Morning Report: Jamie Dimon throws cold water on mortgage banking

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2898.75 -1.5
Eurostoxx index 390.41 0.82
Oil (WTI) 63.91 0.15
10 year government bond yield 2.56%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.32%

 

Stocks are lower as we await the Mueller report. Bonds and MBS are up on weak European data.

 

Initial Jobless claims fell to 192,000, yet another sub-200,000 print.

 

Retail sales came in better than expected, rising 1.6% MOM, ahead of the 0.9% Street expectation. Ex autos, they rose 1.2% and ex autos and gas, they rose 0.9%. The economy may well be re-accelerating as we finish the first quarter and enter the second.

 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller will hold a press conference this morning and release a redacted version of the report to Congress before noon. At this point, everyone’s mind is already made up, so this is just a formality. I don’t expect this to be market moving.

 

Bonds will close early today and the markets will be closed tomorrow in observance of Good Friday.

 

Jamie Dimon sounded pessimistic on the mortgage business and blamed regulators during the JP Morgan earnings call.:

“In the early 2000s, bad mortgage laws helped create the Great Recession of 2008. Today, bad mortgage rules are hindering the healthy growth of the U.S. economy. Because there are so many regulators involved in crafting the new rules, coupled with political intervention that isn’t always helpful, it is hard to achieve the much-needed mortgage reform. This has become a critical issue and one reason why banks have been moving away from significant parts of the mortgage business.”

Because of post-crisis capital rules, “owning mortgages becomes hugely unprofitable,” Dimon lamented later in his note. On a call with analysts, he called mortgage servicing – the bookkeeping for regular customer payments – hard. “You got to look at that and ask a lot of questions about whether banks should even be in it,” Dimon said.

If not banks, then, who should be “in it”? “Non-banks are becoming competitors,” Dimon told analysts.

FWIW, Wells Fargo was a bit more constructive on the mortgage banking business, but since they are currently in Elizabeth Warren’s doghouse, it probably makes more sense for them to not poke the bear.

 

Independent mortgage banks and subsidiaries of chartered banks made an average profit of $367 per loan in 2018, down from the $711 they made in 2917, according to the MBA. “Despite a healthy economy in 2018, the mortgage market suffered, as rate hikes hurt refinancing volume and low housing inventories priced some potential homebuyers out of the purchase market,” said Marina Walsh, MBA Vice President of Industry Analysis. “For mortgage companies, there was the perfect storm of lower production revenues combined with rising expenses, which together contributed to the lowest net production income per loan since 2008.” Expenses rose to a study high of $8,278 per loan. Servicing helped pull some firms into the black, as those that retain servicing were more profitable than those that did not. That said, there is probably a size bias at work there as well.

 

Herman Cain might not have the votes in the Senate to get confirmed to the Fed.

Morning Report: December Fed Funds futures still leaning towards 3 hikes this year

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2767 -8.25
Eurostoxx index 385.56 -0.38
Oil (WTI) 65.78 -0.17
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.93%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.59%

Markets are lower this morning on negative news out of Apple. Bonds and MBS are down small.

Something to watch: We are seeing bigger bets against emerging markets currencies and some European bonds. These trades will bump up against Treasury shorts, which were increased last week in the wake of the Italian election results. One of the biggest trades in the hedge fund community is short Treasuries – which means hedge funds are betting on rising rates. A sell-off in Euro bonds and emerging markets will add buying pressure to Treasuries on the flight to quality trade. So, expect some volatility in Treasuries as fast money enters and exits the market.

Rising interest rates are creating another phenomenon – increased flows into money market funds. Money market funds had been a moribund asset class after the crisis, with interest rates at 0% and the memories of breaking the buck still fresh in many investors minds. Money market funds are seeing the biggest inflows since 2013. Expect to see more of this as bond investors also look for ways to shorten duration. This is yet another reason why hedge funds are short Treasuries.

After the Italian led drop in rates, the market adjusted its prediction for the Fed Funds rate. Still sitting at a 60-40 bet for 3 or less hikes this year / 4 or more.

fed funds probability 2

Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon are exceedingly bullish on the US economy. “Right now, there’s no question: It’s feeling strong. I mean, if we’re in the sixth inning, we have our sluggers coming to bat right now” is how Warren Buffet characterized it. Jamie Dimon’s view: “The way I look at it, there is nothing that is a real pothole,” he said. “Business sentiment is almost at the highest level it’s ever been, consumer sentiment is at its highest levels, markets are wide open, housing’s in short supply and my guess is mortgage credit will expand a little bit.”

Buffett and Dimon are also arguing for companies to stop providing earnings guidance. They claim that focusing on short term quarterly earnings causes companies to de-emphasize long-term growth. Berkshire Hathaway does not provide any sort of guidance to the Street. It is an interesting idea, however companies provide guidance to the Street because investors as a general rule prefer predictable companies to unpredictable ones.

How not to “teach your servicer a lesson.” Yikes. If you think your lender is making a mistake, or you are unhappy with the service, don’t stop paying as a means of retaliation.

The OCC is taking a more constructive approach with the banks. At the top of the agenda: re-writing community reinvestment rules to be less onerous for the industry. Obama’s head of the OCC was a career regulator who made a point of challenging the perception that the OCC was too close to the banks it regulated. The Obama administration pushed hard for banks to take less credit risk, and I wonder how much of the issue with a lack of housing construction is due to that. While this wouldn’t affect the Lennars of the world, most construction is with smaller builders who would have to go to their local community bank for financing.