Morning Report: No changes to GDP

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2926.25 8.25
Oil (WTI) 59.03 -.35
10 year government bond yield 2.02%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.02%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on news that the US and China will resume trade talks over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

The third revision to first quarter GDP was unchanged, coming in at 3.1%. Inflation was revised upward ever so slightly, from a core PCE rate of 1% to 1.2%. At this stage of the game, the markets are going to focus on weak economic data, not inflation data. Note the Atlanta Fed is forecasting that second quarter GDP will come in at 1.9%.

 

Initial Jobless Claims remain low, rising slightly to 227,000.

 

Donald Trump continues to criticize Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, even going as far as to tweet that ECB President Mario Draghi is better. While it is unlikely Trump would try and fire Powell (or demote him), the legal principle of Fed independence will probably make that difficult.

 

The VA will now guarantee loans that exceed the conforming loan limit. Veterans will be able to borrow above the $484,350 limit without any down payment. This impetus for this decision was to raise money for veterans who have health issues after being exposed to Agent Orange. The initial idea was to raise the VA loan fee by 15 basis points, however lawmakers decided to raise the funds by increasing the cap.

 

A new report by Barclay’s and Annaly Mortgage lays out a post-conservatorship world for the US residential real estate finance market. Lawmakers generally agree on the goals of housing reform: protect the US taxpayer, attract private capital, and create a more competitive landscape. Getting there is going to be more difficult as Democrats and Republicans have different priorities. The report looks at things the Administration could do unilaterally via executive order. The first would involve FHFA ordering the GSEs out of non-core markets, such as second homes, jumbo and investor loans. The second would involve the creation of a revolving credit risk transfer facility. A third would involve removing the “GSE patch” which allows Fannie and Fred to originate QM loans at DTI levels private lenders cannot. Finally, there is work that needs to be done at the SEC / SIFMA level that concerns private label securitizations. Ultimately the issue of what to be done with GSEs will have to be solved legislatively. Either they become converted to Federal Government utilities or they become privatized. The privatization route envisions breaking up the duopoly into much smaller guarantors.

Morning Report: Jerome Powell discusses the Fed’s thinking

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2933.25 11.25
Oil (WTI) 58.88 1.05
10 year government bond yield 2.02%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.02%

 

Stocks are higher on positive news on the the trade front. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Durable goods orders came in lower than expected in May, and April was revised downward. The headline number fell 1.3% and the prior month was revised downward from -2.1% to -2.8%. Ex transportation, durable goods orders rose 0.3%. Capital Goods rose 0.4%, which is one bright spot in the report.

 

Mortgage applications rose 1.3% last week as purchases fell about a percent but refinances rose 3.2%. The 30 year fixed rate mortgage fell 8 basis points to 4.06%.

 

Jerome Powell spoke in NY yesterday and addressed some of the issues the Fed is dealing with.

Let me turn now from the longer-term issues that are the focus of the review to the nearer-term outlook for the economy and for monetary policy. So far this year, the economy has performed reasonably well. Solid fundamentals are supporting continued growth and strong job creation, keeping the unemployment rate near historic lows. Although inflation has been running somewhat below our symmetric 2 percent objective, we have expected it to pick up, supported by solid growth and a strong job market. Along with this favorable picture, we have been mindful of some ongoing crosscurrents, including trade developments and concerns about global growth. When the FOMC met at the start of May, tentative evidence suggested these crosscurrents were moderating, and we saw no strong case for adjusting our policy rate.

Since then, the picture has changed. The crosscurrents have reemerged, with apparent progress on trade turning to greater uncertainty and with incoming data raising renewed concerns about the strength of the global economy. Our contacts in business and agriculture report heightened concerns over trade developments. These concerns may have contributed to the drop in business confidence in some recent surveys and may be starting to show through to incoming data. For example, the limited available evidence we have suggests that investment by businesses has slowed from the pace earlier in the year.

Against the backdrop of heightened uncertainties, the baseline outlook of my FOMC colleagues, like that of many other forecasters, remains favorable, with unemployment remaining near historic lows. Inflation is expected to return to 2 percent over time, but at a somewhat slower pace than we foresaw earlier in the year. However, the risks to this favorable baseline outlook appear to have grown.

Last week, my FOMC colleagues and I held our regular meeting to assess the stance of monetary policy. We did not change the setting for our main policy tool, the target range for the federal funds rate, but we did make significant changes in our policy statement. Since the beginning of the year, we had been taking a patient stance toward assessing the need for any policy change. We now state that the Committee will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near its symmetric 2 percent objective.

The question my colleagues and I are grappling with is whether these uncertainties will continue to weigh on the outlook and thus call for additional policy accommodation. Many FOMC participants judge that the case for somewhat more accommodative policy has strengthened. But we are also mindful that monetary policy should not overreact to any individual data point or short-term swing in sentiment. Doing so would risk adding even more uncertainty to the outlook. We will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.

The Fed Funds futures turned slightly less accomodative after the speech. They are now looking at something like a 70% chance of a rate cut at the July meeting, and the markets are coalescing around 75 basis points in cuts this year.

fed funds futures

 

The Trump Administration established a White House Council on Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing which will focus on removing burdensome regulatory barriers. The council will work to identify federal, state, and local barriers to affordable housing, and will take action to remove federal and administrative regulatory burdens. Note there is no mention of taking action to remove “state and local regulatory burdens,” which is often zoning restrictions. The Obama HUD aggressively sued local jurisdictions to force them to change their zoning laws from single family only to multi-family, but it looks like the Trump Administration won’t be going down that route.

Morning Report: New Home Sales disappoint

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2955 4.5
Oil (WTI) 57.89 -0.03
10 year government bond yield 2.01%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.03%

 

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

 

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is scheduled to speak at 1:00 pm. These are generally not market-moving events, however given the expectations gulf between the Fed and the markets, it is possible that something could spook investors.

 

Home prices rose 3.5% in April, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. This is down from a 3.7% annual gain in the prior month. “Home price gains continued in a trend of broad-based moderation,” says Philip Murphy, Managing Director and Global Head of Index Governance at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Year-over-year price gains
remain positive in most cities, though at diminishing rates of change. Seattle is a notable exception, where the YOY change has decreased from 13.1% in April 2018 to 0.0% in April 2019.

Mortgage rates are driving the deceleration in home price appreciation. That said, these are April numbers, which correspond with a 10 year bond yield about 50 basis points higher than today. It will be interesting to see if home price appreciation starts picking up.

 

Compare the Case-Shiller numbers to the FHFA House Price Index. In April, home prices rose 5.2% according to that index. The FHFA index ignores cash transactions and jumbos, so it is more weighted towards starter homes. It shows that there is still plenty of strength at the lower price points. Note as well the deceleration in the previously hot markets, especially Left Coast.

 

FHFA regional

 

New Home sales fell to an annualized pace of 680,000 in May, according to Census. This is down 7.8% MOM and 3.7% YOY. New Home Sales is a notoriously volatile number, with a wide margin for error, but it looks like builders are still sitting on their hands.

 

Bernie Sanders promises to forgive student loan debt paid for with a transaction tax. He expects the tax to raise $2.4 trillion. No details on the tax are available, but it will make mortgages more expensive as it would probably increase hedging costs. Also, it will never raise that kind of money since the immediate effect will be to kill high frequency trading, which is more than half the volume on the US stock exchanges. Many of these high frequency traders are liquidity providers who have automated the role of the specialist and market maker of yesteryear. The net effect will be widen bid-ask spreads and increase the market reaction to orders.

Morning Report: Existing Home Sales rise

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2955 4.5
Oil (WTI) 57.79 0.24
10 year government bond yield 2.03%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.01%

 

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

 

Business sentiment in Germany hit a 5 year low, which is pushing Bund yields lower. The US Treasury market is being pulled by overseas weakness, but many are trying to interpret the US yield curve’s flattening as a recessionary indicator. Don’t buy it. Rates will probably meander lower unless we get indications of persistent 2%+ inflation. Separately, Trump tweeted that the Fed doesn’t know what it is doing, though he denied considering demoting Jerome Powell.

 

We have a lot of housing data this week, with the Case-Shiller and the FHFA Home Price indices. We will also get new home sales. The only potential market mover is personal income / personal spending on Friday. The third revision of first quarter GDP will be released on Thursday.

 

Existing home sales rose 2.5% in May, according to NAR. Total Sales came in at 5.34 million, a drop of 1% on a YOY basis. The median home price rose to $277,700 from $265,100 a year ago. Falling mortgage rates are helping home sales as the 30 year fixed rate mortgage flirts with the 4% level again. Inventory is still tight however, at only a 4.3 month supply.

 

Economic activity picked up in May, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators led the increase, which jumped from -.48 to -.05. This means the economy is more or less growing on trend after a weak April. The CFNAI is a meta-index of 85 economic indicators, so it really is a lagging index. It isn’t a market-mover.

 

Signs of life in the private label securitization market? Cerberus (a large private equity firm) did the first post-crisis HELOC securitization last week. HELOC securitization was only done during the bubble years, and many of these loans turned sour in the housing bust. Cerberus only issued the most senior AAA tranche, and it priced at L+105, a bit worse than the initial price talk. Cerberus did not sell any of the junior pieces.

 

Ginnie Mae has let Loan Depot out of the penalty box. Ginnie Mae has been focused on prepayment speeds for VA loans, which is an indication that a lender is churning VA loans through the IRRRL process. “The removal of such a restriction is based on the Issuer having demonstrated to Ginnie Mae’s satisfaction that (a) its prepayment speeds are substantially in-line with those of equivalent multi-Issuer cohorts, and (b) such improved performance is sustainable,” the agency said in a statement.

 

Freddie Mac is rolling out a new rehab loan: the CHOICERenovation loan. It will allow the buyers to roll the renovation costs into the loan, permit them to begin renovations after they move in, and the homeowner can act as his own contractor. “There’s a fair amount of housing with deferred maintenance,” Danny Gardner [Senior VP of single-family affordable lending at Freddie Mac] said in an interview. Cash-strapped buyers “should be very willing to undertake those issues if they can get houses at an affordable price.” The program is not available quite yet, but it should be out sometime this summer.

 

Contrary to expectations, professional investors are still buying starter homes and renting them out. Investors purchased 20% of the houses in the bottom third of the national price range in 2018, which is 5% more than the historical average. Many expected the REO-to-Rental trade to fizzle out as investors would ring the register. So far, that hasn’t happened, as home construction remains firmly mired in recessionary territory.

Morning Report: The Fed prepares the markets for a rate cut

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2957.5 24.1
Oil (WTI) 55.54 1.78
10 year government bond yield 2.01%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.10%

 

Stocks are higher this morning as interest rates fall globally. Bonds and MBS are up.

 

The Fed maintained interest rates at current levels, but signaled the willingness to cut rates if necessary:

“The Committee continues to view sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective as the most likely outcomes, but uncertainties about this outlook have increased. In light of these uncertainties and muted inflation pressures, the Committee will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near its symmetric 2 percent objective.”

The dot plot showed a 30 basis point decline in the fed funds expectations. You can see the plots side by side below. The central tendency for 2019 fell by 32 basis points to 2.17%

 

Jun Mar dot plot

 

FWIW, the Fed upped their forecast for GDP, and cut their forecast for unemployment and inflation. Why that would be consistent with a potential rate cut is beyond me, but such is life in our era of Calvinball monetary policy. The decision was nearly unanimous, with only Bullard dissenting, preferring to see a 25 basis point cut. The Fed funds futures are pricing in 100% chance of a rate cut at the July meeting.

 

Bonds rallied on the announcement, although mortgage backed securities were slow to follow. We did see some reprices for the better late in the day, but nothing too dramatic. Expect mortgage rates to lag the move in bonds, as usual.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell from 220,000 to 216,000 last week.

 

Home prices rose 3.6% YOY, the strongest acceleration in 7 months, according to Redfin. Interestingly, the only areas that dropped were the markets that rallied the most over the past few years: San Jose, New York, Los Angeles, where inventory is up smartly. Where was the fastest growth? Knoxville TN at 15%, Milwaukee WI at 15% and Camden NJ at 11%.

 

Judy Shelton is the latest potential nominee to the Fed. She is an advocate for much lower interest rates. She also favors ending the Fed’s policy of paying interest on excess reserves, which encourages banks to park money at the Fed versus lending it out.

 

Fannie and Fred are trying to do more to increase lending for manufactured homes.

Morning Report: Fed Day

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2925 -0.25
Oil (WTI) 53.85 -0.35
10 year government bond yield 2.09%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.15%

 

Stocks are flat as we head into the FOMC decision, which is set for 2:00 pm. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The disconnect between the current market forecast and the last Fed dot plot are so stark that we are probably set up for some volatility in bonds after the announcement. Be careful locking around then.

 

Donald Trump looked at ways to possibly remove Fed Head Jerome Powell. While the law protects the independence of the Central Bank, Fed Chairmen have been removed before. Jimmy Carter removed G. William Miller in the late 70s after something like 11 months on the job, and kicked him upstairs to Treasury. Note the President was unhappy with the ECB and their signals of new stimulus – it strengthened the dollar against the euro and that is a negative for US exporters.

 

Mortgage Applications fell 4% last week as purchases and refis fell by 4%. Rates rose by 2 basis points to 4.14%. “After seeing a six-week streak, mortgage rates for 30-year loans increased slightly, which led to a pullback in overall refinance activity,” said MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting Joel Kan. “Borrowers were sensitive to rising rates, but the refinance share of applications was still at its highest level since January 2018, and refinance activity was at its second-highest level this year. Government refinances actually increased last week, led by a 17 percent in VA refinance applications, while conventional refinance applications decreased 7 percent.” The refi index has rebounded to the highest level in almost 3 years:

 

MBA refinance index

 

New Jersey has tightened the requirements for nonbank servicers.

Morning Report: Fed Funds forecast and mortgage rates

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2895.75 0.75
Oil (WTI) 51.89 -0.62
10 year government bond yield 2.11%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.12%

 

Stocks are flat this morning as we enter Fed week. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

 

The big event this week will be the FOMC meeting which starts Tuesday. Given the disconnect between the market’s perception of the road ahead and the Fed’s prior forecast, something has to give. FWIW, the market is now assigning a 20% chance they will ease by 25 basis points at this meeting. By the December meeting, the market is forecasting the FOMC will cut rates either 2 or 3 times!

 

fed funds futures dec 19

 

Compare that to the March 2019 dot plot, which showed most members of the FOMC thought rates would be unchanged for the year and about 1/4 of the members wanted to see a rate hike:

 

dot plot Mar 2019

If the Fed Funds futures are correct and we are looking at a 1.5% Fed Funds rate, where will mortgage rates go? If history is any guide, probably nowhere. The last time the Fed Funds rate was around 1.5% (late Dec 2017), the 30 year fixed rate mortgage (according to the MBA) was in the low 4% range, in other words, right about here.  Long term rates have already priced in the move. MBA 30 year FRM chart:

 

MBA mortgage rate

 

Quicken Loans settled with the DOJ over false claims allegations regarding FHA origination going back to 2015. The case was dismissed and Quicken settled for $32.5 million with no admission of guilt. Quicken fought the case the entire way, and eventually narrowed it down to a tiny fraction of what the Obama Administration wanted. Quicken Vice Chairman Bill Emerson said: “I think the current HUD administration realized how faulty the previous administration’s tactics were, and frankly, as we’ve said before, we viewed them as extortionist tactics and we just could not go along with that,” Emerson said. “We know we didn’t do anything wrong and so we continued to fight, and if that somehow caused the new administration to evaluate it differently, then great.”

 

Ed Demarco discusses the ways that private capital can be drawn back into the mortgage market. First, the CFPB’s ATR and QM rules need to change to bring down the allowable DTI ratios on Fannie and Freddie loans to that of the rest of the market. This is known as the QM patch, which basically says that any loans that meet F&F criteria meet the ability to repay test. The problem is that the QM laws specify a max DTI ratio of 43% and the GSEs allow up to 50%. This gives Fan and Fred a huge advantage over other lenders. The second issue revolves around the SEC and refining the data definitions in the registration rules. Third, Fan and Fred have all sorts of mortgage performance data that is unavailable to the broader market, and leveling the playing field would mean allowing other participants to see that data. Note however that DeMarco is only looking at the issue from the standpoint of originators. Buyers of private label securities have other issues that are still unresolved, especially when the issuer of the bonds also retains servicing. There is a conflict of interest issue that must be resolved as well. I discussed this about a year ago in Housing Wire.

 

Profitability improved for independent mortgage bankers in the fist quarter of 2019. Average revenue per loan came in at $9584, while average cost per loan was $9,299, or a net gain of $285 per loan, compared to a loss of $200 a loan in the fourth quarter. It looks like mortgage bankers reported a loss in the first quarter of 2018 as well.

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