Morning Report: What does 2019 look like if the Fed is out of the way?

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2510 24
Eurostoxx index 337.45 1.25
Oil (WTI) 46.4 1.01
10 year government bond yield 2.73%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.60%

 

Stocks are higher as close the books on 2018. Bonds and MBS are down small.

 

Today should be relatively quiet as we have an early close in the bond market and no economic data to speak of. Economic data has been delayed due to the government shutdown, but so far it looks like BLS is still working so we should get the jobs report on Friday.

 

Pending home sales dropped 0.7% in November, according to NAR. YOY, activity was down 7.7%. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the current sales numbers don’t fully take into account other data. “The latest decline in contract signings implies more short-term pullback in the housing sector and does not yet capture the impact of recent favorable conditions of mortgage rates.” The government shutdown is not going to help things going forward, as the inability to get flood insurance will probably affect some 40,000 home sales.

 

People are looking at 2019 and largely assuming that it will be a carbon copy of 2018 with respect to the mortgage business. That is probably a safe bet, however there is one big difference: if you believe the Fed Funds futures are correct, the Fed is out of the way. For example, Freddie Mac anticipates that the 30 year fixed rate mortgage is going to be 5.1% and originations are going to increase slightly to 1.69MM. When that forecast was made (in August of 2018), people were thinking we would probably have two more hikes in 2019. I suspect that the forecasts for 2019 have yet to factor in a Fed that does nothing further.

 

Where will rates go, then? I suspect that unless the data changes markedly, they probably go nowhere. If we see a dramatic drop in GDP (say Q1 GDP drops to 1%) then rates are going lower as the yield curve will probably invert. If we see a dramatic jump in inflation (say Q1 core PCE hits 3%) then the Fed might hike again and we should see higher mortgage rates. However, the most likely bet is that they kind of meander around in the mid 4%s for the year.

 

Where will home prices go? Most forecasts assume that home price appreciation will slow this year, and that is probably a solid bet. Home prices have become largely untethered from incomes again and will probably lack much impetus to move higher unless wages get a strong boost. There is a housing shortage that needs to be addressed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean SFR construction – the needs are at the lower price points, and that means more multi-fam, not necessarily SFR. There is a glut of high priced properties as well.

 

I suspect that even if rates do move lower, there has been enough prepayment burnout to prevent any sort of meaningful refi boom. Volume is going to have to come from additional products (non-QM etc) and new construction. Volume probably won’t be as bad as 2018, but it won’t be better than 2017 either. Margin compression will probably ease up as competition decreases and marginal players exit the business.

Morning Report: Stocks down as Amazon disappoints

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2659 -30
Eurostoxx index 348.9 -5
Oil (WTI) 66.45 -0.88
10 year government bond yield 3.08%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.93%

 

Stocks are lower again this morning as overseas markets remain under pressure. Bonds and MBS are up, with the 10 year trading below 3.1%.

 

Initial Jobless Claims ticked up slightly to 215,000 last week. The labor market remains strong and employers are hanging on to their employees.

 

Durable Goods orders rose 0.8% last month (a strong reading) however that was driven largely by aircraft orders which can be lumpy. Ex-transportation they rose 0.1%. Capital Goods orders (a proxy for capital investment / business expansion) were down 0.1%.

 

Retail inventories rose 0.1% while wholesale inventories rose 0.3%. We will get a read on the back-to-school shopping season when the retailers begin reporting earnings next month. Note Amazon reported last night and their earnings beat expectations, but their guidance (and revenues) was terrible. The stock is down about 9% pre-open. Part of the miss in guidance is due to the decision Amazon made to raise warehouse worker wages, but the revenue guidance is something to worry about.

 

Two of the other sled-dogs in the FAANG index are down this morning – Google and Netflix. While it is probably too early to start reaching for defensives like PG or MO, the leaders are hitting a rough patch.

 

Pending home sales rose 0.5% in September, according to NAR. Don’t get too excited; they were down 1% YOY, but these days any positive reading in the housing sector is a win.

Morning Report: The Fed hikes as expected

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2914 2.75
Eurostoxx index 385 0.05
Oil (WTI) 72.35 0.77
10 year government bond yield 3.06%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.79%

 

Stocks are higher after the Fed hiked rates yesterday. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

As expected, the Fed raised the Fed Funds rate 25 basis points and removed the term “accomodative” from their statement. The decision was unanimous. The biggest change in the projection materials was an upward bump in GDP estimates for this year and next. The dot plot showed a slight uptick in forecasts (about 7 basis points for this year and next). The dot plot says we are probably looking at another hike in December, 2 more hikes in 2019, and one more in 2020. In other words, the heavy lifting of this tightening cycle has already been done. That said, monetary policy acts with a lag, so the 2018 hikes probably won’t be felt until mid-to-late 2019.  The 2s-10s spread fell to 22 basis points.

 

dot plot comparison jun vs. sep 2018

 

Bonds rallied (rates fell) on the FOMC announcement, which was probably attributable to the largely unchanged dot plot and the fact that rates rose so much leading into the FOMC announcement. Classic “buy the rumor, sell the fact” situation.

 

Durable goods increased 4.5%, driven by a big jump in aircraft orders. Ex-transportation, durable goods orders were roughly flat. Core Capital Goods (a proxy for business capital expenditures) fell 0.5%. Note the Fed mentioned strong business capital investment in the statement yesterday.

 

The final estimate for second quarter GDP was unchanged at 4.2%. The price index and consumption estimates were unchanged as well. This is the fastest pace in 4 years. Meanwhile, corporate profits for the second quarter were revised downward from 6.7% to 6.4%.

 

Initial Jobless claims inched up to 214k last week. Remember these are 50 year lows, and if you consider the fact that the population was 2/3 of current levels back then (along with a military draft) these numbers are astounding.

 

Pending Home Sales fell in August, according to NAR.  Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says that low inventory continues to contribute to the housing market slowdown. “Pending home sales continued a slow drip downward, with the fourth month over month decline in the past five months,” he said.

 

“Contract signings also fell backward again last month, as declines in the West negatively impacted overall activity,” he said. “The greatest decline occurred in the West region where prices have shot up significantly, which clearly indicates that affordability is hindering buyers and those affordability issues come from lack of inventory, particularly in moderate price points.”

Morning Report: Q2 GDP revised upward

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2899 -1
Eurostoxx index 385.81 0.35
Oil (WTI) 69.08 0.55
10 year government bond yield 2.88%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.55%

Stocks are flat this morning after GDP came in better than expected. Bonds and MBS are down small.

Mortgage Applications fell 1.7% last week as purchases fell 1% and refis fell 3%. This is despite a drop in rates.

Second quarter GDP was revised upward to 4.2% from 4.1%, which was higher than the street estimate of 4.0%. The main revisions were to consumption (downward) and fixed residential investment (upward). Inventories were a drag on GDP, which means that we should see a bump to Q3’s numbers. The GDP price index was also revised up a touch, from 1.8% to 1.9%. All of this provides a good environment for the Fed to ease back from the zero bound.

Mortgage bankers made $580 per loan in the second quarter, an increase from $118 in the first quarter. Banks cut costs aggressively (dropping production costs per loan by about $1,000) however declining volumes offset that, and this turned out to be the weakest quarter since the MBA began keeping records in 2008. That $580 represents a profit of 21 basis points per loan, which was a drop form 24 bps a year ago. Fee income dropped to 341 bps from 370 in the first quarter. Refis continue to decline, with purchases accounting for 81% of all volume.

Here is something wild. Last night, there were no trades in the JGB market (the world’s second largest bond market). This is the 7th time this has happened this year. The Bank of Japan basically controls the market, and trading has dried up. We live in interesting times, at least if you are a central banker.

Pending Home sales fell 0.7% in July, according to NAR. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the housing market’s summer slowdown continued in July. “Contract signings inched backward once again last month, as declines in the South and West weighed down on overall activity,” he said. “It’s evident in recent months that many of the most overheated real estate markets – especially those out West – are starting to see a slight decline in home sales and slower price growth.” Blame tight supply, which has driven up prices to unaffordable levels.

The housing slowdown has not been lost on the stocks of the homebuilders, who despite strong earnings (and an incredibly strong stock market) are down 14% YTD. At some point, the sector will be unable to rely on increasing ASPs and will have to pump up volume to show growth. Despite the clear need for new housing, especially at the starter level, builders seem content to meter their growth and plow excess cash into buybacks.

Morning Report: Homeownership rate ticks up

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2817.75 0
Eurostoxx index 391.62 -0.46
Oil (WTI) 69.98 1.29
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.98%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.58%

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

Global bonds are under pressure this morning on fears that the Bank of Japan may make some changes to its monetary policy. While these sorts of things don’t impact the US directly, global sovereign bonds tend to trade as a group and US yields will be influenced by them.

We have a lot of important numbers this week, with personal incomes / personal spending on Tuesday and the jobs report on Friday. We also have the FOMC meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. No changes in policy are expected, however the language of the statement will be in focus as always.

Earnings season continues, with announcements from Freddie Mac, Annaly, Pennymac, and MFA.

FHFA Director Mel Watt was accused of sexual harassment. His term expires at the end of the year, but he will probably be shown the door regardless.

The homeownership rate increased to 64.4% from 64.3% in the second quarter, according to the Census Bureau. This is a 4 year high. Interesting, the geographic dispersion is quite large, ranging from 59.7% in the West to 68.3% in the Midwest. Affordability matters, but that is a big divergence. We also saw a marked increase in younger homeowners, with the under-35 age cohort increasing from 35.3% to 36.5%. Rental vacancy rates fell from 7% to 6.8% while homeowner vacancy rates were flat at 1.5%. The overall homeownership rate is below the long term average, however the increase that started in 1994 and ended with the top of the housing bubble was probably artificial.

homeownership rate NAD

Pending home sales rose 0.9% in June, according to NAR. While this is a nice uptick from May, contract signings are still down 2.5% on a YOY basis. It looks like we are seeing an uptick in inventory in some of the MSAs with the biggest inventory issues: Seattle, San Jose, and Portland. With the lion’s share of 2018 in the books already, NAR is projecting a decline in existing home sales for 2018 of 1% and an increase in the median home price of 5%.

Morning Report: Yield curve continues to flatten

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2727.25 -1.25
Eurostoxx index 379.19 1.85
Oil (WTI) 71.15 0.62
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.86%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are lower despite a moderation in trade rhetoric out of the administration. Bonds and MBS are up.

The yield curve continues to flatten, with the 2s-10s spread at 32 basis points. The media is going to try and make this a narrative about an upcoming recession.

2s 10s spread

Mortgage applications fell 5% last week as purchases fell 6% and refis fell 4%. Rates increased slightly. So far, we aren’t seeing much evidence that lower rates are helping the business.

Durable Goods orders fell 0.6% in May, which was well below expectations, although the prior month was revised upward. Transportation and defense drove the decline. Core capital goods fell 0.2%, which indicates business capital expenditures took a step back. It is probably too early to say definitively whether tariffs are playing a role here, but it is something to watch. Tariffs are a “cut off your nose to spite your face” sort of policy which can often win votes within a narrow constituency, but hurt everyone else and are a net negative for the economy.

Retail inventories increased 0.4% and wholesale inventories increased 0.5%.

Pending Home Sales fell for the fifth consecutive month, according to NARLawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says this year’s spring buying season will go down as one of unmet expectations. “Pending home sales underperformed once again in May, declining for the second straight month and coming in at the second lowest level over the past year,” he said. “Realtors® in most of the country continue to describe their markets as highly competitive and fast moving, but without enough new and existing inventory for sale, activity has essentially stalled. With the cost of buying a home getting more expensive, it’s clear the summer months will be a true test for the housing market. One encouraging sign has been the increase in new home construction to a 10-year high,” added Yun. “Several would-be buyers this spring were kept out of the market because of supply and affordability constraints. The healthy economy and job market should keep many of them actively looking to buy, and any rise in inventory would certainly help them find a home.”

While there may be a shortage of single family homes for sale, the market for rentals is getting saturated, at least in major cities. Rents on average rose 2.3% in the second quarter, the weakest increase since 2010. Rents were more or less flat in Seattle, where home price appreciation is in double digits. That is a shocking statistic. In response to the drop in demand for single family houses in the aftermath of the bubble, developers went all-in on apartment construction, particularly in urban areas. Now there is a glut, and landlords are offering incentives to take out a lease. According to REIS, the rental vacancy rate ticked up to 4.8% in the second quarter from 4.3%.  Meanwhile, Millennials are getting married, having kids, and looking for single family homes. Perhaps the Great Millennial Migration to the Suburbs is finally upon us.

Lennar reported a big jump in earnings, however this was the first quarter with CalAtlantic, so results aren’t really comparable on a YOY basis. During the quarter, the company used $1.1 billion in cash to redeem some high interest CalAtlantic debt. ASPs rose 11%, however some of that is probably due to CalAtlantic, which is located in higher cost MSAs. Despite rising rates, CEO Stuart Miller reported that demand was strong, and the company still has pricing power to support margins.

Morning Report: Spending / Incomes up, PCE inflation at target

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2679 7.6
Eurostoxx index 385.1 0.46
Oil (WTI) 67.48 -0.62
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

Stocks are higher after a slew of new mergers were announced. Bonds and MBS are up small.

We have a big week ahead with the FOMC meeting starting tomorrow and the jobs report on Friday. The Street isn’t looking for any changes in interest rates at the May meeting, but will focus as usual on the language of the statement. For the jobs report, the expectation is 190k new payrolls and 2.7% annual wage inflation.

Pending Home Sales were up marginally from February, but were still down on an annual basis, according to NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index. Bad weather in the Northeast pushed down pending sales, however all parts of the country were down. Again, blame low inventory and falling affordability.

Personal Incomes rose 0.3% in March, while personal spending rose 0.4%, in line with expectations. The PCE index was up 2% YOY and the core PCE index was up 1.9%. This is the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation and it is right where they are targeting. Income growth was the weakest since last Fall, however.

The big debate right now is whether there is any slack in the labor market. Anecdotal evidence abounds that companies are struggling to find qualified workers. However, Econ 101 says that we should be seeing higher wage inflation as a result and that isn’t happening (at least not yet). Some theories are claiming this is a market failure and that employers are artificially holding down wages (which is then used as an argument for more government intervention in the labor market). I suspect the issue is that there are three big forces holding back wage growth. First, inflation is low – if companies cannot pass along price increases to their customers, they aren’t going to be raising wages. Second, lower wage jobs are competing with technology which is only getting better and cheaper. And finally, the long-term unemployed represent a reservoir of slack that companies know they can tap if needed. FWIW, I think the first and third explanations explain it, and find the idea that employers are somehow colluding to keep wages low to be wholly unconvincing. Take a look at the chart below, which shows wage increases versus inflation. You are seeing actual wage growth.

wages vs inflation

For now it looks like the 3% level in the 10 year has held. What drove the sell-off – it wasn’t like there was anything data-wise to support it. JP Morgan blames CTAs using momentum strategies to short the 10-year. Chinese selling has also been rumored to be a factor. We won’t be able to confirm or deny that theory for a couple of months. CTA funds have been net short Treasuries since September, however a momentum signal in mid-April caused people to pile into the trade and that apparently drove the late month sell-off.

Steve Mnuchin is “cautiously optimistic” on trade talks with China. The subject will include intellectual property and joint ventures.

Defect risk decreased on a MOM basis but was up on a YOY basis, according to the First American Loan Defect Index. The biggest risk was in the sand states, while the lowest risk was in the Rust Belt.