Morning Report: Why mortgage rates don’t exactly mirror Treasury rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2788 7
Oil (WTI) 59.1 0.1
10 year government bond yield 2.26%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.24%

 

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

 

First quarter GDP was revised downward from 3.2% to 3.1%. Increased exports offset a downward revision in residential fixed investment (homebuilding). The inflation number was also revised downward and is well below the Fed’s 2% target. The Fed funds futures are now forecasting a more than 80% chance of a rate cut this year.

 

Initial Jobless Claims ticked up to 215k from 212k the prior week.

 

In market environments like yesterday, I always seem to get the following question: “Brent, the 10 year is down from 2.4% to 2.25% over the past two weeks. I just ran a scenario and only saw a small improvement in pricing. How come?” The short answer to that question is that mortgage rates are tied to the prices of mortgage backed securities which are influenced, but not determined by the 10 year. (This is why my opening statement always talks about bonds and MBS – they are different animals and will behave differently to changing market conditions)

 

To make things even more complicated, mortgage backed securities will behave differently depending on the coupon. Take a look below at what a typical MBS screen looks like. This lists the TBAs (stands for to-be-announced) mortgage backed securities that correspond to Fannie Mae loans. If you do a Fannie Mae loan, it is probably going to go into one of these securities. You can see that there is a different security for each month of delivery and note rate. On the far left hand side you can see the coupon groupings. It starts at 3%, then goes to 3.5%, then to 4% and so on. The delivery months are also listed: June, July, and August. Note that the price falls as you go out in the future. This is why a 45 day lock costs more money than a 15 day lock.

 

During the day, mortgage backed securities will trade and prices will be updated pretty frequently. So, if the 10 year bond rate falls by, say 5 basis points, you could see the implied yield of the Fannie 4% of August drop by 5 basis point, 2 basis points, whatever. It will be a function of the supply and demand for that mortgage backed security. Since these prices are the inputs to the rate sheets you see every day, this is the security that really matters, not the 10 year.

 

MBS

 

If you take a look at the 4% coupon, you’ll see them trading at just under 103. An investor who buys a mortgage backed security is paying 103 for a bond that will pay 100 at some time in the future. Why would a rational investor do that? The answer lies in the interest. The 4% interest payment is higher than the corresponding rate you would get on the benchmark Treasury, which is 2.375%. That difference is the compensation for paying more than par. The investor is betting that they will get that extra interest for a long enough period to cover the extra 3 points they paid. If the mortgages pay off earlier than expected, then the investor is out of luck. This is why early refinancings are a no-no and why Ginnie Mae is taking action to prevent early refinancings of VA loans.

 

So, when interest rates fall, like we have seen over the past couple of days, the rates on mortgages don’t fall in lockstep. MBS investors will re-evaluate their prepayment models and figure out the right price to pay given the fact that the period they will get that extra interest has changed. Before, they might have expected to get it for, say 7 years. Now they expect to get it for 6 years. When they crunch the numbers, they come up with a right price to pay for that 4% mortgage backed security. And the price for that mortgage backed security will then be used for everyone’s rate sheets. To make things even more complicated, the change in price for a 3% security will differ from a 4% security. The name for this whole phenomenon is called convexity, and it gets into some gnarly bond math. But the punch line about convexity is that mortgage backed securities have a lot of it, which causes them to behave differently than the 10 year. So, when you see on CNBC that the 10 year bond yield fell 10 basis points, you can’t expect to see a corresponding 10 basis point improvement in mortgage rates. It just doesn’t work that way.

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Morning Report: Rates heading lower

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2788 -17
Oil (WTI) 57.53 -1.78
10 year government bond yield 2.23%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.31%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as bond yields continue to fall worldwide. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Mortgage applications fell 3% last week as purchases declined 1% and refis declined 6%. This is despite a 6 basis point drop in mortgage rates.

 

Bond yields are down worldwide, with Japan, Australia, and Germany all hitting lows or close to it. This is not being driven by trade concerns – it is being driven by economic malaise in Europe. The German Bund, which is the European benchmark, is yielding -17 basis points (which means you have to pay to lend to the German government). Japanese government bonds yield -10 basis points. All of this will pull down US bond yields as investors swap out of negative yielding assets into positive yielding ones. Even if investors need to bear the foreign exchange risk to buy a US Treasury, many of them figure a possible loss is a better deal than a certain one.

 

Expect the narrative of the business press to evolve as this goes on, from worrying about trade issues to worrying about an inverting yield curve. The business press is going to jump at the narrative that the yield curve is predicting an impending recession, especially as we head into the 2020 elections. Be careful with that interpretation. Historically an inverted yield curve has been a signal of a recession, that much is true. That was before the days of extensive central bank intervention in the bond markets, which has diluted the economic messages being sent by rates. The signal-to-noise ratio of the yield curve is at a historical low, and has been for the past 10 years.

 

Instead of signalling a recession, lower long-term rates are more likely to be good news for the US economy in general. Slower global growth will keep a lid on inflation, which will give the US economy more leeway to grow without building inflationary pressures. This has been a theme for the the past 30 years – emerging economies exporting deflation, and that allows the US economy to run hotter than it ordinarily would. And, unlike the late 90s or the mid 00s, we don’t have a stock / residential real estate bubble to worry about. Note that consumer confidence is back towards 18 year highs as well.

 

Quicken CEO Dan Gilbert had a stroke over the weekend. We all wish him a speedy recovery.

Morning Report: Home price appreciation is flattening

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2826 -5
Oil (WTI) 58.98 0.35
10 year government bond yield 2.29%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.41%

 

Stocks are flattish as investors return from the long Memorial Day weekend. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Mortgage REITs like Annaly and American Capital Agency are increasing the size of their mortgage books. Over the past year, mortgage REITs have increased their exposure by 28%. The agency REITs generally stay fully invested in a portfolio of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac MBS and adjust duration exposure and leverage as different pockets of value develop in the MBS market. Mortgage REITs are an important source of financing for the residential real estate market, and are stepping up as the Fed reduces its exposure. What does this increase in exposure tell us? That these REITs are betting on interest rate stability over the near term. If you own a large leveraged portfolio of mortgage bonds, you want rates to move as little as possible to maximize your returns.

 

Home prices rose 3.7% in March according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. This is a decline from the 3.9% increase reported in February. Real estate prices probably rose too far too fast especially out West and now we are seeing a leveling-off. Prices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, and San Francisco were up only about 1%. Meanwhile, prices are falling in Manhattan, to the tune of 5.2%.

 

The FHFA House Price Index rose 5.2% in March, which shows that there is still decent demand at the lower price points. The FHFA index only considers houses with conforming mortgages, which means it excludes the jumbo market and that is where the slowdown is occurring.

 

One of the worst this-time-is-different hot takes on the real estate market was the Millennials want to live in walkable, urban areas one. There were lots of approving news stories and analysis pieces about environmentally conscious Millennials who take mass transit and live in dense urban environments.  Was this some sort of social movement or nothing more than a transient phenomenon based on circumstances? It is looking more like the latter. The Brookings Institution notes that the suburbs are now growing, while cities are losing residents. As Millennials start having kids, it turns out they want the same thing every generation wanted before them: a yard and good schools. New York City lost 39,000 residents last year, and we are seeing the same thing in expensive West Coast cities. One of the most cited impediments to more homebuilding has been the lack of buildable lots. I wonder if this was due to builders focusing on urban areas. If the exurbs are coming back, that issue should disappear.

Morning Report: Dovish FOMC minutes

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2835.25 -22.4
Oil (WTI) 60.47 -0.95
10 year government bond yield 2.36%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.41%

 

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

 

The minutes from the April FOMC meeting were released yesterday, and the Fed continues to adjust its sails to the messages from the market. The bond market took the minutes to be dovish, and bond yields dropped after they were released. The quote that investors focused on:

 

“Members observed that a patient approach to determining future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate would likely remain appropriate for some
time, especially in an environment of moderate economic growth and muted inflation pressures, even if global economic and financial conditions continued to improve.”

 

That statement (even if global economic and financial conditions continued to improve) is an all-clear signal to the bond market that positive economic data is no longer a threat. Given the background of creeping Eurosclerosis and a trade dispute, the highs for interest rates are probably in, and strategists are already talking about an insurance rate cut.

 

Talk of a rate cut is probably premature however. The data just don’t support it, and with the jawboning out of the White House the Fed is going to resist cutting rates if only to prove they are independent. That said, the circumstances required to justify a rate hike are even more unlikely.

 

Troubles in the luxury end of the real estate market? Not so fast. McMansion builder Toll reported earnings yesterday that exceeded street expectations, and Toll CEO Doug Yearley noted that the Spring Selling Season, which had been a bit of a disappointment, has finally woken up. “We are encouraged by the improvement in demand as the quarter progressed.  FY 2019’s April contracts surpassed FY 2018’s April on both a gross and per-community basis.  Although the Spring selling season bloomed late, it built momentum.  We view this as a positive sign for the overall health of the new home market.”

 

Initial Jobless Claims ticked up to 215,000 last week, while the Markit purchasing managers’ index decreased in April.

 

New home sales ticked down in April, falling to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 673,000. That said, March’s numbers were revised upwards to 732,000. The median home price was more or less flat YOY at $326,400 and the inventory of 332,000 units represents a 5.9 month supply.

Morning Report: US bond yields anchored by creeping Eurosclerosis.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2859 -7
Oil (WTI) 62.65 -0.48
10 year government bond yield 2.43%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.41%

 

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

 

The MBA Secondary Conference was held in NYC on Monday and Tuesday, and it seemed (at least to me) to be much more sparsely attended than in prior years. The most obvious example was the HUB or the conference floor, where there were about half the number of booths. You could see it in the major sessions, where the seats were maybe 25% taken. Of course the secondary conference is largely an off-site event where people go to the various hotels around Times Square for meetings, but it definitely looks like traffic was down this year.

 

The big topic was growth and how to achieve it. Generally speaking most originators were focusing on non-QM as well as renovation loans as the best way to drive growth. Mergers were also mentioned as a way to increase volume. Mohammed El-Arian forecasted that rates will go nowhere in the near future, anchored by negative rates in Europe. The German Bund is trading at a negative yield of 8 basis points (in other words you have to pay for the privilege of lending to the German government), and many money managers prefer to invest in positive-yielding US Treasuries and roll the dice on the currency risk than to lock in a sure loss in German Bunds. He also doesn’t see any sort of recession for at least the next two years unless a massive trade war breaks out internationally.  You can see the creeping Eurosclerosis in the chart of the Bund yield below:

 

german bund

 

The Trump Administration is vetting Judy Shelton to fill a seat on the Federal Reserve Board. She is currently on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which means she has already been through part of the confirmation process. She is in favor of keeping interest rates low, and has criticized the Fed’s methodology for setting the Fed Funds rate.

 

Existing home sales fell in April, according to NAR. They were down 4.4% from a year ago to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million. The median home price rose to 267,300 which is a 3.6% increase from a year ago. Inventory rose as well, to 1.83 million units, which represents a 4.2 month supply. Historically, 6 months would have been considered a balanced market, and we also have a mismatch between price points, where there is a glut of luxury properties and a shortage of entry-level homes. Days on market declined however to 24 days. “I think the market had a bit of a slow start in the Fall, but Realtors® all over the country have been telling me that April was a nice rebound. We’re hopeful and expect that this will continue heading into the summer,” said NAR President John Smaby, a second-generation Realtor® from Edina, Minnesota and broker at Edina Realty. “Homes over the last month sold quickly, which is not only a win-win for buyers and sellers, but it’s also great for the real estate industry.”

 

The mismatch between supply and demand is translating into more boomer empty-nesters staying in their homes. Trulia believes this is a matter of choice, but it may simply be the fact that there is not much demand for those 3,500 square foot homes. The demand is at the lower sizes and price points.

 

Mortgage applications rose 2.4% last week as purchases fell 2.4% and refis rose 8.3%. The average contract interest rate fell 7 basis points to 4.33%.

Morning Report: Housing starts still weak

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2865.5 10
Oil (WTI) 62.69 0.66
10 year government bond yield 2.38%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.17%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as the market continues its rebound. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Housing starts rose 5.7% MOM to 1.23 million in April, which is down about 2.5% from a year ago. March was revised upward to 1.17 million. Building Permits rose to 1.3 million, up a touch from March, but down 6% YOY. We saw an increase in activity in the historically lagging areas – the Midwest and the Northeast. You would have thought that increasing home prices would drive more construction, but so far there is no evidence of that. Costs are increasing, especially labor costs. Tariffs are also being blamed, but lumber prices are down over 50% from a year ago.

 

lumber

 

Despite the slow and steady pace of new homebuilding, builder confidence did improve markedly in April, according to the NAHB Housing Market Index. “Builders are busy catching up after a wet winter, and many characterize sales as solid, driven by improved demand and ongoing low overall supply,” said NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde. “However, affordability challenges persist and remain a big impediment to stronger sales.” “Mortgage rates are hovering just above 4% following a challenging fourth quarter of 2018 when they peaked near 5%. This lower interest rate environment, along with ongoing job growth and rising wages, is contributing to a gradual improvement in the marketplace,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz.  “At the same time, builders continue to deal with ongoing labor and lot shortages and rising material costs that are holding back supply and harming affordability.”

 

Initial Jobless Claims rose to 220,000 last week. The labor market continues to be strong.

 

 

Morning Report: Weak data sends yields lower

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2832.5 -6
Oil (WTI) 61.11 -0.59
10 year government bond yield 2.36%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.17%

 

Stocks are lower after weak economic data out of China. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Some weak economic data this morning, which is pushing bond yields lower. The 10 year is trading at 2.63%, which is the lowest level since December 2017.

 

Mortgage Applications fell 0.6% last week as rates were more or less steady. Purchases fell 0.6%, while refis fell 0.5%. The typical 30 year fixed rate mortgage came in at 4.24%. “Purchase applications declined slightly last week but still remained almost 7 percent higher than a year ago,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Despite the third straight decline in mortgage rates, refinance applications decreased for the fifth time in six weeks, albeit by less than 1 percent.”

 

Separately, 30-day and 60-day delinquencies did tick up in the first quarter, however foreclosure inventory is at the lowest level since 1995.

 

Retail sales disappointed, with the headline number coming in -0.2%. Ex autos, they rose 0.1% and the control group was flat. YOY, they were up 3.1%

 

Industrial Production and manufacturing production both fell 0.5% in April, while capacity utilization fell to 77.9%.

 

After the weak data, the December Fed Funds futures are forecasting a 76% chance of a rate cut this year, and the June futures are factoring in a 1 in 5 chance of a 25 basis point cut. 1 month ago, the markets were handicapping a 40% chance of a cut this year, so there has been a big change in sentiment. While that seems aggressive given the language out of the Fed, it is hard to ignore what the markets are saying.

 

fed funds futures