Morning Report: Housing starts depressed by hurricanes 9/19/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2504.5 1.8
Eurostoxx Index 382.0 0.0
Oil (WTI) 50.3 0.4
US dollar index 85.3 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.22%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.33
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.83

Stocks are flat this morning as the Fed begins its meeting. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

Housing starts for August came in at 1.18 million, a touch above the 1.17 million estimate. Building Permits rose 1.3 million, much better than the 1.23 million the Street was forecasting. The hurricanes did depress starts a bit, as the FEMA disaster areas accounted for about 13% of US building permits. Multi-family starts have been more or less flatlining over the past couple years, while single family has steadily increased. Note that starts will probably be depressed over the near term as construction workers in these already tight markets get drawn into rebuilding projects versus new home construction.

Import prices rose 0.6% MOM and 2.1% YOY as the hurricanes boosted energy prices last month. The Fed will almost certainly consider that effect to be transitory and it won’t affect their inflation out look all that much.

Mortgage fraud risk is up 17% YOY, according to CoreLogic. In the second quarter, over 13,400 mortgage applications (or 0.82%) showed symptoms of fraud, compared to 12,700 (0.7%) a year earlier. “This past year we saw a relatively large increase in the CoreLogic National Mortgage Application Fraud Index,” said Bridget Berg, principal, Fraud Solutions for CoreLogic. “If the factors that influenced the increase continue, including a shift to purchase transactions and growing wholesale channel origination activity, it is likely that mortgage application fraud risk will continue to rise as well. Fraud on cash-out refinance transactions and home equity loans may become more of a factor in the coming years as home values and equity rise.”

30 day + Delinquencies fell to 4.5% in June from 5.3% a year ago. The foreclosure rate of 0.7% was the lowest in 10 years. The range went from 0.1% in the Denver MSA to 2.2% in the Newark MSA. Decent home price appreciation and job growth are pushing delinquencies back down to pre-crisis levels.

The Fed is expected to announce that it will begin to unwind its balance sheet at the September meeting. There seems to be a lot of handwringing in the press over the implications of the Fed ending its “easy money” policy. An important thing to remember is that easy money / tight money isn’t a binary choice. It is a continuum. In all reality, if you were to put Fed policy on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being easy money, we are basically moving from 1.0 to 1.1. Real short term interest rates (i.e the Fed funds rate less the inflation rate) are still negative. Long term real rates are barely positive. The Fed will still continue to purchase assets in the open markets, however they will let something like 10% – 20% of maturing assets simply go away. These are truly baby steps intended to cause as little negative impact as possible. The Fed is going very slow and cautiously, and the persistent low inflation numbers give them that cushion.

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