Morning Report: Mortgage Applications fall, Blue Wave never materializes

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2782 25
Eurostoxx index 366.66 0.41
Oil (WTI) 62.93 0.71
10 year government bond yield 3.20%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.96%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after Midterm elections. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Democrats took a narrow 7 seat majority in the House last night, while Republicans increased their majority in the Senate. There were largely no surprises last night – urban voters stayed reliably Democrat, rural voters stayed reliably Republican, however some suburban voters flipped from Republican to Democrat. That change could have been due to either (a) the tendency of educated voters to skew more Democrat, or (b) tax reform. I wonder if tax reform played a part, since higher income suburban voters probably got hit the hardest from the deduction limits on property taxes and state / local taxes.

 

One takeaway from the election: Progressive darlings flopped. Beto O’Rourke, Richard Cordray, and Andrew Gillum all lost. So while the energy in the D party is with the resistance, that doesn’t necessarily mean the voters are there too. The Blue Wave never materialized. The other takeaway: The Never Trump Republicans (the John McCains and the Bob Corkers) are gone as well. So DC is going to be more polarized than ever.

 

What will the election mean for markets? Nothing. Gridlock is generally positive for the stock market, and the bond market is being driven by the Fed. Oh, by the way there is a Fed FOMC meeting starting today.

 

There were about 7 million job openings at the end of September, according to the JOLTs report. This is a decrease of about 285k jobs from August’s record 7.3 million number. The quits rate was flat at 2.4%. While anecdotal evidence abounds regarding the inability of companies to fill positions and retain workers, that has yet to really show up in the government’s numbers.

 

Home prices rose 5.6% MOM in September, according to CoreLogic. They estimate that 38% of all MSAs are now overvalued, when looking at home prices versus incomes. Just under 20% were undervalued. Of course overvaluation / undervaluation is a moving target, so that can all change if incomes rise, especially if mortgage rates stay the same. Betting on a flattening yield curve late in an economic cycle is usually a decent bet, especially after the Fed finishes a round of monetary tightening.

 

Mortgage credit availability increased in October according to the MBA Mortgage Credit Availability Index. “Credit availability increased in October, driven largely by an expansion in the supply of conventional credit, while government credit fell slightly over the month,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting. “Reversing a trend from last month, lenders made more conventional and low down payment programs available to prospective borrowers. This increase in supply was likely in response to a growing number of first-time home buyers in the market, as home price appreciation has slowed and wage growth has picked up. Jumbo credit availability also expanded last month, with the jumbo index increasing again to its highest level since the survey began.”

 

MCAI

 

Last week’s drop in interest rates didn’t have much of an effect on mortgage applications, as the MBA’s index fell 4%, driven by a 3% drop in refis and a 5% drop in purchases. Activity hit a 4 year low.

 

Zillow is getting into the home buying business in Houston, by making cash offers for homes from qualified sellers and then listing the home for sale. It looks like Zillow is selling this as a service to make it easier to sell a home rather than just real estate speculation, but who knows? We do know that Z-estimates are often wildly inaccurate, so Zillow might not have such a big edge.

Morning Report: Lots of labor data

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2723 12.25
Eurostoxx index 364.42 2.24
Oil (WTI) 64.81 -0.46
10 year government bond yield 3.16%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.89%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after yesterday’s end of month window dressing. Bonds and MBS are down again.

 

The ADP report showed the US economy added 227,000 jobs in October, which is well ahead of the Street estimate for Friday’s BLS report. There was a big (typically seasonal) increase in transportation and retail, although professional / business services was strong as well. Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said, “The job market bounced back strongly last month despite being hit by back-to-back hurricanes. Testimonial to the robust employment picture is the broad-based gains in jobs across industries. The only blemish is the struggles small businesses are having filling open job positions.” Large and medium sized employers (50 employees +) accounted for the lion’s share of new jobs.

 

ADP jobs report

 

With added employees comes added employee cost. The Employment Cost Index rose 0.8% QOQ and 2.8% YOY. The wage component of employment costs rose 2.9% while the benefit portion rose 2.4%. The drop in healthcare costs is helping wages as higher healthcare costs of consumed a lot of employee raises. Your cost of healthcare ate your cost of living raise.

 

Mortgage Applications decreased 2.5% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 4%. Rates held steady. “The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage held steady over the week, but total applications decreased overall. Purchase applications inched backward from the previous week, as well as compared to one year ago – the first year-over-year decline in purchase activity since August,” said Joel Kan, AVP of economic and industry forecasts. “Purchase applications may have been adversely impacted by the recent uptick in rates and the significant stock market volatility we have seen the past couple of weeks. Additionally, the ARM share of applications increased to its highest level since 2017, but since this is a compositional measure, it was driven by a greater decrease in applications for fixed-term loans relative to the decrease in ARM applications.”

 

The Challenger and Gray job cut report rose last month, but it is a third-tier employment data point. It focuses on job cut announcements, which may or may not happen.

 

The homeownership rate rose 64.4% according to the Census Bureau. This was up 0.1% from the second quarter and 0.4% from a year ago. The homeownership rate has been ticking up, although the big jump in homeownership from 1994 to 2005 was partially driven by aggressive social engineering out of Washington and probably was artificially high.

 

homeownership rate NAD

Morning Report: The MBA addresses LO comp

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2730 -15
Eurostoxx index 356.25 0.66
Oil (WTI) 66.47 0.03
10 year government bond yield 3.15%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.93%

 

US stock index futures are lower despite a rally overnight in Asia and Europe. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

We have a lot of Fed-speak today, which could translate into some volatility in the bond market, but I suspect bonds are just going to be driven by stocks and the risk on / risk off trade.

 

The 10 year bond touched 3.11% yesterday around noon, and then sold off as stocks recouped some of their losses. One thing to keep in mind, especially during overseas-led sell offs: First, the European markets close around 11:30 EST. Often times, the best prices (ie lowest rates) can be found right around / after the European close. Second, TBAs (which determine mortgage rates) are slow to react to big moves in the 10 year. So even though the 10 year bond might be up a half a point, it doesn’t mean the scenario you just ran will be half a point better than yesterday.

 

Mortgage Applications rebounded 5% last week as purchases rose 2% and refis rose 10%. Rates increased by a basis point to 5.11% – the highest since Feb 2011.

 

The MBA sent a letter to the CFPB asking them to address LO comp, and in particular the inflexibility of it. During the crisis, loan officers were accused of steering consumers into the loans that paid LOs the most and weren’t often the best for the consumer. In response, Dodd Frank made LO comp insensitive to product – in other words the LO makes the same on every product. While this sounds great in theory, it ignores competitive realities, the fact that LOs sometimes screw up on an application, and that state housing programs can become unprofitable for the lender if the LO makes a full commission. The MBA is asking for clearer, bright line rules from the CFPB.

 

In the sea of red yesterday, the homebuilders were a bright spot after Pulte released earnings pre-open.  Revenues were up 74%, but new orders and backlog were up only single digits. Gross margins increased to 24%. The homebuilder ETF (which hasn’t been able to get out of its own way lately) was up smartly.

 

Donald Trump escalated his attacks on Jerome Powell, the Fed Chairman yesterday in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “Every time we do something great, he raises the interest rates,” Mr. Trump said, adding that Mr. Powell “almost looks like he’s happy raising interest rates.” While Trump acknowledged the independence of the Fed, he would prefer low rates (as would every politician on the planet). BTW, I think Powell is happy the economy is in a strong enough state that he can put some distance between the Fed Funds rate and the zero bound. Monetary policy can become completely ineffective when rates are around zero.

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..