Morning Report: Existing home sales rise

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2937 8.5
Oil (WTI) 56.34 0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.83%

 

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

 

The Fed is at Jackson Hole today and tomorrow. There is a chance that they could say something market moving, so just be aware.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 209,000 last week, while the Markit PMI showed a deceleration. Note the manufacturing PMI fell below 50, which is a sign of contraction.

 

Existing Home Sales rose 2.5% in July, according to NAR. On a year-over-year basis, sales were up about half a percent. Half a percent isn’t anything to get excited about, however it is the first annual gain in a year and a half. “Falling mortgage rates are improving housing affordability and nudging buyers into the market,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. However, he added that the supply of affordable housing is severely low. “The shortage of lower-priced homes have markedly pushed up home prices.” The median home price was $280,800 an increase of 4.3% YOY. Since the market bottomed in 2012, homes in the lower-priced half rose at a considerably faster pace than those in the higher priced half. In some areas, they more than doubled off the bottom.

 

Inventory remains the biggest issue for sales, with only 1.89 million units in inventory, which represents a 4.2 month supply. This is partly why NAR is working with FHA to increase the universe of condos which would qualify for GNMA guarantees. Sales increased everywhere but the Northeast. The first time homebuyer fell to its recent average of 32%, which is lower than the pre-crisis average of about 40%. Despite the continued disappointment in housing, the homebuilder stocks are doing well and the XHB homebuilding ETF is up about 31% this year versus 19% for the S&P 500.

 

XHB

 

The FOMC minutes were non-eventful, however the statement “Participants generally judged that downside risks to the outlook for economic activity had diminished somewhat since their June meeting.” was a bit of a head-scratcher given they decided to cut rates. Overall, the doves based their arguments on a deceleration in manufacturing, persistently low inflation and risk management. “Several” FOMC members argued against cutting rates, judging the economy “was in a good place” and some worried that lowering the Fed Funds rate would inflate asset prices. Others worried about the signal a rate cut would send to the market’s about the Fed’s perception of the economy. Also, a couple voters wanted to cut rates by 50 basis points.

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.”

Morning Report: Trump calls for 100 basis points and more QE

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2922 0.5
Oil (WTI) 56.11 0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.55%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.78%

 

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

 

No economic data this morning, and we wait for Jackson Hole comments later this week.

 

Trump called on the Fed to cut rates by 100 basis points and should re-embark on quantitative easing. “Our Economy is very strong, despite the horrendous lack of vision by Jay Powell and the Fed, but the Democrats are trying to ‘will’ the Economy to be bad for purposes of the 2020 Election,” Trump tweeted. “Very Selfish! Our dollar is so strong that it is sadly hurting other parts of the world. [Interest Rates] over a fairly short period of time, should be reduced by at least 100 basis points, with perhaps some quantitative easing as well….If that happened, our Economy would be even better, and the World Economy would be greatly and quickly enhanced-good for everyone!”

 

The Home Despot reported better than expected earnings this morning. Falling lumber prices caused them to take down their sales estimates, and they are worried about how tariffs will impact sales. “We are encouraged by the momentum we are seeing from our strategic investments and believe that the current health of the U.S. consumer and a stable housing environment continue to support our business,” CEO Craig Menear said in a prepared statement. “That being said, lumber prices have declined significantly compared to last year, which impacts our sales growth. As a result, today we are updating our sales guidance to account primarily for continued lumber price deflation, as well as potential impacts to the U.S. consumer arising from recently announced tariffs.”

 

Ballard Spahr weighs in on the new disparate impact rule. Disparate Impact is a concept that was intended to put the burden of proof on the defendant, not the plaintiff. If a lender’s customer base doesn’t reflect the demographics of the relevant market, then it is assumed the lender is guilty of discrimination. While a Texas court upheld the concept, it did institute some guardrails to prevent abuse. HUD’s new guidance was intended to reflect that decision.

 

The relief for lenders turns on the use of algorithms to make lending decisions. Since most lenders use DU or LP automated underwriting systems, the big question is whether this insulates them from discrimination charges. Ballard Spahr believes it does. “However, if the use of the model is an “industry standard,” the defendant is relieved from liability if it uses the model “as intended by the third party” that created it.  It appears that the second defense could apply in a variety of situations, including when a mortgage lender uses the automated underwriting systems of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.”

 

The Business Roundtable officially ended the era of shareholder value yesterday and declared that it would focus on “all stakeholders.” Though this document is largely symbolic, it is an attempt by business to play along with the new populism emerging in the Democratic Party. “The American dream is alive, but fraying,” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chairman of Business Roundtable. “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.

 

To me, this document is indicative of several trends: first the emerging populism in both political parties, second a tight labor market, and third the emergence of indexing as the primary long-term investing vehicle. We are seeing the left become more comfortable in their historic role of being a check on big business, while the right is talking about antitrust and Big Tech. Neither party seems particularly hospitable and the “third way” Democrats are battling an increasingly mobilized left. The tight labor market is also playing a part, as companies need to attract employees and this might be the second-to-last resort to try and attract them. Of course the last resort is to raise wages and hire the long-term unemployed, and that may be on the horizon.

 

The indexing angle is probably the most significant. When most of the largest shareholders in the S&P 500 are index funds and ETFs, you have take into account they don’t have the motivations that money managers had a couple decades ago. 20 years ago, money managers were paid to beat the market and pick good stocks. Those that did so were rewarded with inflows and their managers were paid big bonuses. That was the Peter Lynch model. Today, the biggest money managers aren’t interested in beating the market. They aren’t paid to do that. They are paid for minimizing tracking error and fees, which means they aren’t paid much since the skill set is completely different. They couldn’t care less if XYZ Inc’s CEO is a bum who makes bad decisions – as long as their fund holds the requisite 2.49856% of net asset value in XYZ, they have done their job. Indexers largely vote the way Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) recommends, and ISS has its own set of priorities. Punch line: companies can get away with this because their largest shareholders don’t have any skin in the game.

Morning Report: Strong retail sales

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2857 14.5
Oil (WTI) 54.92 -0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.59%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.84%

 

Stocks are up after strong retail sales numbers. Bonds and MBS are flat. The German Bund hit a new low this morning, trading at negative 66 basis points.

 

Strong retail sales numbers out this morning. The headline number was up 0.7%, well above the Street expectations of 0.4%. The control group, which strips out volatile gas and autos, was up 1.0% MOM, exceeding the Street estimate by 0.7%. Note that Trump’s delay of Chinese tariffs means they won’t hit until mid-December, or after the holiday shopping season. These numbers bode well for the back-to-school shopping season, which is the second most important of the year. Note that Walmart also reported strong numbers this morning, another bellwether for the retail sector. Expect strategists to take up their GDP estimates on these figures.

 

In other economic news, initial jobless claims rose to 220,000 last week, while industrial production fell 0.2% MOM and rose half a percent YOY. Capacity Utilization fell to 77.5%. The industrial and manufacturing numbers are probably influenced by trade.

 

Productivity rose 2.3% in the second quarter, way more than expectations as output rose 1.9%, hours worked fell 0.4% and compensation rose 4.8%. The biggest surprise however came in the revisions, where compensation in the first quarter was revised upward from -1.5% to +5.5%! These are inflation-adjusted numbers, so we had real compensation growth of 5.2% in the first half of the year. Where was the growth strongest? Manufacturing.

 

With the inversion of the yield curve, the business press is chattering about an imminent recession. Don’t buy it. Most of them are talking their partisan book and are sticking with their preferred narrative: (Trump’s trade war is causing a recession!). It helps that it is the most convenient and easy to explain scenario, and let’s face it: it is hard to talk about overseas interest rates when most journalists wouldn’t know a Bund if it bit them in the begonias. Reality check: you generally don’t get recessions with a dovish Fed, unemployment at 50 year lows, strong consumer spending and accelerating wage growth. In fact, the bullish case is that with strong wage growth, overseas deflation keeping inflation in check, and a dovish Fed, you could see what a scenario similar to the mid / late 90s. Food for thought.

 

The new FHA guidance for condos is available in its unpublished form here. The new rule will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register (which should be any day now) and will make more condos eligible for FHA insurance.

 

Home prices rose 3% in July, according to Redfin. “July home prices and sales were weaker than I had expected, especially given that falling mortgage rates have been luring homebuyers back to the market since early spring,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “Even though we’ve seen increased interest from homebuyers—especially compared to a year ago when mortgage rates were climbing—uncertainties in the overall economy and talk of a looming recession have people feeling jittery about making a huge purchase and investment. But I think the odds are that we won’t see a recession within the next year. If rates stay low and the economy continues to grow, we’ll see more homebuyers come back in a serious way in 2020, and the market will be much more competitive.” Home sales were down 3.4%, while supply fell by the same amount. In terms of price, the previously hot markets of San Jose and Seattle fell, while many of the laggards (like Cleveland and Rochester) rose.

 

Redfin price chart

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: 30 year treasury yield near a record low

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2871 -14.5
Oil (WTI) 54.49 -0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.69%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.85%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after the Argentinian markets blew up overnight and the Hong Kong airport remains occupied by protesters. Bonds and MBS reversed their rally and are down after the Trump Administration announced they would delay the tariff increases on Chinese goods until mid-December. They were scheduled to take effect September 1.

 

The German Bund yield has hit a record low at negative 61 basis points. While the 10 year bond yield is still some 30 basis points from a record, the 30 year bond is getting close at a yield of 2.13%. Note that with the 10 year yield of 1.63% is lower than the dividend yield of the S&P 500.

 

30 year bond yield

 

Some economic data this morning: the consumer price index rose 0.2% MOM / 1.8% YOY, which was a touch higher than the Street forecast. Ex-food and energy, it rose 0.3% / 2.2%. The CPI remains pretty much where the Fed wants it, and is not going to be the driver of Fed policy, at least in the near term. Like it or not, the Fed is watching the markets and following them even if the signal-to-noise ratio is heavily distorted.

 

Small Business Optimism continued to increase as the index improved in July. Despite all of the handwringing in the business press over growth small business continues to grow and invest. Biggest headwind? Labor. The top concern of business was finding quality labor at 26%, which is a record. 57% reported capital expenditures, which means they have enough confidence to invest in infrastructure to grow their businesses. Only 3% of businesses reported not having their credit needs met, which is close to historical lows and kind of begs the question of what the Fed hopes to accomplish with lowering rates.

 

Mortgage delinquency rates continued to fall, hitting 20 year lows for most of the country. 30 day DQs fell to 3.6% and the foreclosure rate fell to 0.4%. The only areas with elevated DQ rates are in the Midwest and Southeast and are the result of flooding.

 

delinquencies

 

Fitch is out saying that GSE reform will probably not result in near-term downgrades.

Morning Report: Trump tries to talk down the dollar

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2905 -14.5
Oil (WTI) 54.68 0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.69%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.86%

 

Stocks are lower after a bunch of non-US political headlines over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Overseas, currencies and bond yields are focusing on elections in Italy and Argentina, as well as protests in Hong Kong. Protestors shut down the Hong Kong airport over the weekend.

 

The week ahead will have a few important data points, but nothing likely to be market-moving. We will get inflation at the consumer level tomorrow, retail sales / productivity / industrial production on Thursday, and housing starts on Friday. There doesn’t appear to be any Fed-speak this week, so things should be quiet absent overseas political developments. Congress is on vacation until Labor Day, so things should be quiet in DC as well.

 

Building materials prices rose 0.7% (NSA) in July, but are down overall year-over-year. Despite tariffs, softwood lumber prices are down 20% over the past year, while other products like gypsum are down less. Roofing materials (tar / asphalt) were flattish-to-down as well. Rising home costs are due more to labor, land, and regulatory costs than they are due to sticks and bricks.

 

After rising for a decade, average new home sizes are falling as builders pivot away from luxury buyers to first time homebuyers. In 2018, the average size of a single family dwelling was 2,588 square feet, down from 2,631 the year before. Builders had largely decided to relegate the first time homebuyer to the resale market and focused on McMansions and luxury urban apartments during the immediate aftermath of the housing crash. Townhomes are also increasing in popularity, with 69,000 sales last year, the most since 2007. This is the sector growing the fastest.

 

Prepay speeds were released on Friday, and we saw some eye-popping CPRs on the government side: 2018 FHA had a CPR of 30.7%, while VA was almost 50%. People who loaded up the boat on MSRs in 2017 and 2018 have been killed.

 

The Fed is looking at the idea of a countercyclical capital buffer as a way to mitigate the credit cycle. The idea would be to have the banks hold more capital (i.e. lend less) when the economy shows signs of overheating and then allow them to hold less (i.e. lend more) when the economy goes into a down cycle. This would only apply to the Citis and JP Morgans of the world – banks with more than 250 billion in assets. “The idea of putting it in place so you can cut it, that’s something some other jurisdictions have done, and it’s worth considering,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a late July press conference. It is an interesting idea, although reserves are typically sovereign debt, and this sounds a bit like adding buying pressure to a market that certainly does not need it.

 

Trump tweeted about the dollar, arguing that it should be weaker. Note this is a yuge departure from the strong dollar policy that every other president has supported. “As your President, one would think that I would be thrilled with our very strong dollar,” he tweeted. “I am not! The Fed’s high interest rate level, in comparison to other countries, is keeping the dollar high, making it more difficult for our great manufacturers like Caterpillar, Boeing, John Deere, our car companies, & others, to compete on a level playing field. With substantial Fed Cuts (there is no inflation) and no quantitative tightening, the dollar will make it possible for our companies to win against any competition. We have the greatest companies in the world, there is nobody even close, but unfortunately the same cannot be said about our Federal Reserve. They have called it wrong at every step of the way, and we are still winning. Can you imagine what would happen if they actually called it right?”

 

The strength in the dollar is more due to the relative strength of the US economy versus its trading partners, along with various carry trades. A carry trade is where you borrow money in a low yielding currency like the Japanese yen and invest the proceeds in a high-yielding government bond like the US Treasury. The net effect of a strong dollar is to make our exports more expensive to foreign buyers, make imports cheaper for US consumers and to lower interest rates in the US. The problem is that the ones who benefit from a weaker dollar (exporters) are loud and visible, while the beneficiaries (everyone else) aren’t even aware they are benefiting from it. Note that as the US has pivoted from a manufacturing-based economy to a service / IP based economy, the currency has a smaller and smaller impact on things.

 

Chart US dollar index (1989 – Present):

 

dollar

Morning Report: Reprieve from volatility

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2891 10.5
Oil (WTI) 52.40 1.34
10 year government bond yield 1.75%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.83%

 

Markets are stronger this morning after China fixed the yuan stronger than expected. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Mortgage credit availability decreased in July, according to the MBA’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index. Conventional credit increased by 0.1%, while government credit decreased. Credit increased primarily in the jumbo space. The drop in government credit availability was seen primarily in the high balance and streamline buckets.

 

Foreclosures filings are down 18% in the first six months of the year, according to ATTOM. Most MSAs fell, and it looks like any increases were concentrated in Florida. 177k properties entered the foreclosures process in the first 6 months of the year, down from 1.07 million in the first 6 months of 2009, which was the peak.

 

One strategist is out with a call for a “Lehman-like” sell off in the stock market, beginning as early as this month. Note this is a call based on market technicals, not fundamentals, which means it is looking at sentiment indicators and volatility. Note that the crash of 1987 happened in a similar environment, with trade and currency tensions between the US and Japan. Note another technical analyst is out with a call saying the US 10 year yield will eclipse the prior low of 1.36%. It is important to keep in mind that the US economy is not driving the action right now, nor is trade. This is being driven by overseas bond markets, and the actions of foreign central banks. The Fed is following the markets, not driving them.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 209k last week, while consumer credit fell in June.

 

 

Morning Report: Surprise refi boom

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2850 -24.5
Oil (WTI) 52.746 -.94
10 year government bond yield 1.63%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.86%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on continued trade fears. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

New Zealand cut its short term interest rate more than expected, which sent sovereign yields lower overnight. The German Bund is approaching negative 60 basis points, and UK Gilts just dropped below a 50 basis point yield. All of this pushed US Treasury yields down to 1.62% overnight and we are now sitting at 1.63%. 2s-10s are at 10 basis points, and the September Fed Funds futures are now pricing in a 100% chance of a cut, with a 1/3 chance of 50 bps and a 2/3 chance of 25 bps.

 

fed funds futures

 

Mortgage rates have been falling along with the drop in yields, but they have been lagging the move. We are seeing compression high up in the rate stack, which means that the higher note rates are not improving by much. Why is that? Prepayment fears. Given the drop in rates, it is a risky bet to pay 105 for for a Fannie 4.5% coupon bond when the 2.5% are trading at par.  Those 4.5% MBS might prepay so quickly you won’t make up for that extra premium you paid. Hedging issues are also coming into play here, as MBS investors generally abhor rate volatility and we have been getting a lot of it. Bottom line, this is good news for mortgage bankers, but prepare to be disappointed when you run new scenarios. Rates are better, but not by as much as you would expect.

 

Mortgage applications increased 5.3% last week as purchases decreased 2% and refis increased 12%. On a YOY basis, refis are up 116%. Take a look at the chart of the MBA refi index below. Houston, we have a refi boom. Now if we could only do something about housing starts….

 

refi index

 

Lost in the noise about interest rates was another strong job openings report. The JOLTs job openings came in better than expected at 7.35 million and the prior month was revised upward to 7.38 million. The quits rate was flat at 2.3%.

Morning Report: Trump calls China a currency manipulator

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2853 24.5
Oil (WTI) 54.76 -.04
10 year government bond yield 1.75%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.92%

 

Stocks are higher after China stopped the devaluation of the yuan and fixed it at a higher than expected rate. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Treasury officially called China a “currency manipulator” yesterday for the first time since 1994. This is a specific term used when the country in question intervenes in the currency markets and has a large trade surpluses. That said, it is also largely symbolic in that it doesn’t have any real consequences. It brings the IMF into the loop and that is about it. In essence it is a political move.

 

The 10 year bond was up something like 24 ticks yesterday, but we did not see much movement in MBS, particularly up in the rate stack. If you were looking for big improvements in the 4%+ note rate range, you were disappointed. As a general rule, MBS will lag the moves in Treasuries, especially large ones. If the 10 year seems to find a level around these prices, then eventually mortgage rates will follow. But it generally seems like mortgage rates take a “wait and see” posture after big moves. If we get some sort of trade detente with China, it is likely we will give back a big chunk of this rally and mortgages seem to be wary of this.

 

Home prices rose 0.4% MOM and 3.4% YOY according to CoreLogic. This is despite lower rates from a year ago. Prices are rising at the lower price points and languishing at the higher price points. That said, incomes are rising and that should push prices higher, especially combined with lower rates.

 

Grandpa, tell me again about when people paid to lend money? We know all about negative yields in the sovereign debt markets, with investors paying over 50 basis points per year for the privilege of lending to the German government. We have seen some corporate bonds trade at negative yields, so why not mortgages, too? Jyske Bank in Denmark is offering 10 year mortgage bonds with a negative coupon. Nordea Bank may be following suit as well, by offering 30 year mortgage bonds with negative coupons. Denmark’s government bond yields -50 basis points already, and some banks in Denmark are offering 30 year mortgages with rates as low as 50 basis points. Home prices are up 24% over the past 2 years in Denmark.

 

You have to wonder what the Fed is thinking here – no matter what they do, it seems long term rates globally are being drawn into a vortex of negative rates. Mohammed-El Arian talked about this at the MBA secondary conference in May – the 10 year yield is going to be pulled down by global rates no matter what the Fed does. The US has to feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of government bonds: of the major players, only Greece, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, China, and India have higher yields.

 

The service economy cooled in July, according to the ISM non-manufacturing PMI. It fell from 55.1 to 53.7, which means the sector grew, just at a slower rate than June. That said, this is the lowest reading since August of 2016, which is a concern. The report usually has some anecdotes and I thought this was interesting: “Tariffs continue to push costs higher, and customers are looking for more discounts due to mortgage-rate fluctuations.” (Construction). We have a housing shortage and builders are experiencing softening prices?

 

Black Knight Financial Services said that July home affordability is at an 18 month high. Falling interest rates have translated into a 15% increase in buying power. The share of median income needed to make principal and interest payments on the average home fell from 23.3% to 21.3% in November 2018. In the early 80s, when mortgage rates were double digit, this percentage was closer to 40%.