Morning Report: Inflation at the wholesale level remains in check

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2888.5 -0.25
Eurostoxx index 376.66 1.28
Oil (WTI) 70.21 0.93
10 year government bond yield 2.97%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.64%

Stocks are flat this morning as the East Coast braces for Hurricane Florence. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Mortgage Applications fell 1.8% during the Labor Day week as purchases increased 1% and refis fell 6%. The refi index is now at an 18 year low. We saw a 5 basis point increase in rates, which drove the drop in refis. As rates rise, cash-outs, fixed-for-ARM, and FHA for conventional are about the only game in town.

Despite tariffs and increases in raw materials prices inflation at the wholesale level remains under control. The producer price index fell 0.1% last month but rose 2.8% on an annualized basis. Ex-food and energy, the number was down 0.1% MOM and up 2.3% YOY. So, despite the increase in wages we saw in the jobs report, inflation overall remains subdued.

Yesterday’s JOLTs report showed the quits rate (which is considered a leading indicator for wage inflation) hit the highest level since early 2001. Construction job openings increased to set another post-bubble high. Hurricane Florence will only exacerbate the labor shortage as workers get drawn into repair jobs. This probably means disappointing housing starts numbers for the rest of the year.

Below is a chart which shows that average hourly earnings and the quits rate tend to correlate pretty closely.

Here are some things that homeowners in the path of Florence can do in order to prepare for impact. Note that the hurricane is expected to stall out once hit hits land, so you should expect some flooding inland. Servicers should prepare for an uptick in delinquencies.

Redfin has a good retrospective on the top lasting impacts from the financial crisis. Probably the biggest surprise was that a leftist president presided over a huge jump in inequality. Given that Fed policy in the aftermath of the crisis was aimed at supporting asset prices, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The other big surprise was the complete drop off in housing construction despite a tight housing market. 10 years down the road, it is still a head-scratcher. Everyone has a theory about the driver, from gun-shy builders, to labor shortages, to zoning restrictions. The places where the demand is greatest (CA and Seattle) have tight restrictions on building, and such an expensive market that businesses are relocating somewhere cheaper. On the other side of the coin, the Rust Belt is growing again, and that area has a surfeit of housing already built.

Morning Report: Mortgage Credit Availability eases

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2792 4
Eurostoxx index 388.99 1.46
Oil (WTI) 65.94 -0.41
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are higher as we await the FOMC decision. Bonds and MBS are flat.

The FOMC decision is set to come out at 2:00 pm EST. Investors are going to probably focus most closely on the dot plot to get a sense of whether we get 1 or 2 more hikes this year. Generally speaking, the dot plots have been a bit more hawkish than the Fed Funds futures market.

Inflation appears to be picking up at the wholesale level (kind of echoes what we were seeing yesterday in the NFIB Small Business Optimism report). The Producer Price Index rose 0.5% MOM / 3.1% YOY, which was higher than expectations. Much of the pressure came from higher energy prices. Trade (which is a function of the dollar) was the other catalyst. Ex-food and energy, prices rose 0.1% MOM / 2.6% YOY. The Fed does pay attention to this number, however the PCE index is their preferred measure of inflation, and it is sitting close to their target.

Mortgage applications fell 2% last week. Both purchases and refis fell by the same amount.

Mortgage Credit Availability rose in May by 1.5% as a dwindling refi market is encouraging originators to widen the credit box. While the index has been steadily rising since 2011 when it was benchmarked it is nothing like the bubble, where credit was orders of magnitude tighter.

MCAI

The business press warns that liquidity is going to dry up during the next crisis. While Dodd-Frank claims to allow market making (and not proprietary trading), there is no doubt that banks are going to be completely uninterested in sticking their necks out during the next sell-off. Even worse will be ETF investors who think an exchange traded fund gives them a liquidity risk “free lunch”. (It isn’t like I am investing in junk bonds – I am investing in an ETF that invests in junk bonds – its different!) When the underlying assets of that ETF go no-bid, so will the ETF.

Ever wonder why servicing values in states like NY, NJ, and CT are so low? The foreclosure process can stretch out for years. In this case, the occupants made their last payment in June 2010.

Speaking of the Northeast, all real estate is local as they say. While the West Coast sees sales close in weeks, luxury properties languish for years in the Northeast. The tony NYC suburb of New Canaan, CT has banned “for sale” signs, because there are too many of them (although the excuse is that people shop on line). There is definitely a bifurcation line in the NYC suburbs – below $750k you can move the property, above that good luck. And $1.5 million or more, forget about it.

From the NAHB: rental inflation is moderating. Meanwhile, home equity hits a new high.