Morning Report: Mortgage rates and the 10 year.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2915 -6.25
Oil (WTI) 53.07 0.54
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.84%

 

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

 

Consumer inflation was flat in September, and is up 1.7% YOY. The core rate, which excludes some volatile commodities, rose 0.1% MOM and 2.4% YOY. Inflation continues to sit right in the range it has been historically.

 

Job openings fell from a downward-revised 7.17 million to 7.05 million, while initial jobless claims ticked up to 214k.

 

Mortgage Applications rose 5.2% last week as purchases fell 1% and refis rose 10%. The rate on a 30 year fixed conforming loan fell 9 basis points to 3.9%. Weaker-than-expected economic data drove the decrease.

 

Good news for the financial community: Trump is planning to sign a couple of executive orders, which will bring more sunlight on rulemaking, and will permit more public input in the federal guidance. Much of this guidance had been “rulemaking in secret” and this will give companies more of a head’s up when the regulatory agencies plan major changes in guidance. The CFPB sprung a nasty surprise on auto lenders during the Obama Administration, where they determined that any lenders who provide auto loans through dealerships are responsible for “discriminatory pricing.” It is this sort of the thing the order intends to limit.

 

“CNBC is saying the 10 year bond yield is way lower, but I just ran a scenario and my borrower still has to pay a point and a half. What is going on?” This is a common observation these days, and it can be frustrating for both loan officers and borrowers. As the Wall Street Journal notes, that the difference between the typical mortgage rate and the 10 year bond is at a 7 year high. What is going on? First, and most important, mortgage rates are not determined by the 10 year. They are determined by mortgage backed securities, which have entirely different financial characteristics than a government bond. When rates are volatile (i.e. changing a lot in a short time period) mortgage backed security pricing will be negatively affected. In practical terms, it means that when the 10 year bond yield abruptly moves lower, it will take a few days for mortgage rates to catch up, while the time it takes to adjust to big upward moves in Treasury rates is often shorter. It also explains why it can be hard to get par pricing when you have a lot of loan level hits from Fannie (i.e. investment property, cash out refinancing, etc). The “rate stack” gets compressed and MBS investors are wary of buying high coupon securities. Bond geeks have a term for this – negative convexity – but in practical terms it means that moves in the 10 year don’t directly carry over to mortgage rates.

 

primary market spreads

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Morning Report: Reassuring jobs report.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2915 4.25
Oil (WTI) 52.60 0.14
10 year government bond yield 1.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.84%

 

Stocks are higher after the jobs report. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The economy added 136,000 jobs in September, versus Street expectations of 145,000. August’s number was revised upward by 38,000 to 168,000. The unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, which is the lowest in 50 years. The labor force participation rate was flat at 63.2% and the employment-population ratio ticked up to 61%. Average hourly earnings were flat on a MOM basis and up 2.9% YOY.

 

Overall, it confirmed that we are seeing a bit of a deceleration in the economy, although we are nowhere near a recession. The Fed Funds futures are handicapping a 75% chance of a 25 bp rate cut at the October meeting at the end of the month.

 

If the unemployment rate is at a 50 year low, we can pretty much dismiss the recession talk as the press generating alarmism to capture eyeballs, right? Not necessarily. We have had recessions in the past with unemployment rates this low. Take a look at the chart below. It plots the unemployment rate and the Fed funds rate. The vertical shaded areas are recessions. You can see that we hit 3.5% unemployment in 1969 and entered a recession soon thereafter. You can see the cause of that recession however in the Fed Funds rate, which went from 4% to 9% in the two years leading up to it. Similarly, we had a recession in 1973 – 75 even though unemployment was in the mid 4% range immediately prior. That one was caused by the Arab Oil Embargo. That said, you can see that most recessions are preceded by a tightening cycle out of the Fed, and that explains why the Fed is now cutting rates – they worry they might have overshot.

 

unemployment vs fed funds

 

As home prices increase, many homeowners are considering renovation loans (like 203k or HomeStyle) to increase the value of their house. What are the best renovations, in terms of return on investment? Hint: not a swimming pool. It is a new roof. What about kitchen renovations? Homeowners can expect to recoup about 50% – 60% of the cost in increased home value. Same with bathroom upgrades and master bedrooms. It turns out that mundane upgrades (wood flooring, insulation, roofing) provide more bang for the buck than the more dramatic ones.

 

 

Morning Report: Service sector decelerates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2885 4.25
Oil (WTI) 52.48 0.24
10 year government bond yield 1.58%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.87%

 

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

 

Announced job cuts fell to 41,557 according to the Challenger and Gray report. This looks at press releases, so they don’t represent actual cuts, just announcements. Retail (which has been a perennial weak spot) dominated, along with trade-related industrial cuts. Separately, initial jobless claims rose to 219,000.

 

The service sector decelerated in September, according to the ISM non-manufacturing survey. Separately durable goods orders fell slightly. We are definitely seeing a deceleration in business spending, and will see if this is only a temporary bump, or something more permanent.

 

Fannie and Freddie now guarantee about $7 trillion of mortgage debt, 33% higher than before the crisis. The amount of higher DTI loans is rapidly increasing, due to the GSE patch, which permitted them to do riskier loans. About 30% of GSE loans are high DTI, compared to 16% 3 years ago. FHA is even worse, with 57% high DTI, compared to 38% 2 years ago. “There is a point here where, in an effort to create access to homeownership, you may actually be doing it in a manner that isn’t sustainable and it’s putting more people at risk,” said David Stevens, a former commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration who led the Mortgage Bankers Association until last year. “Competition, particularly in certain market conditions, can lead to a false narrative, like ‘housing will never go down’ or ‘you will never lose on mortgages.’ ” The Trump and the Obama Administrations hoped to attract private capital back into the mortgage market, but so far it has been extremely limited.

 

New Rez has bought Ditech for $1.2 billion, as it works its way through bankruptcy. New Rez is part of Fortress which has been on an acquisition binge, buying Shellpoint last year. Fortress is owned by Japan’s Softbank.

 

Interesting stat: Remember the HAMP program, which was treated as a way to prevent foreclosures by modifying mortgages? Turns out that 57% of the modified loans from 2008 to 2013 re-defaulted.

Morning Report: August recession trade gets smashed and Fannie adjusts pricing

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2987 -2.25
Oil (WTI) 58.05 -0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.70%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.96%

 

Stocks are flattish as trade progress was offset by weakness in overseas economies. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Global bond yields are falling this morning after a dismal ISM manufacturing reading for Germany. The Bund is down 5.5 basis points to negative 57 bps, which is pulling down US Treasury yields. We have a big week of data, with home prices tomorrow, new home sales on Wednesday, GDP on Thursday, and Personal Incomes / Spending on Friday. We will also have Fed-speak every day except Tuesday.

 

The NY Fed addd $50 billion in cash to the markets this morning to ease pressure in the overnight repo markets. A shortage of cash last week pushed overnight repo rates to 10% last week. Mortgage Backed security repo rates spiked last week along with Treasuries, but MBS are now back to normal levels. A rise in MBS repo rates can make leveraged bets in MBS more expensive (this really affects mortgage REITs) and will therefore make them require a higher return, which means higher mortgage rates, at least at the margin.

 

Note that Fannie Mae has also reportedly backed off its pricing last week, especially at the higher note rates in response to pressure from regulators. These changes went into effect on Thursday. Reportedly, the increase was in the 25 basis point range on average, but it was lower at the 3% note rates and up to 50 basis points higher up in the stack. From the chatter I am hearing Freddie adjusted as well, but not as dramatically. What does this mean? Pricing for investment properties will be hit hard, and borrowers are not getting paid much to buy up the rate.

 

The MBA made its recommendations to the CFPB over how to best deal with the GSE patch. The MBA recommends that the CFPB scrap the 43% debt to income ratio standard and pursue a more holistic method of determining a borrower’s ability to pay. The MBA lays out a number of recommendations for how to de-emphasize the importance of DTI. The GSE patch is set to expire in January 2021.

 

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index showed an uptick in activity during August. Production-related indices drove the increase, while employment-related indicators were flat. Many traders who were making recessionary bets (short stocks / long bonds) earlier in the summer (based on trade fears) found themselves on the wrong side of the boat this month. The S&P 500 is flirting with all-time highs, and the 10 year bond yield backed up nearly 30 basis points since the start of the month. The CBOE volatility index (VIX) has fallen from 25 in early August to around 15, which is historically a benign level.

 

VIX

Morning Report: James Bullard explains his dissent

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3012.25 5.25
Oil (WTI) 58.67 0.54
10 year government bond yield 1.78%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.00%

 

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

 

Existing home sales rose 1.3% in August, according to NAR. Sales are up 2.6% from a year ago to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.49 million units. The median existing home price rose to $278,200, which was up 4.7%. “Sales are up, but inventory numbers remain low and are thereby pushing up home prices,” said Yun. “Homebuilders need to ramp up new housing, as the failure to increase construction will put home prices in danger of increasing at a faster pace than income.” Inventory did fall to 1.86 million units, which represents a 4.1 month supply. In the “every dog has its day” category, the Northeast led the pack with a 7.6% increase in sales although the median home prices was flat. The Northeast still has a glut of higher priced inventory it needs to work through.

 

In other economic news, the index of leading economic indicators was flat in August, and initial jobless claims came in at 205,000. The Fed’s balance sheet increased to $3.845 trillion in assets.

 

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard explained his dissent on Wednesday’s FOMC vote. While the Committee ended up easing by 25 basis points, Bullard wanted to cut rates by 50 basis points.

 

First, there are signs that U.S. economic growth is expected to slow in the near horizon. Trade policy uncertainty remains elevated, U.S. manufacturing already appears in recession, and many estimates of recession probabilities have risen from low to moderate levels. Moreover, the yield curve is inverted, and our policy rate remains above government bond yields for nearly every country in the G-7.

Second, core and headline personal consumption expenditures (PCE) inflation measures continue to run some 40 to 60 basis points, respectively, below the FOMC’s 2% inflation target. Market-based measures of inflation expectations continue to indicate expected longer-term inflation rates substantially below the Committee’s target. This is occurring despite the 25 basis point cut in July and the 25 basis point cut that was expected for the September meeting. While the unemployment rate is low by historical standards, there is little evidence that low unemployment poses a significant inflation risk in the current environment.

 

The quote about manufacturing is interesting. Industrial production rose 60 basis points last month and manufacturing production was up 50 bps. Capacity utilization rose 40 basis points as well. We had one reading on the ISM that came in at 49.1, which was technically below 50, where manufacturing is neither contracting nor expanding. For all intents and purposes, it was flat given the inherent error built into these sentiment surveys. Historically, a manufacturing ISM reading of 42 corresponds with an overall recession. FWIW, the ISM reading of 49.1 usually corresponds with a GDP growth rate of 1.8%. In other words, hardly recessionary, and manufacturing represents only about 13% of the US economy to begin with. The statement about G7 rates is probably what is driving things – the Fed is simply following the markets.

 

Home equity rose 4.8% in the second quarter, or about 428 billion. Negative equity fell by 9%, or about 151,000 homes. The home equity number is a new record, and home equity has doubled since the depths of the housing recession. You can see below which parts of the country still have a negative equity issue to work through.

 

corelogic home equity

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.

Morning Report: ECB cuts rates and bonds rally

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3009.5 5.25
Oil (WTI) 54.37 -1.44
10 year government bond yield 1.68%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.89%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after the European Central Bank cut rates and announced new stimulus measures. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The European Central Bank cut its deposit rate to -50 basis points from -40 bps and re-instated bond purchases of 20 billion euros a month. This is sending down yields, with the German Bund now trading at -62 basis points. Separately, the Bank of Japan is also looking at measures to push their negative interest rates even lower.

 

Inflation remained under control with the consumer price index up 0.1% MOM / 1.7% YOY. The core rate, which strips out food and energy rose 0.3% MOM / 2.4% YOY. Medical care and shelter drove the increase in the index, while lower energy costs pushed it down.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 204,000 in the holiday shortened week.

 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the US is “seriously considering” issuing a 50 year bond. “We would do this in a way that if there is demand it’s something that we would meet. I personally think it would be a good thing to expand the U.S.′ borrowing capabilities,” Mnuchin said. “I would say it’s obviously quite attractive for us to extend and derisk the U.S. Treasury borrowing. So we’re also looking at extending the weighted average maturity of the Treasury borrowing to derisk this for the U.S. people.” Mnuchin also pushed back against Trump’s view that we need negative interest rates in the US, as negative interest rates wreak havoc on bank earnings, and a weak banking sector does not make a foundation for a strong economy.

 

Separately, Mnuchin said that the Trump Administration has approved the plan to reorganize the GSEs. “We are actively negotiating an amendment try to get it done by the end of the month” What “actively negotiating an amendment” means is unclear, but it probably refers to the net worth sweep of Fannie and Freddie’s profits to Treasury. Since that was done via executive order during the Obama administration, it should be able to be undone the same way. Full legislation is probably going to be impossible heading into an election year, judging by the way testimony went in the Senate.