Morning Report: Blowout ADP jobs report

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2945.83 2.3
Eurostoxx index 390.26 -0.72
Oil (WTI) 63.37 -0.27
10 year government bond yield 2.50%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.18%

 

Stocks are higher as we await the FOMC decision. Bonds and MBS are up. Markets should be quiet this morning as most of Europe is closed for May Day.

 

Today’s Fed decision is set to be released at 2:00 pm. No changes in policy are expected and it should be a nonevent.

 

Pending Home Sales rose 3.8% in March, according to NAR. Activity increased pretty much everywhere except for the Northeast. Falling mortgage rates have helped boost activity and we are seeing a bit of an improvement in the inventory balance. Pending home sales reached a level of about 5 million, which is the same level as we saw in 2000. We have 50 million more people since then, which means there is a lot of pent-up demand.

 

The ADP jobs report came in at an increase of 275,000 jobs in April. This was well above the Street expectation of 180,000 for Friday’s jobs report. Professional and business services led the charge, and we also saw an increase in construction employment. The service sector added 223,000 jobs, the biggest increase in two years. With the Fed out of the way, 2019 could be better economically than people were thinking. Note that Trump is still jawboning the Fed to cut rates.

 

ADP report

 

Mortgage Applications fell for the fourth straight week, dropping 4.3%. Purchases fell 4% and refis fell 5%. “Mortgage rates were lower last week, with the 30-year fixed rate declining to 4.42 percent, as concerns over global growth, particularly in Germany, outweighed more positive domestic news on first quarter GDP growth and business investment,” said Joel Kan, MBA Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Applications to refinance and purchase a home both fell, but purchase activity still remained slightly above year ago levels. The drop in refinances were driven by fewer FHA and VA loan applications, which typically lag the movement of conventional loans.”

 

Freddie Mac bumped up its origination forecast for 2019 by 4% to $1.74 trillion as rates have fallen. They expect the 30 year fixed rate mortgage to be 4.3% at the end of the year, and home price appreciation to moderate to 3.5%.

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: Housing starts disappoint 8/16/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2832 11
Eurostoxx index 380.51 0.81
Oil (WTI) 65.03 0.02
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.87%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.58%

Stocks are higher this morning on a potential that in trade tensions. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 212k from 215k last week.

Housing starts came in below forecasts for June – rising an anemic 0.9% to 1.17 million. They are down 1.4% on a YOY basis. Most areas showed modest increases, except for the West, which fell substantially. Permits were a little better, rising 1.5% MOM and 4.2% YOY. These numbers echo the drop in homebuilder sentiment, which is being driven by rising construction costs and labor shortages. “The solid economic expansion and firm job market should spur demand for new single-family homes in the months ahead,” NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz said in a statement. “Meanwhile, builders continue to monitor how tariffs and the growing threat of a trade war are affecting key building material prices, including lumber. These cost increases, coupled with rising interest rates, are putting upward pressure on home prices and contributing to growing affordability challenges.”

In the wake of the residential real estate bubble, the government has focused on regulatory solutions to fraud in the single family market. However, multifam was largely left alone, and it looks like the government is in the process of investigating an upstate NY developer which has about $1.5 billion in loans backed by the GSEs which may have been made under fraudulent circumstances. Apparently things like tenant income go unverified on these sorts of loans, and it is a systemic problem.

Here are 3 misconceptions about credit scores: First, carrying a balance on revolving credit does not increase your score. Second incomes do not factor in a credit score (they aren’t even tracked) and finally, your spouse’s credit score and your own are completely independent.

The Trump Administration is looking to tweak the Volcker rule in order to give banks a brighter line on what constitutes proprietary trading. The banks are not interested, surprisingly. Currently, the rule says banks need to hold a security for longer than 60 days in order to prove they aren’t proprietary trading. The proposal would track the “available for sale” securities account and test it that way. From the bank’s standpoint, brighter lines are better, but having spent a lot on internal controls to ensure compliance with the new rules, they don’t seem anxious to re-do it.

At the end of the day, market-making is largely dead, having been done in by declining bid-ask spreads, electronic trading, regulations, and declining brokerage fees. It simply is a money-losing business any more. The next crash is going to be an eye-opener when large swaths of the markets simply go no-bid.

Morning Report: Bank earnings pour in 7/13/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2797 -1
Eurostoxx index 385.18 0.81
Oil (WTI) 70.6 0.27
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.84%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.53%

Markets are flat as bank earnings come in. Bonds and MBS are up small. Slow news day.

The US government held a reasonably strong auction yesterday, where primary dealers took down their smallest positions ever. Meanwhile, speculative shorts in Treasuries (one of the biggest trades on the Street) are struggling as rates stay stubbornly low. Some continue to warn that the flattening yield curve is really telling us that a recession is around the corner.

The prepared remarks for Jerome Powell’s semiannual report to Congress should be out today. Probably won’t be market-moving, but you never know.

Import prices fell 0.4% in June as petroleum and food prices fell. For the year, they are up 4.3% however.

Consumer sentiment fell according to the University of Michigan / Reuters survey. The current conditions index drove the fall, which is usually a function of gas prices. Trade fears also weighed on sentiment.

Wells Fargo reported earnings this morning. Earnings were down due to a tax charge. Stripping out the tax charge, they were flat. They had a tough quarter for mortgages like everyone else. Origination for the quarter was $50 billion, which is up seasonally from Q1, but down 11% YOY. The current pipeline of $24 billion is down 26% YOY. Margins were 77 basis points, which is down 17 from the prior quarter and down 47 bps from a year ago. The stock is down 3% pre-open.

JP Morgan had a similar story to Wells. They originated $23.7 billion in mortgages during Q2, which was higher seasonally and down about 10% from a year ago. Mortgage banking revenue (which includes servicing) was down 6% YOY. Margin compression again was the story, especially in correspondent lending. They marked up the MSR book. JPM is flat pre-open.

A bunch of other banks reported this morning and the whole sector is getting hit, with the XLF down about a percent and a half.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell made positive comments about the economy, although he is concerned about trade and the effects of a long trade war with China. He is concerned about rising trade tensions, although he notes that Trump’s goal is to get others to lower their tariffs. If he succeeds in that, then the trade tension would be a good thing, not a bad thing. It is important to remember that China’s biggest weapon against the US is not imposing tariffs on US goods – it is ignoring US intellectual property laws. Those sorts of things will not really show up in the balance of trade numbers, but will have huge effects on IP firms, particularly media and software.

Morning Report: Quits rate jumps in May 7/11/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2781 -11
Eurostoxx index 382.05 -4.2
Oil (WTI) 73.29 -0.82
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.85%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.53%

Stocks are lower this morning after Trump threatened tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Bonds and MBS are flat.

China has vowed to retaliate if the Trump Administration follows through on its threat to impose 10% tariffs on about $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Since China imports far less than $200 billion from the US, they may have to come up with other measures to retaliate – anything from denying visas to limiting tourism and increasing regulatory measures. Strategists are beginning to warn that the trade war could derail the recovery.

Inflation at the wholesale level increased in June, according to the PPI. The headline number rose 0.3% MOM / 3.4% YOY. Ex food and energy, it was up 0.3% / 2.8% and ex food energy and trade services 0.3% / 2.7%. Services and motor vehicles drove the increase.

Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court yesterday. He is generally a regulatory skeptic, and has ruled against overreach in the past. He has already weighed in on the CFPB, which he believes is unconstitutional. From CFPB vs PHH, writing for the majority: “The CFPB’s concentration of enormous executive power in a single, unaccountable, unchecked Director not only departs from settled historical practice, but also poses a far greater risk of arbitrary decision-making and abuse of power, and a far greater threat to individual liberty, than does a multi-member independent agency. The overarching constitutional concern with independent agencies is that the agencies are unchecked by the president, the official who is accountable to the people and who is responsible under Article II for the exercise of executive power.” That said, Kennedy was already considered a vote against the CFPB, so the nomination won’t move the needle there.

Kavanaugh has also ruled against the EPA, which generally ignored the “cost” side of the “cost / benefit” analysis of regulations during the Obama Administration. Overall the regulatory environment for the financial industry could get a little easier with Kavanaugh on the Court.

Speaking of the CFPB, Brian Johnson has been tapped to be the #2 of the agency. He replaces Leandra English, who resigned last week.

Small business optimism remains elevated despite trade concerns, according to the NFIB Small Business Optimism Survey.  Employment continues to grow, with 1 in 5 firms adding employees in June on net. Sales are up overall, but margins appear to be facing pressure from higher labor and input prices. Credit needs are being fully met.

Job openings fell to 6.6 million in May, which was just off the record high of 6.8 million set in April. Hires were strong at 5.8 million, led by health care and social assistance. The big number was the quits rate, which is one of the best leading indicators of wage inflation. It rose to 2.4%.

The big question remains: how much slack is there really in the labor market? Most of the official numbers imply there is none. Yet, there is only modest wage inflation. I suspect the employment-population ratio tells the real story, and that number has yet to really recover from the Great Recession. Demographics are part of the story, but as people work longer, the assumption of 65 = retirement might have to change. I suspect many of those who are retired would gladly take a job if offered.

For the construction sector, the number of unfilled jobs hit a record high. That sector has been facing labor constraints for quite some time, and this partially explains why housing starts have been so far below what is needed to meet demand.

Mortgage Applications increased 2.5% last week as purchases rose 7% and refis fell 4%. Last week included the 4th of July, so there are all sorts of adjustments baked into that number. Refis fell under 35%, the lowest number since August 2008. ARMS decreased to 6.3%. Overall rates fell about 3-4 basis points last week.

Meanwhile, the MBA’s mortgage credit availability index improved last month as increases in conventional and jumbo availability offset a contraction in government.

Morning Report: Sell-off is “technical fear,” not “real fear” 2/6/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2593.8 -14.0
Eurostoxx Index 373.2 -8.8
Oil (WTI) 63.4 -0.8
US dollar index 84.0 0.0
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.74%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.591
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.688
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4.33

Stocks are lower after yesterday’s bloodbath. Bonds and MBS are down.

There was no real catalyst for yesterday’s sell-off. The economic data has been great, earnings have been good, and nothing has really changed fundamentally. The canary in the coal mine economically is credit spread behavior, and we have not seen any major movement there. To put things in perspective: We are 8.5% off the record highs set last week. That doesn’t even meet the threshold for a correction, which is defined as a 10% drop. Don’t forget that a lot of money has been hiding in the stock market because bonds have paid nothing for so long. As the Fed hikes rates, short-term money instruments begin to come back on the radar screen for many investors. Investors have been spoiled over the past few years. Low volatility made people a lot of money in some trades, and it also made investors complacent.

In fact, THE trade of 2017 was short volatility, and it blew up yesterday. Retail investors can trade volatility via VIX futures, and there are exchange traded funds that mimic movements in the volatility indices. VIX is a “fear index” and it is generally associated with major downward moves in stocks. The “short vol” trade made something like 100% last year, and the mechanics of exiting it can cause all sorts of technical trading issues that can affect stocks. If all the speculators are short volatility, then their exit from the market can add to the destabilization. It is tough to explain, but think of a marble in a bowl. That is “normalcy.” If the marble is off-center, it is attracted to the center. That is what typical buy low / sell-high stock market behavior is like. Too many sellers come in, and the buyers emerge which stabilizes things. But, when the crowd is generally short volatility, it is like the bowl is flipped over and the marble is on top. So when the marble is off-center, it is more likely to move away from equilibrium, and the further away it gets, the more the momentum builds. That is what a short squeeze in volatility feels like, and that is what happened yesterday. I am hearing that the mechanical covering in the exchange traded notes is largely done. However, the real money resides in the over-the-counter market and there is simply no visibility there.

You can see the correlation between high VIX and market-moving events below. There is an old market saw: “VIX is high, time to buy. VIX is low, time to go.” You can see the volatility spikes which generally correspond with major events, like the end of the dot-com bubble or the financial crisis. There is no catalyst to speak of here, so I have to imagine this will be short. Yesterday was technically-driven “fear” not “real fear.”

VIX

By the way, whenever you hear the term “convexity-related buying or selling” that describes sort of the same phenomenon in bonds, although the magnitude is much less than it is with stocks and VIX. Convexity buying and selling generally refers to the behavior of mortgage backed securities and interest rate hedging. We did not see much activity in credit spreads yesterday, and that is a good sign. If credit spreads are increasing, that means investors are becoming worried about the economy going forward. While spreads moved a little, it wasn’t much.

Bonds rallied hard on the flight-to-quality trade, which gives LOs a chance to retrieve some loans that may have gotten away from them last week. Take advantage of the drop in rates to review your pipelines and see if any borrowers might want to lock and / or consider a refi. Given the massive home price appreciation we have seen lately, the switch out of a FHA into a conforming loan with no MI still makes a lot of sense. You might only have a short window here.

As an aside, Jerome Powell took over as Fed Chairman yesterday as Janet Yellen heads to Brookings. Welcome to the party, Jerome!

Interestingly, the move in markets yesterday caused the Fed Funds futures to take down their estimate of a March hike from 78% to 69%. While it is a low-probability event, the Fed could ease up on rate hikes if the sell-off continues, provided that inflation remains below target. If inflation passes the target and hits the upper 2% range, then they will probably stick to script regardless of what happens in the markets, barring a crash of some sort.

Home prices rose 0.5% MOM and 6.6% YOY in December, according to CoreLogic.

As an aside, I will be on a panel at IMN’s MSR conference in NYC March 26 and 27. Should be a good event.

Morning Report: Congress cracks down on serial VA refinancing 1/12/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2769.0 -0.5
Eurostoxx Index 397.5 0.2
Oil (WTI) 63.2 -0.6
US dollar index 85.3 -0.2
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.58%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 101.75
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 102.875
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4.01

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

Inflation on the consumer level continues to be under control, according to the Consumer Price Index. The headline number was up 0.1% MOM and 2.1% YOY. The core rate, which excludes food and energy) was up 0.3% MOM and 1.8% YOY. Housing and medical costs drove the increase in the rate.

Retail Sales were up 0.4% in December, which was a touch below expectations. The control group was up 0.3%, which was in line with expectations. The MOM numbers may seem low, however November was exceptionally strong.

Robert Kaplan said the Fed has upped their 2018 economic forecast to 2.5% – 2.75%. The current estimate is at 2.5%. After having been too high in their GDP estimates for 9 years, the Fed finds itself in the position of consistently being too low.

The two year bond yield topped 2% for the first time since the financial crisis. The 2 year is much more sensitive to the Fed Funds rate than the 10 year is, and is part of the reason why we are talking about a yield curve flattening and what it means. A common narrative these days is that the yield curve is flattening (that is, the difference between long-term rates and short-term rates is falling) and that signals a recession. That could be the case if the Fed tightens more aggressively than they are now, however they are going at such a slow pace that it probably won’t knock the economy into a recession. Plus there is so much pent-up demand from the last 10 years that a lot of the necessary pieces for a recession simply aren’t in place.

Where do we stand with the market’s prediction of rates? The Fed Funds futures are now pricing in a 73% chance of a 25 basis point hike in March. This is up from 59% a month ago.

Wells Fargo reported higher earnings, however part of that was due to a one-time benefit due to the tax bill. On the mortgage side, originations came in at $53 billion for the fourth quarter, down 10% QOQ (largely explained by seasonality) and down 26% from a year ago. Margins were up a basis point from the third quarter and were down 43 basis points from a year ago.

The Administration and the Senate continue to work on hammering out a deal on funding the government. The current continuing resolution expires in a week, and Democrats are holding out for an immigration deal in order to sign off on a new CR. It is still too early to predict a shutdown, but remember that a shutdown will affect the IRS and getting tax transcripts. Plan accordingly.

Washington is looking to do something about serial VA refinances.  Many veterans were refinancing their mortgages (and adding to their principal by folding in the funding fee) for a de minimus drop in monthly payment. The Protecting Veterans from Predatory Lending Act of 2018 will make the following changes to VA lending.

  • A lender may only submit a refinance loan for VA insurance if it certifies that all fees associated with the refinance would be recouped through lower monthly payments within three years;
  • A lender may only receive VA insurance for a refinance loan if the refinance loan has a fixed rate 50 basis points lower than the earlier fixed-rate loan (or 200 basis points lower if the new refinanced loan is an adjustable rate mortgage).
  • A lender may only receive VA insurance or get a Ginnie Mae guarantee for a refinance loan if the refinance comes more than six months after the initial loan.

At the margin, this legislation is bullish for Ginnie Mae TBAs and Ginnie Mae servicing, which should translate into better FHA and VA rates going forward.

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