Market Commentary 1/20/23

Job Loss & Poor Housing Data Drive Mortgage Rates Lower

It is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that the economy is not slowing. Several major public companies, including Microsoft and Google, have announced layoffs. Now, most economists ally with the recession camp. Retail sales were very poor, existing housing sales are at a 13-year-low, the yield curve is extremely inverted, and long bonds are falling. Nonetheless, the Fed is resolute in raising short-term interest rates to eliminate inflation. Why, with so much negative sentiment, is the Fed dead set on doing this?  The answer lies in what the Fed is seeing in the job market and persistent wage growth. A survey of regional Fed data supports the notion that although wages are moderating, many parts of the job market remain tight and wage pressure has yet to soften. As wages constitute a large chunk of any company’s expenses, higher wages lead to higher prices, assuming the business can pass along those prices. 

Looking at the history of the economy, the Fed has at times, been truly unsuccessful in pushing down inflation. For example, the grim inflation episodes of the late 1970s and early 1980s led to several rate increases and declines. As a result, the Fed had to resort to very high short-term interest rates to finally quell inflation. We suspect that the Fed Chairman does not want to be remembered for failing to get the job done on inflation. He would rather see equity and real estate prices come down than risk a re-acceleration of inflation.

Even with the Fed’s rate hikes, and jaw-boning the markets constantly, financial conditions have eased since late last year. The 10-year Treasury is south of 3.500%, mortgage rates have dipped, and global equities have rallied. This is not what the Fed wants. Therefore, the Fed will be raising short-term rates yet again in early February. Odds are for a .25 bp increase, but don’t count out another .50 bp as their terminal rate target is above 5.00% (Fed Funds are currently at 4.25% -4.50%)

Distress in commercial real estate is starting to make it closer to the front page. There are about $175 billion in troubled loans globally, many of which are coming due later in 2023 and 2024 with the focus being on the office. Some residential areas like Austin and Boise experienced massive price appreciation during the pandemic and are now seeing prices come down. However, strong coastal market prices are holding steady. This is due to the combination of both a robust and diversified economy with low levels of inventory serving as a floor to steep declines. Mortgage rates have drifted lower. Lenders are now thinking about 2023 production goals on how to make loan requests work, especially on the portfolio bank side of the business. This is a welcome development and will certainly help the local real estate market.

Market Commentary 1/13/2023

Interest Rates Drop As Markets Look Beyond Fed Hikes

First, the good news. Inflation is falling and it appears that the Fed is near the end of its tightening cycle. Odds are that the Fed will raise .25 bp in February and again in March before stopping. While inflation is still excessively high, shipping costs have dropped back to pre-pandemic levels, used autos prices have fallen, and other goods have followed suit. Gasoline prices are lower and the supply chain is functioning much more efficiently. The job market remains tight and that is still of some concern for the Fed. However, the pace of wage increases is lessening. Bond yields and mortgage rates have also lowered as the 10-year Treasury is now around 3.44%.  This has helped bring potential home buyers back into the market. 

Now, the not-so-good news. Negative ISM readings, surging credit card debt, an inverted yield curve, and warnings from CEOs such as Jamie Dimon on the state of the economy have all of us on “recession watch.” Generally, it is hard to bet against the U.S. consumer and business owner. Nonetheless, there are signs that consumers are tapping into credit cards more often to pay for life necessities, and business owners are cutting back on staff and hours of work per week. How this plays out over the next couple of months will be an important sign of where the economy is headed.

The hope remains the Fed will thread the needle and the economy may experience a very mild recession. The strong jobs market supports the no-recession argument, while other economic indicators suggest otherwise. The effects of the Fed’s jumbo rate hikes and quantitative tightening have yet to be discerned, as the monetary policy takes some time to work into the system. Lending standards at banks continue to tighten. The overall rise in short-term rates will affect consumers and business owners this year, as debt service costs increase quite dramatically for debtors who either have a floating rate debt or debt coming due.

Home builders reported soft sales volume. While many builders are offering incentives to lure buyers, builders are holding back on price cuts. Housing valuations have held up well and better than some expected. Why? The combination of a low fixed-rate mortgage, a 10-year + period of strict loan underwriting, and a big move-up in home values is keeping pressure on sellers to cut deals. Should the economy move into a recession later in the year, sellers will be more willing to negotiate or list their property for sale as their finances become strained. For the moment, although the housing markets are slow, the drop in interest rates has got buyers looking again. Given that home affordability is stretched, lower rates are needed to jump-start real estate activity. While interest rates are not likely to move to pandemic levels, our experience is that should mortgage rates settle in under 5.000%, borrowers will respond positively. 

Market Commentary 12/16/2022

Recession Fears Escalate As Fed Holds Firm On Rate Hikes 

As anticipated, The Fed raised short-term interest rates by .50 bp on Wednesday. The initial market reaction was neutral, but sentiments changed once the markets digested the Fed’s resolve to fight inflation on Thursday. Additionally, the Fed emphasized its projection that short-term interest rates may go higher than expected due to the very tight labor market. The markets are concerned because the economy seems to be weakening. Major corporations have announced job cuts, credit card balances have risen, and U.S. retail and manufacturing spending has slowed. Market experts are attempting to reconcile how far the Fed is willing to see real estate and equity markets decline, rather than not do enough to squash inflation. The most vulnerable parts of society are hurt by inflation the most. Powell has referenced the need for “pain”(financial pain or the decline in asset prices) several times over the last many months as the unfortunate result of taming inflation.

Across the pond, European central bankers were also very hawkish about where interest rates will need to go to quell inflation. U.S. Treasury yields remain very volatile as expectations of tighter financial conditions loom. Speaking of bonds, the inverted yield curve is an excellent indicator of recession probability. How steeply the yield curve dips signifies to the bond market that a recession is likely.  However, a counterargument can be made for higher interest rates as liquidity is taken out of the system.  It seems logical investors will demand more yield for each unit of risk. Interest rates along the yield curve should move up. Also, onshoring of industrial production and pivoting from just-in-time inventory to certainty-of-inventory, employee demands for higher wages, as well as a low level of “total employed” are inflationary. In the end, the best financial advice this year has been to “not fight the Fed.”  The Fed wants positive real rates across the whole yield curve and fighting the Fed is usually not wise.  While no one can predict the future, we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in interest rates. The results of this shift will be felt in the coming year.

Interest rates have dipped slightly, and that has led to a small increase in activity. Winter has always been a historically slow time of year, but the jumbo hikes the Fed has undertaken have certainly slowed the market. With inflation coming down, the hope is interest rates will normalize and thereby help the real estate market. As 2023 approaches, lenders will have new funding targets, which should help as banks compete for new business. 

Market Commentary 12/2/2022

Market Left In Speculation Re: Fed’s Next Move Amidst Stronger Than Expected Jobs Report

It was a very good week for stocks and bonds. Over the last couple of weeks, interest rates have been drifting lower (under 6%), bringing more borrowers to our local real estate markets. However, the better-than-expected jobs report will keep pressure on the Fed to continue its path of higher interest rates. Let me be clear, the rate of increase in interest rate will moderate. But for those who think interest rates are coming right back down, this Jobs Report should put those thoughts to rest in the near term. The reason is that wage growth remains strong and well above previous forecasts. Since employee wages make up for most companies’ largest expense, wage growth places great pressure on businesses to continue raising prices. While the Fed would like to see wage growth in the 2% to 3% range, today’s number of 5.60% was too high. Inflation can only come down so much with wages growing at this clip.  Additionally, with unemployment still under 4.00%, we anticipate another 50 bp increase in the Fed Funds rate when the committee meets later in the month.   

Some good news on the mortgage front.  Fannie/Freddie has now opened up their home loans to over $1 million in high-cost areas. This will help those borrowers looking to purchase in markets that may not have the perfect profile for a balance sheet lender. Fannie/Freddie tends to be less restrictive on post-closing reserves and credit at higher loan-to-values.  Also, as lenders adjust to the higher interest rates, we are beginning to see credit officers at local banks and credit unions approve exceptions with more regularity. A good sign for sure. 

Market Commentary 11/18/2022

Mortgage Rates Continue To Fall In Uncertain World

Over the past several decades, the inverted yield curve has been a tried-and-true recession predictor. With some parts of the year yield at historically wide inversions, financial conditions are becoming too tight. This indicates a strong likelihood that the economy is slowly marching toward a recession. However, there is evidence to the flip side of this argument, including consistently strong employment data, decent capital spending by companies, and a rebounding stock market.

Housing has been hit pretty hard by the 4 super-sized rate hikes by the Fed, with more upset on the horizon with the additional hikes anticipated in December and early next year. The terminal rate should cross 5.00%. Some Fed officials have opined the need to go much higher to stomp out inflation.  A recent Fed study on housing speaks of the potential for a 20% adjustment to prices in specific markets.  Speaking to our market, prices will continue to come down, but the lack of inventory will set a floor for how low prices can go. As long as California continues to be a robust and diversified economy, wealth creation, weather, and opportunity will support prices better than some other parts of the country. Nevertheless, affordable housing remains a big problem on a national level, and the Fed will want to see housing prices fall. Such a decline won’t be as severe in the more undersupplied and desirable areas.

Important Update On Mortgage Products

Insignia Mortgage has located a few portfolio lenders willing to offer very sharp pencils on non-traditional loan products. These non-QM products rely on post-closing reserves more than income analysis.  Loan amounts go up to several million with a 30% down payment. Interest rates begin at 5.00% or so. We share this info because these types of products are crucial for the high-end markets, especially with the move in interest rates. Borrowers are struggling to qualify for loans due to the rapid rise in rates, and the fact that interest-only loans require an additional stress test, making it difficult for well-qualified borrowers to obtain financing. 

Market Commentary 11.11.22

A Welcome Sign of Relief on the Horizon

I believe I speak for all in my profession that Thursday’s better-than-expected inflation reading and subsequent broad rally in bonds and equities was a welcome sign of relief. However, let us not forget that a one- or two-day rally does not make a trend. Inflation is still at 7.70% (but hopefully moving lower), the economy is weakening as layoffs mount and geopolitical tensions in Europe and Asia remain high. The CPI report did take some pressure off of the Fed to continue to move in 75 bp increments, to a more measured approach of 50 or hopefully only a 25 basis point increase. The Fed wants the entire yield curve to be restrictive, which means making interest rates higher than inflation. The reading the Fed prefers, the core PCE was around 5% in November. Therefore, the Fed’s work is probably not done, but fears of rates touching 6% or so have been taken off the table. 

Crypto Collapse – Gold Rallies

One of the great ironies this week was the absolute collapse of cryptocurrencies as more traditional asset classes such as gold rallied impressively.  Crypto is a trillion-dollar asset class (down from 3 trillion) and may still pose some systemic risks.  This may have also been attributed to the massive rally in bonds on Thursday with the so-called “flight to quality trade”. 

A move lower in interest rates will help boost home sales and commercial real estate transactions.  The rate of change in interest rates really hurt the marketplace. Should interest rates continue to fall and should the 10-year settle in at the 3.500% range, a pickup in transaction volume will follow.  Also, equities (not meme and high beta stocks with no earnings) have retraced a good amount of their losses which should bode well for consumer confidence assuming the rally sticks. 

Market Commentary 11/04/2022

Fed Raises Yet Again As US Employment Data Substantiates Further Hikes

Markets were in rally mode Friday at the heels of another solid employment report. There have been some signs that wage inflation is moderating. One never quite knows how the market will react to an important economic report, but one thing for certain is the mood was sour heading into Friday’s number. This is especially true after Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s hawkish bent earlier in the week. Interest rates will need to be higher for longer to combat a stubborn inflation problem. The Fed raised short-term interest rates by .75 basis points for the 4th time in a row. We now see the terminal rate between 5% and 5.50% which will be achieved by the middle of next year. 

Financing Around Inflation

Financing costs, including those for autos, homes, and commercial real estate, have moved up. Who could have imagined a 30-year fixed rate mortgage would be over 7% this year, after beginning the year in the low 3% range (jumbo rates are lower).  With the surge in rates, interest-only loan options are the product of choice in high-priced areas. This product can help offset out-of-pocket financing costs, although the payment does not reduce the principal balance. Unless prices drift lower, this product is one way to manage housing expenses with the hope that interest rates move lower over time. 

Market Commentary 10/28/2022

Markets Anticipate More Dovish Fed Commentary Next Week

The combination of a strong GDP report, the 10-year Treasury bond decreasing from 4.300% to 4.000%, and the signs inflation may be leveling off (albeit slowly) served as tailwinds for the equity markets.  The result is another winning week. Risk-taking has been reignited, with the “fear of missing out” pushing stocks up, even amidst the multiple headwinds circling the economy. We’re hopeful these animal spirits make their way into the real estate and lending markets. The dramatic rise in interest rates will likely keep investors waiting for either a further reduction in real estate prices or a bigger drop in interest rates. Banks remain both cautious and passive in pricing loans, given that risk-free rates will be near 4.000% next week. 

We anticipate next week to be momentous with the Fed meeting mid-week and the release of the October employment report on Friday.  The probability of .75 basis point increase in Fed Fund rates is over 80% and is the most likely outcome when the Fed convenes. The rip higher in the equities market as well as persistent inflation combined with less than awful corporate earnings will justify the Fed’s continued hike on rates. It is important to remember that the Fed will be moving the Fed Funds Rate up by yet another .75 basis points soon, and these are dramatic moves. The impact of these moves will not be immediate. It takes time for these rate hikes to make their way into the real economy. Experts believe the lag effect of these hikes is around 6 months.  Financing costs for consumers and business owners have surged this year, from credit card financing charges to mortgage and auto payments, as well as business and corporate loans. The higher cost of financing will hurt demand as these costs are absorbed.  Many fear that the Fed’s medicine of swiftly raising rates to cool inflation is worse than just living with inflation. We believe the Fed is correct in addressing the inflation problem, but that their pivot from inflation is transitory. Destroying demand through higher rates is a dangerous prescription and could lead to a financial accident.    

Getting a read on interest rates is perplexing. Inflation is still way too high. The Fed’s preferred gauge of recession probability, the inversion of the 3-month to 10-year Treasury, inverted recently.  This supports the notion the Fed has tightened enough and should take a wait-and-see viewpoint. I am certain real estate brokers and mortgage professionals would welcome a break from what has been a formidable marketplace.

Market Commentary 10/21/2022

Bond Yields Drop & Equities Rise On Dovish Fed Commentary

Over the last seven days, U.S. equity markets dismissed a number of negative events in order to close the week out higher. Fed speak on Friday helped boost the markets. The Wall Street Journal reported that some Fed members are not certain that short-term interest rates should continue to move up so quickly.  It’s a strange world we live in when the comments from one Fed official can move markets so erratically.  We maintain our residence in the cautious camp when digesting incoming news about company earnings and costs. Whether it be JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, or Jeff Bezos of Amazon, many CEOs share a batten the hatches sentiment. Housing and commercial real estate are under tremendous pressure, oil is stubbornly high, and overall input costs continue to rise. Inflation will be with us longer than expected. 

The Fed has hit the markets very hard with what will be four .75 basis point rate increases after the November meeting, within a very short time period. It takes a while for these hikes to make their way through the economy. Banks are seeing an unprecedented number of deposits leave their institutions. It is obvious that liquidity is being sucked out of the economy very quickly. Should the Fed continue with rate hikes at current levels, the likelihood of a financial accident may become all but certain. Therefore, slowing the pace of rate increases is probably wise.

Stay Calm, Stay Cautious, and Take The Market Week By Week.

Until the Fed slows the pace of rate hikes, or, we start to see some signs of easing inflation, both business and real estate activity will be light. It is going to take a moment for businesses and consumers to adjust to a higher-rate environment. Business values as well as real estate values will need space to adjust. The good news is with every passing month, we get closer to interest rates normalizing, and hopefully, inflation moderating. Again, we don’t see inflation dropping to 2% overnight, but gradually leveling off. Calmer bond and equity markets will spur housing demand and fuel consumer confidence.    

One other positive note, public company earnings have beaten expectations. This report supports a strong U.S. economy despite those companies forecasting tougher times ahead. This is both good and bad, as the Fed may use these positive earnings to validate additional rate hikes. The Fed’s mixed messaging amongst Fed Governors presents many different outcomes. For this week, it was a dovish tilt on rate increases, and the market rejoiced. 

Market Commentary 10/14/2022

Inflation Proves Hard To Tame As 10-Year Tops 4% 

A market with no memory is one that can produce a 1,500-point upswing in a day, even when a hotter-than-expected CPI reading was reported (markets are down as I write this on Friday morning).  While a relief rally after a near week of selling was welcomed, big reversals like Thursday’s are symbolic of a bear market. Inflation is a problem and while there are some indications that it has peaked (dry bulk shipping, decline in oil and commodities), inflation is still overwhelming the system. The Fed is set to raise another super-sized .75 bp in November.

We are worried that these massive hikes will strengthen the chances of a financial accident. To date, the hikes have certainly crushed demand for real estate. This defeat is evidenced by the bank’s commentary on origination this morning.  Asset prices will need to adjust to a 7.00% average on 30-year conforming fixed-rate mortgages (although jumbo loans are cheaper).  Both consumer and business debt costs have risen dramatically.  We expect a surge in auto and mortgage delinquencies to follow, as well as an increase in business bankruptcy. 

There is not much to add from the last few weeks commentaries. Rising inflation, combined with the Fed’s expected response to it, continues to manipulate market action. The debt markets are showing signs of stress and banks continue to pull back on lending. A recession is very likely if the US is not already in one. Watching the bond market for clues to where the economy is headed seems logical. Should the 10-year break out above 4%, beware of even more pain.