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.

Morning Report: Building permits in the Northeast struggle

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2794 -2.5
Eurostoxx index 383.01 -1.04
Oil (WTI) 68.12 0.06
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.85%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.51%

Stocks are lower after Netflix (one of the FAANG leaders of the market) missed earnings. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Industrial Production rebounded in June by 0.6% and manufacturing production increased 0.8%. Capacity utilization is 78%.

Jerome Powell heads to Capitol Hill today to begin his semiannual testimony in front of Congress. Expect a lot of questions regarding wage growth, trade wars, and regulation. Overall, he is expected to say that the economy is in good shape overall with above-trend growth and a strong labor market. He will face some questions from Democrats on regulation, especially since the Fed approved Goldman and Morgan Stanley’s capital plans despite the fact they were technically failed their stress tests. The Fed Funds futures continue to move in a hawkish direction, with the Sep futures pricing in a 88% chance of a hike and the Dec futures pricing in a 63% chance of 2 hikes.

Despite trade tensions, the IMF still expects the global economy to grow 3.9% this year and next. Trade remains a threat, however the impact is relatively small: a decrease of 0.5% in global growth by 2020. They forecast the US economy will grow 2.9% this year. Note many strategists took up their Q2 numbers on the strong retail sales print yesterday.

The Fifth Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the structure of the FHFA is unconstitutional. Not sure how that is going to play out. Separately it also ruled that the FHFA was within its authority to sweep the profit from the GSEs, which is bad news for shareholders. FNMA stock was hit to the tune of 6% after the ruling.

The difference in sentiment between Northeastern real estate markets and the West is night and day. Growth in single family permits was actually negative for the first 5 months of this year. Compare that to the West, where they are up almost 18%.

building permits by geography

The Northeast still has yet to really recover from the Great Recession, although some of that has more to do with secular trends in banking and the securities industry than it does with the real estate bubble. The securities industry has been hit by secular trends (falling commissions, ETFs) that have been great for investors but not great for employment in the industry. 5 cent commissions and 2%/20% hedge fund fees supported a lot of jobs which supported a lot of $1MM + homes. Towns like New Canaan have banned For Sale signs and the only part of the real estate market that is moving is in the sub-$750k segment. Million dollar plus listings languish. It is amazing – we have a housing shortage in the US overall, but you would never know that if you looked at the NYC suburbs.

Morning Report: Bank earnings pour in

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2797 -1
Eurostoxx index 385.18 0.81
Oil (WTI) 70.6 0.27
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.84%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.53%

Markets are flat as bank earnings come in. Bonds and MBS are up small. Slow news day.

The US government held a reasonably strong auction yesterday, where primary dealers took down their smallest positions ever. Meanwhile, speculative shorts in Treasuries (one of the biggest trades on the Street) are struggling as rates stay stubbornly low. Some continue to warn that the flattening yield curve is really telling us that a recession is around the corner.

The prepared remarks for Jerome Powell’s semiannual report to Congress should be out today. Probably won’t be market-moving, but you never know.

Import prices fell 0.4% in June as petroleum and food prices fell. For the year, they are up 4.3% however.

Consumer sentiment fell according to the University of Michigan / Reuters survey. The current conditions index drove the fall, which is usually a function of gas prices. Trade fears also weighed on sentiment.

Wells Fargo reported earnings this morning. Earnings were down due to a tax charge. Stripping out the tax charge, they were flat. They had a tough quarter for mortgages like everyone else. Origination for the quarter was $50 billion, which is up seasonally from Q1, but down 11% YOY. The current pipeline of $24 billion is down 26% YOY. Margins were 77 basis points, which is down 17 from the prior quarter and down 47 bps from a year ago. The stock is down 3% pre-open.

JP Morgan had a similar story to Wells. They originated $23.7 billion in mortgages during Q2, which was higher seasonally and down about 10% from a year ago. Mortgage banking revenue (which includes servicing) was down 6% YOY. Margin compression again was the story, especially in correspondent lending. They marked up the MSR book. JPM is flat pre-open.

A bunch of other banks reported this morning and the whole sector is getting hit, with the XLF down about a percent and a half.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell made positive comments about the economy, although he is concerned about trade and the effects of a long trade war with China. He is concerned about rising trade tensions, although he notes that Trump’s goal is to get others to lower their tariffs. If he succeeds in that, then the trade tension would be a good thing, not a bad thing. It is important to remember that China’s biggest weapon against the US is not imposing tariffs on US goods – it is ignoring US intellectual property laws. Those sorts of things will not really show up in the balance of trade numbers, but will have huge effects on IP firms, particularly media and software.

Morning Report: Jerome Powell agrees with market on interest rates

Vital Statistic:

Last Change
S&P futures 2667 -3
Eurostoxx index 388.93 -0.56
Oil (WTI) 70.09 -0.62
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.55%

Stocks are lower as we await the Trump Administration’s decision on the Iran deal. Bonds and MBS are down small.

The Administration is set to announce later today whether they intend to stay in the Iranian deal or abandon it. Oil has been rallying on expectations Trump will leave.

Jerome Powell said that market expectations (i.e. the Fed Funds futures) are more or less in alignment with the Fed’s expectations for the future path of interest rates. The December Fed funds futures are predicting about a 10% chance of one more hike this year, a 44% chance of 2 more and a 39% chance of 3 more. Over the past month, the central tendency has become more hawkish.

fed funds probability 2

Small Business Optimism remains strong, according to the NFIB. More businesses are planning on increasing capital expenditures, while hiring remains strong and we are seeing evidence of increased compensation. Profitability increased as well, which indicates that productivity is increasing, and that some of this CAPEX is going towards labor-saving technology. Finding qualified workers continues to be the biggest issue surrounding small business. “There is no question that small business is booming,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Consumer spending, the new tax law, and lower regulatory barriers are all supporting the surge in optimism across all small business industry sectors.”

Despite the hurricane-related spike in delinquences, overall DQ rates have been falling, according to CoreLogic. Home price appreciation, in addition to more stringent underwriting standards are the driving force behind it. The foreclosure rate is down from 0.8% to 0.5%, and the 30 day DQ rate is down to 4.8% from 5.0%. As you would expect, TX and FL are experiencing rising DQ rates, but the rest of the nation is down.

Tesla stock has more or less recovered from its conference call induces swoon from last week. The bonds are at the lows however, trading at 88. Note there is a divergence also in NFLX, which has bonds in the low 90s, while the stock is a highflyer.

NYS AG Eric Schneiderman resigned from office after reports came out that he abused 4 women. Schneiderman was an AG cut in the same cloth as Eliot Spitzer, and hated the financial industry about as much as he did (FWIW the feeling was mutual). When Spitzer announced his resignation, cheers went up on the floor of the NYSE.

Freddie Mac is getting into the business of providing lines of credit against MSR portfolios. Nonbank servicers face liquidity issues when loans they are servicing go delinquent. They are required to make the mortgage payment to the ultimate investor of the mortgage until the loan is brought current or foreclosed. Banks generally have no problems with this, but nonbank issuers generally don’t have the balance sheet to withstand heavy advances activity. Fannie Mae only requires 6 months of advances, but Ginnie Mae has no similar relief. Policymakers are concerned about the ability of nonbank servicers to withstand a period of prolonged stress if delinquencies spike.

Homebuyer sentiment hit an all-time high according to the Fannie Mae Home Purchase Sentiment Index. “The latest HPSI reading edged up to a new survey high, showing that consumer attitudes remain resilient going into the spring/summer home buying season,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “High home prices and good economic conditions helped push the share of Americans who think it’s a good time to sell to a fresh record high. However, the upward trend in the good-time-to-sell share seen since last spring has done little to release more for-sale inventory. The tightest supply in decades, combined with rising mortgage rates from historically low levels, will likely remain a hurdle for mobility and a persistent headwind for home sales.”