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.

 

 

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Morning Report: Why we aren’t headed for a recession

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2874 24.5
Oil (WTI) 54.62 -0.14
10 year government bond yield 1.55%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.78%

 

Stocks are higher on no real news this morning. There is a risk-on feel to the tape after a tumultuous week. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

Housing starts disappointed (again!) coming in at 1.19 million, lower than the 1.26MM street estimate. This is down 4% on a MOM basis, and up about 0.6% on a YOY basis. On the bright side, building permits surprised to the upside, coming in at 1.34 million versus the 1.27 million street estimate. Still, new home construction remains depressed due to labor shortages and lack of buildable lots.

 

Despite these issues, homebuilders remain optimistic. The NAHB / Wells Fargo Builder Sentiment Index rose in August to 66. Current sales conditions improved, while expectations for the next six months moderated. “While 30-year mortgage rates have dropped from 4.1 percent down to 3.6 percent during the past four months, we have not seen an equivalent higher pace of building activity because the rate declines occurred due to economic uncertainty stemming largely from growing trade concerns,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Although affordability headwinds remain a challenge, demand is good and growing at lower price points and for smaller homes.” Interesting about the tariff issue – building materials prices are down quite substantially. If tariffs were really that big of a deal, you would expect to see shortages and increases. We aren’t.

 

Given all the chatter about the yield curve and a possible recession, it is worthwhile to step back and take a look at the facts on the ground. The business press is awash with stories about the yield curve and how it is possibly signalling a recession. Quick explanation: the yield curve shows interest rates along the spread of maturities, and short term rates are usually lower than long term rates. However, we are flirting with a situation where long term rates are lower than short term rates. That is a yield curve inversion, and historically a yield curve inversion has been a decent (but not perfect) predictor of an imminent recession. The reason for this is that it implies that businesses are taking less risk, which means they must see something wrong in the economy.

 

The problem with the inverted yield curve model is that it gives off a lot of false positives – an old market saw is that an inverted yield curve has predicted “15 of the last 10 recessions.” Many times an inverted yield curve is the result of technical issues in the bond markets, which are temporary and don’t really spill through to the overall economy. This current period is probably one of those cases, and the technical issue is central bank behavior. The Fed, ECB, Bank of Japan have been pushing down long term rates in order to stimulate the economy for years, and now we have negative interest rates in much of the world. Negative interest rates in Germany and Japan (two huge bond markets) are pulling down US bond yields as overseas investors sell government debt that pays less than nothing (German Bunds and Japanese Government bonds) to buy government debt that does pay something (US Treasuries).

 

The business press is emphasizing the Trump / tariff / recession angle here because (1) it is a much simpler story to tell, (2) the partisans get to blame it on Trump, and (3) many strategists reluctant to stick their necks out and discuss the implications of negative rates worldwide – this is a completely new phenomenon and quite simply people don’t know.  We have a bubble in sovereign debt that has been engineered by global central banks – and unlike stock and real estate bubbles, we don’t have any historically similar periods to review. We know that bubbles end eventually, but when and how this resolves is anyone’s guess.

 

That said, what is the current economic state of play? Europe is doing its same-old Euro-sclerosis thing, which it has been doing for decades. Germany had a slightly negative GDP quarter and most of the Eurozone is slowing down in sympathy. Japan has been in the throes of a sclerotic economy since the New Kids on the Block ruled the charts. China is also tempering its growth. On the other side of the coin, the US has the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, initial jobless claims are the lowest since we had a military draft, wages are rising, inflation is under control, and the consumer is increasing spending. This simply is not a recipe for a recession. And to take this a step further, tariff income has been about $60 billion since they have been implemented. In the context of a $21 trillion economy, this is insignificant – about 1/3 of 1%. It is a humorous state of affairs with partisan talking heads accusing Trump of destroying the economy over small-beer tariffs, while Trump accuses partisan journalists of sabotaging the economy with negative stories – as if the press had the power to do that.

 

Here is the big picture: The US economy has been strong enough to withstand a tightening cycle from the Fed, and has had 2.6% GDP growth in the immediate aftermath of a tightening cycle. Inflation is low, and is probably going to go lower as Europe and China begin exporting deflation to the US. Oh, and by the way the Fed is now cutting interest rates, which is the equivalent of giving a can of Red Bull to your kid at 9:00 pm on Halloween night. Don’t buy the recession narrative. None of the required pieces are in place.

Morning Report: 30 year treasury yield near a record low

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2871 -14.5
Oil (WTI) 54.49 -0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.69%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.85%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after the Argentinian markets blew up overnight and the Hong Kong airport remains occupied by protesters. Bonds and MBS reversed their rally and are down after the Trump Administration announced they would delay the tariff increases on Chinese goods until mid-December. They were scheduled to take effect September 1.

 

The German Bund yield has hit a record low at negative 61 basis points. While the 10 year bond yield is still some 30 basis points from a record, the 30 year bond is getting close at a yield of 2.13%. Note that with the 10 year yield of 1.63% is lower than the dividend yield of the S&P 500.

 

30 year bond yield

 

Some economic data this morning: the consumer price index rose 0.2% MOM / 1.8% YOY, which was a touch higher than the Street forecast. Ex-food and energy, it rose 0.3% / 2.2%. The CPI remains pretty much where the Fed wants it, and is not going to be the driver of Fed policy, at least in the near term. Like it or not, the Fed is watching the markets and following them even if the signal-to-noise ratio is heavily distorted.

 

Small Business Optimism continued to increase as the index improved in July. Despite all of the handwringing in the business press over growth small business continues to grow and invest. Biggest headwind? Labor. The top concern of business was finding quality labor at 26%, which is a record. 57% reported capital expenditures, which means they have enough confidence to invest in infrastructure to grow their businesses. Only 3% of businesses reported not having their credit needs met, which is close to historical lows and kind of begs the question of what the Fed hopes to accomplish with lowering rates.

 

Mortgage delinquency rates continued to fall, hitting 20 year lows for most of the country. 30 day DQs fell to 3.6% and the foreclosure rate fell to 0.4%. The only areas with elevated DQ rates are in the Midwest and Southeast and are the result of flooding.

 

delinquencies

 

Fitch is out saying that GSE reform will probably not result in near-term downgrades.

Morning Report: 10 yield hits a 3 year low.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2886 -44.5
Oil (WTI) 54.43 -.84
10 year government bond yield 1.77%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.91%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on more trade war fears. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Bond yields worldwide are down this morning, and many traders are watching the yuan / dollar exchange rate. Weakening the yuan is one of the arrows in China’s quiver to combat tariffs. A weaker yuan will make Chinese imports cheaper, which can offset the effect of tariffs. Globally, we see the German Bund with a negative 50 basis point handle, and the Japanese government bond pushing negative 20 basis points. If this continues, I think we are looking at another 25 basis point cut in September.

 

Trump tweeted about the yuan exchange rate this morning and called it “currency manipulation.” This is not an idle term – Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has resisted calling China a currency manipulator, because it is a weighty accusation. Trump also asked if the Fed was “listening.” The Fed is not in the currency business – that is Treasury’s job – but he is putting additional pressure on the Fed to cut rates. If there is a silver lining in all this, it is that it means lower rates and that is good for the mortgage market. It also looks like some of the more expensive real estate markets on the West Coast are re-thinking their zoning laws, which could add some much-needed supply.

 

The week after the jobs report is invariably data-light, and this week is no exception. The biggest reports will be job openings on Tuesday and producer prices on Friday. Since we are no longer in a tightening cycle, the inflation data will not be a market mover. Note that the disappointing construction spending number is pulling down Q3 GDP estimates to the 1.6% – 1.9% range.

 

 

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

Morning Report: Blowout GDP number

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2842 2
Eurostoxx index 391.88 1.35
Oil (WTI) 69.55 -0.1
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.95%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are up this morning after blowout earnings from Amazon and a strong GDP report. Bonds and MBS are up.

Second quarter GDP came in at 4.1%, a big jump from the first quarter, and the highest print in 4 years. Q1 was revised upward to 2.2% from 2.0%. The inflation numbers were good as well. Q2 inflation came in at 1.8% which was a decrease from the 2.5% pace in Q1. Ex-food and energy, prices increased 2%. Consumption increased 4%, while investment increased 2.1%. Capital Expenditures increased strongly, while residential construction fell. Inventories fell, which dismisses the talking point that Q2 was artificially boosted by inventory build ahead of a trade war.

GDP

Note that international trade was a big boost to GDP numbers. While economists talk about trade wars negatively affecting growth, remember that GDP includes the net trade balance. So if imports fall in response to tariffs, that will actually increase GDP. Does that mean you can goose growth via trade spats? No, but trade wars that reduce the trade deficit will bump up the GDP numbers, which is largely an accounting question.

In the wake of the GDP report, the Fed funds futures are predicting a 90% chance of a Sep hike and a 68% chance of a Sep and Dec hike.

Freddie Mac reported that delinquencies fell in June and they are back to pre-hurricane levels.

Foreign demand for US residential property fell in 21% Q1, according to NAR. Foreign buyers accounted for 8% of existing home sales, a drop from 10% in the previous period. While a drop in foreign buying will help alleviate the supply / demand imbalance in the US resi market, new construction is really needed to square the circle, and judging by the GDP numbers, that still isn’t happening.

Morning Report: Spending / Incomes up, PCE inflation at target

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2679 7.6
Eurostoxx index 385.1 0.46
Oil (WTI) 67.48 -0.62
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

Stocks are higher after a slew of new mergers were announced. Bonds and MBS are up small.

We have a big week ahead with the FOMC meeting starting tomorrow and the jobs report on Friday. The Street isn’t looking for any changes in interest rates at the May meeting, but will focus as usual on the language of the statement. For the jobs report, the expectation is 190k new payrolls and 2.7% annual wage inflation.

Pending Home Sales were up marginally from February, but were still down on an annual basis, according to NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index. Bad weather in the Northeast pushed down pending sales, however all parts of the country were down. Again, blame low inventory and falling affordability.

Personal Incomes rose 0.3% in March, while personal spending rose 0.4%, in line with expectations. The PCE index was up 2% YOY and the core PCE index was up 1.9%. This is the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation and it is right where they are targeting. Income growth was the weakest since last Fall, however.

The big debate right now is whether there is any slack in the labor market. Anecdotal evidence abounds that companies are struggling to find qualified workers. However, Econ 101 says that we should be seeing higher wage inflation as a result and that isn’t happening (at least not yet). Some theories are claiming this is a market failure and that employers are artificially holding down wages (which is then used as an argument for more government intervention in the labor market). I suspect the issue is that there are three big forces holding back wage growth. First, inflation is low – if companies cannot pass along price increases to their customers, they aren’t going to be raising wages. Second, lower wage jobs are competing with technology which is only getting better and cheaper. And finally, the long-term unemployed represent a reservoir of slack that companies know they can tap if needed. FWIW, I think the first and third explanations explain it, and find the idea that employers are somehow colluding to keep wages low to be wholly unconvincing. Take a look at the chart below, which shows wage increases versus inflation. You are seeing actual wage growth.

wages vs inflation

For now it looks like the 3% level in the 10 year has held. What drove the sell-off – it wasn’t like there was anything data-wise to support it. JP Morgan blames CTAs using momentum strategies to short the 10-year. Chinese selling has also been rumored to be a factor. We won’t be able to confirm or deny that theory for a couple of months. CTA funds have been net short Treasuries since September, however a momentum signal in mid-April caused people to pile into the trade and that apparently drove the late month sell-off.

Steve Mnuchin is “cautiously optimistic” on trade talks with China. The subject will include intellectual property and joint ventures.

Defect risk decreased on a MOM basis but was up on a YOY basis, according to the First American Loan Defect Index. The biggest risk was in the sand states, while the lowest risk was in the Rust Belt.