Morning Report – FOMC minutes data dump 8/21/14

Markets are higher after another sub 300k initial jobless claims number. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Existing home sales rose to a 5.15 million annual pace, according to NAR. Median Home Prices are up 4.9% to $222,900. Distressed sales made up 9% of all sales, the lowest percent since 2008. First time buyers inched up to 29%, and all-cash buyers ticked down to 29%. Days on Market increased to 48.

In other economic data, the Index of Leading Economic Indicators ticked up to .9% from an upward-revised .6% in June. The Philly Fed Manufacturing Index was strong at 28.

There was nothing earth-shattering in the FOMC minutes. One thing did jump out at me, and it was the fact that they lowered their estimate for the potential GDP growth rate. They revised their GDP forecast downward and also said that unemployment was closer to its natural rate. This effectively lowered the “speed limit” of the U.S. economy, and in a way, waves the white flag over the plight of the long-term unemployed. Of course there is probably not much monetary policy can do for the long-term unemployed in the first place, but that is a separate issue. I guess the Fed is seeing wage growth somewhere (not sure where, aside from skilled labor), and they think we are closer to seeing inflation flare up for the whole economy. The punch line is that, at the margin, rates may be going up sooner than anticipated.

Speaking of inflation, thanks to the recent rally in the US dollar, commodity prices are getting slammed. Oil is down 13% in the last two months, natural gas is down 20%, corn is down 17%, and bonds are rallying. Not seeing where the inflation is going to come from. Fun fact: Spanish 10 year bond yields are now lower than the US 10 year. Remember the PIIGS of the European Sovereign Debt Crisis? Their bond yields are generally in line with ours: Portugal is 3.26%, Italy is 2.59%, Ireland is 1.88%, Greece is 5.78% and Spain is 2.39%. Kind of amazing when you think about it. The point is that you can’t look at US rates in a vacuum – worldwide sovereign yields are rallying, and it is pulling US yields lower as well.

Bank of America settles with the DOJ for $17 billion. BOA’s purchase of Countrywide will probably go down in history as one of the most ill-advised mergers ever, along with Time Warner’s purchase of AOL, and Warren Buffet’s purchase Johns Manville’s asbestos liability stream. Separately, while the government dropped its criminal case against Angelo Mozillo, they are still going after him in a civil case.

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