|10 year government bond yield
|30 year fixed rate mortgage
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):