Morning Report: Dovish FOMC minutes

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2835.25 -22.4
Oil (WTI) 60.47 -0.95
10 year government bond yield 2.36%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.41%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on trade fears and European elections. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The minutes from the April FOMC meeting were released yesterday, and the Fed continues to adjust its sails to the messages from the market. The bond market took the minutes to be dovish, and bond yields dropped after they were released. The quote that investors focused on:

 

“Members observed that a patient approach to determining future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate would likely remain appropriate for some
time, especially in an environment of moderate economic growth and muted inflation pressures, even if global economic and financial conditions continued to improve.”

 

That statement (even if global economic and financial conditions continued to improve) is an all-clear signal to the bond market that positive economic data is no longer a threat. Given the background of creeping Eurosclerosis and a trade dispute, the highs for interest rates are probably in, and strategists are already talking about an insurance rate cut.

 

Talk of a rate cut is probably premature however. The data just don’t support it, and with the jawboning out of the White House the Fed is going to resist cutting rates if only to prove they are independent. That said, the circumstances required to justify a rate hike are even more unlikely.

 

Troubles in the luxury end of the real estate market? Not so fast. McMansion builder Toll reported earnings yesterday that exceeded street expectations, and Toll CEO Doug Yearley noted that the Spring Selling Season, which had been a bit of a disappointment, has finally woken up. “We are encouraged by the improvement in demand as the quarter progressed.  FY 2019’s April contracts surpassed FY 2018’s April on both a gross and per-community basis.  Although the Spring selling season bloomed late, it built momentum.  We view this as a positive sign for the overall health of the new home market.”

 

Initial Jobless Claims ticked up to 215,000 last week, while the Markit purchasing managers’ index decreased in April.

 

New home sales ticked down in April, falling to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 673,000. That said, March’s numbers were revised upwards to 732,000. The median home price was more or less flat YOY at $326,400 and the inventory of 332,000 units represents a 5.9 month supply.

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Morning Report: 2018 GDP highest in 12 years.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2788 -6.75
Eurostoxx index 371.36 -1.22
Oil (WTI) 56.82 -0.13
10 year government bond yield 2.67%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.34%

 

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

 

Fourth quarter GDP came in at 2.6%, a deceleration from the third quarter reading of 3.4%, but much higher than many in the political economic punditry were predicting. Consumer spending rose 2.8%, while inflation rose 1.6%. Inflation fell from 1.8% in the third quarter. For 2019, GDP came in at 2.9%, the highest reading since 2006.

 

Initial Jobless Claims rose to 225,000 continuing a string of extremely low readings.

 

One of the most politically explosive issues these days concerns wage growth – why it seems to be so low and what can be done about it. Many will misinterpret cherry-picked numbers to make the claim that wages have not increased for 40 years, which is preposterous. That said, wage growth has been running in the high 2s, and with inflation around 2%, that equates to under 1% real wage growth. Modest, but certainly not what you would expect, especially this far into a recovery, especially with unemployment running below 4%. If the numbers don’t appear to comport with common sense, often times there is an issue with the numbers.  That seems to be the case here. It turns out that wage growth is quite a bit higher, and it is due to the measurement problems inherent in the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s calculations. The BLS basically adds up wages paid and divides it by hours worked. If higher paid older workers are exiting, and younger lower paid workers are entering it will depress the averages, and it won’t accurately measure the growth that someone who has stayed in the labor force for the entire year has seen. Take a look at the chart below, where the Fed imputed average wage growth from census data as opposed to the BLS. Wage inflation jumps from 3% to 5%, which makes a lot more sense given the current economic numbers.

 

average hourly earnings vs census

 

Toll Brothers reported an increase in pretax earnings and sales for the first quarter of 2019. Orders declined in a big way however, falling 24% in units and 31% in dollars, driven primarily by weakness in California. Home price appreciation has been moderating in the hotter markets, and it is especially pronounced in the luxury segment, where Toll resides. The cancellation rate jumped to 9.6% from 5.3% a year ago. Tax reform limited the mortgage interest deduction, and the luxury segment is most prominent in high tax states, so those two effects are squeezing demand.

 

Realtor.com predicts this year’s Spring Selling Season could be the weakest in years despite rising inventory. While lower rates have improved conditions compared to late 2018, we are still weaker than early 2018.

Morning Report: Toll disappoints and the government targets VA cash-outs

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2657 -42
Eurostoxx index 346.51 -7.2
Oil (WTI) 51.46 -1.45
10 year government bond yield 2.90%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.83%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as the global sell-off continues. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

While stocks are moving lower, the big news these days is the bond market rally. What appeared to be window-dressing last Friday (a sub 3% yield on the 10-year) has just kept going. A lot of market commentators have been scrambling to come up for a reason. Trade tensions make a convenient, if unsatisfying explanation. China and the US have reached an agreement to cool things off for 90 days, which should be good news. Economic data has been strong, and while we have had some slightly dovish comments out of the Fed, it is nothing dramatic. It feels like a major asset allocation trade out of equities into fixed income, but who or why is anyone’s guess. In other words, this could be just random noise, and therefore temporary. Note that 2s/10s (the difference in yield between the 10 year and the 2 year) got to single digits. Historically such behavior would signal a slowdown, but the Fed’s footprint in the Treasury market wasn’t so large before.

 

The business press is pushing out all sorts of “recession imminent?” articles, but if you read the ISM report on manufacturing, you will see nothing of the sort. New orders, production, and employment are all at historically very strong levels. The business press mirrors the mainstream media, and they are talking their ideological book a little.

 

In terms of MBS trading, they lagged the move big-time. On Tuesday, where yields touched 2.88% we saw only a couple of investors re-price for the better. So, all of those LOs who were running scenarios hoping to see an improvement were disappointed. TBAs did increase by 6 or 7 ticks, but the aggregators largely ignored it.

 

Construction spending fell 0.1% MOM in September, but was up almost 5% YOY. Residential construction fell 0.5% MOM and rose about 1.7% YOY. Lodging and office construction were up high / mid teens YOY, but resi (42% of total construction spending) continues to lag.

 

Speaking of resi construction, Toll Brothers reported a big drop in orders (down 13% in units / 15% in dollars). The cancellation rate jumped from 7.9% to 9.3%. Toll was one of the first builders to recover from the slowdown, making big bets on luxury urban apartments along with their traditional McMansion fare. California is the problem area, which  is being hit by higher prices, higher rates, diminished foreign demand and new tax treatment. The whole sector was smacked, with the homebuilder ETF down about 5%. The XHB is down about 25% from its mid January levels.

 

XHB chart

 

Mortgage applications rose 2% last week as purchase activity rose 1% and refis rose 6%. Mortgage rates dropped about 4 basis points.

 

The VA is taking a closer look at predatory behavior in VA lending. From the Federal Register on November 30:

“VA is concerned that certain lenders are exploiting cash-out refinancing as a loophole to the responsible refinancing Congress envisioned when enacting section 309 of the Act. VA recognizes there are certain advantages to a veteran who wants to obtain a cash-out refinance, and VA has no intention of unduly curtailing veterans’ access to the equity they have earned in their homes. Nevertheless, some lenders are pressuring veterans to increase artificially their home loan amounts when refinancing, without regard to the long-term costs to the veteran and without adequately advising the veteran of the veteran’s loss of home equity. In doing so, veterans are placed at a higher financial risk, and the lender avoids compliance with the more stringent requirements Congress mandated for less risky refinance loans. Essentially, the lender revives the period of subprime lending under a new name.”

The government has already dealt with the serial refinancings by adding new seasoning requirements for loans to be eligible for standard Ginnie MBS, but that was about protecting MBS investors. This is different. For many veterans, it may sound like a great deal to be able to lop 50 bucks off your monthly payment and maybe get to skip a month or two, but that 3.3% funding fee is expensive, even though you get to finance it. If you are doing a VA cash-out to refinance credit card debt, it amounts to an expensive debt consolidation loan, though the drop in your rate and the tax treatment does offset that a bit.

 

 

Morning Report: Inventory continues to fall, albeit at a slower pace

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2862 4
Eurostoxx index 384.93 1.7
Oil (WTI) 67.47 1.04
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.83%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.58%

Stocks are higher this morning as earnings season winds down. Bonds and MBS are down.

Same store sales rose 4.7% last week, which is indicative of a strong back-to-school shopping season. BTS is a good predictor of the holiday shopping season, which would support strong GDP growth for the rest of the year. Consumption is about 70% of US GDP. Current projections are looking at north of 3% growth for the year.

The Fed Funds futures are now handicapping a 96% chance of a Sep hike and a 63% chance of a Sep and Dec hike. Meanwhile, the yield curve continues to flatten.

Trump made some comments about Fed Chairman Jerome Powell at a fundraiser, saying that he expected him to be a “cheap money guy” and didn’t expect him to raise interest rates. He also tweeted that he is “getting no help” from the Fed. While publicly discussing monetary policy is not a normal thing for the President to do, wishing rates were lower is. The only politicians who want higher rates are the ones not in power. He also called the Europeans and the Chinese currency manipulators. Under any other President this would be big, but the dollar and the bond market largely ignored it. It  shows that markets are largely dismissing “Donald being Donald” communiques from the WH.

The YOY declines in inventory that have bedeviled the industry are beginning to moderate, at least according to Redfin. Inventory was down 5.8% in July, which is lower than the double-digit decreases we had been seeing. The median sales price rose 5.3%. Homes went under contract in 35 days, which is 3 days faster than a year ago. Activity is slowing in some of the hotter markets however, especially Washington DC. The inventory issue won’t be fixed until we get housing starts back to some semblance of normalcy, which means a few years of 2MM units before returning to historical averages of around 1.5MM.

inventory

Toll Brothers reported strong numbers this morning, which has sent the stock up 11%. Revenues were up 27% and deliveries were up 18%. Backlog rose 22% in dollars and 13% in units. They also bought back about $137 million worth of stock, which accounts for about 70% of earnings. Robert I. Toll, executive chairman, stated: “We believe there is room for continued growth in the new home market in the coming years. Household formations have been increasing and in many regions the aging housing stock may not satisfy the lifestyles of today’s buyers. Yet new home production has not kept pace with the growth in population and households. On the single-family side, housing starts, other than during the anemic years of this recovery, are at their lowest level since 1970. In addition, existing home values have increased, providing potential move-up and empty nester customers with more equity that they can put toward a new home purchase. We believe these two groups, along with the growing number of millennials starting to buy homes, are all sources of potential new demand in the coming years.”

I find it interesting that he talks about the low level of housing starts, while at the same time spending 70% of Toll’s net income on buybacks. Certainly the actions don’t seem to match the words.

Morning Report: Consumer Credit to hit $4 trillion this year

ital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2737 4.75
Eurostoxx index 396.69 0.82
Oil (WTI) 72.55 0.31
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.07%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.66%

Stocks are higher this morning as the trade rhetoric with China cools. Bonds and MBS are up.

China said overnight it would cut its tariff duties on automobiles from 25% to 15%.

Things are looking grim for the origination business, according to people at the MBA Secondary Conference in NYC. A combination of declining volumes and skinnier margins are pushing the smaller originators out of the market. Hard to see what changes things, although an increase in homebuilding would help.

McMansion builder Toll Brothers missed quarterly earnings estimates on higher costs, driven by building materials, land and labor. Gross margins contracted 150 basis points, while revenues increased 17%. The stock is down 7% this morning.

Economic activity accelerated slightly in April, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indices accounted for the majority of the index gain, followed by employment indices. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 different economic indicators.

Oil continues its strong run on the back of OPEC cuts and supply disruptions out of Venezuela and Iran. Oil is the highest it has been in almost 4 years. The ability to turn on incremental supply quickly and cheaply will help keep a lid on prices, although higher gas prices for the summer driving season are going to dampen sentiment.

JP Morgan might get bigger in FHA loans, according to statements made at the MBS Secondary Conference. Regulatory risk caused the bank to publicly state it was pulling back from that market. Regulatory reform is helping, but the bank says that further fixes will be needed. Chase does do FHA lending, but it is tiny.

The level of consumer debt in the economy has a lot of people talking. Consumer debt is probably going to hit $4 trillion by the end of 2018. Certainly the chart of consumer debt looks worrisome:

consumer credit

Increased student loan debt is a big driver of the increase. That said, does that mean consumers are in over their heads? Can they service that debt? Well, if you look at this chart, it doesn’t appear to be a problem:

debt service ratio

In other words, consumer debt is high, but the amount people are actually paying to service that debt is very low. Higher interest rates will move that debt service ratio up, but it is hard to make an argument that consumers are over-extended, at least by looking at that chart.

Freddie Mac is launching its Borrower of the Future Campaign to take a look at how the industry will have to address the younger homebuyer. “The increase in self-employed and the rise of the sharing economy and digitally-driven lifestyles are having a tremendous impact and leading to shifts in behavioral, economic and societal factors,” said Chris Boyle, Chief Client Officer at Freddie Mac. “Collectively, the industry must now take into account these dynamics as we think about how to effectively help the next generation find the home of their dreams. We’re excited to serve in this important role to help the industry better understand the Borrower of the Future, and then drive the conversation on how to apply these insights to make the mortgage process more efficient and affordable.”

Neel Kashkari discusses how the Fed has beaten the Phillips Curve. The Phillips Curve dates back to the 1950s, and plots a relationship between unemployment and inflation. Kashkari cites the 2009 interventions, which should have caused deflation, but didn’t. We have unemployment below 4% and still no signs of real inflation.