Morning Report: The Urban Institute examines manufactured housing 9/18/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2899 3.25
Eurostoxx index 377.35 -0.96
Oil (WTI) 69.63 0.75
10 year government bond yield 3.01%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.68%

Stocks are higher after Trump’s proposed tariffs against China were smaller than expected. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Same store sales increased 5.4% last week, continuing a string of strong reports. Consumption data suggests that the fourth quarter is going to be strong, supported by the best holiday shopping season since the recession.

Builder sentiment was unchanged in September, according to the NAHB Housing Market Index. A lack of construction workers and higher construction costs are offsetting a strong seller’s market for new homes.

The credit markets for corporations with speculative credit remains robust. A Blackstone-led investor group raised $13.5 billion for a 55% stake in Reuters data business. Huge leveraged buyouts have been largely absent since the financial crisis, and the covenants are extremely borrower-friendly. Aside from the RMBS shenanigans of the 06-07 era, we saw a lot of reaching on leveraged buyout deals (LBO firms buying non-LBO friendly businesses like semis and retailers). In fact, the first indication of a problem in the credit markets in 06 was when the buy side refused to bite on the paper issued to fund the Alliance Boots transaction (an LBO of a British drug store chain). The banks got stuck with the inventory, and the rest is history.

With LBO credit widely available, you would think the private label MBS market would be coming back. So far, it is a shadow of its former self, with a number of issues (prepays, conflicts) preventing it from returning in any size. If it can’t do so in this environment, it almost makes you wonder if it ever will.

A UBS strategist is out with a bold call that the Fed will take a break after September and skip tightening at the December meeting. He believes that trade war fears will keep the Fed cautious, and will not be as inflationary as feared.

new study by the Urban Institute finds that contrary to popular belief, manufactured homes appreciate in value, although at a smaller rate (3.4% annually versus 3.8% for tradition homes). They suggest that geographical differences could explain the difference – mannies are concentrated in slower growth states and are underrepresented in pricey markets like the California. Currently the government only finances mannies when the land is part of the deal, and since this study uses the FHFA House Price Index, they are excluding structure-only chattel loans, which are something like 80% of the market. Note that mannies are overall more volatile that site-built homes, which means more risk for the lender all things being equal and therefore justifies the LLPAs.

A couple of economists think they have found a profitable trading strategy around the Fed. The idea is to buy or sell the market after the Fed makes a surprisingly dovish or hawkish monetary announcement and then unwind the trade 15 days later. The trade provides a higher return without increasing risk (higher Sharpe ratio). Something to think about ahead of next week’s FOMC announcement. If the dot plot comes out a bit more dovish than expected, supposedly you can make some money buying some SPYs and unwinding the trade mid-October. Full disclosure, not recommending you do that, just saying the study says it should work.

 

Morning Report: Hurricane Florence damage estimates 9/17/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2908.5 -2.9
Eurostoxx index 377.97 0.1
Oil (WTI) 69.63 0.64
10 year government bond yield 3.01%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.68%

Stocks are flat on no real news. Bonds and MBS are down.

We should have a quiet week ahead with not much in the way of economic data and no Fed-speak. Bonds have been selling off ahead of the FOMC meeting next week. The Fed Funds futures continue to bump up the chance of a December hike, with the odds now over 80%.

While not market moving, we will get some housing data with builder sentiment tomorrow, housing starts on Wednesday, and existing home sales on Thursday.

Chinese stocks are trading at a 4 year low, partially driven by threats of a trade war. Declining stock markets typically put pressure on real estate prices (asset classes generally correlate on the downside), and China has a bubble on its hands. This has the potential to spill over to the US, at least in the higher priced West Coast markets, which should see an exit of Chinese speculative money. Separately, China is considering declining further trade talks.

Trade talks should continue on NAFTA this week. The biggest effect of NAFTA talks will be on housing costs, particularly lumber prices. Base metals have been weak on trade issues, which should dampen the inflation indices a bit.

Hurricane Florence didn’t pack the punch that people expected, but the flooding has been probably worse. CoreLogic estimates that the insured flood costs will be between 3 and 5 billion. For servicers, this will suck up some cash, as delinquencies will invariably spike and we will be heading into the holiday forbearance period just as these loans go 90 days down. Nonbank servicers should expect to see a spike in advance activity to go along with the normal seasonal spike.

Manufacturing growth moderated in September, according to the Empire State Manufacturing Survey. New Orders and employment were pretty much the same.

Realtor.com lists the top 10 suburbs in the US. Most are pretty pricey with respect to incomes, with median price / median income ratios ranging from 3.5x to 7.4x. To put that number in perspective, up until the late 90s, the median home price to median income ratio averaged about 3.2 – 3.6. It peaked at 4.8 in 2006. While median home price to median income ratios are an imperfect measure (since they ignore the effects of interest rates on affordability) they are still a relevant measure of how overpriced an area can be.

Retailers are struggling to hire temps heading into the holiday season. Some decided to start hiring this summer in order to beat the expected shortages, while others are offering higher pay and vacation time. Is the just-in-time employment model about to exhibit its weakness?

Goldman is forecasting growth to slow to 2.6% in 2019 and 1.6% in 2020. Many are now calling for a recession in 2020. The catalyst will be higher interest rates and end of the Trump tax cut “sugar high.” Perhaps the big investment in inventory build we are currently seeing will be the catalyst. Regardless, we don’t seem to have any asset bubbles in the US so we probably aren’t going to be looking at any sort of credit crunch. Overseas, there are issues (Canada, Scandinavia, Australia, China).

Morning Report: Initial Jobless Claims in perspective 9/13/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2898 9.5
Eurostoxx index 378.25 1.14
Oil (WTI) 69.66 0.71
10 year government bond yield 2.95%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.64%

Stocks are higher this morning on positive trade comments out of China. Bonds and MBS are up.

The European Central bank left rates unchanged, which is helping bonds rally.

Inflation at the consumer level came in weaker than expected, with the Consumer Price Index rising 0.2% MOM and 2.7% YOY. Both numbers were 10 basis points below Street estimates. Ex-food and energy, they were up 0.1% / 2.2%, which pretty close to the Fed’s target. Falling health care costs, which make up about 10% of the index, helped offset increasing housing costs.

Increased housing costs are fueling a rise in home improvement activity. Both The Home Despot and Lowes are surging following results. Consumer Comfort rose for the first time in 5 weeks. Despite the run over the last month, the index is at highs not seen since 2000 (as are most of the consumer confidence / sentiment indices).

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 204,000, which is another 50 year record. When you take into account population growth, the number becomes even more dramatic:

Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, but it is still expected to pack a wallop and dump a lot of rain. The hurricane is expected to dump 20-30 inches of rain over the area, which means flooding issues well inland. Servicers should expect to see an uptick in DQs going into the end of the year. Note that fewer households have flood insurance this time around. “Residents of these states are materially less prepared than they were in the past to deal with the financial consequences associated with major flooding events,” said Robert Hartwig, a risk-management and insurance professor at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business.

Ex-US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is getting into the mortgage business, joining the advisory board of Blend, which is a consumer finance start-up that handles online mortgage applications for the GSEs and some of the larger banks.

Doug Kass made the great observation about the business media and the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis, recalling Mickey Mantle’s observation: “I didn’t know how easy the game of baseball was until I entered the broadcasting booth.”

HUD Secretary Ben Carson plans on doing more to remove zoning impediments to multifamily construction, though his approach will be different than the Obama Adminstration’s. He plans on using Community Development Block Grant funds to encourage changes in zoning. The Obama admin sued localities directly, with the most prominent case being Westchester County in New York. Westchester County ended up being able to fend off HUD for the most part, which kind of shows the futility of that exercise. Westchester should have been a lay-up. Separately, the House is looking at regulatory costs and multifamily construction, which supposedly account for 30% of the cost of multi fam homebuilding according to NAHB.

Morning Report: Wholesale inflation remains in check 9/12/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2888.5 -0.25
Eurostoxx index 376.66 1.28
Oil (WTI) 70.21 0.93
10 year government bond yield 2.97%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.64%

Stocks are flat this morning as the East Coast braces for Hurricane Florence. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Mortgage Applications fell 1.8% during the Labor Day week as purchases increased 1% and refis fell 6%. The refi index is now at an 18 year low. We saw a 5 basis point increase in rates, which drove the drop in refis. As rates rise, cash-outs, fixed-for-ARM, and FHA for conventional are about the only game in town.

Despite tariffs and increases in raw materials prices inflation at the wholesale level remains under control. The producer price index fell 0.1% last month but rose 2.8% on an annualized basis. Ex-food and energy, the number was down 0.1% MOM and up 2.3% YOY. So, despite the increase in wages we saw in the jobs report, inflation overall remains subdued.

Yesterday’s JOLTs report showed the quits rate (which is considered a leading indicator for wage inflation) hit the highest level since early 2001. Construction job openings increased to set another post-bubble high. Hurricane Florence will only exacerbate the labor shortage as workers get drawn into repair jobs. This probably means disappointing housing starts numbers for the rest of the year.

Below is a chart which shows that average hourly earnings and the quits rate tend to correlate pretty closely.

Here are some things that homeowners in the path of Florence can do in order to prepare for impact. Note that the hurricane is expected to stall out once hit hits land, so you should expect some flooding inland. Servicers should prepare for an uptick in delinquencies.

Redfin has a good retrospective on the top lasting impacts from the financial crisis. Probably the biggest surprise was that a leftist president presided over a huge jump in inequality. Given that Fed policy in the aftermath of the crisis was aimed at supporting asset prices, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The other big surprise was the complete drop off in housing construction despite a tight housing market. 10 years down the road, it is still a head-scratcher. Everyone has a theory about the driver, from gun-shy builders, to labor shortages, to zoning restrictions. The places where the demand is greatest (CA and Seattle) have tight restrictions on building, and such an expensive market that businesses are relocating somewhere cheaper. On the other side of the coin, the Rust Belt is growing again, and that area has a surfeit of housing already built.

Morning Report: NFIB, JOLTs, wage pressures 9/11/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2872 -8.25
Eurostoxx index 373.62 -1.89
Oil (WTI) 67.66 0.12
10 year government bond yield 2.97%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.62%

Stocks are lower this morning on trade and weather fears. Bonds and MBS are continuing their post jobs-report sell-off.

Job openings hit a record high in July, hitting 6.9 million, according to the JOLTS survey. Job openings increased in finance and insuring, but fell in retail and government. The quits rate increased to 2.4%, the highest level since 2001.

Small business optimism set a record last month, hitting 108.8 and beating the previous high set in July 1983. The number of businesses saying it is a good time to expand hit a high, and plans for capital expenditures and inventory investment also hit pre-crisis highs. The NFIB index had a discontinuous jump upward starting in late 2016, but that was primarily driven by expectations of hiring and investment. Now the index is being driven higher by actual hiring and investment and that is driving GDP growth. Labor shortages continue to be a problem.

Same store sales continued their recent strength, rising 6.3% last week. All of this points to a strong Q4.

Signs of building wage pressures? Leaders for the United Steelworker’s Union are demanding pay increases as steelmakers get a profit boost from tariffs. They are targeting US Steel and Arcelor Mittal. Steel prices are up 30% – 40% this year, which is boosting profits. This issue of course is that these increases will probably prove to be temporary as the tariffs are a negotiating tool. That said, expect to see more of this as the labor market tightens. US Steel has offered the union a 4% wage increase next year, and 3% the following two years. After that, base pay will increase by 1%, but profit-sharing bonuses will be implemented.

Finally, a note on 9/11

I was on the trading floor at Bear, Stearns in London. It was just after lunch. A headline went across Bloomberg saying a plane had hit one of the WTC towers. CNBC mentioned the story as well, but no one was thinking “terrorism.” I emailed one of my friends at Merrill Lynch (right across the street at the World Financial Center) and he wasn’t even aware of what happened. The European markets were down a bit on the day, but didn’t really react to the first hit.

After a few minutes, CNBC started showing live footage of the fire and then we saw plane 2 hit. Immediately, the world realized what had happened. The Euro markets were collapsing and I was inundated with sell orders. The news of the Pentagon hit came out. People on our floor started freaking out. We were in Canary Wharf (One Canada Square) in the tallest building in the UK. Planes routinely come close to the building as they approach City Airport. The head of Bear Stearns Europe came on the trading floor and told everyone if they were uncomfortable, to go home. No one knew if today was “fly a plane into financial headquarters day” Everyone bailed, and I was one of the last guys on the trading floor, trying to reconcile my book by hand and get flat before I left.

I looked up at CNBC before I left and saw the place I got married at a year earlier collapse on my birthday.

P.S. As I headed to the tube to go home, I passed the Slug and Lettuce (a pub) and found all of the “uncomfortable” Bear Stearns employees having a pint directly below the building they were so uncomfortable being in.

By the way, I am still searching for a senior capital market role at a mortgage bank. If anyone is hearing of anyone looking, I would appreciate the head’s up.

Morning Report: Florence eyes the East Coast 9/10/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2884.25 9.55
Eurostoxx index 375.79 2.02
Oil (WTI) 68.05 0.29
10 year government bond yield 2.93%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.60%

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

In terms of economic data, we will get CPI and PPI on Wed and Thursday and retail sales on Friday. There will be little in terms of Fed-speak. The Fed Funds futures continue to up the probability of a Dec hike (Sep is in the bag), which is now sitting at 79%.

We are coming up on the 10 year anniversary of Lehman’s collapse. Expect a lot of handwringing articles about whether we are set up for another collapse (we aren’t). Residential real estate bubbles are rare events (the previous one was in the 1920s) and the psychological basis for bubbles to inflate requires decades and decades of bull markets to build up that sort of complacency. Not saying that we can’t see pockets of decline, but a broad-based drop of 20% or more? Highly unlikely.

Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren would like to see two more rate hikes in 2018 as the economy strengthens. He sees the economy expanding at a 3% pace for the rest of the year, and believes the Fed needs to keep going: “Going beyond just the next two hikes, I see no reason why we wouldn’t want to be at a more normalized rate, given the economic conditions we currently have, unless something changes dramatically that we’re not anticipating.” He also advocated that the Fed impose the counter-cyclical buffer, which requires banks to set aside additional capital in good times to draw upon when credit tightens.

Hurricane Florence is looking more and more likely to hit the East Coast, with North and South Carolina as the center of the projected path. It is expected to reach the coast late Thursday night / early Friday morning. Lots of areas are already waterlogged so flooding will be an issue even inland.

Canada sees reasons for optimism in NAFTA discussions and thinks we could see a deal. Any major changes will require legislation, but a tweak here and there will allow Trump to declare victory and move on.

Interesting map of the average age of homes in the US. In the Northeast, the average age of an owner-occupied home is over 50 years. Most of these MSAs have been losing population over the past 10 years.

Morning Report: Wage growth accelerates 9/7/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2870.5 -9
Eurostoxx index 372.33 -1.26
Oil (WTI) 67.74 -0.02
10 year government bond yield 2.92%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

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

Jobs report data dump:

  • Payrolls up 205,000
  • Unemployment rate 3.9%
  • Average hourly earnings up 2.9%
  • Labor force participation rate 62.7%

The payroll number and the wages were higher than what the Street was looking for, which explains the reaction in the bond market. The labor force participation rate fell as 467,000 workers dropped out of the labor force. A big decrease was seen in the 16-19 year old category, which would mean summer jobs ending. With more and more schools starting in before Labor Day, perhaps it is time for BLS to make some re-adjustments in their seasonality calculations. In terms of sectors, professional and business services rose by the most, followed by health care. Surprisingly, construction increased going into what is a seasonally slow period and despite the jump in same store sales, retailers shed jobs. Overall, a decent report, which should keep stock investors happy and will also give bond investors something to fret about. Wage growth is getting close to a 3-handle and that will be a big number.

In response to the jobs report, the December Fed Fund futures raised their 2 hike probability to 75%.

The Trump administration continues to hammer out a trade deal with Canada and Mexico. Separately, the deadline passed for an additional 200MM in Chinese tariffs, which means he can implement them at any time.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling penned an editorial in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, where he laid out a framework for dealing with the GSEs. His solution will be to run everything through Ginnie Mae, with private capital taking the first loss position, and the taxpayer taking a catastrophic loss position. It would create a common securitization platform and still maintain some sort of affordable housing fund. Originators would have to get a private credit enhancer to guarantee the loan. The private credit enhancer would have to be market-based and have a bank-like balance sheet. Note that this is the first bipartisan housing reform bill, which means we may be getting closer to having the political will to de-nationalize the US mortgage market.

Skilled construction labor is hard to find. 83% of builders report some sort of shortage for rough carpenters. It is even worse for subcontractors. With those sorts of shortages, we should see wages accelerate. It is inevitable. The 9-occupation trade shortage is as big as it has ever been.

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