Morning Report: Jerome Powell Addresses Congress 2/27/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2782.0 -2.5
Eurostoxx Index 381.8 -1.3
Oil (WTI) 63.6 -0.3
US dollar index 83.7 0.2
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.88%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.313
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 102.531
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4.4

Stocks are down small on no real news. Bonds and MBS are down as well.

Durable Goods Orders fell 3.7% in January MOM, but rose 6.8% YOY. Ex-transportation, they fell 0.3% MOM and rose 6.9% YOY. Core Capital Goods (a proxy for business capital expenditures and expansion) fell 0.2% MOM and is up 6.3% YOY.

In other economic news, the trade deficit widened to 74 billion, while retail inventories rose 0.8%. Wholesale Inventories rose 0.7%.

Home prices rose 6.3% YOY in December to close out 2017 up 6.3% overall. House price inflation will be subject to a bit of a push-pull effect: Strong demand and limited supply will provide support for home prices, while increasing interest rates will reduce affordability and should have a dampening effect on home price inflation. That said, by historical standards, these mortgage rates are still extremely low, and affordability is still extremely high, at least on a long-term basis when you use monthly payment as a percentage of income.

The FHFA House Price Index rose 0.3% and it is up 6.5% for the year.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell testifies in front of Congress this morning at 10:00 am. Here are his prepared remarks. Nothing in the remarks jumps out at me as anything all that new, although Powell argues that the stability of the labor force participation rate over the past few years is a sign of strength, not weakness. Yes, baby boomers are retiring but their kids are entering the workforce so it should balance out. Below is a chart of the labor force participation rate going back to WWII. Note the steady rise beginning in the 1960s. That is the baby boom entering the workforce, and the secular change of more women entering the workforce. About half of those gains have been given back in the Great Recession. I think he is saying that the labor force participation rate should be trending even lower due to demographic factors, and that the stability of the past few years is evidence that the labor market is strong. Perhaps.

The Fed has always had a simple model of unemployment and inflation called the Phillips Curve. It basically says that unemployment will start driving inflation if it gets low enough. Historically economists have thought that unemployment levels in the low 4s would trigger it. So far we have seen some wage inflation in some skilled areas, but nothing widespread. Most of the inflation we have been seeing has been commodity push inflation driven by food and energy prices. These things often reverse, as higher prices invite new supply. Or in other words, the cure for high prices is high prices.

You are beginning to see a new theory in academia – that the slow growth in wages is not due to a supply / demand issue, but is evidence of an antitrust problem, or at least a market failure. Hard to see how heavyweights like Wal Mart and McDonalds are colluding for low wage labor, but that;s what they believe, and they think the cure is a higher minimum wage, more unions, and exerting more oversight over the bigger employers. Occam’s Razor says that labor-replacing technology is probably the driver, but that’s no fun.

Toll Brothers reported better-than expected earnings this morning, showing that there is still plenty of strength in the luxury sector of the market. Orders rose 19% in units, and ASPs rose 6.8% to $826k.  Margins are falling however, as increasing input and labor costs push against price hikes.

Surprising stat: 35% of homebuyers bid on a home before seeing it in person. The young buyer is more likely to do this: almost half of Millennial buyers bid before seeing.

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