Morning Report: Fed day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2925 -0.25
Oil (WTI) 53.85 -0.35
10 year government bond yield 2.09%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.15%

 

Stocks are flat as we head into the FOMC decision, which is set for 2:00 pm. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The disconnect between the current market forecast and the last Fed dot plot are so stark that we are probably set up for some volatility in bonds after the announcement. Be careful locking around then.

 

Donald Trump looked at ways to possibly remove Fed Head Jerome Powell. While the law protects the independence of the Central Bank, Fed Chairmen have been removed before. Jimmy Carter removed G. William Miller in the late 70s after something like 11 months on the job, and kicked him upstairs to Treasury. Note the President was unhappy with the ECB and their signals of new stimulus – it strengthened the dollar against the euro and that is a negative for US exporters.

 

Mortgage Applications fell 4% last week as purchases and refis fell by 4%. Rates rose by 2 basis points to 4.14%. “After seeing a six-week streak, mortgage rates for 30-year loans increased slightly, which led to a pullback in overall refinance activity,” said MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting Joel Kan. “Borrowers were sensitive to rising rates, but the refinance share of applications was still at its highest level since January 2018, and refinance activity was at its second-highest level this year. Government refinances actually increased last week, led by a 17 percent in VA refinance applications, while conventional refinance applications decreased 7 percent.” The refi index has rebounded to the highest level in almost 3 years:

 

MBA refinance index

 

New Jersey has tightened the requirements for nonbank servicers.

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Morning Report: Housing starts fall

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2910 13.25
Oil (WTI) 51.78 -0.15
10 year government bond yield 2.03%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.15%

 

Stocks are higher as we begin the 2 day FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are up smartly on statements out of the ECB.

 

US rates are pushing towards 2% this morning after ECB President Mario Draghi signaled that the central bank could roll out further stimulus if inflation fails to materialize. The German Bund yields -32 basis points this morning (a record low), and US interest rates will have a hard time rising in this sort of environment. Simply put, bond investors will rotate out of bonds paying nothing into bonds paying something, even if they have to bear currency risk. It is preferable to locking in a sure loss by holding Bunds.

 

Housing starts fell to 1.24 million units in May, which was below expectations, but the prior two months were revised upward. Starts were down on a month-over-month and a year-over-year basis. Building Permits cam in at 1.29 million, which was more or less flat MOM and YOY.

 

Homebuilder sentiment slipped in June, primarily due to weakness in the Northeast and the West. That said, the index is solidly in the mid-60s, which is an overall strong level. Home prices have become stretched relative to incomes, but falling interest rates are offsetting that slightly. Rising costs for land and labor are making starter homes unaffordable for many first time homebuyers.

 

30 day delinquencies fell by 0.3% in March to a rate of 4.0%. Delinquencies are still being driven by hurricane-related issues. The foreclosure rate fell from 0.6% in March 2018 to 0.4% in March of 2019. Separately, ATTOM reported that there were 56,152 foreclosure filings in May, up 1% YOY, but down 22% from a year ago. Completed foreclosures were down 50%. The states with the highest foreclosure inventory are New Jersey, Florida, Delaware, Illinois.

 

 

 

 

Morning Report: Tariff threats push the 10 year to 2.15% overnight

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2761 -29
Oil (WTI) 55.56 -0.6
10 year government bond yield 2.16%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.25%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after Trump threatened Mexico with 5% tariffs over illegal immigration. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The 10 year bond is trading at 2.16 this morning, the lowest level in almost 2 years. We are seeing some action in the TBAs as the 3% FN coupons are all trading above par. We should see more pain in the servicing space as marks have to come in. If you were hoping for a good MSR mark to paper over an aggressive cut in margins, you are about to get a double-whammy.

 

Personal Incomes rose 0.5% in April versus Street expectations of a 0.3% increase. Personal Consumption rose 0.3%, again topping estimates. March’s consumption numbers were revised upward as well. The core PCE  price index (the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) rose 1.6% YOY, which is well below their target. For those keeping score at home, the market is now pricing in a 90% probability of a rate cut this year. with a better-than 50% chance of 2 or more!

 

fed funds futures

 

Regardless of the strength in the economy, pending home sales dropped 1.5% in April. YOY contract signings fell 2%, making this the 16 consecutive month of YOY declines. Lawrence Yun highlighted the problem: a glut of expensive homes and a shortgage of low priced homes: “Home price appreciation has been the strongest on the lower-end as inventory conditions have been consistently tight on homes priced under $250,000. Price conditions are soft on the upper-end, especially in high tax states like Connecticut, New York and Illinois.” The supply of inventory for homes priced under $250,000 stood at 3.3 months in April, and homes priced $1 million and above recorded an inventory of 8.9 months in April.”  Given that a balanced market is usually around six and a half months, you can see the extremes of 3.3 months at the low end and 8.9 months at the high end.

 

Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida gave some support to the bond market yesterday in a speech at the Economic Club of New York. “If the incoming data were to show a persistent shortfall in inflation below our 2 percent objective or were it to indicate that global economic and financial developments present a material downside risk to our baseline outlook, then these are developments that the [Federal Open Market Committee] would take into account in assessing the appropriate stance for monetary policy…..Midway through the second quarter of 2019, the U.S. economy is in a good place…By most estimates, fiscal policy played an important role in boosting growth in 2018, and I expect that fiscal policies will continue to support growth in 2019.”

Morning Report: The Fed maintains rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2928 4
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 62.94 -0.66
10 year government bond yield 2.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.23%

 

Stocks are up this morning after the Fed maintained rates. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

As expected, the Fed maintained the Fed Funds rate at current levels, although they did tweak the rate on overnight reserves. During the press conference, Jerome Powell pushed back against the idea that the Fed’s next move will be a cut. Rates initially fell down the 2.46% level, but overnight retraced that move and we are back at levels we saw before the meeting. The Fed was surprised by the strength in both the job market and the overall economy and the fact that inflation remains lower than they would like to see.

 

At the press conference, a number of journalists asked about the market’s forecast for another rate cut. Powell stressed that the Committee’s view is that the current level of interest rates is “appropriate” and that core inflation was running close to the Fed’s target of 2% for most of 2018. The Fed Funds futures trimmed their estimates for a 2019 rate cut, from a 2/3 chance to more 50/50.  MBS spreads are slightly wider (meaning mortgage rates are a touch higher relative to the 10 year than they were yesterday).

 

Fed fund futures dec 2019

 

Construction spending fell 0.9% MOM and 0.8% YOY in March, according to the Census Bureau. Residential construction drove the decrease, falling 1.8% MOM and 8.4% YOY. Ex-residential construction, spending was solid, but we could see a downward revision in Q1 GDP estimates due to the resi numbers.

 

Productivity rose 3.6% in the first quarter as unit labor costs fell 0.9%. Q4’s productivity number was revised upward to 1.3%. Not sure what drove the decrease in unit labor costs – wages have been rising – but the problems with measuring productivity in this economy have been noted before. Regardless, the drop in labor costs and higher output mean inflation should remain below the Fed’s 2% target.

 

Initial jobless claims rose to 230k last week.

 

Lumber prices have been falling after spiking at record levels last year. Given that this is the time of year we should see more demand, this is surprising. The driver has been weather and continued weakness in homebuilding. Lower commodity prices should increase the margins for homebuilders and hopefully incent more homebuilding. Note that the S&P homebuilder ETF is up 25% this year.

 

What would happen to mortgage rates if we release Fannie and Freddie from conservatorship? Currently, Fannie and Freddie debt is treated as sovereign debt by investors, in other words, they believe the government will stand behind the debt if the GSEs run into trouble. This lowers their cost of funds, which gets passed on to borrowers in lower mortgage rates. If Fannie and Freddie are released from conservatorship, and the government no longer backs their debt, it will increase mortgage rates overall (their debt will definitely NOT be AAA), and will probably impact their ability to do perform the affordable housing part of their mandate. It is important to remember the reason why Fannie and Freddie were privatized in the first place – it was done in the 1970s to paper over the debt being issued to fund the Vietnam war. In a way, the government was using off-balance sheet financing, similar to the special purpose vehicles banks were using in the mid 00s. If there is more than 20% outside ownership in the subsidiary, then the parent is no longer required to consolidate the subsidiary’s debt on its balance sheet. In other words, they don’t have to claim that debt on their books, even if they are guaranteeing it. This accounting sleight of hand lowered the US debt numbers in the 1970s and it was hoped that this would help fight rising inflation (obviously that did not work). It may turn out that there would not be a bid for new Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stock without a government credit wrapper, which means that hopes for a fully privatized Fannie and Freddie might turn out to be impossible to achieve.

Morning Report: The Fed begins to catch up with the markets

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2898.25 3.5
Eurostoxx index 387.47 0.4
Oil (WTI) 64.02 -0.59
10 year government bond yield 2.49%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.14%

 

Stocks are higher after the UK and the EU agreed to kick the can down the road on Brexit. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC minutes didn’t reveal much new information. They did move closer to what the markets have been saying all along: that the Fed is done with rate hikes: “A majority of participants expected that the evolution of the economic outlook and risks to the outlook would likely warrant leaving the target range unchanged for the remainder of the year.” That said, the Fed Funds futures are handicapping a more than 50% chance for a rate cut this year, so there still is a disconnect. The FOMC also seemed eager to end the balance sheet reduction exercise, concerned that allowing it to fall further risks pushing up the overnight borrowing rate by creating a reserves shortage.

 

The CEOs of the biggest banks appeared before the House yesterday and it was basically a political posturing event. Democrats complained about diversity, deregualation and student loans. Republicans talked about Brexit and politically targeting industries by cutting them off (firearms). Aside from creating clips for donor emails, the whole dog and pony show was contained nothing of use for investors and professionals.

 

The Producer Price index increased 0.3% in March, which is up 2.9% YOY. Declining energy prices were offset by increasing final demand inflation.

 

Initial Jobless Claims were again below 200,000, falling to 196,000. These are extraordinary numbers, the like we haven’t seen in half a century.

 

 

Morning Report: The Trump Administration pushes for lower rates.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2893 -2.75
Eurostoxx index 388.4 0.22
Oil (WTI) 63.35 0.27
10 year government bond yield 2.50%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.17%

 

Stocks are flattish this morning as the Trump Administration and China get closer to a trade deal. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

This week will be relatively data-light, although we will get inflation data on Wednesday and Thursday. Fed Head Jerome Powell will speak to Democrats at their annual retreat. I doubt there will be anything market-moving in Powell’s speech, but you never know.

 

Lennar is making a big bet on entry-level homebuyers, launching new communities with prices in the mid $100,000s. The homes range from 1200 – 2200 square feet and are on 40 foot lots. Prices range from $162,000 – $200,000.

 

Former Kansas City Fed Chief and restaurateur Herman Cain is currently being vetted by the Trump Administration for a Fed post. He has some allegations of sexual misconduct, and so far most Republicans are in wait and see mode during the process. Over the weekend, Larry Kudlow and Mick Mulvaney stressed that the two nominations were “on track.”

 

Donald Trump said the economy would “take off like a rocket ship” if the Fed cut rates. He also criticized the “quantitative tightening” – i.e. reducing the Fed’s balance sheet. His feelings about monetary policy are natural – there isn’t a politician alive who doesn’t prefer lower rates to higher rates, but his constant criticism is something new. That said, there is a partisan bent to monetary policy. Republicans fret about monetary policy being too loose when Democrats are in charge, and Democrats are less dovish when Republicans are in charge. Both sides want the economy to be weak when their rivals are in charge.

 

Did the Fed overshoot? It is hard to say, since this was really one of the first times the Fed started tightening without a real inflation problem. The point of tightening was advertised as a preventative move to prevent inflationary pressures from building, but the real reason was to get off the zero bound. 0% interest rates are an emergency measure, and emergency measures aren’t meant to be permanent. Interest rates at the zero bound also cause all sorts of distortions in the markets, and build risks into the system. Given that the economy was strengthening, the Fed took advantage of the opportunity to get back closer to normalcy. Would the economy be faster if the Fed wasn’t tightening? Probably. However some of that is going to be determined by global growth, and Europe is not doing well.

 

Monetary policy acts with about a year’s lag, so the June, September, and December hikes from last year still have yet to be felt. Nobody is predicting a recession, but the 2018 hikes are going to sap growth a little this year. I would be surprised if it slowed down the economy enough to prod the Fed to cut rates. Note that the NY Fed raised its Q2 growth estimate to 2% from 1.6%.

 

Finally, even if the Fed raises rates, overall long-term interest rates can stay low for a long, long time. Interest rates went below 4% during the Hoover Administration and didn’t get back above that level until the Kennedy Administration. So, it could be a long time before we ever see a 4% 10 year yield.

 

100 years of interest rates

 

 

Morning Report: Goldilocks jobs report

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2891 6.75
Eurostoxx index 387.8 -1
Oil (WTI) 62.72 0.26
10 year government bond yield 2.54%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.20%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after the payroll number. Bonds and MBS are down small.

 

Jobs report data dump:

 

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 196,000 (expectation 180,000)
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.1% MOM / 3.2% YOY (expectation 0.3% / 3.4%)
  • Labor force particpation rate 63%
  • Unemployment rate 3.8%

 

Overall, it was a bit of a Goldilocks jobs report: enough strength to quell fears of a slowdown, but tame enough wage growth to keep the Fed from tightening more. January and February’s payroll numbers were revised upward by 14,000.

 

Trump will nominate Herman Cain for the Federal Reserve Board. While many find the idea of nominating a pizza chain executive strange, he did run the Kansas City Fed so he does have monetary policy experience. Certainly with Steve Moore and Herman Cain, there will be a different voice from the predominantly academic / salt water view on things.

 

The Senate confirmed Mark Calabria to run FHFA.