Morning Report: Holiday sales looking strong

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2945 -6.25
Oil (WTI) 53.63 0.84
10 year government bond yield 1.54%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.84%

 

Stocks are slightly lower on trade concerns and weak European data. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The upcoming week should be relatively quiet, with only inflation data and a slew of Fed-speak. Since increasing inflation is no longer front and center of the Fed’s concerns, the CPI and PPI should be non-events. We will also get the minutes from the September FOMC meeting on Wednesday.

 

Interesting stat on how long it takes to build a home in different geographic areas. The Mid-Atlantic region (which contains red-tape heavyweights like NY and NJ) is the longest at 10.5 months. The West Coast is right up there as well, at 9.9 months. The Southeast has the shortest timeline at 6.6 months.

 

new construction times

 

IPOs have been a treacherous investment over the past few years, as the venture capitalists and early entry investors have been reaping the rewards, at least for some of the biggest names (Uber, Lyft, Slack). We Work recently pulled its IPO as investors balked at the corporate governance issues and cash burn. While not all IPOs have been disasters, historically they have popped about 20% on the first day of trading. Not any more.

 

The National Retail Federation sees holiday sales at 3.8% – 4.2%, citing trade concerns over holiday spending. This is the low side of the holiday forecasts, which are coming in closer to 5%. The last 5 years have been around 3.7%, so the forecast is for something between “above average” and “great.” Since consumption is about 70% of the economy, we could be looking at better GDP numbers heading into the end of the year, which would put pressure on the Fed to slow down their pace of rate cuts.

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Morning Report: Reassuring jobs report.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2915 4.25
Oil (WTI) 52.60 0.14
10 year government bond yield 1.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.84%

 

Stocks are higher after the jobs report. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The economy added 136,000 jobs in September, versus Street expectations of 145,000. August’s number was revised upward by 38,000 to 168,000. The unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, which is the lowest in 50 years. The labor force participation rate was flat at 63.2% and the employment-population ratio ticked up to 61%. Average hourly earnings were flat on a MOM basis and up 2.9% YOY.

 

Overall, it confirmed that we are seeing a bit of a deceleration in the economy, although we are nowhere near a recession. The Fed Funds futures are handicapping a 75% chance of a 25 bp rate cut at the October meeting at the end of the month.

 

If the unemployment rate is at a 50 year low, we can pretty much dismiss the recession talk as the press generating alarmism to capture eyeballs, right? Not necessarily. We have had recessions in the past with unemployment rates this low. Take a look at the chart below. It plots the unemployment rate and the Fed funds rate. The vertical shaded areas are recessions. You can see that we hit 3.5% unemployment in 1969 and entered a recession soon thereafter. You can see the cause of that recession however in the Fed Funds rate, which went from 4% to 9% in the two years leading up to it. Similarly, we had a recession in 1973 – 75 even though unemployment was in the mid 4% range immediately prior. That one was caused by the Arab Oil Embargo. That said, you can see that most recessions are preceded by a tightening cycle out of the Fed, and that explains why the Fed is now cutting rates – they worry they might have overshot.

 

unemployment vs fed funds

 

As home prices increase, many homeowners are considering renovation loans (like 203k or HomeStyle) to increase the value of their house. What are the best renovations, in terms of return on investment? Hint: not a swimming pool. It is a new roof. What about kitchen renovations? Homeowners can expect to recoup about 50% – 60% of the cost in increased home value. Same with bathroom upgrades and master bedrooms. It turns out that mundane upgrades (wood flooring, insulation, roofing) provide more bang for the buck than the more dramatic ones.

 

 

Morning Report: Manufacturing contracts

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2924 -14.25
Oil (WTI) 53.85 0.24
10 year government bond yield 1.64%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.89%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on overseas weakness. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Manufacturing contracted for the second month in a row, according to the ISM Manufacturing Survey. New orders, production, and employment all fell. Some of this is due to the trade wars, however overseas economic weakness is probably the dominant driver. Historically, this number on the ISM would correlate with GDP growth of 1.5%. In other words, the number isn’t signalling a recession, but it is pointing to a slowdown.

 

Mortgage Applications increased 8.1% last week as purchases increased 1% and refis increased 14%. “Mortgage rates mostly decreased last week, with the 30-year fixed rate dropping below 4 percent for the sixth time in the past nine weeks. Borrowers responded to these lower rates, leading to a 14 percent increase in refinance applications,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Although refinance activity slowed in September compared to August, the months together were the strongest since October 2016. The slight changes in rates are still causing large swings in refinance volume, and we expect this sensitivity to persist.”

 

Despite the issues in the manufacturing sector, Freddie Mac expects housing to to remain strong. Overall, government spending and business investment are probably going to decelerate, but this will be offset by a strong labor market and robust consumer spending. Note the uptick in originations. Freddie was initially anticipating this year would be more like $1.6 trillion.

 

Freddie Mac forecasts

 

Freddie is forecasting 1.9% GDP growth in Q3 and 1.8% in Q4. What is the risk to these numbers? To the downside, slowing global growth and perhaps political uncertainty – though the markets seem pretty blase about the impeachment drama. To the upside? Homebuilding. Note the strength in the homebuilder ETF (XHB), which has been on a tear. We are approaching the bubble highs, and as the Millennial Generation begins to start families and head to the suburbs, the builders will be busy addressing the dire shortage of starter homes. The post-bubble “new normal” of 1.3 million housing starts a year is anything but normal and we probably need 2 million just to satisfy pent-up and incremental demand.

 

XHB

 

ADP reported 135,000 jobs were created in September, which matches the estimate for Friday’s jobs report. Construction reported an increase, while mining and natural resources declined. The service sector continued to add jobs as well.

Morning Report: James Bullard explains his dissent

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3012.25 5.25
Oil (WTI) 58.67 0.54
10 year government bond yield 1.78%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.00%

 

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

 

Existing home sales rose 1.3% in August, according to NAR. Sales are up 2.6% from a year ago to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.49 million units. The median existing home price rose to $278,200, which was up 4.7%. “Sales are up, but inventory numbers remain low and are thereby pushing up home prices,” said Yun. “Homebuilders need to ramp up new housing, as the failure to increase construction will put home prices in danger of increasing at a faster pace than income.” Inventory did fall to 1.86 million units, which represents a 4.1 month supply. In the “every dog has its day” category, the Northeast led the pack with a 7.6% increase in sales although the median home prices was flat. The Northeast still has a glut of higher priced inventory it needs to work through.

 

In other economic news, the index of leading economic indicators was flat in August, and initial jobless claims came in at 205,000. The Fed’s balance sheet increased to $3.845 trillion in assets.

 

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard explained his dissent on Wednesday’s FOMC vote. While the Committee ended up easing by 25 basis points, Bullard wanted to cut rates by 50 basis points.

 

First, there are signs that U.S. economic growth is expected to slow in the near horizon. Trade policy uncertainty remains elevated, U.S. manufacturing already appears in recession, and many estimates of recession probabilities have risen from low to moderate levels. Moreover, the yield curve is inverted, and our policy rate remains above government bond yields for nearly every country in the G-7.

Second, core and headline personal consumption expenditures (PCE) inflation measures continue to run some 40 to 60 basis points, respectively, below the FOMC’s 2% inflation target. Market-based measures of inflation expectations continue to indicate expected longer-term inflation rates substantially below the Committee’s target. This is occurring despite the 25 basis point cut in July and the 25 basis point cut that was expected for the September meeting. While the unemployment rate is low by historical standards, there is little evidence that low unemployment poses a significant inflation risk in the current environment.

 

The quote about manufacturing is interesting. Industrial production rose 60 basis points last month and manufacturing production was up 50 bps. Capacity utilization rose 40 basis points as well. We had one reading on the ISM that came in at 49.1, which was technically below 50, where manufacturing is neither contracting nor expanding. For all intents and purposes, it was flat given the inherent error built into these sentiment surveys. Historically, a manufacturing ISM reading of 42 corresponds with an overall recession. FWIW, the ISM reading of 49.1 usually corresponds with a GDP growth rate of 1.8%. In other words, hardly recessionary, and manufacturing represents only about 13% of the US economy to begin with. The statement about G7 rates is probably what is driving things – the Fed is simply following the markets.

 

Home equity rose 4.8% in the second quarter, or about 428 billion. Negative equity fell by 9%, or about 151,000 homes. The home equity number is a new record, and home equity has doubled since the depths of the housing recession. You can see below which parts of the country still have a negative equity issue to work through.

 

corelogic home equity

Morning Report: The Fed cuts rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3007.75 0.25
Oil (WTI) 59.37 1.24
10 year government bond yield 1.77%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.00%

 

Stocks are flat after the Fed cut rates yesterday. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

As expected, the Fed cut rates 25 basis points amidst concerns about capital expenditures and investment. The decision was 7 to 3, with one dissenter (Bullard) who wanted a 50 basis point cut and two dissenters (George and Rosengren) preferring to maintain current policy. The economic projections were largely unchanged, with a few upward tweaks to 2019 and 2021 GDP estimates, and a slight change to unemployment. Inflation measures were unchanged. The Fed Funds estimates were revised downward anywhere from 25 – 37 basis points compared to the June dot plot.

 

Sep-June dot plot comparison

 

Powell was noncommittal on future moves: “There will come a time, I suspect, when we think we’ve done enough. But there may also come a time when the economy worsens and we would then have to cut more aggressively. We don’t know.” In other words, we are data-dependent. The German Bund has sold off a touch, with the yield moving from negative 70 basis points a couple of weeks ago to negative 50 basis points now. FWIW, the Bund seems to be leading the dance.

 

Bonds initially sold off on the move, with the 10 year rising 4 basis points to 1.8%. This morning, we are back down to where we started. The December Fed Funds futures are predicting a 14% chance of another 50 basis points in cuts, a 49% of a 25 bp cut and a 37% probability of no further changes. Trump weighed in on the cut as well tweeting: “A terrible communicator. Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve Fail Again. No ‘guts,’ no sense, no vision!”

 

The spike in overnight repo rates (which got as high as 10% at one point) has raised an interesting question: The overnight repo rate is supposed to be the index that replaces LIBOR. While the complaint about LIBOR was the presence of some jiggery-pokery by the big banks, is the the cure (an index that can spike 800 bps in a day) really better than the disease? Note this flows through the whole mortgage ecosystem, with MBS repo rates, ARM pricing, warehouse line pricing, etc. It might not yet be ready for prime time.

Morning Report: ECB cuts rates and bonds rally

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3009.5 5.25
Oil (WTI) 54.37 -1.44
10 year government bond yield 1.68%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.89%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after the European Central Bank cut rates and announced new stimulus measures. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The European Central Bank cut its deposit rate to -50 basis points from -40 bps and re-instated bond purchases of 20 billion euros a month. This is sending down yields, with the German Bund now trading at -62 basis points. Separately, the Bank of Japan is also looking at measures to push their negative interest rates even lower.

 

Inflation remained under control with the consumer price index up 0.1% MOM / 1.7% YOY. The core rate, which strips out food and energy rose 0.3% MOM / 2.4% YOY. Medical care and shelter drove the increase in the index, while lower energy costs pushed it down.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 204,000 in the holiday shortened week.

 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the US is “seriously considering” issuing a 50 year bond. “We would do this in a way that if there is demand it’s something that we would meet. I personally think it would be a good thing to expand the U.S.′ borrowing capabilities,” Mnuchin said. “I would say it’s obviously quite attractive for us to extend and derisk the U.S. Treasury borrowing. So we’re also looking at extending the weighted average maturity of the Treasury borrowing to derisk this for the U.S. people.” Mnuchin also pushed back against Trump’s view that we need negative interest rates in the US, as negative interest rates wreak havoc on bank earnings, and a weak banking sector does not make a foundation for a strong economy.

 

Separately, Mnuchin said that the Trump Administration has approved the plan to reorganize the GSEs. “We are actively negotiating an amendment try to get it done by the end of the month” What “actively negotiating an amendment” means is unclear, but it probably refers to the net worth sweep of Fannie and Freddie’s profits to Treasury. Since that was done via executive order during the Obama administration, it should be able to be undone the same way. Full legislation is probably going to be impossible heading into an election year, judging by the way testimony went in the Senate.

Morning Report: More on GSE reform

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2990.5 9.25
Oil (WTI) 56.96 0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.59
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.72%

 

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

 

No economic data today, and this week should be relatively data-light, with retail sales on Friday the only potential market-moving number. No Fed-speak as we are in the quiet period ahead of next week’s meeting.

 

Jerome Powell vowed to act “as appropriate” to maintain the current US expansion, which was largely taken as an admission the Fed will cut rates another quarter point at next week’s meeting. The Fed funds futures are pricing this in as a certainty, although there is disagreement within the Fed over whether it is necessary to cut rates given the strong consumer spending. He also threw cold water on political considerations affecting monetary policy. “Political factors play absolutely no role in our process, and my colleagues and I would not tolerate any attempt to include them in our decision-making or our discussions,” he said. “We are going to act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.” This was presumably in response to comments from ex-NY Fed president William Dudley to  “consider how their decisions will affect the political outcome in 2020.”

 

Interesting data point: Compass Point Analytics upped their price target for Fannie Mae stock to $7.75. which is almost 3x the current trading price of $2.71. Fannie Mae stock got hit last week on disappointment with the lack of specifics in the government’s housing reform plan.

 

Despite the disappointment from Fannie Mae stockholders and pref holders, the housing industry generally likes what the saw in the plan. “The reports recognize the need to better coordinate the roles of FHA and the GSEs,” Mortgage Bankers Association CEO Robert Broeksmit said. “Such coordination must preserve affordable financing options for a wide range of borrowers and reflect the vital role FHA plays in the larger housing finance system.” Talks about getting rid of the GSEs altogether seem to be over: “Both in the Obama administration and during periods of bipartisan negotiations the focus was on whiteboarding a totally new system,” said David M. Dworkin, who was a senior adviser in the Treasury Department on housing finance during the Obama and Trump administrations. “It is too hard. The current system is too embedded and the unintended consequences are too unpredictable.” The GSE affordable housing goals would also go away, to be replaced by a fee paid to HUD, who would then distribute the funds themselves. This is likely to be a non-starter with Democrats.

 

Mortgage interest deductions fell 62% last year as tax reform encouraged most people to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing.