Morning Report: Purchase applications are the highest in over a decade

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3282 -5.25
Oil (WTI) 58.13 0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.79%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.87%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as China and the US sign a Phase I deal on trade. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

Note we will have some Fed-speak later this morning.

 

Trump characterized his Phase I deal with China as a “big, beautiful monster” and encouraged farmers to buy bigger tractors. China is agreeing to purchase an additional $200 billion of US goods over the next two years, which represents about half of the US trade deficit. Energy, agricultural, and industrial exports are all set to increase, while the US will cancel new tariffs on cellphones and laptops. Some other tariffs will be reduced while others will remain in place.

 

Mortgage applications increased 30% last week as purchases rose 16% and refis rose 43%. This was the first week after the holidays, so there is probably are some weird adjustments playing out. Rates fell 4 basis points to 3.87%. Most notably, purchase activity increased 8% from a year ago and is at the highest level since October 2009.  A few homebuilders specifically mentioned on their earnings calls that they are seeing no season slowdown this year. At any rate, the Spring selling season is just around the corner. Note that while we are at a 10 year high on the purchase index, we are still well below bubble levels

 

MBA purchase index

 

Inflation at the wholesale level remains below the Fed’s target, with the headline producer price index up 0.1% MOM and 1.3% YOY. Ex-food and energy, it rose 0.1% and 1.1%. While the producer price index is not the preferred inflation index for the Fed, it confirms we are still not seeing much in the way of inflationary pressures.

 

 

Morning Report: Welcome to 2020

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3251 20.25
Oil (WTI) 61.07 0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.88%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.95%

 

Stocks are higher this morning after China eased reserve rates overnight. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Announced job cuts (in other words, press releases discussing layoffs) fell to 32,845 in December according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. “Confidence was high heading into the last month of the year. With some resolutions occurring in the trade war and strong consumer spending in the fourth quarter, companies appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach as we head into 2020,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “The sectors with the highest number of cuts this year were all dealing with trade concerns, emerging technologies, and shifts in consumer behavior. We tracked a lot of hiring activity in these industries as well as cuts,” said Challenger. Separately, initial jobless claims fell to 222k last week.

 

Mortgage Applications fell by 5% as purchases and refis fell by the same amount. “The 10-Year Treasury yield increased [the week ending December 20] amid signs of stronger home building activity and solid consumer spending, leading to a rise in conventional conforming and jumbo 30-year mortgage rates to just under 4 percent,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “With this increase, conventional refinance application volume fell 11 percent. Refinance applications for government loans did increase, even though rates on FHA loans picked up. The change in the mix of business has kept the average refinance loan size smaller than we had seen earlier this year.”

 

The Trump Administration is saying that a Phase 1 deal is done, and everyone is waiting on translation. “It’s got great stuff in it,” he [Trade Advisor Peter Navarro] said. “It’s got essentially the same chapter we had in the May deal that the Chinese walked away from on intellectual property theft. So that’s a good deal….For Wall Street … financial market access for the banks, insurance companies and credit card companies,” he added.

 

Happy new year, and here’s to a prosperous 2020, with housing starts above 1.5 million, originations over $2.2 trillion and a 30 year fixed rate mortgage below 3.5%. Hey, it could happen.

Morning Report: Wages increasing especially at the low end

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3242 4.25
Oil (WTI) 62.17 0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.94%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.94%

 

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

 

The upcoming week should be relatively quiet with New Year’s right in the middle of the week. Tomorrow, the bond market will close at 2:00 pm as well. The jobs report looks like it will be postponed until next week as well.

 

The USMCA (aka NAFTA 2.0) should help ease the housing shortage in the US by allowing more imports of building materials at cheaper prices. “The U.S. residential construction and remodeling industries rely on tens of billions of dollars in building materials sourced from Mexico and Canada annually because America cannot produce enough steel, aluminum and other materials and equipment to meet the needs of the domestic housing industry,” NAHB said in a statement. FWIW, I don’t know that building materials are the issue – lumber prices are down 33% from the peak in 2018 – but I guess every little bit helps. The biggest constraint is labor and land. And those are more about immigration policy and zoning.

 

lumber

 

Wages are increasing, which reflects a tighter labor market. According to the NY Fed, the average wage rose to a record high of $69,181 in November. Further, wages are rising 4.5% for the bottom 25% and only rising 2.9% for the top 25%. So, definitely good news for the first time homebuyer, who is likely younger and lower paid.

 

 

Morning Report: Trade deal with China

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3190 13.25
Oil (WTI) 60.14 0.14
10 year government bond yield 1.85%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.97%

 

Stocks are up this morning on trade with China. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The last full workweek of 2019 won’t have much in the way of market-moving data. We will get some housing data (housing starts and existing home sales) and the third revision to Q3 GDP, but that is about it.

 

China agreed to purchase more agricultural products from the US as part of an agreement that canceled additional tariffs that were supposed to take effect last night. This deal should end the tit-for-tat tariffs that have been weighing down financial markets for the past several months.

 

More evidence of weakness in the Eurozone as the German ISM numbers were downright awful, and were echoed by weakness in the UK and France. This will be the push-pull driving interest rates in the near future: an accelerating US economy will push rates higher, while stagnation in Europe will pull them lower.

 

Retail Sales rose 0.2% MOM in November, which was lower than expectations. Ex autos and gas, sales were flat.

 

The Fed is injecting liquidity into the system to prevent a repeat of September’s cash crunch, which sent overnight repo rates up to 10% at one point.

 

 

 

Morning Report: Senate resolution complicates trade negotiations

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3111 -6.25
Oil (WTI) 55.69 -0.74
10 year government bond yield 1.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.96%

 

Stocks are lower this morning as tensions increase between China and the US over Hong Kong. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The Senate passed a resolution last night supporting democracy for Hong Kong and urging China to not use violence to suppress the demonstrations. This will undoubtedly complicate trade negotiations, and will push the markets to more of a “risk-off” (stocks down, bonds up) posture. Bond yields are lower this morning, with the 10 year trading at 1.74%.

 

Mortgage Applications decreased by 2.2% last week on a seasonally adjusted basis as purchases rose 6.7% and refis fell 7.7%. Veteran’s Day influenced the numbers. “U.S. and China trade anxieties and protests in Hong Kong pulled U.S. Treasuries lower last week, and the 30-year fixed mortgage rate followed the same path, dipping below 4 percent,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Despite lower rates, mortgage applications decreased 2.2 percent, driven by an 8 percent slide in refinance activity. Rates have stayed in the same narrow range of around 4 percent since July, so we may be starting to see the expected slowdown in refinancing as the pool of eligible homeowners shrinks.”

 

The retailers are announcing earnings and the markets are looking for indications of how this year’s holiday shopping season will shake out. Target and WalMart both announced strong earnings and took up their Q4 guidance. These two stocks are a bellwether for John Q Public’s spending habits.

 

The FOMC minutes will be out at 2:00 pm today. The minutes usually aren’t market-moving, but given the somewhat abrupt change in the Fed’s posture there is always the possibility that we could see some action. Just be aware when locking around that time.

 

 

 

 

Morning Report: Experts talk about 2020 forecasts

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3116 -1.25
Oil (WTI) 57.29 -0.24
10 year government bond yield 1.82%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.00%

 

Stocks are flattish this morning as violence continues in Hong Kong. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

 

Optimism for a trade deal with China waxes and wanes, and we had some conflicting reports this weekend. CNBC said that the government was disappointed in Trump’s reluctance to roll back tariffs, while the Chinese state media company said Beijing and Washington had constructive talks over the weekend.

 

The upcoming week has some real-estate related data with housing starts and existing home sales, but nothing much market moving. We will get the FOMC minutes on Wednesday, but the sense in the market is that the Fed is on hold for a while, and probably through the election.

 

The Fed said the US financial system “appears resilient” in its semiannual report on financial stability. “The current combination of very low credit spreads and high levels of indebtedness among risky nonfinancial corporates, including through leveraged loans, merits heightened vigilance,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard said in a prepared statement. “Over the medium term, the low-for-long environment and the associated incentives to reach for yield and take on additional debt could increase financial vulnerabilities.” They were also critical of cryptocurrencies, warning they could destabilize the system if implemented without regulation and oversight. Wasn’t the whole point of cryptocurrencies to have a medium of exchange that is beyond the reach of governments?

 

Predictions for 2020:  Rates will remain low, with Fannie Mae predicting the 30 year fixed rate mortgage will end up in a tight range around 3.5% – 3.6%. Home price appreciation will re-accelerate, with home prices rising 5.6% next year versus 3.5% this year. Inventory will remain tight, however especially at the lower price points. “While historically low rates increase buying power and make it more likely for potential buyers to attain their homeownership dream, they also increase the risk of a long-run housing supply shortage, which we predict will continue through 2020 and possibly intensify,” Kushi says. “As first-time buyers lock-in these historically amazing rates and existing owners refinance—in droves in recent months, everyone will stay put and not sell. Where’s the incentive?”

Morning Report: Trump talks trade at noon today.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 3087 -0.25
Oil (WTI) 57.09 -0.04
10 year government bond yield 1.94%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.02%

 

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

 

Donald Trump will speak at the Economics Club today around noon and markets will be listening for any sort of information on trade with China. This will probably be something that affects stocks more than bonds, but just be aware.

 

Small business optimism remained strong in October, according to the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index. Job creation, inventory investment and capital spending drove the increase. While we are seeing increases in labor compensation, prices paid are still flattish so we aren’t seeing inflation. “Labor shortages are impacting investment adversely – a new truck, or tractor, or crane is of no value if operators cannot be hired to operate them,” said NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg. “The economy will likely remain steady at its current level of activity for the next 12 months as Congress will be focused on other matters, and an election cycle will limit action. Any significant change in trade issues will impact financial markets more than the real economy during this period. Adjustments to a new set of ‘prices,’ such as tariffs, will take time.”

 

Homebuilder D.R. Horton reported better than expected earnings this morning, sending the shares up 3% pre-open. Forward guidance for 2020 was also above expectations. The homebuilders have been on a tear this year, as interest rates have fallen. The homebuilder ETF (XHB) is up something like 50% YTD.

 

Mortgage credit availability increased in October, according to the MBA. “Mortgage credit availability increased in October, driven mainly by an increase in conventional loan programs, including more for borrowers with lower credit scores, as well as for investors and second home loans,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Credit supply for government mortgages continued to lag, declining for the sixth straight month. Meanwhile, the jumbo credit index increased 3 percent to another survey-high, as that segment of the market stays resilient despite signs of a slowing economy.”

 

CBS is out with a piece claiming that climate change will eliminate the 30 year fixed rate mortgage. The fear is that flood insurance could get too expensive and wildfires will make certain areas uninsurable / uninhabitable. How that translates into the end of the 30 year fixed rate mortgage is anyone’s guess, since the piece fails to show its work. FWIW, this article is just clickbait. The 30 year mortgage is going nowhere, and climate change isn’t going to destroy the financial system. The Union of Concerned Scientists frets about the “short sighted” market, but a typical mortgage lasts about 7-10 years, so something that might happen in 30-50 years is going to be off the radar, by definition.