Morning Report: Why mortgage rates are underperforming Treasuries

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2922 23.5
Oil (WTI) 56.73 0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.59%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.83%

 

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

 

We will get the minutes from the July FOMC meeting at 2:00 pm EST. Given the dramatic change in the Fed’s posture over the past several months, there is a possibility that it could be market-moving.

 

The Trump Administration floated the idea of a payroll tax cut and a capital gains tax cut in order to stimulate the economy. Note that a payroll tax cut would require Congressional approval, which means there is a less than 0% chance of this happening ahead of the 2020 election.

 

Mortgage applications fell 0.9% last week as purchases fell 4% and refis rose 0.4%. The MBA mentioned how much mortgage rates have underperformed the Treasury market: “In a week where worries over global economic growth drove U.S. Treasury yields 13 basis points lower, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate decreased just three basis points. As a result, the refinance index saw only a slight increase but remained at its highest level since July 2016,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “The small moves in rates and refinancing are potentially signs that lenders may be approaching capacity constraints as they continue to deal with the largest wave of refinance activity in three years. The refinance share of applications, at almost 63 percent, was also at its highest level since September 2016.” Turn times are certainly getting longer from correspondent lenders as this refi wave caught the entire industry off guard.

 

What is driving the underperformance of MBS versus Treasuries? Capacity constraints are one big possibility – as firms use up their operational excess capacity, they will increase margins. The other issue is that the inverted yield curve is wreaking havoc on MBS investors, who borrow short and lend long. The big agency mortgage REITs  (Annaly Capital and American Capital Agency) cut their dividends recently. Two Harbors also cut their dividend. This is a warning sign that the mortgage REIT sector is losing money as rising prepayment speeds kill the value of their portfolios. Since mortgage REITs are probably deleveraging in response, that means they are either selling MBS or at least cutting back their purchases. That lack of demand means that mortgage rates will be higher than you would expect. So, if you are running scenarios and wondering why you can’t get par pricing at X%, that is a big reason why.

 

McMansion builder Toll Brothers reported better than expected earnings last night. That said, most numbers were down on a YOY basis – earnings, revenues, contracts, margins. Despite the mediocre numbers, the stock is up pre-market. Douglas C. Yearley, Jr., Toll Brothers’ chairman and chief executive officer, stated: “In our third quarter, we had strong revenues, gross margin, and earnings. While our third quarter contracts were down modestly, we are off to a good start in our fourth quarter. Low mortgage rates, a limited supply of new and existing homes, and a strong employment picture are providing tailwinds. We are focused on measured growth through geographic, product and price point diversification, and capital-efficient land acquisitions. We continue to expand the buyer segments that we serve with homes now ranging in price from $275,000 to over $3 million. Our balance sheet remains strong and our book value continues to grow. With ample liquidity, moderate leverage, and limited near-term debt maturities, we have the flexibility to execute on our balanced capital allocation strategy.”

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Morning Report: The US yield curve inverts

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2890 -41.5
Oil (WTI) 55.49 -1.64
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.88%

 

Stocks are lower after disappointing overseas economic data. Bonds and MBS are up on the flight to safety.

 

Overnight, the US yield curve officially inverted with 2s/10s trading at negative 1.7 basis points.  This has historically been considered a recession indicator. You can see the chart below, which plots the difference between the 10 year bond yield and the 2 year bond yield, and not that the shaded grey bars (which represent recessions) have historically followed after the line goes to zero. One caveat to keep in mind however: In the past, we didn’t have the sort of activism out of central banks that we have now. Quantitative easing (where the central bank tries to directly influence long term rates) are a new phenomenon, and therefore investors should take that signal with a grain of salt. Still, it does speak to a global slowdown, and that will inevitably pass through to the US.

 

2s10s

 

The German Bund yields negative 64 basis points, which is a record low. Their economy contracted by 0.1% last quarter. This is what is driving stocks lower and bonds higher. The trade war is being blamed on their economic weakness. China reported the slowest industrial growth since 2002.

 

The FHA announced they will widen the credit box for condos, in an attempt to revive the entry-level condo market and help the first time homebuyer. “This is set to really expand homeownership,” said Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the FHA. FHA will now begin insuring loans in unapproved buildings, provided no more than 10% of the units have a FHA loan.

 

Mortgage applications increased 21.7% last week as purchases increased 2% and refis increased 37%. The average contract interest rate fell from 4.01% to 3.93%, and has dropped about 80 basis points this year. The government refi index is at the highest level since 2013, driven by VA refis.

Morning Report: Fed day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3017 5.5
Oil (WTI) 58.51 0.54
10 year government bond yield 2.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.07%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after good numbers from Apple. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC announcement is scheduled for 2:00 pm EST. A Bloomberg piece from Ex NY Fed President William Dudley was making the rounds yesterday, which poured cold water on the idea that the Fed is entering a new easing cycle.

“All told, the case for lowering rates is less compelling now than it was when the Federal Open Market Committee last met in June. This doesn’t necessarily mean that an interest-rate decrease this week would be a mistake. But it does mean that market participants — who are expecting a series of cuts over the next year or so — might be in for an unpleasant surprise, because the Fed’s future moves will be more dependent on incoming economic data than they think. There’s a good chance that, after this week’s meeting, the central bank will be “one and done.”

If Dudley is right, and Powell’s subsequent press conference confirms this, then the Fed Funds futures market is way over its skis with respect to further rate cuts this year. The December Fed Funds futures are handicapping a 88% chance of at least 50 basis points in rate cuts this year. If the Fed disappoints, that doesn’t necessarily mean that long-term rates would increase, since the US 10 year is highly influenced by overseas bond markets. But further rate cuts are already baked in the cake, and the market will be vulnerable to a statement and / or press conference that is insufficiently dovish. Not only that, don’t be surprised if one or two members dissent (in favor of no rate cut). Might want to think about locking before the 2:00 pm release.

 

fed funds futures

 

Mortgage Applications fell 1.4% last week as purchases decreased 3% and refis were down 0.1%. Purchase activity is up 6% from a year ago, however it has been stalling out. Refinance applications for conventional mortgages were up 1.1%, however a 3% drop in government (primarily VA) offset the gain. Conventional 30 year mortgage rates were unchanged at 4.04%.

 

The economy added 156,000 jobs in July, according to the ADP Employment Report. IT and mining fell, while most other buckets increased. The Street is looking for 164,000 nonfarm payrolls this Friday.

 

The employment cost index rose 0.6% in the second quarter. On a YOY basis, they rose 2.7% as wages and salaries rose 2.9% and benefit costs rose 2.3%.

Morning Report: Two new Fed nominees, weak payroll growth

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2986.25 6.4
Oil (WTI) 56.75 0.9
10 year government bond yield 1.96%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.06%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as we are approaching detente in the US-China trade spat. Bonds and MBS are higher.

 

Bonds are rallying globally, with the German Bund yield hitting a record low of -39 basis points. Ex-IMF Chair Christine Lagarde is in the running to replace Mario Draghi as the head of the ECB. She is considered to be more of a politician, so the markets are interpreting her nomination to be bond-bullish. US rates will be influenced by overseas bond markets, so that means lower rates here at least at the margin.

 

Christopher Waller and Judy Shelton are the latest Trump picks to join the Federal Reserve Board. Judy Shelton has been vocal in criticizing the Fed’s practice of paying interest on excess reserves, and has questioned the effectiveness of the current regime of floating exchange rates versus the gold standard and the gold exchange standards of yesteryear. While there is a 0% chance we go back to some sort of hard-asset backed currency, between the serial bubbles of the past 40 years and the hyper-inflation of the 1970s, the economic record of post-Bretton Woods era (basically from when Nixon closed the gold window) has been mixed.

 

Construction spending fell 0.8% MOM and 2.3% YOY in May. Residential construction continues to be an issue, falling 0.6% MOM and 11.2% YOY.

 

Manufacturing expanded in June, according to the ISM Manufacturing report. That said, it decelerated compared to May. Tariffs remain the largest concern. New Orders were flat, while employment and production increased.

 

Mortgage Applications were more or less flat last week, as purchases increased 1% and refis fell 1%. Mortgage rates were unchanged-to-slightly lower, depending on the product. We have left the tightening-driven doldrums of 2016-2018 and approaching more normal levels. Here is the MBA Mortgage Index going back 20 years to give some perspective:

 

MBA application index

 

Private payrolls increased by 102,000, according to the ADP Employment Report. This is the second weak-ish reading in a row. Jobs were created in education and health as well as professional and business, while the construction sector lost jobs. Note the Street is looking for 160,000 new payrolls in Friday’s jobs report. Separately, initial jobless claims fell to 221k last week. You can see the drop-off in hiring in the ADP chart below:

 

ADP report

 

 

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.

Morning Report: New home sales surprise to the upside

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2937.5 -0.5
Eurostoxx index 391.52 0.39
Oil (WTI) 65.92 -0.36
10 year government bond yield 2.54%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.34%

 

Stocks are flat as we await earnings from heavyweights like Facebook, Microsoft and Caterpillar. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

New Home Sales surprised to the upside, coming in at 692,000, indicating that lower mortgage rates are helping sales. The most interesting number in the report was the median price of $302,000, which is down 10% from a year ago. This indicates that builders are concentrating on the lower price points, or at least that is where the sales are concentrated. Still, a 10% drop in median home prices is an eye-popping number.

 

new home sales

 

Mortgage applications fell 7% last week as purchases fell 4% and refis fell 11%. Rates were up 2 basis points for the week, however the week included the Good Friday holiday so there might be some noise in there as well. “The 30-year fixed mortgage rate has risen 10 basis points in three weeks, and is now at its highest level in over a month,” said MBA Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni. “Borrowers remain extremely sensitive to rate changes, which is why there has been a 28 percent drop in refinance applications over this three-week period. Purchase activity also declined, but remains almost 3 percent higher than a year ago. Borrowing costs have recently drifted higher because of ebbing geopolitical concerns, as well as signs of strengthening in the U.S. economy, including the recent data pointing to robust retail sales.”

 

The CFPB is becoming a little more creditor-friendly, by giving firms under investigation information about what they did that was wrong. “Consistent with the updated policy, CIDs [civil investigative demands] will provide more information about the potentially applicable provisions of law that may have been violated,” the Bureau said in a news release. “CIDs will also typically specify the business activities subject to the Bureau’s authority. In investigations where determining the extent of the Bureau’s authority over the relevant activity is one of the significant purposes of the investigation, staff may specifically include that issue in the CID in the interests of further transparency.”

 

Flagstar reported a 30% drop in originations in the first quarter, falling from $7.9 million in the first quarter of 2018 to $5.5 million in the first quarter of 2019. On a QOQ basis, originations were down 13% as well. Gain on sale margins rebounded from the fourth quarter, increasing to 72 basis points from 60, although they are down from 77 in the first quarter of last year.

 

The NY Fed asks the question whether tax reform has inhibited home sales. Spoiler alert: it looks like that is the case.

Morning Report: Job openings exceed unemployed by over 1 million

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2751.25 6.5
Eurostoxx index 364.16 1.38
Oil (WTI) 53.66 0.58
10 year government bond yield 2.69%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

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

 

It looks like a shutdown may be avoided, as Congress has come up with a plan to allocate some funds to a smaller, cheaper border wall than Trump was looking for. The President hasn’t committed to signing anything yet, but it looks like he will go along.

 

The labor market continues to be on fire, as the number of job openings hit 7.3 million, a series record. The number of job openings exceeds the number of unemployed by over 1 million. Construction led the increase with a jump of 88,000, some of which is probably seasonal. The quits rate was unchanged at 2.3%, although it increased for the private sector while decreasing for government. The quits rate is a leading indicator for wage growth.

 

quits rate

 

Mortgage Applications fell 3.7% last week as purchases fell 6% and refis fell .01%.

 

Ellie Mae is being taken private in a $3.7 billion transaction. Private Equity firm Thomas Bravo will pay $99 a share for the stock, and has allowed a 35 day “go-shop” provision, which permits Ellie Mae to seek higher bids.

 

Small business optimism is returning to normal levels after spiking to all time highs in 2017 and 2018 according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Uncertainty in Washington, exacerbated by the lengthy government shutdown is making small business worried about the future. That said, they continue to hire, though they are more cautious about expansion plans.