Morning Report: Weak housing starts number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2821.25 14.5
Eurostoxx index 376.34 2.01
Oil (WTI) 59.65 0.83
10 year government bond yield 2.45%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.08%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on overseas strength. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Lots of housing data to chew through. Let’s start with existing home sales, which increased 11.8%, according to NAR. While this month-over-month print of 5.51 million sounds impressive, we are still down on a YOY basis. Lower rates are helping, and we are beginning this season with a little more inventory to work with. We had 1.63 existing homes for sale, which represents a 3.6 month supply. A balanced market needs something like 6 months. Prices are still rising – the median house price rose by 3.6% – but the rate of appreciation has slowed. The median home price came in at $249,500, and that puts the median house price to median income ratio just over 4. Historically that is a high number, but lower interest rates help the affordability issue. The first time homebuyer represented 32% of home sales, an increase from last year but still below the historical average of around 40%.

 

Housing starts fell 8.7% to 1.16 million, a disappointing number. We saw a huge decrease in single family construction – from an annualized pace of 970k to 805k. Last February, the number was 900k so this is a big drop. One note of caution – the margin for error on these numbers is huge (around 17%), so there is a good chance this gets revised upward in subsequent releases. Building permits were a little better – falling only 2% to 1.3 million. Housing construction has largely been absent from this recovery, and could provide a huge boost to the economy if it ever gets back to normalcy (around 1.5 million units a year).

 

housing starts

 

More evidence that home price appreciation is slowing: the Case-Shiller home price index rose 4.3% in January, the slowest pace since 2015. In general, 2018 was a year to forget for the mortgage industry as rates rose 100 basis points. They have now given back most of those gains, so perhaps 2019 will be a bit brighter, although if you have been counting on MSR unrealized gains to paper over weakness in lending, the Q1 mark is going to be harsh.

 

The economy seems to be slowing, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. It edged downward to -.29 in February, and the 3 month moving average is negative as well. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 different economic indicators, of which many are leading as well as lagging. While it is too early to start declaring 2019 a slow-growth year, the first quarter is looking weak.

 

The FHA is backing away from a 2016 decision to loosen credit – it is now tightening standards and flagging more loans as “high risk.” The biggest effect will be for the first time homebuyer, and FHA estimates that 40,000 loans or so might be affected. At the heart of the issue is a 2016 decision to no longer require a manual underwrite for FHA loans with FICOs below 620 and DTIs above 43. FHA was largely a backwater pre-crisis, and most of these types of loans were subprime. As the subprime market disappeared, FHA stepped in to fill the void. Home Ready and Home Possible have emerged as low downpayment competitors, and FHA has suffered from negative selection bias. While FHA permits very low credit scores, most lenders don’t go as low as FHA permits in the first place.

 

Trump nominates free-marketer Steven Moore to the Federal Reserve Board and Paul Krugman isn’t taking it well. For a little economics inside-baseball, this resembles the Spacely Sprockets / Cogswell Cogs rivalry in the economics profession. Since most of the free-market caucus comes from the University of Chicago, they are called “fresh water economists” and Krugman comes from Ivy / Coastal academia (Princeton) so his school is called “salt water” economists. In terms of ideological bent, the fresh water economists are much more non-interventionist than the salt water economists, who support direct government intervention in the markets and economy. Steven Moore is a true believer in the free market approach, and to be honest, most of the Fed and academia are not. A little diversity of opinion is not a bad thing….

 

 

Morning Report: Friday’s jobs report in perspective

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2756 0.4
Eurostoxx index 371.87 1.24
Oil (WTI) 56.47 0.4
10 year government bond yield 2.65%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.32%

 

Stocks are flattish on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The upcoming week has a lot of economic data, however most of it is not housing related, and probably won’t be market-moving either. The biggest housing-related number will be new home sales and construction spending. We will also get inflation data and industrial production.

 

Friday’s payroll number was a definite downward surprise, and the question is whether this indicates a slowing labor market? Extremely low job prints happen occasionally we had sub-20k months in Sep 2017 and May 2016. Both prints ended up being a blip, and there is a good chance this gets revised upward in next month’s number. The number to take away from the jobs report is the increase in average hourly earnings. Average hourly earnings are a notoriously non-volatile series, and this one keeps inexorably increasing by larger and larger amounts.

 

average hourly earnings

 

Just because the US economy is doing relatively well, that doesn’t mean things are rosy overseas. China has had some bad days in the stock market, and the cracks are starting to appear in the economy. In Europe, the German Bund yield (The European benchmark) is about to go negative. Growth estimates have been slashed from 1.7% to 1.1%. So there is a bit of a global slowdown, and it means that we will probably take some shrapnel in the form of lower rates.

 

CFPB Chair Kathy Kraninger appeared before the House Financial Services Committee last week, and the commentary broke down along partisan lines. Democrats, pining for the Cordray days, had a laundry list of complaints, ranging from a de-emphasis on payday lenders to kvetching about changes in internal reporting lines. Republicans generally supported her and the agency’s end of regulation by enforcement. Kraninger reaffirmed the Agency’s commitment to chasing bad financial actors.

Morning Report: Homebuilder sentiment improves

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2783.25 -3
Eurostoxx index 370.68 -0.04
Oil (WTI) 56.9 0.81
10 year government bond yield 2.67%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are flattish on no major news. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

 

Homebuilder sentiment improved markedly in February according to the NAHB / Wells Fargo Homebuilder Sentiment Index. Expectations for future sales drove the increase. The index touched a 3 year low in late 2018, so things are still disappointing compared to 2016-2017, but well above historical numbers. Challenges remain for the building industry however. “The five-point jump on the six-month sales expectation for the HMI is due to mortgage interest rates dropping from about 5% in November to 4.4% this week,” Dietz continued. “However, affordability remains a critical issue. Rising costs stemming from excessive regulations, a dearth of buildable lots, a persistent labor shortage and tariffs on lumber and other key building materials continue to make it increasingly difficult to produce housing at affordable price points.”

 

The FOMC minutes didn’t really contain much in the way of new information. They see the balance sheet reduction ending sooner than anticipated, which means the Fed will no longer have a $800 billion balance sheet like it had pre-crisis – it will now probably be in the $3 – $4 trillion range. Second, there is uncertainty whether there will be more hikes in 2019. The Fed Funds futures have been predicting no further hikes this year for several months now, so perhaps this is simply the members catching up with what the markets are saying. Note Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester thinks we may need to still hike rates this year and end tapering.

 

MBA mortgage applications increased 3.6% from the previous week as refis increased 6% and purchases increased 2%.  Rates actually increased by 8 basis points to 4.56%. While refi activity has been increasing from the dismal levels at the end of 2018, they are still well below historically anemic. A combination of prepayment burnout and rising rates are driving the decrease. Going forward, home price appreciation, not interest rates will be the impetus for refinance activity as cash-outs will inevitably rise to pay off credit card debt and FHA borrowers with sufficient equity will want to refinance into conventional loans with no MI.

 

Chart: MBA Refinance index 1998 = Present

MBA refinance index

 

Move over Rocket Mortgage, here comes mello smartloan, which is loanDepot’s new 100% digital mortgage loan experience. They claim this loan can reduce time to close by 75%.

 

Morning Report: Job openings exceed unemployed by over 1 million

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2751.25 6.5
Eurostoxx index 364.16 1.38
Oil (WTI) 53.66 0.58
10 year government bond yield 2.69%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

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

 

It looks like a shutdown may be avoided, as Congress has come up with a plan to allocate some funds to a smaller, cheaper border wall than Trump was looking for. The President hasn’t committed to signing anything yet, but it looks like he will go along.

 

The labor market continues to be on fire, as the number of job openings hit 7.3 million, a series record. The number of job openings exceeds the number of unemployed by over 1 million. Construction led the increase with a jump of 88,000, some of which is probably seasonal. The quits rate was unchanged at 2.3%, although it increased for the private sector while decreasing for government. The quits rate is a leading indicator for wage growth.

 

quits rate

 

Mortgage Applications fell 3.7% last week as purchases fell 6% and refis fell .01%.

 

Ellie Mae is being taken private in a $3.7 billion transaction. Private Equity firm Thomas Bravo will pay $99 a share for the stock, and has allowed a 35 day “go-shop” provision, which permits Ellie Mae to seek higher bids.

 

Small business optimism is returning to normal levels after spiking to all time highs in 2017 and 2018 according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Uncertainty in Washington, exacerbated by the lengthy government shutdown is making small business worried about the future. That said, they continue to hire, though they are more cautious about expansion plans.