Morning Report: Oil market jitters and the Fed.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3000.5 -9.25
Oil (WTI) 60.57 5.44
10 year government bond yield 1.85%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.98%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after an attack on a Saudi Aramco oil facility sent oil prices up nearly 20%. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

A Saudi Aramco facility that represents about 5% of global oil output was attacked, which caused the biggest spike in oil prices since the 1991 Gulf War. Saudi Aramco estimates that it will take months to bring that capacity back on line. A Yemeni movement aligned with Iran is claiming responsibility for the attack. President Trump has announced that the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve could be used to mitigate the effect on oil prices, and the US stands “locked and loaded” to prevent future attacks. While Iran has denied responsibility, cruise missiles may have been involved in the attack, which means Iranian technology. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been enemies for years and have been fighting a war by proxy.

 

A spike in oil prices has the potential to be inflationary, however it would more likely depress growth since it would act as a tax. This will probably push the Fed to cut rates as opposed to raise them to fight potential inflation. US consumers will be somewhat insulated, since most of the country gets its supply from US West Texas Intermediate which is a US-only market. Consumers on the East Coast will feel an effect since they get their oil from the North Sea Brent market, and many in the Northeast rely on heating oil. Front month heating oil contracts are up 8% pre-open.

 

Aside from the issues in the energy space, the big even this week is the FOMC meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Sep fed funds futures have made quite the reversal over the past month, going from a 100% chance of a rate cut (the only uncertainty was over whether it would be 25 or 50 basis points) to a roughly 25% chance they do nothing and a 75% chance they cut by 25 basis points.

 

fed funds futures

 

The action in the Fed announcement Wednesday will undoubtedly be in the dot plot (which is the Fed Funds forecast) and the GDP forecast. A potential war in the Middle East has got to affect the numbers, and it will be interesting to see whether they bump up the inflation numbers and / or take down the GDP estimates. Regardless, political uncertainty tends to be negative for business, so I would expect to see more dovishness in the Fed Funds futures.

 

Last week was brutal for mortgage rates, as the average rate on the 30 year fixed rate mortgage rose 20 basis points last week. It probably represents a technical reaction to the massive rally we have seen in rates this year already. “These sorts of bad performances are most often seen in the wake of stellar performances,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “August was the best month for mortgage rates, and 2019 has been the best year since 2011. And that’s precisely why this terrible week is possible: It’s largely a technical correction to the feverish strength in August.” In other words, markets don’t go straight up and they don’t go straight down. Volatility begets volatility and you will see massive rallies in the context of a bear market and vice versa. Remember that volatility in rates is bad for MBS investors in general and that will flow through to rates.

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Morning Report: High frequency traders and mortgage rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2907 -16.5
Oil (WTI) 53.33 -1.74
10 year government bond yield 1.50%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.78%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on trade issues. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The holiday-shortened week ahead looks to be relatively quiet, with the exception of a spate of Fed-speak on Wednesday and the jobs report on Friday. The September Fed Funds futures are pricing in a 100% chance of another 25 basis point cut, and the Fed seems to be in market-following mode, so the data should take a backseat.

 

Manufacturing activity slipped in August, according to the ISM Manufacturing Survey, which came in at 49.1, well below expectations. This was the first contraction in the manufacturing sector since mid-2016. The level for the ISM typically corresponds with 1.8% GDP growth.

 

Separately, construction spending rose 0.1%, which was lower as well, however the previous month’s drop was revised upward from -1.3% to -.7%.

 

Home prices rose .5% MOM / 3.6% YOY in July, according to CoreLogic. Home price appreciation slowed in 2018 as rates rose. That effect will reverse over the next year, and Corelogic expects annual home price appreciation rates to settle in around 5%. Tight supply, especially amongst starter homes will support prices, as well as a robust labor market and a move out of urban areas to the suburbs. About 37% of the US housing stock in the top 100 MSAs is overvalued. This metric is based on wage growth and housing supply.

 

Hurricane Dorian is expected to miss direct landfall, however it is slow-moving and dumping a lot of rain. Coastal areas will be at risk of flooding as the storm parallels the Eastern Seaboard this week.

 

The WSJ has an interesting article this morning about thinning liquidity in the markets. Late summer is often characterized by thinning liquidity, which means fewer active investors are trading, which causes exaggerated market movements when a big buyer or seller wants to execute an order. They mention what has been going on in the Treasury market:

Some analysts point to high-frequency traders. They have dominated the government-bond market, making up a big chunk of trading activity compared with slower counterparts, according to JPMorgan analysts. These traders withdrew last month, the firm said, suggesting that they amplified turbulence. Investors said liquidity worries are even more pronounced in riskier corporate bonds.

“As you go further down the credit spectrum, it starts to get a bit more volatile,” said Gautam Khanna, a fixed-income portfolio manager at Insight Investment. “Liquidity is definitely thinner in this market than it has been.”

This might help explain why mortgage rates have lagged the move in Treasuries. In essence, high frequency traders help establish a liquid market, where it is easier for large investors such as banks, sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, etc to trade large positions. When these high frequency traders withdraw, bid / ask spreads widen, and volatility increases. Here is the issue: MBS investors hate volatility because it makes their portfolios hard to hedge, and adds uncertainty about prepayment speeds. This causes them to be more conservative with respect to the prices they are willing to pay for mortgage backed securities, which flows through to mortgage rates falling less than the move in Treasuries would predict. Below is a chart of 10 year Treasury futures volatility. You can see the spike in the index beginning in August, which corresponds with the dramatic drop in rates, and the exit of high frequency traders from the market.

 

treasury futures volatility

 

 

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: 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: 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: Two new Fed nominees, weak payroll growth

Vital Statistics:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

MBA application index

 

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

 

ADP report

 

 

Morning Report: The Fed prepares the markets for a rate cut

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2957.5 24.1
Oil (WTI) 55.54 1.78
10 year government bond yield 2.01%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.10%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as interest rates fall globally. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The Fed maintained interest rates at current levels, but signaled the willingness to cut rates if necessary:

“The Committee continues to view sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective as the most likely outcomes, but uncertainties about this outlook have increased. In light of these uncertainties and muted inflation pressures, the Committee will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near its symmetric 2 percent objective.”

The dot plot showed a 30 basis point decline in the fed funds expectations. You can see the plots side by side below. The central tendency for 2019 fell by 32 basis points to 2.17%

 

Jun Mar dot plot

 

FWIW, the Fed upped their forecast for GDP, and cut their forecast for unemployment and inflation. Why that would be consistent with a potential rate cut is beyond me, but such is life in our era of Calvinball monetary policy. The decision was nearly unanimous, with only Bullard dissenting, preferring to see a 25 basis point cut. The Fed funds futures are pricing in 100% chance of a rate cut at the July meeting.

 

Bonds rallied on the announcement, although mortgage backed securities were slow to follow. We did see some reprices for the better late in the day, but nothing too dramatic. Expect mortgage rates to lag the move in bonds, as usual.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell from 220,000 to 216,000 last week.

 

Home prices rose 3.6% YOY, the strongest acceleration in 7 months, according to Redfin. Interestingly, the only areas that dropped were the markets that rallied the most over the past few years: San Jose, New York, Los Angeles, where inventory is up smartly. Where was the fastest growth? Knoxville TN at 15%, Milwaukee WI at 15% and Camden NJ at 11%.

 

Judy Shelton is the latest potential nominee to the Fed. She is an advocate for much lower interest rates. She also favors ending the Fed’s policy of paying interest on excess reserves, which encourages banks to park money at the Fed versus lending it out.

 

Fannie and Fred are trying to do more to increase lending for manufactured homes.