Morning Report: FOMC minutes and homebuilder earnings

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2569 -13.5
Eurostoxx index 346.51 -1.2
Oil (WTI) 51.94 -0.24
10 year government bond yield 2.70%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.48%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on overseas weakness. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

The FOMC minutes didn’t really contain much interesting information – the committee noted that financial conditions were tightening slightly and that the stock market was falling (we bottomed on Christmas Eve), but still decided unanimously to hike the Fed Funds rate 25 basis points. Despite fears in the market that the Fed has overshot, that possibility was not entertained by either the members or the staff. Incidentally, we will have a lot of Fed speakers throughout the day.

 

Homebuilder Lennar reported strong earnings for the fourth quarter, however it decided to hold off giving guidance on 2019 due to opaque market conditions. That said, new orders were up big, and margins were strong. Lennar is transitioning into a pure-play homebuilder and has been exiting businesses like asset management and real estate brokerage. This quarter should be the last with any CalAtlantic integration noise in the numbers. The Street was happy with the numbers, sending the stock up about 8%.

 

KB Home also reported numbers, although they saw a decrease in revenues, margins and a fall in average selling prices. KB is more of a turnaround story, however and the whole sector is so out of favor that it seems any non-disaster is taken as positive. KB was up 4% on its numbers.

 

Canary in the coal mine? No high-yield debt has been issued since November, according to DealLogic. This is the first December without junk issuance since 2008. This could have simply been due to the gyrations in the stock market, but this bears watching. Despite a spike at the end of 2018, credit spreads are still at historically normal levels, so it is too early to sound any alarms yet. The Fed noted tightening credit conditions in its FOMC minutes as well.

 

Donald Trump met with Democratic Congressional leaders yesterday on the subject of border security and the government shutdown. He characterized the meeting as a “waste of time” after being told there is basically no way Democrats will allocate funds for the wall. The government shutdown is almost 3 weeks old, and Federal workers are not getting paid. That said, unlike the Obama-era shutdowns, the Trump Administration is trying to make the shutdown as invisible as possible to the average citizen. The IRS is back issuing refunds and 4506-Ts, so for the most part there isn’t much of an effect on real estate with the exception of flood insurance. 75% of all realtors noticed no impact on buyers.

 

Michael Bright, who has been the interim president of Ginnie Mae for a year and a half, has resigned and will return to the private sector. 

 

The drop in interest rates means that another half a million borrowers (total of 43 million) will find it attractive to refinance, according to Black Knight Financial Services. This is up 29% from the bottom, but still down 50% from last year.

“As recently as last month, the size of the refinanceable population fell to a 10-year low as interest rates hit multi-year highs,” said Graboske. “Rates have since pulled back, with the 30-year fixed rate falling to 4.55 percent as of the end of December. As a result, some 550,000 homeowners with mortgages who would not benefit from refinancing have now seen their interest rate incentive to refinance return. Even so, at 2.43 million, the refinanceable population is still down nearly 50 percent from last year. Still, the increase does represent a 29 percent rise from that 10-year low, which may provide some solace to a refinance market still reeling from multiple quarters of historically low – and declining – volumes.

“In fact, through the third quarter of 2018, refinances made up just 36 percent of mortgage originations, an 18-year low. And of course, as refinances decline, the purchase share of the market rises correspondingly. So now, in the most purchase-dominant market we’ve seen this century, we need to ask whether the shift in originations will have any impact on mortgage performance. The short answer, based on historical trends, is that it certainly bears close watching.  Refinances have tended to perform significantly better than purchase mortgages in recent years. When we take a look back and apply today’s blend of originations to prior vintages, the impact becomes clear. A market blend matching today’s would have resulted in an increase in the number of non-current mortgages by anywhere from two percent in 2017 to more than a 30 percent rise in 2012, when refinances made up more than 70 percent of all lending. As today’s market shifts to a purchase-heavy blend of lending, Black Knight will continue to keep a close eye on the data for signs of how – or if – this impacts mortgage performance moving forward.”

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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: Yield curve continues to flatten

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2727.25 -1.25
Eurostoxx index 379.19 1.85
Oil (WTI) 71.15 0.62
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.86%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are lower despite a moderation in trade rhetoric out of the administration. Bonds and MBS are up.

The yield curve continues to flatten, with the 2s-10s spread at 32 basis points. The media is going to try and make this a narrative about an upcoming recession.

2s 10s spread

Mortgage applications fell 5% last week as purchases fell 6% and refis fell 4%. Rates increased slightly. So far, we aren’t seeing much evidence that lower rates are helping the business.

Durable Goods orders fell 0.6% in May, which was well below expectations, although the prior month was revised upward. Transportation and defense drove the decline. Core capital goods fell 0.2%, which indicates business capital expenditures took a step back. It is probably too early to say definitively whether tariffs are playing a role here, but it is something to watch. Tariffs are a “cut off your nose to spite your face” sort of policy which can often win votes within a narrow constituency, but hurt everyone else and are a net negative for the economy.

Retail inventories increased 0.4% and wholesale inventories increased 0.5%.

Pending Home Sales fell for the fifth consecutive month, according to NARLawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says this year’s spring buying season will go down as one of unmet expectations. “Pending home sales underperformed once again in May, declining for the second straight month and coming in at the second lowest level over the past year,” he said. “Realtors® in most of the country continue to describe their markets as highly competitive and fast moving, but without enough new and existing inventory for sale, activity has essentially stalled. With the cost of buying a home getting more expensive, it’s clear the summer months will be a true test for the housing market. One encouraging sign has been the increase in new home construction to a 10-year high,” added Yun. “Several would-be buyers this spring were kept out of the market because of supply and affordability constraints. The healthy economy and job market should keep many of them actively looking to buy, and any rise in inventory would certainly help them find a home.”

While there may be a shortage of single family homes for sale, the market for rentals is getting saturated, at least in major cities. Rents on average rose 2.3% in the second quarter, the weakest increase since 2010. Rents were more or less flat in Seattle, where home price appreciation is in double digits. That is a shocking statistic. In response to the drop in demand for single family houses in the aftermath of the bubble, developers went all-in on apartment construction, particularly in urban areas. Now there is a glut, and landlords are offering incentives to take out a lease. According to REIS, the rental vacancy rate ticked up to 4.8% in the second quarter from 4.3%.  Meanwhile, Millennials are getting married, having kids, and looking for single family homes. Perhaps the Great Millennial Migration to the Suburbs is finally upon us.

Lennar reported a big jump in earnings, however this was the first quarter with CalAtlantic, so results aren’t really comparable on a YOY basis. During the quarter, the company used $1.1 billion in cash to redeem some high interest CalAtlantic debt. ASPs rose 11%, however some of that is probably due to CalAtlantic, which is located in higher cost MSAs. Despite rising rates, CEO Stuart Miller reported that demand was strong, and the company still has pricing power to support margins.