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%.

Morning Report: Trump’s tariff tweet send bond yields lower

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2941 -11.5
Oil (WTI) 55.51 1.04
10 year government bond yield 1.90%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.96%

 

Stocks are lower after yesterday’s Trump Trade Tweet. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Donald Trump sent bonds higher yesterday afternoon with this tweet saying that trade talks had broken down between the US and China, and he was therefore imposing an additional 10% tariff on $300 billion in goods from China. This sent stocks reeling, and the 10 year bond yield down about 10 basis points. MBS were slow to react, however we did have some reprices late in the day. If you look at the box scores above, you’ll see we finally have a 3 handle on the 30 year fixed rate mortgage. Commodities were also slammed, with oil down 8%.

 

The escalation in the tariff wars caused some strategists to bump up their probabilities of a September rate cut. Goldman’s Jan Hatzius sees a 70% chance of 25bps, 10% of 50, and 20% of no change at the FOMC meeting next month. This was mirrored in the Fed funds futures market, however the 50 basis point cut looks unlikely. They Sep futures are pricing in an 85% chance of another 25 bps. They were pricing in a 56% chance of a rate cut before the tweet came out.

 

Some of the rally in bonds yesterday was almost certainly due to convexity-related buying, which means hedge adjustment activity. This sort of buying is invariably violent and temporary, which means mortgage backed securities will probably lag the move for a day or two. That said, the path of least resistance for rates remains down, especially since overseas bond yields followed along. The German Bund now yields negative 48 basis points. In fact, their longest term bond – 29 years – is now negative. Think of it: tying your money up for 29 years to get…. absolutely nothing. This is the fixed-income equivalent of buying Salon.com stock at 1000x pageviews in 1999.

 

bund

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 164k (in line with expectations)
  • Unemployment rate 3.%
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.3% MOM / 3.2% YOY (better than expectations)
  • Labor force participation rate 63%
  • Employment / population ratio 60.7%

Overall a good report, and now stock bullish given the Fed’s new posture. Wage growth is picking up and average hourly earnings keep trending upward despite PCE inflation that is stuck in the high teens.

 

average hourly earnings

Morning Report: The Fed cuts rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2983 0.5
Oil (WTI) 57.51 -1.04
10 year government bond yield 2.00%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.07%

 

Stocks are flat after the Fed cut interest rates 25 basis points. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The Fed cut the Fed Funds rate by 25 basis points yesterday, which was in line with what the markets were expecting. Bonds sold off (rates higher) initially but eventually worked their way back to unchanged on the day and rates are lower this morning. The volatility in bonds did widen MBS spreads a little, which means that mortgage rates didn’t necessarily follow the 10 year yield lower.

 

The markets seemed to take the fact that Esther George and Eric Rosengren dissented in stride. Both voted against cutting rates. Jerome Powell’s press conference was a bit surreal given that his body language gave the impression he didn’t actually believe his “insurance cut for maintaining the recovery” narrative very much. If you watch the press conference, you’ll see him struggle with a question from Bloomberg’s Michael McKee regarding how cutting interest rates in an economy awash in capital will have any effect. Powell mentioned slowdowns in Europe and China several times, and that probably gave away the game.  This was a rate cut in response to global weakness, certainly not US economic numbers nor Trump’s jawboning. Since using monetary policy as a tool to help foreign economies is not in the Fed’s job description, he can’t come right out and say it.

 

You can’t help the feeling that global central banks have engineered a sovereign debt bubble globally and now have no idea what to do about it. Their exit strategy is to create inflation, which would send money out of bonds, but cutting rates is causing bonds to get more expensive, exacerbating the bubble. The result has been a situation that makes zero economic sense: why would anyone pay to lend money, let alone to a government with a debt to GDP ratio of 240% (Japan)? I guess it is one of those things that people will eventually wake up to en masse. In other words, “it won’t matter until it matters, and then it will be the only thing that matters.” But the #1 rule of bubbles is that they go on longer and go further than anyone expects.

 

The Fed funds futures moved marginally in response to the rate cut. The markets are now pricing in about an 85% chance of one more cut this year, and are handicapping a better than 50% chance of a cut in September.

 

fed funds futures

 

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the FHA is going to announce a move to lower the limit for cash out refinances to 80 LTV from 85 LTV.  “The risk at 85% is more than what we think is appropriate to bear and more than what we think we should expose taxpayers to,” said Keith Becker, the FHA’s chief risk officer. This change will bring FHA loans in line with Fannie and Freddie which cap cash outs at 80%.

 

In another change, a HUD proposal has been circulated that would reverse an Obama-era standard for fair lending – the disparate impact standard – and replace it with a 5-step framework to demonstrate that discrimination occurred. In other words, it will put the burden of proof back on the regulator to prove the lender intended to discriminate. I don’t have the actual proposal, so there isn’t much to go on quite yet.

 

In other economic news today, initial jobless claims came in at 215k, construction spending fell 1.3% and the ISM Manufacturing index slipped to 51.2.

 

 

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: Incomes and spending rise

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3004 -17.5
Oil (WTI) 57.21 0.34
10 year government bond yield 2.06%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.07%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC begins its 2 day meeting today. The decision is expected to come out at 2:00 pm tomorrow afternoon.

 

Personal consumption and personal incomes came in as expected, with consumption rising 0.3% and personal incomes rising 0.4%. The core PCE inflation index (which is the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) rose 0.2% month-over-month and 1.6% YOY, which was slightly lower than expectations. Finally, disposable personal income rose 0.4%, while the savings rate was 8.1%. Overall, this report won’t move the needle with respect to the Fed’s thinking about the economy. The economy is moving along, and inflation remains below the Fed’s target rate.

 

You can see how much the savings rate has increased since the bubble days. Remember when the business press was wringing its hands over the drop in the savings rate?

 

savings rate

 

Home Prices rose 0.2% MOM and 3.4% YOY according to the Case-Shiller home price index. YOY home price appreciation has been decelerating for some time as higher interest rates and higher home prices begin to bite. Erstwhile market darling Seattle reported a YOY decline of 1.2%, while the gainers were Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tampa.

 

Bloomberg has an interesting chart of the global real estate and looks at home prices versus rents and incomes. It shows Canada and New Zealand as the most vulnerable markets. It doesn’t show China, which has a huge bubble and probably doesn’t fit on the diagram. Scandinavia also has a bubble issue as well. For those that admire the Scandinavian economies, remember that whenever a country appears to have have “cracked the code” economically (like the US in the 20s, Japan in the 80s, etc) it usually has a real estate bubble lurking in the background.

 

Note that despite all the talk about real estate bubbles in the US, we are actually on the cheap side, as is Japan.

 

global real estate

 

The US vacancy rate was 6.8% for rental properties and 1.5% for homeowner housing in the second quarter of 2019. The homeownership vacancy rate of 1.5% is the lowest since 1981, and illustrates the supply issue that is only going to get worse as homebuilding fails to keep up with household formation.

 

 

Morning Report; GDP comes in better than expected

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3014 7.5
Oil (WTI) 56.51 0.84
10 year government bond yield 2.08%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.05%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after good numbers from Google, sorry Alphabet, and Q1 GDP came in better than expectations. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The US economy grew at 2.1% in the second quarter, a deceleration from the 3.1% recorded in the first quarter, but higher than the Street estimate of 1.8%. Note that the Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now model was predicting only 1.3% growth as of yesterday, which is a big miss, so perhaps this number will eventually get revised down.

 

In terms of the internals, consumption rebounded rising 4.3%, compared to only 1.1% in the first quarter. Inflation rose 2.3% on the headline number, while the core PCE rose 1.8%. Disposable income rose 4.4%, or 2.5% after inflation and the savings rate fell from 8.5% to 8.1%. Trade was a drag on growth, with exports falling 5.2% and imports flat. Investment was disappointing, falling 5.5% however the first quarter was revised upward from 1% to 3.1%. The economy’s old bugaboo, housing, fell 1.5%. It is strange to think we have a such pent-up demand for housing yet it remains a headwind but here we are. Inventories fell as well.

 

GDP

 

The Fed Funds futures moved slightly. A rate cut next week is more or less a sure thing, and the futures are predicting an 80% chance of a 25 bp cut and a 20% chance of a 50 bp cut. This is realistically the last data point before the Fed meets next week, although consumption and PCE will be released on the day the meeting begins.

 

The homeownership rate fell in the second quarter, falling to 64.1% from 64.2% in the previous quarter. This rate of 64% was more or less the norm prior to the big homeownership push from the government in the mid 90s. It topped 69% during the bubble years and then fell below 63% during the bust. The rental vacancy rate was flat at 6.8%, which again is consistent with historical norms. It is an interesting series the vacancy rate was quite low during the high interest rate 1970s and quite high during the bubble years.

 

vacancy rate

Morning Report: German bonds set a record streak of negative yields

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3023 1.5
Oil (WTI) 56.79 0.84
10 year government bond yield 2.07%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.04%

 

Stocks are flat as we await earnings from market heavyweights like Amazon and Alphabet. Facebook’s numbers beat the street, while Tesla disappointed. Bonds and MBS are down small.

 

New home sales came in weaker than expected, but at least exhibited positive growth. In June, we saw new home sales of 646,000, which was up 7% MOM and 5% YOY. New home inventory 338k units, which represents a 6.3 month supply.

 

Durable Goods orders rose 2% in June, according to Census. Ex-transportation, they rose 1.2%, and ex-transportation and defense they rose 3.1%. Non-defense capital goods orders (ex-aircraft) rose 1.9%, which shows that businesses are expanding capacity.

 

In other economic news, initial jobless claims fell 13k to 206,000.

 

The ECB opened the door to future stimulus this morning, saying they saw rates lower over the next 12 months. The German Bund is slightly stronger, however we are still close to record low yields at negative 37 basis points. The Bund set a record for the longest streak of days in negative territory – now 79. This eclipses the record set in 2016. What exactly does “negative yield” mean? It means the German 0s of ’29 is trading at 103.66. It is a zero coupon bond, meaning it pays no periodic interest. You pay 103.66 and on August 15, 2029, you will get back 100.

 

german bund yield

 

To get an idea of how much things have changed in Europe, remember the PIIGS? The PIIGS were an acronym for Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain – all high-yielding sovereign debt that had fiscal issues. Where are they now? All yielding less than the US 10 year, with Greece at 1.95%, Portugal at 38 basis points, Ireland at 11 basis points, Italy at 1.48% and Spain at 33 basis points. Don’t forget, a huge swath of the European corporate sector trades with negative yields.

 

Most (if not all) of these countries have debt-to-GDP ratios well over 1, so we are seeing a real-time test of the hypothesis that government debt levels don’t matter. The granddaddy of debt to GDP ratios is Japan, sitting at 2.4x and its 10 year bond yields negative 15 basis points. Who knows how all this ends up, but we have a global sovereign debt bubble of epic proportions.

 

Bill Gross used to call the US the “cleanest dirty shirt” in the world. Indeed. For all the handwringing over debt to GDP ratios, the US debt to GDP ratio sits at just over 1, and a good chunk of that is owned by the Fed. Essentially, the low yields overseas cannot help but act as an anchor for US yields, which means unless the bubble overseas pops, I can’t see an impetus to push rates dramatically higher. And the first rule of bubbles is that they go on longer and go further than anyone expects.

Morning Report: Existing home sales disappoint, but some internals are better

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2999 -8.5
Oil (WTI) 56.94 0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.06%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Today is a big day for earnings, with numbers coming out for Ford, Boeing, Caterpillar, Facebook, and Tesla.

 

House prices rose 0.1% in May, according to the FHFA House Price Index. They were up 5% on a YOY basis. Home price appreciation has been decelerating across the board, but it is most pronounced in the Pacific and Mountain regions.

 

FHFA regional

 

Mortgage Applications fell by 2% last week as purchases and refis fell by the same amount. This was despite a 4 basis point drop in rates.

 

Existing Home Sales fell 1.7% in June, according to NAR. “Home sales are running at a pace similar to 2015 levels – even with exceptionally low mortgage rates, a record number of jobs and a record high net worth in the country,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. Yun says the nation is in the midst of a housing shortage and much more inventory is needed. “Imbalance persists for mid-to-lower priced homes with solid demand and insufficient supply, which is consequently pushing up home prices,” he said.

 

Inventory was 1.93 million units, which represents a 4.4 month supply. Historically a balanced market had 6 – 6.5 months’ worth of supply. As Yun notes above, there is a big mismatch in inventory, with a complete dearth of properties at the low / mid price points. McMansions abound, however. Despite these issues, the first time homebuyer accounted for 35% of sales in June, which is approaching the historical norm of 40%. The first time homebuyer had been largely MIA for most of the post-crisis timeframe, accounting for 30% of sales (or even less). On the flip side, investors (represented by all cash sales) fell to 10%. With home price appreciation leveling out, we may start to see some funds who raised capital for the REO-to-Rental trade in the aftermath of the crisis ring the register and sell some of these properties as the funds wind down. Certainly cap rates are not what they were 10 years ago.

 

The median home price reached an all-time high of 285,700. Sentier Research has the median income at $63,400 as of May 2019. This puts the median house price to median income rate at just about 4.5x. Historically this is a very high number, however it is important to note that interest rates will influence this number. If you look at other metrics besides incomes and prices, homes are not that expensive on a historical basis.

 

 

Morning Report: John Williams moves markets yesterday

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3003 6.5
Oil (WTI) 55.74 0.54
10 year government bond yield 2.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.08%

 

Stocks are up this morning after Mr. Softee beat earnings estimates. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Signs of a recession? Not really. The Conference Board’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators was flat at -.3% in June, while the markets were expecting an uptick. “The US LEI fell in June, the first decline since last December, primarily driven by weaknesses in new orders for manufacturing, housing permits, and unemployment insurance claims,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Senior Director of Economic Research at The Conference Board. “For the first time since late 2007, the yield spread made a small negative contribution. As the US economy enters its eleventh year of expansion, the longest in US history, the LEI suggests growth is likely to remain slow in the second half of the year.”

 

New York Fed Head John Williams sent bond yields lower yesterday when his prepared remarks to an academic conference were released. They said: “Take swift action when faced with adverse economic conditions” and “keep interest rates lower for longer” when you do cut rates.” The markets immediately took this as an endorsement for a 50 basis point cut when the Fed meets next week. A spokesman from the NY Fed clarified that comment later, saying that he was referring to studies based on 20 years of monetary policy and was not referring to the FOMC meeting next week. A cut next week is pretty much expected, and the only question is whether it will be 25 or 50 basis points.

 

After Williams’ comments, the Fed Funds futures actually started handicapping a 70% chance for a 50 basis point cut and only a 30% chance of a 25 basis point cut. They had previously been forecasting a 25% chance for a 50 basis point cut. They ended up settling on 40% chance. There is some more Fed-speak today, and then they will enter the quiet period ahead of next week’s meeting.

 

FHFA Director Mark Calabria says the Trump Administration should be releasing a plan to deal with Fannie and Freddie sometime in August or September.