Morning Report: Is the Trump Reflation Trade dead? 4/26/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2384.0 -1.0
Eurostoxx Index 387.2 0.2
Oil (WTI) 49.2 -0.4
US dollar index 89.8 0.3
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.31%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.625
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.68
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.98

Stocks are flat as markets await Donald Trump’s tax plan. Bonds and MBS are down small.

Trump is expected to unveil his plan for a 15% corporate tax rate today. This rate is a negotiation posture and it will almost certainly increase to 20% or higher. Trump is not only negotiating with Democrats, he is also negotiating with Paul Ryan, who wants to implement a border adjustment tax which will offset the revenue lost from the tax cut. If the tax cut is not revenue-neutral, it will need 60 votes in the Senate, which will doom it. The other option, which would be a temporary reduction in the rate, would probably not influence corporate decision making, especially if it was only for a few years.

Note that our current tax rate of 35% is the highest in the world, and our competitors are in the mid 20s. Germany has been the biggest tax cutter, taking its rate from 42% to 16% over the past 16 years. Does the Laffer Curve apply to corporate taxes? The Laffer Curve (pictured below) basically showed that tax receipts don’t increase monotonically as the rate increases – it is a curve. When taxes are 0% or 100% the government will raise nothing. In between those numbers there is an optimal point. The debate in Washington has been over which side of that point we are on. The curve for corporations is influenced not only by tax policy influencing corporate incentives, it is also influenced by competition from other jurisdictions. The reason why Corporate America has trillions stashed overseas is testament to this. Outsized corporate taxes compared to our competitors incentivizes corporations to maximize overseas income and minimize domestic income. This amounts to a subsidy to foreign governments. While the CBO (who will score the proposal) poo-poos the idea of dynamic scoring, in this case it is probably appropriate, even if you discount the effect on economic growth, simply because it removes this perverse incentive.

Will the potential tax cut breathe new life into the Trump reflation trade? A revenue-neutral tax reform will probably not be massively stimulative (it can’t be, by definition) however removing these perverse incentives will certainly help. If Trump can get some foreign tax repatriation deal, that will help. The left will probably balk if there are no strings attached to it, as they fear it will only go to dividends and buybacks. However, there could be a way to convince them to go along, if some of the savings are applied to things like increasing payroll, increasing training, etc. Infrastructure spending is also going to be a hard sell, both to Democrats, who despise the privatization of infrastructure, and the Freedom Caucus, who despises government spending in general.

Punch line: The Trump reflation trade is probably going to be based on revenue-neutral tax reform and some sort of stripped-down infrastructure spending plan (if one even materializes). The single best effect will be regulatory reform, however none of this should really push inflation higher, which is what the Trump reflation trade was all about in the first place.

Mortgage Applications increased 2.7% last week as purchases fell 1% and refis rose 7%. The average 30 year rate fell 6 basis points. Note last week was a holiday-shortened week, which probably affected the purchase number.

Republicans have floated a bill that funds the government through the rest of the fiscal year without funding the wall. Funding for the wall has been a sticking point and Democrats have vowed to shut down the government over it.

Fannie Mae is rolling out new products designed to help borrowers with student loan debt. This includes cash-out refis that allow a borrower to consolidate student loan debt into a mortgage, Other measures will allow borrowers to exclude debt paid by others, and another will allow lenders to accept student loan information on credit reports. Given the high home price appreciation we have been seeing, the first time homebuyer needs all the help it can get.

Morning Report: Markets rally on the French election 4/24/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2374.8 27.3
Eurostoxx Index 386.0 7.9
Oil (WTI) 49.9 0.3
US dollar index 89.5
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.29%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.78
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.98

Stocks are higher this morning after the French election had no surprises. Bonds and MBS are down on the risk-on trade.

We will have a lot of real estate related economic releases this week, however we don’t have much in the way of market moving data until Friday when we get the first look at Q1 GDP. We have Fed-Speak today and Friday.

The French election will pit a centrist against a right wing candidate. The far left candidate did not make it to the next round. Given this is just a first round election, the market’s sugar high probably won’t last all that long.

After the French election, the next big event is the the potential government shutdown on Friday. The sticking point is that Trump wants funding for the border wall, which Democrats are calling a non-starter. If Trump and the Democrats can’t get a deal (or Trump can’t get Republicans to help him out), we will get a partial government shutdown starting Saturday. This will be the big event this week, although markets are probably used to this sort of drama.

It is humorous to pick up the way the potential shutdown is spun in the media. When obama had to deal with shutdowns, it was the irresponsible Republicans who controlled Congress who were the villains. Now that Democrats won’t vote for a CR, the villain is now Trump. Plus ca change…

Note that the last time we had a shutdown, people weren’t able to get 4506-T’s out of the IRS during the shutdown. LO’s should plan accordingly to keep closings on track.

Economic activity took a step back in March, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Employment related indicators drove the decrease. Not sure how much of that is coming from retailers, who have been struggling as of late. This is a meta-index of leading and lagging indicators, however it certainly shows that the hard data (actual spending / employment / production numbers) is not catching up to the soft data (sentiment surveys).

Tight inventory has home prices on a tear, with the Black Knight Home Price Index up 0.8% MOM and 5.7% YOY. The index has now passed its bubble peak and is making new highs. The FHFA index and the CoreLogic indices have hit new highs as well, leaving only the Case-Shiller index still underwater. Mortgage originators are issuing tons of pre-qual letters, but the offers are not forthcoming since the market is so competitive. Buyers are now making offers without contingencies in order to get the home they want. The hottest market? Seattle, where prices rose 2.7% on a month-over-month basis. This is hard for the first time homebuyer who often needs some help paying closing costs. VA loans allow for seller’s concessions (which don’t cost the seller any money), which means you can get up to a 103% LTV loan.

Chris Whalen has a good piece on what the origination business will look like for 2017. Punch line: lower volumes, increasing purchase activity, and a widening of the credit box. He also speculates that CFPB Chairman Richard Cordroy’s response to Trump staffer Gary Cohn’s request to resign was to launch a new assault on Ocwen. There are rumors that JP Morgan might get back into the FHA lending business, and Wells has cut pricing on FHA loans as well. In terms of home price appreciation, housing affordability is stretched, but low inventories will proved price support.

Homebuilder DR Horton reported strong Q2 earnings as revenues and income rose 17%. New orders were up 14% in units and 17% in value. They took up guidance as well.

Morning Report: Existing Home Sales hit a 10 year high 4/21/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2355.0 3.0
Eurostoxx Index 378.8 0.7
Oil (WTI) 50.6 -0.1
US dollar index 89.8  
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.23%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.97
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.98

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

Existing Home Sales rose to their fastest pace in 10 years, according to the NAR. Existing Home Sales increased at a 5.79 million annual rate, which was the fastest since January 2007. Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist of NAR said: The early returns so far this spring buying season look very promising as a rising number of households dipped their toes into the market and were successfully able to close on a home last month,” he said. “Although finding available properties to buy continues to be a strenuous task for many buyers, there was enough of a monthly increase in listings in March for sales to muster a strong gain. Sales will go up as long as inventory does.” The median existing home sale price was $236,400, up 6.8% from a year ago. Inventory increased, however it remains at about 3.8 months’ worth. Days on market dropped to 34, a huge decrease from a year ago, when it was in the mid-high 40s. Inventory remains the biggest problem as homebuilders have yet to pump out the required supply to meet demand.

More Millennials (ages 18-34) live with their parents than with a spouse. Of course we have seen a general trend of waiting until later in life to get married and have kids, so this is somewhat just the extension of a trend. How many of these young adults would like to move out of their parent’s home but find rents / house prices too expensive?

The next big issue for the bond market (and markets in general) is the debt ceiling debate. The government will run out of money by the end of the month, although it can play some accounting games to keep the lights on until a new CR is passed. If not, we could see a partial government shutdown on April 29. It appears that Trump will need some Democrats to pass a CR, and they are demanding that funds be appropriated to shore up the Obamacare exchanges. Trump wants more money for a wall, immigration enforcement and defense spending, which the Democrats oppose. So far, the markets view this as so much theater, but we will see how far the brinkmanship goes.

Delinquencies have hit an 11 year low, according to Black Knight Financial Services. Total non-current inventory (30 days down +) is at 2.3 million. Prepay speeds increased however, as rates fell. Foreclosure starts ticked up slightly MOM, but are down 18% YOY.

Why the exurbs are the new high growth area, and what that means for urban living (and politics). Technology is lowering the cost of transportation (basically lowering the cost of distance), and more manufacturing does not need to be near the big cities, and it looks like the exurbs will take up the slack. This has enormous implications for politics, as Democrats dominate the cities and Republicans dominate the suburbs.

More problems for Backwards Newco. North Carolina is prohibiting them from acquiring new servicing until it fixes defects in how it handles escrow accounts. Separately, the CFPB is going after them as well. The stock was down over 50% yesterday on about 20x normal volume.

Legendary macro trader Paul Tudor Jones is sending a warning about the stock market. You are seeing more and more strategists fretting about valuations as the Trump reflation trade deflates. If the stock market takes a swoon, that will not be lost on the Fed. Yet another reason why we may have seen the highs for mortgage rates and the 10 year already.

That said, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says the Administration is “pretty close” to bringing major tax reform. It will probably be an end-of-year event, as the previous August deadline is not going to happen. The Administration has a narrow window to get things done, as politicians will turn to the 2018 midterms soon after the new year.

Morning Report: Hard vs. soft data 4/20/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2340.3 6.5
Eurostoxx Index 377.6 0.3
Oil (WTI) 50.6 0.1
US dollar index 89.7  
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.23%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.04
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.95

Stocks are up this morning as earnings continue to roll in and oil rebounds. Bonds and MBS are down small.

Initial Jobless Claims ticked up slightly to 244k last week, while the Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook survey cooled from its earlier torrid pace.

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators came in better than expected at 0.4%, but is a drop from February.

Since the election, we have seen a disconnect between the hard data and the soft data. Hard data includes things like the Philly Fed survey, which are often sentiment-heavy indices. These have been exceptionally strong over the past few months, while the actual hard data releases (manufacturing production, retail sales, etc) have been tepid. Stock market bulls have been betting that the hard data would eventually catch up (in other words the optimism would begin to manifest itself into real spending). Instead, it looks like the the opposite is happening – the actual hard data is remaining more or less where it has been for the past 8 years and the sentiment indicators are coming back down to Earth. It is still early days, and regulatory relief will take some time to manifest itself in the numbers, but optimists hoping for a quantum leap in economic activity look like they are going to be disappointed.

Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer doesn’t foresee another 2013-esque “taper tantrum” when the Fed begins to wind down its balance sheet. His view is that the current pace of policy normalization is appropriate and is designed to balance risks to the US and global economy. “A gradual and ongoing removal of accommodation seems likely both to maximize the prospects of a continued expansion in the U.S. economy and to mitigate the risk of undesirable spillovers abroad,”

Refis fell to 37% of all originations in March, according to the Ellie Mae Origination Insight Report. Time to close fell as well, to 43 days, which is the shortest time in 2 years. Interestingly, closing rates fell in March to 68%. Closing rates were 73% at the end of last year, so it is unclear what changed. The average FICO score ticked up a point to 721.

Want an idea of how hot real estate is in the Bay Area? A two bedroom, 988 square foot teardown bungalow in Oakland went on the market at 495k and ended up selling for over $750k.

Morning Report: A tell in the mortgage REITs 4/19/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2346.0 8.8
Eurostoxx Index 377.5 1.1
Oil (WTI) 52.4 0.0
US dollar index 89.7  
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.20%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.15
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.3
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.97

Stocks are rebounding this morning after yesterday’s big sell-off. Bonds and MBS are down small.

Mortgage applications fell 1.8% during a holiday-shortened week. Purchases were down 3% while refis rose .2%. Note that the 10 year yield fell 15 basis points last week, so we should continue to see follow through in refis.

The 10 year bond yield slipped below 2.2% yesterday, hitting the lowest point since the immediate post-election rate rise. The Trump reflation trade is unwinding as the market reckons that nothing is going to get done in Washington, which is probably a safe bet at this point.

While the rest of the world frets about what will happen when the Fed starts shrinking its balance sheet (can we call it quantitative tightening?), there is one sector that is surprisingly sanguine: the mortgage REITs. American Capital Agency and Annaly Capital are both up some 18% since rates peaked in December. Yes, some of that is simply the natural correlation between MREITs and bond prices, however this also comes as the Fed discusses unwinding its balance sheet. If REIT investors were worried that decreased demand for mortgage backed securities would affect the value of their portfolios, you would expect to see it in their stock prices. So far, they are shrugging it off. For originators, this means that mortgage spreads to Treasuries should be safe as well, which is good news. Meanwhile, the homebuilders continue to move higher, despite the disappointing housing starts we have been seeing. Building permits are still depressed as well, so there isn’t any indication the tight inventory situation is going to change.

CFPB Chairman Richard Cordray is supposedly pondering a run for the Governor of Ohio. If so, his days at the CFPB could be numbered.

The digital mortgage is only going to become more and more common. Here is how lenders should approach it. Punch line: the programmers need to focus on the consumer experience as much as the back end functionality.

Since housing prices bottomed, condo price appreciation has outstripped single family residence appreciation. Historically that has not been the case, as there is generally more demand for SFR. My guess is that condo prices are more volatile than SFR prices, and that they declined more in the sell-off and are now increasing faster in the rebound. There probably isn’t any secular change going on, although many are quick to point out that the Millennials (so far at least) prefer living in urban areas.

Morning Report: Housing starts miss 4/18/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2339.5 -5.5
Eurostoxx Index 377.0 -3.6
Oil (WTI) 52.3 0.4
US dollar index 89.8  
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.22%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.09
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.31
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.97

Stocks are lower this morning after housing starts disappoint. Bonds and MBS are higher.

Housing starts fell 9% MOM to 1.215 million in March. This was below the 1.26 million estimate. Building Permits rose 1.26 million, which exceeded the 1.25 million estimate. A big drop in single family starts in the Midwest drove the decrease, which may have been weather-related. Multi-fam continues to be volatile, while SFR is slowly creeping upward.

Industrial Production rose 0.1% in March, however manufacturing production fell 0.4%, which was a big miss from the 0.3% increase that was expected. Capacity Utilization bumped up to 76%. This is another example of the disconnect between the soft data (sentiment surveys) and hard data (actual spending patterns etc) that has been a hallmark of the post-election landscape.

We had a nice rally in the 10 year bond last week, with the yield falling about 15 basis points to 2.23%. The mortgage rate has lagged the move, falling about 10 basis points. Generally speaking this is typical, as the mortgage rate is less volatile than the 10 year. If the 10 year stabilizes here, we could see a move lower in mortgage rates.

Part of the post-election rally was due to the Trump reflation trade, which assumed tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Tax cuts really mean tax reform, as the plan is to increase the size of the standard deduction and reduce itemized deductions. While the mortgage interest deduction is too popular to eliminate, the state and local tax deduction is being targeted. This will hit taxpayers in high tax areas like CA and the Northeast the hardest. Democrats are opposing this however, even though the people most likely to be affected are the very rich (90% of the increase will fall on the wealthy), and will raise something like $1.3 trillion over 10 years.  Guess Chuck Schumer has found a loophole that benefits wealthy New York hedge fund managers that he isn’t willing to close.

The Trump Administration has said that health care reform will take precedence over tax reform this year. Note that we are coming up on the period where health insurers will announce whether they are staying on the Obamacare exchanges or not for 2018. That will most likely color the debate. As hard as it is to get anything through Congress right now, it will only get harder in 2018 as midterms loom on the horizon.

The punch line is that bonds and stocks are telling you different things, and when that happens the bond market is usually correct. If the Trump reflation trade is indeed dead, and we don’t see a big increase in growth, we should start thinking about the possibility of the 10 year trading below 2%. The pre-election yield on the 10 year was 1.78%.

Note that the IMF may be catching on as well. They are taking up their global GDP growth numbers, probably on the bet that protectionist policies in the US aren’t going to happen.

Both the Atlanta Fed and the NY Fed took down their Q1 GDP estimates after the lousy retail sales numbers last week. A CNBC survey of economists is pegging Q1 GDP at about 90 basis points. The Fed Funds futures are now pricing in an under-50% probability of a rate hike in June. You can see that the Fed Funds futures have been cheating down their estimates for hikes over the past month or so:

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the Administration prefers a strong dollar “over time.” There had been some confusion in the markets over the Administration’s exact policy on the dollar, since Trump had said early on it was too strong, in reference to China. Note that there is some horsetrading going on between the US and China over currencies, trade, and North Korea. Trump is willing to tone down his comments on Chinese currency manipulation in exchange for action from China in reining in NK. A strong dollar policy out of the Admin will generally make for lower interest rates.

The CFPB is soliciting input for possible changes the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

Morning Report: Regulatory relief proposals 4/17/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2329.3 -1.8
Eurostoxx Index 380.6 -1.3
Oil (WTI) 52.8 -0.3
US dollar index 89.9  
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.22%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.78
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.98

Stock futures are largely flat this morning as many overseas investors are on holiday. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.

Bond yields have broken decisively to the downside over the past week as international tensions escalate. North Korea’s failed missile launch, combined with developments in Syria have sent bonds and gold higher. The 10 year yield is at the lowest level since mid-November.

While international tensions have certainly played a part in the bond rally, weak retail sales and inflation data have as well. The Fed Funds futures are now factoring a less-than-50% probability of a June rate hike, down from a 2/3 probability only a week ago.

Business conditions softened in New York State last month after the Empire State Manufacturing Survey fell after two unusually strong months. We are starting to see bottlenecks in the supply chain. Employment rose.

Homebuilder sentiment slipped slightly in April, however sentiment remains strong.

Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan took aim at regulations in his annual letter to stockholders. He was especially critical of the FHA’s use of the False Claims Act to hammer lenders who commit unintentional clerical errors but had no intention of committing fraud. This has caused FHA lending (which is the only game in town for subprime borrowers) to become restricted, especially at the big banks. He also called for new uniform standards for mortgage servicing. The cost of servicing delinquent loans has skyrocketed, and this has caused lenders to further restrict credit. JPM estimates that $1 trillion in additional lending could have increased GDP by half a percentage point.

Rep David Kustoff penned an editorial at CNBC calling for a reform of Dodd-Frank, especially in how it affects smaller community banks. The regulatory burden that was imposed on the system is more easily borne by the JP Morgans and the Wells Fargos of the world than it is by the smaller banks who are the lenders to small business. There is a general bipartisan consensus in DC that something needs to be done to give the smaller lenders some relief, however the political environment is so entrenched and partisan that it is hard to imagine much getting done legislatively.

The MBA sent its proposals to the Senate. The first one includes a request for more clarity from the CFPB, while the second includes a suggestion to widen the QM safe harbor to all loans that satisfy the QM rule and to increase the ceiling for small loan status under QM to $200k from just over $100k now. The remainder of the suggestions largely concern capital requirements for banks and servicing.

Median house prices rose 7.5% to $273,000 according to RedFin. Sales growth was also up a strong 8.9%. Inventories were down 13%, however. The typical home went under contract within 49 days, which is pretty fast for a March. The average sale to list price was 93.7%, which was a decrease. Perhaps the bidding wars in the hottest markets are cooling off a bit. Note this statement by a real estate agent:

“As a seller’s agent, the first thing I do when I receive an offer is ask who the lender is. The best offers come from buyers who are pre-approved by a local lender with a strong reputation for speed and reliability. If I’ve worked with the lender before and know they can fund the loan and close on time, I am sure to highlight that for my client.” — Tiffany Aquino, Redfin Agent in Woodbridge, VA

The Fed is assembling its plan to shrink its portfolio of Treasuries and mortgage backed securities, and may actually begin the process this year. The Fed currently owns just under $2 trillion in mortgage backed securities, and we could see that number cut in half over the next decade, according to a paper released in January. The big question for MBS holders is whether they will stop reinvesting maturing proceeds all at once or whether they will phase that in. Given that QE didn’t materially affect MBS spreads when it was implemented, it is hard to imagine tapering re-investments will make much of a difference either.

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