Morning Report: Job cuts fall 5/31/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2725 1
Eurostoxx index 386.51 1
Oil (WTI) 67.49 -0.72
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.86%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.47%

Stocks are flat this morning after personal incomes came in as expected. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Personal Incomes rose 0.3% in April, in line with expectations. Personal Spending rose 0.6%, higher than the 0.4% estimate and inflation was tame at 2% YOY, with the core rate up 1.8% YOY. The big jump in consumer spending will probably have some strategists taking up their estimates for Q2 GDP. March and February spending numbers were revised upward. Inflation remains in check, which will give the Fed the leeway to hold off on hiking rates if the European situation with Italy escalates.

Pending Home Sales fell 13% in April, according to NAR. The supply / demand imbalance remains the story: Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the housing market this spring is hindered because of the severe housing shortages in much of the country. “Pending sales slipped in April and continued to stay within the same narrow range with little signs of breaking out,” he said. “Feedback from Realtors®, as well as the underlying sales data, reveal that the demand for buying a home is very robust. Listings are typically going under contract in under a month1, and instances of multiple offers are increasingly common and pushing prices higher.”

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 221,000 last week. We are still at exceptionally low levels.

Mortgage rates fell 10 basis points last week, and this is even before the huge bond market rally on Tuesday.

Deutsche Bank was put on the troubled bank list last year. This was obviously a big impetus behind its decision to reduce its US footprint. The German regulators have been on top of the bank as well. With credit default spreads widening in the Euro banking market, expect to see the European Central Bank tread extremely cautiously with policy normalization, and for the Fed to adopt a wait and see attitude after hiking in June. Separately, if Deutsche Bank decides to exit the US entirely, wouldn’t it be wild to see them spin off Bankers Trust?

Job Cuts fell to 31,517 in May, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas. This is the seasonally slow period for job cuts, as most companies concentrate them in Jan-Feb time frame. The cuts are mainly coming in retail, although things are picking up in the financial sector. Regionally, they are concentrated in the Northeast, particularly NY and NJ.

The Trump Administration is set to push for tariffs on European steel and aluminum. A German magazine said that Trump told French President Emannuel Macron that he wanted to “stick to his trade policy long enough until no Mercedes-Benz cars were cruising through New York.” The deadline for negotiations is this Friday.

US regulators are set to sand off some of the harder edges on Dodd-Frank and the Volcker Rule. The biggest change requested from the industry is the rebuttable presumption that any position held for less than 60 days is considered a proprietary trade. Essentially, this is a “innocent until proven guilty” scenario. The Fed also intends to clarify the liquidity management exception, which is meant to distinguish between market-making and proprietary trading. At the end of the day, falling commissions and tightening bid/ask spreads have made market-making an unprofitable business for the most part anyway. I suspect investors and regulators are in for an unpleasant surprise the next time we have a crash and the only bids in the market are retail GTC orders.

The number of underwater homes fell below 10% in the fourth quarter for the first time since the crisis. Torrid home price appreciation has cut the percentage down to 9.1%, or about 4.4 million homes. “For much of the country the Great Recession is an increasingly distant memory – the American economy is booming once again and markets are now shifting their gaze to future downturn risks,” said Zillow senior economist Aaron Terrazas. “But scattered in neighborhoods across the country, the legacy of the mid-2000s housing bubble and bust lingers among the millions of Americans still underwater on their mortgages, trapped in their homes with no easy options to regain equity other than waiting.” The worst areas? Chicago, Virginia Beach, and Baltimore.

Morning Report: Markets now heavily discounting 4 hikes this year 5/30/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2705 4
Eurostoxx index 384.58 0.1
Oil (WTI) 67.12 0.39
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.84%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.45%

Stocks are slightly higher this morning as Italian bonds bounce. Bonds and MBS are down.

US Treasuries touched 2.76% yesterday on the flight to quality trade. The Fed Funds futures are now predicting a 81% chance of a hike in June. The biggest effect of the Italy situation can be seen in the December Fed Funds futures. A couple of weeks ago, we were looking at a coin toss for 4 hikes this year. Now it is closer to 20%. The dot plot consensus is 3, so the markets are aligning a little closer to what the Fed thinks it is going to do.

Why is Italy worrying the markets so much? Italy has a huge amount of debt – 1.9 trillion euros worth. Its debt to GDP ratio is 130%. The fear is that the uncertainty over this issue over the summer will depress Euro growth, while the banking sector (which already has some issues) will take further hits. As of now, this is a political, not an economic issue – Italian yields are around 3%, nowhere near the 8% level they hit in 2012. Note that Spanish yields are beginning to creep up as well.

Mortgage Applications fell 3% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 5%. This is the 8th consecutive decline. The refi index is down to the lowest level since December 2000. “Rates slipped slightly over the week as concerns over U.S. trade policy and global growth sent some investors back to safer U.S. Treasuries,” said MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting Joel Kan. “Minutes from the most recent Federal Open Market Committee meeting also yielded a more dovish tone, which added to the downward pressure in rates. Our 30-year fixed mortgage rate decreased two basis points over the week to 4.84 percent as a result. Both purchase and refinance activity decreased despite the drop in rates, part of which was due to slowing activity before the Memorial Day holiday.”

The second estimate for GDP came in at 2.2%, right in line with the first estimate. Inflation was revised downward a touch from 2% to 1.9% and consumption was revised downward from 1.2% to 1%. Inventories were revised downward, while business investment was revised up to 9.2% – a big number.

Whether the increase in business investment was a direct result of the tax cuts remains to be seen, but so far tax cut effects aren’t showing up in corporate profits which were more or less flat in the first quarter with last year.

The economy created 178,000 jobs in May, according to the ADP Employment Report. The Street is looking for 190,000 jobs in Friday’s report, although the ADP and BLS reports have been pretty far away the last few times around. The key number will be wage growth, not payroll growth in any case.

Interesting data points in the ABA survey of the nation’s banks. QM has actually caused banks to decrease non-QM lending (which was the opposite of the intended effect). About half retained servicing. Almost nobody lends to FICOs below 620.

The Fed is set to announce proposed changes to the Volcker Rule, which severely limits proprietary trading activities for commercial banks. The current rules are so vague that JP Morgan Jamie Dimon once quipped that traders would need a lawyer and a psychiatrist by their side to determine whether they were in compliance with the law. The Fed will probably tweak the rules only modestly, and will not usher in a return to pre-2008 rules. That would require legislation, which isn’t happening.

Morning Report: Markets cool on a June hike after Italian elections 5/29/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2700 -18
Eurostoxx index 384.87 -4.95
Oil (WTI) 66.97 -0.91
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.87%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.54%

Stocks are lower this morning as Italian sovereign debt is getting slammed on the election results. Bonds and MBS are up on the flight to quality.

Over the weekend, Italy failed to establish a coalition of Eurosceptics and their president rejected a Eurosceptic finance minister. The fact that Italy came so close to electing a government that would consider exiting the EU has bond traders selling Italian sovereigns. Between this and Brexit, many observers are wondering if the whole EU experiment is beginning to unravel. How much of this is merely symbolic remains to be seen, but in the meantime the flight to quality trade is on, and that means lower rates.

Italian 10 year bonds are trading at 3.16%, which is up 143 basis points over the past several days. Spain is wider as well, while the rest of the Eurozone (Germany, France) is tighter. The canary in the coal mine for rates however will be the Eurozone banks, and cost of credit protection is going up. Unicredit and San Paolo Imi are up almost 100 basis points, Deutsche Bank (which has other non-Italian headaches) is up 40, and most other Euro banks are up modestly. As of now, this is mainly a European bank phenomenon, however Citi is also up small.

US yields are lower across the board, from the 2 year to the 30 year. Convexity buying will probably give the move legs at least for the near term. The Fed Funds futures are now handicapping a 78% chance for a hike at the upcoming meeting. It was at 95% a week ago. If the Italian debt problem gathers momentum, it will inevitably cause financial stress to rise and that will give the Fed an excuse to sit the next meeting out. As long as inflation is behaving, they can afford this luxury. Falling oil prices are helping as well.

fed funds futures

The Italian vote will probably be sometime this fall, so it at least appears as there won’t be an immediate resolution. Bottom line for the mortgage originators, like the Brits did in 2016, the Italians just might have saved your year.

Aside from Italy, we have a lot of data this week, with GDP on Wednesday, personal income / spending on Thursday, and the jobs report on Friday. European newsflow will be the dominant force, however any sort of weakness in the numbers will probably have an outsized impact as the Street is really leaning the wrong way here.

Home prices increased 6.5% YOY in March, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Seattle, San Francisco, and Las Vegas all posted double-digit increases, while Chicago and Washington DC brought up the rear.

Consumer confidence increased in May, according to the Conference Board. The Present Situation component increased more than the Expectations component. This is surprising given that these consumer confidence indices are often an inverse gasoline price index.

6 trends from the MBA Secondary conference last week: The main points are that margins are falling and volumes are shrinking. Many independent originators are not going to make it through the year. JP Morgan may increase it footprint in FHA after the regulators loosened the thumbscrews. Ginnie Mae will issue a report this summer talking about the future of digital mortgages for the industry. The GSEs are looking to implement technology to allow originators to sell off servicing rights easier, and there remains a need for ways to increase the credit box for the first time homebuyer, who is still often shut out of the market.

Speaking of the first time homeuyer, they decreased activity in the first quarter, according to Freddie Mac. Homes purchased by first time homebuyers slipped by 2% to 411,000. 81% of first time homebuyers used low down-payment mortgages.

First time homebuyers are going to struggle to compete with all-cash buyers. Now, a new startup intends to disrupt homebuying by allowing borrowers who need a mortgage to offer cash instead to the seller (essentially the startup bears the risk if the borrower somehow can’t get a mortgage). “We’re taking that single value proposition that a lot of these institutions and iBuyers have, which is access to capital, and we’re democratizing that capital for the benefit of consumers instead of using it for corporate profits,” said Ribbon CEO Shaival Shah. “Cash discounts that consumers earn from our program flow directly back to the consumer. Based on our early deal volume, customers are seeing an average of 5 percent savings to the purchase price by using Ribbon.” The startup is backed by Bain Capital and a few others.

Interesting perspective in the “robots are going to take our jobs” scare. Historically, improvements in farming, technology, industry have caused jobs to disappear. Obama Administration economist Austan Goolsbee argues that if robots and AI increase productivity (meaning we get more output from less input) that makes us richer. The question for jobs is inevitably how fast the adjustment process happens. The longer it takes, the easier the transition. The paper reads quite easily for an academic paper and provides some needed perspective.

 

Memorial Day Bits and Pieces

What is a conservative?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-best-way-to-tell-if-someone-is-a-conservative/2018/05/25/fdc5a1fa-5f83-11e8-a4a4-c070ef53f315_story.html?utm_term=.e3ae61ec8985

Will’s perspective here has resonance for me, especially because I agree that TR was the progenitor of the modern Presidency.  I have always thought, since law school anyway, that Taft deserved better placement in history, but Wilson, quite a bit worse.

I will be reading McCain’s final book as soon as it is in paperback.

 

Our Adriatic cruise was the first pleasure cruise longer than eight hours for me.  Plusses:

  • we got a taste of several different “go to” destinations – the ruins at Delos, the ruins at Minos, the UN historical site at Alborello, the mountain views on Corfu, the surprisingly [to us] inviting old Dubrovnik, and Venice.
  • a decent amount of walking at each destination.
  • perfect May weather, 70s, no rain.
  • relatively low cost way to “sample” several destinations.
  • comfortable and efficient cabin on ship (MSC Lirica)
  • talented entertainers nightly in big production staged music, magic, dance, and acrobatics.
  • a world of travelers and a core crew fluent in five languages; mix of ages, families, singles.

Minuses:

  • Cruise ships are apparently studies in captive audience selling – massages, youthful skin treatments, yoga, dance lessons, photos, duty free inflated priced jewelry, and much more.
  • The shipboard food is plentiful but uneven in quality –  e.g.; great fresh fruit but beef like shoe leather no matter how you order it.
  • Public spaces are superficially glitzy, like casinos – visually tiring after a few days.
  • People past middle age in bikinis and skinny briefs flaunting beer guts and worse.
  • Bad lounge singers in the bars – remember Bill Murray’s parodies?
  • Ping Pong on the deck of a ship making 20 knots.

 

I had never intended to cruise anywhere except perhaps a river or the Inner Passage from Alaska to Vancouver.  I am still of that mindset.  We did this trip because my brother in law arranged it for his wife’s 60th birthday. Thus there were three siblings and their spouses traveling together.  We all get along well so Rosanne and I were willing to join in.

My bucket list is long and my time may not be.  Too many National Parks left, plus Australia, New Zealand, more UK, more Canada, and more Italy.  Cruises are not the way to do that.  And Corfu may be pretty, but it isn’t spectacular like the American west and northwest, or many stops on the Canadian Pacific route from Vancouver to Banff.

 

Morning Report: 10 year trades below 3% on dovish FOMC minutes 5/24/18

Vital Statistic:

Last Change
S&P futures 2726 -4
Eurostoxx index 392.54 -0.07
Oil (WTI) 71 -0.84
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.98%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.61%

Stocks are lower after Trump threatened more tariffs on autos. Bonds and MBS are up on the dovish FOMC minutes.

Initial Jobless Claims ticked up to 234,000 last week.

Existing home sales fell 2.5% in April, according to NAR. Sales fell to an annualized pace of 5.46 million, down from 5.6 million in March, which was also the Street estimate. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says this spring’s staggeringly low inventory levels caused existing sales to slump in April. “The root cause of the underperforming sales activity in much of the country so far this year continues to be the utter lack of available listings on the market to meet the strong demand for buying a home,” he said. “Realtors® say the healthy economy and job market are keeping buyers in the market for now even as they face rising mortgage rates. However, inventory shortages are even worse than in recent years, and home prices keep climbing above what many home shoppers are able to afford.”

Other tidbits from the report: the median home price increased 5.3% to $257,900, inventory of 1.8 million homes represents a 4 month supply, days on market fell to 26 days, and the first time homebuyer was 33% of all transactions.

US house prices rose 1.7% in the first quarter, according to the FHFA House Price Index. On a YOY basis, they were up almost 7%. The West Coast continued to lead the pack with high single-digit growth rates, and the Middle Atlantic showed an acceleration of growth. Over the past 5 years, the Middle Atlantic (NY, NJ, PA) has been the slowest appreciating region, growing just over half the rate of the West Coast.

The FOMC minutes were a bit more dovish than expected – the Fed Funds futures are now handicapping a 37% chance of 4 hikes this year, down from the mid 40% yesterday. The FOMC is worried about a trade war with China depressing economic activity. On inflation, they emphasized the symmetry of the inflation goal. “Most participants viewed the recent firming in inflation as providing some reassurance that inflation was on a trajectory to achieve the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective on a sustained basis.” Overall, nothing was all that new, just a re-affirmation of symmetry, meaning that the 2% target is not a ceiling.

Dallas Fed Head Robert Kaplan thinks the Fed has about 4 more hikes to go before it is at a “neutral” stance. He also discussed his views of inflation above 2%: “I want to run around 2, and if we got a little bit above it and I thought it would be short-term and not long-term, I could tolerate it”

As anyone who attended the Secondary Conference could tell you, mortgage banking is going through a rough stretch right now. Digitalization of mortgage banking has compressed margins and volumes are down. Even people that want to move are finding a dearth of inventory. What could be the catalyst to turn things around? Buy-side firms ringing the register on the REO-to-rental trade. That would bring back enough purchase activity to allow some of the smaller firms to retrench and get their costs under control. Wishing for falling rates is probably a long shot, although if the 10 year finds a level here, we could see rates come in a little, but probably not enough to bring back refis.

Refi activity is going to be concentrated in two areas: cash out to refinance credit card debt, etc, and FHA refis into conforming once the homeowner has enough equity to get under the 80% LTV threshold and avoid having to pay PMI.

While the mortgage business is going through a rough patch, quarterly profits for banks are spiking (tax reform has some effects here). The banking sector largely sat out the M&A boom that has been common throughout other industries. The US market is still about the least concentrated banking market on the planet. Is it time for some M&A? 

Morning Report: Congress eases Dodd-Frank a little 5/23/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2709 -17
Eurostoxx index 392.65 -4.29
Oil (WTI) 71.89 -0.29
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.01%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.66%

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

Mortgage Applications fell 2.6% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 4%. The refi share of mortgage apps fell to 35.7%. Rates increased substantially last week, driving the decline. Refis are at the lowest level since 2000.

New Home Sales in April were 662,000, lower than March and the Street estimate. The median sales price was $312k and the average price was $407k. There were 300k houses for sale at the end of the month, representing a 5.4 month inventory.

Separately, the share of new houses built to be rented is steadily increasing, adding to the tight inventory problem.

Congress passed a few tweaks on Dodd-Frank yesterday, which gave banks from $50-$250 in assets a bit of regulatory relief from the more onerous requirements in terms of risk management. This was a bipartisan and incremental bill that does not “gut Dodd-Frank.” Banks like Zion’s or Huntington simply aren’t going to get involved in some of the more esoteric stuff that a JP Morgan will and don’t require six compliance officers to ensure they don’t blow themselves up in the CDO market. This bill was less ambitious than the Financial CHOICE act that passed the House last year but failed to garner any Democratic support in the Senate.

The CFPB is planning on easing some of the Obama-era use of disparate impact. Disparate impact means that a lender is guilty of discrimination if its lending numbers don’t reflect the demographic makeup of the area in which the bank operates, even if it had no intention of discrimination. It basically strips away the ability of a lender to even defend themselves. This measure stems from a Supreme Court decision in 2015 that upheld the concept of disparate impact, but required a plaintiff to prove the company’s policies led to it. HUD is also dialing back some Obama-era policies that required local governments to submit plans to make sure neighborhoods reflect the demographic makeup of the surrounding area by forcing them to change zoning requirements to allow more affordable housing. The requirement stands, however HUD delayed the compliance date.

Separately, the CFPB is going to back away from auto financing. The original language in Dodd-Frank prevented the CFPB from getting involved in this area, but Richard Cordray claimed that because auto dealers didn’t do auto loans – banks did – that they did fall under CFPB’s jurisdiction. This change is another example of the CFPB “pushing the envelope” and reflects Mick Mulvaney’s philosophy of going as far as the law requires, but no further.

The FOMC minutes are scheduled to come out at 2:00 pm EST. The Street will be zeroing on any discussion of whether 2% inflation is a symmetric target or a hard ceiling. The Street is now leaning slightly towards 2 versus 3 more hikes this year. It was over 50% last week.

Fun fact courtesy of Barry Ritholz. On this day in 2002, Netflix went public, raising $300 million. That same year, Blockbuster earned over $800 million in late fees alone. Today, Netflix is up 15,000% while Blockbuster is extinct. Note investors had almost given up on NFLX in the mid 00s.

Morning Report: Consumer debt to hit $4 trillion this year 5/22/18

ital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2737 4.75
Eurostoxx index 396.69 0.82
Oil (WTI) 72.55 0.31
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.07%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.66%

Stocks are higher this morning as the trade rhetoric with China cools. Bonds and MBS are up.

China said overnight it would cut its tariff duties on automobiles from 25% to 15%.

Things are looking grim for the origination business, according to people at the MBA Secondary Conference in NYC. A combination of declining volumes and skinnier margins are pushing the smaller originators out of the market. Hard to see what changes things, although an increase in homebuilding would help.

McMansion builder Toll Brothers missed quarterly earnings estimates on higher costs, driven by building materials, land and labor. Gross margins contracted 150 basis points, while revenues increased 17%. The stock is down 7% this morning.

Economic activity accelerated slightly in April, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indices accounted for the majority of the index gain, followed by employment indices. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 different economic indicators.

Oil continues its strong run on the back of OPEC cuts and supply disruptions out of Venezuela and Iran. Oil is the highest it has been in almost 4 years. The ability to turn on incremental supply quickly and cheaply will help keep a lid on prices, although higher gas prices for the summer driving season are going to dampen sentiment.

JP Morgan might get bigger in FHA loans, according to statements made at the MBS Secondary Conference. Regulatory risk caused the bank to publicly state it was pulling back from that market. Regulatory reform is helping, but the bank says that further fixes will be needed. Chase does do FHA lending, but it is tiny.

The level of consumer debt in the economy has a lot of people talking. Consumer debt is probably going to hit $4 trillion by the end of 2018. Certainly the chart of consumer debt looks worrisome:

Increased student loan debt is a big driver of the increase. That said, does that mean consumers are in over their heads? Can they service that debt? Well, if you look at this chart, it doesn’t appear to be a problem:

consumer credit

In other words, consumer debt is high, but the amount people are actually paying to service that debt is very low. Higher interest rates will move that debt service ratio up, but it is hard to make an argument that consumers are over-extended, at least by looking at that chart.

debt service ratio

Freddie Mac is launching its Borrower of the Future Campaign to take a look at how the industry will have to address the younger homebuyer. “The increase in self-employed and the rise of the sharing economy and digitally-driven lifestyles are having a tremendous impact and leading to shifts in behavioral, economic and societal factors,” said Chris Boyle, Chief Client Officer at Freddie Mac. “Collectively, the industry must now take into account these dynamics as we think about how to effectively help the next generation find the home of their dreams. We’re excited to serve in this important role to help the industry better understand the Borrower of the Future, and then drive the conversation on how to apply these insights to make the mortgage process more efficient and affordable.”

Neel Kashkari discusses how the Fed has beaten the Phillips Curve. The Phillips Curve dates back to the 1950s, and plots a relationship between unemployment and inflation. Kashkari cites the 2009 interventions, which should have caused deflation, but didn’t. We have unemployment below 4% and still no signs of real inflation.

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