Morning Report: Surprising payroll number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2729.75 -20
Eurostoxx index 370.51 -3.3
Oil (WTI) 55.07 -1.53
10 year government bond yield 2.63%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.35%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after Chinese stocks fell 4.4% overnight. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Payrolls up 20,000 (huge miss – Street was looking for 180k)
  • Unemployment rate 3.8%
  • Labor force participation rate 63.2%
  • Employment-Population Ratio 60.7%
  • Average hourly earnings up 3.4%

Surprisingly poor payroll number, and a bit of a suprise given the ADP number and all of the other numbers, which indicate strength. I suspect this will get revised upward next month. The average hourly earnings number is the highest in a decade, and probably is a better indicator of the health of the labor market than the payroll number. Still, the first indication of a labor slowdown will be a drop in hiring, so it bears watching.

 

Housing starts rose 1.23 million in January, which was a touch higher than the Street estimate. Building Permits rose 1.35 million, slightly above the 1.29 million estimate. January housing numbers are typically the nadir of the seasonal slowdown, so it is hard to read too much into them.

 

Labor productivity rose 1.9% in the fourth quarter as output increased 3.1% and hours worked increased 1.2%. Productivity is what allows non-inflationary growth and is the biggest input into higher standards of living. Unit Labor costs rose 2%.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 223,000.

 

House Democrats have introduced legislation to prevent any sort of reform of the CFPB. Their big objection is the fact that Mick Mulvaney ended regulation by enforcement action, which was the practice of promulgating intentionally vague rules and then fining companies for violating them without saying what the rules exactly are. Since the government has unlimited resources and most companies don’t, they choose just to pay whatever the agency asks. Mulvaney also required the agency’s lawyers to conduct cost-benefit analyses for proposed regulations, which they also dislike. The bill has zero Republican sponsors, will go nowhere in the Senate, and is really nothing more than a messaging exercise.

 

Rising home prices means rising home equity. In the fourth quarter, homeowners saw their equity increase by 8.1%, or $678 billion, according to CoreLogic. The number of homes with negative equity rose to 2.2 million units, however the amount of the negative equity also fell. Louisiana, Connecticut, and Illinois have the highest percentage of homes with negative equity, while Washington, Oregon, and Utah have the smallest.

 

negative equity

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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.

Morning Report: Atlanta Fed predicts Q1 GDP will come in at 0.3%

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2793.25 3.2
Eurostoxx index 374.38 -0.84
Oil (WTI) 56.73 0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are up on trade hopes. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Construction spending fell 0.6% in December, but was up 1.2% on a year-over-year basis. While the government shutdown may have had an effect on public construction spending, private construction spending was down the same amount. Housing continues to punch under its weight class, falling 1.4% MOM and 1.5% YOY. Public housing construction was even worse, falling 5% MOM and 20% YOY.

 

Now that more people are shopping for real estate online at sites like Zillow, Redfin and Realtor.com, the photos you use to show your property take on greater importance. Certainly it pays to have someone who knows what they are doing to photograph your home to put it in the best light, as opposed to simply posting photos from your phone. Now, with photo editing software getting cheaper and cheaper, more people are using edited photos to show their place. Some of this is innocuous: like photoshopping out your personal stuff in the kitchen and some of it is not: adding a pool or removing a wall. Given that 20% of homes are bought sight unseen, this is no longer a trivial, theoretical issue. It takes on even more importance given the move towards computer-generated appraisals.

 

Mortgage rates tend to vary across states. For example, the cheapest state to borrow in is California, where the average rate is 4.74%. The most expensive is NY, where the average rate is 4.96%. The US average is 4.84%. You would think that judicial versus non-judicial foreclosure laws would explain the difference (you can live in your foreclosed house for years in NY), but maybe there is more going on here. Guess what the second-lowest rate state is: New Jersey, which has a pretty similar foreclosure legal structure.

 

Yesterday I mentioned that strategists and the Atlanta Fed are extremely bearish on Q1 GDP growth, figuring that it will come in under 1%. A couple of points: First, Q1 GDP has been weak for the past several years. It might be a measurement issue or something spurious, but that is one reason economists might be cheating down the number a tad. Second, if Q1 GDP comes in around 1%, you can probably forget about any rate hikes this year. For what its worth, the Fed Funds futures are predicting a 94% chance of no hikes this year and a 6% chance of 1 hike.

 

HUD Secretary Ben Carson plans to leave the Administration at the end of Trump’s term, where he will return to the private sector.

Morning Report: Shareholder activism and the banks

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2767 -7
Eurostoxx index 368.05 -1.73
Oil (WTI) 56.06 0.47
10 year government bond yield 2.66%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are lower as investors return from a 3 day weekend. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

We don’t have much in the way of economic data this week – the highlight will be existing home sales on Thursday and the FOMC minutes on Wednesday. Other than that, it should be a quiet week.

 

Industrial Production in January fell by 0.6%, while manufacturing production fell by 0.9%. Capacity Utilization fell to 78.2%, down from 78.8% the prior month. Volatile vehicle production largely accounted for the decrease. Note that December’s numbers were strong, which means the average for the two months was a modest gain.

 

Due to the government shutdown, Q4 GDP numbers have been delayed until Feb 28. Right now, the consensus seems to be for a high 1% / low 2% print – a definite slowdown from Q3, which would put 2018 annual growth around 2.8%. These forecasts are from Merrill, Goldman, and the NY / Atlanta Fed. Holiday retail sales disappointed, and some of the industrial data showed a slowdown as 2018 ended.

 

Mortgage delinquencies dropped to an 18 year low, according to the MBA. Fourth quarter DQs fell to 4.06%, which is down from 5.17% a year ago. The foreclosure rate ticked up to .25%. “The overall national mortgage delinquency rate in the fourth quarter was at its lowest level since the first quarter of 2000,” said Marina Walsh, MBA’s Vice President of Industry Analysis. “What’s even more noteworthy, the delinquency rate dropped from the previous quarter and on a year-over-year basis across all loan types and stages of delinquency. With the unemployment rate near a 50-year low, wage growth trending higher and household debt levels relative to disposable incomes at a 35-year low, homeowners are in great shape, and mortgage performance is quite strong.”

 

HomeStreet Bank is greatly reducing its footprint in the mortgage business, and has retained Keefe, Bruyette to sell its retail mortgage operations. MountainView will auction off the MSR portfolio. HomeStreet will not exit mortgages entirely, but it will move to more of a traditional mortgage business built around its bank branches. Interestingly, the divestiture comes after pressure from an activist investor. Banks have historically been pretty immune from shareholder pressure – hostile takeovers in the banking sector are rare events. it will be interesting to see if this starts a trend of shareholder activism in the sector. One of the best trades ever was holding onto the pieces of AT&T when it was broken up by the government in the 1980s. With so many banking giants, I wonder what would happen if, say, Bank of America decided to spin off Merrill Lynch and its mortgage business. Could the 3 parts be worth more than the sum? As the banking sector deals with its first secular bond bear market in 40 years, it may turn out that the strategies that worked in the bull market (consolidation) won’t work in a rising interest rate environment. Note that the Elizabeth Warrens of the world would likely push in this direction as well, which makes it conceivable we could see a return of venerable names like Salomon Brothers or Smith Barney, Chemical Bank, or Manufacturers Hanover.

Morning Report: Mark Calabria to testify in front of the Senate today

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2757 7
Eurostoxx index 366.36 1.6
Oil (WTI) 54.46 0.56
10 year government bond yield 2.65%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

We have some inflation data, with the consumer price index flat MOM and up only 1.6% YOY. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.2% MOM and 2.2% YOY. At the wholesale level, the producer price index fell 0.1% and 2% YOY. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.2% MOM and 2.5% YOY. Inflation remains under control, despite rising wage pressures which is a bit of a Goldilocks scenario, especially with respect to the Fed.

 

December retail sales were disappointing, falling 1.2%. The control group, which excludes volatile sectors like autos and building materials, fell 1.7%. This data was delayed by the government shutdown – we should be getting Jan numbers tomorrow.

 

Initial Jobless Claims rose to 239,000 last week.

 

It looks like Trump is going to sign the spending deal hashed out in Congress that provides some of the money he requested for the southern wall. He will continue to look for other options to get funding as well. Whether that includes declaring a national emergency to siphon fund from DOD is anyone’s guess.

 

Mark Calabria is set to testify before the Senate today as it considers his nomination to run FHFA, the housing regulator that oversees Fannie and Freddie. Calabria is a libertarian, and has questioned the government’s role in the mortgage market – particularly the support it gives the 30 year fixed rate mortgage, which is a distinctly American product which wouldn’t exist without government subsidies. Calabria has also been critical of the whole mortgage securitization market in general, believing that banks should hold (and service) more of their loans. The vote is expected to fall along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against.

 

The 30 year fixed rate mortgage is an anomaly that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world that I am aware of. In most other countries, mortgages are adjustable rate, and banks hold them without government backstopping the credit. In other words, the borrower bears the interest rate risk, and the bank bears the credit risk. In the US, the lender bears the interest rate risk and the taxpayer bears the credit risk. Calabria has been critical of this product, arguing that it artificially inflates housing values which is a valid criticism. Of course the 30 year fixed rate mortgage isn’t the only subsidy out there – the tax treatment of mortgage interest is another, and flood insurance is another. These programs makes housing more affordable relative to incomes, which means it will be vulnerable to shocks. Does that mean these programs cause bubbles?  Not necessarily, since we have seen housing bubbles in several countries that don’t have these supports.

 

Mortgage delinquencies continue to fall, as the 30 day DQ rate hits the lowest level in 10 years. 30 day DQs fell from 5.2% to 4.1% over the past year, while foreclosures fell from 0.6% to 0.4%. CoreLogic CEO Frank Martell said, “On a national basis, we continue to see strong loan performance. Areas that were impacted by hurricanes or wildfires in 2018 are now seeing relatively large annual gains in the share of mortgages moving into 30-day delinquency. As with previous disasters, this is to be expected and we will see the impacts dissipate over time.”

Morning Report: Big bank merger

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2714 -15.5
Eurostoxx index 363.36 -2.16
Oil (WTI) 53.62 -0.41
10 year government bond yield 2.67%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

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

 

Initial Jobless Claims increased to 234,000 last week.

 

When was the last time we saw a big bank merger, at least one that wasn’t a shotgun wedding organized by the government? BB&T and Suntrust are merging in a stock-for-stock merger of equals. BB&T is already a player in the national mortgage market, while Suntrust is still more of a super-regional commercial bank. Bank mergers had a moratorium in the aftermath of the financial crisis amidst worries about too big to fail. Despite those concerns, the US banking system is probably the least concentrated in the world – most other countries have a handful of giants that dominate the market. Note as well for the Glass-Steagall nostalgics: the US was the only country in the world that separated commercial and investment banking, or even drew a distinction between the two.

 

The BEA has announced they will combine the first and second estimates for GDP and release them on Feb 28. Of course this assumes the government will be open on the 28th, which is not a given.

 

Older baby boomers aging in place is supposedly making it tougher for younger Americans to break into homeownership. That is an interesting theory, however I think older boomers are primarily concentrated in the move-up and luxury markets, especially since in the years after the crisis, the homebuilders focused on the only sector that seemed to be working – luxury and urban. Starter home supply is probably more of a function of the REO-to-rental trade, which should probably start being unwound.

 

The House Financial Services Committee is going to hold a hearing on credit scoring: “Who’s Keeping Score? Holding Credit Bureaus Accountable and Repairing a Broken System.” Not sure what the hot-button issues are, but they probably concern data security, fixing false information, and potential disparate impact issues.

 

House Democrats are introducing a bill to require lenders who originate more than 25 mortgages per year to release detailed reports to the government regarding the demographic data and quality of these loans. House Republicans raised the limit to 500 loans last year in an attempt to ease the regulatory burden on smaller lenders.

Morning Report: Fed Day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2648.75 6
Eurostoxx index 357.92 0.9
Oil (WTI) 53.82 0.51
10 year government bond yield 2.73%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.59%

 

Stocks are higher after good numbers out of Apple. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC announcement is scheduled for 2:00 pm EST. Nobody expects the Fed to make any changes to the Fed Funds target rate, but there is talk that the Fed might announce an early end to balance sheet reduction. Note there will be a press conference after the announcement – apparently Powell will hold one after every meeting, unlike Janet Yellen who only held them after the Mar, Jun, Sep and Dec meetings.

 

Pulte reported fourth quarter numbers that disappointed the Street, but the 11% drop in orders is what got everyone’s attention. Gross margins also fell. The company said that traffic decreased YOY in October and November, but rebounded in December. That said, the company said there is less certainty about demand heading into this spring selling season than the industry has experienced in recent years. The stock was down about 6% early in Wed trading.

 

Home price appreciation continues to slow, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Prices rose 5.2% YOY, down from 5.3% the prior month. “Home prices are still rising, but more slowly than in recent months,” says David M. Blitzer, Managing
Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The pace of price increases are being dampened by declining sales of existing homes and weaker affordability. Sales peaked in November 2017 and drifted down through 2018. Affordability reflects higher prices and increased mortgage rates through much of last year. Following a shift in Fed policy in December, mortgage rates backed off to about 4.45% from 4.95%. Housing market conditions are mixed while analysts’ comments express concerns that housing is weakening and could affect the broader economy. Current low inventories of homes for sale – about a four-month supply – are supporting home prices. New home construction trends, like sales of existing homes, peaked in late 2017 and are flat to down since then. Stable 2% inflation, continued employment growth, and rising wages are all favorable. Measures of consumer debt and debt service do not
suggest any immediate problems.”

 

The Trump Admin poured cold water on the notion that they would release Fannie and Fred from government control without Congressional involvement. Earlier in January Joseph Otting, head of the FHFA said:  “The Treasury and White House viewpoint is that the [FHFA] director and the secretary of Treasury have tremendous authority and that they would act, I think, independent of legislation if they thought it was the right thing to do.” This was taken as bullish for the stocks, sending Fannie Mae up from about $1.00 at the end of 2018 to close to $3.00. Since housing finance reform is going to be politically difficult, investors have been betting that the government would be more likely just to recapitalize and release the GSEs.

 

Freddie Mac’s survey is out for 2019. They anticipate one more Fed Funds rate hike, and think mortgage rates will average around 4.7% and GDP growth will slow to 2.5% in 2019 and 1.8% in 2020. They anticipate a slight uptick in housing starts, to 1.3 million per year, which is still well below the historical 1.5 million level. Home price appreciation is set to decelerate as well, to 4.1%. Mortgage originations are expected to finish 2018 at $1.6 trillion and increase to $17 trillion next year.

 

Home prices are falling in Silicon Valley – the first YOY declines since 2012. In San Jose, prices fell 8%, although they are so high – the median price is almost a million – that they are probably still overvalued by a wide margin. What is driving this? Believe it or not, the stock market. Many buyers rely on stock compensation to make the downpayment, and with the FAANG stocks having sold off, that is getting harder to do. Second, high house prices have made people reluctant to move there – after all a high salary is not as enticing if you end up giving it all back in rent or mortgage payments.