Morning Report: No, we are not in another housing bubble

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2716 10
Eurostoxx index 387.8 4.74
Oil (WTI) 66.4 -0.63
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.92%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.48%

Stocks are higher after a Goldilocks employment report. Bonds and MBS are down.

Jobs report data dump:

  • Payrolls up 223,000 (expectation was 190,000)
  • Unemployment down to 3.8%
  • Labor force participation rate 62.7% (a drop)
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.3% / 2.7%

The Street was looking for wage growth of 0.2% MOM, but the annual number was in line with expectations. The wage growth print shouldn’t move the needle as far as the Fed is concerned. The employment – population ratio increased a tad as the population increased by 183k and the number of employed increased by 293k. We saw another good jump in construction jobs. Bottom line, a good report for equity markets, and a push for the bond market.

In merger news, Citizens Bank is acquiring Franklin American Mortgage. This deal should vault Citizens into a top-15 mortgage lender, bulk up its servicing portfolio and diversify its origination mix.

Italy has found a solution to its political crisis with a new coalition government that will be installed on Friday. Treasury yields should probably be higher, however tough trade talk out of the Trump Administration is keeping them lower. Even the International Steelworkers is against new tariffs, and if you can’t even get the unions on your side it says a lot…

Hard to believe it is here already, but the hurricane season is just beginning. CoreLogic estimates that 7 million homes are at risk in what NOAA expects to be a normal or above normal season. Note the National Flood Insurance program is set to expire right in the middle of the season.

Construction spending increased in April, according to the Census Bureau. Residential construction rose 4.4% MOM and 9.7% YOY.

Manufacturing accelerated in May, according to the ISM report. Employment expanded sharply. New order and production also grew.

As usual, the ISM report showed employers having difficulty finding qualified labor. Labor shortages are a theme these days, but you aren’t seeing the growth in wages you would expect. I wonder if part of the issue is application tracking systems, which seize on keywords and therefore have to be gamed somewhat. How many applicants are unaware of this or are simply bad at it? And if so, how many qualified workers are being screened out and never get presented before a set of eyes? I suspect ATS are good for companies in bad times, when there are a surfeit of applicants, but work against them when the labor pool is tighter.

An interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal today about the credit box and the possibility of another housing bubble. The authors point to the way home prices have outstripped income growth and posits that a widening credit box (i.e. new 3% down loans from Freddie) are contributing. The authors suggest that underwriters tighten standards, and the government tighten loan parameters to prevent another foreclosure crisis when the market turns.

With regard to home price appreciation, is it due to widening credit standards, or is it due to restricted supply? In other words, is it a housing start problem or a MCAI (mortgage credit availability index) problem? The chart below is of the MBA’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index, which shows a loosening of standards since the bottom, but also demonstrates we are nowhere near the standards that existed during the bubble (and pre-bubble days).

MCAI long term

FHA and the GSEs are stepping in on low downpayment loans because there is a complete and utter void in the private market. Prior to the crisis, FHA was a sleepy backwater of the mortgage market, targeted toward low income first time homebuyers. Afterward, its share grew because it was the only game in town. Let’s not conflate FHA mortgages with neg-am pick a pay loans of the bubble years. IMO the issue is a lack of supply (heck the appreciation is the highest in places like San Francisco, where the median price is double the limit on a FHA loan). Housing starts around 2 million for the next several years is what will be needed to cool off home price appreciation (along with the REO-to-rental types ringing the register on their portfolios).

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Morning Report: Markets take down chances of 4 hikes this year

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2705 4
Eurostoxx index 384.58 0.1
Oil (WTI) 67.12 0.39
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.84%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.45%

Stocks are slightly higher this morning as Italian bonds bounce. Bonds and MBS are down.

US Treasuries touched 2.76% yesterday on the flight to quality trade. The Fed Funds futures are now predicting a 81% chance of a hike in June. The biggest effect of the Italy situation can be seen in the December Fed Funds futures. A couple of weeks ago, we were looking at a coin toss for 4 hikes this year. Now it is closer to 20%. The dot plot consensus is 3, so the markets are aligning a little closer to what the Fed thinks it is going to do.

fed funds probability 2

Why is Italy worrying the markets so much? Italy has a huge amount of debt – 1.9 trillion euros worth. Its debt to GDP ratio is 130%. The fear is that the uncertainty over this issue over the summer will depress Euro growth, while the banking sector (which already has some issues) will take further hits. As of now, this is a political, not an economic issue – Italian yields are around 3%, nowhere near the 8% level they hit in 2012. Note that Spanish yields are beginning to creep up as well.

Mortgage Applications fell 3% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 5%. This is the 8th consecutive decline. The refi index is down to the lowest level since December 2000. “Rates slipped slightly over the week as concerns over U.S. trade policy and global growth sent some investors back to safer U.S. Treasuries,” said MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting Joel Kan. “Minutes from the most recent Federal Open Market Committee meeting also yielded a more dovish tone, which added to the downward pressure in rates. Our 30-year fixed mortgage rate decreased two basis points over the week to 4.84 percent as a result. Both purchase and refinance activity decreased despite the drop in rates, part of which was due to slowing activity before the Memorial Day holiday.”

The second estimate for GDP came in at 2.2%, right in line with the first estimate. Inflation was revised downward a touch from 2% to 1.9% and consumption was revised downward from 1.2% to 1%. Inventories were revised downward, while business investment was revised up to 9.2% – a big number.

Whether the increase in business investment was a direct result of the tax cuts remains to be seen, but so far tax cut effects aren’t showing up in corporate profits which were more or less flat in the first quarter with last year.

The economy created 178,000 jobs in May, according to the ADP Employment Report. The Street is looking for 190,000 jobs in Friday’s report, although the ADP and BLS reports have been pretty far away the last few times around. The key number will be wage growth, not payroll growth in any case.

Interesting data points in the ABA survey of the nation’s banks. QM has actually caused banks to decrease non-QM lending (which was the opposite of the intended effect). About half retained servicing. Almost nobody lends to FICOs below 620.

The Fed is set to announce proposed changes to the Volcker Rule, which severely limits proprietary trading activities for commercial banks. The current rules are so vague that JP Morgan Jamie Dimon once quipped that traders would need a lawyer and a psychiatrist by their side to determine whether they were in compliance with the law. The Fed will probably tweak the rules only modestly, and will not usher in a return to pre-2008 rules. That would require legislation, which isn’t happening.

Morning Report: Markets cool on a June hike after Italian elections

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2700 -18
Eurostoxx index 384.87 -4.95
Oil (WTI) 66.97 -0.91
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.87%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.54%

Stocks are lower this morning as Italian sovereign debt is getting slammed on the election results. Bonds and MBS are up on the flight to quality.

Over the weekend, Italy failed to establish a coalition of Eurosceptics and their president rejected a Eurosceptic finance minister. The fact that Italy came so close to electing a government that would consider exiting the EU has bond traders selling Italian sovereigns. Between this and Brexit, many observers are wondering if the whole EU experiment is beginning to unravel. How much of this is merely symbolic remains to be seen, but in the meantime the flight to quality trade is on, and that means lower rates.

Italian 10 year bonds are trading at 3.16%, which is up 143 basis points over the past several days. Spain is wider as well, while the rest of the Eurozone (Germany, France) is tighter. The canary in the coal mine for rates however will be the Eurozone banks, and cost of credit protection is going up. Unicredit and San Paolo Imi are up almost 100 basis points, Deutsche Bank (which has other non-Italian headaches) is up 40, and most other Euro banks are up modestly. As of now, this is mainly a European bank phenomenon, however Citi is also up small.

US yields are lower across the board, from the 2 year to the 30 year. Convexity buying will probably give the move legs at least for the near term. The Fed Funds futures are now handicapping a 78% chance for a hike at the upcoming meeting. It was at 95% a week ago. If the Italian debt problem gathers momentum, it will inevitably cause financial stress to rise and that will give the Fed an excuse to sit the next meeting out. As long as inflation is behaving, they can afford this luxury. Falling oil prices are helping as well.

fed funds futures

The Italian vote will probably be sometime this fall, so it at least appears as there won’t be an immediate resolution. Bottom line for the mortgage originators, like the Brits did in 2016, the Italians just might have saved your year.

Aside from Italy, we have a lot of data this week, with GDP on Wednesday, personal income / spending on Thursday, and the jobs report on Friday. European newsflow will be the dominant force, however any sort of weakness in the numbers will probably have an outsized impact as the Street is really leaning the wrong way here.

Home prices increased 6.5% YOY in March, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Seattle, San Francisco, and Las Vegas all posted double-digit increases, while Chicago and Washington DC brought up the rear.

Consumer confidence increased in May, according to the Conference Board. The Present Situation component increased more than the Expectations component. This is surprising given that these consumer confidence indices are often an inverse gasoline price index.

6 trends from the MBA Secondary conference last week: The main points are that margins are falling and volumes are shrinking. Many independent originators are not going to make it through the year. JP Morgan may increase it footprint in FHA after the regulators loosened the thumbscrews. Ginnie Mae will issue a report this summer talking about the future of digital mortgages for the industry. The GSEs are looking to implement technology to allow originators to sell off servicing rights easier, and there remains a need for ways to increase the credit box for the first time homebuyer, who is still often shut out of the market.

Speaking of the first time homeuyer, they decreased activity in the first quarter, according to Freddie Mac. Homes purchased by first time homebuyers slipped by 2% to 411,000. 81% of first time homebuyers used low down-payment mortgages.

First time homebuyers are going to struggle to compete with all-cash buyers. Now, a new startup intends to disrupt homebuying by allowing borrowers who need a mortgage to offer cash instead to the seller (essentially the startup bears the risk if the borrower somehow can’t get a mortgage). “We’re taking that single value proposition that a lot of these institutions and iBuyers have, which is access to capital, and we’re democratizing that capital for the benefit of consumers instead of using it for corporate profits,” said Ribbon CEO Shaival Shah. “Cash discounts that consumers earn from our program flow directly back to the consumer. Based on our early deal volume, customers are seeing an average of 5 percent savings to the purchase price by using Ribbon.” The startup is backed by Bain Capital and a few others.

Interesting perspective in the “robots are going to take our jobs” scare. Historically, improvements in farming, technology, industry have caused jobs to disappear. Obama Administration economist Austan Goolsbee argues that if robots and AI increase productivity (meaning we get more output from less input) that makes us richer. The question for jobs is inevitably how fast the adjustment process happens. The longer it takes, the easier the transition. The paper reads quite easily for an academic paper and provides some needed perspective.

Again, on a personal note, I am still looking for a senior capital markets / securities analyst position so if anyone has any leads, please let me know.