Morning Report: Trump’s tariff tweet send bond yields lower

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2941 -11.5
Oil (WTI) 55.51 1.04
10 year government bond yield 1.90%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.96%

 

Stocks are lower after yesterday’s Trump Trade Tweet. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Donald Trump sent bonds higher yesterday afternoon with this tweet saying that trade talks had broken down between the US and China, and he was therefore imposing an additional 10% tariff on $300 billion in goods from China. This sent stocks reeling, and the 10 year bond yield down about 10 basis points. MBS were slow to react, however we did have some reprices late in the day. If you look at the box scores above, you’ll see we finally have a 3 handle on the 30 year fixed rate mortgage. Commodities were also slammed, with oil down 8%.

 

The escalation in the tariff wars caused some strategists to bump up their probabilities of a September rate cut. Goldman’s Jan Hatzius sees a 70% chance of 25bps, 10% of 50, and 20% of no change at the FOMC meeting next month. This was mirrored in the Fed funds futures market, however the 50 basis point cut looks unlikely. They Sep futures are pricing in an 85% chance of another 25 bps. They were pricing in a 56% chance of a rate cut before the tweet came out.

 

Some of the rally in bonds yesterday was almost certainly due to convexity-related buying, which means hedge adjustment activity. This sort of buying is invariably violent and temporary, which means mortgage backed securities will probably lag the move for a day or two. That said, the path of least resistance for rates remains down, especially since overseas bond yields followed along. The German Bund now yields negative 48 basis points. In fact, their longest term bond – 29 years – is now negative. Think of it: tying your money up for 29 years to get…. absolutely nothing. This is the fixed-income equivalent of buying Salon.com stock at 1000x pageviews in 1999.

 

bund

 

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls up 164k (in line with expectations)
  • Unemployment rate 3.%
  • Average hourly earnings up 0.3% MOM / 3.2% YOY (better than expectations)
  • Labor force participation rate 63%
  • Employment / population ratio 60.7%

Overall a good report, and now stock bullish given the Fed’s new posture. Wage growth is picking up and average hourly earnings keep trending upward despite PCE inflation that is stuck in the high teens.

 

average hourly earnings

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Morning Report: Fed day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3017 5.5
Oil (WTI) 58.51 0.54
10 year government bond yield 2.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.07%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after good numbers from Apple. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The FOMC announcement is scheduled for 2:00 pm EST. A Bloomberg piece from Ex NY Fed President William Dudley was making the rounds yesterday, which poured cold water on the idea that the Fed is entering a new easing cycle.

“All told, the case for lowering rates is less compelling now than it was when the Federal Open Market Committee last met in June. This doesn’t necessarily mean that an interest-rate decrease this week would be a mistake. But it does mean that market participants — who are expecting a series of cuts over the next year or so — might be in for an unpleasant surprise, because the Fed’s future moves will be more dependent on incoming economic data than they think. There’s a good chance that, after this week’s meeting, the central bank will be “one and done.”

If Dudley is right, and Powell’s subsequent press conference confirms this, then the Fed Funds futures market is way over its skis with respect to further rate cuts this year. The December Fed Funds futures are handicapping a 88% chance of at least 50 basis points in rate cuts this year. If the Fed disappoints, that doesn’t necessarily mean that long-term rates would increase, since the US 10 year is highly influenced by overseas bond markets. But further rate cuts are already baked in the cake, and the market will be vulnerable to a statement and / or press conference that is insufficiently dovish. Not only that, don’t be surprised if one or two members dissent (in favor of no rate cut). Might want to think about locking before the 2:00 pm release.

 

fed funds futures

 

Mortgage Applications fell 1.4% last week as purchases decreased 3% and refis were down 0.1%. Purchase activity is up 6% from a year ago, however it has been stalling out. Refinance applications for conventional mortgages were up 1.1%, however a 3% drop in government (primarily VA) offset the gain. Conventional 30 year mortgage rates were unchanged at 4.04%.

 

The economy added 156,000 jobs in July, according to the ADP Employment Report. IT and mining fell, while most other buckets increased. The Street is looking for 164,000 nonfarm payrolls this Friday.

 

The employment cost index rose 0.6% in the second quarter. On a YOY basis, they rose 2.7% as wages and salaries rose 2.9% and benefit costs rose 2.3%.

Morning Report: The CFPB eyes the GSE patch

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3025 1.5
Oil (WTI) 53.61 0.14
10 year government bond yield 2.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.07%

 

Stocks are flattish as we head into FOMC week. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The FOMC begins its two day meeting on Tuesday, and is expected to cut rates by 25 basis points. We will also get the jobs report on Friday, so this should be a busy week.

 

While the Fed is ostensibly cutting rates to ward off a potential recession, the economic data has been surprisingly robust. Despite trade fears, GDP growth in the second quarter topped 2%, and earnings season has been robust. The “Powell Put” as it has been dubbed, is the expectation that rates are going down and that will support the stock market. That said, the global economy is slowing and that is pushing down interest rates. Note the German 10-year is again pushing negative 40 basis points, and the Chinese are having issues in their banking system. Meanwhile, the US consumer is alive and well as the biggest canary in the coal mine for the US consumer – UPS – reported a 14% increase in quarterly profit.

 

Last Thursday, the CFPB announced that it was willing to let the “GSE patch” expire in 2021. The GSE patch allows loans with DTI ratios above 43 to fit in the QM bucket if they are approved for sale to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. “The top line is the patch is going to expire,” [CFPB Director Kathy] Kraninger said in a meeting with reporters. “We are amenable to what a transition would look like.” The CFPB has put out a public request for comment on the new rules, and is working to ensure that there are no disruptions in the mortgage market. This is important given that 1/3 of the Fan and Fred loans have DTIs over 43%. It is possible that FHA will pick up the slack, however FHA has been tightening credit standards as well, requiring FICOs above 620 to go over 43%. Note that a quarter of FHA lending has DTI ratios over 50% (FHA permits up to 57%), but it is more likely that these loans will end up as securitized non-QM loans. There are still many issues to be resolved before the private label market returns to its former glory, but this may force those issues to finally get ironed out. This may be why the government considers this to be a key part of GSE reform – it will shrink the GSE’s footprint in the market, and also increase the credit quality of their loans.

 

The Trump Administration had indicated they wanted to get GSE reform done before the 2020 election, however that is looking like it won’t happen. Mark Calabria, head of the FHFA, think this is more likely to happen within the next 5 years. By far the biggest issue is whether the government will continue to guarantee MBS issued by the GSEs. The government guarantee was never explicit prior to the financial crisis, and the government floated a trial balloon during the crisis about not guaranteeing these securities. Bill Gross of PIMCO threatened to stop buying Fan and Fred MBS if the government did that and that was the end of that discussion. Note Bill had just loaded up the boat in his Total Return Fund with agency MBS and made a killing when the government formally guaranteed them, so he was talking his book so to speak.

 

Housing security is a big issue for seniors. With the end of defined benefit pension plans, most people are living on Social Security and savings. One proposal would allow seniors to use pretax earnings in their IRA or 401k plans to pay off mortgage debt without triggering taxes and penalties.

Morning Report: Foreign investment in US real estate falls

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2984 -0.5
Oil (WTI) 57.04 0.24
10 year government bond yield 2.07%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.09%

 

Stocks are flattish after erstwhile market darling Netflix stunk up the joint with lousy earnings. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

Initial Jobless Claims were flat at around 219k last week.

 

Negotiations continue over spending and the debt ceiling, which will probably be hit in September. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin cited “progress” in negotiations, and there is general agreement on the “top line” which includes spending increases from the previous year. That said, Republicans want some spending cuts elsewhere to offset the increase, and Democrats are against cuts. We’ll see if this goes to the mat (and another shutdown), but in the end, we’ll probably just raise the ceiling again and things will go on their merry way. Remember the last time we had a long shutdown, lenders were unable to get tax transcripts out of the IRS so it is something to keep in mind.

 

The Fed’s Beige Book of economic activity showed that the economy continued to expand at a “modest” pace, with slightly higher sales and flat manufacturing. Employment grew at a modest pace, and appears to be decelerating somewhat, especially as the slack in the labor market gets taken up. The Boston Fed noted that tariffs are having a negative effect, and at least one company is moving some production overseas to escape them. The proposed 5% tariff on Mexican goods was mentioned as a significant shock.

 

Canary in the coal mine for international asset markets, particularly China? International buyers of US residential real estate fell by 36% over the past year, following a 20% decrease in the prior year. China has been dealing with a real estate bubble for years, and prices are way out of whack compared to incomes – you can see just how bad it is here. This may explain some of the emerging weakness at the high end, especially in the big West Coast markets like San Francisco, Vancouver, and Seattle. The first step in any bursting bubble is a “buyer’s strike,” followed by rising inventory, and then finally a market-clearing event. We may be at the first stage right now.

 

Macroeconomically, a downturn in China means several things. First, they are going to try and export their way out of it, which means more trade tensions especially if they go the currency devaluation route. Second, it will mean a global growth slowdown, which will act as an anchor on global interest rates. Don’t worry about inflation, the world is awash in capacity. Finally, it could mean a return to a time like the 1990s, where the US was able to have its cake and eat it too, with fast growth but little to no inflation. I wonder if the Fed sees the same thing (after all central bankers do coordinate policy somewhat) and that is part of the reason why they are planning on easing when there is absolutely zero evidence the US is entering a recession.

Morning Report: Powell soothes US stock indices

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3002 6.5
Oil (WTI) 60.62 0.26
10 year government bond yield 2.08%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.08%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after Jerome Powell hinted strongly that the Fed would cut rates at the July meeting. The S&P 500 is at record levels and is flirting with the 3000 level. Bonds and MBS are down small.

 

Oil prices are rallying as tensions rise in the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian considers the Strait to be its territorial waters, and has been hassling warships going through the area for decades. The latest incident involves a British oil tanker. Persian Gulf tensions largely impact North Sea Brent prices more than West Texas Prices (which most of the US uses).

 

If the Fed is cutting rates, why aren’t yields going lower? Bond yields are higher across the board globally, with the German Bund yielding -26 basis points on hints that the ECB could launch further stimulus plans. The Bund yielded -38 bp last week, so perhaps US bond yields are simply following what international bonds are doing. Don’t forget, the last time the Fed Funds rate was in the 150 – 175 basis point range (May of 2018) the 10 year was about 2.9%. So, the Fed could cut rates 75 bp by the end of the year and we could see yields go nowhere. Look at the chart below, which plots the 10 year bond yield versus the Fed Funds rate:

 

10 year vs Fed Funds rate

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 209k last week, which was a touch below expectations. Regardless, the last time we were at similar levels was during the Vietnam War when we had a military draft.

 

Consumer prices rose 0.1% in June, according to the Consumer Price Index. The core CPI, which excludes food and energy rose 0.3%. On a YOY basis, the headline number rose 1.6% and the core index rose 2.1%. That said, the Fed prefers to use the PCE index, which shows inflation to be lower. The CPI overweights housing compared to the PCE, which is why it shows higher levels.

 

Jerome Powell’s Humphrey-Hawkins testimony dominated the headlines, but the FOMC minutes also confirmed his outlook.

Participants judged that uncertainties and downside risks surrounding the economic outlook had increased significantly over recent weeks. While they continued to view
a sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective as the most likely outcomes, many participants attached significant odds to scenarios with less favorable outcomes. Moreover, nearly all participants in their submissions to the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), had revised down their assessment of the appropriate path of the federal funds rate over the projection period that would be consistent with their modal economic outlook.

 

Separately, Larry Kudlow emphasized that Trump has no plans to fire Powell. The Fed’s independence from politics makes it highly unlikely he could do so in the first place, however Jimmy Carter did do it to G William Miller, kicking him upstairs to Treasury and hiring Paul Volcker to run the Fed.

 

The first hurricane of the 2019 Atlantic season looks like it will hit Louisiana.

Morning Report: Bonds rally on Jerome Powell’s prepared remarks

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2975 -6.5
Oil (WTI) 59.12 1.26
10 year government bond yield 2.05%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.06%

 

Stocks are lower as we await Jerome Powell’s Humphrey-Hawkins testimony. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Bonds were initially lower this morning, with the 10-year touching 2.10%. They rallied back after Powell’s prepared remarks were released. Here is the paragraph that probably caused it:

 

In our June meeting statement, we indicated that, in light of increased uncertainties about the economic outlook and muted inflation pressures, we would closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and would act as appropriate to sustain the expansion. Many FOMC participants saw that the case for a somewhat more accommodative monetary policy had strengthened. Since then, based on incoming data and other developments, it appears that uncertainties around trade tensions and concerns about the strength of the global economy continue to weigh on the U.S. economic outlook. Inflation pressures remain muted.

 

Powell is scheduled to testify at 10:00 am. Note that we will also get the minutes from the June meeting at 2:00 pm today. Given how jittery the bond market is, we could see some volatility.

 

The Fed Funds futures turned slightly more dovish with the July futures predicting roughly a 80% of a 25 basis point cut and a 20% chance of a 50 basis point cut. The most likely outcome by the end of the year is a 75 basis point cut. December Fed Funds futures probabilities:

 

fed funds futures

 

Mortgage applications fell 2.4% last week as purchases rose 2.3% and refis fell 6.5%. The average contract rate on a 30 year fixed rate mortgage fell 3 basis points to 4.04%. There is some seasonal noise from the July 4 holiday baked into the numbers. Separately, the MBA’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index rose by 0.2% in June. Conventional credit expanded, while government credit contracted slightly. Jumbo credit is the easiest it has ever been, at least since the series started in 2011.

 

The House passed legislation yesterday which clarifies which VA loans are eligible to be included in Ginnie Mae Securitizations. They also passed a bill which would lower the mortgage insurance premiums for first-time homebuyers who complete a housing counseling course.

 

 

 

 

Morning Report: Two new Fed nominees, weak payroll growth

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2986.25 6.4
Oil (WTI) 56.75 0.9
10 year government bond yield 1.96%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.06%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as we are approaching detente in the US-China trade spat. Bonds and MBS are higher.

 

Bonds are rallying globally, with the German Bund yield hitting a record low of -39 basis points. Ex-IMF Chair Christine Lagarde is in the running to replace Mario Draghi as the head of the ECB. She is considered to be more of a politician, so the markets are interpreting her nomination to be bond-bullish. US rates will be influenced by overseas bond markets, so that means lower rates here at least at the margin.

 

Christopher Waller and Judy Shelton are the latest Trump picks to join the Federal Reserve Board. Judy Shelton has been vocal in criticizing the Fed’s practice of paying interest on excess reserves, and has questioned the effectiveness of the current regime of floating exchange rates versus the gold standard and the gold exchange standards of yesteryear. While there is a 0% chance we go back to some sort of hard-asset backed currency, between the serial bubbles of the past 40 years and the hyper-inflation of the 1970s, the economic record of post-Bretton Woods era (basically from when Nixon closed the gold window) has been mixed.

 

Construction spending fell 0.8% MOM and 2.3% YOY in May. Residential construction continues to be an issue, falling 0.6% MOM and 11.2% YOY.

 

Manufacturing expanded in June, according to the ISM Manufacturing report. That said, it decelerated compared to May. Tariffs remain the largest concern. New Orders were flat, while employment and production increased.

 

Mortgage Applications were more or less flat last week, as purchases increased 1% and refis fell 1%. Mortgage rates were unchanged-to-slightly lower, depending on the product. We have left the tightening-driven doldrums of 2016-2018 and approaching more normal levels. Here is the MBA Mortgage Index going back 20 years to give some perspective:

 

MBA application index

 

Private payrolls increased by 102,000, according to the ADP Employment Report. This is the second weak-ish reading in a row. Jobs were created in education and health as well as professional and business, while the construction sector lost jobs. Note the Street is looking for 160,000 new payrolls in Friday’s jobs report. Separately, initial jobless claims fell to 221k last week. You can see the drop-off in hiring in the ADP chart below:

 

ADP report