Markets are lower this morning as commodity prices fall. Bonds and MBS are up.
The Empire Manufacturing Index increased in April to the highest level in over a year. The bad news is that industrial production, manufacturing production and capacity utilization all fell in March. Some of that is going to be due to low oil prices, however global demand continues to fall. Economists are looking for weak Q1 GDP numbers, possibly below 1%.
Consumer Sentiment dipped in April, as increasing gasoline prices rose. Most consumers think the economy is getting worse. This was borne out in the Fannie Mae Housing sentiment index where consumers are the most pessimistic about the economy in two years.
Citigroup posted better than expected earnings this morning based on cost cutting. They launched a new round of layoffs, with up to 2,000 people being let go. Cost-cutting is the theme of banking right now, as Goldman is also calling for the deepest cuts in years.
Foreclosures are declining in importance in most markets – in fact foreclosure activity is below pre-recession levels in just over a third of metro areas, according to RealtyTrac. “Despite a seasonal bump higher in March, foreclosure activity in most markets continues to trend lower and back toward more healthy, stable levels,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at RealtyTrac. “More than one-third of the 216 local markets we analyzed were below their pre-recession foreclosure activity averages in the first quarter, and we would expect a growing number of markets to move below that milestone the rest of this year — while the number of markets with a lingering low-grade fever of foreclosure activity continues to shrink.”
We are starting to see weakness at the very high end of the real estate market. A combination of fevered building of luxury urban properties and waning overseas demand has created a glut of property in places like Miami, where prices are sliding 6% – 8%. The top 10% of condos saw a 15% price decline. Ever since the bust, luxury has been the only place that has been consistently working for builders.
Economists are becoming less convinced we will see 2 more rate hikes this year. Given the fragile global economy and the complete absence of inflation, the risks of hiking are growing larger. Until you see wage inflation, it is hard to imagine any real inflation pushing through to consumers. Even then, the Fed has said they want to let the labor economy “run hot” for a while, which probably means they will accept moderate wage inflation for some period in order to get the labor force participation rate back up.