Morning Report: Strong jobs report

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2701 -2.75
Eurostoxx index 358.09 -0.56
Oil (WTI) 53.82 0.02
10 year government bond yield 2.65%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.35%

 

Stocks are flattish after the jobs report. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 304,000
  • Labor force participation rate 63.2%
  • Unemployment rate 4%
  • Average hourly earnings up 3.2% YOY
  • Employment-population ratio 60.7%

Overall, an exceptionally strong report. The uptick in payrolls was almost double the market expectations, and the government shutdown had no appreciable effect (Furloughed employees were counted as “employed” by the survey.  The uptick in wages probably knocked bonds down a touch, but we have been seeing real wage gains in the employment situation report and the employment cost index. Sad trombone for partisans and the business press rooting for a shutdown-depressed report.

 

The unemployment rate has been rising, but that is actually good news as it means more and more of the long-term unemployed are being drawn back into the labor force. The labor force participation rate is a bit of a nebulous number because people who have been unemployed for a long time may not count as unemployed. The employment-population ratio is a much better measure, although you have to deal with demographic noise. The employment-population ratio rose 0.1% to 60.7%. A year ago it was 60.2%. While that is much higher than the 58.5% we saw at the depths of the Great Recession, it is still lower than the 62% – 63% pre-crisis level. Retiring baby boomers are being replaced by Millennials, but there is a lag.

 

employment population ratio

 

New home sales rose to a seasonally-adjusted average of 657,000 in November. The new home sales number is extraordinarily volatile – it is up 17% from October, but down 8% from a year ago – but it is somewhat encouraging as we head into the spring selling season, which despite the polar vortex upon us, unofficially starts about now.

 

Employment compensation costs rose 0.7% in the fourth quarter, as wages and salaries rose 0.6% and benefit costs rose 0.7%. For the prior 12 months, employment compensation costs rose 2.9%, with wages and salaries rising 3.1% and benefit costs rising 2.8%. With core inflation stuck around 2%, we are seeing over 1% real wage growth, which is strong indeed.

 

Wapo published a story about Trump possibly naming erstwhile R politician Herman Cain to the Fed. Cue the snide jokes: Can’t wait for his 3-3-3 plan: 3% Fed funds rate, 3% interest on excess reserves, 3% of QE portfolio runoff per year. In all seriousness though, he ran the Kansas City Fed from 92-96. So what appears at first to be an applause line in fact might not be. That said, these jobs generally go to academics and he is not one.

Morning Report: Existing home sales fall

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2641 9.75
Eurostoxx index 356.16 1.08
Oil (WTI) 52.77 -1.03
10 year government bond yield 2.76%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.48%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as earnings reports continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Mortgage applications fell 2.7% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 5%. This was a bit of a give-back after a torrid start to the year. Rates were more or less unchanged, and the unadjusted purchase index was close to a 9 year high. Still, it is encouraging to see activity picking up ahead of the Spring Selling Season, which is just around the corner.

 

Existing Home Sales fell 6.4% in December according to NAR. The seasonally adjusted annual number comes out to 5 million, which is down 10% YOY. The median house price rose 3% to $253,600 and inventory fell to 1.55 million units, down from 1.74 million in November. At current rates, it represents a 3.6 month supply, which is an increase from 3.2 month’s worth in November. Days on market increased to 46 days, up from 42 in November and 40 a year ago. While the 30 year fixed rate mortgage fell from 4.87% in November to 4.64% in December, these sales would represent transactions done under a higher interest rate regime – the drop in rates will probably be reflected in January data. There is still quite the mismatch between what is available for sale – largely luxury properties – and what is needed, which is entry-level housing. The first time homebuyer still represents about 32% of all sales – historically that number has been closer to 40%. The Northeast and the Midwest experienced the biggest drops in sales.

 

The Senate will vote on a plan to open government – wall funding in exchange for temporary protection for Dreamers. The Democrats have declared this a non-starter, but we’ll see how close this comes to passing. The Democrats have their own bill in the Senate which doesn’t include wall funding and is also unlikely to pass. The big question concerns what Trump will actually sign.

 

Non-traditional mortgages are making a comeback, after a long slumber. Originations for these types of products – bank statement loans and the like – increased 24% in 2018, however their share of the total mortgage market is still extremely small, around 3%. Investor demand for these products is picking up as well – securitizations quadrupled last year to $12 billion. While these loans are a far cry from the neg-am NINJA loans of the bubble years, regulators and affordable housing advocates are fretting over these loans.

 

New home sales fell 16% in 4 of the largest markets to close out the year, according to Redfin. Higher mortgage rates and tax issues are depressing sales in some of the pricier markets. Look for homebuilders to face a squeeze as well as rising input prices and slower price growth depress margins. Builders may have to concentrate on building lots of lower-priced entry level units, which is exactly where the demand is.

 

new home sales redfin

Morning Report: Lousy new home sales print

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2932.25 -9
Eurostoxx index 357.94 0.56
Oil (WTI) 50.06 -0.15
10 year government bond yield 3.02%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.85%

 

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

 

Jerome Powell spoke yesterday and said that rates are “just below” the neutral range. These comments pushed up bond prices (rates fell) and contributed to a rally in the stock market. He may have been walking back an earlier unscripted statement which said that the Fed had a “ways to go” before hitting neutral. He also said that there were no financial bubbles in the US and that the stock market was near its long term valuation average. This put a bid under stocks and other risk assets.

 

The Fed Funds futures didn’t really react all that much, however a consensus seems to be building that we are looking at a hike in December, and probably one more in 2019.

 

TBAs have spent the last couple of days catching up with the move lower in the bond market. MBS were up a good 6 ticks or so in a flat Treasury market. Note we will get the minutes from the November FOMC meeting at 2:00 pm EST. It probably should be a nonevent, but just be aware.

 

GDP came in at 3.5% for the third quarter. This was the second revision out of BEA and there were few changes. This is a deceleration from Q2’s torrid 4.2% growth rate. The PCE price index rose 1.5%, which is slower than the second quarter’s 2.0% pace, and below the Fed’s target or 2%.

 

GDP

 

Mortgage applications increased 5.5% last week as purchases rose 9% and refis rose 1%. Last week contained the Thanksgiving day holiday, so there were all sorts of adjustments to these numbers. Still it is encouraging.

 

New Home sales came in much weaker than expected, and we saw major, major declines in the Midwest and Northeast (which dropped around 20%). New Home Sales is a notoriously volatile number, and is often subject to major revisions. That said, there is no way to put a positive spin on that number – it was simply lousy.

 

new home sales

 

 

Morning Report: Fed Decision Day

Vital statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2924.75 3.5
Eurostoxx index 384.06 0.14
Oil (WTI) 71.82 -0.45
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.08%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.79%

Stocks are up small as we head into the FOMC decision. Bonds and MBS are flat.

The FOMC decision will be announced at 2:00 pm EST today. Be careful locking around that time. Given how much rates have increased ahead of the decision, the bond market is probably set up for a rally if the statement and / or supporting materials contain a dovish surprise. TBAs (and therefore mortgage rates) will be slower to respond to a sharp move in rates however and take a few days to fully react.

One thing to look for: whether the Fed considers its policy stance to be “accomodative.” There has been debate at the Fed whether that term is outdated. FWIW, sub 3% Fed Funds and a continuing bond purchase program sounds pretty accomodative to me, at least compared to Federal Reserve history.

Mortgage applications rose 3% last week. Both purchases and refis rose by the same amount. This is in spite of a big jump in rates, with the 30 year fixed conforming rate pushing 5%. 5/1 ARMS hit 4.22%, the highest since the survey began.

New home sales increased to an annualized pace of 629k in August, according to Census. This is an increase of 3.5% MOM and 12.7% YOY.  Inventory sits at 6.1 months’ worth.

Housing demand was unchanged in August, according to Redfin. You can see the effect rising rates and home prices have had on demand. Unfortunately the series doesn’t go back far enough to give much of a historical perspective, but it certainly indicates that the last year has had a marked negative effect on buyers. What will change that? Wage inflation.

housing demand

Mark Zandi looks at what expanding the housing trust fund might do to alleviate the supply / demand imbalance. He notes that most of the post-bubble building was at the high end price points (urban apartments and McMansions especially), and that entry-level / affordable housing has been neglected. Whether that is a case of NIMBY-ism or higher regulatory costs is open for debate.  Zandi estimates that increasing the housing trust fund could add an additional 200k units next year.

Morning Report: New Home Sales jump

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2745 -14.5
Eurostoxx index 379.79 -5.22
Oil (WTI) 69.07 0.49
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.89%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are lower this morning on continued trade tensions. Bonds and MBS are up

Economic activity decelerated in May, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators were a drag on the index (probably an effect of trade issues) while employment-related indicators had a positive impact once again. This index is a meta-index of 85 different sub-indices, and while it is backward-looking and generally not market moving, it provides a good global snapshot of the economy.

The trade war is beginning to have some real economic effects as the CFNAI indicated. While it is primarily limited to steel, many companies that use it as an input are raising prices, which is going to have a few negative effects on the economy – first firms that use steel and cannot pass on price increases are probably going to lay off workers, while the inflationary pressures from increased prices will keep the Fed raising interest rates. Retaliatory tariffs from our partners are causing US exporters to shift production overseas. Note that lumber tariffs are increasing the price of home construction, which is another drag on the economy.

Given the recessionary potential of trade wars the shape of the yield curve is going to become a bigger talking point for the business press and will be watched closely by the Fed. The shape of the yield curve essentially means the difference between short term rates and long term rates. The most common description is the 2s-10s spread, which is about 34 basis points at the moment. When the yield curve is strongly upward sloping (in other words, the 10 year yield is a lot higher than the 2 year yield) it generally means one of two things: either (a) the market is worried about inflation, and is therefore requiring a high interest rate to entice people to invest in Treasuries long term, or (b) the economy is so strong that investors prefer to put their money in more risky assets and therefore Treasuries have to offer a higher rate to get people interested. For the most part, the US yield curve has been in the second camp.

As the Fed has been raising the Fed Funds rate, the yield on shorter-term paper (like the 2 year) has been going up faster than the rate on the 10 year. Historically, the yield curve has flattened during tightening cycles, so this is nothing to be alarmed about. If the yield curve inverts, then that has historically been associated with the Fed overdoing it and it is taken as a recessionary signal. In the current environment, the flattening of the yield curve looks more like typical curve behavior during a tightening cycle, and not a signal of a recession. Don’t forget the yield curve has been highly influenced by central bank behavior. The Fed could drive up long-term rates by hinting at the possibility of selling some of its portfolio. Bottom line, the business press will be talking about the curve more and more, especially if the trade war begins to snowball and we start seeing a combination of rising input costs with a slowing out output.

New Home sales increased 6.7% MOM and 14.1% YOY to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 689,000. This is the highest print since November last year. Interestingly, sales rose in the South, but fell everywhere else. In the West, where the supply shortage is most acute, sales fell by 9% MOM and are flat YOY. Both the median and average sales price fell, which is surprising given the torrid pace of home price appreciation in the home price indices like Case-Shiller and the jump in existing home sales prices according to NAR. It appears that more sales at the lower price points was behind the drop. Luxury sales have been more or less flat for the past year. Eventually tax reform is going to have an effect on the top end of the market, as luxury real estate is simply more expensive due to the changes in mortgage interest and the fact that most of the $1MM+ inventory is in high tax states. We will get more of a read on new homes this week as Lennar and KB both report earnings.

Fears of rising interest rates have clearly had no negative effects on new home sales. Given the acute housing shortage and the fact that rates are still very low historically, this isn’t really a surprise.

new home sales

The Trump Administration announced a plan to reorganize many governmental agencies. The biggest one would merge the Department of Labor and the Department of Education into one agency. On the housing side, USDA loans would be moved from USDA to HUD, which is where they probably belonged in the first place. VA loans will remain under the VA however. Community Development Block Grants would move to Commerce from HUD. The document discusses the need to reform the GSEs and lays out broad ideas, but nothing concrete.

Morning Report; Congress eases Dodd-Frank a little

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2709 -17
Eurostoxx index 392.65 -4.29
Oil (WTI) 71.89 -0.29
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.01%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.66%

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

Mortgage Applications fell 2.6% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 4%. The refi share of mortgage apps fell to 35.7%. Rates increased substantially last week, driving the decline. Refis are at the lowest level since 2000.

New Home Sales in April were 662,000, lower than March and the Street estimate. The median sales price was $312k and the average price was $407k. There were 300k houses for sale at the end of the month, representing a 5.4 month inventory.

Separately, the share of new houses built to be rented is steadily increasing, adding to the tight inventory problem.

housing built for rent

Congress passed a few tweaks on Dodd-Frank yesterday, which gave banks from $50-$250 in assets a bit of regulatory relief from the more onerous requirements in terms of risk management. This was a bipartisan and incremental bill that does not “gut Dodd-Frank.” Banks like Zion’s or Huntington simply aren’t going to get involved in some of the more esoteric stuff that a JP Morgan will and don’t require six compliance officers to ensure they don’t blow themselves up in the CDO market. This bill was less ambitious than the Financial CHOICE act that passed the House last year but failed to garner any Democratic support in the Senate.

The CFPB is planning on easing some of the Obama-era use of disparate impact. Disparate impact means that a lender is guilty of discrimination if its lending numbers don’t reflect the demographic makeup of the area in which the bank operates, even if it had no intention of discrimination. It basically strips away the ability of a lender to even defend themselves. This measure stems from a Supreme Court decision in 2015 that upheld the concept of disparate impact, but required a plaintiff to prove the company’s policies led to it. HUD is also dialing back some Obama-era policies that required local governments to submit plans to make sure neighborhoods reflect the demographic makeup of the surrounding area by forcing them to change zoning requirements to allow more affordable housing. The requirement stands, however HUD delayed the compliance date.

Separately, the CFPB is going to back away from auto financing. The original language in Dodd-Frank prevented the CFPB from getting involved in this area, but Richard Cordray claimed that because auto dealers didn’t do auto loans – banks did – that they did fall under CFPB’s jurisdiction. This change is another example of the CFPB “pushing the envelope” and reflects Mick Mulvaney’s philosophy of going as far as the law requires, but no further.

The FOMC minutes are scheduled to come out at 2:00 pm EST. The Street will be zeroing on any discussion of whether 2% inflation is a symmetric target or a hard ceiling. The Street is now leaning slightly towards 2 versus 3 more hikes this year. It was over 50% last week.

Fun fact courtesy of Barry Ritholz. On this day in 2002, Netflix went public, raising $300 million. That same year, Blockbuster earned over $800 million in late fees alone. Today, Netflix is up 15,000% while Blockbuster is extinct. Note investors had almost given up on NFLX in the mid 00s.

Morning Report: New Home Sales and prices soar

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2682 10.5
Eurostoxx index 383.28 0.1
Oil (WTI) 68.68 0.01
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.99%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

Stocks are up this morning on strong earnings by Caterpillar. Bonds and MBS are down.

New Home Sales rose 4% MOM and 8.8% YOY to an annualized pace of 694,000 in March. The median sales price was$337,200 and the inventory of 301,000 represented about 5 month’s worth. The number was well above Street estimates, however the confidence interval for this estimate is invariably wide.

Consumer Confidence improved to 128.8 in April as tax cuts have pushed sentiment to post-recession highs.

Home price appreciation is accelerating, with the Case-Shiller Home Price index up 6.8% YOY. We saw double-digit annual increases in San Francisco, Seattle, and Las Vegas.

The FHFA House Price Index reported a bigger increase – 7.2% YOY. The FHFA index only covers conventional loans, so it is a narrower index than Case – Shiller. The increases ranged from 4.8% in the Middle Atlantic to 10.3% in the Pacific.

FHFA House Price Index

What is the issue with the lack of home construction? Lack of labor. The construction industry has about 250,000 unfilled jobs right now, according to the NAHB. At the peak of the bubble, there were about 5 million people in construction; today that number is closer to 3.8 million. Many of these workers found employment in other industries (especially energy extraction) and aren’t about to go back. Immigration restrictions are another headache, as the government estimates that 13% of the construction workforce is working illegally. Finally, the opiod epidemic is particularly problematic in an industry where people are likely to be injured on the job and in pain generally. Ultimately, wages will have to increase to the point to lure a new generation of construction workers out of their climate controlled offices.

Round numbers always bring out the strategists, and as the 10 year sits close to the 3% level, we are seeing pieces discussing the asset allocation implications. Since the financial crisis, the earnings yield on the S&P 500 has been higher than the 10 year, although the premium is at the lowest level since 2010. One strategist thinks the 1950s are a good analogy for investors, where interest rates gradually rose as the memories of the Great Depression faded and the economy was strong. As an aside, Jim Grant discusses how the big retail investor trade in the 1950s was the leveraged curve flattener, where people would borrow short term money to invest in long-term Treasuries. That trade worked until the bond market crashed in the late 50s and a lot of people got carried out.

Is demand falling for houses? According to Redfin’s Housing Demand Index it is. “Abnormally late winter weather and an early Easter likely delayed homeowners planning to list their homes for sale in March,” said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. “While inventory levels are still not nearly high enough to meet strong buyer demand, we do expect new listings to pick up in April and May.”

The House has introduced legislation to end regulation by enforcement by the CFPB. HR 5534 would require the CFPB to provide guidance on its regulations and to establish a framework for monetary penalties.