Morning Report: Homebuilder sentiment improves

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2783.25 -3
Eurostoxx index 370.68 -0.04
Oil (WTI) 56.9 0.81
10 year government bond yield 2.67%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are flattish on no major news. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

 

Homebuilder sentiment improved markedly in February according to the NAHB / Wells Fargo Homebuilder Sentiment Index. Expectations for future sales drove the increase. The index touched a 3 year low in late 2018, so things are still disappointing compared to 2016-2017, but well above historical numbers. Challenges remain for the building industry however. “The five-point jump on the six-month sales expectation for the HMI is due to mortgage interest rates dropping from about 5% in November to 4.4% this week,” Dietz continued. “However, affordability remains a critical issue. Rising costs stemming from excessive regulations, a dearth of buildable lots, a persistent labor shortage and tariffs on lumber and other key building materials continue to make it increasingly difficult to produce housing at affordable price points.”

 

The FOMC minutes didn’t really contain much in the way of new information. They see the balance sheet reduction ending sooner than anticipated, which means the Fed will no longer have a $800 billion balance sheet like it had pre-crisis – it will now probably be in the $3 – $4 trillion range. Second, there is uncertainty whether there will be more hikes in 2019. The Fed Funds futures have been predicting no further hikes this year for several months now, so perhaps this is simply the members catching up with what the markets are saying. Note Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester thinks we may need to still hike rates this year and end tapering.

 

MBA mortgage applications increased 3.6% from the previous week as refis increased 6% and purchases increased 2%.  Rates actually increased by 8 basis points to 4.56%. While refi activity has been increasing from the dismal levels at the end of 2018, they are still well below historically anemic. A combination of prepayment burnout and rising rates are driving the decrease. Going forward, home price appreciation, not interest rates will be the impetus for refinance activity as cash-outs will inevitably rise to pay off credit card debt and FHA borrowers with sufficient equity will want to refinance into conventional loans with no MI.

 

Chart: MBA Refinance index 1998 = Present

MBA refinance index

 

Move over Rocket Mortgage, here comes mello smartloan, which is loanDepot’s new 100% digital mortgage loan experience. They claim this loan can reduce time to close by 75%.

Morning Report: Shareholder activism and the banks

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2767 -7
Eurostoxx index 368.05 -1.73
Oil (WTI) 56.06 0.47
10 year government bond yield 2.66%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are lower as investors return from a 3 day weekend. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

We don’t have much in the way of economic data this week – the highlight will be existing home sales on Thursday and the FOMC minutes on Wednesday. Other than that, it should be a quiet week.

 

Industrial Production in January fell by 0.6%, while manufacturing production fell by 0.9%. Capacity Utilization fell to 78.2%, down from 78.8% the prior month. Volatile vehicle production largely accounted for the decrease. Note that December’s numbers were strong, which means the average for the two months was a modest gain.

 

Due to the government shutdown, Q4 GDP numbers have been delayed until Feb 28. Right now, the consensus seems to be for a high 1% / low 2% print – a definite slowdown from Q3, which would put 2018 annual growth around 2.8%. These forecasts are from Merrill, Goldman, and the NY / Atlanta Fed. Holiday retail sales disappointed, and some of the industrial data showed a slowdown as 2018 ended.

 

Mortgage delinquencies dropped to an 18 year low, according to the MBA. Fourth quarter DQs fell to 4.06%, which is down from 5.17% a year ago. The foreclosure rate ticked up to .25%. “The overall national mortgage delinquency rate in the fourth quarter was at its lowest level since the first quarter of 2000,” said Marina Walsh, MBA’s Vice President of Industry Analysis. “What’s even more noteworthy, the delinquency rate dropped from the previous quarter and on a year-over-year basis across all loan types and stages of delinquency. With the unemployment rate near a 50-year low, wage growth trending higher and household debt levels relative to disposable incomes at a 35-year low, homeowners are in great shape, and mortgage performance is quite strong.”

 

HomeStreet Bank is greatly reducing its footprint in the mortgage business, and has retained Keefe, Bruyette to sell its retail mortgage operations. MountainView will auction off the MSR portfolio. HomeStreet will not exit mortgages entirely, but it will move to more of a traditional mortgage business built around its bank branches. Interestingly, the divestiture comes after pressure from an activist investor. Banks have historically been pretty immune from shareholder pressure – hostile takeovers in the banking sector are rare events. it will be interesting to see if this starts a trend of shareholder activism in the sector. One of the best trades ever was holding onto the pieces of AT&T when it was broken up by the government in the 1980s. With so many banking giants, I wonder what would happen if, say, Bank of America decided to spin off Merrill Lynch and its mortgage business. Could the 3 parts be worth more than the sum? As the banking sector deals with its first secular bond bear market in 40 years, it may turn out that the strategies that worked in the bull market (consolidation) won’t work in a rising interest rate environment. Note that the Elizabeth Warrens of the world would likely push in this direction as well, which makes it conceivable we could see a return of venerable names like Salomon Brothers or Smith Barney, Chemical Bank, or Manufacturers Hanover.

Morning Report: Mark Calabria to testify in front of the Senate today.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2757 7
Eurostoxx index 366.36 1.6
Oil (WTI) 54.46 0.56
10 year government bond yield 2.65%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as earnings continue to come in. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

We have some inflation data, with the consumer price index flat MOM and up only 1.6% YOY. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.2% MOM and 2.2% YOY. At the wholesale level, the producer price index fell 0.1% and 2% YOY. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.2% MOM and 2.5% YOY. Inflation remains under control, despite rising wage pressures which is a bit of a Goldilocks scenario, especially with respect to the Fed.

 

December retail sales were disappointing, falling 1.2%. The control group, which excludes volatile sectors like autos and building materials, fell 1.7%. This data was delayed by the government shutdown – we should be getting Jan numbers tomorrow.

 

Initial Jobless Claims rose to 239,000 last week.

 

It looks like Trump is going to sign the spending deal hashed out in Congress that provides some of the money he requested for the southern wall. He will continue to look for other options to get funding as well. Whether that includes declaring a national emergency to siphon fund from DOD is anyone’s guess.

 

Mark Calabria is set to testify before the Senate today as it considers his nomination to run FHFA, the housing regulator that oversees Fannie and Freddie. Calabria is a libertarian, and has questioned the government’s role in the mortgage market – particularly the support it gives the 30 year fixed rate mortgage, which is a distinctly American product which wouldn’t exist without government subsidies. Calabria has also been critical of the whole mortgage securitization market in general, believing that banks should hold (and service) more of their loans. The vote is expected to fall along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against.

 

The 30 year fixed rate mortgage is an anomaly that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world that I am aware of. In most other countries, mortgages are adjustable rate, and banks hold them without government backstopping the credit. In other words, the borrower bears the interest rate risk, and the bank bears the credit risk. In the US, the lender bears the interest rate risk and the taxpayer bears the credit risk. Calabria has been critical of this product, arguing that it artificially inflates housing values which is a valid criticism. Of course the 30 year fixed rate mortgage isn’t the only subsidy out there – the tax treatment of mortgage interest is another, and flood insurance is another. These programs makes housing more affordable relative to incomes, which means it will be vulnerable to shocks. Does that mean these programs cause bubbles?  Not necessarily, since we have seen housing bubbles in several countries that don’t have these supports.

 

Mortgage delinquencies continue to fall, as the 30 day DQ rate hits the lowest level in 10 years. 30 day DQs fell from 5.2% to 4.1% over the past year, while foreclosures fell from 0.6% to 0.4%. CoreLogic CEO Frank Martell said, “On a national basis, we continue to see strong loan performance. Areas that were impacted by hurricanes or wildfires in 2018 are now seeing relatively large annual gains in the share of mortgages moving into 30-day delinquency. As with previous disasters, this is to be expected and we will see the impacts dissipate over time.”

Morning Report: Job openings exceed unemployed by over 1 million

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2751.25 6.5
Eurostoxx index 364.16 1.38
Oil (WTI) 53.66 0.58
10 year government bond yield 2.69%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

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

 

It looks like a shutdown may be avoided, as Congress has come up with a plan to allocate some funds to a smaller, cheaper border wall than Trump was looking for. The President hasn’t committed to signing anything yet, but it looks like he will go along.

 

The labor market continues to be on fire, as the number of job openings hit 7.3 million, a series record. The number of job openings exceeds the number of unemployed by over 1 million. Construction led the increase with a jump of 88,000, some of which is probably seasonal. The quits rate was unchanged at 2.3%, although it increased for the private sector while decreasing for government. The quits rate is a leading indicator for wage growth.

 

quits rate

 

Mortgage Applications fell 3.7% last week as purchases fell 6% and refis fell .01%.

 

Ellie Mae is being taken private in a $3.7 billion transaction. Private Equity firm Thomas Bravo will pay $99 a share for the stock, and has allowed a 35 day “go-shop” provision, which permits Ellie Mae to seek higher bids.

 

Small business optimism is returning to normal levels after spiking to all time highs in 2017 and 2018 according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Uncertainty in Washington, exacerbated by the lengthy government shutdown is making small business worried about the future. That said, they continue to hire, though they are more cautious about expansion plans.

 

 

 

 

Morning Report: Congressional Democrats take aim at the BB&T / Suntrust merger

Vital statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2714 -8
Eurostoxx index 360.39 2.36
Oil (WTI) 52.28 -0.41
10 year government bond yield 2.64%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

Stocks are down this morning on overseas weakness. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

There is a possibility we could see another government shutdown at the end of the week. Talks over the weekend concerning border security funding went nowhere. For the financial industry, it will make funding loans for government employees more difficult, but everything else should be transparent.

 

Consumer staples companies are raising prices as commodity prices, transportation and labor costs increase. “The good news is that competitors are raising [prices] in those categories as we speak,” Church & Dwight Chief Executive Matthew Farrell said on a conference call last week when the company reported higher quarterly sales and lower profits. The Fed has been anxious to create more inflation, and it looks like they have finally succeeded. Does this mean we are headed for a repeat of 1970s inflation? Probably not – at least not in the near future. But it does mean the Fed Funds futures might be a touch too sanguine about monetary policy in 2019.

 

Speaking of inflation, we will get the consumer price index and the producer price index this week, which should be the only market-moving data.

 

Maxine Waters thinks the STI / BBT merger requires “serious scrutiny” “This proposed merger between SunTrust and BB&T is a direct consequence of the deregulatory agenda that Trump and Congressional Republicans have advanced,” Waters said in a statement to American Banker. “The proposed merger raises many questions and deserves serious scrutiny from banking regulators, Congress and the public to determine its impact and whether it would create a public benefit for consumers.” IIRC, all the “deregulaton” did was raise the ceiling for stress tests to $250 billion in assets. And that was due to the fact that many small banks were spending a lot on compliance and risk management for a portfolio of traditional bank loans. While it is entirely possible that someone at East Podunk Savings and Loan may blow himself up selling protection on a basket of CDO squareds, it is highly unlikely as well. And imposing all sorts of regulatory burdens on these banks under the guise of tackling systemic risk was on the wrong side of the cost / benefit ledger.

 

 

Morning Report: Big bank merger

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2714 -15.5
Eurostoxx index 363.36 -2.16
Oil (WTI) 53.62 -0.41
10 year government bond yield 2.67%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.43%

 

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

 

Initial Jobless Claims increased to 234,000 last week.

 

When was the last time we saw a big bank merger, at least one that wasn’t a shotgun wedding organized by the government? BB&T and Suntrust are merging in a stock-for-stock merger of equals. BB&T is already a player in the national mortgage market, while Suntrust is still more of a super-regional commercial bank. Bank mergers had a moratorium in the aftermath of the financial crisis amidst worries about too big to fail. Despite those concerns, the US banking system is probably the least concentrated in the world – most other countries have a handful of giants that dominate the market. Note as well for the Glass-Steagall nostalgics: the US was the only country in the world that separated commercial and investment banking, or even drew a distinction between the two.

 

The BEA has announced they will combine the first and second estimates for GDP and release them on Feb 28. Of course this assumes the government will be open on the 28th, which is not a given.

 

Older baby boomers aging in place is supposedly making it tougher for younger Americans to break into homeownership. That is an interesting theory, however I think older boomers are primarily concentrated in the move-up and luxury markets, especially since in the years after the crisis, the homebuilders focused on the only sector that seemed to be working – luxury and urban. Starter home supply is probably more of a function of the REO-to-rental trade, which should probably start being unwound.

 

The House Financial Services Committee is going to hold a hearing on credit scoring: “Who’s Keeping Score? Holding Credit Bureaus Accountable and Repairing a Broken System.” Not sure what the hot-button issues are, but they probably concern data security, fixing false information, and potential disparate impact issues.

 

House Democrats are introducing a bill to require lenders who originate more than 25 mortgages per year to release detailed reports to the government regarding the demographic data and quality of these loans. House Republicans raised the limit to 500 loans last year in an attempt to ease the regulatory burden on smaller lenders.

Morning Report: Foreclosure starts lowest in 18 years

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2720 4
Eurostoxx index 362.25 3.31
Oil (WTI) 54.26 -0.3
10 year government bond yield 2.70%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.40%

 

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

 

Donald Trump stressed bipartisanship and unity at the State of the Union address, and reiterated his demands for border wall funding but stopped short of invoking emergency powers to get one built. Predictably, the reaction to the speech fell along partisan lines.

 

Mortgage Applications fell 2.5% last week as purchases fell 5% and refis rose 0.3%. This was a disappointment given that rates fell about 7 basis points, however the prior week had the MLK holiday adjustment so maybe there is some technical adjustment noise happening. Despite lower rates on a YOY basis, applications are down about 2% annually.

 

The service sector continued to grow in January, albeit at a slower pace, according to the ISM Non-Manufacturing Report. Some of this may have been government shutdown-driven. Employment rose, while new orders fell.

 

Foreclosure starts in 2018 decreased to 576,000, the lowest level in 18 years. Foreclosure completions were 175,000, another 18 year low. These numbers are 40% below their pre-recession averages. Higher loan quality in the aftermath of the credit crisis is a contributing factor, however the performance of refinances are better than purchases, which also is driving these numbers.

 

Housing reform and CFPB regulations may be headed for a conflict if what is called the “GSE patch” is not renewed when it expires in 2021. The CFPB discourages loans with debt to income ratios above 43%, but also permits GSE backed loans to fall under the QM umbrella, even though they permit DTIs up to 50%. Roughly a third of GSE loans fall in the 43-50% DTI range, which could become non-QM loans once the patch expires. The Urban Institute recommends that the GSEs replace the DTI rule with a 150 basis point cap over APOR to determine eligibility under QM.

 

Home prices rose 0.1% MOM and 4.7% YOY according to CoreLogic. Since house prices have been rising faster than incomes, affordability has suffered. Falling interest rates masked that issue most of the post-crisis period, but the music has stopped. CoreLogic now estimates that 33% of the housing stock in the US is now overvalued.  Separately, Redfin now estimates that the West Coast is a buyer’s market.

 

Corelogic overvalued

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