Morning Report: The Fed is concerned about coronavirus

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3379 -6.25
Oil (WTI) 53.76 0.45
10 year government bond yield 1.54%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.69%

 

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

 

The FOMC minutes didn’t reveal anything too surprising. The central bank is concerned about coronavirus, and the situation “warranted close watching.” In his Humphrey Hawkins testimony, Jerome Powell said he wanted to see evidence that Chinese disruptions are having a material effect on the US economy that will last. China is idling factories and restricting travel, and companies are now seeing the downside of stretched supply chains. In addition they fretted about persistently low inflation and searched for reasons why it has consistently missed their 2% target to the downside. Basically the message is that if rates are going anywhere, it is down not up.

 

In other economic news, initial jobless claims came in at 210,000 and the Philadelphia Fed manufacturing survey surged to a robust level of 37.

 

Mortgage delinquencies are the lowest on record (going back to 2000).  The total 30 day + DQ rate came in at 3.22%, which was down 14% YOY and down 5% on a MOM basis. This is unusual given that DQs often spike early in the year as holiday spending gets the better of people.

Morning Report: Housing starts jump

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3376 6.25
Oil (WTI) 52.86 0.95
10 year government bond yield 1.58%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.69%

 

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

 

Mortgage applications fell 6.4% last week as purchases fell 3% and refinances fell 8%.

 

Housing starts rose 21% on a YOY basis to 1.57 million, according to the Census Bureau. Building Permits were up 18% YOY to 1.55 million. Housing may turn out to be the economic surprise of 2020, and if that is the case, GDP estimates are way too low. Check out the chart below, and note the highlighted jump in starts over the past two months. Remember we are just going to back to historical averages, which doesn’t take into account population growth.

 

housing starts

 

Speaking of homebuilding, the NAHB Housing Market Index slipped from record levels but is still historically very strong. Separately, Tri Pointe reported that orders grew 52%. Interestingly, they hiked their stock buyback. If the housing market is really that strong, why not invest in the business as opposed to buying back stock?

 

Producer prices rebounded in January after a soft December. The headline number rose 0.5% MOM versus expectations of 0.1%. On a YOY basis, inflation remains close to the Fed’s target rate.

 

The minutes from the January FOMC meeting will be released at 2:00 pm EST. They shouldn’t be market-moving, and the interest seems to be on the balance sheet side of things.

 

Lots of merger activity in the financial space. Asset manager Franklin Resources is buying Baltimore stalwart Legg Mason.

 

Lending Club, a fintech that makes personal loans, just bought a bank in order to gain access to a cheaper source of funds. “What a bank charter does for LendingClub is it allows us to take what is the leading digital loan provider online and combine it with a leading digital deposit gatherer,” Scott Sanborn, CEO of LendingClub, said Tuesday on CNBC. “It totally changes the earnings profile of this business.”

 

Speaking of mergers, Ally is buying CardWorks in a $2.65 billion deal. The street doesn’t like it as the stock is down 10% pre-open.

Morning Report: Fed Nominee Judy Shelton probably is done.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3384 6.25
Oil (WTI) 52.06 0.65
10 year government bond yield 1.60%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.68%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after some strong earnings reports out of the tech sector. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Retail Sales came in at 0.3% as expected.

 

It looks like Judy Shelton may not make it through the nomination process as the business press gangs up on her and a couple Republicans voice concerns. The issue with Shelton is that she hasn’t rejected the gold standard and she casts doubt that the conventional wisdom of central banking is correct. This may be unfortunate, as global central banks are prone to groupthink. Given the strength of the US economy (strongest labor market in 50 years) why would the Fed be increasing its balance sheet? I wouldn’t be surprises to see her withdraw her name over the long President’s Day weekend.

 

Inflows to bond funds could hit $1 trillion again in 2020. Investment dollars are flowing to high grade corporate bonds and Treasuries. This wall of money will keep a ceiling on bond yields, and should continue this process of rates slowly grinding lower throughout the year. Good news for the mortgage banking business.

 

The homeownership rate increased to 65.1% in Q4, the highest in six years. The millennial cohort rate increased by 1.1% to 37.6%. Note that the rental vacancy rate at 6.4% is the lowest in 34 years.

 

Fannie Mae reported net income of $14.2 billion in 2019. Under an agreement with Treasury, Fannie will be allowed to keep it as they build up their capital to eventually go for sale.

Morning Report: Two Fed nominees head to the Hill.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3362 -17.25
Oil (WTI) 51.26 0.05
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.68%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on coronavirus fears. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Consumer prices rose 0.1% MOM and 2.5% YOY in January, according to the CPI. Ex-food and energy, they rose 0.2% MOM and 2.3% YOY. The Fed doesn’t really pay too close of attention to the CPI, preferring the Personal Consumption Expenditures data. Regardless, inflation is not at a level to trigger any sort of rate hike.

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 205,000. The labor market continues to roll along.

 

The percentage of homes that sold above list price fell to a 3 year low in 2019, according to Zillow. On average, 19.5% of homes sold above list in 2019, while 21.5% did in 2018. This seems counter-intuitive given the supply / demand imbalance overall – NAR has existing home supply at roughly 3 months’ worth, well below 6.5 months, which is considered a balanced market. So what is going on? The real estate market is seasonal, and many people try and move during the summer months, which means home prices are negotiated in the late winter / spring. Early 2019 was marked by a continuing Fed tightening regime – we had multiple rate hikes in 2018 as the Fed wanted to get off the zero bound. This raised mortgage rates, which crimped affordability. The Fed only started easing in July, by which time the lion’s share of transactions are over. By the time mortgage rates fell meaningfully, 2019 was already in the books. 2020 should be a lot better, and judging by some of the comments from the builders, the spring selling season started early this year.

 

Jerome Powell’s Humprey-Hawkins testimony was largely uneventful, and today two of Trump’s Fed nominees head to the Senate for testimony. One of the nominees – Christopher Waller – is uncontroversial and should have no issues. The other one – Judy Shelton – has raised some eyebrows. Shelton has been critical of the Fed’s large balance sheet and its policy of paying interest on reserves. The policy of paying interest on excess reserves restricts credit needlessly, as she characterizes it as “paying banks to do nothing.” She is quite dovish and there are questions over whether she supports the gold standard, which is akin to pitching the idea of bloodletting to the AMA.

 

While we generally take for granted the idea that the Fed will maintain a larger balance sheet, this chart really puts into perspective how much things have changed. Pre-crisis the Fed had roughly $800 billion in assets. Now it is around $4.3 trillion. Has equity gone up 5x? um, no.

 

Fed assets

 

Credit rating agency Fitch is cautioning the CFPB from removing debt-to-income as a measure of a borrower’s ability to pay. The CFPB is considering using a measure like the difference between the borrower’s rate and the normal “market” rate, however Fitch thinks it is incomplete:

“Spread to APOR is a good measure of default risk. However, many factors can affect the price of a loan, some of which may have little to do with the borrower’s repayment capacity; these include liquidity, market movements, or attributes that present a low risk of loss to the lender, for example, a low loan-to-value. Aggressive lending programs could result in borrowers having a low APR but a high DTI and LTV where they cannot afford the loan but the risk of loss to the lender is low.”

 

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: The Fed is sanguine on the economy

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3322 -3.25
Oil (WTI) 50.11 -0.32
10 year government bond yield 1.56%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.66%

 

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

 

The upcoming week will be date-light, however we will have a lot of Fed-speak. Jerome Powell will be delivering his semi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins testimony on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday. In terms of economic data, we will get CPI, retail sales and industrial production this week. None of these should be market-movers. The 10 year will be driven mainly by the global risk on / risk off trade which will be led by China.

 

The Fed said that downside risks to the US economy have diminished over the past few months, although Coronavirus remains a threat. Remember, recoveries don’t die of old age – they are either murdered by the Fed or are ended by some external event. “Downside risks to the U.S. outlook seem to have receded in the latter part of the year, as the conflicts over trade policy diminished somewhat, economic growth abroad showed signs of stabilizing, and financial conditions eased. The likelihood of a recession occurring over the next year has fallen noticeably in recent months.”

 

The Atlanta Fed has Q1 growth coming in at 2.7%.

 

Mortgage credit availability dipped in January, according to the MBA. “Mortgage credit availability was mostly unchanged to start 2020, decreasing 0.2 percent in January,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Similar to December of 2019, the decline came from the reduction of low credit score, high-LTV programs. Furthermore, there continues to be movement with both adds and drops in the government program space, with the net result last month showing small growth in the government index. Although credit supply has flattened these last two years, the meaningful increase seen overall since the Great Recession has been helpful to the growing share of first-time homebuyers, as well as refinance borrowers looking to act on lower mortgage rates. Ongoing housing supply constraints in the lower-price range continues to hold prospective buyers back the most.”

 

Interesting article in American Banker: Big banks lost money on mortgages in 2018. “Large banks withstood an average loss of $4,803 for every retail mortgage originated in 2018 (compared with a net profit of $376 per loan for independent mortgage bankers). Appetite for these kinds of losses is increasing.” Why were they doing this business? It is all about the MSR. And unfortunately for holders of servicing, rates have been going down, not up which is a negative for servicing assets. As rates have fallen, banks have had to reach for yield, which generally means taking more risk. I know that 2018 data is far in the rear view mirror,  but that is an incredible number.

 

 

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