Morning Report: The Trump Administration pushes for lower rates.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2893 -2.75
Eurostoxx index 388.4 0.22
Oil (WTI) 63.35 0.27
10 year government bond yield 2.50%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.17%

 

Stocks are flattish this morning as the Trump Administration and China get closer to a trade deal. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

This week will be relatively data-light, although we will get inflation data on Wednesday and Thursday. Fed Head Jerome Powell will speak to Democrats at their annual retreat. I doubt there will be anything market-moving in Powell’s speech, but you never know.

 

Lennar is making a big bet on entry-level homebuyers, launching new communities with prices in the mid $100,000s. The homes range from 1200 – 2200 square feet and are on 40 foot lots. Prices range from $162,000 – $200,000.

 

Former Kansas City Fed Chief and restaurateur Herman Cain is currently being vetted by the Trump Administration for a Fed post. He has some allegations of sexual misconduct, and so far most Republicans are in wait and see mode during the process. Over the weekend, Larry Kudlow and Mick Mulvaney stressed that the two nominations were “on track.”

 

Donald Trump said the economy would “take off like a rocket ship” if the Fed cut rates. He also criticized the “quantitative tightening” – i.e. reducing the Fed’s balance sheet. His feelings about monetary policy are natural – there isn’t a politician alive who doesn’t prefer lower rates to higher rates, but his constant criticism is something new. That said, there is a partisan bent to monetary policy. Republicans fret about monetary policy being too loose when Democrats are in charge, and Democrats are less dovish when Republicans are in charge. Both sides want the economy to be weak when their rivals are in charge.

 

Did the Fed overshoot? It is hard to say, since this was really one of the first times the Fed started tightening without a real inflation problem. The point of tightening was advertised as a preventative move to prevent inflationary pressures from building, but the real reason was to get off the zero bound. 0% interest rates are an emergency measure, and emergency measures aren’t meant to be permanent. Interest rates at the zero bound also cause all sorts of distortions in the markets, and build risks into the system. Given that the economy was strengthening, the Fed took advantage of the opportunity to get back closer to normalcy. Would the economy be faster if the Fed wasn’t tightening? Probably. However some of that is going to be determined by global growth, and Europe is not doing well.

 

Monetary policy acts with about a year’s lag, so the June, September, and December hikes from last year still have yet to be felt. Nobody is predicting a recession, but the 2018 hikes are going to sap growth a little this year. I would be surprised if it slowed down the economy enough to prod the Fed to cut rates. Note that the NY Fed raised its Q2 growth estimate to 2% from 1.6%.

 

Finally, even if the Fed raises rates, overall long-term interest rates can stay low for a long, long time. Interest rates went below 4% during the Hoover Administration and didn’t get back above that level until the Kennedy Administration. So, it could be a long time before we ever see a 4% 10 year yield.

 

100 years of interest rates

 

 

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: Final estimate for fourth quarter GDP

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2811.75 1.25
Eurostoxx index 375.78 -1.45
Oil (WTI) 59.49 -0.45
10 year government bond yield 2.38%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.08%

 

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

 

Fourth quarter GDP was revised downward to 2.2% in the third and final estimate. Inflation came in at 1.5%. This is more ammo for the Fed to possibly cut rates this year.

 

GDP

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 211k last week. Despite the slowdown in economic activity, employers are hanging on to their workers. Speaking of labor, McDonalds will no longer lobby against minimum wage hikes. It probably is safe for McDonalds – their franchisees bear the brunt of labor costs not corporate. At any rate, I’m not sure that Republicans really need a lobbyist to tell them to oppose minimum wage hikes, but companies seem more interested in placating the social justice mob these days than delivering shareholder returns.

 

Facebook has been charged with housing discrimination based on algorithms that target housing-related ads. “Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement announcing the charges of violating the Fair Housing Act. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

 

The White House has released a memorandum on housing reform. There were no discernible policy changes in it – the government would like to decrease the GSE’s footprint in the mortgage market while maintain the 30 year fixed rate mortgage and affordable housing goals. They did mention the goal of getting more banks doing FHA loans, although the capital treatment of servicing rights probably makes that tough. Fannie Mae stock liked the release, rallying 9%.

 

The Washington Post has run something like 4 anti Steven Moore editorials in the past few days. The economics establishment really doesn’t like the nomination. Don’t forget one thing, though. While it is generally not a good thing when politicians criticize monetary policy (and Trump / Moore were pretty outspoken about it), the action in the Fed Funds futures and the change in the dot plot shows they were right.

Morning Report: Sea change in market expectations

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2815.75 -7.25
Eurostoxx index 375.78 -1.45
Oil (WTI) 59.49 -0.45
10 year government bond yield 2.38%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.08%

 

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

 

Independent mortgage banks reported a loss of $200 per loan on average in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to the MBA. This is a drop from the $480 per loan they earned in the third quarter. This works out to be about an 11 basis point production loss per loan. In the fourth quarter of 2017, independent mortgage banks earned 20 basis points. This 11 basis point loss is the lowest since the MBA began keeping tabs on this about 10 years ago. Declining secondary marketing income was met with increasing production costs. The first quarter this year probably looks just as bad, and servicing portfolios are going to be taking a mark-to-market hit as interest rates have unexpectedly fallen. Many banks use their MSR portfolio as a natural hedge for their core business, but there will be a lag so Q1 looks to be similar to Q4.

 

That said, we did see a spike in applications last week, as they rose 8.9%. Purchases rose 6% and refis rose 12% as rates fell.

 

Donald Trump’s nominee to the Federal Reserve Board Steve Moore has called for the Fed to cut rates 50 basis points immediately. He came under criticism (and apologized) for calling for Jerome Powell’s resignation after the Fed hiked rates again in December. FWIW, left econ is pretty bent out of shape over his nomination (the Washington Post penned 2 editorials against him yesterday), mainly for his support of tax cuts, deregulation, and free markets. In an interview with the New York Times, he said “I was really angry” about the December increase, Mr. Moore said. “I was furious — and Trump was furious, too. I just thought that the December rate increase was inexplicable. Commodity prices were already falling dramatically.” Remember Trump criticized the cuts (and was beaten about the head and shoulders in the business press over it). That said, back in December, the markets thought the Fed would raise rates twice this year. They are now predicting at least 1 cut this year. Take a look at what the Fed Funds futures are saying below. Just one month ago, the market was assigning a 81% chance that the Fed would do nothing this year. Now, there is roughly a 75% chance of at least one rate cut. The swing in sentiment is pretty dramatic.

 

fed funds futures dec 19

 

Note that the yield curve has inverted, although that is mainly due to the high 3 month rate. 2s – 10s is still positive.

 

While we have seen a marked deceleration in home price appreciation according to Case-Shiller, the FHFA House Price index still shows decent growth. It increased 5.6% annually in January.  Since the FHFA index only looks at homes with conforming mortgage, it ignores the jumbo space, and that is where we are really seeing the weakness in home prices. Regionally, the West and Mountain states have really slowed down, and the lagging markets in the Mid Atlantic area (especially the NYC area) are finally showing signs of life. You can see the dispersion between 2017 (blue) and 2018 (red) has really decreased as the correlation tightens.

 

FHFA regional

Morning Report: Weak housing starts number

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2821.25 14.5
Eurostoxx index 376.34 2.01
Oil (WTI) 59.65 0.83
10 year government bond yield 2.45%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.08%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on overseas strength. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Lots of housing data to chew through. Let’s start with existing home sales, which increased 11.8%, according to NAR. While this month-over-month print of 5.51 million sounds impressive, we are still down on a YOY basis. Lower rates are helping, and we are beginning this season with a little more inventory to work with. We had 1.63 existing homes for sale, which represents a 3.6 month supply. A balanced market needs something like 6 months. Prices are still rising – the median house price rose by 3.6% – but the rate of appreciation has slowed. The median home price came in at $249,500, and that puts the median house price to median income ratio just over 4. Historically that is a high number, but lower interest rates help the affordability issue. The first time homebuyer represented 32% of home sales, an increase from last year but still below the historical average of around 40%.

 

Housing starts fell 8.7% to 1.16 million, a disappointing number. We saw a huge decrease in single family construction – from an annualized pace of 970k to 805k. Last February, the number was 900k so this is a big drop. One note of caution – the margin for error on these numbers is huge (around 17%), so there is a good chance this gets revised upward in subsequent releases. Building permits were a little better – falling only 2% to 1.3 million. Housing construction has largely been absent from this recovery, and could provide a huge boost to the economy if it ever gets back to normalcy (around 1.5 million units a year).

 

housing starts

 

More evidence that home price appreciation is slowing: the Case-Shiller home price index rose 4.3% in January, the slowest pace since 2015. In general, 2018 was a year to forget for the mortgage industry as rates rose 100 basis points. They have now given back most of those gains, so perhaps 2019 will be a bit brighter, although if you have been counting on MSR unrealized gains to paper over weakness in lending, the Q1 mark is going to be harsh.

 

The economy seems to be slowing, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. It edged downward to -.29 in February, and the 3 month moving average is negative as well. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 different economic indicators, of which many are leading as well as lagging. While it is too early to start declaring 2019 a slow-growth year, the first quarter is looking weak.

 

The FHA is backing away from a 2016 decision to loosen credit – it is now tightening standards and flagging more loans as “high risk.” The biggest effect will be for the first time homebuyer, and FHA estimates that 40,000 loans or so might be affected. At the heart of the issue is a 2016 decision to no longer require a manual underwrite for FHA loans with FICOs below 620 and DTIs above 43. FHA was largely a backwater pre-crisis, and most of these types of loans were subprime. As the subprime market disappeared, FHA stepped in to fill the void. Home Ready and Home Possible have emerged as low downpayment competitors, and FHA has suffered from negative selection bias. While FHA permits very low credit scores, most lenders don’t go as low as FHA permits in the first place.

 

Trump nominates free-marketer Steven Moore to the Federal Reserve Board and Paul Krugman isn’t taking it well. For a little economics inside-baseball, this resembles the Spacely Sprockets / Cogswell Cogs rivalry in the economics profession. Since most of the free-market caucus comes from the University of Chicago, they are called “fresh water economists” and Krugman comes from Ivy / Coastal academia (Princeton) so his school is called “salt water” economists. In terms of ideological bent, the fresh water economists are much more non-interventionist than the salt water economists, who support direct government intervention in the markets and economy. Steven Moore is a true believer in the free market approach, and to be honest, most of the Fed and academia are not. A little diversity of opinion is not a bad thing….

 

 

Morning Report: The Fed catches up with the markets

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2817 -10
Eurostoxx index 380.22 -0.62
Oil (WTI) 60.12 1.09
10 year government bond yield 2.51%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.22%

 

Stocks are lower after the Fed cut interest rates. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

As expected, the Fed maintained the Fed Funds rate at current levels and took down their forecast for the end of year. The December dot plot showed a central tendency in the 2.72% (using the lower bound of the range) and the March plot showed a central tendency of 2.37%. The forecast for 2019 GDP was lowered from 2.3% to 2.1%, while the unemployment rate was increased from 3.5% to 3.7%. PCE inflation was more or less unchanged at 2%.  The Fed Funds futures increased their probability of a 2019 rate cut from about 25% to about 40%.

 

dot plot

 

The Fed also tweaked their balance sheet runoff plan, increasing the amount they reinvest each month by $15 billion. This only affects Treasuries – MBS will continue to run off.

 

Stocks initially rallied on the Fed announcement, but then sold off on fears the Fed sees something the markets don’t. Bonds rallied on the Fed announcement, with the 10 year yield falling to 2.53%. MBS were slow to follow, but we did see some reprices towards the end of the day. With rates even lower this morning, expect to see a big move down in mortgage rates. FWIW, Fannie Mae has taken down their prediction for the 30 year fixed rate mortgage from 4.8% to 4.4%.

 

What does some of this mean for mortgage bankers? 2019 won’t necessarily be as bad as people feared for origination, and if you have been aggressively marking your servicing portfolio in order to paper over a price war, you might have a problem.

 

Banks that refocused their mortgage lending towards high-end buyers in the aftermath of the financial crisis are seeing the winds shift. Jumbo origination has been falling as prices at the high end have been peaking out and tax reform has limited the value of the mortgage interest deduction. Many non-banks focused on the first time and moderate income buyer. Many banks were offering amazing jumbo terms, presumably in an attempt to cross sell the more lucrative asset management business.

 

 

Morning Report: Fed decision day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2851 -1.25
Eurostoxx index 382.92 2.82
Oil (WTI) 58.48 0.39
10 year government bond yield 2.60%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.27%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as we begin the FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC decision is set to be announced at 2:00 pm EST. Be careful locking around that time. They aren’t going to raise interest rates, but the focus will be on the dot plot and their interest rate forecast for 2019. There will also be interest in the size of the balance sheet, but it won’t be market moving.

 

The stock market has been rallying on hopes that the Fed will be taking 2019 off. Note that FedEx reported disappointing numbers, which is a canary in the coal mine for the global economy. The stock and bond markets have been sending different signals about the economy, with the stock market rising (signalling strength) and interest rates falling (signalling weakness). Part of this has been due to global growth concerns – especially in Europe and China. Global weakness doesn’t necessarily translate into a recession for the US, but it is a reach to think it won’t affect us at all.

 

Mortgage Applications rose 1.6% last week as purchases rose 0.3% and refis increased 4%. Mortgage rates drifted lower and are at the cheapest in a year.

 

The NAHB / Wells Fargo Housing Market Index was flat at 62 as we kick off the Spring Selling Season. Sales ticked up, but traffic is way down. Overall, the new home sales market is similar to where we left off in fall. We will get a read on existing home sales this Friday. We are seeing some evidence of cooling in housing markets, especially in the Northeast. According to the Redfin competitive numbers, places like Greenwich CT are at 9 on a scale of 1 – 100. Even erstwhile hot markets like San Diego have been cooling. The heat is in the laggard markets, with places like Harrisburg PA and Indianapolis doing very well.

 

greenwich

Indianapolis