Morning Report: Wages and confidence rising 10/31/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2573.0 4.8
Eurostoxx Index 394.7 0.8
Oil (WTI) 54.1 -0.1
US dollar index 87.6 0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.37%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.875
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.99

Stocks are up this morning as we start the November FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are down small.

No changes to FOMC policy are expected at this week’s meeting, however the Fed Funds market is predicting a 96% chance they raise rates in December.

Aside from the FOMC meeting, Congress is expected to unveil tax reform tomorrow, and Trump is slated to nominate the new Federal Reserve Chairman on Thursday. And on Friday, we get the all-important jobs report, so a lot going on this week.

Despite what the business press is saying, the markets are treating the Mueller / Manafort thing as a sideshow. As of now, nothing going on there is going to affect Washington enough to rile up markets. Earnings are the focus at the moment for stocks, and economic data (along with foreign central bank policy) is driving the bond market.

The Washington DC goat rodeo isn’t affecting consumer confidence either, which just hit a 17 year high. Most notably, the job market got positive marks for strength for the first time since 2001.

Are we starting to see stirrings of wage inflation? Perhaps. The Employment Cost Index rose 0.7% in the third quarter, faster than the 0.5% rate we saw in the second. Wages and salaries (which account for 70% of the ECI) rose 0.7%, while benefits rose 0.8%. On a year-over-year basis, they rose 2.5%. So far, bonds aren’t reacting to the number. An increase in wage inflation will force the Fed to move more aggressively. For those who worry about income inequality, the biggest growth was in blue collar jobs, where wages rose 0.8% and benefits rose 1.7%.

Home prices rose 0.5% in August and are up 5.9% for the year, according to Case-Shiller. Seattle has been on a tear, rising over 13% for the past year, followed by Las Vegas and San Diego. A strong economy along with low inventory and rates have been a support for home prices. The interest rate environment will be changing, however inventory doesn’t appear to be a temporary phenomenon, and the US economy seems to be accelerating, not declining. While the usual affordability questions are mentioned, the median mortgage payment for the median house as a percent of income is still very low by historical standards.

Note that the lack of building is simply creating pent-up demand for housing which will get satisfied eventually. That will push up growth for the next few years when it finally happens.

Manufacturing continues to hum along, with the Chicago PMI coming in well above expectations.

Bitcoin futures are coming… The contracts will be cash settled, not by delivery of the underlying.

Morning Report: Personal spending rises on strong vehicle sales 10/30/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2572.3 -6.3
Eurostoxx Index 393.6 0.2
Oil (WTI) 54.1 0.2
US dollar index 87.7 0.4
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.39%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.875
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4

Stocks are down this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are up.

This week will have a lot of market-moving potential, between the FOMC meeting and the jobs report. We will also get productivity and employment costs, two numbers the Fed monitors closely.

Personal incomes rose 0.4%, while spending rose 1%. Wages and salaries increased 0.4%. Inflation remains under the Fed’s target, but it did pick up in September to 1.6% on higher food and energy prices. The core rate increased 1.3%. A bump up in motor vehicle spending was behind the strong spending number, however that could be replacement activity for areas affected by the hurricanes in September. Regardless, it was the strongest jump in vehicle sales since “Cash for Clunkers” in early 2009.

Donald Trump is leaning towards Jerome Powell to run the Fed after Janet Yellen’s term expires in February. Jerome Powell is the economists’ choice and will probably continue on the same path that has already been established: gradual rate increases and a gradual tapering of QE. “People are anxiously awaiting my decision as to who the next head of the Fed will be,” Trump said an Instagram video Friday. Historically, nobody pays too much attention to who runs the Fed aside from bankers and financial economists. Reagan jammed Paul Volcker’s re-appointment in an unrelated radio address from Camp David. He even joked before the big announcement that “I have a story that will crack this town wide open”

Home price appreciation continues, as the Black Knight Home Price Index rose .2% in August and is up 6.2% YOY. New York (!) was one of the fast growing states, rising 1.6%. Georgia, Maryland and Virginia saw slight declines. Seattle continues to astound, with prices up 12% YTD and up 14% YOY.

We should get more details on tax reform this week, and we have been getting a lot of mixed signals and trial balloons. After talk about limiting 401k contributions, now the talk is of increasing the deduction to $20k. On the state and local tax deduction, it looks like property taxes may still be deductible, but state taxes will not be. Stay tuned.

There is a big merger in the homebuilder space this morning: Lennar and CalAtlantic will merge which will create the US’s biggest homebuilder by revenue.

Manafort Indictment Here (and not related to DJT on its face)

Manafort and his partner, Richard Gates, were apparently big time crooks.

The indictment is replete with factual allegations which include defrauding banks, major tax evasion, FBar violations, money laundering [HUGE money laundering], and more. A fascinating read. I have not tried to read between the lines to find the connection to the campaign, if any. I invite you to do so.

Morning Report: Q3 GDP comes in strong 10/27/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2567.3 5.8
Eurostoxx Index 392.7 1.4
Oil (WTI) 52.4 -0.3
US dollar index 88.2 0.4
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.46%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.875
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4

Stocks are higher this morning on strong earnings and a good GDP report. Bonds and MBS are down.

Very slow news day.

Third quarter GDP came in at 3%, much higher than the 2.5% the Street was looking for. This is the strongest back-to-back performance since 2014. It looks like the hurricanes had a negligible effect on growth, and the Commerce Department cannot measure the effect at any rate. Consumption increased 2.4%. Housing remained a weak spot, falling 6%, as builders struggle with labor shortages and a lack of buildable land. This is the worst stretch for housing since 2010. The core inflation rate rose at 1.3%, an increase from the 0.9% from Q2, but well below the Fed’s 2% target.

Paul Ryan is confident he can sweeten tax reform to bring some of the last GOP holdouts in line. The biggest hurdle will be Republican house members in blue states, who will be affected by any changes to the state and local tax deduction. Tax reform is scheduled to be unveiled November 1.

The luxury end of the market is beginning to bifurcate, as the super high end ($5 MM plus) languishes while homes in the $1.5 million range are moving quickly. Demand for high-end homes is being driven by foreign demand as well as the stock market rally. That said, in the Northeast, particularly the pricey NYC suburbs, sellers are pulling their listings given weak demand.

Janet Yellen is reportedly out of the running now for Fed Chairman. It will come down to John Taylor (the conservative choice) versus Jerome Powell (the Professional Economist’s choice). Her term ends February 1.

Ben Carson says that HUD will work with DOJ to pull back on fines for mortgage lending errors. Aggressive prosecution during the Obama Administration pushed J.P. Morgan to get out of the FHA business altogether. “Innocent errors should not create chaos and fear and make people less likely to get involved in the first place,” he said.

Morning Report: Pending Home Sales flat 10/26/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2561.8 3.3
Eurostoxx Index 389.7 2.5
Oil (WTI) 52.2 0.0
US dollar index 87.4 0.2
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.43%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.875
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.93

Stocks are up this morning after yesterday’s sell-off. Bonds and MBS are up on the ECB’s decision to start tapering QE.

Initial Jobless Claims rose 10k to hit 233k last week. We are still at historically low levels.

Pending home sales were flat in September, according to NAR. The hurricanes in Florida and Texas did depress the number somewhat, but the same old story of low inventory is the real culprit. The Pending Home Sale Index is the lowest since early 2015.

The House will vote on a budget for next year, which will set the stage for tax reform scheduled to be announced on November 1. As expected, the state and local tax deduction is the biggest bone of contention, with Northeast Republicans dead set against ending it. They are hoping to use the budget vote as leverage to keep the deduction in the tax plan, but they may end up having to wait to see what comes out of the Committee.

Rising rents are becoming a burden for one in five renters, as the number of people looking to rent exceeds the supply of rentals out there. For people earning under 30,000, 28% were unable to make a full rental payment in the last 3 months. Affordable housing advocates will undoubtedly seize upon this number in order to push HUD to do more.

The MBA is forecasting about a 5% drop in origination volume from 2017 to 2018 based on higher interest rates depressing refinancing opportunities. Refis will probably be driven by two effects going forward: home price appreciation and the flattening yield curve. As home prices appreciate, those that have FHA loans with MI may now have enough equity in their homes to refinance into a conventional loan with no MI, thus saving a lot of money. Second, 30 year fixed rate mortgages will become more attractive relative to ARMS as the yield curve flattens. These two effects will create refinance opportunities in a rising interest rate environment. That said, purchase activity will be driving things going forward.

The financial services industry had a small victory yesterday as the Senate overturned a rule from the CFPB allowing class-action suits for banks. The argument in favor of class action lawsuits say it is necessary to prevent bad behavior from the banks, while those against class action suits say that wronged customers make more in arbitration, since they save on legal fees. While the big banks are probably able to absorb the massive penalties from a class-action suit, the smaller ones probably cannot. This is a highly divisive issue, pitting two giant funding sources for both parties: the trial lawyer bar for Democrats, and the financial services industry for Republicans. The vote was 50-50 and Mike Pence had to cast the tiebreaking vote.

The BLS released its projection of the job market for the next 10 years. Suffice it to say, the trends we have been seeing over the past decades (decreased emphasis on manufacturing, increased emphasis on services, higher education requirements) will continue. Heath care employment is the growth area, while many manufacturing jobs are becoming obsolete.

dorme con i pesci, Harvey Weinstein

[Any excuse to link this song]

Morning Report: New Home Sales increase smartly 10/25/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2564.0 -3.3
Eurostoxx Index 389.9 0.6
Oil (WTI) 52.3 -0.2
US dollar index 87.3 0.0
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.46%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.875
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.93

Stocks are lower on no real news. Bonds and MBS are down.

Stocks are in the middle of earnings season. Companies that beat their numbers are seeing a slight bump, while companies that miss are being taken to the woodshed. AMD is down 8% this morning, and Chipotle is down 14%. This has been a historical warning sign for stocks, along with declining breadth.

New Home Sales shocked to the upside, rising 19% MOM and 17% YOY to an annualized pace of 667,000. FWIW, the margin of error on these estimates out of Census is gargantuan, and building permits / housing starts have not really confirmed this data. Regardless, it is great news, if it holds up. The biggest growth was in the South, although we saw increases everywhere.

Mortgage Applications fell 4.6% last week as purchases fell 6% and refis fell 3%. Rising rates affected the numbers as well as the comparison to the holiday-shortened week previously. Overall, mortgage rates increased about 4 basis points to 4.18%. The purchase index is up 10% YOY.

Durable goods orders came in better than expected, increasing 2.2%, a touch better than expectations. Ex-transportation, they rose 0.7%. Core capital goods expenditures rose 1.3%.

Home prices rose 0.7% MOM and 6.6% YOY, according to the FHFA House Price Index.

The 10 year bond yield is trading above 2.4% – a key technical level over the past year. If it holds, it means the bond bears might have their day at last. Much of this will depend on whether we get tax reform, and what shape it takes. Republicans are supposedly releasing their tax bill on November 1.

Machinations in DC are not the only thing influencing bonds, though. Overseas strength is also playing a role here: the UK economy grew faster than expected, and German business confidence is at a high. Despite the differences between economies, sovereign debt does trade as an asset class and therefore strength and weakness overseas will flow through to our bond market.

One thing to keep in mind is that mortgage rates generally lag Treasuries. In other words, if the 10 year bond yield spikes, mortgage rates will generally take a few days to adjust. So, if you are floating and wondering whether to lock, mortgage rates will probably move up over the course of the next few days if this level holds in the 10 year. It pays to check the movements in the 10 year and the mortgage market to get an idea of where mortgage rates are headed over a day or two.

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake announced yesterday that he will not run for re-election. Republicans have a huge advantage in the Senate midterms as they are defending only a few seats while Democrats are defending a lot. There was always a rift in the Republican Party between Trump and Establishment Republicans, who were never comfortable with each other. Establishment Republicans like Corker and Flake were going to be primaried, and it appears that their constituents are further to the right than they are. Despite all the media spin, Jeff Flake was going to have a tough re-election anyway. This is nothing new: In 2010, Republicans hoped to re-take the Senate, however they ran some Tea Party types who ended up losing. The entire US electorate is becoming more polarized, which makes legislation all that more difficult, and shows the importance of controlling the regulatory agencies.

Fannie Mae is collaborating with fintech companies to launch Single Source Validation, part of its Day 1 Certainty program. Single Source Validation will augment a borrower’s credit report with data from other sources. The program is being piloted right now with Quicken. They are also working with companies to improve security and to allow lenders to get info directly from the borrower’s bank without having to scan and email statements.

What jobs are most likely to not be replaced by robots and AI? Many in healthcare.

Morning Report: Dave Stevens talks at the MBA conference 10/24/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2567.3 3.8
Eurostoxx Index 390.5 -0.3
Oil (WTI) 52.2 0.3
US dollar index 87.2 0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.41%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.875
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.9

Stocks are up this morning on strong earnings, especially from CAT. Bonds and MBS are down small.

Manufacturing continues to be strong, according to the Markit Flash PMI which came in stronger than expected.

Whoever Trump nominates to replace Janet Yellen will have a more hawkish bent than she had, and the Street is making a bet on a flatter yield curve. This means that people are betting that short term rates will increase more than long term rates as the Fed hikes, which should translate into at least stable mortgage rates despite a rising Fed Funds rate. The yield curve flattened during the last 3 tightening cycles and even inverted in one of them.

The Fed Funds futures are now pricing in a 97% chance for a December hike.

The Treasury Department has weighed in on the CFPB’s proposed arbitration rule, and concluded that it “failed to meaningfully evaluate whether prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer financial contracts would serve either consumer protection or the public interest — its two statutory mandates.” They conclude that the CFPB’s rule will do more for trial lawyers than it ever will for consumers of businesses – it is basically a $300 million transfer of wealth to the Plaintiff’s Bar, coming from consumers and business.

The MBA National Conference is going on right now in Denver. Dave Stevens warned that the heads of the FHFA and CFPB will be replaced in the future, and that could mean big changes for the industry. Mortgage bankers have a false sense of security at the moment, with the current FHFA Chairman advocating for a strong role of government in housing finance. That could change. Making the current changes permanent will require legislation, however and housing finance reform always seems to be something down on the priority list.

76% of people renting believe it is more affordable than home ownership, and that could help explain why the homeownership rate is so low, particularly among the young. Certainly the housing indices show prices back to the heady days of 2006, however remember these indices aren’t indexed for inflation. If you make the inflation adjustment, we still have not recouped those losses. When you take into account the tax effects and interest rates, affordability hit a record in 2012 and buying is still extremely cheap compared to historical numbers.

Morning Report: 401k plans won’t be affected by tax reform 10/23/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2575.8 1.8
Eurostoxx Index 390.9 0.8
Oil (WTI) 52.0 0.2
US dollar index 87.2 0.2
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.38%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.875
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.9

Stocks are up small on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Economic activity picked up in September, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production, consumption, and employment indicators all improved. August and July were both weak, so the 3 month moving average is still negative, but within the range that shows the economy growing on trend.

Congress continues to work on tax reform. Over the weekend, a trial balloon was floated that concerned limiting 401k contributions. This morning, Donald Trump tweeted that no changes in 401ks are being contemplated. Here is going to be the rub for tax reform. While the elderly were historically considered the “third rail” of American politics, in fact the real third rail is the upper middle class. Things like the mortgage interest deduction, 401k contributions, 529 college savings plans, etc are going to be almost impossible to eliminate. Obama tried to tinker with 529 plans and got nowhere. The state and local tax deduction is probably going to tough to eliminate as well, given that there is uniform Democratic opposition to any sort of tax reform, and there are enough blue state Republicans in the House who will see their constituents hit with higher tax bills. Donald Trump is so eager for a win, he will probably sign anything, and that “anything” will probably consist of a few marginal cosmetic things that won’t amount to much of a change. It will allow everyone to claim victory and move on to the midterms.

The prospect for tax reform is affecting interest rates. As we increase the probability of tax reform, rates are going to go up on the expected economic growth. If we end up getting some sort of symbolic tax reform, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a “buy the rumor, sell the fact” effect. In other words, an increase in rates leading up to it, and then a drop as people digest the fact that it probably won’t make much of a difference in growth.

Trump said he will decide on the new Fed Head “very shortly.” It is between Jerome Powell (the economists’ choice), John Taylor (the conservative choice) and Janet Yellen (the liberal choice). This decision will be relatively apolitical, and will be nothing like when Obama was leaning towards Larry Summers and Elizabeth Warren led a vanguard from the left to nominate Janet Yellen.

Ray Dalio of Bridgewater warns the Fed to not pay too close of attention to national statistics that are simply averages. As the economy bifurcates and the top 40% pull away from the bottom 60%, the effects of a recession will be borne more by those in the lower part. The punch line: the 4.2% unemployment rate probably overstates the strength of the labor market, and GDP growth overstates the growth of the economy. While he is correct on both points, the Fed doesn’t seem to be in danger of overshooting and sending the economy into a recession. They are stepping very gingerly, and are de-emphasizing the unemployment rate in favor of wage inflation. Inflation is coming back in commodity prices (especially food), but that is almost invariably a temporary phenomenon.

Morning Report: Existing home sales fall 10/20/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2565.8 5.3
Eurostoxx Index 390.2 1.1
Oil (WTI) 51.0 -0.3
US dollar index 86.7 0.2
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.35%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.875
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.9

Stocks are higher after the Senate passed a budget resolution which allows tax reform to go forward. Bonds and MBS are down.

Existing Home Sales increased 0.7% in September, according to the National Association of Realtors. This is down 1.5% YOY. September’s number was only slightly higher than August, which was the lowest reading in a year. The median home price rose 4.2% to 245,100. Inventory is still a big problem, down YOY at 4.2 month’s worth from 4.5 a year ago. The first time homebuyer was 29% of sales, which was a drop. There is a complete dearth of listings at the low end of the market.

The Senate passed a budget resolution last night on party lines (with Rand Paul voting against) which allows tax reform to go forward on a simple majority. There are still a couple of differences between what the House and Senate are willing to accept. The House wants to see revenue-neutral tax reform, while the Senate is willing to accept an increase in the deficit. The House version includes spending cuts to offset the tax cuts, while the Senate version envisions additional revenue from allowing more oil production in Alaska. They hope to have a deal by the end of the year.

General Electric missed earnings badly this morning, however this appears to be a bit of a kitchen sink release for the new CEO. Regardless, the stock is down 6% this morning. GE historically has been a bellwether for the entire stock market, but today the FAANGs run the show.

The next Fed nominee is reportedly a horse race between Jerome Powell and John Taylor. Trump is expected to make his announcement in the next couple of weeks. Insiders say that Powell is the favorite of the two. Both nominees are more hawkish than Janet Yellen, which means rates will go up faster and higher, at least at the margin. In all honesty, the practical differences between Yellen and these nominees is not all that large. It probably won’t make any difference to the economy.

The increasing digitization of real estate transactions has increased the risk of fraud. Scammers are issuing emailed instructions to change wire transfer destinations on closing day. The best step buyers can take is simply to be aware of the potential for fraud and to verify everything, especially changes in wiring instructions.

The latest CoreLogic Market Pulse takes a look at the effects of the hurricanes on local real estate markets. They estimate that 70% of the flood damage in the Houston area is uninsured. This will be a nightmare for loan servicers. Separately, Black Knight Financial Services is seeing about a 9% jump in past-due mortgages due to the hurricanes. In fact, September had the first year-on-year increase in delinquencies since 2010.

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