Morning Report: Wages and interest rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2851 -35
Oil (WTI) 62.46 0.8
10 year government bond yield 2.43%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.15%

 

Stocks are lower this morning after rhetoric between the US and China hardened over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The rhetoric over trade intensified over the weekend, with both China and the US blaming each other for the impasse. As promised, the US hiked tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods on Friday and blamed China for reneging on its deal. In response, China said it would never surrender, and has raised tariffs on about $60 billion worth of US goods starting on June 1. FWIW, the issue with China is not so much tariff-related, it is intellectual property related.

 

This week is relatively data-light, at least as far as market-moving data is concerned. We will get housing starts and the NAHB Housing Market Index, along with a lot of Fed-speak.

 

Uber priced its IPO on Friday at $45 a share, and the stock ended up opening at $42. It never broke above the IPO price for the entire day. The record for IPOs has been downright awful and they have gone from being an almost sure thing to a greatest fool tournament. Historically, bankers would underprice IPOs by about 10% – 20%, so that investors would get a nice bump on the first day. Of course this means the company left some money on the table, but everyone was generally happy with that arrangement. Today, all the value is extracted in the pre-IPO funding rounds, so by the time it hits the public stock exchanges the companies are fully valued (if not overvalued). I have to imagine the big institutional investors are going to start turning these things down.

 

The share of 43%+ DTI loans going to Fannie and Freddie has almost doubled over the past couple of years from 15% to 30%. This is triggering more debate over the “QM patch” that allows safe harbor for loans with DTIs over 43% as long as they are GSE loans. This provision is slated to expire in 2021, but affordable housing advocates are pushing for it to be extended. Interestingly, the Urban Institute says that while default rates for 45+ DTI loans were higher prior to the crisis, that is no longer the case. Urban Institute has an agenda to push, so counterintuitive findings like that might be the result of some statistical jiggery-pokery and further examination is warranted.

 

Neel Kashkari is making the argument that rates should stay low due to income inequality. This is not necessarily a new argument – Janet Yellen said she was willing to let the labor market “run hot” for a while to wring all of the slack out of the labor market. Historically, the Fed has shied away from political footballs like income inequality, fiscal policy, etc given the fact that the Fed handles banking regulation and the Fed Funds rate – tools that aren’t suited to tackle either issue. In fact, you could make the argument that loose monetary policy increases inequality due to the fact that it pushes up asset prices. Here is another issue: if low rates increase the cost of shelter more than it helps increase wages, it could in fact be a negative for those that rent. Note that he isn’t arguing that the Fed should cut rates, but he is in favor of waiting to see if inflation returns.

 

That said, wage growth has been strong over the past couple of years as the labor market has strengthened. If you compare the yield on the 10 year bond to wage growth, historically they have correlated reasonably well. Over the past couple of years, the 10 year yield has fallen while average hourly earnings have increased. Given that labor’s share of GDP is still around historical lows, wages have to rise further to reach historical averages.

 

wage growth versus interest rates

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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.