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: Inflation-adjusted land prices still below bubble levels

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2889 -9
Eurostoxx index 376.86 -2.5
Oil (WTI) 68.97 -0.89
10 year government bond yield 2.88%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.56%

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

Yesterday was a bit of a milestone as the 1 month T-bill briefly cracked the 2% level. Farewell, zero bound.

Tropical Storm Gordon is hitting the Gulf Coast. Oil prices have softened as the storm looks to be weaker than expected. We can still expect to see flooding issues and servicers should be prepared for an uptick in delinquencies. Things to know about your insurance if you are in the storm’s path.

Not much in the way of data today, but we have a lot of Fed-speak.

Emerging markets are getting slammed as a combination of central bank tightening, trade woes, and currency issues are pushing the asset class down. The flight to quality trade should support bond prices and help push yields lower.

Like Freddie Kreuger, government shutdown threats just keep returning. Congressional Republicans are looking to wrap up funding by October 1. Controversial issues like funding the wall would likely get pushed until after the election. As far as shutdowns go, the markets generally do not care, but originators need to remember that things like tax transcripts were unavailable the last time we shut down.

Mortgage applications fell 0.1% last week as purchases increased 1% and refis fell 1%. Rates increased about 2 basis points.

Same store sales rose 6.5%, yet another indication that the back-to-school shopping season was strong. As goes BTS, so goes the holiday season, meaning growth in Q4 should be strong. Note the Atlanta Fed raised their Q3 GDP estimate to 4.7%. Consumption is 70% of GDP.

Wells is out with a call for a 3.2% 10-year yield by the end of the year. A combination of higher deficits, lower trade deficits, and the expiration of a tax provision will lower demand in the face of rising supply. With strong spending bolstering the economy and a tight labor market, the Fed may try and squeeze in an extra rate hike to provide more breathing room in case the economy rolls over.

The September Fed Funds futures are at 99% chance of a rate hike, and the Dec futures are at a 70% chance of another.

Single-family lot prices reached a record level last year, however if you adjust for inflation, they are below the peak. Note however that lot sizes have been falling, and I don’t think this analysis corrects for that. For example, the typical lot size in the Northeast is 0.4 acres, and the typical price is $128k, which amounts to $320k an acre. On the Left Coast, the average lot size is .15 acres and the average price is $84k, which works out to be $560k an acre. Even if you correct for the declining lot size, we still aren’t back to peak levels in inflation-adjusted land prices. Builders constantly mention that land availability is a constraint on building, but this analysis shows that things were worse during the bubble years.

Nominee Kavanaugh

From Jonathan Adler at Volokh:


Judge Kavanaugh has served on the D.C. Circuit for twelve years. This court is often referred to as the “second-highest” court in the land because it hears the lion’s share of legal challenges to major federal regulations. Administrative law is a heavy part of the court’s docket, and forms a large part of Judge Kavanaugh’s record. In his time on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh has written over 200 opinions, over 100 of which concern administrative law.

Prior to serving on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, worked in the Bush White House, and for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. He clerked for Anthony Kennedy, as well as for two circuit court judges. There is no question about his qualifications for this nomination.

Attention will now turn to Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial opinions and other writings. Aaron Nielson has a summary of Judge Kavanaugh’s concurrences and dissents at the Notice & Comment blog. Going beyond Kavanaugh’s opinions, here are some other writings. Here’s a lecture Judge Kavanaugh gave at CWRU on the D.C. Circuit at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law. A published version of the lecture is here. Here is Minnesota Law Review article on the separation powers and here is Harvard Law Review piece on statutory interpretation.

Here are some additional thoughts on the Kavanaugh nomination:

  • Judge Kavanaugh is widely respected on the Supreme Court. Many of his clerks go on to clerk at One First Street. More importantly, his opinions attract notice from the justices. Several of his dissents have been vindicated by subsequent Supreme Court decisions. His dissents showed the way for the Court in Michigan v. EPA (White Stallion Energy Center v. EPA concerning mercury emissions), UARG v. EPA (CRR v. EPA concerning GHG emissions), Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB (concerning separation of powers), and D.C. v. Wesby (concerning qualified immunity). And even when certiorari was granted, Judge Kavanaugh’s dissents have been noted in subsequent Supreme Court cases (as in Lexmark International v. Static Control Components which favorably cited Kavanaugh’s dissent in Grocery Manufacturers Association v. EPA). This suggests other justices will take the new junior justice’s opinions quite seriously, especially on administrative law.
  • Judge Kavanaugh takes administrative law very seriously, and he makes agencies do their homework. As much as any other judge on the D.C. Circuit, he makes sure that agencies act within the scope of the authority they have been delegated by Congress, that they follow the procedures required by the APA, and that the adequately justify their decisions. This has often led to decisions invalidating agency action — both in challenges brought by supporters and opponents of regulation — but Judge Kavanaugh is not an anti-regulatory zealot. Where agencies play by the rules, he has upheld their actions against legal challenge, even where the actions in question may seem unreasonable or unfair (as when he rejected challenges to surface coal mining regulations).
  • Judge Kavanaugh shares the Chief Justice’s belief that there is a “major questions” exception to Chevron deference. In the challenge to the FCC’s “net neutrality” rule, Judge Kavanaugh echoed the Chief Justice’s admonition that courts should not lightly presume that Congress has delegated agencies broad regulatory authority if Congress never actually said so in the underlying statutory provisions.
  • Judge Kavanaugh takes separation of powers seriously, as can be seen in his dissenting opinions arguing that the structure of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are unconstitutional. The former of these opinions was subsequently vindicated by the Supreme Court.
  • Like his former boss, Justice Kennedy, Judge Kavanaugh has a broad understanding of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment, including commercial speech. This is most noticeable from his separate opinion concurring in the judgment in American Meat Institute v. USDA. In this opinion, he showed a sophisticated understanding of how to reconcile various cases concerning commercial speech regulation and compelled commercial speech (an understanding better than that of the court’s majority, as I noted here).
  • Judge Kavanaugh’s views of executive power may depart from those of Justice Kennedy. Whereas Justice Kennedy voted with the Court’s liberals in support of habeas petitions filed by enemy combatants in the Boumediene case, Judge Kavanaugh has interpreted this precedent quite narrowly, and may be unlikely to follow his former justice’s lead. On the other hand, Justice Kennedy was himself highly supportive of executive power in many national security and foreign affairs cases, voting in support of Presidential power in cases such as Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Trump v. Hawaii, and Zivotofsky v. Kerry.
  • Judge Kavanaugh will be criticized for prior statements he has made about Presidential immunity. In the Minnesota Law Review article linked above, he suggested that a sitting President should not be subject to litigation or criminal investigation. Note, however, that this was his opinion in 2009. More importantly, he did not suggest Clinton v. Jones was wrongly decided and said explicitly that any such insulation from litigation or investigation would have to be enacted by Congress, and could not be imposed by the Courts. Many early news reports on the nomination obscure or fail to mention this fact.
  • Judge Kavanaugh’s extensive record has created an extensive paper trail. There will be lots of documents for the Senate Judiciary Committee to review — and it’s certain that Senate Democrats will seek to slow things down on that basis. On the other hand, insofar as Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to the nomination — some even before the nomination was announced — it’s not clear why they would need more time to review the record. After all, they don’t need more time to review materials if they’ve already made up their minds.


I think this is a fair assessment of his writings and decisions and different from the spin the media has put on it from their various political as opposed to judicial or legal analyses.  I did read a [basically non-political] opinion of his that I found to be totally off the point of the case, and that would be the basis of my questioning of him.  There was no reason for a guy as smart as he is to miss the point of the whole litigation.  Maybe his clerk wrote his opinion, but I would want to make sure I knew he wasn’t throwing in a spanner for some personal reason.  If y’all are interested I will dig up the case.

And no, my questioning him on his politics would be limited or non-existent.  If he satisfied me on how he freaking missed the point on a simple case I would vote for him.


Morning Report: Tax reform week 9/25/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2496.8 -2.8
Eurostoxx Index 383.9 0.7
Oil (WTI) 51.2 0.5
US dollar index 85.8 0.3
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.25%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.24
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.85

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

We have a decent amount of economic data this week, along with a lot of Fed-speak. The big economic news will be the final revision to second quarter GDP and the personal income and personal spending releases. Janet Yellen speaks on Tuesday.

Economic activity slowed in August, according the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. The index fell from 0.4 to -.31, for the lowest reading in a year. Production-related indicators drove the decrease. Employment-related indicators were a mild positive.

The Trump Administration is going to push for tax reform this week. The highlight is a cut in the top rate to 35% and a cut in the corporate income tax to 20%. The cut in the top rate will be paid for in part by limiting deductions for state and local taxes. Chuck Schumer has insisted that “not one penny” of tax cuts go to the top 1%, so that could make the plan doomed. The estate tax will also get the axe. Republicans are working on the procedures to pass this without Democratic votes.

Meanwhile, Obamacare repeal and replace looks like it is going to go down as well.

We are starting to see some of the fallout from the recent hurricanes: Homebuilder D.R. Horton cut its cash flow forecast by 50%. Lennar has also said that the hurricanes will delay deliveries. At the end of the day, there is such high demand for homes that this should be a 1 quarter effect which will be made up in following quarters.

Lenders are easing standards given the increase in interest rates and the corresponding drop in volume. “Lenders further eased home mortgage credit standards during the third quarter, continuing a trend that started in late 2016. In particular, both the net share of lenders reporting easing on GSE-eligible loans for the prior three months and the share expecting to ease standards on those loans over the next three months increased to survey highs,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “Lenders’ comments suggest that competitive pressure and more favorable guidelines for GSE loans have helped to bring about more easing of underwriting standards for those loans. We believe that the GSEs’ attempts to relieve repurchase concerns and expand credit for creditworthy borrowers have contributed to the easing trend. Meanwhile, market competitiveness also led to the fourth consecutive quarter in which lenders’ net profit margin outlook deteriorated. The share of lenders citing competition from other lenders as the key reason for a negative profit market outlook rose to a new survey high.”

Morning Report: Retail sales come in strong 8/15/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2469.0 5.5
Eurostoxx Index 376.7 0.6
Oil (WTI) 47.2 -0.4
US dollar index 86.6 0.3
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.25%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.09
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.97
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.88

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

Retail Sales came in stronger than expected, with the headline number increasing 0.6% and the control group increasing the same amount. The Street was looking for a 0.3% increase. On a year-over-year basis, sales rose 4.2%. The Atlanta Fed is predicting a big uptick in growth from Q2 to Q3, and retail sales will be a big driver. We are entering the back-to-school shopping season, which is second only to the holiday season in importance for the retail sector. Consumption is about 70% of GDP, so as retail sales go, so goes the economy.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey shot ahead again last month, hitting the highest level in 2 years. Meanwhile, inflation remains under control as import prices rose 0.1% last month and are up 1.5% YOY. Business inventories also rose .05%.

The NAHB Housing Market Index rebounded in August to 68, which is getting close to its highs. The NAHB says that labor shortages are worse in July than they were a year ago. In some trades, 3/4 of all builders surveyed report either “serious” or “some sort” of shortage of labor. The last time we saw these sorts of levels was in late 2000, just as the real estate market was heating up. This will limit building and keep home prices well-supported.

The Despot reported better than expected earnings as homeowners continue to invest in their appreciating homes. They are looking for comparable store sales to increase 5.5% and took up earnings guidance. Note that contractors are using Amazon more and more, so be careful with the stock.

Down payments are at the lowest levels in 7 years, with the growth mainly occurring in the high single digits are, not at the 3.5% area. It looks like the growth is coming from Fannie and Fred’s low downpayment programs, which are wresting share from FHA. Performance on these loans will probably be determined by the continued price appreciation in the US housing markets. While general riskiness is higher than it was 5 years ago, it is nowhere near the risk we had during the go-go years.

The Trump Administration is trying to pivot to tax reform after the debt ceiling is handled. Both NAR and NAHB have come out against any sort of plan to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction. Trump’s plan is to eliminate the deductions for state / local taxes as well as the mortgage interest deduction in exchange for doubling the standard deduction. NAR is warning that this will hit housing prices, however with inventory so tight, I cannot see that happening. FWIW, if you were ever going to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction, now would be the time to do it, since rates are so low. Mortgage interest is around 70% of the first year’s mortgage payment today. 30 – 35 years ago, it was above 90%. NAR sees about half the people currently taking a deduction to stop. Of course their tax bill isn’t necessarily going up – they will find that taking the standard deduction will be more advantageous than indexing.

Home sales and prices are slipping in Canada, which has a real estate bubble bigger than the one we had in 2006. Fallout from the Canadian bubble bursting will probably affect pricing in places like Seattle, which has been red-hot for the past couple of years.

Morning Report: House prices hit new highs. Are we in a bubble? 7/25/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2475.0 7.0
Eurostoxx Index 381.8 2.5
Oil (WTI) 47.2 0.9
US dollar index 86.4 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.28%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.93
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.81
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.95

Stocks are higher this morning as the Fed begins their 2 day FOMC meeting. Bonds and MBS are down.

House prices rose 0.4% MOM in May, according to the FHFA House Price Index. They are up 6.9% YOY. Home price appreciation is still red-hot on the West Coast, however some of the laggards (Midwest and East Coast) are starting to pick up steam. Meanwhile, the Case-Shiller Home Price Index rose .1% in May and is up 5.7% YOY. Why the difference? The FHFA House Price index only looks at homes with a conforming mortgage, which eliminates the distressed all-cash extremes on the low end, and jumbos on the high end. Certainly out here in the Northeast, the luxury end of the market (aside from trophy properties in the Hamptons and Manhattan) is deader than Elvis. Note that we have more than recouped the losses from the go-go days, at least according to the FHFA House Price Index.

FHFA House Price Index

I wanted to spend a little more time discussing housing affordability. If you look at the median house price to median income ratio, we are approaching the highs during the bubble years. We are currently at around 4.4x and historically, that number has been between 3.2 and 3.6x, meaning that house prices are stretched compared to incomes. It makes sense that house prices should be related to incomes in terms of measuring affordability, and also vulnerability do downdrafts.

Median House Price to Median Income Ratio

However is “median house price” the correct metric to use when determining affordability? It has one major flaw: it ignores interest rates. As car dealerships know, the sticker price is not the metric to sell a car: it is the monthly payment. Can’t afford a 30,000 car? Well, what if we go from a 6 year loan to an 8 year loan? Can you now afford that payment? Mortgages aren’t really that much different. So, to look at it from that angle, I plotted the typical mortgage payment (80 LTV conforming loan) on the median house and calculated what percentage of median income that payment turned out to be. And when you look at it that way, affordability it still pretty decent, at least compared to historical numbers. The reason why? Interest rates. For almost a decade, mortgage rates were double digits, and that equates to a much bigger payment for the same “median house.” It turns out that mortgage payments as a percentage of income are much lower than what they historically have been.

mortgage payment as a percent of income

Now, the one complicating factor is the mortgage interest deduction, which makes housing in the 80s look less affordable than it really was. Taxes were higher, and interest as a percentage of the P&I payment was higher, so the differences are somewhat exaggerated. However, it does appear that buying a house is not as “unaffordable” as the median house price to median income ratio implies. Just remember these graphs when you hear people discussing how high real estate prices are and that we are in another bubble. We aren’t.

Morning Report: More Yellen testimony 7/13/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2443.0 3.0
Eurostoxx Index 386.4 1.5
Oil (WTI) 45.5 0.0
US dollar index 87.9 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.33%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.625
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.59
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4.03

Stocks are flattish as Janet Yellen begins her second day of testimony in front of Congress. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 247k last week, showing that employers are hanging on to employees.

Inflation still remains in check at the wholesale level, as the producer price index rose only 0.1% in June. Ex-food and energy it rose 1.9% YOY, which is below the Fed’s target. Services increased 0.3%, which could indicate wage growth is beginning to happen.

The markets rallied yesterday on Janet Yellen’s dovish comments. Fed-Watcher Tim Duy believes the markets have it wrong. His view is that Yellen has spent enough time at the Fed to understand that the longer the Fed waits to address inflation, the more aggressive they will need to be, which increases the risk of a recession. He basically lays out four scenarios:

  • Inflation rebounds while unemployment remains steady, which is the base case Fed scenario
  • Inflation remains low while unemployment holds steady. This is the market’s bet.
  • Inflation rebounds while unemployment goes lower: This would mean a more aggressive Fed in 2018
  • Inflation remains low while unemployment goes lower: Difficult for the Fed.

His view is that we see one of the latter two scenarios. FWIW, I think the unemployment rate is a bit of a red herring given that the employment to population ratio is still pretty low. Granted, some of that is demographic (older Boomers retiring) and some of it is discouraged workers, but a 4.5% unemployment rate today doesn’t really mean the same thing it meant, say, 20 years ago. I think the mistake people make is that they fail to recognize that recoveries after burst residential real estate bubbles are fundamentally different animals, characterized by low inflation, weak demand, and risk aversion in business. Weak demand and risk aversion are not recipes for inflation. I suspect the second or the fourth scenario is the most likely. IMO, we won’t see inflation until we see wage growth, and that has been slow to materialize.

Angel Oak Advisors priced a $210 million deal of non-prime residential mortgages recently, and it looks like the second quarter may break $1 billion in non-prime RMBS. This is a record since the financial crisis, but is still a shadow of its former self. At one point during the boom, 1/3 of all mortgages were alt-A or subprime. Even if we hit a record for the rest of the year, we probably won’t even sniff 5%. In fact, many of the loans being put in these securitizations wouldn’t have even been considered non-prime during the bubble years. These loans are non-QM, and mainly consist of two types of  borrowers: self-employed who don’t have enough W2 income and borrowers with a credit event in the past who have large down payments. The borrowers in Angel Oak’s portfolio are paying between 5% and 9%.

Why do appraisals sometimes come in low?  Typically, the problem is in apples-to-oranges comps (i.e. not in the neighborhood, or comps that had an issue like asbestos, mold, etc). The other big issue surrounds things that have value, but tend to get short shrift with appraisers: things like a nice finished basement, a good view, nice appliances, etc. Raised ranch homes are often problematic, as the lower level gets completely excluded from the square footage, basically cutting your square footage in half.

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