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

 

 

Morning Report: Lowest initial jobless claims since the 1960s.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2878 -0.75
Eurostoxx index 387.8 -1
Oil (WTI) 62.72 0.26
10 year government bond yield 2.50%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.20%

 

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

 

Mortgage Applications increased 18.6% last week as rates fell. The purchase index rose 3% while the refi index rose 39%. The refi share increased to 47% of total applications.  “There was a tremendous surge in overall applications activity, as mortgage rates fell for the fourth week in a row – with rates for some loan types reaching their lowest levels since January 2018. Refinance borrowers with larger loan balances continue to benefit, as we saw another sizeable increase in the average refinance loan size to $438,900 – a new survey record,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “We had expected factors such as the ongoing strong job market and favorable demographics to help lift purchase activity this year, and the further decline in rates is providing another tailwind. Purchase applications were almost 10 percent higher than a year ago.” Separately, Black Knight said that last week’s drop in rates increased the refinanceable mortgage pool by 50%.

 

The ISM non-manufacturing index slipped in March, although it is still quite strong. One of the comments from the report mentioned residential construction: “While we have a slowed down in residential service and install [area], we are still experiencing strength in the new commercial construction area.” (Construction) Another: “April is when our real busy season begins and it has arrived early this year, demand is quite strong.” (Real Estate, Rental & Leasing). Others mentioned that the labor market remains tight“Labor is tight and in short supply.” (Accommodation & Food Services)

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 202,000 last week, so despite the weak ADP print, the labor market still looks strong. For those keeping score at home, this was the lowest print in 50 years. To put that in perspective, the last time we had that few initial jobless claims, the population was 33% lower and we had a military draft.

 

Home prices are falling in the markets that led the way off the bottom. MSAs like the Bay Area, Nashville, Austin, and Florida are experiencing declines as listings surge. On the other hand, the lagging markets are finally having their day. Unloved markets like Milwaukee WI and Rochester NY are experiencing double digit increases.

Morning Report: Housing cycles and bond markets.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2815 -4
Eurostoxx index 377.4 1.8
Oil (WTI) 58.12 -0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.63%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.28%

 

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

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell slightly to 224k last week.

 

Durable Goods orders increased 0.4% in February, driven by an increase in commercial jet orders. Ex-transportation, they were down 0.1%. Core capital goods increased 0.8% as companies continue to plow capital back into expansion opportunities. Much of the increase in capital expenditures was in machinery, which is a positive sign for manufacturing. Still, economists are cautious on Q1 GDP, with many forecasting sub 1% growth for the quarter.

 

Construction spending rose 1.3% MOM and is up 0.3% YOY. Residential construction was down on a MOM and YOY basis. Housing continues to punch below its weight. Since construction is seasonally affected, January numbers tend to be a bit more volatile and have less meaning than summer numbers.

 

The MBA released its paper on CFPB 2.0, where they list out their recommendations for the CFPB. Much of what they say is similar to what Mick Mulvaney and Kathy Kraninger have been doing – increasing transparency regarding rulemaking and giving more guidance on what is legal and illegal. The Obama / Cordray CFPB was purposefully vague in promulgating rules, which makes life easier for regulators but makes it harder for industry participants. Regulation by enforcement was the MO of the Cordray CFPB, which ended with the new Administration, and the MBA agrees.

 

Specific to the mortgage business, the MBA recommends that the CFPB allow loan officers to cut their compensation in response to competitive dynamics, to extend the “GSE patch” which means loans that are GSE / government eligible are automatically considered to be QM compliant, to allow mortgage companies to pass on error costs to loan officers, and to raise the cap on points and fees.

 

CoreLogic looks at home price appreciation and the economic cycle. The punch line: While the current expansion is just short of a record length, and home price appreciation is declining, it doesn’t necessarily mean that house prices are in for a decline. In fact, housing typically weathers recessions quite well. I could caveat that the chart below only looks at a bond bull market. The 1978 – 1982 timespan of the misery index and inflation marked the bottom of the Great Bond Bear Market that lasted from the mid 1950s to the early 80s. The Great Bond Bull Market that began in the early 80s ended a few years ago, and while a bear market probably hasn’t begun yet the tailwind of interest rates falling from 17% to 0% isn’t going to be around this time. Finally, there are a few massive supports for the real estate market: rising wages, low inventory, and demographics. It is hard to imagine another 2008 happening if the economy peters out.

 

corelogic home prices

Morning Report: Gap between appraisals and homeowner perception widens slightly

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2802 5
Eurostoxx index 374.06 0.81
Oil (WTI) 57.27 0.47
10 year government bond yield 2.62%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.28%

 

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

 

Inflation at the wholesale level came in below expectations, mirroring the consumer price index. The headline PPI rose 0.1% MOM / 1.9% YOY. Ex-food and energy the index rose 0.1% / 2.5% YOY.

 

Mortgage Applications rose 2.3% last week as purchases rose 4% and refis fell 0.2%. The MBA noted an uptick in FHA activity. “Purchase applications have now increased year-over-year for four weeks, which signals healthy demand entering the busy spring buying season. However, the pick-up in the average loan size continues, with the average balance reaching another record high. With more inventory in their price range compared to first-time buyers, move-up and higher-end buyers continue to have strong success finding a home.” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting.

 

The gap between a homeowner’s perception of their home’s value and the number that the appraiser comes up with is starting to widen a touch. The Quicken Home Price Perception Index fell slightly in February, although the difference between perception and appraisal is pretty tight historically. For most MSAs, appraisals are coming in higher than homeowners expect, which is good news for the cash-out refi business. Given the direction in interest rates, home price appreciation is going to drive refi activity going forward.

 

Quicken HPPI

 

Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloane appeared before the House yesterday to get called on the carpet for aggressive sales practices. “We have gone above and beyond what is required in disclosing these issues in our public filings, we have worked to remedy these issues, and, most importantly, we have worked to address root causes that allowed them to occur in the first place,” Sloan said in his written testimony to the House Financial Services Committee. “As a result, Wells Fargo is a better bank than it was three years ago, and we are working every day to become even better.” he said in a written statement.

Morning Report: Congressional Democrats take aim at BB&T / Suntrust merger

Vital statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2714 -8
Eurostoxx index 360.39 2.36
Oil (WTI) 52.28 -0.41
10 year government bond yield 2.64%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are down this morning on overseas weakness. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

There is a possibility we could see another government shutdown at the end of the week. Talks over the weekend concerning border security funding went nowhere. For the financial industry, it will make funding loans for government employees more difficult, but everything else should be transparent.

 

Consumer staples companies are raising prices as commodity prices, transportation and labor costs increase. “The good news is that competitors are raising [prices] in those categories as we speak,” Church & Dwight Chief Executive Matthew Farrell said on a conference call last week when the company reported higher quarterly sales and lower profits. The Fed has been anxious to create more inflation, and it looks like they have finally succeeded. Does this mean we are headed for a repeat of 1970s inflation? Probably not – at least not in the near future. But it does mean the Fed Funds futures might be a touch too sanguine about monetary policy in 2019.

 

Speaking of inflation, we will get the consumer price index and the producer price index this week, which should be the only market-moving data.

 

Maxine Waters thinks the STI / BBT merger requires “serious scrutiny” “This proposed merger between SunTrust and BB&T is a direct consequence of the deregulatory agenda that Trump and Congressional Republicans have advanced,” Waters said in a statement to American Banker. “The proposed merger raises many questions and deserves serious scrutiny from banking regulators, Congress and the public to determine its impact and whether it would create a public benefit for consumers.” IIRC, all the “deregulaton” did was raise the ceiling for stress tests to $250 billion in assets. And that was due to the fact that many small banks were spending a lot on compliance and risk management for a portfolio of traditional bank loans. While it is entirely possible that someone at East Podunk Savings and Loan may blow himself up selling protection on a basket of CDO squareds, it is highly unlikely as well. And imposing all sorts of regulatory burdens on these banks under the guise of tackling systemic risk was on the wrong side of the cost / benefit ledger.

 

 

Morning Report: Big bank merger

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2714 -15.5
Eurostoxx index 363.36 -2.16
Oil (WTI) 53.62 -0.41
10 year government bond yield 2.67%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

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

 

Initial Jobless Claims increased to 234,000 last week.

 

When was the last time we saw a big bank merger, at least one that wasn’t a shotgun wedding organized by the government? BB&T and Suntrust are merging in a stock-for-stock merger of equals. BB&T is already a player in the national mortgage market, while Suntrust is still more of a super-regional commercial bank. Bank mergers had a moratorium in the aftermath of the financial crisis amidst worries about too big to fail. Despite those concerns, the US banking system is probably the least concentrated in the world – most other countries have a handful of giants that dominate the market. Note as well for the Glass-Steagall nostalgics: the US was the only country in the world that separated commercial and investment banking, or even drew a distinction between the two.

 

The BEA has announced they will combine the first and second estimates for GDP and release them on Feb 28. Of course this assumes the government will be open on the 28th, which is not a given.

 

Older baby boomers aging in place is supposedly making it tougher for younger Americans to break into homeownership. That is an interesting theory, however I think older boomers are primarily concentrated in the move-up and luxury markets, especially since in the years after the crisis, the homebuilders focused on the only sector that seemed to be working – luxury and urban. Starter home supply is probably more of a function of the REO-to-rental trade, which should probably start being unwound.

 

The House Financial Services Committee is going to hold a hearing on credit scoring: “Who’s Keeping Score? Holding Credit Bureaus Accountable and Repairing a Broken System.” Not sure what the hot-button issues are, but they probably concern data security, fixing false information, and potential disparate impact issues.

 

House Democrats are introducing a bill to require lenders who originate more than 25 mortgages per year to release detailed reports to the government regarding the demographic data and quality of these loans. House Republicans raised the limit to 500 loans last year in an attempt to ease the regulatory burden on smaller lenders.