Morning Report: Will the US economy have a Wile E Coyote moment in 2019?

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2765.5 -19
Eurostoxx index 385 -3.9
Oil (WTI) 65.16 0.1
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.91%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

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

We will get a lot of housing-related data this week, but nothing should be market-moving. We will get housing starts and building permits tomorrow, existing home sales on Wednesday, and house prices on Thursday. Otherwise, should be a relatively quiet week.

The NAHB Housing Market Index (a sentiment indicator for the homebuilders) fell to 68 last month from 70. Rental markets are softening in some of the more pricy MSAs.

OMB official Kathy Kraninger is supposedly the front-runner to replace Mick Mulvaney as the permanent director of the CFPB. The confirmation process will probably take at least through the end of the year. She is not viewed as any sort of financial regulatory expert, so expect to see a lot of objections from Democrats over the nomination.

Ben Bernanke thinks the US economy will have a Wile E Coyote moment in 2019 or 2020 when the tax cut stimulus wears off. His point is that we are enacting fiscal stimulus at “exactly the wrong time” when the economy is already at full employment. Of course the statement about full employment is debatable. The unemployment numbers indicate we are, but the employment-population ratio does not. The employment-population ratio currently stands at 60.4%, and pre-crisis, we were around 63%. That 2.6% difference works out to be about 8.5 million people. We are getting some modest real wage growth (average hourly earnings are up 2.7% YOY and the core PCE index is growing at 2%) however broad-based wage growth probably isn’t going to happen until the EP ratio gets back up around 63%. Yes, there is a demographic element to this with the baby boomers retiring, but that is overplayed. Many people who are retiring in their 60s would rather work. You can see just how bad the Great Recession was. Most of the gains that started in the 60s with women entering the workforce were given back. The “retiring boomers” narrative has a kernel of truth in it, but it isn’t driving it.

employment population ratio

The FAANG stocks are now worth more than the entire UK stock market. While people talk about short Treasuries as being the most crowded trade on the Street, it doesn’t hold a candle to the FAANGs

FAANG

Goldman’s model now suggests the US economy grew at 4% in the second quarter. Friday’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey was the catalyst for the upgrade.

The government is trying to clarify the Volcker Rule, which prohibits banks from proprietary trading. So far, it seems to be clouding the issue as opposed to clarifying it. Ultimately trades held for less than 60 days are considered proprietary trades although there is a carve-out for hedging and market-making. Given the drop in commissions over the past 20 years, and sub-penny bid ask spreads, the economics of market-making are terrible to begin with, but the regulatory uncertainty probably seals the deal. The next crash is not going to be pretty.

Morning Report: Job cuts fall again

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2725 1
Eurostoxx index 386.51 1
Oil (WTI) 67.49 -0.72
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.86%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.47%

Stocks are flat this morning after personal incomes came in as expected. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Personal Incomes rose 0.3% in April, in line with expectations. Personal Spending rose 0.6%, higher than the 0.4% estimate and inflation was tame at 2% YOY, with the core rate up 1.8% YOY. The big jump in consumer spending will probably have some strategists taking up their estimates for Q2 GDP. March and February spending numbers were revised upward. Inflation remains in check, which will give the Fed the leeway to hold off on hiking rates if the European situation with Italy escalates.

Pending Home Sales fell 13% in April, according to NAR. The supply / demand imbalance remains the story: Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the housing market this spring is hindered because of the severe housing shortages in much of the country. “Pending sales slipped in April and continued to stay within the same narrow range with little signs of breaking out,” he said. “Feedback from Realtors®, as well as the underlying sales data, reveal that the demand for buying a home is very robust. Listings are typically going under contract in under a month1, and instances of multiple offers are increasingly common and pushing prices higher.”

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 221,000 last week. We are still at exceptionally low levels.

Mortgage rates fell 10 basis points last week, and this is even before the huge bond market rally on Tuesday.

Deutsche Bank was put on the troubled bank list last year. This was obviously a big impetus behind its decision to reduce its US footprint. The German regulators have been on top of the bank as well. With credit default spreads widening in the Euro banking market, expect to see the European Central Bank tread extremely cautiously with policy normalization, and for the Fed to adopt a wait and see attitude after hiking in June. Separately, if Deutsche Bank decides to exit the US entirely, wouldn’t it be wild to see them spin off Bankers Trust?

Job Cuts fell to 31,517 in May, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas. This is the seasonally slow period for job cuts, as most companies concentrate them in Jan-Feb time frame. The cuts are mainly coming in retail, although things are picking up in the financial sector. Regionally, they are concentrated in the Northeast, particularly NY and NJ.

Job cuts by month

The Trump Administration is set to push for tariffs on European steel and aluminum. A German magazine said that Trump told French President Emannuel Macron that he wanted to “stick to his trade policy long enough until no Mercedes-Benz cars were cruising through New York.” The deadline for negotiations is this Friday.

US regulators are set to sand off some of the harder edges on Dodd-Frank and the Volcker Rule. The biggest change requested from the industry is the rebuttable presumption that any position held for less than 60 days is considered a proprietary trade. Essentially, this is a “innocent until proven guilty” scenario. The Fed also intends to clarify the liquidity management exception, which is meant to distinguish between market-making and proprietary trading. At the end of the day, falling commissions and tightening bid/ask spreads have made market-making an unprofitable business for the most part anyway. I suspect investors and regulators are in for an unpleasant surprise the next time we have a crash and the only bids in the market are retail GTC orders.

The number of underwater homes fell below 10% in the fourth quarter for the first time since the crisis. Torrid home price appreciation has cut the percentage down to 9.1%, or about 4.4 million homes. “For much of the country the Great Recession is an increasingly distant memory – the American economy is booming once again and markets are now shifting their gaze to future downturn risks,” said Zillow senior economist Aaron Terrazas. “But scattered in neighborhoods across the country, the legacy of the mid-2000s housing bubble and bust lingers among the millions of Americans still underwater on their mortgages, trapped in their homes with no easy options to regain equity other than waiting.” The worst areas? Chicago, Virginia Beach, and Baltimore.

Morning Report: Markets take down chances of 4 hikes this year

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2705 4
Eurostoxx index 384.58 0.1
Oil (WTI) 67.12 0.39
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.84%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.45%

Stocks are slightly higher this morning as Italian bonds bounce. Bonds and MBS are down.

US Treasuries touched 2.76% yesterday on the flight to quality trade. The Fed Funds futures are now predicting a 81% chance of a hike in June. The biggest effect of the Italy situation can be seen in the December Fed Funds futures. A couple of weeks ago, we were looking at a coin toss for 4 hikes this year. Now it is closer to 20%. The dot plot consensus is 3, so the markets are aligning a little closer to what the Fed thinks it is going to do.

fed funds probability 2

Why is Italy worrying the markets so much? Italy has a huge amount of debt – 1.9 trillion euros worth. Its debt to GDP ratio is 130%. The fear is that the uncertainty over this issue over the summer will depress Euro growth, while the banking sector (which already has some issues) will take further hits. As of now, this is a political, not an economic issue – Italian yields are around 3%, nowhere near the 8% level they hit in 2012. Note that Spanish yields are beginning to creep up as well.

Mortgage Applications fell 3% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 5%. This is the 8th consecutive decline. The refi index is down to the lowest level since December 2000. “Rates slipped slightly over the week as concerns over U.S. trade policy and global growth sent some investors back to safer U.S. Treasuries,” said MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting Joel Kan. “Minutes from the most recent Federal Open Market Committee meeting also yielded a more dovish tone, which added to the downward pressure in rates. Our 30-year fixed mortgage rate decreased two basis points over the week to 4.84 percent as a result. Both purchase and refinance activity decreased despite the drop in rates, part of which was due to slowing activity before the Memorial Day holiday.”

The second estimate for GDP came in at 2.2%, right in line with the first estimate. Inflation was revised downward a touch from 2% to 1.9% and consumption was revised downward from 1.2% to 1%. Inventories were revised downward, while business investment was revised up to 9.2% – a big number.

Whether the increase in business investment was a direct result of the tax cuts remains to be seen, but so far tax cut effects aren’t showing up in corporate profits which were more or less flat in the first quarter with last year.

The economy created 178,000 jobs in May, according to the ADP Employment Report. The Street is looking for 190,000 jobs in Friday’s report, although the ADP and BLS reports have been pretty far away the last few times around. The key number will be wage growth, not payroll growth in any case.

Interesting data points in the ABA survey of the nation’s banks. QM has actually caused banks to decrease non-QM lending (which was the opposite of the intended effect). About half retained servicing. Almost nobody lends to FICOs below 620.

The Fed is set to announce proposed changes to the Volcker Rule, which severely limits proprietary trading activities for commercial banks. The current rules are so vague that JP Morgan Jamie Dimon once quipped that traders would need a lawyer and a psychiatrist by their side to determine whether they were in compliance with the law. The Fed will probably tweak the rules only modestly, and will not usher in a return to pre-2008 rules. That would require legislation, which isn’t happening.