Morning Report: The era of low mortgage rates is over 5/18/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2713 -5.75
Eurostoxx index 394.37 -1.42
Oil (WTI) 71.39 -0.08
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.09%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.69%

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

Slow news day. with no economic data.

The Wall Street Journal has declared the era of low mortgage rates is over. What does this mean for the industry? For the industry overall, it means a tougher fight to keep purchase business, but it also could depress home sales as a combination of higher home prices and higher rates make moving up too unaffordable. NAR estimates that the effect of a 100 basis point increase in mortgage rates can reduce sales by 8%. Mortgage rates have been on a tear this year, increasing 62 basis points since the end of 2017. The 10 year yield has increased by the same amount, and usually mortgage rates don’t move up in a 1:1 ratio with Treasuries. I wouldn’t be surprised to see mortgage rates fall if Treasury yields stall out here.

I suspect that “convexity selling” has been driving the moves in rates. Mortgages have a quirky characteristic called negative convexity. Negative convexity explains why a GN mortgage with an expected duration of 7 years will pay a higher yield than a Treasury with a duration of 7 years. Neither one has credit risk, but they have different interest rate risk. MBS investors (say mortgage REITs or hedge funds) will buy mortgages and hedge interest rate risk by selling Treasuries. As interest rates rise, they can get balanced by either selling MBS (which pushes mortgage rates up) or by buying Treasuries (which pushes interest rates up). Whenever you see big moves in rates during a short period of time, you are often seeing convexity hedging exacerbating the move, which is why you will see a retracement in rates after the re-hedging activity finishes. We saw a big move this week as Treasuries broke the 3.1% level. Mortgage rates have shot up as well.

Do credit cycles drive the business cycle or is it the other way around? Historically, business cycles have driven credit cycles. In other words, business dries up, making debt harder to service, which causes banks to retrench and raise cash. The last two cycles however, the credit cycle drove the business cycle. Credit tightened up first, and then the economy rolled over. Is this a new trend? My guess is that it probably isn’t, as the last two economic booms were driven by bubbles in stocks (late 90s) and residential real estate (mid 00s). This time around, asset prices are high, but we don’t have anything comparable to the stock market or real estate bubbles this time around. Your major macro credit risk is that the Fed overdoes it, not that a bunch of debt backed by garbage assets implodes.

Everyone loves ETFs these days. They have low fees, provide instant diversification, and are liquid. In the fixed income market however, the liquidity is probably a bit of an illusion. Corporate bond issuance has soared since the bottom of the cycle in 2012, yet the amount of market-making capacity has been shrunk by 80-90%. The issue for ETF investors is that they expect to have liquidity in these instruments, but in a crisis the underlying assets of these bond funds will experience a tremendous shock. Why? Because Dodd-Frank’s Volcker Rule has essentially ended market-making as a business for banks. Market-making activity means that when everyone wants to sell, the banks who issued these bonds would usually step in and act as the buyer of last resort. This time around, that won’t happen and ETFs will trade at huge discounts to their supposed net asset value. There is no such thing as a financial free lunch, and investors are going to discover the downside of low fees, tight spreads and marginal cost commissions the next time the credit cycle turns.

Morning Report: REO to rental trade earned 9% last year 5/17/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2718.5 -4.5
Eurostoxx index 394.21 1
Oil (WTI) 72.15 0.66
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.10%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.65%

Stocks are lower this morning on bad earnings from Cisco. Bonds and MBS are down small.

The US and China will enter trade talks over the next couple of days. Both sides have signaled willing to make some compromises, so this could potentially be good for interest rates.

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 222k last week, while the Philly Fed improved to 34.4 which is a strong reading. The Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose a respectable 0.4%.

One of the reasons why starter homes have been so tough to find has been the REO-to-rental trade, where professional investors scooped up REO properties early in the crisis and rented them out. CoreLogic crunched the numbers and it turns out the trade made about 9% per year for the past 5 years. Impressive return in an environment of financial repression. Most of the return came from home price appreciation however, so if prices begin to level out, some of these professional investors will turn sellers. This is especially true if they had these properties in funds with a life. As short term interest rates rise, the low single-digit rental return will have more competition.

While longer-term bonds can be used as a proxy to estimate future inflation, Treasury Inflation Protected Securities represent a direct measure of inflationary expectations. The Fed invariably mentions TIPS in their meeting minutes. The breakeven rate of inflation has hit a 4 year high in this market at 2.2%. This means that an investor would need 2.2% in the consumer price index to be indifferent between buying Treasuries and TIPS, which pay a return equal to the interest imputed in the bond plus the consumer price index.

2/3 of the mortgage originated in April were purchase loans, according to Ellie Mae’s Origination Insight Report. Fewer loans in the pipeline is speeding up processing times, as the average time to close fell to 41 days. The average FICO score ticked up to 723.

CSFB thinks 3.5% on the 10 year will be the level to trigger a stock market exodus, although rates could stall out somewhere south of that for a while.

The hits just keep coming for Wells. The WSJ reports they added or changed information for some business customers during an anti-money laundering audit. Wells states that it was an internal matter only: “This matter involves documents used for internal purposes. No customers were negatively impacted, no data left the company, and no products or services were sold as a result.” This is only going to increase the voices in DC calling for the bank to be broken up. It already is not allowed to increase its balance sheet. At some point, it might make sense for Wells to spin off Wachovia and its securities unit.

GoBankingRates calculated what you can get for $300k in every state. The best value? West Virginia, where $300k will get you 3,347 square feet. Worst? Washington DC, which gets you 581 square feet.

The CFPB recently issued new rules to fix the TRID “black hole” issue.

CFPB Interim Chairman Mick Mulvaney reiterated his commitment to tame the CFPB by ending regulation by enforcement at NAR’s Legislative Trade Meeting and Expo. Student loan debt was also discussed, and while the CFPB doesn’t have a magic wand to make the debt go away they will continue to ensure that students understand the risks they are taking and also will go after predatory student loan collection practices.

Morning Report: Housing starts disappoint again 5/16/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2705 -3.5
Eurostoxx index 393.19 0.82
Oil (WTI) 70.93 -0.38
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.06%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.65%

Stocks are lower this morning after North Korea pushed back on the proposal to end their nuke program. Bonds and MBS are higher after the the 10 year decisively pushed through the 3% level yesterday.

The 10 year hit 3.10% yesterday on no real news. If the inflation numbers aren’t all that bad, why are rates increasing? Supply. The government will need to issue about $650 billion in Treasuries this year compared to $420 billion last year. Note that one of the downsides of protectionism will be seen here – when the US buys imports from China, they usually take Treasuries in return. Less trade means less demand for paper.

Rising rates may present problems for active money managers. The average tenure is 8 years, so this is the first tightening cycle they have ever seen. For the past decade, cash and short term debt have not been any sort of competition for stocks and long term bonds. Note that the 1 year Treasury finally passed the dividend yield on the S&P 500. Stocks and bonds are going to see money managers allocate more to short term debt.

Despite rising rates, financial conditions continue to ease. The Chicago Fed National Financial Conditions Index is back to pre-crisis levels. Note that doesn’t necessarily mean we are set up for another Great Recession – the index can stay at these levels for a long time, and we don’t have a residential real estate bubble. That said, this index can be one of those canaries in a coal mine for investors – at least selling when it goes from negative to positive.

Mortgage Applications fell 2.7% last week as purchases fell 2% and refis fell 4%. The refi index is at the lowest level in almost 10 years, and the refi share of mortgage origination is at 36%. The typical conforming rate fell a basis point to 4.76%.

April Housing starts came in at 1.29 million, down 4% MOM but up 11% YOY. The Street was looking for 1.32 million. Building Permits 1.35 million which was right in line with estimates. Multi-family was the weak spot. Note that March’s numbers were unusually strong (relative to recent history), so April was a bit of a give-back.

Industrial production rose 0.7% last month while manufacturing production rose 0.5%. Capacity Utilization rose to 78%.

New York State is suing HUD to force them to continue to use the Obama-era standard of enforcing AFFH. HUD delayed the rule after numerous local governments were unable to implement policies in time.  Andrew Cuomo’s statement: “As a former HUD Secretary, it is unconscionable to me that the agency entrusted to protect against housing discrimination is abdicating its responsibility, and New York will not stand by and allow the federal government to undo decades of progress in housing rights,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The right to rent or buy housing free from discrimination is fundamental under the law, and we must do everything in our power to protect those rights and fight segregation in our communities.”  Of course overt housing discrimination hasn’t existed for half a century, but that isn’t what this is about.  The issue is zoning ordinances and multi-fam construction. Expect to see more of this sort of thing in blue states as the housing shortage gets worse.

Morning Report: Markets predicting 50% chance of 4 hikes this year 5/15/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2724 -6.25
Eurostoxx index 393.28 1.09
Oil (WTI) 71.74 0.78
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.04%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.57%

Stocks are lower this morning on earnings and retail sales. Bonds and MBS are down on hawkish comments out of Europe.

Retail Sales rose 0.3% in April, according to Census. The control group rose 0.4%. Both numbers were in line with consensus estimates. There is a push-pull effect in the numbers as tax cuts will encourage spending, while higher gas prices will depress it.

Speaking of retail sales, comps at the Home Despot came in lower than expected, although some of that was weather-related. The company noted that traffic in May has been strong. As home affordability gets worse, home improvement projects generally increase as people renovate instead of moving to a nicer home. The builders (and mortgage originators) have noted that the Spring Selling Season has been a dud this year.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey came in at 20, higher than expected, while homebuilder sentiment improved to 70. Strong pricing is being offset by weak traffic, particularly among the first time homebuyer. Separately, inventories were flat in March, which will probably cause some houses to take down their estimate for first quarter GDP growth.

What would happen if you listed your home at $1? Would the subsequent bidding war get you to the correct price? It certainly would create a huge buzz around your home and that will probably help. That said, there are problems associated with that tactic. First, you will get all sorts of low-ballers who will only clog up the process. More importantly, the sites like Realtor.com, Zillow etc generally have searches with price ranges. In other words, if you expect your house to be worth $500,000 and you list it for $1, it won’t show up if the buyer sets a $400,000 – $600,000 search range.

HUD is seeking comment on the Supreme Court’s Disparate Impact ruling and whether HUD’s current policy is consistent with the ruling. Disparate Impact means that you can get slammed for discrimination even if you didn’t intend to discriminate, but your numbers are not consistent with the population.

The Fed Funds futures now are handicapping a 50% chance of 4 rate hikes this year.

A combination of higher budget deficits and low unemployment has Goldman predicting a 3.6% 10 year yield by the end of 2019. This is the first time since WWII when we have had a combination of increasing deficits and falling unemployment. “”The sizeable demand boost provided by the recent deficit-increasing tax cuts and spending cap increases at a time when the economy is already somewhat beyond full employment is a striking departure from historical norms that is likely to contribute to further overheating this year and next and tighter monetary policy in response.” Of course the labor force participation rate is quite low, as is the employment-population ratio, two numbers that are not captured by the unemployment rate. Until you start to see wage inflation, the Fed will be content to go slow.

Morning Report: The push-pull of monetary policy 5/14/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2732 3.75
Eurostoxx index 391.38 -1
Oil (WTI) 70.81 0.11
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.98%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.55%

Stocks are higher this morning as trade tensions with China eased somewhat over the weekend. Bonds and MBS are down small.

The Trump Administration is pushing Congress to get a long-term funding deal done by the August recess.

There won’t be much in the way of market-moving data this week – housing starts and retail sales will be the only possibilities. We will have Fed-speak every day however.

As the yield curve flattens, it is attracting more and more attention. Chris Whalen argues that Fed manipulation of the curve is the driving force behind the flattening. By paying interest on excess reserves, the Fed has pushed up short term rates far further than demand for credit would imply – in fact he argues that if the Fed stopped paying interest on excess reserves, the Fed Funds rate would get cut in half. On the other side of the coin, fears of taking losses on its QE portfolio has caused the Fed to hold down long-term rates. Finally, he argues that the reason for the growth in nonbank lending has been due to unwritten guidance from the government to the big banks: don’t go lower than 680 on FICO scores. There is a conflict between macroprudential regulation and monetary policy, which is inhibiting credit growth despite the FOMC’s attempts to stimulate it. Whalen argues that credit growth is not high enough to really stimulate a recovery and that is due to hard caps the regulators have imposed on commercial and industrial lending, construction finance, and multifamily lending. I wonder if credit is behind the lack of housing construction despite such high demand.

As rates rise, we are seeing more and more money flow into passively-managed bond funds. One of the interesting dynamics of passively managed indices is the self-reinforcing mechanism of the investing itself. For example, look at the FAANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google). Their weight in the S&P 500 is based on their market caps. So, as these companies outperform the S&P 500, their weighting in the index increases, which causes passive investors to buy more in order to maintain their weighting. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here is where it gets strange in bond-land. Companies with the most debt end up dominating the index. So in theory, as a company gets more risky (by issuing more debt), passive investors demand more of their debt. So unlike passive equity investment, which builds on strength, passive bond investing builds on weakness. This means that there should be much more room for index outperformance with actively managed bond funds than with passively managed bond funds.

Interesting chart from David Stockman:

HNW to DPI

If the ratio of net worth to income is going to revert to the mean, that means either asset prices are going to crash, or incomes are going to rise. I think the latter is what will occur.

Morning Report: James Bullard thinks no further hikes are warranted 5/11/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2722 3.75
Eurostoxx index 392.17 0.2
Oil (WTI) 71.3 -0.06
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.96%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

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

Import prices rose 0.3% MOM and 3.3% YOY, driven by oil. Ex-energy import prices were flat.

St. Louis Federal Reserve Head James Bullard said that interest rates may already be at the level where they are no longer stimulating the economy. There are “reasons for caution in raising the policy rate further given current macroeconomic conditions” he said in his prepared remarks. Bullard has generally been considered a dove, so this is not much of a surprise. He is also a non-voter. He believes that there is little in the inflationary pressures being signaled in the market.

With respect to inflation signaling, he has a point. The spread between the 30 year bond and the 5 year bond is now the narrowest since 2007. Note that the yield curve generally flattens during tightening phases and is probably not signifying the type of deflationary period that 2007 did. Given all of the QE over the past decade, the signals from the bond markets are heavily distorted and should be taken with a grain of salt. Note short Treasuries is one of the biggest hedge fund trades on the Street.

Are the homebuilders set to outperform going forward? They have suffered more than the market during the recent declines, but the environment should be favorable for the sector going forward. With a shortage of housing, high demand and rising prices, the sector should be in good shape. The problem for investors? The sector is highly cyclical, and the stock behavior reflects that. In other words, earnings will rise and fall, and the multiple will expand and contract, dampening the effect. So, if the average multiple is typically mid-teens, don’t be surprised if P/E ratios fall to the high single digits during boom times.

Q2 GDP is currently tracking at 3.7%.

Sen Pat Toomey says that the Trump Administration doesn’t have the authority to pull out of NAFTA, since it was passed by Congress. On the other hand, the Admin does have the authority to pull out of the Iran Deal, as well as the Paris Accords because they were only deals with the Obama Administration and not the US – never ratified by Congress.

Morning Report: Number of job openings equals number of unemployed 5/9/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2680 9.75
Eurostoxx index 390.81 0.81
Oil (WTI) 70.9 1.84
10 Year Government Bond Yield 3.00%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.63%

Stocks are higher this morning after the US pulled out of the Iran deal. Bonds and MBS are down, with the 10 year trading over 3% again.

The Iran deal was never ratified by the Senate, so it never reached the level of “treaty.” It was basically a deal with the Obama Admin and Iran.

Oil had a volatile day yesterday and is rallying again. China is the biggest customer of Iranian oil, so in theory it shouldn’t affect the US all that much, but WTI will follow Brent on the relative value trade. Note that a sustained oil price over $70 is estimated to be about a 0.7% drag on GDP growth.

Inflation at the wholesale level moderated last month, with the producer price index rising 0.1% MOM and 2.6% YOY. Ex-food and energy, the index rose 0.1% / 2.3% and the core rate rose 0.1% / 2.5%.

Job openings hit 6.6 million last month, which is a new record for the index, which goes back to early 2000. The quits rate increased to 2.3%. The quits rate has been stuck in a 2.2% – 2.3% range for what seems like forever. Fun fact: The number of job openings has hit the number of unemployed for the first time.

The labor shortage is particularly acute in construction, which is part of the reason why housing starts have been short of demand. This shortage has extended to home remodeling as well.

While everyone seems to focus on the CPI / PPI / PCE inflation measures and imagines that a single point estimate accurately reflects the cost of living, it doesn’t. First the relative weights of different goods and services differ. For example, PCE and CPI will weight healthcare differently, as well as owner-equivalent rent. The St. Louis Fed notes that the differences in inflation between regions of the US can be substantial as well.

Mortgage Applications fell 0.4% last week as purchases fell 0.2% and refis fell 1%. Tough times for the smaller originators.

Despite the slim pickings out there, mortgage credit has contracted a bit this year. Overall, it was a mixed bag, as government credit contracted on less streamlines while conventional increased as jumbos rose. Government credit has been tightening since early 2017, when the government began to crack down on serial VA IRRRL shops.

How have things changed at the CFPB or the (BCFP) under Mick Mulvaney? Despite the ululating in the press, not that much. One of the panelists warned industry lawyers not to advise their clients that the CFPB is relaxing its enforcement activities. So far, the biggest change we have seen is that the name has been changed back to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, which was the way it was written into Dodd-Frank.

Fair Housing groups are suing HUD over Ben Carson’s delay of the Obama-era re-interpretation of AFFH – affirmatively furthering fair housing. Their complaint is that HUD didn’t provide advance notice before suspending the rule,. which would have required communities to “examine and address barriers to racial integration and to draft plans to desegregate their communities.” HUD delayed the compliance deadline until 2024. In practice, this means that HUD wants communities to change or eliminate their zoning ordinances to include more multi-family housing in wealthier neighborhoods.

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