Morning Report: Lousy new home sales print

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2932.25 -9
Eurostoxx index 357.94 0.56
Oil (WTI) 50.06 -0.15
10 year government bond yield 3.02%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.85%

 

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

 

Jerome Powell spoke yesterday and said that rates are “just below” the neutral range. These comments pushed up bond prices (rates fell) and contributed to a rally in the stock market. He may have been walking back an earlier unscripted statement which said that the Fed had a “ways to go” before hitting neutral. He also said that there were no financial bubbles in the US and that the stock market was near its long term valuation average. This put a bid under stocks and other risk assets.

 

The Fed Funds futures didn’t really react all that much, however a consensus seems to be building that we are looking at a hike in December, and probably one more in 2019.

 

TBAs have spent the last couple of days catching up with the move lower in the bond market. MBS were up a good 6 ticks or so in a flat Treasury market. Note we will get the minutes from the November FOMC meeting at 2:00 pm EST. It probably should be a nonevent, but just be aware.

 

GDP came in at 3.5% for the third quarter. This was the second revision out of BEA and there were few changes. This is a deceleration from Q2’s torrid 4.2% growth rate. The PCE price index rose 1.5%, which is slower than the second quarter’s 2.0% pace, and below the Fed’s target or 2%.

 

GDP

 

Mortgage applications increased 5.5% last week as purchases rose 9% and refis rose 1%. Last week contained the Thanksgiving day holiday, so there were all sorts of adjustments to these numbers. Still it is encouraging.

 

New Home sales came in much weaker than expected, and we saw major, major declines in the Midwest and Northeast (which dropped around 20%). New Home Sales is a notoriously volatile number, and is often subject to major revisions. That said, there is no way to put a positive spin on that number – it was simply lousy.

 

new home sales

 

 

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 MBA addresses LO comp

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2730 -15
Eurostoxx index 356.25 0.66
Oil (WTI) 66.47 0.03
10 year government bond yield 3.15%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.93%

 

US stock index futures are lower despite a rally overnight in Asia and Europe. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

We have a lot of Fed-speak today, which could translate into some volatility in the bond market, but I suspect bonds are just going to be driven by stocks and the risk on / risk off trade.

 

The 10 year bond touched 3.11% yesterday around noon, and then sold off as stocks recouped some of their losses. One thing to keep in mind, especially during overseas-led sell offs: First, the European markets close around 11:30 EST. Often times, the best prices (ie lowest rates) can be found right around / after the European close. Second, TBAs (which determine mortgage rates) are slow to react to big moves in the 10 year. So even though the 10 year bond might be up a half a point, it doesn’t mean the scenario you just ran will be half a point better than yesterday.

 

Mortgage Applications rebounded 5% last week as purchases rose 2% and refis rose 10%. Rates increased by a basis point to 5.11% – the highest since Feb 2011.

 

The MBA sent a letter to the CFPB asking them to address LO comp, and in particular the inflexibility of it. During the crisis, loan officers were accused of steering consumers into the loans that paid LOs the most and weren’t often the best for the consumer. In response, Dodd Frank made LO comp insensitive to product – in other words the LO makes the same on every product. While this sounds great in theory, it ignores competitive realities, the fact that LOs sometimes screw up on an application, and that state housing programs can become unprofitable for the lender if the LO makes a full commission. The MBA is asking for clearer, bright line rules from the CFPB.

 

In the sea of red yesterday, the homebuilders were a bright spot after Pulte released earnings pre-open.  Revenues were up 74%, but new orders and backlog were up only single digits. Gross margins increased to 24%. The homebuilder ETF (which hasn’t been able to get out of its own way lately) was up smartly.

 

Donald Trump escalated his attacks on Jerome Powell, the Fed Chairman yesterday in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “Every time we do something great, he raises the interest rates,” Mr. Trump said, adding that Mr. Powell “almost looks like he’s happy raising interest rates.” While Trump acknowledged the independence of the Fed, he would prefer low rates (as would every politician on the planet). BTW, I think Powell is happy the economy is in a strong enough state that he can put some distance between the Fed Funds rate and the zero bound. Monetary policy can become completely ineffective when rates are around zero.

Morning Report: Global bond rout on

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2919.25 -12.25
Eurostoxx index 381.23 -2.61
Oil (WTI) 76.03 -0.38
10 year government bond yield 3.20%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.87%

 

Stocks are lower this morning in the face of a global government bond rout. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Global bond yields are sharply higher this morning. There doesn’t appear to be any particular catalyst, but it is affecting Japanese and German bonds as well as the US. The 10 year yields 3.2% this morning after starting yesterday at 3.08%. Interestingly, the Fed Funds futures haven’t changed at all, so this doesn’t seem to be driven by a re-assessment of Fed policy. If you look at the TIPS market (Treasuries that forecast the change in CPI), there is no change in the market’s assessment of inflation. So this has been largely confined to the long end. The short Treasury trade is one of the biggest trades on the Street, and maybe some big funds put more money to work shorting / underweighting global bonds going into the 4th quarter. 2s-10s are trading at 31 bps.

 

Jerome Powell was interviewed on CNBC yesterday, and signaled that more hikes are on the horizon.  “Interest rates are still acommodative, but we’re gradually moving to a place where they will be neutral,” he added. “We may go past neutral, but we’re a long way from neutral at this point, probably.” Interesting to see him characterizing current policy as “accomodative” when the word was taken out of the September FOMC statement. The “may go past neutral” comment has been cited by some in the press as the catalyst for yesterday sell-off, but the Fed Funds futures don’t reflect that.

 

Job cuts rose to 55,000 in September, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. This was driven primarily by announced layoffs at Wells Fargo. “As the job market remains near full employment and companies struggle to find workers, large-scale job cut announcements like the one from Wells Fargo will actually provide the workers necessary for companies to gain momentum and sustain growth,” said John Challenger, Chief Executive Officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

 

Hurricane Florence appears to have had little impact on initial Jobless Claims which fell to 207,000 last week. As companies ramp up for the fourth quarter, qualified workers are hard to find. That might have been part of the reason for Amazon’s announcement on wages – they have to compete with everyone else for seasonal workers. Note that Fed-Ex is paying pilots bonuses of $40-$110k to keep them from retiring.

 

Lennar reported 3rd quarter earnings yesterday, which were decent, but forward guidance (partially driven by Hurricane Florence) was disappointing, and the stock sold off 2%. Orders increased, but its Q4 forecast was below estimates. The whole sector was hit yesterday as well, as a combination of higher mortgage rates and input costs are creating affordability problems. Most of the metrics were hard to compare YOY because of the CalAtlantic transaction.

 

Factory orders increased 2.3% in August driven by transportation orders. This is the fastest pace since September last year.

 

Investors are bailing on high-yield debt, as spreads to Treasuries are at post-crisis lows and rates are going up. With bond-like upside and stock-like downside, the risk-reward for the asset class is deteriorating. IMO, some of the action we are seeing in the stock and bond markets may simply be a re-emergence of money market investment vehicles which paid so little during the ZIRP years that investors didn’t bother with them. With short term rates pushing 3%, the asset class is making sense again.

 

high yield bond spreads

 

Of course the other asset class that has been moribund since the crisis has been the private label MBS market. While there are governance issues left be sorted out, higher absolute rates will go a long way towards bringing back that sector (and the type of lending that accompanies it). Mortgage REITs who have feasted on MBS thrown overboard in 2009 and 2010 will have to replace that paper with new issuance.

Morning Report: Jerome Powell speaks at Jackson Hole

Vital Statistic:

Last Change
S&P futures 2865 6.75
Eurostoxx index 383.72 0.32
Oil (WTI) 68.91 1.08
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.85%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.58%

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

Another slow news day. Low level talks between China and the US over trade didn’t really go anywhere.

Durable Goods orders fell 1.7% in July on weak aircraft orders, but the core capital goods rate jumped 1.4%, which shows another month of strong business investment, particularly business equipment. Many economists had been skeptical that cutting corporate taxes would increase capital expenditures, but it looks like it has. Theory certainly predicted it would.

Jerome Powell is speaking in Jackson Hole this morning. There probably won’t be anything market moving, but just be aware. The conference will focus on a academic papers for the most part. The agenda is here. One of the papers argues that the Fed should continue to hike rates, even in the absence of current indications of inflation, if the unemployment rate is below the long-term sustainable rate. Since monetary policy acts with a lag, a low unemployment rate can increase inflationary pressures before monetary policy takes effect.

The Fed faces two major risks of “moving too fast and needlessly shortening the expansion, versus moving too slowly and risking a destabilizing overheating,” said Mr. Powell. “I see the current path of gradually raising interest rates as the [Federal Open Market Committee’s] approach to taking seriously both of these risks. In other words, expect maybe 2 more hikes this year, and maybe one or two more next year.

The Fed funds futures increased their handicapping of a Dec hike slightly, to 68% (Sep is a given). Longer term, the September 2019 futures predictions look like this:

fed funds futures

The central tendency seems to be 2 more hikes this year, one more next year, and then the Fed takes a break. Slightly more people think the Fed stops after 2 hikes than those who think the Fed does 4 or more.

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard would vote to maintain the current Fed Funds rate through the end of the year. “If it was just me, I’d stand pat where we are and I’d try to react to data as it comes in,” he said Friday in an interview with CNBC’s Steve Liesman. “I just don’t see much inflation pressure. … I’m an inflation hawk, but I just don’t see that developing. … I just don’t think this is a situation where we have to be pre-emptive.” He also sees the economy slowing next year, and in 2020.

The Senate Banking Committee voted 13-12 along party lines to advance the nomination of Kathy Kraninger to run the CFPB. Remember if Kraninger is rejected, Mick Mulvaney continues to run the agency, which was probably the plan all along.

Morning Report: Inventory continues to fall, albeit at a slower pace

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2862 4
Eurostoxx index 384.93 1.7
Oil (WTI) 67.47 1.04
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.83%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.58%

Stocks are higher this morning as earnings season winds down. Bonds and MBS are down.

Same store sales rose 4.7% last week, which is indicative of a strong back-to-school shopping season. BTS is a good predictor of the holiday shopping season, which would support strong GDP growth for the rest of the year. Consumption is about 70% of US GDP. Current projections are looking at north of 3% growth for the year.

The Fed Funds futures are now handicapping a 96% chance of a Sep hike and a 63% chance of a Sep and Dec hike. Meanwhile, the yield curve continues to flatten.

Trump made some comments about Fed Chairman Jerome Powell at a fundraiser, saying that he expected him to be a “cheap money guy” and didn’t expect him to raise interest rates. He also tweeted that he is “getting no help” from the Fed. While publicly discussing monetary policy is not a normal thing for the President to do, wishing rates were lower is. The only politicians who want higher rates are the ones not in power. He also called the Europeans and the Chinese currency manipulators. Under any other President this would be big, but the dollar and the bond market largely ignored it. It  shows that markets are largely dismissing “Donald being Donald” communiques from the WH.

The YOY declines in inventory that have bedeviled the industry are beginning to moderate, at least according to Redfin. Inventory was down 5.8% in July, which is lower than the double-digit decreases we had been seeing. The median sales price rose 5.3%. Homes went under contract in 35 days, which is 3 days faster than a year ago. Activity is slowing in some of the hotter markets however, especially Washington DC. The inventory issue won’t be fixed until we get housing starts back to some semblance of normalcy, which means a few years of 2MM units before returning to historical averages of around 1.5MM.

inventory

Toll Brothers reported strong numbers this morning, which has sent the stock up 11%. Revenues were up 27% and deliveries were up 18%. Backlog rose 22% in dollars and 13% in units. They also bought back about $137 million worth of stock, which accounts for about 70% of earnings. Robert I. Toll, executive chairman, stated: “We believe there is room for continued growth in the new home market in the coming years. Household formations have been increasing and in many regions the aging housing stock may not satisfy the lifestyles of today’s buyers. Yet new home production has not kept pace with the growth in population and households. On the single-family side, housing starts, other than during the anemic years of this recovery, are at their lowest level since 1970. In addition, existing home values have increased, providing potential move-up and empty nester customers with more equity that they can put toward a new home purchase. We believe these two groups, along with the growing number of millennials starting to buy homes, are all sources of potential new demand in the coming years.”

I find it interesting that he talks about the low level of housing starts, while at the same time spending 70% of Toll’s net income on buybacks. Certainly the actions don’t seem to match the words.

Morning Report: median earnings rising slower than average earnings

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2808 -2.5
Eurostoxx index 386.74 1.76
Oil (WTI) 67.62 -0.46
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.85%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.51%

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

Mortgage Applications fell 2.5% last week as purchases fell 5% and refis rose 2%. The refi share rose to 36.5%.

Housing starts hit their lowest level since September last year, falling to 1.17 million annualized. This is a huge drop from the strong May print of 1.33 million. The Midwest and the South explain the declines, which was both in single family and multi. June weather was generally good, so that isn’t the explanation. Building Permits fell as well, although not as dramatically. They came in at 1.27 million. The Midwest accounted for most of the decline in permits. Housing starts tend to be volatile, but the moving average is turning down, which is worrisome.

Despite the drop in starts, builder confidence remains strong, at least according to the NAHB. The index was flat at 68, which is an elevated number. Pricing remains strong, but the supply is not there. Rising material costs are becoming an issue as lumber tariffs raise costs. So far builders are able to pass these costs on, but there is a limit, especially if wage inflation remains below house price inflation. The median house price to median income ratio is getting back to extreme levels, and interest rates are not going to come to the rescue this time around.

Jerome Powell begins his second day of testimony on Capitol Hill. There was nothing market-moving yesterday, so expect more of the same. Yesterday, his message was that the US economy has clear sailing ahead with strong growth and moderate inflation. With regard to the potential trade war, Powell downplayed the risks to the economy and said there will be a benefit if it turns out that Trump’s actions lower tariffs overall in the global economy. The US generally has much lower tariffs than its trading partners, and Trump has already made the offer to eliminate all US tariffs if our trading partners eliminate theirs. Separately, Powell said that it would ultimately be better for the US if the GSEs were off the government balance sheet. That is pretty much a universal opinion in DC these days, as the US taxpayer bears the credit risk of the majority of the mortgage market.

Median weekly earnings have not kept pace with the CPI lately, which means workers are losing ground, at least according to the latest survey out of the BLS. It shows that the median weekly wage rose 2% in the second quarter versus an increase in the CPI of 2.7%. Interestingly, the average hourly earnings increase during Q2 was 2.64% in April, 2.74% in May and 2.74% in June. It seems strange that the difference between average wage inflation and median wage inflation would be so stark, which would imply that wages are mainly rising at the high end, not the lower end. Note the other BLS measure of wage inflation, the employment cost index, shows comp growth of 2.9%, which takes into account benefits. For the most part, average hourly earnings have been rising faster than the core PCE index:

AHE vs PCE

New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Maryland sued the government yesterday over the state and local tax deduction cap. The lawsuit if probably more for show than anything and doesn’t seem to have much chance of success. Some of the states are looking at workarounds, allowing people to “donate” to charitable funds which go to funding state and local services. Charitable deductions are still deductible. At the end of the day, the biggest issue to states like NY and NJ are the property taxes. NY and NJ have some of the highest property taxes in the country, where people routinely pay $20 – $30k or more. That explains at least partially why you can’t find buyers for luxury properties in the Northeast.

The ECB concludes that QE may have helped the rich, but it helped the poor more. While QE did boost asset prices (housing, bonds, stocks etc) it also boosted growth, which more than offset the increase in asset prices.  “Low short rates do hurt savers via a direct effect, that is a reduction in income on their assets . . . however [low rates] also benefit savers, like all other households, via an indirect effect — that is, the reduction in their unemployment rate and the increase in the labour income,” the paper, called “Monetary policy and household inequality”, said. “The indirect effect dominates . . . The paper also finds that [QE] reduced inequality, mainly through a reduction of the unemployment rate of poorer households.”

Note that this contradicts the observation between median and average earnings. If QE was actually decreasing inequality, you should see median earnings growth close to average earning growth or even slightly higher. Not way below.