Morning Report: Existing home sales fall 5/24/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2398.3 0.3
Eurostoxx Index 392.2 0.2
Oil (WTI) 51.5 0.0
US dollar index 88.8  
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.25%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.6
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.81
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4

Stocks are lower this morning after Moody’s downgraded China’s sovereign credit rating overnight. Bonds and MBS are up small.

Existing Home Sales dropped 2.3% in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million. Tight inventory remains the biggest problem and pushed days on market to a record low of 29 days. Inventory is 1.93 million homes, down 9% YOY and represents a 4.2 month supply. The first time homebuyer accounted for 34% of all sales, while the median home price rose 6% to 244.8k, which has pushed the median house price to median income ratio to 4.1x, which is straying back towards the bubble years.

Home prices rose 1.4% in the first quarter and are up 6% YOY, according to the FHFA House Price Index. The biggest annual increases were in DC, Idaho, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Washington. New England is beginning to show some signs of life after lagging the rest of the country post-crisis.

Mortgage Applications rose 4.4% last week as purchases fell 1% and refis rose 11%. The refinance share of mortgages rose to 44% from 41% the week before. The contract interest rate on conforming mortgages fell 6 basis points to 4.17% the lowest since November. The 10 year bond yield fell 9 basis points to 2.23% for the week ending May 19.

We will get the FOMC minutes from the April meeting this afternoon at 2:00 pm EST. Be careful locking around that time as we could see some volatility.

HUD’s statement on the proposed budget. HUD is getting $500 billion in new commitment authority for FHA. The Community Development Block Grant program is slated to be defunded, while most other activities continue intact. Rental Assistance is also unchanged.

Speaking of HUD, Ben Carson hinted last week that he intends to widen the number of condos which will be eligible for the FHA’s condo program. The biggest change will be to allow financing of individual units in buildings that lack FHA certification. Only 7% of condo buildings have FHA certification so this could open up the program quite a bit. Overly strict regulations issued by the Obama administration more or less put the FHA condo program in a dormant state, however the outgoing administration suggested some tweaks in the final months to try and get more loan volume.

Zillow is facing a class action lawsuit over its Zestimates.  A homeowner in Illinois is charging that Zillow’s Zestimimate undervalued her house and and that Zestimate constitutes an appraisal under Illinois law. The suit seeks to have her Zestimate changed to reflect what she wants it to be, to have Zillow licensed and to require the consent of the homeowner before the estimates are posted online.

Comp values exceed the appraisal price on 61% of all appraisals, according to CoreLogic. While in theory this should push appraisal prices higher, adjustments by the appraiser negate this to some extent. You would think in a rising real estate market, the comps would generally be lower due to timing differences, but they aren’t.

Dave Stevens from the MBA discusses what to do with the GSEs. The punchline: The current situation is untenable, as the GSE’s capital buffer will be gone by the end of the year. The recap and release option without any sort of reform is no solution either. The MBA fears that a more conservative (i.e. someone who wants a smaller Federal role in the mortgage market) FHFA director could be nominated when Mel Watt’s term expires in 2018.

Morning Report: New Home Sales disappoint 5/23/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2396.3 3.5
Eurostoxx Index 392.3 1.1
Oil (WTI) 51.1 -0.1
US dollar index 88.6  
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.25%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.6
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.81
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4

Stocks are higher this morning despite a terrorist attack in the UK. Bonds and MBS are up.

New Home sales came in at 569,000, lower than the 620,000 estimate. The median new home sale price was 309k. The average was 369k. New Home Sales are still lagging population growth.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index declined in April as well.

The DC Appeals Court will hear arguments Wednesday to reconsider its decision that the current structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional. If the CFPB loses its case, it will probably have to be re-worked, with a committee instead of a single director who will be accountable to the President. Trump has said he isn’t in favor of killing the agency, but would like to make some modifications.

Merrill Lynch is taking down its inflation forecasts for the year. They are taking their estimate for end of 2017 CPI to 1.9% from 2.3% and its estimate for core PCE to 1.7% from 1.9%. The core PCE is the inflationary index the Fed targets. Merrill is identifying some transitory drivers, so they expect inflation to return to target levels in 2018. Don’t forget, we will get the FOMC minutes tomorrow, which will give some further color on what the Fed was thinking last month, especially given the political environment in DC. Their Fed Funds forecast was based on an assumption that fiscal stimulus will get passed, and that looks impossible at this point.

Minneapolis Fed Head Neel Kashkari wants to see more data before making a decision on a June hike. The June Fed Funds futures are factoring at 78% chance of a 25 basis point hike. Note as well that the yield curve continues to flatten from its post-election steepening. The twos-tens spread (basically the difference between the 10 year yield and the 2 year yield) is the lowest since October.

Trump outlined his proposed budget, which cuts domestic spending by $3.6 trillion over 10 years. His budget doesn’t touch Social Security, Medicare, or defense. This is largely an ideological document that will never pass – in fact one of Obama’s proposed budgets couldn’t muster up even one Democratic vote. There is talk that the budget will cut HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program, which runs Meals on Wheels and also doles out money for things like bike lanes, public spaces, etc. Based on trial balloons floated earlier in the administration the rest of HUD’s budget looks like it will be untouched.

Morning Report: Why aren’t we seeing wage growth? 5/22/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2382.3 0.8
Eurostoxx Index 391.4 -0.1
Oil (WTI) 51.0 0.6
US dollar index 88.6 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.25%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.27
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.94

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

Economic activity picked up in April, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. It rose to .49 (better than expectations) and the 3 month moving average rose to .23. Production and employment led the rise, while personal consumption and housing were negative.

We have some Fed-speak at 10:00 EST today along with a bunch after the close. The biggest events this week should be the FOMC minutes on Wednesday and the second revision to Q1 GDP on Friday. We will also get a lot of housing data this week.

One of the biggest issues for the Fed is wage inflation (or the lack thereof). The last time unemployment was this low, we were experiencing 4% wage growth. Why aren’t we now? Here are a few explanations. They revolve around a few different theories. The first is that there has been a structural change in labor economics, and that the tradeoff between unemployment and inflation is over due to globalization, lack of union representation, etc. The second explanation is that wage negotiation dynamics have been colored by the economy since 2008: employers are training people internally instead of hiring outside at a higher price, employees don’t feel comfortable asking for more, productivity is lousy, and the huge reservoir of the long-term unemployed means the market is not as tight as it may appear. The final one is a measurement problem: that the BLS numbers aren’t accurately reflecting the reality of the marketplace. Take construction: Builders constantly complain that they can’t find skilled labor, that they are offering signing bonuses, etc yet when you look at the actual BLS numbers, construction wages are only growing 2.1%. We are seeing in the mortgage business with ops folks as well. So maybe we are starting to see pockets of wage growth, however it isn’t showing up quite yet in the rest of the economy or the numbers.

The drop in construction spending hasn’t only been in housing – it has also been in schools. State and local governments are spending about 1/3 less on school construction than they did before the crisis, yet enrollment is up 4%. This is just another problem for the first time homebuyer – finding affordable homes with good schools.

NAR is predicting 5.6 million home sales in 2017, up 200k from last year, and new home sales of 620k, up from 560k last year. GDP will grow at 2.2% and inflation will remain tame. Sales would be higher if there was more inventory, and the group hopes that regulatory changes, especially with Dodd-Frank will ease up credit for smaller banks, who fund local homebuilders.

Now that the REO-to-rental trade is largely played out, Wall Street is now building houses for rentals. Some are planned communities, where renters get the benefit of living in a single family detached homes, plus they get some of the advantages of apartment living, with gyms and common spaces. They also don’t have to deal with maintenance.  Interestingly, many people intend to rent for only a short time period, but end up staying. For one landlord, 1/3 of the tenants have been on month-to-month arrangements for 7 years. The REITs behind this trade also get discounts from builders, lower maintenance costs, and about a 5% – 8% pickup in rental income for a new house.

Morning Report: Treasury and FHFA disagree on the GSEs 5/19/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2370.5 6.8
Eurostoxx Index 390.7 1.5
Oil (WTI) 50.0 0.6
US dollar index 88.8 -0.4
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.24%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.27
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4.03

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

Slow news day.

No economic data this morning, but we have Fed-speak at 9:45 and 1:40.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and FHFA Head Mel Watt disagree on what to do with Fannie Mae’s dividends to Treasury. A week ago, Watt suggested that Fannie and Freddie may have to retain some of their earnings in order to build / maintain their capital base. Yesterday, Mnuchin said that he expected the dividend payments to continue. Despite a Republican president, Mel Watt is going nowhere – his term expires in 2019 and he can only be removed for cause.

Ellie Mae’s Origination Insight Report is out, and it shows that fallout increased, along with the purchase share of mortgages. Cycle times improved by a day across the board.

St. Louis Fed Head James Bullard believes that the unemployment rate could fall further without igniting inflation. He seems to think the new normal is about 2% GDP growth and sees that sort of pace for the immediate future. That will probably be the case until wage inflation picks up, and who knows when that will be?

Guess who’s back? Ex-NJ governor, MF global collapse Jon Corzine, who is apparently fundraising for a new hedge fund

Morning Report: Odds of a June hike fading 5/18/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2350.5 -7.0
Eurostoxx Index 387.6 -3.5
Oil (WTI) 48.5 -0.5
US dollar index 89.0 0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.19%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.27
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4.03

Stocks are following through on yesterday’s sell-off. Bonds and MBS are up again.

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 232k last week which shows that firms are hanging onto their employees. Claims are at a 28 year low. Meanwhile, the Philly Fed Manufacturing Index put in another strong showing.

The index of leading economic indicators increased 0.3% in April after a 0.3% increase in March.  “First quarter’s weak GDP growth is likely a temporary hiccup as the economy returns to its long-term trend of about 2 percent. While the majority of leading indicators have been contributing positively in recent months, housing permits followed by average workweek in manufacturing have been the sources of weakness among the U.S. LEI components.”

The DOJ named ex-FBI Director Robert Meuller to conduct the Russia / DJT investigation. This should (in theory) quiet things down for a while, as it satisfies a key demand from Democrats that someone independent of the White House conduct the investigation. The key question: Is this Watergate or Whitewater?

The DJT turmoil has affected the market’s handicapping of the next FOMC meeting. The odds of a June hike have slipped from 80% to 60%.

Meanwhile, The Bernank finds it strange that markets ignore political risk until the last moment. He also thinks DJT should re-nominate Janet Yellen and downplayed the market risk from the Fed tapering its reinvestment policy.

Household debt has surpassed its 2008 peak, according to the Fed. It came in at $12.7 trillion as mortgage debt and student loan debt increased. Of course the difference between 2008 and today is that home equity is much higher, so it isn’t necessarily a huge cause for alarm.

Morning Report: More Trump Trouble 5/17/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2386.3 -10.8
Eurostoxx Index 394.6 -1.4
Oil (WTI) 49.0 0.3
US dollar index 89.2 -0.3
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.29%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.875
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4.04

Stocks are lower as the White House gets embroiled in yet another scandal. Bonds and MBS are up.

Donald Trump has been hit with two damaging press reports over the past two days. The first one claims that he shared classified information with Russian diplomats. The second one is that he urged then FBI director James Comey to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn. The first story (if true) is probably not a crime, however the second one (again, if true) strays close to obstruction of justice. Note that both stories rely on hearsay from anonymous sources – basically some guy heard something from some other guy that Trump said this or that – and WaPo / NYT reported it. Suffice it to say, if this was about anyone else, these stories probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day with such flimsy evidence. Doesn’t mean the stories are not true, but the story’s credibility is falling predictably along partisan lines. That probably won’t change until we have some names to go with the story.

What does this mean for the markets? As I said yesterday, the Trump reflation trade is dead. Nothing is going to get done legislatively in this Congress, unless it can get pushed through on party lines, and GOP moderates are no sure thing. So far the GOP establishment has not sided with Democrats and the press against Trump (they can’t stand either), but their support is getting thinner and thinner. I suspect the next shoe to drop will be a high profile resignation, like Rex Tillerson, or Wilbur Ross, neither of whom needs this amateur hour headache. And that could be the “all-clear” signal for wavering Republicans to jump ship and turn their backs on the White House.

The dollar is beginning to take notice, and is down again today. The bond market continues to rally, and I suspect one of the most crowded trades on the Street (short bonds) is going to get painful. Remember the pre-election bond yield was 1.81%. The stock indices are being supported by a few mega-cap stocks which makes it vulnerable to a sell-off. Remember the old saw “Sell in May and go away?” Might be good advice this year.

Here is a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average for 1974, the year of Watergate:

DJIA 1974

Of course take that chart with a grain of salt. In 1974, the US economy was still reeling from the 1973 oil crisis, so markets were vulnerable to begin with. Second, if you sold the market during the Clinton impeachment kerfuffle you would have been killed (at least for a year or so), but then would have been correct. Note the Clinton impeachment didn’t make a bit of difference to the Fed, which kept hiking rates. That could be a difference this time around, especially if the economic data starts turning down.

Mortgage Applications fell 4.1% last week as purchases fell 3% and refis fell 6%. The refi share of mortgage apps hit a 9 year low at 41.1%. You can see below a chart of the MBA refinance index, which has been crushed since Brexit last June.

Morning Report: Housing starts disappoint again 5/16/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2399.0 0.5
Eurostoxx Index 395.5 -0.5
Oil (WTI) 49.0 0.1
US dollar index 89.9 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.34%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.625
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4.09

Stocks are flat this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

Housing starts for April disappointed, rising 0.7% YOY to an annualized rate of 1.17 million. The Street was looking for 1.26 million. This was the lowest reading in a year. Building Permits rose to 1.26 million on an annualized basis, up 5.7% YOY. It is strange to see disappointing starts alongside the strong builder sentiment number reported yesterday, but builders seem content to build fewer homes and to grow the business by raising prices.

Industrial and manufacturing production came in stronger than expected however, growing 1% in April. Capacity Utilization rose to 76.7%. Auto assembly drove the increase, pardon the pun.

The Washington Post broke a story that Donald Trump shared classified info with Russia. There seems to be a shift in the political winds. You are starting to see mainstream Republicans distance themselves from the Administration. Don’t know if this becomes a stampede, but the crowd is looking for their coats and nervously eyeing the exits. I don’t think this is impeachment material (what he did was legal) however, you can probably stick a fork in the Trump legislative agenda.

The machinations in Washington so far are not affecting the stock market, but the dollar is beginning to take notice. Bonds are not yet reacting however don’t forget the 10 year was trading around 1.8% before Trump’s surprise victory. The Trump reflation trade is running on fumes at this point.

The National Association of Realtors estimates that if the mortgage interest deduction and the state & property tax deduction is eliminated, you would see a 10% drop in real estate values. The Trump plan would double the size of the standard deduction, which will go from roughly 12k to 24k. The increase in the standard deduction will make the mortgage interest deduction meaningless for anyone with a sub $600k mortgage because they will be better off taking the standard deduction. This will eliminate one of the advantages of buying versus renting for first time homebuyers, which in theory should create more renters and less buyers. Given all the other advantages of buying, this will probably be a second-order effect. I have a hard time seeing a 10% drop in prices – the FHFA House Price Index only had a 22% drop peak to trough – and inventories are tight.

Absent any changes to the tax code, NAR is looking for prices to rise 7% – 8% this year.

Ex Fed Head Narayan Kocklerakota recommends that the Fed maintain its balance sheet and not let its QE assets run off as they mature.

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