Morning Report: No changes to GDP

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2926.25 8.25
Oil (WTI) 59.03 -.35
10 year government bond yield 2.02%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.02%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on news that the US and China will resume trade talks over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The third revision to first quarter GDP was unchanged, coming in at 3.1%. Inflation was revised upward ever so slightly, from a core PCE rate of 1% to 1.2%. At this stage of the game, the markets are going to focus on weak economic data, not inflation data. Note the Atlanta Fed is forecasting that second quarter GDP will come in at 1.9%.

 

Initial Jobless Claims remain low, rising slightly to 227,000.

 

Donald Trump continues to criticize Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, even going as far as to tweet that ECB President Mario Draghi is better. While it is unlikely Trump would try and fire Powell (or demote him), the legal principle of Fed independence will probably make that difficult.

 

The VA will now guarantee loans that exceed the conforming loan limit. Veterans will be able to borrow above the $484,350 limit without any down payment. This impetus for this decision was to raise money for veterans who have health issues after being exposed to Agent Orange. The initial idea was to raise the VA loan fee by 15 basis points, however lawmakers decided to raise the funds by increasing the cap.

 

A new report by Barclay’s and Annaly Mortgage lays out a post-conservatorship world for the US residential real estate finance market. Lawmakers generally agree on the goals of housing reform: protect the US taxpayer, attract private capital, and create a more competitive landscape. Getting there is going to be more difficult as Democrats and Republicans have different priorities. The report looks at things the Administration could do unilaterally via executive order. The first would involve FHFA ordering the GSEs out of non-core markets, such as second homes, jumbo and investor loans. The second would involve the creation of a revolving credit risk transfer facility. A third would involve removing the “GSE patch” which allows Fannie and Fred to originate QM loans at DTI levels private lenders cannot. Finally, there is work that needs to be done at the SEC / SIFMA level that concerns private label securitizations. Ultimately the issue of what to be done with GSEs will have to be solved legislatively. Either they become converted to Federal Government utilities or they become privatized. The privatization route envisions breaking up the duopoly into much smaller guarantors.

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Morning Report: Jerome Powell explains the Fed’s thinking

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2933.25 11.25
Oil (WTI) 58.88 1.05
10 year government bond yield 2.02%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.02%

 

Stocks are higher on positive news on the the trade front. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Durable goods orders came in lower than expected in May, and April was revised downward. The headline number fell 1.3% and the prior month was revised downward from -2.1% to -2.8%. Ex transportation, durable goods orders rose 0.3%. Capital Goods rose 0.4%, which is one bright spot in the report.

 

Mortgage applications rose 1.3% last week as purchases fell about a percent but refinances rose 3.2%. The 30 year fixed rate mortgage fell 8 basis points to 4.06%.

 

Jerome Powell spoke in NY yesterday and addressed some of the issues the Fed is dealing with.

Let me turn now from the longer-term issues that are the focus of the review to the nearer-term outlook for the economy and for monetary policy. So far this year, the economy has performed reasonably well. Solid fundamentals are supporting continued growth and strong job creation, keeping the unemployment rate near historic lows. Although inflation has been running somewhat below our symmetric 2 percent objective, we have expected it to pick up, supported by solid growth and a strong job market. Along with this favorable picture, we have been mindful of some ongoing crosscurrents, including trade developments and concerns about global growth. When the FOMC met at the start of May, tentative evidence suggested these crosscurrents were moderating, and we saw no strong case for adjusting our policy rate.

Since then, the picture has changed. The crosscurrents have reemerged, with apparent progress on trade turning to greater uncertainty and with incoming data raising renewed concerns about the strength of the global economy. Our contacts in business and agriculture report heightened concerns over trade developments. These concerns may have contributed to the drop in business confidence in some recent surveys and may be starting to show through to incoming data. For example, the limited available evidence we have suggests that investment by businesses has slowed from the pace earlier in the year.

Against the backdrop of heightened uncertainties, the baseline outlook of my FOMC colleagues, like that of many other forecasters, remains favorable, with unemployment remaining near historic lows. Inflation is expected to return to 2 percent over time, but at a somewhat slower pace than we foresaw earlier in the year. However, the risks to this favorable baseline outlook appear to have grown.

Last week, my FOMC colleagues and I held our regular meeting to assess the stance of monetary policy. We did not change the setting for our main policy tool, the target range for the federal funds rate, but we did make significant changes in our policy statement. Since the beginning of the year, we had been taking a patient stance toward assessing the need for any policy change. We now state that 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 question my colleagues and I are grappling with is whether these uncertainties will continue to weigh on the outlook and thus call for additional policy accommodation. Many FOMC participants judge that the case for somewhat more accommodative policy has strengthened. But we are also mindful that monetary policy should not overreact to any individual data point or short-term swing in sentiment. Doing so would risk adding even more uncertainty to the outlook. We will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.

The Fed Funds futures turned slightly less accomodative after the speech. They are now looking at something like a 70% chance of a rate cut at the July meeting, and the markets are coalescing around 75 basis points in cuts this year.

fed funds futures

 

The Trump Administration established a White House Council on Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing which will focus on removing burdensome regulatory barriers. The council will work to identify federal, state, and local barriers to affordable housing, and will take action to remove federal and administrative regulatory burdens. Note there is no mention of taking action to remove “state and local regulatory burdens,” which is often zoning restrictions. The Obama HUD aggressively sued local jurisdictions to force them to change their zoning laws from single family only to multi-family, but it looks like the Trump Administration won’t be going down that route.

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.

Morning Report: Fed day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2925 -0.25
Oil (WTI) 53.85 -0.35
10 year government bond yield 2.09%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.15%

 

Stocks are flat as we head into the FOMC decision, which is set for 2:00 pm. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The disconnect between the current market forecast and the last Fed dot plot are so stark that we are probably set up for some volatility in bonds after the announcement. Be careful locking around then.

 

Donald Trump looked at ways to possibly remove Fed Head Jerome Powell. While the law protects the independence of the Central Bank, Fed Chairmen have been removed before. Jimmy Carter removed G. William Miller in the late 70s after something like 11 months on the job, and kicked him upstairs to Treasury. Note the President was unhappy with the ECB and their signals of new stimulus – it strengthened the dollar against the euro and that is a negative for US exporters.

 

Mortgage Applications fell 4% last week as purchases and refis fell by 4%. Rates rose by 2 basis points to 4.14%. “After seeing a six-week streak, mortgage rates for 30-year loans increased slightly, which led to a pullback in overall refinance activity,” said MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting Joel Kan. “Borrowers were sensitive to rising rates, but the refinance share of applications was still at its highest level since January 2018, and refinance activity was at its second-highest level this year. Government refinances actually increased last week, led by a 17 percent in VA refinance applications, while conventional refinance applications decreased 7 percent.” The refi index has rebounded to the highest level in almost 3 years:

 

MBA refinance index

 

New Jersey has tightened the requirements for nonbank servicers.

Morning Report: Housing starts fall

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2910 13.25
Oil (WTI) 51.78 -0.15
10 year government bond yield 2.03%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.15%

 

Stocks are higher as we begin the 2 day FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are up smartly on statements out of the ECB.

 

US rates are pushing towards 2% this morning after ECB President Mario Draghi signaled that the central bank could roll out further stimulus if inflation fails to materialize. The German Bund yields -32 basis points this morning (a record low), and US interest rates will have a hard time rising in this sort of environment. Simply put, bond investors will rotate out of bonds paying nothing into bonds paying something, even if they have to bear currency risk. It is preferable to locking in a sure loss by holding Bunds.

 

Housing starts fell to 1.24 million units in May, which was below expectations, but the prior two months were revised upward. Starts were down on a month-over-month and a year-over-year basis. Building Permits cam in at 1.29 million, which was more or less flat MOM and YOY.

 

Homebuilder sentiment slipped in June, primarily due to weakness in the Northeast and the West. That said, the index is solidly in the mid-60s, which is an overall strong level. Home prices have become stretched relative to incomes, but falling interest rates are offsetting that slightly. Rising costs for land and labor are making starter homes unaffordable for many first time homebuyers.

 

30 day delinquencies fell by 0.3% in March to a rate of 4.0%. Delinquencies are still being driven by hurricane-related issues. The foreclosure rate fell from 0.6% in March 2018 to 0.4% in March of 2019. Separately, ATTOM reported that there were 56,152 foreclosure filings in May, up 1% YOY, but down 22% from a year ago. Completed foreclosures were down 50%. The states with the highest foreclosure inventory are New Jersey, Florida, Delaware, Illinois.

 

 

 

 

Morning Report: Fed Funds forecasts and mortgage rates.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2895.75 0.75
Oil (WTI) 51.89 -0.62
10 year government bond yield 2.11%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.12%

 

Stocks are flat this morning as we enter Fed week. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

 

The big event this week will be the FOMC meeting which starts Tuesday. Given the disconnect between the market’s perception of the road ahead and the Fed’s prior forecast, something has to give. FWIW, the market is now assigning a 20% chance they will ease by 25 basis points at this meeting. By the December meeting, the market is forecasting the FOMC will cut rates either 2 or 3 times!

 

fed funds futures dec 19

 

Compare that to the March 2019 dot plot, which showed most members of the FOMC thought rates would be unchanged for the year and about 1/4 of the members wanted to see a rate hike:

 

dot plot Mar 2019

If the Fed Funds futures are correct and we are looking at a 1.5% Fed Funds rate, where will mortgage rates go? If history is any guide, probably nowhere. The last time the Fed Funds rate was around 1.5% (late Dec 2017), the 30 year fixed rate mortgage (according to the MBA) was in the low 4% range, in other words, right about here.  Long term rates have already priced in the move. MBA 30 year FRM chart:

 

MBA mortgage rate

 

Quicken Loans settled with the DOJ over false claims allegations regarding FHA origination going back to 2015. The case was dismissed and Quicken settled for $32.5 million with no admission of guilt. Quicken fought the case the entire way, and eventually narrowed it down to a tiny fraction of what the Obama Administration wanted. Quicken Vice Chairman Bill Emerson said: “I think the current HUD administration realized how faulty the previous administration’s tactics were, and frankly, as we’ve said before, we viewed them as extortionist tactics and we just could not go along with that,” Emerson said. “We know we didn’t do anything wrong and so we continued to fight, and if that somehow caused the new administration to evaluate it differently, then great.”

 

Ed Demarco discusses the ways that private capital can be drawn back into the mortgage market. First, the CFPB’s ATR and QM rules need to change to bring down the allowable DTI ratios on Fannie and Freddie loans to that of the rest of the market. This is known as the QM patch, which basically says that any loans that meet F&F criteria meet the ability to repay test. The problem is that the QM laws specify a max DTI ratio of 43% and the GSEs allow up to 50%. This gives Fan and Fred a huge advantage over other lenders. The second issue revolves around the SEC and refining the data definitions in the registration rules. Third, Fan and Fred have all sorts of mortgage performance data that is unavailable to the broader market, and leveling the playing field would mean allowing other participants to see that data. Note however that DeMarco is only looking at the issue from the standpoint of originators. Buyers of private label securities have other issues that are still unresolved, especially when the issuer of the bonds also retains servicing. There is a conflict of interest issue that must be resolved as well. I discussed this about a year ago in Housing Wire.

 

Profitability improved for independent mortgage bankers in the fist quarter of 2019. Average revenue per loan came in at $9584, while average cost per loan was $9,299, or a net gain of $285 per loan, compared to a loss of $200 a loan in the fourth quarter. It looks like mortgage bankers reported a loss in the first quarter of 2018 as well.

Morning Report: Disappointing payroll number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2819 14.35
Oil (WTI) 53.02 -0.46
10 year government bond yield 2.12%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.13%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after yesterday’s rally continued overnight. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said yesterday that the central bank was monitoring the trade tensions between China and the US and would “act appropriately” to maintain the economic expansion. Investors took this to mean that the Fed would probably cut rates this year. The stock market had its best day in 5 months, and bonds sold off a touch, although lower rates should be supported by low overseas yields and the prospect of a rate cut.

 

Donald Trump announced that he would institute tariffs on Mexican goods if the country didn’t do more to curb illegal immigration into the US. This new front in the trade war was the catalyst to push the 10 year below 2.1%. Yesterday, Republican senators warned that there was not support for tariffs in the Senate.

 

Mortgage Applications increased 1.5% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis increased 6%. “Mortgage rates dropped to their lowest level since the first week of 2018, driven by increasing concerns regarding the ongoing trade tensions with China and Mexico,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Some borrowers, particularly those with larger loans, jumped on the opportunity to refinance, bringing the index and average refinance loan size to their highest levels since early April. Additionally, refinances for FHA and VA loans jumped by 11 percent.”

 

Payrolls only increased by 27k last month according to the ADP Employment Report. Small firms reduced payrolls by 52,000 last month, and it looks like the majority of that was in construction. Manufacturing fell by 3,000 which might be tariff related. The service sector increased employment by 71,000 and large employers increased by 68,000. Street expectations are for a 185,000 increase in payrolls for Friday’s jobs report. Now that the Fed is out of the way, the wage growth number is no longer the focus.