Morning Report: Housing starts depressed by hurricanes 9/19/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2504.5 1.8
Eurostoxx Index 382.0 0.0
Oil (WTI) 50.3 0.4
US dollar index 85.3 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.22%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.33
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.83

Stocks are flat this morning as the Fed begins its meeting. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

Housing starts for August came in at 1.18 million, a touch above the 1.17 million estimate. Building Permits rose 1.3 million, much better than the 1.23 million the Street was forecasting. The hurricanes did depress starts a bit, as the FEMA disaster areas accounted for about 13% of US building permits. Multi-family starts have been more or less flatlining over the past couple years, while single family has steadily increased. Note that starts will probably be depressed over the near term as construction workers in these already tight markets get drawn into rebuilding projects versus new home construction.

Import prices rose 0.6% MOM and 2.1% YOY as the hurricanes boosted energy prices last month. The Fed will almost certainly consider that effect to be transitory and it won’t affect their inflation out look all that much.

Mortgage fraud risk is up 17% YOY, according to CoreLogic. In the second quarter, over 13,400 mortgage applications (or 0.82%) showed symptoms of fraud, compared to 12,700 (0.7%) a year earlier. “This past year we saw a relatively large increase in the CoreLogic National Mortgage Application Fraud Index,” said Bridget Berg, principal, Fraud Solutions for CoreLogic. “If the factors that influenced the increase continue, including a shift to purchase transactions and growing wholesale channel origination activity, it is likely that mortgage application fraud risk will continue to rise as well. Fraud on cash-out refinance transactions and home equity loans may become more of a factor in the coming years as home values and equity rise.”

30 day + Delinquencies fell to 4.5% in June from 5.3% a year ago. The foreclosure rate of 0.7% was the lowest in 10 years. The range went from 0.1% in the Denver MSA to 2.2% in the Newark MSA. Decent home price appreciation and job growth are pushing delinquencies back down to pre-crisis levels.

The Fed is expected to announce that it will begin to unwind its balance sheet at the September meeting. There seems to be a lot of handwringing in the press over the implications of the Fed ending its “easy money” policy. An important thing to remember is that easy money / tight money isn’t a binary choice. It is a continuum. In all reality, if you were to put Fed policy on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being easy money, we are basically moving from 1.0 to 1.1. Real short term interest rates (i.e the Fed funds rate less the inflation rate) are still negative. Long term real rates are barely positive. The Fed will still continue to purchase assets in the open markets, however they will let something like 10% – 20% of maturing assets simply go away. These are truly baby steps intended to cause as little negative impact as possible. The Fed is going very slow and cautiously, and the persistent low inflation numbers give them that cushion.

Morning Report: FOMC week 9/18/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2501.0 3.8
Eurostoxx Index 381.9 1.2
Oil (WTI) 49.6 -0.3
US dollar index 85.2 0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.22%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.33
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.83

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

The big event this week will be the FOMC meeting, which starts tomorrow. No changes in interest rates are expected, although the markets expect the Fed to announce their plan to gradually unwind their balance sheet. The market is anticipating a “baby steps” move where they reinvest less than 100% of bonds that are maturing. While it certainly won’t help MBS spreads, it probably won’t have much of an effect on mortgage rates given that QE itself didn’t have a huge impact to begin with.

Homebuilder sentiment slipped in August as the NAHB Housing Market Index fell from 67 to 64. An active hurricane season, along with labor shortages isn’t helping things. Rising costs of building materials is an issue as well.

Trump’s deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to keep the government open may have increased the chances for tax reform. While the Democrat’s red lines pretty much foreclose anything aside from making the tax code more progressive on the individual side, we might see something on the corporate side. Perhaps the Trump reflation trade isn’t dead yet, but getting to agreement on tax reform will be hard since Democrats and Republicans want fundamentally different things. Here is a good discussion of what could be happening.

The MBA released a white paper on the CFPB, urging them to provide more detailed guidance to the industry as opposed to “regulation by enforcement action.” CFPB Director Richard Cordray has resisted providing guidance to the industry, believing that bright lines merely makes it easier for companies to approach, but not cross the line. The industry argues that the CFPB should provide more guidance as to how it thinks, warn the industry when it is changing rules, abide by its own guidance, and allow due process for the accused.

Here is some background on the Equifax hack. Can Equifax’s data breach affect your ability to buy a home? It probably cannot in the end, if you were a victim of identity theft. Ultimately it will be time consuming and a nuisance, however it can be overcome. Loan Officers should be aware that there could be an uptick in mortgage fraud, so be careful in the near term.

Morning Report: DC focuses on Equifax 9/15/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2491.5 -2.8
Eurostoxx Index 380.8 -1.0
Oil (WTI) 50.0 0.1
US dollar index 85.0 -0.2
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.20%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.33
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.83

Stocks are lower this morning as September options and futures expire. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Retail Sales fell 0.2% last month, and prior months were revised downward. The control group which excludes autos, gas, and building materials fell 0.2% as well. August retail sales included some early hurricane effects, but overall it points to a lousy back-to-school shopping season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see strategists start to cheat down their Q3 GDP estimates. Separately, business inventories rose 0.2%.

Consumer confidence slipped slightly in August, but is still reasonably robust. Consumer confidence is often an inverse of gasoline prices, so this number should fall going forward as gas prices have been increasing.

Hurricane Harvey affected industrial production and manufacturing production, both of which fell in August. Industrial production fell 0.9%, while manufacturing production fell 0.3%. Utilities and mining (really energy production) drove the decrease. September should also come in depressed as well due to Irma. Capacity Utilization fell 0.8% to 76.1%. The national industrial numbers have been exhibiting a bit of volatility over the past few months. Interestingly, the regional Fed indices (like the Empire State Manufacturing Index, which improved to a strong 24.4 reading this morning) have not been confirming the overall weakness.

Bond yields have been rising over the past week as Hurricane Irma had less damage than expected. Inflation numbers have come in slightly strong as well, and Goldman has upped its probability of a rate hike to 60% in December. The Fed Funds futures echo that sentiment right now: over the past week or so, we have gone from a 40% chance of a hike to a 53% chance of a hike.

The FTC announced an investigation into Equifax’s security breach. This is pretty unusual for the agency to comment on ongoing investigations, which demonstrates how seriously the government is taking it. Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill to require credit reporting agencies to freeze a person’s credit for free and would restrict their ability to profitably use that data during the freeze. Chuck Schumer called the security breach “one of the most egregious cases of corporate malfeasance since Enron.” He further said that “the company’s chief executive and board of directors should step down unless they take five steps to correct their mishandling: notify affected consumers; provide free credit monitoring to them for at least 10 years, offer to freeze their credit for up to 10 years; remove forced arbitration clauses from their terms of use; and comply with fines or new standards that come out of investigations.” Here are some tips if you were affected.

North Korea fired a missile last night that flew over Japan before crashing in the Pacific. The missile had a long enough range to hit Guam. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on China and Russia to do more to contain NK. China supplies most of North Korea’s oil and Russia is the biggest employer of their forced labor. Both Russia and China have veto power for any UN sanctions.

Morning Report: Government zeroing in on VA IRRRL churning 9/14/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2489.0 -6.0
Eurostoxx Index 381.9 0.6
Oil (WTI) 49.8 0.5
US dollar index 85.5 0.0
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.20%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.33
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.81

Stocks are down this morning after the Bank of England made no changes to monetary policy. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Inflation at the consumer level was a little hotter than expected, but still came in below the Fed’s target rate. The Consumer Price Index rose 0.4% MOM and 1.9% YOY. Ex-food and energy it rose 0.2% / 1.7%. Damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are creating temporary shortages which is pushing up the price of gasoline as well as some foodstuffs. This should be out of the system by the holiday shopping period and won’t affect the Fed’s thinking.

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 284k last week, as Hurricane Harvey is still keeping jobless claims elevated. We will see a similar effect with Irma as well, though it should be less pronounced. Meanwhile, Target anticipates hiring 100,000 employees for the holiday season.

The government is taking a look at lenders who push veterans to do VA IRRRLs that offer a de minimus benefit to the veteran. They have already addressed part of the issue in the secondary market by creating a separate Ginnie Mae security for VA IRRRLs that replaced a loan less than 6 months old. The IRRRL is subject to abuse since the fee can be financed. It ends up adding thousands to the principal of the loan in exchange for a slightly lowered payment. In a response to Elizabeth Warren GNMA President Michael Bright said they have identified some companies which seem to “churn” VA loans and they have identified some patterns of behavior that they will try to curtail. GNMA didn’t identify which companies they were, but being accused of taking advantage of veterans will be a PR nightmare for some. Serial refinances were a problem with GNMA MBS as well, which depressed the prices of these securities. This drop in price directly translates into higher mortgage rates for unrelated loans, like FHA and non-IRRRL VA loans.

Home prices rose 7.7% in August according to RedFin. The national median sales price was $293k, flat with July. Inventory continues to decline, falling 12.4% YOY, which was the biggest decrease in inventory over the past 2 years. Inventory stands at 2.8 months’ worth, which is well below the 6 months that represent a balanced market with respect to supply and demand. Median days on market fell by 5 days YOY to 39.

In the wake of their hacking attack, Equifax is waiving fees for people who want to put a lock on their credit report. Basically, this allows you to prevent potential lenders from pulling your credit, unless you specifically authorize it. This will help prevent identity theft, however it won’t be completely effective unless you do the same thing at the other two credit reporting agencies: Transunion and Experian. The stock is down 31% since announcing the hack.

Morning Report: Jamie Dimon hates Bitcoin 9/13/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2490.8 -3.5
Eurostoxx Index 381.0 -0.5
Oil (WTI) 48.7 0.5
US dollar index 85.0 0.0
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.17%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.33
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.82

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

Mortgage applications increased 10% last week as purchases rose 11% and refis rose 9%. This includes an adjustment for the Labor Day holiday. Rates hit a low of 2.03% last week on fears that Hurricane Irma would cause major damage. Rates have fallen almost 20 basis points since July, although much of that was given back early this week after Irma turned out to be much less destructive than originally feared.

Inflation at the wholesale level increased 0.2% in August and is up 2.4% YOY. Ex-food and energy, it rose 2% YOY, more or less right at the Fed’s target. Surging gasoline prices at the end of the month pushed up the PPI. Note that Hurricane Irma will cause higher food prices, so we may see a temporary spike in inflation over the next few months.

Vikram Pandit (who ran Citigroup back in the day) says that AI and automation will replace up to 30% of all banking jobs, primarily in the back office. For the mortgage business, I suspect we will see AI and automation help increase the capacity of personnel, but not necessarily replace them. Underwriting a mortgage is much more complicated than clearing a foreign exchange trade. Still, there is no doubt that technology is impacting the business.

Cryptocurrencies are all the rage these days, but J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon thinks they are a fraud on par with tulip bulbs. In fact, he said he would fire any employee trading bitcoin for “stupidity.” His view is that governments will not tolerate an extra-governmental medium of exchange that they cannot control. In fact, China recently shut down its Bitcoin exchanges. Bitcoin prices are up fourfold this year.

Donald Trump is beginning to work on selling tax reform by hosting 3 Democrats to dinner at the White House last night. He is targeting Democrats in states he won. All Democratic Senators except these 3 (Manchin, Heitkamp, and Donnelly) have signed a pledge that they will only support tax reform if (a) it doesn’t add to the deficit, (b) doesn’t increase the burden on the middle class, and (c) goes through the regular order process.

The gap between the homeowner’s and the appraiser’s perception of a house’s value decreased in August, according to Quicken’s Home Price Perception Index. In August, the difference was 1.35%, while in July it was 1.55%. Interestingly, out West, the appraised value is coming in higher than the homeowner’s perception, while in the Midwest and Northeast it is lower. I have to say I am surprised to see that appraisals ever come in higher than the homeowner’s perception, but it does happen. Note that their home value appraisal index (which only tracks appraisal prices) rose 0.2% in August and is up 2.6% YOY, well below the more popular home price indices like Case-Shiller or FHFA.

Morning Report: Small Business Optimism hits 12 year high 9/12/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2490.0 4.3
Eurostoxx Index 381.8 2.4
Oil (WTI) 48.3 0.2
US dollar index 85.2 0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.15%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.33
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.73

Stocks are higher this morning on overseas strength. Bonds and MBS are down.

Small Business optimism remained strong in August, according to the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index. Increases in capital spending and higher sales expectations drove the increase. The index now matches the 12 year high set earlier this year. Interestingly, small business cited “quality of labor” as their second biggest problem, behind higher taxes. 59% reported trying to hire, and of those 88% reported few or no qualified applicants. In fact, both manufacturing and construction reported low labor quality as their biggest problem. Compensation is on the rise, as a net 28% of small businesses reported increasing comp. So, even though we aren’t getting much in the way of legislation out of DC, the drop in new regulations are helping sentiment. A net 9% of firms reported an increase in average selling prices, which is good news to the Fed.

Job openings totaled 6.17 million in July, according the JOLTs report. The quits rate, which is a leading indicator of increasing wages, was steady at 2.2%, and has been in a tight 2.1% to 2.2% range. The Fed watches this indicator closely.

Delinquencies continue to fall, driven by job growth and home price appreciation, according to CoreLogic. 30 day + DQs were 4.5% in June, down from 5.3% a year ago. The foreclosure rate was 0.7%, the lowest level in 10 years. The foreclosure rate varied between 0.1% in Denver and 2.2% in New York – Newark – Jersey City MSA.

Trump is planning on hitting the road to pitch tax reform. He was criticized for not doing more to sell the repeal of Obamacare, so he is trying not to repeat that mistake. Congress has yet to determine the particulars over what individual and corporate rates will be, but the purpose of these rallies is to make the case that we need tax reform to improve our competitiveness. Business friendly groups are also going to spend money on ads pushing for reform.

Banks with exposure to Florida are breathing easier after the damage from Irma turned out to be lower than expected. CoreLogic estimated that uninsured flood losses from Harvey could turn out to be $18-$27 billion.

Morning Report: Irma does less damage than expected 9/11/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2472.5 11.5
Eurostoxx Index 379.0 3.5
Oil (WTI) 47.7 0.2
US dollar index 84.8 0.3
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.10%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.33
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.73

Stocks are higher this morning after Hurricane Irma does less damage than predicted. Bonds and MBS are down.

The week should be relatively quiet for the bond market: there isn’t much in the way of market-moving data, and there won’t be any Fed-Speak as we have entered the quiet period before next week’s FOMC meeting.

Hurricane Irma did less damage than expected, and is weakening as it heads northward. Damage estimates have been cut by as much as $150 billion.

Equifax’s hacking has some people livid. The hack potentially affected 143 million people compromising social security numbers, addresses, drivers’ licenses, birthdays and more. Equifax’s initial site to check if you were affected had issues as well, which added insult to injury. If you have been affected by this hack, Equifax is offering a free year of credit monitoring (TrustedID), however if you accept the deal, you waive your right to sue. Equifax claims the arbitration waiver would only affect damages from TrustedID, not the cybersecurity incident. A class action lawsuit was filed on Thursday. Note several executives sold $1.8 million worth of stock after the hack (they supposedly didn’t know yet). Here is what you need to know.

The NAHB took a look at where the building activity was in 2016. Unsurprisingly, the activity was concentrated in the South and West, while the Northeast lagged. Between New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania there were less than 38,000 units started in 2016. This is less than a third of what Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma did.

Rising rates have taken a bite out of refinancing volume, which hit a 16 year low in the second quarter. Overall, volumes were up 20% from Q1 to Q2, to $467 billion, but were down 16% on a YOY basis. Purchases have been driving the increase, however they remain 30% below pre-crisis levels (and this doesn’t even take into account population growth and home price inflation). To give you an idea of how much credit standards have tightened, 720+ FICOs accounted for 3/4 of all loans in Q2. Pre-crisis, they were under half. Delinquencies did tick up 2.8% in the second quarter, to 3.9% of all mortgages. Hurricane Harvey could push up DQs by 300k.

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