Morning Report: Weak data sends yields lower

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2832.5 -6
Oil (WTI) 61.11 -0.59
10 year government bond yield 2.36%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.17%

 

Stocks are lower after weak economic data out of China. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Some weak economic data this morning, which is pushing bond yields lower. The 10 year is trading at 2.63%, which is the lowest level since December 2017.

 

Mortgage Applications fell 0.6% last week as rates were more or less steady. Purchases fell 0.6%, while refis fell 0.5%. The typical 30 year fixed rate mortgage came in at 4.24%. “Purchase applications declined slightly last week but still remained almost 7 percent higher than a year ago,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Despite the third straight decline in mortgage rates, refinance applications decreased for the fifth time in six weeks, albeit by less than 1 percent.”

 

Separately, 30-day and 60-day delinquencies did tick up in the first quarter, however foreclosure inventory is at the lowest level since 1995.

 

Retail sales disappointed, with the headline number coming in -0.2%. Ex autos, they rose 0.1% and the control group was flat. YOY, they were up 3.1%

 

Industrial Production and manufacturing production both fell 0.5% in April, while capacity utilization fell to 77.9%.

 

After the weak data, the December Fed Funds futures are forecasting a 76% chance of a rate cut this year, and the June futures are factoring in a 1 in 5 chance of a 25 basis point cut. 1 month ago, the markets were handicapping a 40% chance of a cut this year, so there has been a big change in sentiment. While that seems aggressive given the language out of the Fed, it is hard to ignore what the markets are saying.

 

fed funds futures

 

 

 

 

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Morning Report: Wages and interest rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2851 -35
Oil (WTI) 62.46 0.8
10 year government bond yield 2.43%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.15%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after rhetoric between the US and China hardened over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The rhetoric over trade intensified over the weekend, with both China and the US blaming each other for the impasse. As promised, the US hiked tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods on Friday and blamed China for reneging on its deal. In response, China said it would never surrender, and has raised tariffs on about $60 billion worth of US goods starting on June 1. FWIW, the issue with China is not so much tariff-related, it is intellectual property related.

 

This week is relatively data-light, at least as far as market-moving data is concerned. We will get housing starts and the NAHB Housing Market Index, along with a lot of Fed-speak.

 

Uber priced its IPO on Friday at $45 a share, and the stock ended up opening at $42. It never broke above the IPO price for the entire day. The record for IPOs has been downright awful and they have gone from being an almost sure thing to a greatest fool tournament. Historically, bankers would underprice IPOs by about 10% – 20%, so that investors would get a nice bump on the first day. Of course this means the company left some money on the table, but everyone was generally happy with that arrangement. Today, all the value is extracted in the pre-IPO funding rounds, so by the time it hits the public stock exchanges the companies are fully valued (if not overvalued). I have to imagine the big institutional investors are going to start turning these things down.

 

The share of 43%+ DTI loans going to Fannie and Freddie has almost doubled over the past couple of years from 15% to 30%. This is triggering more debate over the “QM patch” that allows safe harbor for loans with DTIs over 43% as long as they are GSE loans. This provision is slated to expire in 2021, but affordable housing advocates are pushing for it to be extended. Interestingly, the Urban Institute says that while default rates for 45+ DTI loans were higher prior to the crisis, that is no longer the case. Urban Institute has an agenda to push, so counterintuitive findings like that might be the result of some statistical jiggery-pokery and further examination is warranted.

 

Neel Kashkari is making the argument that rates should stay low due to income inequality. This is not necessarily a new argument – Janet Yellen said she was willing to let the labor market “run hot” for a while to wring all of the slack out of the labor market. Historically, the Fed has shied away from political footballs like income inequality, fiscal policy, etc given the fact that the Fed handles banking regulation and the Fed Funds rate – tools that aren’t suited to tackle either issue. In fact, you could make the argument that loose monetary policy increases inequality due to the fact that it pushes up asset prices. Here is another issue: if low rates increase the cost of shelter more than it helps increase wages, it could in fact be a negative for those that rent. Note that he isn’t arguing that the Fed should cut rates, but he is in favor of waiting to see if inflation returns.

 

That said, wage growth has been strong over the past couple of years as the labor market has strengthened. If you compare the yield on the 10 year bond to wage growth, historically they have correlated reasonably well. Over the past couple of years, the 10 year yield has fallen while average hourly earnings have increased. Given that labor’s share of GDP is still around historical lows, wages have to rise further to reach historical averages.

 

wage growth versus interest rates

Morning Report: Small mortgage origination has fallen

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2867 -17
Oil (WTI) 61.91 -0.21
10 year government bond yield 2.45%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.17%

 

Stocks are lower as the trade-driven sell off continues. Bonds and MBS are up. Note Jerome Powell will be speaking around lunch time. Also, the long-awaited Uber IPO will price after the bell.

 

Inflation at the wholesale level increased 0.2% MOM and 2.2% YOY in April according to the Producer Price Index. Ex-food and energy, they rose 0.1% / 2.4%. We will get the consumer price index tomorrow.

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 228k last week.

 

FHFA Chairman Mark Calabria said that Fannie and Freddie may be released from conservatorship even if Congress doesn’t accomplish housing reform. He also signalled that Congress would have an “entire Congress” – i.e. at least 2 years to hash out a solution. Calabria has not said that he would end the “net worth sweep” which sends all of the GSE profits to Treasury, which has created capital shortages for the GSEs.

 

Fewer and fewer mortgages are being made in the lower price tiers, which is having an impact on entry-level borrowers.  The article blames lender focus on the jumbo space, but that probably isn’t really the driver. They look at the number of low balance mortgages (10k – 90k) being originated today versus 10 years ago. It turns out that the number of small loans is definitely lower. I think there are a few factors going on here: First, 2009 was the beginning of the big wash-out in real estate prices and the number of homes in that price range was a lot higher in 2009 than it is today. In other words, home price appreciation is the biggest driver. Second, compliance costs are simply much higher, and as the MBA has demonstrated, costs to originate have been rising relentlessly. FWIW, there is demand for low balance mortgages – the prepay speeds are much lower so investors are willing to pay up for them – but that probably doesn’t offset higher costs. Finally, it is hard to get loan officers excited about an 80k mortgage when they are only making 75 basis points on it to begin with. Given that an 80k mortgage requires as much effort as a 800k mortgage, it makes sense for loan officers to focus on larger loan balances.

 

small loans

Morning Report: Blowout ADP jobs number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2945.83 2.3
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 63.37 -0.27
10 year government bond yield 2.50%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.18%

 

Stocks are higher as we await the FOMC decision. Bonds and MBS are up. Markets should be quiet this morning as most of Europe is closed for May Day.

 

Today’s Fed decision is set to be released at 2:00 pm. No changes in policy are expected and it should be a nonevent.

 

Pending Home Sales rose 3.8% in March, according to NAR. Activity increased pretty much everywhere except for the Northeast. Falling mortgage rates have helped boost activity and we are seeing a bit of an improvement in the inventory balance. Pending home sales reached a level of about 5 million, which is the same level as we saw in 2000. We have 50 million more people since then, which means there is a lot of pent-up demand.

 

The ADP jobs report came in at an increase of 275,000 jobs in April. This was well above the Street expectation of 180,000 for Friday’s jobs report. Professional and business services led the charge, and we also saw an increase in construction employment. The service sector added 223,000 jobs, the biggest increase in two years. With the Fed out of the way, 2019 could be better economically than people were thinking. Note that Trump is still jawboning the Fed to cut rates.

 

ADP report

 

Mortgage Applications fell for the fourth straight week, dropping 4.3%. Purchases fell 4% and refis fell 5%. “Mortgage rates were lower last week, with the 30-year fixed rate declining to 4.42 percent, as concerns over global growth, particularly in Germany, outweighed more positive domestic news on first quarter GDP growth and business investment,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Applications to refinance and purchase a home both fell, but purchase activity still remained slightly above year ago levels. The drop in refinances were driven by fewer FHA and VA loan applications, which typically lag the movement of conventional loans.”

 

Freddie Mac bumped up its origination forecast for 2019 by 4% to $1.74 trillion as rates have fallen. They expect the 30 year fixed rate mortgage to be 4.3% at the end of the year, and home price appreciation to moderate to 3.5%.

Morning Report: Surprisingly strong GDP report

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2939 -3.25
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 63.11 -0.18
10 year government bond yield 2.51%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.23%

 

Stocks are flattish as we end the month of April. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

We have a decent amount of data this week, along with a Fed meeting. The biggest news will be the jobs report on Friday, although we will get income / spending data and the ISM.

 

Q1 GDP came in at a much higher than expected 3.2% versus the 2.3% growth that was expected. Even better, the inflation rate came in much lower than expected, which should mean the Fed is out of the way. The 10 year bond yield traded below 2.5% for the first time in 2 months, despite having the strongest Q1 growth in 4 years. Note that consumption didn’t drive the increase in growth (it only came in at 1.2%) – the growth was driven by exports  – which at a minimum should end the talking point that Trump’s trade wars are alienating our trading partners.

 

GDP

 

The immediate market reaction was subdued. The 10 year bond yield drifted lower, stocks were flat, and the Fed Funds futures didn’t change all that much – still predicting a 1/3 chance of no moves this year and a 2/3 chance of a rate cut.

 

In terms of the individual components, the trade numbers were affected by both an increase in exports (3.7%) and a drop in imports (-3.7%). Durable goods consumption fell 5.3%, which is probably related. Residential continues to be a persistent weak spot (-2.8%), and a bit of a head-scratcher given the sheer lack of inventory. Increased investment was driven by an increase in intellectual property (8.6%), which offset a decrease in building (-0.8%).

 

Housing’s contribution to GDP has been shrinking since the late 80s. The financial crisis caused it to fall from about 18% to 15%, and in the past decade it has been more or less stuck there. It looks like housing is again beginning to decline as a percent of GDP, and it is now below 15%. If housing can get back to at least normalcy, that should provide a good bump for GDP growth.

 

housing GDP

 

Personal Incomes rose 0.1% in March, which was below expectations. Consumption surprised to the upside. Inflation remains tame, with the headline PCE number up .1% MOM / 1.5% YOY and the core up 0.2% / 1.6% YOY.

 

New FHFA Director Mark Calabria has an ambitious agenda for housing reform, including solving problems with servicing, fixing the QM patch, and eventually releasing the GSEs from conservatorship. He is emphatic that he does not want to see the mortgage market return to the pre-2008 days.

Morning Report: The Fed begins to catch up with the markets

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2898.25 3.5
Eurostoxx index 387.47 0.4
Oil (WTI) 64.02 -0.59
10 year government bond yield 2.49%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.14%

 

Stocks are higher after the UK and the EU agreed to kick the can down the road on Brexit. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC minutes didn’t reveal much new information. They did move closer to what the markets have been saying all along: that the Fed is done with rate hikes: “A majority of participants expected that the evolution of the economic outlook and risks to the outlook would likely warrant leaving the target range unchanged for the remainder of the year.” That said, the Fed Funds futures are handicapping a more than 50% chance for a rate cut this year, so there still is a disconnect. The FOMC also seemed eager to end the balance sheet reduction exercise, concerned that allowing it to fall further risks pushing up the overnight borrowing rate by creating a reserves shortage.

 

The CEOs of the biggest banks appeared before the House yesterday and it was basically a political posturing event. Democrats complained about diversity, deregualation and student loans. Republicans talked about Brexit and politically targeting industries by cutting them off (firearms). Aside from creating clips for donor emails, the whole dog and pony show was contained nothing of use for investors and professionals.

 

The Producer Price index increased 0.3% in March, which is up 2.9% YOY. Declining energy prices were offset by increasing final demand inflation.

 

Initial Jobless Claims were again below 200,000, falling to 196,000. These are extraordinary numbers, the like we haven’t seen in half a century.

 

 

Morning Report: The Trump Administration pushes for lower rates.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2893 -2.75
Eurostoxx index 388.4 0.22
Oil (WTI) 63.35 0.27
10 year government bond yield 2.50%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.17%

 

Stocks are flattish this morning as the Trump Administration and China get closer to a trade deal. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

This week will be relatively data-light, although we will get inflation data on Wednesday and Thursday. Fed Head Jerome Powell will speak to Democrats at their annual retreat. I doubt there will be anything market-moving in Powell’s speech, but you never know.

 

Lennar is making a big bet on entry-level homebuyers, launching new communities with prices in the mid $100,000s. The homes range from 1200 – 2200 square feet and are on 40 foot lots. Prices range from $162,000 – $200,000.

 

Former Kansas City Fed Chief and restaurateur Herman Cain is currently being vetted by the Trump Administration for a Fed post. He has some allegations of sexual misconduct, and so far most Republicans are in wait and see mode during the process. Over the weekend, Larry Kudlow and Mick Mulvaney stressed that the two nominations were “on track.”

 

Donald Trump said the economy would “take off like a rocket ship” if the Fed cut rates. He also criticized the “quantitative tightening” – i.e. reducing the Fed’s balance sheet. His feelings about monetary policy are natural – there isn’t a politician alive who doesn’t prefer lower rates to higher rates, but his constant criticism is something new. That said, there is a partisan bent to monetary policy. Republicans fret about monetary policy being too loose when Democrats are in charge, and Democrats are less dovish when Republicans are in charge. Both sides want the economy to be weak when their rivals are in charge.

 

Did the Fed overshoot? It is hard to say, since this was really one of the first times the Fed started tightening without a real inflation problem. The point of tightening was advertised as a preventative move to prevent inflationary pressures from building, but the real reason was to get off the zero bound. 0% interest rates are an emergency measure, and emergency measures aren’t meant to be permanent. Interest rates at the zero bound also cause all sorts of distortions in the markets, and build risks into the system. Given that the economy was strengthening, the Fed took advantage of the opportunity to get back closer to normalcy. Would the economy be faster if the Fed wasn’t tightening? Probably. However some of that is going to be determined by global growth, and Europe is not doing well.

 

Monetary policy acts with about a year’s lag, so the June, September, and December hikes from last year still have yet to be felt. Nobody is predicting a recession, but the 2018 hikes are going to sap growth a little this year. I would be surprised if it slowed down the economy enough to prod the Fed to cut rates. Note that the NY Fed raised its Q2 growth estimate to 2% from 1.6%.

 

Finally, even if the Fed raises rates, overall long-term interest rates can stay low for a long, long time. Interest rates went below 4% during the Hoover Administration and didn’t get back above that level until the Kennedy Administration. So, it could be a long time before we ever see a 4% 10 year yield.

 

100 years of interest rates