Morning Report: New home sales increase

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2857 20
Eurostoxx index 382.42 3.33
Oil (WTI) 60.79 0.65
10 year government bond yield 2.44%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.10%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as we kick off the second quarter. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

We have a lot of data this week, and some could be market-moving. The biggest report will be the employment situation report on Friday, however we will get durable goods, construction spending, and ISM data.

 

Retail Sales in February fell 0.4%, which was well below the Street expectations of a 0.4% gain. That said, January’s numbers were revised upward from 0.9% to 1.4%. Separately, personal incomes increased 0.2% in February, while personal expenditures rose 0.1%. Inflation remained below the Fed’s target with the PCE index down 0.1% on a MOM basis and up 1.4% on a yearly basis. Ex-food and energy, the PCE index was up 1.8%. For 2018, personal incomes rose 4.5%, while personal spending rose 4.4%.

 

New Home Sales came in at a seasonally adjusted level of 667,000, which beat the Street estimate of 615,000. This is up 4.3% from the revised January number and about flat on a YOY basis. New Home Sales is a notoriously volatile series, and the margin for error is generally huge. While new home sales have recovered from the bottom, we are still at 50% of peak levels, and when you take into account population growth, we are still well below what is needed.

 

new home sales

 

Pending home sales slipped in February, according to NAR. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said February’s pending home sales decline is coming off a solid gain in the prior month. “In January, pending contracts were up close to 5 percent, so this month’s 1 percent drop is not a significant concern,” he said. “As a whole, these numbers indicate that a cyclical low in sales is in the past but activity is not matching the frenzied pace of last spring.”

 

Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan is out. The bank was unable to put its scandals behind it, and Democrats like Elizabeth Warren were calling for the Board to fire him. He decided to retire at age 58. “This was my decision based on what I thought and believe is the best for Wells Fargo, because there has just been too much focus on me,” Sloan said. “And it’s impacting our ability to move forward. I just care so much about this company and so much about our team that I could not keep myself in a position where I was becoming a distraction.”

 

Despite the action in the Federal Funds market and the dot plot, the Fed doesn’t seem to be ready to start cutting rates. Even dovish Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari is reluctant to ease monetary policy. For the most part, the Fed seems to view the recent economic weakness as influenced by the partial government shutdown and is anticipating a recovery.

Morning Report: New home sales still anemic historically

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2821  9
Eurostoxx index 380.4 1.8
Oil (WTI) 58.12 -0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.60%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.28%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on overseas strength, particularly in China and Japan. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

New Home Sales fell to 607,000 in January, according to the Census Bureau. This is down 7% MOM and 4% YOY. New Homes Sales is a notoriously volatile number, and the margin for error is generally in the mid-teens %. Still 607,000 is roughly in line with historical averages over the past 50 years. That said, population has grown since then, so it isn’t really comparable. Take a look at the chart below, which is new home sales divided by population – we are still only at levels associated with the depths of prior recessions. In other words, we are still in very early innings with the housing recovery, and you can make an argument that the recovery hasn’t even begun yet.

 

new home sales divided by population

 

Industrial Production rose 0.1% in February, and January’s initial 0.6% drop was revised upward to -0.4%. Manufacturing production fell 0.4%, while January’s 0.9% drop was revised upward to -0.5%. Capacity Utilization fell to 78.2%, while Jan was revised up again. So, Feb wasn’t great, but January wasn’t as bad as it initially appeared to be.

 

We have entered the quiet period for the Fed ahead of their meeting next week. No rate hikes are expected, although we will get new economic forecasts and a new dot plot. Sentiment regarding the Fed has changed massively over the past few months. As of now, the the Fed funds futures are estimating that there is a 75% chance the Fed does nothing this year, and a 25% chance they cut rates by 25 basis points. The fed funds futures are pricing a 0% chance of a hike. While Trump’s jawboning of the Fed was bad form, and you generally don’t want to see presidents doing that, you also can’t escape the fact that the Fed Funds futures and the markets think he was right!

 

 

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.