Stocks are lower this morning on fears of another yuan devaluation. Bonds and MBS are down.
Home Prices continued to rally in December, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. They were up 0.8% on a month-over-month basis and up 5.7% on a year-over-year basis. Prices remain about 11.5% below their July 2006 peak. Note the FHFA House Price index which we will get on Thursday is already at new highs.
Existing Home Sales were up 0.4% at 5.47 million units in January, according to the National Association of Realtors. On a year-over-year basis, they are up 11%, the biggest gain in 3 years. The median home price rose 8.2% year-over-year to $213,800 as supply constraints continue to drive up prices. Housing inventory is 1.82 million units, which represents a 4 month supply. A balanced market is more like 6 – 6.5 month’s worth. Ultimately, the big price increases are unhealthy because incomes have yet to really exhibit growth (although that may be changing). The median house price to median income ratio is roughly 3.8x, using the median income data from Sentier. 3.3 – 3.7x which is about normal.
Speaking of home supply, McMansion builder Toll Brothers reported earnings this morning. Revenues were driven again by an 11.7% increase in average selling prices and not by unit growth. Gross margins fell, which speaks to increasing costs. So far this February, deposits and contracts are flat with last year. The decline in stocks probably has a lot to do with it as the luxury buyer is going to be more sensitive to asset prices than the first time homebuyer.
Interesting to see this dynamic with the builders – a reluctance to build more units despite higher prices. Interestingly, CalAtlantic (the new name for Standard Pacific and Ryland after their merger) is bringing back the buydown loan.
In other economic news, consumer confidence slipped in in February, and the Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index both fell.
Blackrock is warning clients that the Fed is not likely to sit out the rest of 2016, the way the Fed Funds futures markets are predicting. Efficient market theorists might scoff at that notion, however the interest rate markets are so manipulated by central banks at the moment it makes sense to look at market signals with a jaundiced eye. What does that mean to mortgage types? Make hay now, because no one knows how long these low rates are going to stick around.
Speaking of credit markets, the new subprime – auto loans – are beginning to exhibit signs of trouble. Auto loans are being priced like mortgages, however a mortgage is secured by a generally appreciating asset, while an auto loan is secured by a depreciating asset. This is the result of financial repression, which is the act of pushing interest rates to the floor. Investors who have to earn a return (like pension funds and insurance companies) are forced to move further and further out on the risk curve to earn their required return. The actuarial tables really couldn’t care less that interest rates are zero.
Donald Trump looks to be cruising to a third consecutive victory in Nevada. The big question for the D is whether he is a plurality winner or a majority winner. Once the establishment coalesces around one candidate will he continue to lead? One other interesting tidbit: Democratic turnout for the primaries is pretty depressed. Republican turnout is huge. Kind of pokes a hole in the media’s attempt to create a Bernie Sanders movement, doesn’t it?