios more expensive, and the prepay option (which an MBS investor is short) more valuable.

 

Despite the moves by the Fed in the markets, the mortgage REITs continue to get slammed. I suspect this is a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality on the part of investors, but some of these stocks are looking crazy cheap, trading at half of book value and some with dividend yields of 20% + (one of which declared its normal dividend yesterday) Watch the REITs, because their appetite for paper flows through to mortgage rates.

Morning Report: The Fed cuts to zero

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2555 -128.4
Oil (WTI) 29.01 -2.79
10 year government bond yield 0.76%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.71%

 

Stocks are limit down after the Fed made an emergency cut over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Yesterday, the Fed cut interest rates to zero and re-initiated QE. The Fed will begin purchasing up to $500 billion in Treasuries and $200 billion in mortgage backed securities over the coming months. For what its worth, stocks are unimpressed. S&P 500 futures went limit down immediately on the Asian open and have been sitting there ever since. The 10 year is trading at 77 basis points pre-open, which is much higher than where it was a week ago.

 

Mortgage backed securities seem to like the re-introduction of quantitative easing. The current coupon TBA is up about 2 points, but it is early and we could just be seeing some short covering. The NY Fed plans to purchase $80 billion of TBAs over the next month.

 

Companies have been taking down their lines of credit to maximize cash on the balance sheet. This is another reason for the rate cut. Banks have been getting clobbered in the sell-off, with the XLF down 25% since the start of the Coronavirus contagion. The Fed is watching to make sure we don’t see a repeat of 2008 when businesses were unable to borrow in the commercial paper market. The banks have all suspended their stock buyback as well.

 

Right now, the immediate concern for the markets is the state of airlines and the energy patch. Oil below $30 a barrel is a problem for almost all of the shale producers. Airline bankruptcies have been a fact of life forever, and many will hit the wall if this drags on. In the meantime the labor market is entering this crisis as strong as it has ever been. Remote working is about to face its biggest test, and if productivity doesn’t take a hit, it could become more mainstream. Certainly for employers it saves money for office space, while improving quality of life for employees. Less commuting is also better for the planet.

 

Coronavirus is going to put a damper on the Spring Selling Season for real estate. Have to imagine traffic is going to fall, although inventory is so tight we probably won’t see much of an impact on prices. Also, this should be an issue for the builders, so supply is going to remain constrained. Refis will continue to drive the business. FWIW, Redfin took the temperature of the average consumer on how it will impact housing. Roughly 40% think it will be bad, while 50% see no effect. The drop in stock prices isn’t going to help the animal spirits in the real estate market, but I find it hard to imagine any sort of decline in prices, aside from the overheated markets on the West Coast.

 

We do have quite a bit of data this week. The FOMC meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday will be more about the press conference than anything, with particular emphasis on whether credit spreads are widening and if we are seeing indications of financial stress in the system. Aside from the FOMC meeting, we will get housing starts, home prices, industrial production and existing home sales. Of course none of this will matter to the bond market, which will be driven by headlines.

 

What does this mean for mortgage rates? The re-introduction of QE will certainly help things, especially if it encourages trading in the lower note rates. Mortgage rates may take a while to adjust. I also suspect that the big money center banks, which drive jumbo pricing are about to increase margins to free up capital to lend to small and medium sized enterprises which are facing cash crunches.

 

 

 

Morning Report: 90% chance of ZIRP by the end of the month

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2819 -145.25
Oil (WTI) 31.96 -9.49
10 year government bond yield 0.46%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.26%

 

Don your crash helmets, it is ugly out there. Stock index futures are limit down. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The 10 year is trading at 0.46% after hitting a low of 0.33% in the overnight session. Granted, the Asian overnight session can be illiquid and whippy, but that is shocking. Oil is down 22% due to a tiff between Saudi Arabia and Russia. The German Bund hit a new record low yield, trading at -88 basis points.

 

The 30 year Treasury is up 10 points. 10. points. The yield is 0.88%. Astounding. The chart of the iShares 20 year government bond ETF looks like an internet stock circa 1999.

 

TBAs are participating in the bond market rally, but not like the 10 year. The 10-year bond is up 3.375 points this morning. 2.5% TBAs are up 1/2 of a point, and 3% and higher notes are up a quarter. So  rates will be better this morning, but not by as much as you think they should. Also, many correspondents have full pipelines, so they will be adding margin to their rate sheets. We may see little to no improvement over Friday. Just be prepared to explain that to your borrowers.

 

The March Fed Funds futures are predicting a 90%+ chance that the Fed will cut to zero at the March 18 meeting. The site cautions that the March 3 cut has made the probabilities somewhat inaccurate, but the bet is that we are back at ZIRP by the end of the month. Don’t discount the possibility of another intra-meeting cut. Check out the Feb 7 predictions… roughly a 90% chance of a 2% Fed Funds rate. Now it is a 90% chance of a 0% Fed funds rate.

 

fed funds futures

 

The week after the jobs report is usually data-light and this week is no exception. The only numbers of note are inflation, and those aren’t going to make any difference.

 

There are now 110,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus. There are just under 30,000 cases outside China. 554 are in the US and it has resulted in 21 deaths. Italy is taking drastic measures to quarantine people, so if you had planned a trip to Milan or Venice this spring, you might want to re-think it.

Morning Report: TBAs are decoupling from Treasuries

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2919 -96.25
Oil (WTI) 43.46 -2.49
10 year government bond yield 0.73%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.3%

 

Stocks are getting clobbered as the flight-to-safety trade takes hold. Bonds and MBS are up. Note we  will have a lot of Fed-speak today, so be aware.

 

Despite the big move upward in bonds (the 10 – year is up about 2 points), TBAs are barely up. The 2.5 coupon is up about 1/4, and the 3s and up are flat. There is a huge push-pull event happening in the TBA market right now.  First, originators who hedge their pipelines with TBAs are getting hit with margin calls, which is causing a bit of a short squeeze in the market. Basically, if an originator can’t make the margin call, the broker will close out their position, and that means buying TBAs to close out the short position. Most lenders have had a call from their friendly TBA broker-dealer already, and you will probably be able to hear the champagne corks popping after we get past Class A settlement next week. People have been white-knuckling it all week.

 

On the other hand, increasing prepay speeds are making the higher note rates less and less attractive. If you buy a 3.5% Fannie TBA, you’ll pay 104. You will get back 100. You are hoping that you get enough coupon payments to cover that premium you paid. As rates fall, that chance of making back that 4% premium you paid becomes less and less. So, even though the 10 year keeps falling, eventually mortgage backed securities will participate less and less in the rally (or at least the higher note rates will). And it looks like we are about there. This is a big relief for mortgage bankers who have full pipelines and want to ring the register. Now, about that servicing portfolio….

 

Margin calls harken back to the bad old days of 2008. Are we experiencing something similar? Emphatically, no. In 2008, we had a collapsing residential real estate bubble, and these are the Hurricane Katrinas of banking. Despite all the fears of a recession, delinquencies are at 40 year lows, and the labor economy remains strong.

 

Speaking of the labor economy, it is jobs day. Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 273,000 (expectation was 177)
  • Unemployment rate 3.5% (expectation 3.6%)
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.3% MOM / 3% YOY
  • Labor force participation rate 63.4%

Overall, a strong report that should take some wind out of the sails of the bond market. Note that this is February’s report, so much of it will be pre-Coronavirus. US corporations are preparing for a mass experiment in remote working, so some of the effects of virus could be relatively well mitigated.

 

Remember yesterday, when I showed the Fed Funds futures prediction and said it was a toss-up between how big of a cut it will be? Well, it still is. Except now it is a toss-up between a 50 basis point cut and a 75 basis point cut. ZIRP by June?

 

fed funds futures

 

Who else is driving the rally in the 10 year? Banks. Banks who hedge their interest rate risk with Treasuries are facing similar issues that mortgage bankers are in the Treasury market. Banks with huge portfolios of mortgage loans will sell the 10 year against it in order to hedge interest rate risk. As rates fall, they will need to buy back some of that hedge. According to JP Morgan, banks need to buy about $1.2 trillion in 10 year bonds to adjust their hedges.

Morning Report: Rates hit fresh lows as Coronavirus infects the markets.

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2910 -40.25
Oil (WTI) 44.97 -1.79
10 year government bond yield 1.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.44%

 

Stocks are lower as the Coronavirus knocks down global equities. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Washington State has reported the second US death due to Coronavirus, and one case has been reported in New York City. Globally there have been 87,000 cases and 3,000 deaths. The total number of confirmed cases in the US is 75. Most of the cases center around a nursing home in Kirkland, WA.

 

The 10 year is trading close to 1% as the market is anticipating a move out of the Fed, the ECB, and maybe the Bank of Japan to lower rates.  Fed Chairman Jerome Powell made a statement on Friday saying:

The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity. The Federal Reserve is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.”

This statement caused a big shift in the Fed Funds futures. The March Fed Funds futures are now calling for a 50 basis point cut. My guess is that we would have an intra-meeting cut if the sell-off continues this week, and then another 25 basis points in March. Oh, and guess what the central tendency is for December. 50 – 75 bps in the FF rate. In other words, 100 basis points in cuts this year.

fed funds futures march 2020

 

Those sorts of moves seem to anticipate a recession in the US this year. Unless this turns into a major pandemic in the US, that seems unlikely. You generally don’t see recessions with 3.6% unemployment. However, supply shocks out of Asia will definitely slow things down. FWIW, the Fed Funds futures are predicting a recession, and that seems to be a stretch unless you start seeing tens of thousands of cases in the US.

 

The OECD is predicting that the coronavirus will lop about .5% off global growth this year, from 2.9% to 2.4%, which is a best case scenario. This scenario assumes that Coronavirus remains largely contained in Asia. If major outbreaks happen in Europe and the US, we would be looking at 1.5% global growth this year.

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: The Fed is sanguine on the economy

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3322 -3.25
Oil (WTI) 50.11 -0.32
10 year government bond yield 1.56%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.66%

 

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

 

The upcoming week will be date-light, however we will have a lot of Fed-speak. Jerome Powell will be delivering his semi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins testimony on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday. In terms of economic data, we will get CPI, retail sales and industrial production this week. None of these should be market-movers. The 10 year will be driven mainly by the global risk on / risk off trade which will be led by China.

 

The Fed said that downside risks to the US economy have diminished over the past few months, although Coronavirus remains a threat. Remember, recoveries don’t die of old age – they are either murdered by the Fed or are ended by some external event. “Downside risks to the U.S. outlook seem to have receded in the latter part of the year, as the conflicts over trade policy diminished somewhat, economic growth abroad showed signs of stabilizing, and financial conditions eased. The likelihood of a recession occurring over the next year has fallen noticeably in recent months.”

 

The Atlanta Fed has Q1 growth coming in at 2.7%.

 

Mortgage credit availability dipped in January, according to the MBA. “Mortgage credit availability was mostly unchanged to start 2020, decreasing 0.2 percent in January,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Similar to December of 2019, the decline came from the reduction of low credit score, high-LTV programs. Furthermore, there continues to be movement with both adds and drops in the government program space, with the net result last month showing small growth in the government index. Although credit supply has flattened these last two years, the meaningful increase seen overall since the Great Recession has been helpful to the growing share of first-time homebuyers, as well as refinance borrowers looking to act on lower mortgage rates. Ongoing housing supply constraints in the lower-price range continues to hold prospective buyers back the most.”

 

Interesting article in American Banker: Big banks lost money on mortgages in 2018. “Large banks withstood an average loss of $4,803 for every retail mortgage originated in 2018 (compared with a net profit of $376 per loan for independent mortgage bankers). Appetite for these kinds of losses is increasing.” Why were they doing this business? It is all about the MSR. And unfortunately for holders of servicing, rates have been going down, not up which is a negative for servicing assets. As rates have fallen, banks have had to reach for yield, which generally means taking more risk. I know that 2018 data is far in the rear view mirror,  but that is an incredible number.