Morning Report: Powell soothes US stock indices

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3002 6.5
Oil (WTI) 60.62 0.26
10 year government bond yield 2.08%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.08%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after Jerome Powell hinted strongly that the Fed would cut rates at the July meeting. The S&P 500 is at record levels and is flirting with the 3000 level. Bonds and MBS are down small.

 

Oil prices are rallying as tensions rise in the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian considers the Strait to be its territorial waters, and has been hassling warships going through the area for decades. The latest incident involves a British oil tanker. Persian Gulf tensions largely impact North Sea Brent prices more than West Texas Prices (which most of the US uses).

 

If the Fed is cutting rates, why aren’t yields going lower? Bond yields are higher across the board globally, with the German Bund yielding -26 basis points on hints that the ECB could launch further stimulus plans. The Bund yielded -38 bp last week, so perhaps US bond yields are simply following what international bonds are doing. Don’t forget, the last time the Fed Funds rate was in the 150 – 175 basis point range (May of 2018) the 10 year was about 2.9%. So, the Fed could cut rates 75 bp by the end of the year and we could see yields go nowhere. Look at the chart below, which plots the 10 year bond yield versus the Fed Funds rate:

 

10 year vs Fed Funds rate

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 209k last week, which was a touch below expectations. Regardless, the last time we were at similar levels was during the Vietnam War when we had a military draft.

 

Consumer prices rose 0.1% in June, according to the Consumer Price Index. The core CPI, which excludes food and energy rose 0.3%. On a YOY basis, the headline number rose 1.6% and the core index rose 2.1%. That said, the Fed prefers to use the PCE index, which shows inflation to be lower. The CPI overweights housing compared to the PCE, which is why it shows higher levels.

 

Jerome Powell’s Humphrey-Hawkins testimony dominated the headlines, but the FOMC minutes also confirmed his outlook.

Participants judged that uncertainties and downside risks surrounding the economic outlook had increased significantly over recent weeks. While they continued to view
a sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective as the most likely outcomes, many participants attached significant odds to scenarios with less favorable outcomes. Moreover, nearly all participants in their submissions to the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), had revised down their assessment of the appropriate path of the federal funds rate over the projection period that would be consistent with their modal economic outlook.

 

Separately, Larry Kudlow emphasized that Trump has no plans to fire Powell. The Fed’s independence from politics makes it highly unlikely he could do so in the first place, however Jimmy Carter did do it to G William Miller, kicking him upstairs to Treasury and hiring Paul Volcker to run the Fed.

 

The first hurricane of the 2019 Atlantic season looks like it will hit Louisiana.

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Morning Report: Strong jobs report knocks stocks

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2982.25 -8.4
Oil (WTI) 57.45 0.2
10 year government bond yield 2.02%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.00%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after Friday’s strong jobs report stoked fears the Fed might not cut rates as much as the market expects. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Jobs report data dump:

 

  • Payrolls up 224,000
  • Unemployment rate 3.7%
  • Labor force participation rate 62.9%
  • Employment-population rate 60.6%
  • Average hourly earnings up 3.1%

 

Overall, a strong report which should in theory argue against easing rates at the upcoming July meeting. That said, the deceleration in the labor market is being taken as a sign that the Fed needs to act, especially since inflation remains stubbornly below the Fed’s 2% target. The July Fed funds futures are pricing in a 100% chance for a cut, with a 92% chance for 25 basis points, and an 8% chance of 50 basis points.

 

We don’t have much in the way of economic data this week, however we do have Jerome Powell’s Humphrey-Hawkins testimony on Wednesday and Thursday. Humphrey-Hawkins testimony is usually more about posturing politicians than it is about useful insights, but with the markets on edge about a potential rate cut, we could see some volatility. Expect a lot of questions about Fed independence.

 

Want to get involved in the property rental business without having to actually buy a house and rent it out? Roofstock could be your answer. It allows individuals to buy into occupied rental properties and allows them to trade out of them after a 6 month lock up period. If you can’t get a bid on Roofstock’s online exchange, they will buy it back at a 7.5% discount.

 

Deutsche Bank is retreating back to Europe, as it cuts 18,000 jobs and exits a lot of overseas businesses. DB has been underperforming for years, and it looks like its decades-old attempt to become a player on Wall Street and in London are over. It would be cool to see them spin off Bankers Trust, Alex Brown and Sons and Morgan Grenfell, but it doesn’t look like that will happen.

Morning Report: Jerome Powell explains the Fed’s thinking

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2933.25 11.25
Oil (WTI) 58.88 1.05
10 year government bond yield 2.02%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.02%

 

Stocks are higher on positive news on the the trade front. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Durable goods orders came in lower than expected in May, and April was revised downward. The headline number fell 1.3% and the prior month was revised downward from -2.1% to -2.8%. Ex transportation, durable goods orders rose 0.3%. Capital Goods rose 0.4%, which is one bright spot in the report.

 

Mortgage applications rose 1.3% last week as purchases fell about a percent but refinances rose 3.2%. The 30 year fixed rate mortgage fell 8 basis points to 4.06%.

 

Jerome Powell spoke in NY yesterday and addressed some of the issues the Fed is dealing with.

Let me turn now from the longer-term issues that are the focus of the review to the nearer-term outlook for the economy and for monetary policy. So far this year, the economy has performed reasonably well. Solid fundamentals are supporting continued growth and strong job creation, keeping the unemployment rate near historic lows. Although inflation has been running somewhat below our symmetric 2 percent objective, we have expected it to pick up, supported by solid growth and a strong job market. Along with this favorable picture, we have been mindful of some ongoing crosscurrents, including trade developments and concerns about global growth. When the FOMC met at the start of May, tentative evidence suggested these crosscurrents were moderating, and we saw no strong case for adjusting our policy rate.

Since then, the picture has changed. The crosscurrents have reemerged, with apparent progress on trade turning to greater uncertainty and with incoming data raising renewed concerns about the strength of the global economy. Our contacts in business and agriculture report heightened concerns over trade developments. These concerns may have contributed to the drop in business confidence in some recent surveys and may be starting to show through to incoming data. For example, the limited available evidence we have suggests that investment by businesses has slowed from the pace earlier in the year.

Against the backdrop of heightened uncertainties, the baseline outlook of my FOMC colleagues, like that of many other forecasters, remains favorable, with unemployment remaining near historic lows. Inflation is expected to return to 2 percent over time, but at a somewhat slower pace than we foresaw earlier in the year. However, the risks to this favorable baseline outlook appear to have grown.

Last week, my FOMC colleagues and I held our regular meeting to assess the stance of monetary policy. We did not change the setting for our main policy tool, the target range for the federal funds rate, but we did make significant changes in our policy statement. Since the beginning of the year, we had been taking a patient stance toward assessing the need for any policy change. We now state that the Committee will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near its symmetric 2 percent objective.

The question my colleagues and I are grappling with is whether these uncertainties will continue to weigh on the outlook and thus call for additional policy accommodation. Many FOMC participants judge that the case for somewhat more accommodative policy has strengthened. But we are also mindful that monetary policy should not overreact to any individual data point or short-term swing in sentiment. Doing so would risk adding even more uncertainty to the outlook. We will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.

The Fed Funds futures turned slightly less accomodative after the speech. They are now looking at something like a 70% chance of a rate cut at the July meeting, and the markets are coalescing around 75 basis points in cuts this year.

fed funds futures

 

The Trump Administration established a White House Council on Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing which will focus on removing burdensome regulatory barriers. The council will work to identify federal, state, and local barriers to affordable housing, and will take action to remove federal and administrative regulatory burdens. Note there is no mention of taking action to remove “state and local regulatory burdens,” which is often zoning restrictions. The Obama HUD aggressively sued local jurisdictions to force them to change their zoning laws from single family only to multi-family, but it looks like the Trump Administration won’t be going down that route.

Morning Report: Existing Home Sales rise

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2955 4.5
Oil (WTI) 57.79 0.24
10 year government bond yield 2.03%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.01%

 

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

 

Business sentiment in Germany hit a 5 year low, which is pushing Bund yields lower. The US Treasury market is being pulled by overseas weakness, but many are trying to interpret the US yield curve’s flattening as a recessionary indicator. Don’t buy it. Rates will probably meander lower unless we get indications of persistent 2%+ inflation. Separately, Trump tweeted that the Fed doesn’t know what it is doing, though he denied considering demoting Jerome Powell.

 

We have a lot of housing data this week, with the Case-Shiller and the FHFA Home Price indices. We will also get new home sales. The only potential market mover is personal income / personal spending on Friday. The third revision of first quarter GDP will be released on Thursday.

 

Existing home sales rose 2.5% in May, according to NAR. Total Sales came in at 5.34 million, a drop of 1% on a YOY basis. The median home price rose to $277,700 from $265,100 a year ago. Falling mortgage rates are helping home sales as the 30 year fixed rate mortgage flirts with the 4% level again. Inventory is still tight however, at only a 4.3 month supply.

 

Economic activity picked up in May, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators led the increase, which jumped from -.48 to -.05. This means the economy is more or less growing on trend after a weak April. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 economic indicators, so it really is a lagging index. It isn’t a market-mover.

 

Signs of life in the private label securitization market? Cerberus (a large private equity firm) did the first post-crisis HELOC securitization last week. HELOC securitization was only done during the bubble years, and many of these loans turned sour in the housing bust. Cerberus only issued the most senior AAA tranche, and it priced at L+105, a bit worse than the initial price talk. Cerberus did not sell any of the junior pieces.

 

Ginnie Mae has let Loan Depot out of the penalty box. Ginnie Mae has been focused on prepayment speeds for VA loans, which is an indication that a lender is churning VA loans through the IRRRL process. “The removal of such a restriction is based on the Issuer having demonstrated to Ginnie Mae’s satisfaction that (a) its prepayment speeds are substantially in-line with those of equivalent multi-Issuer cohorts, and (b) such improved performance is sustainable,” the agency said in a statement.

 

Freddie Mac is rolling out a new rehab loan: the CHOICERenovation loan. It will allow the buyers to roll the renovation costs into the loan, permit them to begin renovations after they move in, and the homeowner can act as his own contractor. “There’s a fair amount of housing with deferred maintenance,” Danny Gardner [Senior VP of single-family affordable lending at Freddie Mac] said in an interview. Cash-strapped buyers “should be very willing to undertake those issues if they can get houses at an affordable price.” The program is not available quite yet, but it should be out sometime this summer.

 

Contrary to expectations, professional investors are still buying starter homes and renting them out. Investors purchased 20% of the houses in the bottom third of the national price range in 2018, which is 5% more than the historical average. Many expected the REO-to-Rental trade to fizzle out as investors would ring the register. So far, that hasn’t happened, as home construction remains firmly mired in recessionary territory.

Morning Report: New home sales still anemic historically

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2821  9
Eurostoxx index 380.4 1.8
Oil (WTI) 58.12 -0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.60%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.28%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on overseas strength, particularly in China and Japan. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

New Home Sales fell to 607,000 in January, according to the Census Bureau. This is down 7% MOM and 4% YOY. New Homes Sales is a notoriously volatile number, and the margin for error is generally in the mid-teens %. Still 607,000 is roughly in line with historical averages over the past 50 years. That said, population has grown since then, so it isn’t really comparable. Take a look at the chart below, which is new home sales divided by population – we are still only at levels associated with the depths of prior recessions. In other words, we are still in very early innings with the housing recovery, and you can make an argument that the recovery hasn’t even begun yet.

 

new home sales divided by population

 

Industrial Production rose 0.1% in February, and January’s initial 0.6% drop was revised upward to -0.4%. Manufacturing production fell 0.4%, while January’s 0.9% drop was revised upward to -0.5%. Capacity Utilization fell to 78.2%, while Jan was revised up again. So, Feb wasn’t great, but January wasn’t as bad as it initially appeared to be.

 

We have entered the quiet period for the Fed ahead of their meeting next week. No rate hikes are expected, although we will get new economic forecasts and a new dot plot. Sentiment regarding the Fed has changed massively over the past few months. As of now, the the Fed funds futures are estimating that there is a 75% chance the Fed does nothing this year, and a 25% chance they cut rates by 25 basis points. The fed funds futures are pricing a 0% chance of a hike. While Trump’s jawboning of the Fed was bad form, and you generally don’t want to see presidents doing that, you also can’t escape the fact that the Fed Funds futures and the markets think he was right!

 

 

Morning Report: REO-to-Rental exit time?

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2706 1
Eurostoxx index 359.39 -0.56
Oil (WTI) 55.07 0.02
10 year government bond yield 2.70%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.40%

 

Stocks are flattish this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

 

The upcoming week will be data-light, as is typical the first week of every month. Jerome Powell speaks on Wednesday, and that is about it. Productivity and costs on Wed could be interesting, but there just isn’t going to be much to move bonds.

 

The money for the government runs out on Feb 15 and we are back to a possible shutdown. Judging by the jobs report, it doesn’t appear the government shutdown had much (if any) effect on the overall economy. If we have another shutdown, we should probably see the same old situation of the inability to process VOEs for Federal employees, but that is it.

 

Rental prices for 1 bedroom apartments fell a couple of percent last year. Not sure about the methodology for the study, but it does comport with several other studies that show rental prices falling, at least in luxury areas. For the real estate sector, this is probably good news. One of the best post-crisis trades has been the REO-to-Rental trade, where professional investors and hedge funds purchased distressed foreclosures, fixed them up and rented them out. Cap rates in the aftermath of the crisis were high single digits, which were super attractive given the 0% interest rate environment. Tack on home price appreciation and you have a phenomenal trade. Unfortunately, phenomenal trades rarely stay that way, and between rising mortgage rates and falling rents, cap rates are getting squeezed, and it might be time for some of these investors to exit the trade. Ultimately that means we should see a lot more starter homes for sale which will alleviate the inventory problem we are currently experiencing.

 

Bill Gross is retiring from money management. The Bond King ruled the Great Bond Bull Market of 1982 – 2016 and is stepping out as we head into what should be a decades-long secular bear market in bonds.

 

Fannie and Fred will be released from Federal conservatorship subject to tight market-share restrictions under a new plan released by Senate Republicans. Fan and Fred would retain their role as mortgage guarantors, and would be subject to competition. “We must expeditiously fix our flawed housing finance system,” Crapo, an Idaho Republican, said in a statement. “My priorities are to establish stronger levels of taxpayer protection, preserve the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, increase competition among mortgage guarantors and promote access to affordable housing.” That is a tall order and pretty much forecloses any sort of radical change of the housing finance system. If the social engineering aspect (affordable housing) and the subsidies (30 year fixed rate mortgage) will remain, we are pretty much looking at the same system we had pre-bubble. The model that seems to have gained the most traction is putting the government in the second-loss position, with PMI taking the first loss position. It would represent a bit of a step of re-introducing free market economics in what is one of the most nationalized housing finance systems on earth.

Morning Report: Jerome Powell stresses flexibility

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2587.75 -6.75
Eurostoxx index 348.54 -0.31
Oil (WTI) 52.94 0.34
10 year government bond yield 2.72%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.48%

 

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

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 216,000 last week.

 

Jerome Powell stressed that the Fed has the flexibility to be patient in raising rates and will react to new data as appropriate. “Especially with inflation low and under control, we have the ability to be patient and watch patiently and carefully as we … figure out which of these two narratives [slowdown or inflation] is going to be the story of 2019,” Powell said at the Economic Club of Washington. Separately, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said that the Fed had “reached the end of the road” in this tightening cycle.

 

The Fed Funds futures have retraced some of their December move and are now forecasting that the Fed will do nothing in 2019. In November, they were forecasting another hike in 2019, and then swung to forecasting a cut in December. They are now more or less agreeing with James Bullard that this tightening cycle is in the books.

 

fed funds futures

 

Bonds largely ignored the Fed Speak and stocks were more focused on punishing the mall based retailers and department stores, many of which had a difficult holiday shopping season.

 

Fannie Mae reported another drop in delinquencies, as the SDQ percent fell to .76% of their portfolio from .79% a month ago and 1.12% a year ago. The DQ rate for loans originated during the bubble years is 4.5%. The DQ rate for loans originated since is .33%.

 

It is looking more and more likely that Trump will declare a national emergency to allocate funds to the wall and to re-open the government. It will then be up to the courts to decide if such a move is legal, which opens up a new can of worms as the executive branch continues its decades-long path of power consolidation.