Morning Report: Housing starts disappoint 1/18/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2802.5 -1.3
Eurostoxx Index 398.1 0.1
Oil (WTI) 64.0 0.1
US dollar index 84.5 -0.2
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.62%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.375
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.25
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4.03

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

The House looks ready to pass a one-month stopgap measure to keep the lights on. Senate Democrats are considering blocking it in order to push immigration reform, but nothing is set in stone. Bottom line, the odds of a government shutdown tomorrow are falling.

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 220,000 last week. This is a 45 year low. When you take into account population growth and the fact that we had a military draft back then that number is astounding.

The Beige Book was released yesterday, and contained no major surprises. Growth is “modest to moderate” in most districts and the labor market is tight, to the point of constraining growth. They mentioned that we are seeing wage inflation more broadly in some districts, while inflation is generally under control. Separately, the Philly Fed report showed that growth eased somewhat, however it is still very strong.

Housing starts came in at 1.19 million units (annualized), which was a big disappointment. Hurricane effects probably played a part, as many construction workers are being diverted to repair work. We did see a substantial (14%) drop in starts in the South. Building Permits came in at 1.3 million. All told, 1.2 million housing units were started in 2017, which was more or less flat with 2016. This is about 80% of the pre-bubble average of 1.5 million units a year.

Mel Watt discussed housing reform in a letter to the Senate Banking Committee. He urged lawmakers to establish a guarantor framework where shareholder-owned entities guarantee mortgages with a government backstop and a utility model. The utility model means that pricing will be set by the government in order to set an allowable rate of return for the company and nothing more, similar to how gas and electric companies are run. If one of the guarantors runs into trouble, they will be allowed to fail, however the mortgages they guarantee will be backstopped by the government, thus protecting MBS investors. The document also recommended that these guarantors offset their credit risk in the private market when economically feasible and that they hold enough capital to withstand another 2007.

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