Morning Report: Holiday sales looking strong

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2945 -6.25
Oil (WTI) 53.63 0.84
10 year government bond yield 1.54%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.84%

 

Stocks are slightly lower on trade concerns and weak European data. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The upcoming week should be relatively quiet, with only inflation data and a slew of Fed-speak. Since increasing inflation is no longer front and center of the Fed’s concerns, the CPI and PPI should be non-events. We will also get the minutes from the September FOMC meeting on Wednesday.

 

Interesting stat on how long it takes to build a home in different geographic areas. The Mid-Atlantic region (which contains red-tape heavyweights like NY and NJ) is the longest at 10.5 months. The West Coast is right up there as well, at 9.9 months. The Southeast has the shortest timeline at 6.6 months.

 

new construction times

 

IPOs have been a treacherous investment over the past few years, as the venture capitalists and early entry investors have been reaping the rewards, at least for some of the biggest names (Uber, Lyft, Slack). We Work recently pulled its IPO as investors balked at the corporate governance issues and cash burn. While not all IPOs have been disasters, historically they have popped about 20% on the first day of trading. Not any more.

 

The National Retail Federation sees holiday sales at 3.8% – 4.2%, citing trade concerns over holiday spending. This is the low side of the holiday forecasts, which are coming in closer to 5%. The last 5 years have been around 3.7%, so the forecast is for something between “above average” and “great.” Since consumption is about 70% of the economy, we could be looking at better GDP numbers heading into the end of the year, which would put pressure on the Fed to slow down their pace of rate cuts.

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Morning Report: Reassuring jobs report.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2915 4.25
Oil (WTI) 52.60 0.14
10 year government bond yield 1.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.84%

 

Stocks are higher after the jobs report. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The economy added 136,000 jobs in September, versus Street expectations of 145,000. August’s number was revised upward by 38,000 to 168,000. The unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, which is the lowest in 50 years. The labor force participation rate was flat at 63.2% and the employment-population ratio ticked up to 61%. Average hourly earnings were flat on a MOM basis and up 2.9% YOY.

 

Overall, it confirmed that we are seeing a bit of a deceleration in the economy, although we are nowhere near a recession. The Fed Funds futures are handicapping a 75% chance of a 25 bp rate cut at the October meeting at the end of the month.

 

If the unemployment rate is at a 50 year low, we can pretty much dismiss the recession talk as the press generating alarmism to capture eyeballs, right? Not necessarily. We have had recessions in the past with unemployment rates this low. Take a look at the chart below. It plots the unemployment rate and the Fed funds rate. The vertical shaded areas are recessions. You can see that we hit 3.5% unemployment in 1969 and entered a recession soon thereafter. You can see the cause of that recession however in the Fed Funds rate, which went from 4% to 9% in the two years leading up to it. Similarly, we had a recession in 1973 – 75 even though unemployment was in the mid 4% range immediately prior. That one was caused by the Arab Oil Embargo. That said, you can see that most recessions are preceded by a tightening cycle out of the Fed, and that explains why the Fed is now cutting rates – they worry they might have overshot.

 

unemployment vs fed funds

 

As home prices increase, many homeowners are considering renovation loans (like 203k or HomeStyle) to increase the value of their house. What are the best renovations, in terms of return on investment? Hint: not a swimming pool. It is a new roof. What about kitchen renovations? Homeowners can expect to recoup about 50% – 60% of the cost in increased home value. Same with bathroom upgrades and master bedrooms. It turns out that mundane upgrades (wood flooring, insulation, roofing) provide more bang for the buck than the more dramatic ones.

 

 

Morning Report: The Fed cuts rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3007.75 0.25
Oil (WTI) 59.37 1.24
10 year government bond yield 1.77%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.00%

 

Stocks are flat after the Fed cut rates yesterday. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

As expected, the Fed cut rates 25 basis points amidst concerns about capital expenditures and investment. The decision was 7 to 3, with one dissenter (Bullard) who wanted a 50 basis point cut and two dissenters (George and Rosengren) preferring to maintain current policy. The economic projections were largely unchanged, with a few upward tweaks to 2019 and 2021 GDP estimates, and a slight change to unemployment. Inflation measures were unchanged. The Fed Funds estimates were revised downward anywhere from 25 – 37 basis points compared to the June dot plot.

 

Sep-June dot plot comparison

 

Powell was noncommittal on future moves: “There will come a time, I suspect, when we think we’ve done enough. But there may also come a time when the economy worsens and we would then have to cut more aggressively. We don’t know.” In other words, we are data-dependent. The German Bund has sold off a touch, with the yield moving from negative 70 basis points a couple of weeks ago to negative 50 basis points now. FWIW, the Bund seems to be leading the dance.

 

Bonds initially sold off on the move, with the 10 year rising 4 basis points to 1.8%. This morning, we are back down to where we started. The December Fed Funds futures are predicting a 14% chance of another 50 basis points in cuts, a 49% of a 25 bp cut and a 37% probability of no further changes. Trump weighed in on the cut as well tweeting: “A terrible communicator. Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve Fail Again. No ‘guts,’ no sense, no vision!”

 

The spike in overnight repo rates (which got as high as 10% at one point) has raised an interesting question: The overnight repo rate is supposed to be the index that replaces LIBOR. While the complaint about LIBOR was the presence of some jiggery-pokery by the big banks, is the the cure (an index that can spike 800 bps in a day) really better than the disease? Note this flows through the whole mortgage ecosystem, with MBS repo rates, ARM pricing, warehouse line pricing, etc. It might not yet be ready for prime time.

Morning Report: Oil market jitters and the Fed.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3000.5 -9.25
Oil (WTI) 60.57 5.44
10 year government bond yield 1.85%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.98%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after an attack on a Saudi Aramco oil facility sent oil prices up nearly 20%. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

A Saudi Aramco facility that represents about 5% of global oil output was attacked, which caused the biggest spike in oil prices since the 1991 Gulf War. Saudi Aramco estimates that it will take months to bring that capacity back on line. A Yemeni movement aligned with Iran is claiming responsibility for the attack. President Trump has announced that the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve could be used to mitigate the effect on oil prices, and the US stands “locked and loaded” to prevent future attacks. While Iran has denied responsibility, cruise missiles may have been involved in the attack, which means Iranian technology. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been enemies for years and have been fighting a war by proxy.

 

A spike in oil prices has the potential to be inflationary, however it would more likely depress growth since it would act as a tax. This will probably push the Fed to cut rates as opposed to raise them to fight potential inflation. US consumers will be somewhat insulated, since most of the country gets its supply from US West Texas Intermediate which is a US-only market. Consumers on the East Coast will feel an effect since they get their oil from the North Sea Brent market, and many in the Northeast rely on heating oil. Front month heating oil contracts are up 8% pre-open.

 

Aside from the issues in the energy space, the big even this week is the FOMC meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Sep fed funds futures have made quite the reversal over the past month, going from a 100% chance of a rate cut (the only uncertainty was over whether it would be 25 or 50 basis points) to a roughly 25% chance they do nothing and a 75% chance they cut by 25 basis points.

 

fed funds futures

 

The action in the Fed announcement Wednesday will undoubtedly be in the dot plot (which is the Fed Funds forecast) and the GDP forecast. A potential war in the Middle East has got to affect the numbers, and it will be interesting to see whether they bump up the inflation numbers and / or take down the GDP estimates. Regardless, political uncertainty tends to be negative for business, so I would expect to see more dovishness in the Fed Funds futures.

 

Last week was brutal for mortgage rates, as the average rate on the 30 year fixed rate mortgage rose 20 basis points last week. It probably represents a technical reaction to the massive rally we have seen in rates this year already. “These sorts of bad performances are most often seen in the wake of stellar performances,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “August was the best month for mortgage rates, and 2019 has been the best year since 2011. And that’s precisely why this terrible week is possible: It’s largely a technical correction to the feverish strength in August.” In other words, markets don’t go straight up and they don’t go straight down. Volatility begets volatility and you will see massive rallies in the context of a bear market and vice versa. Remember that volatility in rates is bad for MBS investors in general and that will flow through to rates.

Morning Report: Personal incomes rise

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2943 16.5
Oil (WTI) 56.33 -0.34
10 year government bond yield 1.51%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.77%

 

Stocks are up ahead of the 3 day weekend. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

No word yet from SIFMA regarding an early close, so assume the bond market is open all day.

 

Personal incomes rose 0.1% in July, which was a deceleration from the previous few months. June was revised upward from 0.4% to 0.5%. Disposable personal income rose 0.3%, and spending rose 0.6%, which came in above expectations. The core PCE index (the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) rose 0.2% MOM and 1.6% YOY, which is below their 2% target. The headline PCE rose 0.2% / 1.4%.

 

Consumer sentiment fell in August according to the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey.

 

Pending Home Sales fell 2.5% in July, according to NAR. “Super-low mortgage rates have not yet consistently pulled buyers back into the market,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Economic uncertainty is no doubt holding back some potential demand, but what is desperately needed is more supply of moderately priced homes.” Regionally, they declined 1.6% in the Northeast and fell 3.4% on the Left Coast.

 

As bond yields have fallen, mortgage rates have not kept up as investors have been sweating prepayment speeds in the MBS market. The biggest issues have been rate volatility, which negatively impacts mortgage backed security pricing, along with fears we are entering a new refinance cycle. Also, many mortgage bankers set their staffing levels for the year back in late 2018, when it looked like we were in a tightening cycle and volumes would be much lower. “Do not expect much, if any of a drop in mortgage rates in the coming weeks,” said Mitch Ohlbaum, president, Macoy Capital Partners in Los Angeles. “It’s not because they shouldn’t, it’s because the lenders are already beyond capacity with refinances and frankly do not want any more volume.” There is probably some truth to that, but that is fixable. The volatility in the Treasury market and convexity risk is killing MBS investors. The classic example of a MBS investor is Annaly, a mortgage REIT, which has gotten clocked this year and cut its dividend.

 

NLY chart

 

PIMCO is advising the Fed to “aggressively cut rates” given the recent economic data suggests a slowdown. Their point is that recent data is “understating” the extent of the slowdown. They raise the point that labor market momentum has decelerated more than forecasters were predicting. Of course, at 3.7% unemployment, we are pretty much at or close to full employment. Wages are generally a lagging indicator, but this morning’s personal income disappointment was partially driven by a decrease in asset income, which probably just reflects falling interest rates.

Morning Report: Adjustable rate mortgages becoming less attractive

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2875 19.5
Oil (WTI) 55.05 0.84
10 year government bond yield 1.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.84%

 

Stocks are higher after Trump toned down the rhetoric with China at the G7. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Both the US and China made statements intended to de-escalate the trade war, which is adding a spring in the step of the S&P futures. China supposedly wants to get back to “calm” negotiations, while Trump has mused over canceling the recent new tariffs. On Friday, Trump ordered US companies to start looking for alternatives to China, which he doesn’t really have the power to do. S&P futures sold off on Friday afternoon, and bond yields fell. That said, the market do seem to be adjusting to Trump thinking aloud on Twitter.

Durable Goods orders increased 2.1% in July, which was way more than expectations. Nondefense capital spending ex aircraft (which is a proxy for corporate capital expenditures) rose 0.4%, much higher than the decrease the Street was looking for. For all the handwringing in the business press over the state of the economy and trade, it isn’t showing up in the numbers, at least not yet.

 

The upcoming week looks to be relatively non-eventful, with only some meaningful data late in the week – the second revision to Q2 GDP on Thursday, and personal income / spending data on Friday. Another rate cut seems baked into the cake for September, so a strong number probably won’t have that big of an impact on markets.

 

The spread between adjustable-rate mortgages and fixed rate mortgages has been contracting as the yield curve has flattened. This is because the difference in long term rates and short term rates has fallen. Currently the difference between a 30 year fixed and a 5/1 ARM is about 55 basis points, whereas it was closer to 100 basis points during the post-bubble era. If you only plan on living in your home for 5 years or so, ARMs generally make sense, however if you can lock in your rate for 30 years at a similar rate to an ARM, it doesn’t make sense to go adjustable.

 

adjustable vs fixed.

 

Regulators are thinking about raising the threshold where homes require an appraisal, from 250,000 to 400,000. This would be the first increase in the threshold since 1994. About a year ago, the FDIC, OCC and Fed released a proposal which would make the change, and the FDIC just published the final rule.

 

SUMMARY: The OCC, Board, and FDIC (collectively, the agencies) are adopting a final rule to amend the agencies’ regulations requiring appraisals of real estate for certain transactions. The final rule increases the threshold level at or below which appraisals are not required for residential real estate transactions from $250,000 to $400,000. The final rule defines a residential real estate transaction as a real estate-related financial transaction that is secured by a single 1-to-4 family residential property. For residential real estate transactions exempted from the appraisal requirement as a result of the revised threshold, regulated institutions must obtain an evaluation of the real property collateral that is consistent with safe and sound banking practices.

 

 

Morning Report: New home sales fall.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2907 -14.5
Oil (WTI) 53.79 -1.64
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.86%

 

Stocks are lower as we await Jerome Powell’s speech in Jackson Hole. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Jerome Powell speaks at 10:00 am, while the markets are looking to see if the Fed trims its sails to what the Fed Funds futures are saying. Some at the Fed have been throwing cold water on the idea that we have entered an easing cycle, but in an era of negative sovereign yields worldwide the die is probably cast for lower rates regardless of what the Fed does.

 

New Home Sales fell to 635,000 from an upwardly-revised 728,000 in June. They are up over 4% from a year ago.

 

new home sales

 

The Conference Board Index of Leading Economic Indicators improved last month. “The US LEI increased in July, following back-to-back modest declines. Housing permits, unemployment insurance claims, stock prices and the Leading Credit Index were the major drivers of the improvement,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Senior Director of Economic Research at The Conference Board. “However, the manufacturing sector continues exhibiting signs of weakness and the yield spread was negative for a second consecutive month. While the LEI suggests the US economy will continue to expand in the second half of 2019, it is likely to do so at a moderate pace.”

 

Note that China imposed additional tariffs on $75 billion of US goods overnight. The tariffs would apply to soybeans, small aircraft, and crude oil.