Morning Report: Fed week

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3208 24.1
Oil (WTI) 38.84 0.39
10 year government bond yield 0.91%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.32%

 

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

 

The FOMC will meet this week, although no changes in interest rates are expected. They may give some sort of update on the various sundry financial assets they will buy, but that is about it.

 

The unemployment rate was probably understated in Friday’s jobs report. Apparently there was a misclassification error for people who were employed but absent from work. They should have been classified as “unemployed” but were not, which means the unemployment rate was higher than advertised. Note this doesn’t affect the payroll number, which comes from the establishment survey.

 

The Fed is launching its Main Street lending program, but it looks like the high minimum amount of $500k is putting some borrowers off.  It has generated some political heat as a bailout for oil and gas industries. “It is far and away the biggest challenge of any of the 11 facilities that we’ve set up,” Fed chair Jerome Powell said last month during a Princeton University webcast in which he also said the central bank is open to adjusting the program.

 

The FHA gave some more guidance on forbearance. Loans in forbearance are generally ineligible for FHA insurance, but the government is permitting closed loans to be insured provided the lender agrees to indemnify FHA for 20% of the loan amount if the loan goes into foreclosure. “FHA has continually been at the forefront of providing assistance and assurance for borrowers, lenders, and the mortgage market since the coronavirus pandemic began,” said Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson in a statement, adding the policy change “will give borrowers, lenders, and the market peace of mind as we continue our road to economic recovery in the United States.”

Morning Report: 37% of New York City renters can’t make June rent

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3104 -14.1
Oil (WTI) 36.84 0.39
10 year government bond yield 0.78%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.23%

 

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

 

Initial jobless claims fell to 1.9 million last week. Separately, Challenger and Gray reported that 397,000 job cuts were announced last month.

 

Homebuilder Hovnanian reported a 22% increase in revenues for the second quarter. The cancellation rate ticked up slightly, but it looks like the homebuilders are seeing a recovery already. We should hear from Lennar and KB Home in a week or two.

 

Productivity was revised upward in the first quarter to -0.9% and unit labor costs were revised upward to 5.1%.

 

It looks like June rental payments are falling a touch, after holding up reasonably well in April and May. According to a survey, 37% of all New York City renters don’t have the money to pay June rent.

 

Another sign the recovery is upon us: Investors are starting to pick at bank stocks. “There’s optimism things will be better a year from now. And because banks have trailed just about everything else in the market they’re being dragged up,” said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, in New Vernon, New Jersey.

 

Morning Report: First quarter GDP revised downward

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3043 5.1
Oil (WTI) 32.94 -0.69
10 year government bond yield 0.7%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.28%

 

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

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 2.1 million, about in line with expectations. At a minimum we need to see this number fall back to the six digit area to have any prayer of a recovery.

 

Luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers beat on the top line and the bottom line. This quarter ended on April 30, so half of the quarter was pre-COVID and half was post-COVID. Revenues fell 11% YOY, while signed contracts were down 22%. Backlog was flat YOY. CEO Doug Yearley noted that deposit activity rebounded in May and was up YOY. This is a leading indicator of housing demand.

“While net signed contracts in the first four weeks of May were down 37% year-over-year, we are very encouraged by recent deposit activity. Our deposits, which typically precede a binding sales contract by about three weeks and represent a leading indicator of current market demand, were up 13% over the past three weeks versus the same three-week period last year. Importantly, our recent deposit-to-contract conversion ratio has remained consistent with pre-Covid-19 levels. Web traffic has also steadily improved from the lows we experienced in mid-March and has returned to the same strong activity we enjoyed pre-Covid-19 in February. These early trends suggest the housing market may be more resilient than anticipated just two months ago.”

Homebuilding is an early-cycle play, so you should expect to see a turnaround in that sector first. Overall, it sounds like the builders have been pleasantly surprised at how the sector has held up during the crisis.

 

First quarter GDP was revised downward to -5% from -4.8% in the second estimate. Inflation continues to be tame, with the headline number up 1.3%. Ex-food and energy it rose 1.8%. In other economic news, Durable Good Orders fell 17% in April. Most of this data is pretty much irrelevant to stock prices right now. The stock market is looking over the valley.

 

Ex-Obama staffer Jason Furman predicts that we are about to see the best economic numbers the country has ever seen. FWIW, I agree with his sentiment. The COVID Crisis is about 3 months old. There was nothing wrong with the economy going into the crisis, and the shock to the economy should feel more like a natural disaster than a traditional bubble-driven recession. If we have passed the bottom (admittedly a big “if”) then the economy could be on fire by late summer / early fall. And speaking of “fire,” the government poured a few trillion gallons of fiscal gasoline on it.

 

Pending Home Sales fell 22% in April, according to NAR. “While coronavirus mitigation efforts have disrupted contract signings, the real estate industry is ‘hot’ in affordable price points with the wide prevalence of bidding wars for the limited inventory,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said. “In the coming months, buying activity will rise as states reopen and more consumers feel comfortable about homebuying in the midst of the social distancing measures. Given the surprising resiliency of the housing market in the midst of the pandemic, the outlook for the remainder of the year has been upgraded for both home sales and prices, with home sales to decline by only 11% in 2020 with the median home price projected to increase by 4%,” Yun said. “In the prior forecast, sales were expected to fall by 15% and there was no increase in home price.”

 

Those hoping to snap up recession-driven bargains in the real estate market may be disappointed. That said, the bargains (if any) would be in the higher priced area, not the more affordable price points. “The mix of homes that are on the market now is a little bit different,” says Ratiu. “What’s really selling at a premium are lower-priced homes. The higher-priced homes are sitting on the market longer.”

Morning Report: New Home Sales encouraging

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3008 55.1
Oil (WTI) 34.34 1.19
10 year government bond yield 0.7%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.28%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on optimism about the economy re-opening. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The upcoming week is somewhat data-light. The big numbers will be the second revision to GDP and construction spending.

 

Home prices rose 1.7% in the first quarter and were up 5.7% on a YOY basis, according to the FHFA House Price Index.  That said, the report noted that the data in the report probably doesn’t take into account the effects of COVID. The Mountain states led the charge, with Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming posting double-digit gains.

Home price appreciation by state

The Case-Shiller index reported a 4.4% annual gain. The difference between the FHFA and Case-Shiller indices? FHFA is limited to transactions with a conforming mortgage, while Case-Shiller includes all sales.

 

New Home Sales came in at 623,000 which was up from March, but down 6.7% on a YOY basis. Since April was the worst of the crisis, this is an encouraging number. Note that these are estimates with wide confidence intervals. So there is a chance these could get revised lower. I listened to pretty much every homebuilder earnings call and pretty much every one said that the second half of April was unexpectedly strong.

 

I went to a restaurant in Connecticut last night. Outdoor seating, long line out the door to get a table. Sample size of 1, but it looks like people are antsy to get out of the house and put COVID behind them. Barring any sort of second wave of infections, I think the economy rebound by the 4th of July and will have shaken off most of the economic damage by Labor Day.

Morning Report: Existing home sales fall

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2963 -4.1
Oil (WTI) 34.54 1.19
10 year government bond yield 0.68%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.28%

 

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

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 2.4 million. which was a touch higher than expectations.

 

3.6 million Americans were past due on their April mortgage payment according to Black Knight Financial Services. This is the largest number since January 2015. Foreclosure starts and completions were at record lows due to government-imposed moratoriums. Miami, NYC and Las Vegas were the hardest hit cities. Note that sales in NYC are down 61%. I suspect we are going to see a mass exodus to the suburbs after this is over.

 

The Census Bureau estimates that almost half of all households has lost employment income during the pandemic. States that rely heaviest on tourism like Nevada and Hawaii saw close to 60%.

 

Existing home sales fell 18% in April, according to NAR. The median home price rose 7.4% YOY. Inventory was down 1.3% from March and down 19.7% from a year ago. “The economic lockdowns – occurring from mid-March through April in most states – have temporarily disrupted home sales,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “But the listings that are on the market are still attracting buyers and boosting home prices.”

 

The index of leading economic indicators came in at -4.4, better than expected, and an improvement from the March number.

Morning Report: Over 70% of the loans in forbearance don’t need the help

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2966 37.1
Oil (WTI) 32.84 1.19
10 year government bond yield 0.71%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.28%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as retailer earnings are coming in better than expected. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FHFA put out new guidance yesterday on forbearance and refinances. Essentially, you will will be eligible to refinance your property provided you are current with whatever repayment plan you negotiated for 3 months after exiting forbearance. “Homeowners who are in COVID-19 forbearance but continue to make their mortgage payment will not be penalized,” said Director Mark Calabria. “Today’s action allows homeowners to access record low mortgage rates and keeps the mortgage market functioning as efficiently as possible.” According to the MBA, 4.1 million borrowers are in forbearance right now and over 70% don’t need the help. That is a huge number, but i guess it is to be expected since there is no requirement to demonstrate hardship.

 

Mortgage Applications fell 2.6% last week as purchases increased 6% and refis fell 6%. “Applications for home purchases continue to recover from April’s sizable drop and have now increased for five consecutive weeks,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Purchase activity – which was 35 percent below year-ago levels six weeks ago – increased across all loan types and was only 1.5 percent lower than last year. Government purchase applications, which include FHA, VA and USDA loans, are now 5 percent higher than a year ago, which is an encouraging turnaround after the weakness seen over the past two months. As states gradually reopen and both home buyer and seller activity increases, we will be closely watching to see if these positive trends continue, or if they reflect shorter-term, pent-up demand.”

 

41% of home sales had bidding wars, according to Redfin. “Demand for homes has picked back up after hitting rock bottom in April, and that uptick paired with a lack of supply is a recipe for bidding wars,” said Redfin lead economist Taylor Marr. “Homebuyers are getting back out there, searching for more space as they realize using their home as an office and school may become the norm. But sellers are still holding off on listing their homes, partially due to economic uncertainty and concerns of health risks. In some hot neighborhoods, there may only be one or two homes for sale, with multiple homebuyers vying for them.”

 

22% of builders reduced home prices to move inventory, according to the NAHB. This is much less than the housing recession of 2008, which was about 50%.

Morning Report: Forbearance curve is flattening

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2940 -7.1
Oil (WTI) 33.54 1.19
10 year government bond yield 0.73%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.28%

 

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

 

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin head to Capitol Hill to testify in front of the Senate today.  In his prepared remarks, Jerome Powell basically laid out everything the Fed has done so far, so it doesn’t look like anything new is going to come out of this.

 

Social distancing took a bite out of housing starts in April, falling 30% to 891 thousand. Building Permits also fell 19% from March. Separately, the NAHB Housing Market index increased in May to 37 from 30.

 

CNBC explains why this isn’t the Great Depression, even though the unemployment numbers are up there. The simplest explanation – there was no economic rot that caused the drop in the economy. No asset bubbles, no bad investments, no bank failures – it isn’t comparable. This was a healthy economy that was put in a deep freeze in response to a pandemic. Recessions generally exist because bad debt needs to be written off, excess inventory needs to be sold, and bad businesses liquidated. There isn’t any of that this time around. Just like the predictions of millions of deaths in the US from COVID turned out to be overly pessimistic, I think many of the predictions of a long, drawn out recovery will be too.

 

The Despot missed earnings expectations this morning, but maintained its dividend. It also withdrew its guidance for the rest of the year. The company took some actions to help its employees including paid time off, bonuses, and healthcare expense help which hit earnings by 60 cents a share. Meanwhile, WalMart reported strong numbers this morning as shoppers stockpile necessities.

 

It looks like the “forbearance curve” is flattening. “The pace of forbearance requests continued to slow in the second week of May, but the share of loans in forbearance increased,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist. “There has been a pronounced flattening in loans put into forbearance – despite April’s uniformly negative economic data, remarkably high unemployment, and it now being past May payment due dates.”

Morning Report: 9% of mortgages are in forbearance

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2929 83.1
Oil (WTI) 32.54 1.29
10 year government bond yield 0.68%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.36%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on positive news for a COVID vaccine. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The upcoming week should be relatively quiet, with no major economic news. Jerome Powell speaks tomorrow and we will get the FOMC minutes, but that is about it. Markets will be closing early on Friday for the Memorial Day weekend.

 

The MBA sent a letter to Congress stressing the need for a liquidity facility for non-bank servicers. In order to work, Ginnie must be given legal authority to approve pledges of an issuer’s future reimbursements on servicing advances. The MBA also points out that allowing everyone to get forbearance regardless of circumstances was not the smartest idea. While FHFA has stated that borrowers who seek forbearance will not be required to repay everything at once, that doesn’t necessarily apply to non-government-backed paper.

 

About 9% of US mortgages are in forbearance right now. This works out to be $1 trillion in unpaid principal. By the end of June, Black Knight estimates that 10% – 12% of the mortgage market will be in forbearance. 12% would work out to be 6.3 million borrowers. That is a lot of advances. Separately, the National Multifamily Housing Council reported that 88% of renters made their May payment through May 13.

 

Jerome Powell warned on the economy turning around: “There is a growing sense that the recovery may come more slowly than we would like, but it will come. And that may mean that it’s necessary for us to do more.” He is advocating for Congress to provide more fiscal stimulus, which doesn’t seem like it will be forthcoming. The House has passed a liberal wish-list, but Mitch McConnell doesn’t seem all that eager to take it up. The big trade will be liability protection for business in exchange for vote-by-mail.

 

The MBA says buyers will return by summer as lockdown ends. “We expect that heading into the summer, more prospective homebuyers will gradually return to the market.” FWIW, “summer” is only a month away, but I think this is already happening. I was listening to the American Homes 4 Rent conference call, and they said that traffic was slower in the second half of March, but by the second half of April, traffic was up 25% year-over-year. They had 9,500 showings is five days which worked out to be six tours per available property. While these are for rentals, it does show that people who are living in crowded urban areas want to escape to the suburbs, where social distancing is easier. The company even mentioned on the call that COVID is driving traffic. I have to imagine the same thing happening for purchase activity. We will get a better idea on April numbers this week when existing home sales comes out on Thursday.

 

Just like the talking heads overestimated the whole COVID-19 crisis, I think they are also overestimating the economic fallout from it. There just weren’t too many problems with the economy going into the crisis, and this recession wasn’t caused by economic rot or inflation. It was like taking a healthy person and putting him into a medically induced coma. All of the economic models are based on history – in other words, recessions which were caused by asset bubbles or the Fed. It would be like comparing our healthy patient’s coma recovery to someone who was put into a medically-induced coma because of an illness. Without an underlying condition that needs to heal, the recovery should be faster, all things being equal.

Morning Report: What will be the shape of the recovery?

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2900 -23.1
Oil (WTI) 24.79 0.29
10 year government bond yield 0.67%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.36%

 

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

 

About 80% of renters made a full or partial May payment as of May 6, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Rent Tracker.  “Despite the fact that over twenty million people lost their jobs in April, for the second month in a row, we are seeing evidence that apartment renters who can pay rent are stepping up and doing so,” said Doug Bibby, NMHC President. “We expect May to largely mirror April, when the payment rate increased throughout the month as financial assistance worked its way to people’s bank accounts.” Meanwhile, New York extended its eviction moratorium until August. Note that rent strikes are a thing now.

 

Matt Taibbi discusses the mortgage servicers. The balloon payment issue is a hot button one for the left, and they are sounding the alarm. Basically Taibbi interviewed all the usual consumer advocate types on the left – guys like Richard Cordray, analysts at liberal think tanks and advocacy groups, and take the servicers to task for not having 4 months of advances laying around.

Should the Fed open its war chest and create a “liquidity facility” to help mortgage servicers? It seemed like the obvious move — this really was a problem caused by a bailout that encouraged even people who didn’t need forbearance to accept it — but how could this be done in a way that didn’t put homeowners at more risk?

“This is the script of a heist flick, where homeowners get screwed in the end while servicers get the money,” says Carter Dougherty of Americans for Financial Reform. “If you combine money for servicers with strong consumer protections and a vigorous regulator, then the film could have a happy ending. But I’m not holding my breath.”

That said, this unfortunately IS what the industry is up against, and a good indicator of how the regulators (at least on the left) view the industry. It is why getting some sort of liquidity facility for the servicers might be harder than it looks. Which is pretty sad when the Fed is considering buying corporate junk bonds to stabilize the economy.

 

More economic forecasters are predicting a “swoosh” style recovery. “This is not going to be a quick recovery,” said Mark Schneider, chief executive officer of Nestlé SA, the world’s biggest packaged foods maker, recently. “This is going to be a several-quarter, if not several-year kind of process.”

recoveries

For what its worth, I am somewhat skeptical of the long, drawn out recovery argument. Most recessions in the past started for a reason – a long expansion encouraged a buildup of inventory, or asset bubbles. Once the economy slows down the problems that have been building become apparent. That isn’t what happened this time around. We didn’t have a slowdown driven by organic issues in the economy. We had a government-engineered crash. Sure, there were pockets of the economy like retail which were weak to begin with, but for the most part the economy was super healthy going into the COVID Crisis. I think comparing this to the Great Depression or the Great Recession has to be done carefully. Both were driven by rotten timbers in the economy that finally collapsed. That wasn’t the case this time around, and I think that argues for a V-shaped recovery.

Morning Report: 20 million jobs lost in April

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2876 13.1
Oil (WTI) 23.27 -1.29
10 year government bond yield 0.71%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.36%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as investors look forward to re-opening the economy. Bonds and MBS are lower as Treasury announced its quarterly refunding for next week.

 

The economy lost over 20 million jobs in April according to the ADP Employment report. The Street is looking for a -21.2 million print in this Friday’s jobs report.

 

Mortgage applications were flattish last week as purchases rose 6% and refis fell 2%. “Mortgage application volume was unchanged last week, even as the 30-year fixed rate mortgage declined to 3.40 percent – a new record in MBA’s survey,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Despite lower rates, refinance applications dropped, as many lenders are offering higher rates for refinances than for purchase loans, and others are suspending the availability of cash-out refinance loans because of their inability to sell them to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

 

Fannie Mae is extending reps and warrants relief through June.

 

The Fed is set to start buying corporate bonds, targeting “fallen angels” – in other words bonds from corporations who were downgraded due to COVID-19 issues – names like Macy’s and Occidental Petroleum. We are seeing investors begin to snap up these bonds, although many are trading above their recovery value in a bankruptcy, which means it all reality, it is just a greater fool trade. It seems to me if the Fed can fund a facility to buy department store debt they could set up a facility to fund mortgage advances.

 

Fed Head Richard Clarida thinks the economy will return to positive growth in the third quarter, although further help from the Fed may be necessary.

“Our policies we think will be very important in making sure that the rebound will be as robust as possible. We’re in a period of some very, very, very hard and difficult data that we’ve just not seen for the economy in our lifetimes, that’s for sure. But a third-quarter rebound “is one possibility. That is personally my baseline forecast,” he added. Realistically, it’s going to take some time for the labor market to recover from this shock. I do think the recovery can commence in the second half of the year”

Meanwhile, here is a tracker of how the different states are re-opening.