Morning Report: Refinance index falls to an 18 year low

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2857 -2.75
Eurostoxx index 389.8 -0.69
Oil (WTI) 68.41 -0.76
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.99%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.58%

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

Mortgage applications fell 3% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 5%. Activity overall has fallen to a 19 month low. The refi index has is at an 18 year low.

MBA refi index

Mortgage credit availability increased in July, although it tightened for government loans. The MBA’s MCAI increased 1.7%, which is a post-crisis high, but nowhere near what it was during the bubble years.  “Credit availability continued to expand, driven by an increase in conventional credit supply. More than half of the programs added were for jumbo loans, pushing the jumbo index to its fourth straight increase, and to its highest level since we started collecting these data. There was also continued growth in the conforming non-jumbo space, which reached its highest level since October 2013,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. Note that some observers think the MCAI understates how loose credit is, when you look at things like LTV and credit scores.

MCAI by sector

Separately, US banks eased lending standards for business loans. The report noted increased demand for business loans, and decreased demand for commercial real estate loans. As mortgage lending dries up, banks are competing more for small business loans, although increased liquidity in the secondary market for these loans also helped.

Elon Musk proposed the largest LolBO ever on Twitter yesterday, saying he was thinking of taking Tesla private at $420 a share. He claims he has funding secured, which is quite the statement. Even in this market, raising $71 billion isn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially for a negative cashflow company trading with an EV / EBITDA in the 150s.  Perhaps the price should have tipped people off that this was a joke, but apparently it isn’t.

The NAHB conducted a survey of potential homebuyers, and only 14% are planning to buy a home in the next year. That number was 24% in the fourth quarter of 2017. Of those planning to buy a home, 61% are first time buyers, of which 71% are Millennials. Most are noting that the number of homes for sale with the desired features and price point are smaller than they were 3 months ago.

Morning Report: Quits rate jumps in May

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2781 -11
Eurostoxx index 382.05 -4.2
Oil (WTI) 73.29 -0.82
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.85%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.53%

Stocks are lower this morning after Trump threatened tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Bonds and MBS are flat.

China has vowed to retaliate if the Trump Administration follows through on its threat to impose 10% tariffs on about $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Since China imports far less than $200 billion from the US, they may have to come up with other measures to retaliate – anything from denying visas to limiting tourism and increasing regulatory measures. Strategists are beginning to warn that the trade war could derail the recovery.

Inflation at the wholesale level increased in June, according to the PPI. The headline number rose 0.3% MOM / 3.4% YOY. Ex food and energy, it was up 0.3% / 2.8% and ex food energy and trade services 0.3% / 2.7%. Services and motor vehicles drove the increase.

Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court yesterday. He is generally a regulatory skeptic, and has ruled against overreach in the past. He has already weighed in on the CFPB, which he believes is unconstitutional. From CFPB vs PHH, writing for the majority: “The CFPB’s concentration of enormous executive power in a single, unaccountable, unchecked Director not only departs from settled historical practice, but also poses a far greater risk of arbitrary decision-making and abuse of power, and a far greater threat to individual liberty, than does a multi-member independent agency. The overarching constitutional concern with independent agencies is that the agencies are unchecked by the president, the official who is accountable to the people and who is responsible under Article II for the exercise of executive power.” That said, Kennedy was already considered a vote against the CFPB, so the nomination won’t move the needle there.

Kavanaugh has also ruled against the EPA, which generally ignored the “cost” side of the “cost / benefit” analysis of regulations during the Obama Administration. Overall the regulatory environment for the financial industry could get a little easier with Kavanaugh on the Court.

Speaking of the CFPB, Brian Johnson has been tapped to be the #2 of the agency. He replaces Leandra English, who resigned last week.

Small business optimism remains elevated despite trade concerns, according to the NFIB Small Business Optimism Survey.  Employment continues to grow, with 1 in 5 firms adding employees in June on net. Sales are up overall, but margins appear to be facing pressure from higher labor and input prices. Credit needs are being fully met.

Job openings fell to 6.6 million in May, which was just off the record high of 6.8 million set in April. Hires were strong at 5.8 million, led by health care and social assistance. The big number was the quits rate, which is one of the best leading indicators of wage inflation. It rose to 2.4%.

quits rate

The big question remains: how much slack is there really in the labor market? Most of the official numbers imply there is none. Yet, there is only modest wage inflation. I suspect the employment-population ratio tells the real story, and that number has yet to really recover from the Great Recession. Demographics are part of the story, but as people work longer, the assumption of 65 = retirement might have to change. I suspect many of those who are retired would gladly take a job if offered.

For the construction sector, the number of unfilled jobs hit a record high. That sector has been facing labor constraints for quite some time, and this partially explains why housing starts have been so far below what is needed to meet demand.

construction labor market

Mortgage Applications increased 2.5% last week as purchases rose 7% and refis fell 4%. Last week included the 4th of July, so there are all sorts of adjustments baked into that number. Refis fell under 35%, the lowest number since August 2008. ARMS decreased to 6.3%. Overall rates fell about 3-4 basis points last week.

Meanwhile, the MBA’s mortgage credit availability index improved last month as increases in conventional and jumbo availability offset a contraction in government.

Morning Report: Stocks sell off as 10 year breaches 3% level

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2626.5 -9
Eurostoxx index 379.58 -3.53
Oil (WTI) 67.53 -0.22
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.02%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.59%

Stocks are lower this morning after yesterday’s interest rate-driven sell-off. Bonds and MBS are down.

The 10 year breached the 3% mark yesterday, which served as a catalyst for a substantial stock market sell-off. Of course 3% is just a round number, but it is the highest rate since 2014. Some pros are looking for a global slowdown in the economy, which could make some corporate borrowers vulnerable. We certainly appear to be in the late stages of a credit cycle. Junk-rated bond issuance has been on a tear over the past few years, reaching $3 trillion as yield-starved investors have had to reach into the lower credits to make their return bogeys. That said, corporate bond spreads are still at historical lows, (investment grade spreads are still half of what they were as recently as early 2016. Let’s also not forget that much of the bond issuance over the past 8 years went to refinance old debt at higher interest rates – in other words it was a net positive for these companies.

We are now going to see just how much of the huge rally in financial assets over the last decade was due to the inordinate amount of stimulus coming out of the Fed. As stocks now have to compete with Treasuries, some changes in asset allocations are to be expected and the riskier assets are going to bear the brunt of the selling. Keep things in perspective, however. Interest rate cycles are measured in generations.

100 years of interest rates

One of the benefits of QE has been to goose asset prices (which was kind of the whole point). Increasing people’s net worth would increase spending and therefore increase GDP. It probably worked, however that hasn’t been costless. One of the problems with increasing real estate prices is that it shuts people out from places where there is opportunity (California in particular). If you already own property in CA and have been experiencing torrid home price appreciation, you can move since your increased home equity can be used to purchase another expensive property. But if you live in the Midwest were home price appreciation has been less, you might not be able to take that job in San Francisco since you can’t afford to live there. That said, negative equity was probably a bigger problem and home price appreciation did mitigate that issue.

Mortgage Applications fell 0.2% last week as purchases were flat and refis were down 0.3%. Conforming rates increased 6 basis points, while government rates increased 1. ARMs decreased to 6% of total applications. A flattening yield curve makes ARMs less and less attractive relative to 30 year fixed mortgages.

Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney has made some changes at the Bureau. First, he is ending the pursuit of auto lenders, which Dodd-Frank prohibited. The Cordray CFPB did an end-around by going after the big banks behind some of the auto financing, and that will end. Second, Mulvaney will no longer make public the complaint database against financial services companies, saying that “I don’t see anything in here that I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government.” Finally, he plans to change the name from the CFPB to the BCFP. All of this is in keeping with Mulvaney’s commitment to follow the law and go no further.

Morning Report: Controversial CA housing bill dies in committee

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2716.75 10
Eurostoxx index 380.83 0.06
Oil (WTI) 67.63 1.11
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.84%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.44%

Stocks are higher this morning as earnings from the financials continue to pile in. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Mortgage Applications increased 5% last week as purchases rose 6% and refis rose 4%. The refi share was 37.8%, the lowest in a decade. Purchase activity was up on a YOY basis however. Mortgage rates were generally flat as international tensions and the FOMC minutes dominated the news.

2017 was a tough year for the mortgage industry, as profits per loan were more or less cut in half, from $1,346 to $711. Revenues per loan were up, as higher loan balances driven by home price appreciation were offset by lower margins due to competitive pressures. Volumes were down 20% overall, and down 9% on a comparable basis. While revenues per loan increased, costs were up more, and productivity fell.

The IRS’s computer system crashed yesterday due to all the last minute e-filers. If you were unable to file yesterday, you are in luck – the IRS gave you an extra day to get it in without penalty.

Most consumers don’t rate shop when getting a mortgage. This is a surprise since the savings is actually pretty big: between $1,000 and $2,000 over the life of the loan when getting a single competing quote. It increases to $2,000 – $4,000 when the borrower gets 5 competing quotes. Why more don’t do that is a mystery.

An unprecedented bill (SB 827) allowing the state to overturn local zoning ordinances died in committee yesterday. California has an acute housing shortage, and affordable housing advocates had been pushing hard for a bill that would force cities to accept dense multi-family housing complexes within a half mile of rail stops. The bill’s early demise was a blow to affordable housing advocates and environmentalists, who want to reduce the need for driving.

The IMF is warning that years of 0% nominal interest rates have created risks in the financial system, with valuations of risky assets stretched and some late-stage credit cycle behavior. The subprime auto sector in the US is one case in point, and we have multiple residential real estate bubbles globally, especially in China and Canada. That said, the banking system is much more safe and capitalized now than it was 10 years ago. They warn that investors aren’t positioned for a sharp increase in inflation and interest rates over the next several years. Which is probably the right bet – if the Chinese credit and real estate bubble implodes, it will be deflationary, not inflationary.

A very NYC scene..