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: 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: Mortgage Credit Availability eases

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2792 4
Eurostoxx index 388.99 1.46
Oil (WTI) 65.94 -0.41
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are higher as we await the FOMC decision. Bonds and MBS are flat.

The FOMC decision is set to come out at 2:00 pm EST. Investors are going to probably focus most closely on the dot plot to get a sense of whether we get 1 or 2 more hikes this year. Generally speaking, the dot plots have been a bit more hawkish than the Fed Funds futures market.

Inflation appears to be picking up at the wholesale level (kind of echoes what we were seeing yesterday in the NFIB Small Business Optimism report). The Producer Price Index rose 0.5% MOM / 3.1% YOY, which was higher than expectations. Much of the pressure came from higher energy prices. Trade (which is a function of the dollar) was the other catalyst. Ex-food and energy, prices rose 0.1% MOM / 2.6% YOY. The Fed does pay attention to this number, however the PCE index is their preferred measure of inflation, and it is sitting close to their target.

Mortgage applications fell 2% last week. Both purchases and refis fell by the same amount.

Mortgage Credit Availability rose in May by 1.5% as a dwindling refi market is encouraging originators to widen the credit box. While the index has been steadily rising since 2011 when it was benchmarked it is nothing like the bubble, where credit was orders of magnitude tighter.

MCAI

The business press warns that liquidity is going to dry up during the next crisis. While Dodd-Frank claims to allow market making (and not proprietary trading), there is no doubt that banks are going to be completely uninterested in sticking their necks out during the next sell-off. Even worse will be ETF investors who think an exchange traded fund gives them a liquidity risk “free lunch”. (It isn’t like I am investing in junk bonds – I am investing in an ETF that invests in junk bonds – its different!) When the underlying assets of that ETF go no-bid, so will the ETF.

Ever wonder why servicing values in states like NY, NJ, and CT are so low? The foreclosure process can stretch out for years. In this case, the occupants made their last payment in June 2010.

Speaking of the Northeast, all real estate is local as they say. While the West Coast sees sales close in weeks, luxury properties languish for years in the Northeast. The tony NYC suburb of New Canaan, CT has banned “for sale” signs, because there are too many of them (although the excuse is that people shop on line). There is definitely a bifurcation line in the NYC suburbs – below $750k you can move the property, above that good luck. And $1.5 million or more, forget about it.

From the NAHB: rental inflation is moderating. Meanwhile, home equity hits a new high.

Morning Report: No, we are not in another housing bubble

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2716 10
Eurostoxx index 387.8 4.74
Oil (WTI) 66.4 -0.63
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.92%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.48%

Stocks are higher after a Goldilocks employment report. Bonds and MBS are down.

Jobs report data dump:

  • Payrolls up 223,000 (expectation was 190,000)
  • Unemployment down to 3.8%
  • Labor force participation rate 62.7% (a drop)
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.3% / 2.7%

The Street was looking for wage growth of 0.2% MOM, but the annual number was in line with expectations. The wage growth print shouldn’t move the needle as far as the Fed is concerned. The employment – population ratio increased a tad as the population increased by 183k and the number of employed increased by 293k. We saw another good jump in construction jobs. Bottom line, a good report for equity markets, and a push for the bond market.

In merger news, Citizens Bank is acquiring Franklin American Mortgage. This deal should vault Citizens into a top-15 mortgage lender, bulk up its servicing portfolio and diversify its origination mix.

Italy has found a solution to its political crisis with a new coalition government that will be installed on Friday. Treasury yields should probably be higher, however tough trade talk out of the Trump Administration is keeping them lower. Even the International Steelworkers is against new tariffs, and if you can’t even get the unions on your side it says a lot…

Hard to believe it is here already, but the hurricane season is just beginning. CoreLogic estimates that 7 million homes are at risk in what NOAA expects to be a normal or above normal season. Note the National Flood Insurance program is set to expire right in the middle of the season.

Construction spending increased in April, according to the Census Bureau. Residential construction rose 4.4% MOM and 9.7% YOY.

Manufacturing accelerated in May, according to the ISM report. Employment expanded sharply. New order and production also grew.

As usual, the ISM report showed employers having difficulty finding qualified labor. Labor shortages are a theme these days, but you aren’t seeing the growth in wages you would expect. I wonder if part of the issue is application tracking systems, which seize on keywords and therefore have to be gamed somewhat. How many applicants are unaware of this or are simply bad at it? And if so, how many qualified workers are being screened out and never get presented before a set of eyes? I suspect ATS are good for companies in bad times, when there are a surfeit of applicants, but work against them when the labor pool is tighter.

An interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal today about the credit box and the possibility of another housing bubble. The authors point to the way home prices have outstripped income growth and posits that a widening credit box (i.e. new 3% down loans from Freddie) are contributing. The authors suggest that underwriters tighten standards, and the government tighten loan parameters to prevent another foreclosure crisis when the market turns.

With regard to home price appreciation, is it due to widening credit standards, or is it due to restricted supply? In other words, is it a housing start problem or a MCAI (mortgage credit availability index) problem? The chart below is of the MBA’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index, which shows a loosening of standards since the bottom, but also demonstrates we are nowhere near the standards that existed during the bubble (and pre-bubble days).

MCAI long term

FHA and the GSEs are stepping in on low downpayment loans because there is a complete and utter void in the private market. Prior to the crisis, FHA was a sleepy backwater of the mortgage market, targeted toward low income first time homebuyers. Afterward, its share grew because it was the only game in town. Let’s not conflate FHA mortgages with neg-am pick a pay loans of the bubble years. IMO the issue is a lack of supply (heck the appreciation is the highest in places like San Francisco, where the median price is double the limit on a FHA loan). Housing starts around 2 million for the next several years is what will be needed to cool off home price appreciation (along with the REO-to-rental types ringing the register on their portfolios).