Morning Report: Incomes rise

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2943 16.5
Oil (WTI) 56.33 -0.34
10 year government bond yield 1.51%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.77%

 

Stocks are up ahead of the 3 day weekend. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

No word yet from SIFMA regarding an early close, so assume the bond market is open all day.

 

Personal incomes rose 0.1% in July, which was a deceleration from the previous few months. June was revised upward from 0.4% to 0.5%. Disposable personal income rose 0.3%, and spending rose 0.6%, which came in above expectations. The core PCE index (the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) rose 0.2% MOM and 1.6% YOY, which is below their 2% target. The headline PCE rose 0.2% / 1.4%.

 

Consumer sentiment fell in August according to the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey.

 

Pending Home Sales fell 2.5% in July, according to NAR. “Super-low mortgage rates have not yet consistently pulled buyers back into the market,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Economic uncertainty is no doubt holding back some potential demand, but what is desperately needed is more supply of moderately priced homes.” Regionally, they declined 1.6% in the Northeast and fell 3.4% on the Left Coast.

 

As bond yields have fallen, mortgage rates have not kept up as investors have been sweating prepayment speeds in the MBS market. The biggest issues have been rate volatility, which negatively impacts mortgage backed security pricing, along with fears we are entering a new refinance cycle. Also, many mortgage bankers set their staffing levels for the year back in late 2018, when it looked like we were in a tightening cycle and volumes would be much lower. “Do not expect much, if any of a drop in mortgage rates in the coming weeks,” said Mitch Ohlbaum, president, Macoy Capital Partners in Los Angeles. “It’s not because they shouldn’t, it’s because the lenders are already beyond capacity with refinances and frankly do not want any more volume.” There is probably some truth to that, but that is fixable. The volatility in the Treasury market and convexity risk is killing MBS investors. The classic example of a MBS investor is Annaly, a mortgage REIT, which has gotten clocked this year and cut its dividend.

 

NLY chart

 

PIMCO is advising the Fed to “aggressively cut rates” given the recent economic data suggests a slowdown. Their point is that recent data is “understating” the extent of the slowdown. They raise the point that labor market momentum has decelerated more than forecasters were predicting. Of course, at 3.7% unemployment, we are pretty much at or close to full employment. Wages are generally a lagging indicator, but this morning’s personal income disappointment was partially driven by a decrease in asset income, which probably just reflects falling interest rates.

Morning Report: Second quarter GDP comes in at 2%

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2916 26.5
Oil (WTI) 56.17 0.34
10 year government bond yield 1.48%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.78%

 

Stocks are up this morning after China said it wouldn’t immediately retaliate on tariffs set to take effect this weekend. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The second revision to Q2 GDP was unchanged at 2.0%. Consumption drove the increase in GDP as durable goods consumption was up 13% and non-durables were up 7%. Core PCE inflation was unchanged at 1.7%. Despite the chronic housing shortage, residential investment was down again for the sixth straight quarter. Investment and trade made negative contributions to the index.

 

GDP

 

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 215,000 right in line with expectations.

 

The MBA reported that net gains per loan increased to $1,675, compared to $285 in the first quarter. This was the best number since the third quarter of 2016. “With anticipated increases in prepayment activity, we saw hits to servicing profitability resulting from mortgage servicing right markdowns and amortization,” Walsh said. “Nonetheless, the profitability on the production side of the business generally outweighed servicing losses.” Average pretax production profit rose to 64 basis points, while secondary marketing income fell to 287 basis points, down from 308 in the first quarter.

 

Treasury is looking at the idea of ultra-long term government bonds, with 50 or 100 year terms. “If the conditions are right, then I would anticipate we’ll take advantage of long-term borrowing and execute on that,” Mnuchin said in the Bloomberg News interview on Wednesday.

Morning Report: Global sovereign yields head lower

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2862 -3.5
Oil (WTI) 56.05 1.14
10 year government bond yield 1.45%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.82%

 

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

 

Global bond yields continue to head lower, and a larger percentage of the world’s sovereign yields are negative. Note that Germany has passed negative 70 basis points on the Bund, and France is not too far behind at negative 44 basis points. Japan is at negative 27 basis points. Even some of the ne’er-do-wells of Europe – Italy and Spain – have lower yields than we do. It is important to keep this chart in mind when you hear the business press push the “inverting yield curve means a recession is imminent” narrative. They inevitably ignore the fact that US bonds don’t trade in a vacuum and investors will sell negative yielding bonds to buy something positive.

 

global bond yields

 

Mortgage applications fell 6.2% last week as purchases fell 4% and refis fell 8%. Rates increased about 4 basis points for a 30 year conforming loan. Mortgage rates continue to lag the moves in the overall bond market. “U.S. Treasury yields were volatile over the course of the week, as the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China continued to generate uncertainty among investors,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Rates increased for the first time since the week of July 12, but were still 80 basis points lower than the beginning of the year. With rates edging higher, refinances and purchase applications fell, at 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively.”

 

Consumer confidence remains elevated and close to record highs, according to the Conference Board. We are at levels last seen during the stock market bubble days of the late 90s, and the late 60s when we landed on the moon. Given the retail sales data, this could be one of the best holiday shopping periods in a long time.

 

consumer confidence

 

 

Morning Report: Home price appreciation is decelerating

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2896 12.5
Oil (WTI) 54.15 0.54
10 year government bond yield 1.52%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.82%

 

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

 

Home prices rose 3% YOY and were flat MOM according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. “The southwest (Phoenix and Las Vegas) remains the regional leader in home price gains, followed by the southeast (Tampa and Charlotte). With three of the bottom five cities (Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego), much of the west coast is challenged to sustain YOY gains. For the second month in a row, however, only Seattle experienced outright decline with YOY price change of -1.3%. The U.S. National Home Price NSA Index YOY price change in June 2019 of 3.1% is exactly half of what it was in June 2018. While housing has clearly cooled off from 2018, home price gains in most cities remain positive in low single digits. Therefore, it is likely that current rates of change will generally be sustained barring an economic downturn.”

 

Meanwhile, houses with conforming loans rose 5% on a YOY basis, according to the FHFA House Price Index. The previously hot markets on the West Coast are cooling, although if you focus on homes at the lower price points, they are still up YOY. Note that many of these indices are looking at data that is a couple of months old. Prices aren’t yet taking into account the big recent drop in rates.

 

FHFA regional

 

The Trump Administration is set to release its plan on dealing with Fannie and Fred just after Labor Day. The government is eager to shrink its involvement in the mortgage industry and the concern is that asking the GSEs to hold bank-like capital levels will raise costs for homebuyers. The government is likely to reduce the GSE’s footprint by limiting the types of loans they can purchase – especially second homes and cash-out refinances. Another issue is the explicit government guarantee for MBS issued by Fannie and Fred, which will require Congressional involvement. “The report is likely going to have a lot of language about embracing congressional reform and reducing the GSE footprint, which most market participants support. But if the real intent is to end conservatorship administratively, then the MBS market will react very negatively,” said Michael Bright, chief executive of the Structured Finance Association. What that means is that if the Administration privatizes the GSEs without maintaining the government backstop, then MBS prices will fall, and that will raise mortgage rates at the margin.

 

 

Morning Report: Adjustable rate mortgages becoming less attractive

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2875 19.5
Oil (WTI) 55.05 0.84
10 year government bond yield 1.53%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.84%

 

Stocks are higher after Trump toned down the rhetoric with China at the G7. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Both the US and China made statements intended to de-escalate the trade war, which is adding a spring in the step of the S&P futures. China supposedly wants to get back to “calm” negotiations, while Trump has mused over canceling the recent new tariffs. On Friday, Trump ordered US companies to start looking for alternatives to China, which he doesn’t really have the power to do. S&P futures sold off on Friday afternoon, and bond yields fell. That said, the market do seem to be adjusting to Trump thinking aloud on Twitter.

Durable Goods orders increased 2.1% in July, which was way more than expectations. Nondefense capital spending ex aircraft (which is a proxy for corporate capital expenditures) rose 0.4%, much higher than the decrease the Street was looking for. For all the handwringing in the business press over the state of the economy and trade, it isn’t showing up in the numbers, at least not yet.

 

The upcoming week looks to be relatively non-eventful, with only some meaningful data late in the week – the second revision to Q2 GDP on Thursday, and personal income / spending data on Friday. Another rate cut seems baked into the cake for September, so a strong number probably won’t have that big of an impact on markets.

 

The spread between adjustable-rate mortgages and fixed rate mortgages has been contracting as the yield curve has flattened. This is because the difference in long term rates and short term rates has fallen. Currently the difference between a 30 year fixed and a 5/1 ARM is about 55 basis points, whereas it was closer to 100 basis points during the post-bubble era. If you only plan on living in your home for 5 years or so, ARMs generally make sense, however if you can lock in your rate for 30 years at a similar rate to an ARM, it doesn’t make sense to go adjustable.

 

adjustable vs fixed.

 

Regulators are thinking about raising the threshold where homes require an appraisal, from 250,000 to 400,000. This would be the first increase in the threshold since 1994. About a year ago, the FDIC, OCC and Fed released a proposal which would make the change, and the FDIC just published the final rule.

 

SUMMARY: The OCC, Board, and FDIC (collectively, the agencies) are adopting a final rule to amend the agencies’ regulations requiring appraisals of real estate for certain transactions. The final rule increases the threshold level at or below which appraisals are not required for residential real estate transactions from $250,000 to $400,000. The final rule defines a residential real estate transaction as a real estate-related financial transaction that is secured by a single 1-to-4 family residential property. For residential real estate transactions exempted from the appraisal requirement as a result of the revised threshold, regulated institutions must obtain an evaluation of the real property collateral that is consistent with safe and sound banking practices.

 

 

Morning Report: New home sales fall

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2907 -14.5
Oil (WTI) 53.79 -1.64
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.86%

 

Stocks are lower as we await Jerome Powell’s speech in Jackson Hole. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Jerome Powell speaks at 10:00 am, while the markets are looking to see if the Fed trims its sails to what the Fed Funds futures are saying. Some at the Fed have been throwing cold water on the idea that we have entered an easing cycle, but in an era of negative sovereign yields worldwide the die is probably cast for lower rates regardless of what the Fed does.

 

New Home Sales fell to 635,000 from an upwardly-revised 728,000 in June. They are up over 4% from a year ago.

 

new home sales

 

The Conference Board Index of Leading Economic Indicators improved last month. “The US LEI increased in July, following back-to-back modest declines. Housing permits, unemployment insurance claims, stock prices and the Leading Credit Index were the major drivers of the improvement,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Senior Director of Economic Research at The Conference Board. “However, the manufacturing sector continues exhibiting signs of weakness and the yield spread was negative for a second consecutive month. While the LEI suggests the US economy will continue to expand in the second half of 2019, it is likely to do so at a moderate pace.”

 

Note that China imposed additional tariffs on $75 billion of US goods overnight. The tariffs would apply to soybeans, small aircraft, and crude oil.

Morning Report: Existing home sales rise

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2937 8.5
Oil (WTI) 56.34 0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.83%

 

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

 

The Fed is at Jackson Hole today and tomorrow. There is a chance that they could say something market moving, so just be aware.

 

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 209,000 last week, while the Markit PMI showed a deceleration. Note the manufacturing PMI fell below 50, which is a sign of contraction.

 

Existing Home Sales rose 2.5% in July, according to NAR. On a year-over-year basis, sales were up about half a percent. Half a percent isn’t anything to get excited about, however it is the first annual gain in a year and a half. “Falling mortgage rates are improving housing affordability and nudging buyers into the market,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. However, he added that the supply of affordable housing is severely low. “The shortage of lower-priced homes have markedly pushed up home prices.” The median home price was $280,800 an increase of 4.3% YOY. Since the market bottomed in 2012, homes in the lower-priced half rose at a considerably faster pace than those in the higher priced half. In some areas, they more than doubled off the bottom.

 

Inventory remains the biggest issue for sales, with only 1.89 million units in inventory, which represents a 4.2 month supply. This is partly why NAR is working with FHA to increase the universe of condos which would qualify for GNMA guarantees. Sales increased everywhere but the Northeast. The first time homebuyer fell to its recent average of 32%, which is lower than the pre-crisis average of about 40%. Despite the continued disappointment in housing, the homebuilder stocks are doing well and the XHB homebuilding ETF is up about 31% this year versus 19% for the S&P 500.

 

XHB

 

The FOMC minutes were non-eventful, however the statement “Participants generally judged that downside risks to the outlook for economic activity had diminished somewhat since their June meeting.” was a bit of a head-scratcher given they decided to cut rates. Overall, the doves based their arguments on a deceleration in manufacturing, persistently low inflation and risk management. “Several” FOMC members argued against cutting rates, judging the economy “was in a good place” and some worried that lowering the Fed Funds rate would inflate asset prices. Others worried about the signal a rate cut would send to the market’s about the Fed’s perception of the economy. Also, a couple voters wanted to cut rates by 50 basis points.

Morning Report: Why mortgage rates are underperforming Treasuries.

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2922 23.5
Oil (WTI) 56.73 0.64
10 year government bond yield 1.59%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.83%

 

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

 

We will get the minutes from the July FOMC meeting at 2:00 pm EST. Given the dramatic change in the Fed’s posture over the past several months, there is a possibility that it could be market-moving.

 

The Trump Administration floated the idea of a payroll tax cut and a capital gains tax cut in order to stimulate the economy. Note that a payroll tax cut would require Congressional approval, which means there is a less than 0% chance of this happening ahead of the 2020 election.

 

Mortgage applications fell 0.9% last week as purchases fell 4% and refis rose 0.4%. The MBA mentioned how much mortgage rates have underperformed the Treasury market: “In a week where worries over global economic growth drove U.S. Treasury yields 13 basis points lower, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate decreased just three basis points. As a result, the refinance index saw only a slight increase but remained at its highest level since July 2016,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “The small moves in rates and refinancing are potentially signs that lenders may be approaching capacity constraints as they continue to deal with the largest wave of refinance activity in three years. The refinance share of applications, at almost 63 percent, was also at its highest level since September 2016.” Turn times are certainly getting longer from correspondent lenders as this refi wave caught the entire industry off guard.

 

What is driving the underperformance of MBS versus Treasuries? Capacity constraints are one big possibility – as firms use up their operational excess capacity, they will increase margins. The other issue is that the inverted yield curve is wreaking havoc on MBS investors, who borrow short and lend long. The big agency mortgage REITs  (Annaly Capital and American Capital Agency) cut their dividends recently. Two Harbors also cut their dividend. This is a warning sign that the mortgage REIT sector is losing money as rising prepayment speeds kill the value of their portfolios. Since mortgage REITs are probably deleveraging in response, that means they are either selling MBS or at least cutting back their purchases. That lack of demand means that mortgage rates will be higher than you would expect. So, if you are running scenarios and wondering why you can’t get par pricing at X%, that is a big reason why.

 

McMansion builder Toll Brothers reported better than expected earnings last night. That said, most numbers were down on a YOY basis – earnings, revenues, contracts, margins. Despite the mediocre numbers, the stock is up pre-market. Douglas C. Yearley, Jr., Toll Brothers’ chairman and chief executive officer, stated: “In our third quarter, we had strong revenues, gross margin, and earnings. While our third quarter contracts were down modestly, we are off to a good start in our fourth quarter. Low mortgage rates, a limited supply of new and existing homes, and a strong employment picture are providing tailwinds. We are focused on measured growth through geographic, product and price point diversification, and capital-efficient land acquisitions. We continue to expand the buyer segments that we serve with homes now ranging in price from $275,000 to over $3 million. Our balance sheet remains strong and our book value continues to grow. With ample liquidity, moderate leverage, and limited near-term debt maturities, we have the flexibility to execute on our balanced capital allocation strategy.”

Morning Report: Trump calls for 100 basis points and more QE

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2922 0.5
Oil (WTI) 56.11 0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.55%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.78%

 

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

 

No economic data this morning, and we wait for Jackson Hole comments later this week.

 

Trump called on the Fed to cut rates by 100 basis points and should re-embark on quantitative easing. “Our Economy is very strong, despite the horrendous lack of vision by Jay Powell and the Fed, but the Democrats are trying to ‘will’ the Economy to be bad for purposes of the 2020 Election,” Trump tweeted. “Very Selfish! Our dollar is so strong that it is sadly hurting other parts of the world. [Interest Rates] over a fairly short period of time, should be reduced by at least 100 basis points, with perhaps some quantitative easing as well….If that happened, our Economy would be even better, and the World Economy would be greatly and quickly enhanced-good for everyone!”

 

The Home Despot reported better than expected earnings this morning. Falling lumber prices caused them to take down their sales estimates, and they are worried about how tariffs will impact sales. “We are encouraged by the momentum we are seeing from our strategic investments and believe that the current health of the U.S. consumer and a stable housing environment continue to support our business,” CEO Craig Menear said in a prepared statement. “That being said, lumber prices have declined significantly compared to last year, which impacts our sales growth. As a result, today we are updating our sales guidance to account primarily for continued lumber price deflation, as well as potential impacts to the U.S. consumer arising from recently announced tariffs.”

 

Ballard Spahr weighs in on the new disparate impact rule. Disparate Impact is a concept that was intended to put the burden of proof on the defendant, not the plaintiff. If a lender’s customer base doesn’t reflect the demographics of the relevant market, then it is assumed the lender is guilty of discrimination. While a Texas court upheld the concept, it did institute some guardrails to prevent abuse. HUD’s new guidance was intended to reflect that decision.

 

The relief for lenders turns on the use of algorithms to make lending decisions. Since most lenders use DU or LP automated underwriting systems, the big question is whether this insulates them from discrimination charges. Ballard Spahr believes it does. “However, if the use of the model is an “industry standard,” the defendant is relieved from liability if it uses the model “as intended by the third party” that created it.  It appears that the second defense could apply in a variety of situations, including when a mortgage lender uses the automated underwriting systems of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.”

 

The Business Roundtable officially ended the era of shareholder value yesterday and declared that it would focus on “all stakeholders.” Though this document is largely symbolic, it is an attempt by business to play along with the new populism emerging in the Democratic Party. “The American dream is alive, but fraying,” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chairman of Business Roundtable. “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.

 

To me, this document is indicative of several trends: first the emerging populism in both political parties, second a tight labor market, and third the emergence of indexing as the primary long-term investing vehicle. We are seeing the left become more comfortable in their historic role of being a check on big business, while the right is talking about antitrust and Big Tech. Neither party seems particularly hospitable and the “third way” Democrats are battling an increasingly mobilized left. The tight labor market is also playing a part, as companies need to attract employees and this might be the second-to-last resort to try and attract them. Of course the last resort is to raise wages and hire the long-term unemployed, and that may be on the horizon.

 

The indexing angle is probably the most significant. When most of the largest shareholders in the S&P 500 are index funds and ETFs, you have take into account they don’t have the motivations that money managers had a couple decades ago. 20 years ago, money managers were paid to beat the market and pick good stocks. Those that did so were rewarded with inflows and their managers were paid big bonuses. That was the Peter Lynch model. Today, the biggest money managers aren’t interested in beating the market. They aren’t paid to do that. They are paid for minimizing tracking error and fees, which means they aren’t paid much since the skill set is completely different. They couldn’t care less if XYZ Inc’s CEO is a bum who makes bad decisions – as long as their fund holds the requisite 2.49856% of net asset value in XYZ, they have done their job. Indexers largely vote the way Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) recommends, and ISS has its own set of priorities. Punch line: companies can get away with this because their largest shareholders don’t have any skin in the game.

Morning Report: The Fed is at Jackson Hole this week

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2923 32.5
Oil (WTI) 55.32 0.44
10 year government bond yield 1.61%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 3.78%

 

Stocks are higher on optimism of a trade deal with China. Bonds and MBS are down.

 

The upcoming week will be dominated by Fed-speak as they head to Jackson Hole. Economic data will be sparse, with leading economic indicators, and new home sales the only potential market-moving numbers. Jerome Powell is scheduled to speak on Friday where he is pretty much expected to hint at another rate cut at the September meeting. Note the Fed funds futures are pricing in a 93% chance of a 25 basis point cut, and a 7% chance of a 50 basis point cut.

 

fed funds futures

 

Homebuilder KB Home notes that consumer confidence took a hit in August, and this translates into lower home sales more than interest rates do. “I’ve always maintained over the years that consumer confidence means more than rates to the home buying decision,” said Jeff Mezger, CEO of Los Angeles, CA-based KB Home. “We’ve had some great years where interest rates were 8, 9,10%—because people find a way when they feel confident about the future.” Of course interest rates were way higher during the 80s and 90s and people still bought homes. Nominal wage growth was higher too. Further, he talks about why housing starts are weak: “Frankly, as an industry, that’s what is holding us back from getting to normalized levels,” said Mezger. “We’re only going to invest and build if we can get a return, and it’s difficult to find the combination of land, the cost to produce, the fee structure in that city and then what you can sell a home for based on the incomes in that submarket. So that is the challenge.” So, it is land, labor, and regulations that are the issue. Income growth might be what ends up squaring the circle.

 

Speaking of sentiment, the University of Michigan preliminary survey showed that confidence has dropped. Trade concerns and Fed policy increased fears of a recession, which translated into the numbers.

 

The Administration is set to introduce a new rule to codify lending discrimination and move away from the disparate impact standard that began during the Obama Administration. It appears that lenders will have protection if they use ” – third party systems” – i.e. algorithms – to make lending decisions. The actual guidance (from a leaked memo) is supposedly here.  While they don’t mention any algorithms by name, they are probably proposing that if you use DU or LP for lending decisions, you will have safe harbor from lending discrimination charges. If it turns out that DU or LP are biased, that is on the provider of these algorithms, not the lender. All of this is in response to a disparate impact lawsuit (Texas vs. Inclusive Communities), which allowed disparate impact theory to be used, however it did institute some restrictions on its use. The updated guidance from HUD will be to align current policy with that decision.

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