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.

Morning Report: New home sales increase

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2857 20
Eurostoxx index 382.42 3.33
Oil (WTI) 60.79 0.65
10 year government bond yield 2.44%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.10%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as we kick off the second quarter. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

We have a lot of data this week, and some could be market-moving. The biggest report will be the employment situation report on Friday, however we will get durable goods, construction spending, and ISM data.

 

Retail Sales in February fell 0.4%, which was well below the Street expectations of a 0.4% gain. That said, January’s numbers were revised upward from 0.9% to 1.4%. Separately, personal incomes increased 0.2% in February, while personal expenditures rose 0.1%. Inflation remained below the Fed’s target with the PCE index down 0.1% on a MOM basis and up 1.4% on a yearly basis. Ex-food and energy, the PCE index was up 1.8%. For 2018, personal incomes rose 4.5%, while personal spending rose 4.4%.

 

New Home Sales came in at a seasonally adjusted level of 667,000, which beat the Street estimate of 615,000. This is up 4.3% from the revised January number and about flat on a YOY basis. New Home Sales is a notoriously volatile series, and the margin for error is generally huge. While new home sales have recovered from the bottom, we are still at 50% of peak levels, and when you take into account population growth, we are still well below what is needed.

 

new home sales

 

Pending home sales slipped in February, according to NAR. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said February’s pending home sales decline is coming off a solid gain in the prior month. “In January, pending contracts were up close to 5 percent, so this month’s 1 percent drop is not a significant concern,” he said. “As a whole, these numbers indicate that a cyclical low in sales is in the past but activity is not matching the frenzied pace of last spring.”

 

Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan is out. The bank was unable to put its scandals behind it, and Democrats like Elizabeth Warren were calling for the Board to fire him. He decided to retire at age 58. “This was my decision based on what I thought and believe is the best for Wells Fargo, because there has just been too much focus on me,” Sloan said. “And it’s impacting our ability to move forward. I just care so much about this company and so much about our team that I could not keep myself in a position where I was becoming a distraction.”

 

Despite the action in the Federal Funds market and the dot plot, the Fed doesn’t seem to be ready to start cutting rates. Even dovish Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari is reluctant to ease monetary policy. For the most part, the Fed seems to view the recent economic weakness as influenced by the partial government shutdown and is anticipating a recovery.

Morning Report: The Fed catches up with the markets

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2817 -10
Eurostoxx index 380.22 -0.62
Oil (WTI) 60.12 1.09
10 year government bond yield 2.51%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.22%

 

Stocks are lower after the Fed cut interest rates. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

As expected, the Fed maintained the Fed Funds rate at current levels and took down their forecast for the end of year. The December dot plot showed a central tendency in the 2.72% (using the lower bound of the range) and the March plot showed a central tendency of 2.37%. The forecast for 2019 GDP was lowered from 2.3% to 2.1%, while the unemployment rate was increased from 3.5% to 3.7%. PCE inflation was more or less unchanged at 2%.  The Fed Funds futures increased their probability of a 2019 rate cut from about 25% to about 40%.

 

dot plot

 

The Fed also tweaked their balance sheet runoff plan, increasing the amount they reinvest each month by $15 billion. This only affects Treasuries – MBS will continue to run off.

 

Stocks initially rallied on the Fed announcement, but then sold off on fears the Fed sees something the markets don’t. Bonds rallied on the Fed announcement, with the 10 year yield falling to 2.53%. MBS were slow to follow, but we did see some reprices towards the end of the day. With rates even lower this morning, expect to see a big move down in mortgage rates. FWIW, Fannie Mae has taken down their prediction for the 30 year fixed rate mortgage from 4.8% to 4.4%.

 

What does some of this mean for mortgage bankers? 2019 won’t necessarily be as bad as people feared for origination, and if you have been aggressively marking your servicing portfolio in order to paper over a price war, you might have a problem.

 

Banks that refocused their mortgage lending towards high-end buyers in the aftermath of the financial crisis are seeing the winds shift. Jumbo origination has been falling as prices at the high end have been peaking out and tax reform has limited the value of the mortgage interest deduction. Many non-banks focused on the first time and moderate income buyer. Many banks were offering amazing jumbo terms, presumably in an attempt to cross sell the more lucrative asset management business.

 

 

Morning Report: Fed decision day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2851 -1.25
Eurostoxx index 382.92 2.82
Oil (WTI) 58.48 0.39
10 year government bond yield 2.60%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.27%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as we begin the FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC decision is set to be announced at 2:00 pm EST. Be careful locking around that time. They aren’t going to raise interest rates, but the focus will be on the dot plot and their interest rate forecast for 2019. There will also be interest in the size of the balance sheet, but it won’t be market moving.

 

The stock market has been rallying on hopes that the Fed will be taking 2019 off. Note that FedEx reported disappointing numbers, which is a canary in the coal mine for the global economy. The stock and bond markets have been sending different signals about the economy, with the stock market rising (signalling strength) and interest rates falling (signalling weakness). Part of this has been due to global growth concerns – especially in Europe and China. Global weakness doesn’t necessarily translate into a recession for the US, but it is a reach to think it won’t affect us at all.

 

Mortgage Applications rose 1.6% last week as purchases rose 0.3% and refis increased 4%. Mortgage rates drifted lower and are at the cheapest in a year.

 

The NAHB / Wells Fargo Housing Market Index was flat at 62 as we kick off the Spring Selling Season. Sales ticked up, but traffic is way down. Overall, the new home sales market is similar to where we left off in fall. We will get a read on existing home sales this Friday. We are seeing some evidence of cooling in housing markets, especially in the Northeast. According to the Redfin competitive numbers, places like Greenwich CT are at 9 on a scale of 1 – 100. Even erstwhile hot markets like San Diego have been cooling. The heat is in the laggard markets, with places like Harrisburg PA and Indianapolis doing very well.

 

greenwich

Indianapolis

 

Morning Report: New home sales surprise on the upside

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2786.75 -4
Eurostoxx index 376.51 0.03
Oil (WTI) 56.07 0.4
10 year government bond yield 2.70%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The economy added 183,000 jobs in February, according to the ADP Employment Survey. The Street is looking for about 180,000 additions in Friday’s employment situation report, so the ADP numbers seem to be in line.

 

Mortgage applications decreased 2.5% last week as purchases fell by 2.6% and refis fell 2%. The typical mortgage rate rose by 2 basis point to 4.67%.

 

The ISM non-manufacturing index expanded in February, which means that the services sector is picking up momentum.  The biggest issues seem to be potential trade issues, labor shortages and trucking costs.

 

New Home Sales rose by 621,000 in December. This is up 3.7% from the downward-revised November number, but down 1.5% from a year ago. For the full year, 622,000 homes were sold, which is slightly higher than the 613,000 sold in 2017. The median price was $318,000, while the average price was $377,000. The median sales price has been declining over the past year after peaking in November 2017 at $343,400. This demonstrates the shift from luxury to entry-level home construction to meet demand. This is a reversal of the early years of the crisis, when the luxury end of the market was the only part that was working.

 

Note that new home sales are about where they were during the 60s – 80s. Pretty amazing when you take into account that the US population has increased by close to 60% since 1970.

 

new home sales

 

Here is a copy of the letter that NAR, MBA, and a host of other housing advocates sent to Joseph Otting, Acting Director of the FHFA regarding GSE reform. It urges FHFA to go slow, work to maintain the 30 year fixed rate mortgage, and allow the GSE’s to act as a counter-cyclical buffer.

 

The Fed is catching up to the markets. Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said it could be “several meetings” before the Fed gets enough clarity on the economy to make a move in interest rates. In many ways, he is acknowledging what the Fed Funds futures have been saying for a while now – that the Fed is going to wait and see how the 2018 hikes affect the economy before making any further moves. Since monetary policy generally acts with a 9 – 15 month lag, it means that the economy still hasn’t factored in the Sep and Dec hikes from last year.