Morning Report: Spending and wages increase 4/30/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2679 7.6
Eurostoxx index 385.1 0.46
Oil (WTI) 67.48 -0.62
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

Stocks are higher after a slew of new mergers were announced. Bonds and MBS are up small.

We have a big week ahead with the FOMC meeting starting tomorrow and the jobs report on Friday. The Street isn’t looking for any changes in interest rates at the May meeting, but will focus as usual on the language of the statement. For the jobs report, the expectation is 190k new payrolls and 2.7% annual wage inflation.

Pending Home Sales were up marginally from February, but were still down on an annual basis, according to NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index. Bad weather in the Northeast pushed down pending sales, however all parts of the country were down. Again, blame low inventory and falling affordability.

Personal Incomes rose 0.3% in March, while personal spending rose 0.4%, in line with expectations. The PCE index was up 2% YOY and the core PCE index was up 1.9%. This is the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation and it is right where they are targeting. Income growth was the weakest since last Fall, however.

The big debate right now is whether there is any slack in the labor market. Anecdotal evidence abounds that companies are struggling to find qualified workers. However, Econ 101 says that we should be seeing higher wage inflation as a result and that isn’t happening (at least not yet). Some theories are claiming this is a market failure and that employers are artificially holding down wages (which is then used as an argument for more government intervention in the labor market). I suspect the issue is that there are three big forces holding back wage growth. First, inflation is low – if companies cannot pass along price increases to their customers, they aren’t going to be raising wages. Second, lower wage jobs are competing with technology which is only getting better and cheaper. And finally, the long-term unemployed represent a reservoir of slack that companies know they can tap if needed. FWIW, I think the first and third explanations explain it, and find the idea that employers are somehow colluding to keep wages low to be wholly unconvincing. Take a look at the chart below, which shows wage increases versus inflation. You are seeing actual wage growth.

wages vs inflation

For now it looks like the 3% level in the 10 year has held. What drove the sell-off – it wasn’t like there was anything data-wise to support it. JP Morgan blames CTAs using momentum strategies to short the 10-year. Chinese selling has also been rumored to be a factor. We won’t be able to confirm or deny that theory for a couple of months. CTA funds have been net short Treasuries since September, however a momentum signal in mid-April caused people to pile into the trade and that apparently drove the late month sell-off.

Steve Mnuchin is “cautiously optimistic” on trade talks with China. The subject will include intellectual property and joint ventures.

Defect risk decreased on a MOM basis but was up on a YOY basis, according to the First American Loan Defect Index. The biggest risk was in the sand states, while the lowest risk was in the Rust Belt.

Morning Report: GDP comes in better than expected 4/27/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2673 -1.5
Eurostoxx index 384.63 0.87
Oil (WTI) 67.92 -0.27
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.97%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are flat this morning after GDP came in higher than expected. Bonds and MBS are up small.

The advance estimate of first quarter GDP came in at 2.3%, higher than the Street 2.0% estimate. Consumption rose 1.1%, in line with estimates, and inflation was lower than expected at 2%. In many ways, this was a Goldilocks type report, with decent growth and controlled inflation. The savings rate increased to 3.1%, compared to 2.6% in the fourth quarter. One note of caution: the first quarter has had some quirky measurement issues over the past several years, which has subjected it to subsequent upward revisions. The tax cuts will probably have a similar effect this time around.

Wage inflation is picking up, according to the Employment Cost Index which rose 0.8% for the quarter and is up 2.7% for the year. Wages and salaries increased 0.9% compared to 0.5% in the previous quarter. For the Fed, these two reports this morning are great news. Real wage growth (2.7% increase in wages and salaries less a 2% increase in inflation) with moderate growth and inflation.

Consumer sentiment slipped from March’s 14 year high in April to a still strong 98.8.

The Fed Funds futures are predicting a 93% chance of another 25 basis point hike at the June meeting.

North and South Korea pledged to de-nuclearize the peninsula and declare an official end to the 50 year old Korean War.

Freddie Mac is introducing its 3% down product for first-time homebuyers – HomeOne. With an Affordable Second, the LTV can go as high as 105%. Income and geographic limits are intended to reach a broad audience.

The CFPB has fixed the “black hole” issue in TRID.

Morning Report: Initial Jobless Claims lowest since 1969 4/26/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2652.75 8.25
Eurostoxx index 382.29 2.12
Oil (WTI) 68.61 0.56
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.00%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are higher this morning on strong earnings from Facebook. Bonds and MBS are up.

The ECB maintained its current policy and made some cautious comments, which is pushing up bonds in Europe. US Treasuries are following along on the relative value trade.

The 10 year has made a pretty sizeable move over the past month or so, and mortgage rates typically lag. So don’t be surprised if mortgage rates continue to tick up, even if the 10 year finds a home at the 3% level.

The homeownership rate was flat in the first quarter at 64.2%. It is up from 63.6% a year ago however. It bottomed in the second quarter of 2016 at 62.9%.

Durable Goods Orders increased 2.6% in March, following a strong February. Ex-transportation, they were flat however and core capital goods, which is a proxy for business capital investment, fell slightly. February’s already strong numbers were revised up slightly.

Retail inventories fell 0.5% while wholesale inventories increased by the same amount.

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 209,000 last week, which is the lowest number since 1969. When you adjust for population growth, the number becomes even more dramatic:

Deutsche Bank is scaling back its US operations to focus on becoming a more Euro-centric bank. It is hard to believe, but almost 20 years ago, the bank decided to make a big foray into the US market by buying Banker’s Trust and Alex Brown.

Moody’s is worrying about the next area of opportunity in the mortgage market: cash-out refinances. As many CLTVs are approaching 75%, homeowners may choose to do a cash-out to either consolidate higher rate debt, or perhaps do home improvements. The other opportunity remains refinancing FHA loans that have accumulated enough equity to qualify for a conforming loan without MI. Finally, those who still have ARMs might find the relative attractiveness of a 30 year fixed to be a compelling switch. In an environment of rising home prices and rising interest rates, these will be the only game in town.

Homebuilders are facing rising input costs – sticks and bricks, if you will. Framing lumber prices are up 16% this year, and plywood is up 33%. Inventory is so tight that builders are able to pass these costs onto homebuyers. A tight labor market remains an issue for the industry as well. All of this points to higher home prices going forward.

For those wondering if we are indeed at the end of the credit cycle, here is WeWork’s bond offering, which came in at $700 million with bonds paying 7.875%. Borrowing money at 7.875% for 5% cap rate office space? Set that aside for the moment. They introduced a new financial concept, called “community-adjusted EBITDA,” which not only strips out interest, depreciation and amortization, and taxes, but also ignores general and administrative, marketing, and design / development costs. That has to be the first time I have ever heard this term before, and it should just be renamed EBBS – or earnings before bad stuff.

Morning Report: Stocks sell off as 10 year breaches 3% 4/25/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2626.5 -9
Eurostoxx index 379.58 -3.53
Oil (WTI) 67.53 -0.22
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.02%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.59%

Stocks are lower this morning after yesterday’s interest rate-driven sell-off. Bonds and MBS are down.

The 10 year breached the 3% mark yesterday, which served as a catalyst for a substantial stock market sell-off. Of course 3% is just a round number, but it is the highest rate since 2014. Some pros are looking for a global slowdown in the economy, which could make some corporate borrowers vulnerable. We certainly appear to be in the late stages of a credit cycle. Junk-rated bond issuance has been on a tear over the past few years, reaching $3 trillion as yield-starved investors have had to reach into the lower credits to make their return bogeys. That said, corporate bond spreads are still at historical lows, (investment grade spreads are still half of what they were as recently as early 2016. Let’s also not forget that much of the bond issuance over the past 8 years went to refinance old debt at higher interest rates – in other words it was a net positive for these companies.

We are now going to see just how much of the huge rally in financial assets over the last decade was due to the inordinate amount of stimulus coming out of the Fed. As stocks now have to compete with Treasuries, some changes in asset allocations are to be expected and the riskier assets are going to bear the brunt of the selling. Keep things in perspective, however. Interest rate cycles are measured in generations.

One of the benefits of QE has been to goose asset prices (which was kind of the whole point). Increasing people’s net worth would increase spending and therefore increase GDP. It probably worked, however that hasn’t been costless. One of the problems with increasing real estate prices is that it shuts people out from places where there is opportunity (California in particular). If you already own property in CA and have been experiencing torrid home price appreciation, you can move since your increased home equity can be used to purchase another expensive property. But if you live in the Midwest were home price appreciation has been less, you might not be able to take that job in San Francisco since you can’t afford to live there. That said, negative equity was probably a bigger problem and home price appreciation did mitigate that issue.

Mortgage Applications fell 0.2% last week as purchases were flat and refis were down 0.3%. Conforming rates increased 6 basis points, while government rates increased 1. ARMs decreased to 6% of total applications. A flattening yield curve makes ARMs less and less attractive relative to 30 year fixed mortgages.

Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney has made some changes at the Bureau. First, he is ending the pursuit of auto lenders, which Dodd-Frank prohibited. The Cordray CFPB did an end-around by going after the big banks behind some of the auto financing, and that will end. Second, Mulvaney will no longer make public the complaint database against financial services companies, saying that “I don’t see anything in here that I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government.” Finally, he plans to change the name from the CFPB to the BCFP. All of this is in keeping with Mulvaney’s commitment to follow the law and go no further.

Morning Report: New Home Sales and prices soar 4/24/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2682 10.5
Eurostoxx index 383.28 0.1
Oil (WTI) 68.68 0.01
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.99%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

Stocks are up this morning on strong earnings by Caterpillar. Bonds and MBS are down.

New Home Sales rose 4% MOM and 8.8% YOY to an annualized pace of 694,000 in March. The median sales price was$337,200 and the inventory of 301,000 represented about 5 month’s worth. The number was well above Street estimates, however the confidence interval for this estimate is invariably wide.

Consumer Confidence improved to 128.8 in April as tax cuts have pushed sentiment to post-recession highs.

Home price appreciation is accelerating, with the Case-Shiller Home Price index up 6.8% YOY. We saw double-digit annual increases in San Francisco, Seattle, and Las Vegas.

The FHFA House Price Index reported a bigger increase – 7.2% YOY. The FHFA index only covers conventional loans, so it is a narrower index than Case – Shiller. The increases ranged from 4.8% in the Middle Atlantic to 10.3% in the Pacific.

What is the issue with the lack of home construction? Lack of labor. The construction industry has about 250,000 unfilled jobs right now, according to the NAHB. At the peak of the bubble, there were about 5 million people in construction; today that number is closer to 3.8 million. Many of these workers found employment in other industries (especially energy extraction) and aren’t about to go back. Immigration restrictions are another headache, as the government estimates that 13% of the construction workforce is working illegally. Finally, the opiod epidemic is particularly problematic in an industry where people are likely to be injured on the job and in pain generally. Ultimately, wages will have to increase to the point to lure a new generation of construction workers out of their climate controlled offices.

Round numbers always bring out the strategists, and as the 10 year sits close to the 3% level, we are seeing pieces discussing the asset allocation implications. Since the financial crisis, the earnings yield on the S&P 500 has been higher than the 10 year, although the premium is at the lowest level since 2010. One strategist thinks the 1950s are a good analogy for investors, where interest rates gradually rose as the memories of the Great Depression faded and the economy was strong. As an aside, Jim Grant discusses how the big retail investor trade in the 1950s was the leveraged curve flattener, where people would borrow short term money to invest in long-term Treasuries. That trade worked until the bond market crashed in the late 50s and a lot of people got carried out.

Is demand falling for houses? According to Redfin’s Housing Demand Index it is. “Abnormally late winter weather and an early Easter likely delayed homeowners planning to list their homes for sale in March,” said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. “While inventory levels are still not nearly high enough to meet strong buyer demand, we do expect new listings to pick up in April and May.”

The House has introduced legislation to end regulation by enforcement by the CFPB. HR 5534 would require the CFPB to provide guidance on its regulations and to establish a framework for monetary penalties.

Morning Report: 10 year pushing 3% 4/23/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2675 3.9
Eurostoxx index 381.41 0
Oil (WTI) 67.33 -1.07
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.97%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.51%

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

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin signaled that the US is ready to discuss a truce in the trade war with China. He characterized his mood as “cautiously optimistic” and said he won’t make a commitment on timing. Beijing welcomed the announcement. Separately, Mnuchin also discussed easing sanctions on Rusal which sent aluminum prices back down.

Existing home sales rose on a month-over-month basis in March, but are down on an annual basis according to NAR. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says closings in March eked forward despite challenging market conditions in most of the country. “Robust gains last month in the Northeast and Midwest – a reversal from the weather-impacted declines seen in February – helped overall sales activity rise to its strongest pace since last November at 5.72 million,” said Yun. “The unwelcoming news is that while the healthy economy is generating sustained interest in buying a home this spring, sales are lagging year ago levels because supply is woefully low and home prices keep climbing above what some would-be buyers can afford.”

The median home price was $250,400, up 5.8% YOY. Inventory is down over 7% YOY to 1.67 million units, which represents a 3.6 month supply at current sales levels. A historically balanced market would be 6.5 month’s worth. Properties stayed on market for an average of 30 days, which is down almost a week YOY. The first time homebuyer accounted for 30% of sales, and all-cash sales were 20% of transactions.

Commodity price inflation has pushed the 10 year yield to 3%. Many technical analysts consider that to be confirmation that the 3 decade bull run in bonds is over. The one caveat is that the sell-off is being driven by rising commodity prices which tends to be temporary, especially if it doesn’t translate into wage growth. You can see the pop in yields post-election below. Hard to believe we were sub 1.8% in late October 2016.

This week will have some important data to the bond market, with GDP and the employment cost index on Friday. We will also get a slew of housing data with existing home sales, new home sales, and Case-Shiller.

The Street estimate for Q1 GDP is 2%. Generally speaking, the estimates from the banks are lower than the estimates from the regional Federal Reserve banks.

Economic activity moderated in March, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production and employment indicators fell. February’s reading was unusually strong, however. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 different economic indices, and can be volatile. It isn’t a market-mover.

A paper suggests that the ratings agencies largely got it right with the bubble-era RMBS. The AAA tranches (even subprime) were largely money good, and the study pours cold water on the popular narrative that inflated ratings on RMBS caused the financial crisis.

The big banks are rushing to launch websites and apps for mortgages as volume contracts. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan have either launched or plan to launch mortgage banking tech products in response to Rocket Mortgage from Quicken. The company claims that 98% of its customers in the first quarter (some $20 billion in origination) accessed Rocket at some point in the application process. That is an astounding number, though I wonder if that includes push notifications that the borrower didn’t necessarily respond to or interact with.

Speaking of tech, HUD is looking into allegations of housing discrimination by Facebook. Facebook uses big data to allow advertisers to slice and dice the demographics any way they want to target their specific market. What if advertisers decide to target some demographics and not others? That is considered non-problematic for things like consumer products, but housing could be a different story.

Morning Report: Wells gets a $1 billion fine 4/20/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2691.25 -1.75
Eurostoxx index 381.41 -0.54
Oil (WTI) 67.9 -0.39
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.92%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.45%

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

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators took a step back in March, following unusually strong readings in January and February. Employment-related indicators drove the decline, however weather could have played a part. “The LEI points to robust economic growth throughout 2018,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, director of business cycles and growth research at the Conference Board. “While the Federal Reserve is on track to continue raising its benchmark rate for the rest of the year, the recent weakness in residential construction and stock prices—important leading indicators—should be monitored closely.”

Regulators are close to fining Wells Fargo $1 billion. This stems from force-placed auto insurance and improperly charged lock extensions. An internal review found that up to 20,000 customers had their cars repossessed due to these improper insurance charges.

Donald Trump tweeted about how OPEC’s manipulation of oil prices will not be tolerated. “Looks like OPEC is at it again,” Trump said on Twitter. “Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!” OPEC fired back, claiming that oil prices reflect geopolitics and not manipulation.

Maxine Waters introduced legislation to increase scrutiny of FHA servicers. The bill aims to improve compliance with loss mitigation actions to prevent foreclosures. It will also establish a process for borrowers to register complaints and make appeals if they believe they are being treated unfairly. I am not sure what chance this has of actually becoming law, but government MSRs already trade far back of Fannie MSRs, and I can’t imagine this helps things.

Here is a new metric for measuring affordability: payment power. It basically is a metric that looks at MSAs on a granular level. it measures incomes versus available inventory and calculates how many people can afford the PITI payments for the typical home for sale. It takes into account changes in incomes (say due to an employer entering or leaving), interest rates and property taxes. Unsurprisingly, the Midwest has the best payment power levels, while the West Coast has the least.

Nice fixer-upper just went for $1.23 million in the Bay Area.

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