Morning Report: The death of the Phillips Curve

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3506 2.6
Oil (WTI) 43.24 0.17
10 year government bond yield 0.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 2.93%

 

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

 

The stock market has been rocking this month. It turns out this is the best August in 30 years.

 

We will have a decent amount of data this week, with the jobs report, construction spending, ISM and productivity. The markets will be closing early on Friday ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

 

Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said the Fed isn’t looking to raise rates even if unemployment starts falling. “My colleagues and I believe that this new framework represents a critical and robust evolution of our monetary policy strategy that will best equip the Federal Reserve to achieve our dual-mandate objectives on a sustained basis in the world in which we conduct policy today and for the foreseeable future,” Clarida said in prepared remarks for a speech to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The “new framework” he is referring to is the asymmetric risks around inflation, which means that the Fed will let the labor market run hot before raising rates. Essentially this is the death of the Phillips Curve.

The Phillips Curve was a theory that came from the 1960s which said that as unemployment falls, inflation will rise. The Fed had used that sort of model in the past to help guide monetary policy, and the new monetary framework basically says that the Fed will no longer slow the economy pre-emptively as unemployment falls. The Fed will now wait until inflation is running above its 2% target before raising rates. We saw unemployment in the mid 3% range, and inflation remained under control. The punch line is that rates will stay at the zero bound for years unless we get some sort of unexpected increase in inflation.

Morning Report: New guidance from the Fed

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 3475 -3.6
Oil (WTI) 43.24 -0.17
10 year government bond yield 0.66%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 2.91%

 

Stocks are flattish this morning as we await Jerome Powell’s (virtual) Jackson Hole speech. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Second quarter GDP was revised upward from -32.9% to -31.7%. Consumption was revised up as well from -34.6% to -34.1%. Separately, 1 million people filed for unemployment the first time last week.

 

Home prices rose 11% in the week ending August 16, according to Redfin. The Redfin Homebuyer Demand index increased by 29% from pre-pandemic levels earlier in the year. “Schools are beginning to start again, and it seems like that has slowed the amount of homebuyer activity a little bit, but that doesn’t make the market less crazy,” said Oakland, Calif.-area Redfin agent Veronica Clyatt. “Instead of 20 offers on a home, you may ‘just’ see 10. But prices have not gone down—home price increases haven’t slowed at all.”

redfin home prices

 

Fan and Fred will continue to buy loans in forbearance through September 30, extending the previous deadline of August 31. “MBA and its members appreciate FHFA and the GSEs extending these important features,” said MBA President and CEO Bob Broeksmit. “Both the origination flexibilities and the program to purchase loans in forbearance are providing important stability to the mortgage market during the pandemic, and today’s announcement will enable lenders to continue to make low rate mortgage financing readily available to consumers and avoid the inevitable credit tightening that would have resulted from their expiration.”

 

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has proposed a $15,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit. Supposedly they could use the credit when they make the purchase instead of having to wait to file taxes. The details haven’t been ironed out, which is typical for campaign promises.

 

The Fed has updated its statement on its longer-run goals for monetary policy, strengthening its commitment to a stronger job market. “The economy is always evolving, and the FOMC’s strategy for achieving its goals must adapt to meet the new challenges that arise,” said Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell. “Our revised statement reflects our appreciation for the benefits of a strong labor market, particularly for many in low- and moderate-income communities, and that a robust job market can be sustained without causing an unwelcome increase in inflation.”

One change is subtle but important: they replaced the term “deviations” from full employment to “shortfalls” from full employment. This basically codifies what Janet Yellen alluded to years ago, that the Fed will allow the labor market to run hot for a while. This essentially means that the Fed will remain supportive to the labor market when the economy is below full employment, and will be reluctant to take away the punch bowl when we are at full employment.

The bigger question is whether this is just wishful thinking. As we saw before, as the level of government debt rises, the velocity of money slows. And the US economy took a quantum leap upward in indebtedness in response to COVID. Which means talking about a super-hot economic growth in the US makes as much sense as talking about super-hot economic growth in France or Japan. Punch line: we are looking at lower rates for longer, at least at the short end of the curve. The big question is whether the Fed will continue to purchase the 10 year to drive down longer-term rates.

velocity of money

Morning Report: Home Prices Rise

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3235 -5.1
Oil (WTI) 42.34 1.22
10 year government bond yield 0.59%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.02%

 

Stocks are flattish as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are up after the Trump Administration took steps to close the Chinese Consulate in Houston.

 

Mortgage Applications rose 4% last week as purchases rose 2% and refis rose 5%. “Mortgage applications increased last week despite mixed results from the various rates tracked in MBA’s survey. The average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose slightly to 3.20 percent, but some creditworthy borrowers are being offered rates even below 3 percent. As a result, these low rates drove a 5 percent weekly gain in refinances and a robust 122 percent increase from a year ago,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “There continues to be strong homebuyer demand this summer, as home shoppers have returned to the market in many states. Purchase activity increased again last week and was up 19 percent compared to last year – the ninth straight week of year-over-year increases.”

 

Home prices fell 0.3% MOM, but are still up 4.9% YOY, according to the FHFA House Price Index. “U.S. house prices posted a small decrease in May compared to April but remained 4.9 percent higher than a year ago,” according to Dr. Lynn Fisher, Deputy Director of the Division of Research and Statistics at FHFA. “The May HPI results are based on contracts for sale signed in late March and throughout April, which was a period when many states announced stay-at-home orders. The number of transactions powering the FHFA HPI in May was down by just over 30 percent compared to a year ago, reflecting the early effects of COVID-19 shutdowns. Based on the rebound in mortgage applications for home purchases and pending home sales in May, we expect the number of transactions increased somewhat in June.”

 

The number of Americans considering a new home purchase has been relatively unaffected by COVID, at least according to numbers by the NAHB. I guess there is a push-pull effect going on. On one hand, COVID and the riots are pushing renters out of the cities, but on the other hand, economic uncertainty is making potential buyers more cautious.

 

Chris Waller and Judy Shelton were approved by the Senate Banking Committee to join the Federal Reserve Board. Judy Shelton has expressed support for the gold standard, and has questioned whether bank deposits should be insured. These thoughtcrimes make her toxic for Democrats. The two now go to the Senate for a full vote.

 

Note we will have the FOMC meeting next week, where further stimulus measures will be discussed. The credit tightening in the mortgage market will almost certainly be an issue, although I don’t know what the Fed can do about that since it is being driven by the CARES Act, not necessarily financial markets.

Morning Report: The Fed cuts to zero

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2555 -128.4
Oil (WTI) 29.01 -2.79
10 year government bond yield 0.76%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.71%

 

Stocks are limit down after the Fed made an emergency cut over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Yesterday, the Fed cut interest rates to zero and re-initiated QE. The Fed will begin purchasing up to $500 billion in Treasuries and $200 billion in mortgage backed securities over the coming months. For what its worth, stocks are unimpressed. S&P 500 futures went limit down immediately on the Asian open and have been sitting there ever since. The 10 year is trading at 77 basis points pre-open, which is much higher than where it was a week ago.

 

Mortgage backed securities seem to like the re-introduction of quantitative easing. The current coupon TBA is up about 2 points, but it is early and we could just be seeing some short covering. The NY Fed plans to purchase $80 billion of TBAs over the next month.

 

Companies have been taking down their lines of credit to maximize cash on the balance sheet. This is another reason for the rate cut. Banks have been getting clobbered in the sell-off, with the XLF down 25% since the start of the Coronavirus contagion. The Fed is watching to make sure we don’t see a repeat of 2008 when businesses were unable to borrow in the commercial paper market. The banks have all suspended their stock buyback as well.

 

Right now, the immediate concern for the markets is the state of airlines and the energy patch. Oil below $30 a barrel is a problem for almost all of the shale producers. Airline bankruptcies have been a fact of life forever, and many will hit the wall if this drags on. In the meantime the labor market is entering this crisis as strong as it has ever been. Remote working is about to face its biggest test, and if productivity doesn’t take a hit, it could become more mainstream. Certainly for employers it saves money for office space, while improving quality of life for employees. Less commuting is also better for the planet.

 

Coronavirus is going to put a damper on the Spring Selling Season for real estate. Have to imagine traffic is going to fall, although inventory is so tight we probably won’t see much of an impact on prices. Also, this should be an issue for the builders, so supply is going to remain constrained. Refis will continue to drive the business. FWIW, Redfin took the temperature of the average consumer on how it will impact housing. Roughly 40% think it will be bad, while 50% see no effect. The drop in stock prices isn’t going to help the animal spirits in the real estate market, but I find it hard to imagine any sort of decline in prices, aside from the overheated markets on the West Coast.

 

We do have quite a bit of data this week. The FOMC meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday will be more about the press conference than anything, with particular emphasis on whether credit spreads are widening and if we are seeing indications of financial stress in the system. Aside from the FOMC meeting, we will get housing starts, home prices, industrial production and existing home sales. Of course none of this will matter to the bond market, which will be driven by headlines.

 

What does this mean for mortgage rates? The re-introduction of QE will certainly help things, especially if it encourages trading in the lower note rates. Mortgage rates may take a while to adjust. I also suspect that the big money center banks, which drive jumbo pricing are about to increase margins to free up capital to lend to small and medium sized enterprises which are facing cash crunches.

 

 

 

Morning Report: March rate cut comes into view

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3143 11.25
Oil (WTI) 49.46 0.19
10 year government bond yield 1.36%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.54%

 

Stocks have stabilized this morning and rates are up a touch from their intra-day all time lows yesterday. At one point, the 10 year Treasury was trading at 1.31%. This morning, Treasuries are down a touch and MBS are flat. For the most part, MBS underperformed Treasuries yesterday.

 

Mortgage applications rose 1.5% last week as purchases increased 6% and refis fell by 1%. “Last week appears to have been the calm before the storm,” said MBA Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni. “Weaker readings on economic growth caused a slight drop in mortgage rates, bringing them back to their level two weeks ago, but applications overall moved 1.5 percent higher. Refinance applications for conventional loans dropped a bit, but FHA refinances increased more than 22 percent. Purchase volume remained strong, supported both by low rates and the increased pace of construction over the past few months. With housing supply at low levels, new inventory is a positive development for prospective homebuyers.”

 

The Coronavirus issue has spooked the Fed funds futures market. The futures are now predicting a 1 in 3 chance of a rate cut at the March meeting. Just one  month ago, the March futures were handicapping a 4% chance. Take a look at the December futures, which are now forecasting 2 or 3 cuts this year.

 

fed funds futures

 

Note that Dallas Fed President said yesterday: “It is still too soon to make a judgment about how it might relate to monetary policy. I still think we are a number of weeks away from being able to make the judgment” whether a rate change is required.” The April futures are already pricing it in.

 

Coronavirus fears didn’t do much to dampen US consumer confidence, which rose again. Historically consumer confidence has been an inverse of gasoline prices, in other words, when gasoline rises, consumers get salty and vice versa. Oil is now trading below $50 a barrel, and the refineries are beginning to switch from heating oil to gasoline refining. Good news for the summer driving season.

 

Luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers reported lower than expected earnings this morning and the stock is getting hammered pre-open (down about 9%). Earnings were down big and revenues missed guidance.

Morning Report: Housing starts jump

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3376 6.25
Oil (WTI) 52.86 0.95
10 year government bond yield 1.58%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.69%

 

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

 

Mortgage applications fell 6.4% last week as purchases fell 3% and refinances fell 8%.

 

Housing starts rose 21% on a YOY basis to 1.57 million, according to the Census Bureau. Building Permits were up 18% YOY to 1.55 million. Housing may turn out to be the economic surprise of 2020, and if that is the case, GDP estimates are way too low. Check out the chart below, and note the highlighted jump in starts over the past two months. Remember we are just going to back to historical averages, which doesn’t take into account population growth.

 

housing starts

 

Speaking of homebuilding, the NAHB Housing Market Index slipped from record levels but is still historically very strong. Separately, Tri Pointe reported that orders grew 52%. Interestingly, they hiked their stock buyback. If the housing market is really that strong, why not invest in the business as opposed to buying back stock?

 

Producer prices rebounded in January after a soft December. The headline number rose 0.5% MOM versus expectations of 0.1%. On a YOY basis, inflation remains close to the Fed’s target rate.

 

The minutes from the January FOMC meeting will be released at 2:00 pm EST. They shouldn’t be market-moving, and the interest seems to be on the balance sheet side of things.

 

Lots of merger activity in the financial space. Asset manager Franklin Resources is buying Baltimore stalwart Legg Mason.

 

Lending Club, a fintech that makes personal loans, just bought a bank in order to gain access to a cheaper source of funds. “What a bank charter does for LendingClub is it allows us to take what is the leading digital loan provider online and combine it with a leading digital deposit gatherer,” Scott Sanborn, CEO of LendingClub, said Tuesday on CNBC. “It totally changes the earnings profile of this business.”

 

Speaking of mergers, Ally is buying CardWorks in a $2.65 billion deal. The street doesn’t like it as the stock is down 10% pre-open.

Morning Report: New home purchase applications surge

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3396 -11.25
Oil (WTI) 51.06 -0.95
10 year government bond yield 1.55%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.69%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after Apple warned that revenues will be light in Q1 based on Coronavirus issues. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

We have a lot of housing data this week, with the NAHB Housing Market Index, housing starts, and existing home sales. We also quite a bit of Fed-speak, but not much in the way of market-moving data.

 

New home purchase applications started off the year strong, rising 40% from December and 35% from a year ago. “New home applications and sales activity surged in January. This was a continuation of the end of 2019, which saw strong residential construction and increased purchase applications activity,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Even with some global and domestic economic uncertainty, builders have ramped up production in recent months to meet increased homebuyer demand.” Strength in homebuilding may turn out to be the economic surprise of 2020.

 

Democratic hopeful Michael Bloomberg proposes tightening the regulatory grip on the financial industry, by imposing a 10 basis point financial transaction tax, merging Fannie and Freddie, banning payday lenders. and ending the use of mandatory arbitration. This is interesting since he was critical of Obama-era financial regulation when he was Mayor of NY.

 

Top fintech names which are changing the housing market.

Morning Report: Two Fed nominees head to the Hill.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3362 -17.25
Oil (WTI) 51.26 0.05
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.68%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on coronavirus fears. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Consumer prices rose 0.1% MOM and 2.5% YOY in January, according to the CPI. Ex-food and energy, they rose 0.2% MOM and 2.3% YOY. The Fed doesn’t really pay too close of attention to the CPI, preferring the Personal Consumption Expenditures data. Regardless, inflation is not at a level to trigger any sort of rate hike.

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 205,000. The labor market continues to roll along.

 

The percentage of homes that sold above list price fell to a 3 year low in 2019, according to Zillow. On average, 19.5% of homes sold above list in 2019, while 21.5% did in 2018. This seems counter-intuitive given the supply / demand imbalance overall – NAR has existing home supply at roughly 3 months’ worth, well below 6.5 months, which is considered a balanced market. So what is going on? The real estate market is seasonal, and many people try and move during the summer months, which means home prices are negotiated in the late winter / spring. Early 2019 was marked by a continuing Fed tightening regime – we had multiple rate hikes in 2018 as the Fed wanted to get off the zero bound. This raised mortgage rates, which crimped affordability. The Fed only started easing in July, by which time the lion’s share of transactions are over. By the time mortgage rates fell meaningfully, 2019 was already in the books. 2020 should be a lot better, and judging by some of the comments from the builders, the spring selling season started early this year.

 

Jerome Powell’s Humprey-Hawkins testimony was largely uneventful, and today two of Trump’s Fed nominees head to the Senate for testimony. One of the nominees – Christopher Waller – is uncontroversial and should have no issues. The other one – Judy Shelton – has raised some eyebrows. Shelton has been critical of the Fed’s large balance sheet and its policy of paying interest on reserves. The policy of paying interest on excess reserves restricts credit needlessly, as she characterizes it as “paying banks to do nothing.” She is quite dovish and there are questions over whether she supports the gold standard, which is akin to pitching the idea of bloodletting to the AMA.

 

While we generally take for granted the idea that the Fed will maintain a larger balance sheet, this chart really puts into perspective how much things have changed. Pre-crisis the Fed had roughly $800 billion in assets. Now it is around $4.3 trillion. Has equity gone up 5x? um, no.

 

Fed assets

 

Credit rating agency Fitch is cautioning the CFPB from removing debt-to-income as a measure of a borrower’s ability to pay. The CFPB is considering using a measure like the difference between the borrower’s rate and the normal “market” rate, however Fitch thinks it is incomplete:

“Spread to APOR is a good measure of default risk. However, many factors can affect the price of a loan, some of which may have little to do with the borrower’s repayment capacity; these include liquidity, market movements, or attributes that present a low risk of loss to the lender, for example, a low loan-to-value. Aggressive lending programs could result in borrowers having a low APR but a high DTI and LTV where they cannot afford the loan but the risk of loss to the lender is low.”

 

Morning Report: Goldman sees the unemployment rate falling to 3.25% this year

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3362 9.25
Oil (WTI) 50.51 0.72
10 year government bond yield 1.58%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.66%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as China begins to restart industrial production. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Jerome Powell goes to the Hill today for his semi-annual Humphrey Hawkins testimony. The Fed is closely monitoring the Coronavirus issue with respect to global growth. With this being an election year, the questioning will probably be more focused on political posturing (what would you do about income inequality? what would you do about affordable housing?) than anything else. I doubt there will be anything market-moving in the testimony, but you never know.

 

Small Business started the year off strong, according to the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index. “2020 is off to an explosive start for the small business economy, with owners expecting increased sales, earnings, and higher wages for employees,” said NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg. “Small businesses continue to build on the solid foundation of supportive federal tax policies and a deregulatory environment that allows owners to put an increased focus on operating and growing their businesses.” Labor continues to be an issue: “Finding qualified labor continues to eclipse taxes or regulations as a top business problem. Small business owners will likely continue offering improved compensation to attract and retain qualified workers in this highly competitive labor market,” Dunkelberg concluded. “Compensation levels will hold firm unless the economy weakens substantially as owners do not want to lose the workers that they already have.”

 

Speaking of the labor market, Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jan Hatzius sees the unemployment rate falling to 3.25% this year. That would be the lowest since 1953. But first, the Boeing and Coronavirus issues need to recede into the rear-view mirror.

 

The Trump Administration released its 2021 budget, which cut social programs and increased defense spending. Some housing related programs were hit, such as the Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund, which are funded by a 4 basis point charge on Fannie and Freddie origination. The Community Development Block Grants would be eliminated. As a general rule, these proposed budgets are not meant to become law (one of Obama’s budgets received exactly zero votes) – but are more statements of priorities. It also cuts Medicare and Medicaid, which means it would get no support from Democrats.

 

 

Morning Report: The Fed tightens slightly

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3251 -21.25
Oil (WTI) 52.38 -0.92
10 year government bond yield 1.57%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.71%

 

Stocks are lower on mixed earnings reports. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The Fed made no changes to monetary policy, however they did tweak some overnight lending rates. The interest on overnight excess reserves and reverse repo transactions were hiked by 5 basis points to 1.6% and 1.55% respectively. The vote was unanimous. The Fed Funds futures became more dovish, with the Dec futures predicting an 85% chance for a cut of some sort, and a 15% chance of no change. Interesting to see the move in the Fed Funds futures given that the Fed actually tightened slightly by increasing the reverse repo and interest on overnight reserve rates.

 

fed funds futures

 

GDP rose at 2.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019, a little bit higher than expectations. Consumption growth slipped to 1.8%, while inflation remained broadly in check. The PCE index rose 1.5%, while the core PCE, excluding food and energy rose only 1.3%. Residential construction rose 5.8%. The trade balance moved in the US’s favor, which also helped growth.

 

GDP

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 216,000.

 

Pending Home Sales decreased 4.8% in December according to NAR. “Mortgage rates are expected to hold under 4% for most of 2020, while net job creation will likely exceed two million,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “Due to the shortage of affordable homes, home sales growth will only rise by around 3%,” Yun predicted. “Still, national median home price growth is in no danger of falling due to inventory shortages and will rise by 4%. The new home construction market also looks brighter, with housing starts and new home sales set to rise 6% and 10%, respectively.”