Morning Report: House prices hit new highs. Are we in a bubble? 7/25/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2475.0 7.0
Eurostoxx Index 381.8 2.5
Oil (WTI) 47.2 0.9
US dollar index 86.4 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.28%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.93
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.81
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.95

Stocks are higher this morning as the Fed begins their 2 day FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are down.

House prices rose 0.4% MOM in May, according to the FHFA House Price Index. They are up 6.9% YOY. Home price appreciation is still red-hot on the West Coast, however some of the laggards (Midwest and East Coast) are starting to pick up steam. Meanwhile, the Case-Shiller Home Price Index rose .1% in May and is up 5.7% YOY. Why the difference? The FHFA House Price index only looks at homes with a conforming mortgage, which eliminates the distressed all-cash extremes on the low end, and jumbos on the high end. Certainly out here in the Northeast, the luxury end of the market (aside from trophy properties in the Hamptons and Manhattan) is deader than Elvis. Note that we have more than recouped the losses from the go-go days, at least according to the FHFA House Price Index.

FHFA House Price Index

I wanted to spend a little more time discussing housing affordability. If you look at the median house price to median income ratio, we are approaching the highs during the bubble years. We are currently at around 4.4x and historically, that number has been between 3.2 and 3.6x, meaning that house prices are stretched compared to incomes. It makes sense that house prices should be related to incomes in terms of measuring affordability, and also vulnerability do downdrafts.

Median House Price to Median Income Ratio

However is “median house price” the correct metric to use when determining affordability? It has one major flaw: it ignores interest rates. As car dealerships know, the sticker price is not the metric to sell a car: it is the monthly payment. Can’t afford a 30,000 car? Well, what if we go from a 6 year loan to an 8 year loan? Can you now afford that payment? Mortgages aren’t really that much different. So, to look at it from that angle, I plotted the typical mortgage payment (80 LTV conforming loan) on the median house and calculated what percentage of median income that payment turned out to be. And when you look at it that way, affordability it still pretty decent, at least compared to historical numbers. The reason why? Interest rates. For almost a decade, mortgage rates were double digits, and that equates to a much bigger payment for the same “median house.” It turns out that mortgage payments as a percentage of income are much lower than what they historically have been.

mortgage payment as a percent of income

Now, the one complicating factor is the mortgage interest deduction, which makes housing in the 80s look less affordable than it really was. Taxes were higher, and interest as a percentage of the P&I payment was higher, so the differences are somewhat exaggerated. However, it does appear that buying a house is not as “unaffordable” as the median house price to median income ratio implies. Just remember these graphs when you hear people discussing how high real estate prices are and that we are in another bubble. We aren’t.

Morning Report: Existing Home Sales fall 7/24/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2468.0 -1.3
Eurostoxx Index 378.9 -1.3
Oil (WTI) 46.1 0.3
US dollar index 86.4 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.24%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.31
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.375
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.96

Stocks are lower this morning as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are flat.

The big event this week will be the FOMC meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. No change in rates is expected, however the language in the statement always has the potential to move markets, so just be aware. We will have some important data, especially in housing, as well as GDP this Friday. No data this morning, however.

Affordable housing advocates will be spending the week marching and discussing the need for more affordable housing, as well as advocating for no cuts the HUD’s budget. The biggest proposed cut to HUD involves the Community Development Block Grant program, which famously funds Meals on Wheels, but is in reality just funds pet projects in various districts, especially in the counties surrounding DC.

The Fed will probably discuss tapering this week, which concerns letting its portfolio of bonds bought during quantitative easing to mature. The European Central Bank is also contemplating doing something similar. While there is concern that tapering will push up longer-term interest rates, these are probably overblown. Certainly QE did not affect mortgage backed spreads much at all, and tapering will be a fraction of what full-blown QE was.

Existing Home Sales dropped 1.8% in June as tight inventory is driving up prices and affecting affordability. The median home price increased 6.5% to $263,800. This puts the median house price to median income ratio at about 4.4x, which is elevated. That ratio peaked at 4.8x during the bubble, and fell to 3.3x during the bust years. Historically that number has been in the 3.2x-3.6x range, although you have to correct for interest rates, which does affect affordability. You can see the index of home prices versus incomes diverging again.

Total housing inventory fell to 1.96 million units, which represents a 4.3 month supply. A balanced market is usually around 6 month’s worth. Affordability concerns also hurt the first time homebuyer, who fell to 32% of sales, down from a 33% the prior month. All cash sales were down to 18% from 22% the year prior. The REO to rental trade might be driving that as professional investors stop buying. In fact, pros should be looking at selling – prices are elevated.

Morning Report: Wages increasing at the low end of the scale 7/21/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2470.8 -0.8
Eurostoxx Index 382.4 -1.6
Oil (WTI) 46.6 -0.4
US dollar index 86.7 0.2
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.25%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.31
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.375
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.96

Stocks are flat this morning on another Summer Friday. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Should be a dull day as much of the mortgage business is at the Western Secondary conference, there is no data or Fed-Speak, and the rest of the Street will be on the LIE by noon.

What states still have the highest foreclosure issues? New Jersey is the worst, with 1% of all homes in some state of foreclosure. They are followed by DE. MD, IL, CT, NV, FL, SC, OH, and NM. Note there isn’t a lot of overlap between these areas and the best places to start a business.

Republicans in Congress plan to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the Obama-era CFPB ruling that eliminates mandatory arbitration. The left wanted to overturn mandatory arbitration in order to make it easier to use class-action lawsuits to attack what it considers bad corporate behavior. The right worries that it will restrict credit, and amount to nothing more than a sop to the trial lawyers lobby.

Are we beginning to see the stirrings of wage inflation” Certainly at the low end of the wage scale we are. We are also starting to see wage inflation at the high end, where there are shortages of skilled labor. The middle is still lumbering along at 2.5% wage growth or so – better than inflation, but not all that satisfying. Especially since rental costs are outpacing inflation due to tightness in the real estate market. I have said this before: getting housing starts up fixed two major problems: lack of middle class jobs and a tight real estate market. Both would go a long way towards making the economy feel better.

Further to the above, Axios has a cool moving graph that demonstrates the malaise in the jobs market over the past decade. It plots the number of jobs on the vertical axis and wages on the horizontal axis. You can see in some professions where both the number and the wages have been falling.

Morning Report: What is the shape of the yield curve telling us? 7/20/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2475.8 4.3
Eurostoxx Index 387.3 1.8
Oil (WTI) 47.4 0.3
US dollar index 87.2 0.2
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.26%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.31
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.375
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.96

Stocks are up this morning as global central banks remain easy. Bonds and MBS are up small.

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators jumped 0.6% in June, which is forecasting an acceleration in the economy going forward.

Initial Jobless claims fell to 233k, which is a 9 week low. The last time we were at similar levels was the early 1970s, when the Vietnam War was still raging. I have plotted initial jobless claims (left axis) versus wage inflation (right axis). You can see the inverse correlation, and it also suggests that with claims this low, we should be seeing wage inflation. Of course inflation has an influence as well, and the late 60s / 70s were characterized by inflation. However, pressures seem to be building, and we are seeing wage inflation at the lowest end of the spectrum – low wage workers.

initial jobless claims vs wage inflation

Bill Gross looks at the shape of the yield curve and warns investors not to read too much into it, since the curve is being manipulated by central bankers worldwide. The chart below shows the difference in yield between the 10 year bond and the 3 month T-bill. That difference has historically been somewhat predictive of recessions, especially when it has inverted. While the current spread is nowhere near zero, the trend is certainly heading that way. Does that mean a recession is imminent? His point is that we are really in an apples-to-oranges comparison with QE. Global central bank buying of sovereign debt is pushing that spread downward, and the relevant question is where would the yield curve be without the Fed’s (and other global central banks’) buying?

yield curve

He does make the point that Corporate America is more leveraged than before, however with rates so low, the debt service (actual interest paid) is much less than it was historically. You see that in households too. Total debt has risen past the old highs, however the debt service (interest paid as a percent of disposable income) is close to the lows.

The NYC luxury real estate market is soft, and many luxury sellers in Greenwich, CT are pulling the plug on sales. Of the homes in this market ($4.5 million+) days on market was 319, up by over 100 days. Some sellers have had to cut their price by 60% to entice a buyer. FWIW, I see very little building in this area of the country – only a handful of spec homes have been built, and they haven’t sold yet.

Morning Report: Housing starts rebound 7/19/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2459.5 1.8
Eurostoxx Index 384.1 1.5
Oil (WTI) 46.5 0.0
US dollar index 86.9 -0.4
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.27%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.31
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.375
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.96

Stocks are higher this morning as the ECB starts its two day meeting. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Bonds staged a strong rally yesterday after the Senate was unable to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare repeal was to be the source of funds for infrastructure spend and tax reform, and this failure largely means the rest of the Trump reflation trade is pretty much dead.

Mortgage applications rose by 6.3% last week as purchases rose 1% and refis rose 13%. Treasury yields fell last week on dovish comments by Janet Yellen.

Housing starts rose to 1.22MM and building permits rose to 1.25 million. Starts were up 8.3% MOM and 2.1% YOY. Activity rebounded in the Northeast and the Midwest while falling in the South. The West was unchanged. This is a strong rebound after a terrible May. Tariffs on framing lumber are increasing home construction costs, just as the first time buyer re-enters the housing market. Historically starts have averaged around 1.5 million a year, which largely explains the current housing shortage. In reality, we should be closer to 2 million a year, which is typical for a post-recession rebound.

CNBC discusses the pros and cons of a 30 year mortgage versus a 15 year mortgage. Yes, the payments on a 30 year will be lower, but the interest paid over the life of the loan will be much higher. One thing worth remembering: you tend to get a decent drop in rate for moving from a conforming 30 year to a 15 year. That pickup is much, much smaller on a FHA or VA loan, due to the illiquidity of 15 year TBA. The one thing the article doesn’t really touch on is inflation. US Treasuries are priced as if inflation is never, ever coming back – if you are buying Treasuries at 2.27%, you are really betting that “this time is different,” which are the 4 most dangerous words in investing. If you can borrow money for 30 years at under 4%, you will almost assuredly see inflation running hotter than that at some point during the mortgage’s life. The world’s central bankers are on a mission to create inflation. Eventually they will succeed.

Morning Report: Obamacare repeal and Trump reflation trade dead 7/18/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2456.5 -2.0
Eurostoxx Index 383.9 -3.0
Oil (WTI) 46.0 0.0
US dollar index 87.0 -0.4
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.31%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.31
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.375
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.96

Stocks are lower this morning after healthcare reform fails. Bonds and MBS are up small.

We are in the summer doldrums, with not much in the way of news or movement. Monday was so dull it felt like a 3 day weekend in the markets.

Obamacare repeal (and the lower spending that ensued) was going to be the source of funds for infrastructure spend and tax reform. So that pretty much sticks a fork in the Trump reflation trade. This should send rates lower, at the margin. Don’t forget the 10 year was trading below 1.9% before the election. Economists now see an even risk of overshooting and undershooting their GDP forecasts, the highest since the election.

The Fed Funds futures aren’t really reacting to the news yet, with September futures pricing in only an 8% chance of a hike and the Dec futures pricing in a 47% chance of a hike.

The Senate is considering a last-ditch attempt to simply repeal Obamacare without a replacement and then try and create a healthcare plan from scratch.

Import prices fell 0.2% in June and are up 1.5% YOY. Export prices are down 0.2% as well and up 0.6% YOY.

Homebuilder confidence slipped in July, according to the NAHB. “Our members are telling us they are growing increasingly concerned over rising material prices, particularly lumber,” said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald, a home builder and developer from Kerrville, Texas. “This is hurting housing affordability even as consumer interest in the new-home market remains strong.”

The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill to reform the CFPB. The biggest change will be to bring the agency under the normal appropriations umbrella, although there will be language regarding payday lending and mandatory arbitration.

Morning Report: Retail Sales disappoint 7/17/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2457.0 2.0
Eurostoxx Index 387.2 0.4
Oil (WTI) 46.5 0.0
US dollar index 87.3 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.30%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.625
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.59
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.96

Stocks are higher this morning after a strong GDP report out of China. Bonds and MBS are up.

There isn’t much in the way of market-moving events this week with a sparse economic calendar and the Fed is in the quiet period ahead of their FOMC meeting next week.

Inflation at the consumer level remains below the Fed’s target as the consumer price index was flat MOM and up 1.6% YOY. Ex-food and energy, it was up 0.1% MOM and 1.7% YOY.

Retail sales disappointed, falling 0.2% MOM. The prior month was revised upward however from a drop of 0.3% to a drop of 0.1%. The Street was looking for 0.1% gain. The control group fell 0.1% versus expectations of a 0.4% gain.

Industrial production rose 0.4% MOM while manufacturing production rose 0.2% and capacity utilization ticked up to 76.6%. Improvements in the mining sector accounted for the rise.

Business inventories rose 0.3% as autos increased. Inventory will amount to a slight positive in the Q2 GDP report. The inventory-to-sales ratio is at 1.38, which is elevated compared to historical norms and would ordinarily be associated with a downturn in the economy.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey fell to 9.8 last month, but is still reasonably strong.

Earnings season gets into full gear this week, with a lot of the big banks reporting.

Wells Fargo reported better-than-expected earnings last week. The stock was down about 2% on the news, despite the earnings beat as improvements in credit quality were offset by high expenses. Mortgage origination was down 11% YOY to $56 billion, while applications fell 13% and the size of their pipeline fell 28%. Nonconforming loans rose by $7.3 billion, while second mortgages fell. Mortgage banking revenues fell 19%, however which indicates margin compression.

Mortgage banking revenues at JP Morgan and Citi also fell by 26% and 52% respectively.

Defaults are soaring for subprime auto loans, as the sector has hit new post-crisis highs. While subprime auto loans are not going to have the impact on the economy that subprime mortgages did, this is a tell that all is not necessarily well in consumer-lending land. Despite the aggressive underwriting in auto loans, mortgage credit remains tight as a drum. The auto loan issue is yet another one of the unintended consequences of Fed policy: many of the biggest investors in this sort of paper are pension funds, insurance companies, etc, who have to hit a return bogey and cannot earn enough in government and investment grade paper to meet their actuarial obligations. Many of the state pension funds are solvent only if you squint at the asset return assumptions.

Mortgage credit eased a touch in June, according the the MBA Mortgage Credit Availability Index. Conforming and non-conforming credit eased while government credit tightened.

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