Morning Report: Goldman sees the unemployment rate falling to 3.25% this year

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3362 9.25
Oil (WTI) 50.51 0.72
10 year government bond yield 1.58%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.66%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as China begins to restart industrial production. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Jerome Powell goes to the Hill today for his semi-annual Humphrey Hawkins testimony. The Fed is closely monitoring the Coronavirus issue with respect to global growth. With this being an election year, the questioning will probably be more focused on political posturing (what would you do about income inequality? what would you do about affordable housing?) than anything else. I doubt there will be anything market-moving in the testimony, but you never know.

 

Small Business started the year off strong, according to the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index. “2020 is off to an explosive start for the small business economy, with owners expecting increased sales, earnings, and higher wages for employees,” said NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg. “Small businesses continue to build on the solid foundation of supportive federal tax policies and a deregulatory environment that allows owners to put an increased focus on operating and growing their businesses.” Labor continues to be an issue: “Finding qualified labor continues to eclipse taxes or regulations as a top business problem. Small business owners will likely continue offering improved compensation to attract and retain qualified workers in this highly competitive labor market,” Dunkelberg concluded. “Compensation levels will hold firm unless the economy weakens substantially as owners do not want to lose the workers that they already have.”

 

Speaking of the labor market, Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jan Hatzius sees the unemployment rate falling to 3.25% this year. That would be the lowest since 1953. But first, the Boeing and Coronavirus issues need to recede into the rear-view mirror.

 

The Trump Administration released its 2021 budget, which cut social programs and increased defense spending. Some housing related programs were hit, such as the Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund, which are funded by a 4 basis point charge on Fannie and Freddie origination. The Community Development Block Grants would be eliminated. As a general rule, these proposed budgets are not meant to become law (one of Obama’s budgets received exactly zero votes) – but are more statements of priorities. It also cuts Medicare and Medicaid, which means it would get no support from Democrats.

 

 

Morning Report: Rates falling on global growth fears

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3243 19.25
Oil (WTI) 51.58 0.02
10 year government bond yield 1.54%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.65%

 

Stocks are higher despite Chinese markets getting hammered on Coronavirus. Bonds and MBS are down small.

 

We saw a big jump downward in rates last week, both here and in Europe. The Coronavirus is triggering the “flight to safety” trade, which means investors sell risky assets like stocks to buy less risky assets like Treasuries. So far, we aren’t seeing major moves in the Fed funds futures, but this situation is still developing.

 

Stocks this week will probably be driven by developments in China more than the usual catalysts (earnings and economic data). We are in the heart of earnings season right now, with heavyweights like Google reporting tonight. Not much in terms of Fed speak this week, however we do have some important economic data with the jobs report on Friday.

 

Black Knight Financial estimates there are 9 million refinanceable mortgages in the market right now. By their numbers, 9.4 million borrowers could save an average lf $272 a month if they were to refinance, assuming 30 year mortgage, 20% equity and a 720 FICO. That adds up to $2.6 billion per month, the highest potential savings in 20 years.

 

Wells estimates that if Coronavirus takes a big bite out of global growth, we could be looking at low 1%s in the 10 year. They also think each 1% sell-off in the S&P 500 translates into about 4 basis points lower in the 10 year yield.

 

The homeownership rate ticked up in the fourth quarter to 64.8%, the highest level in the second quarter of 2014. I don’t know if we will get back to the peak levels we saw in 2005-2006 given that the financial conditions that spawned it aren’t present any more.

homeownership rate

Morning Report: New Home Sales flat but trend is steadily upward

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3259 20.25
Oil (WTI) 53.38 0.22
10 year government bond yield 1.62%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.71%

 

Stocks are up this morning as the tape exhibits a risk-on feel. Bonds and MBS are down small.

 

The FOMC meeting begins today. No changes in rates are expected, but market participants will be watching for changes in the interest on overnight reserves and changes in the Fed’s balance sheet.

 

Durable goods orders rose 2.4%, which was better than expected although the volatile transportation sector accounted for the growth. Ex-transportation they fell 0.1%. Capital expenditures continue to disappoint, falling 0.9%.

 

Home prices rose 0.5% MOM and 2.6% YOY according to the Case-Shiller home price index.

 

New home sales were roughly flat with November, but are up 23% on a year-over-year basis. For the year, new home sales came in at 681,000, up 10% from 2018. As you can see from the chart below, we are back towards historical norms, but given the increase in population, that isn’t enough.

 

new home sales

 

Homebuilder D.R. Horton reported Q1 earnings that impressed the Street, with earnings up 53% and revenues up 14%. Orders were up 19% in units and 22% in dollar volume. The cancellation rate fell to 20% from 24%. The stock was up 2% in what was otherwise a putrid tape.

 

Black Rock’s bond strategist sees bond yields falling another 10 – 15 basis points, as uncertainty over coronavirus and the election seeps into the market. If the virus gets materially worse, and travel and business becomes curtailed, then we could be looking at 1.3% on the 10 year.

 

The CFPB has issued a statement on how it intends to police abusive behavior by lenders. The Bureau has decided that the definition of abusive behavior is too vague, and that uncertainty is having a negative effect on consumers by driving overly-cautious behavior in lenders. The money quote:

First, consistent with the priority it accords to the prevention of harm, the Bureau intends to focus on citing conduct as abusive in supervision or challenging conduct as abusive in enforcement if the Bureau concludes that the harms to consumers from the conduct outweigh its benefits to consumers. Second, the Bureau will generally avoid challenging conduct as abusive that relies on all or nearly all of the same facts that the Bureau alleges are unfair or deceptive. Where the Bureau nevertheless decides to include an alleged abusiveness violation, the Bureau intends to plead such claims in a manner designed to clearly demonstrate the nexus between the cited facts and the Bureau’s legal analysis of the claim. In its supervision activity, the Bureau similarly intends to provide more clarity as to the specific factual basis for determining that a covered person has violated the abusiveness standard. Third, the Bureau generally does not intend to seek certain types of monetary relief for abusiveness violations where the covered person was making a good-faith effort to comply with the abusiveness standard.

The MBA has more analysis of the change here.

Morning Report: December jobs come in hotter than expected.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3239 3.25
Oil (WTI) 61.57 -1.04
10 year government bond yield 1.82%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.88%

 

Stocks are slightly higher this morning despite an Iranian rocket attack last night. Bonds traded as high as 1.7% overnight before falling back to more or less unchanged levels.

 

The ADP jobs report came in stronger than expected, at 202,000. November’s weak reading was also revised upward. Note nonfarm payrolls are expected to come in at 164,000 on Friday, so there may be some upside.

 

Mortgage applications were largely unchanged during the holiday period, with the composite index falling 1.5%. Refis fell by 8% while purchases increased by 5%. “Mortgage rates dropped last week, as investors sought safety in U.S. Treasury securities as a result of the events in the Middle East, with the 30-year fixed mortgage rate declining to its lowest level (3.91 percent) since early October,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Despite lower rates, refinance volume decreased these last two weeks, and we expect that it will slowly trail off in the first half of 2020 as long as mortgage rates remain in this same narrow range. Homeowners would need to see a sharp drop in rates to reinvigorate the refinance wave seen in 2019.”

 

While the ISM manufacturing index was weak in December, the non-manufacturing index definitely was not. One quote from a builder: “Weather and the holiday season have had an impact on residential new construction sales and production. While demand is outstripping supply in the housing market, business is down due to global trade insecurity causing affordability, labor and cost pressures.” (Construction). Given the weakness in lumber prices, I am not sure how trade is affecting construction. If anything, the issue is labor.

 

Speaking of homebuilding, Lennar reported 4th quarter earnings that surpassed analyst expectations. Rick Beckwitt, Chief Executive Officer of Lennar, said, “During the fourth quarter, the basic underlying housing market fundamentals of low unemployment, higher wages and low inventory levels remained favorable. Against this backdrop, our homebuilding gross margin in the fourth quarter was 21.5%, while our focus on making our homebuilding platform more efficient resulted in an SG&A percentage of 7.6%, an all-time, fourth quarter low. In addition, our financial services business performed extremely well with fourth quarter earnings of $81.2 million, an all-time, quarterly high.” Revenues increased 9% as deliveries rose 13% and average selling prices fell 3% (as Lennar focuses more on the entry-level market where the demand is strongest).

Morning Report: Mortgage rates lag Treasury yields

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3217 -17.25
Oil (WTI) 63.87 0.74
10 year government bond yield 1.78%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.89%

 

Stocks are lower as the markets continue to digest the Iranian strike last week. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Friday’s rally in the bond markets left some LOs disappointed, as mortgage backed securities barely moved. This is typical behavior to big shocks in the bond markets – mortgage backed securities (and therefore mortgage rates) invariably lag. We are seeing the same effect again this morning with bond yields falling and MBS barely moving.

 

Senior central bankers saw a possibility that interest rates could go even lower in the future, driven by changing demographics (in other words, an aging population). This is precisely the issue that has been dogging Japan for the past 30 years.

 

There was nothing earth-shattering in the FOMC minutes which were released on Friday. The Fed did nothing at the December meeting, so no new revelations were really expected. Officials “discussed how maintaining the current stance of policy for a time could be helpful for cushioning the economy from the global developments that have been weighing on economic activity.” Note that the latest NY Fed forecast has Q4 GDP coming in at 1.1%, which seems far below the other forecasts out there. This was largely due to the weak December ISM survey which showed manufacturing continue to decline. New orders, production, and employment all were contracting. The report was actually the weakest since 2007. It is probably too early to tell if this is a temporary blip or the new Phase 1 deal with China will make a difference. Punch line: No rate hikes for a while

 

 

Morning Report: Wages increasing especially at the low end

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3242 4.25
Oil (WTI) 62.17 0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.94%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.94%

 

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

 

The upcoming week should be relatively quiet with New Year’s right in the middle of the week. Tomorrow, the bond market will close at 2:00 pm as well. The jobs report looks like it will be postponed until next week as well.

 

The USMCA (aka NAFTA 2.0) should help ease the housing shortage in the US by allowing more imports of building materials at cheaper prices. “The U.S. residential construction and remodeling industries rely on tens of billions of dollars in building materials sourced from Mexico and Canada annually because America cannot produce enough steel, aluminum and other materials and equipment to meet the needs of the domestic housing industry,” NAHB said in a statement. FWIW, I don’t know that building materials are the issue – lumber prices are down 33% from the peak in 2018 – but I guess every little bit helps. The biggest constraint is labor and land. And those are more about immigration policy and zoning.

 

lumber

 

Wages are increasing, which reflects a tighter labor market. According to the NY Fed, the average wage rose to a record high of $69,181 in November. Further, wages are rising 4.5% for the bottom 25% and only rising 2.9% for the top 25%. So, definitely good news for the first time homebuyer, who is likely younger and lower paid.

 

 

Morning Report: Upbeat housing forecast from Fannie Mae

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3252 7.25
Oil (WTI) 61.78 -0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.88%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.97%

 

Stocks are higher as investors are largely taking the day off. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Mortgage applications fell by 5% last week as purchases and refis both fell by the same amount. “The 10-Year Treasury yield increased last week amid signs of stronger homebuilding activity and solid consumer spending, leading to a rise in conventional conforming and jumbo 30-year mortgage rates to just under 4 percent. With this increase, conventional refinance application volume fell 11 percent,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Refinance applications for government loans did increase, even though rates on FHA loans picked up. The change in the mix of business has kept the average refinance loan size smaller than we had seen earlier this year.” 

 

Fannie and Freddie both took up their estimates for 2020 economic growth and housing forecasts. Underpinned by a strong labor market, housing will finally take a leadership position in economic growth. “Housing appears poised to take a leading role in real GDP growth over the forecast horizon for the first time in years, further bolstering our modest-but-solid growth forecasts through 2021,” said Fannie Mae Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Doug Duncan. “In our view, residential fixed investment is likely to benefit from ongoing strength in the labor markets and consumer spending, in addition to the low interest rate environment. Risks to growth have lessened of late, as a ’Phase One’ U.S.-China trade deal appears to be in place and global growth seems likely to reverse course and accelerate in 2020. With these positive economic developments in mind, we now believe that the Fed will hold interest rates steady through 2020.”

 

The actual numbers are here. They see housing starts rising to 1.315 million units, and the 30 year fixed rate mortgage falling to 3.6%. Origination volume is expected to fall slightly to $2.04 trillion from $2.15 trillion in 2019. Purchase volume is expected to increase and refis are forecasted to fall. GDP growth is expected to come in at 1.9%