Morning Report: FOMC minutes and homebuilder earnings

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2569 -13.5
Eurostoxx index 346.51 -1.2
Oil (WTI) 51.94 -0.24
10 year government bond yield 2.70%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.48%

 

Stocks are lower this morning on overseas weakness. Bonds and MBS are up small.

 

The FOMC minutes didn’t really contain much interesting information – the committee noted that financial conditions were tightening slightly and that the stock market was falling (we bottomed on Christmas Eve), but still decided unanimously to hike the Fed Funds rate 25 basis points. Despite fears in the market that the Fed has overshot, that possibility was not entertained by either the members or the staff. Incidentally, we will have a lot of Fed speakers throughout the day.

 

Homebuilder Lennar reported strong earnings for the fourth quarter, however it decided to hold off giving guidance on 2019 due to opaque market conditions. That said, new orders were up big, and margins were strong. Lennar is transitioning into a pure-play homebuilder and has been exiting businesses like asset management and real estate brokerage. This quarter should be the last with any CalAtlantic integration noise in the numbers. The Street was happy with the numbers, sending the stock up about 8%.

 

KB Home also reported numbers, although they saw a decrease in revenues, margins and a fall in average selling prices. KB is more of a turnaround story, however and the whole sector is so out of favor that it seems any non-disaster is taken as positive. KB was up 4% on its numbers.

 

Canary in the coal mine? No high-yield debt has been issued since November, according to DealLogic. This is the first December without junk issuance since 2008. This could have simply been due to the gyrations in the stock market, but this bears watching. Despite a spike at the end of 2018, credit spreads are still at historically normal levels, so it is too early to sound any alarms yet. The Fed noted tightening credit conditions in its FOMC minutes as well.

 

Donald Trump met with Democratic Congressional leaders yesterday on the subject of border security and the government shutdown. He characterized the meeting as a “waste of time” after being told there is basically no way Democrats will allocate funds for the wall. The government shutdown is almost 3 weeks old, and Federal workers are not getting paid. That said, unlike the Obama-era shutdowns, the Trump Administration is trying to make the shutdown as invisible as possible to the average citizen. The IRS is back issuing refunds and 4506-Ts, so for the most part there isn’t much of an effect on real estate with the exception of flood insurance. 75% of all realtors noticed no impact on buyers.

 

Michael Bright, who has been the interim president of Ginnie Mae for a year and a half, has resigned and will return to the private sector. 

 

The drop in interest rates means that another half a million borrowers (total of 43 million) will find it attractive to refinance, according to Black Knight Financial Services. This is up 29% from the bottom, but still down 50% from last year.

“As recently as last month, the size of the refinanceable population fell to a 10-year low as interest rates hit multi-year highs,” said Graboske. “Rates have since pulled back, with the 30-year fixed rate falling to 4.55 percent as of the end of December. As a result, some 550,000 homeowners with mortgages who would not benefit from refinancing have now seen their interest rate incentive to refinance return. Even so, at 2.43 million, the refinanceable population is still down nearly 50 percent from last year. Still, the increase does represent a 29 percent rise from that 10-year low, which may provide some solace to a refinance market still reeling from multiple quarters of historically low – and declining – volumes.

“In fact, through the third quarter of 2018, refinances made up just 36 percent of mortgage originations, an 18-year low. And of course, as refinances decline, the purchase share of the market rises correspondingly. So now, in the most purchase-dominant market we’ve seen this century, we need to ask whether the shift in originations will have any impact on mortgage performance. The short answer, based on historical trends, is that it certainly bears close watching.  Refinances have tended to perform significantly better than purchase mortgages in recent years. When we take a look back and apply today’s blend of originations to prior vintages, the impact becomes clear. A market blend matching today’s would have resulted in an increase in the number of non-current mortgages by anywhere from two percent in 2017 to more than a 30 percent rise in 2012, when refinances made up more than 70 percent of all lending. As today’s market shifts to a purchase-heavy blend of lending, Black Knight will continue to keep a close eye on the data for signs of how – or if – this impacts mortgage performance moving forward.”

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