Market Commentary 5/6/2022

Fed Chairman Comments Fail To Calm Markets

Fed Chairman Powell appeared to be in high spirits after his press briefing on Wednesday this week. His commentary, along with the only a .50 bp hike to the Fed funds rate, was lauded by U.S. equity markets.  Markets appreciated his willingness to take a .75 bp rate hike off the table. They also found relief in the fact that an impromptu FOMC did need to take place to address current economic conditions. Despite the temporary mirth, Thursday’s depletion of markets around the world suggests the Chairman’s comments were flawed.  Critics question the removal of any policy response with so many conditions at play: a tight labor market, aggregate demand greater than what suppliers can deliver, a war in Ukraine, and COVID-induced lockdowns in China. The bond market is skeptical of this rhetoric, as the 10-year Treasury is now above 3.000%. This is an interest rate that many experts believed would not come to light for a long time, if ever.  In addition, mortgage rates are now touching 13-year highs. Equity markets are re-pricing risky assets as speculators are getting crushed amidst fear running high.  

Just How Bad Are The Markets?

The traditional 60/40 stock to bond ratio is down over 10% year-to-date. Ultra-low bond rates have not provided the ballast that higher-yielding bonds would have given in previous down markets. With inflation running above 5%, even as high as 8.5% in some cases, there is nowhere to hide. 

Although investors are worried, it is important to note that the U.S. economy is currently doing well. This is evidenced by the April Jobs report and the fact that wage growth is moderating. The stock market can be irrational and is not always indicative of actual economic health. Inflation does remain a problem. Fortunately, the Fed is doing its job by speaking tough on inflation. High beta stocks have lowered along with other speculative investments.  As consumer and business confidence crumble, prices will eventually come down. The big question is whether the Fed should be tightening more aggressively or continue to proceed with a “go slow” mentality.  Many experts would like to see the Fed move quickly to get in front of inflation and then adjust policy once inflation is tamed. 

Moving Into Creative Financing Options

As we indicated a couple of weeks ago, the WSJ is now writing about rising rates and borrowers becoming more creative with financing choices. Most notably is the move into adjustable-rate mortgage products. ARM loans adjust after a fixed-rate period but have much lower note rates. With 30-year fixed-rate mortgages above 5.00%, ARM products can still be had at rates under 3.00%. While these products are not for everyone, given the escalation in rates, these programs offer lower monthly payments and are becoming quite popular in the current rate environment. This is especially true in more expensive areas like Southern California.  

Watch the full statement from Fed Chairman Powell here.

Market Commentary 4/1/2022

U.S. Economy Complicated By War, Inflation, Yield Inversion & Strong Jobs Data

Nonfarm payrolls added close to 500,000 new jobs in March in an already tight labor market.  The unemployment rate dipped to 3.600%, a tick above the 50 year low of  3.500% back in February 2020. The long-term jobs picture is concerning as there are many more job openings than jobs available. The large number of job openings relative to the population actively seeking work could cause wage inflation to rise faster than economists prefer. Wage inflation is both sticky and a big component in overall inflation readings. Should companies have to pay even more for new hires, those companies will do all they can to raise prices to offset the higher employment cost. This in turn raises all prices, and so on and so forth.  It becomes clear how inflation can become embedded throughout the economy as you game this out, and why the Fed is talking up rate hikes to cool off the economy and lower inflation expectations. 

The PCE, the Fed’s preferred method of inflation came in at 6.40%, a 40 year high. PCE strips out volatile food and energy costs. Many forecasters see a 9% plus CPI number for March. Inflation is real and probably not going away any time soon. Using the PCE as an example, the Fed funds rate in real term is -6.15% when measured against inflation. This is destructive to savers and imposes a hidden tax on the population. Caution is warranted as the Fed’s policy shift stands for the benefit of main street, which may very well come at the expense of Wall Street.   

With the Fed moving away from QE and intending to initiate both higher rates and QT, there is an increasing probability that the Fed may put the U.S. into a recession. This may not occur in the immediate moment, but prior to the end of 2023. The flattening and momentarily inverted 2-10 yield curve is supportive of this thought. How far the Fed will be able to raise short-term rates is unknown, but bond trading supports not much more than 2.00%-2.500%, which still leaves short-term rates negative when measured against present inflation. Fed hikes much higher than this level could be quite destructive given the absurd amount of U.S. debt. The Fed is truly embarking on a journey “where no man has gone before” when it comes to Fed policy. 

Now, a few general observations. The war in Ukraine remains an international concern, but the markets for the moment seem to have moved past the troubling headlines. Also, the oil markets are trading better which will provide some relief to consumers over time. Mortgage rates are no longer cheap and the rise in interest rates will slow the pace of refinances. There are approximately 6 million homes that can still benefit from a refinance, down from 14 million not too long ago. However, the purchase market remains active. The dream of homeownership has not cooled as of yet. On the higher end, many potential buyers we speak to are looking to make gains from the stock market, or crypto market, to buy real estate. The recent volatility which saw many asset classes get crushed early in the quarter and then resurge probably has a lot to do with the desire to move into the safety of real estate. Moreover, lack of supply (as we have spoken about in many blog posts) will provide a natural floor to how low housing in markets such as Southern California may go down, even if the overall housing market is slowed by rising rates.

Market Commentary 3/4/2022

Ukraine Weighs Down On The World As Bond Yields Drop

The Ukrainian-Russian conflict is top-of-mind for global markets. Volatility has soared with the VIX index, a.k.a. the fear gauge rising above 30. This number is important because it represents a more fearful market, as investor sentiment has been trashed by the recent wild market moves. While contrarians would argue to buy when fear is high, this time may be different. It is hard to handicap Mr. Putin. For the moment, neither sanctions nor the threat of being banned from Western nations’ economies has deterred his desires over Ukraine. 

The February Jobs report was solid. Unemployment fell to 3.80% and wage inflation was moderated, which is helpful for bond yields. While oil prices have broken through 100 per barrel and other food sources and commodities linked to Ukraine have also risen greatly, the reason can be explained away due to the Ukrainian conflict.  Wage inflation is the most sticky type of inflation. As those numbers came in below expectation, the Fed has more time to raise rates in the coming months.

These are truly scary times. It feels as if the world has become much more dangerous in just a matter of days. While good for U.S. bonds and to a lesser extent U.S. real estate and U.S. equities, should this conflict drag on, markets may experience continued draw-downs and in effect shake consumer confidence. Real estate has tangible qualities that make it attractive in this type of environment and may hold up better than other types of assets.  However, the odds are increasing that a recession may be on the way, so caution is warranted.  Also, lenders are slowly lowering rates even though our Government debt has dropped precipitously.  The overall market remains near impossible to handicap. 

Market Commentary 2/25/22

Russian Invasion Slows Pace Of Fed Tightening Plan

The Russian invasion into Ukraine sent global markets on a wild ride with globally traded public securities, bonds, commodities, and crypto trading.  Wednesday evening was a sad day as I witnessed the first invasion of Europe in my lifetime.  The last few years have certainly been challenging for everyone due to the pandemic. The destabilization of a European country will continue to create additional known and unknown risks throughout the world at a very delicate time. While our economy is doing well overall, it is also slowing as inflation inhibits consumer spending ability. The Russian invasion of Ukraine will add more pressure to food and oil prices. While we hope sanctions move Putin to negotiate, he is simply unpredictable.    

The U.S. being the safe haven in the world witnessed a quick drawdown on equities this Thursday morning, which turned into “a rip your face off” type of rally. The old trader’s adage of “buy on the sound of cannons” certainly played out.  Bond yields sank but then reversed higher and gold and silver traded down as well, which I found to be curious.  The reason bonds yields rose is due to unprecedented global inflation.  Ultimately, the bond markets quickly overcame their concern about what Putin may do to Ukraine and beyond.  Personally, I believe we have yet to see the worst of Putin’s intentions. There could be very troubling days ahead in the market.  Make no mistake, China is watching all of this very closely, as its own ambitions to take control of Taiwan cannot be forgotten. Additionally, the relationship between Russia and China has been growing more established over the last few years.

As the world has become more dangerous overnight, real estate should benefit as a less volatile asset to own.  Good solid real estate holding at a reasonable price will continue to be sought after.  Also, as many investors have had a great run in the equity portfolios, I am hearing anecdotally from several financial advisors that those investors with big gains are looking to cash out their winnings for either a new home or a cash flow producing property. 

The demand for U.S. bonds during more unstable periods should keep a lid on high bonds as yields may go. However, as inflation is running at the hottest rate in over 40 years, rates will need to rise (but probably not as much prior to the conflict).  This will be good for tech stocks who were very worried about the 10 year Treasury quickly moving north of 2.500%. While rates can move higher over time, the pace will be more gradual now.  Borrowers should take note that there is still time to lock in favorable interest rates. This opportunity could quickly change if there is a pullback by Russia over Ukraine. For the moment, this seems unlikely, but still cannot be totally discounted.   

07_30_2021_blog

Market Commentary 7/30/21

Rates Lower On Covid Delta Fears

It was a big week for the markets. Big tech reported mixed results. While the earnings were strong overall, Facebook and Amazon warned of slowing growth. Bonds fell on Friday due to fears of economic slowdowns that may result from the rapidly spreading Delta variant. Also helping push yields lower was a better than expected inflation reading on the Fed’s favorite inflation gauge, the PCE (personal consumption expenditures). GDP grew at a strong clip, but below expectations. The combination of a lower than expected inflation reading and a slowing economy will provide some cover for the Fed to keep rates lower for longer although Fed officials are slowly warming up the markets for an eventual reduction in the ultra-accommodative monetary policies.   

A bipartisan infrastructure plan will help spur more growth in the U.S. economy. It is a welcome upgrade to our infrastructure and will provide high-paying jobs throughout the country while not raising taxes. 

Should the Delta variant prove to be a temporary setback, bond yields should drift higher over the coming months and therefore it remains prudent for clients to look to lock-in mortgage rates now versus waiting for lower rates in the future. The UK data is encouraging as new Covid infections are falling sooner than expected. While the virus remains an enigma, similar vaccination rates suggest that the course of the virus may follow the UK path. We sure hope so.    

Market Commentary 7/16/21

Refinances Surge As Bond Yields Drop

Bond rates continue to dip even as inflation readings run hotter than expected. It is true that some inflation appears to be transitory as evidenced by the expected drop in used car prices and the dramatic fall in lumber costs. However, other costs such as wage inflation are stickier and probably here to stay. Finally, housing costs, which have yet to fully appear in inflation readings yet, will begin to affect the report in a bigger way and should keep inflation readings elevated. 

Another factor to consider is that the global central banks have pumped unprecedented amounts of liquidity into the market which has distorted all price discovery, including bond prices.  Also, the U.S. interest rates remain some of the highest in the developed world.  It is ironic that a country such as Greece has lower bond yields than the U.S. while being a much worse credit risk. Should the markets become untethered from the Fed’s belief in inflation being transitory, rates will move up quickly.  The next couple of months will be very interesting and could lead to much more volatile markets.  Potential borrowers who have not taken advantage of these ultra-low interest rates should do so while the window is still open. It is hard to imagine with such strong economic growth that the Fed keeps short-term rates pegged at zero for as long as originally projected. 

As we move into the middle of summer, purchase and refinance applications remain robust. Low-interest rates continue to drive purchase-money business, but there appears to be a pause in-home price increases as we have seen a very healthy increase over the past year that is not sustainable.  Lenders remain eager to lend and non-QM programs are helping borrowers who do not fit inside traditional banks.     

06_25_2021_blog

Market Commentary 6/25/21

Core Inflation Readings Push Yields Up
Core inflation came in hot, but not hotter than expected. Bonds reacted by pushing yields above up. However, within the report, spending slowed a bit in May and incomes flattened. A slowing in spending is good for the Fed. It will also allow them to continue to print money and prevent them from lifting rates quickly. However, assuming that pandemic-related illness rates in the U.S. continue to decline, the Fed will need to pull back on some of the extraordinary policies that were enacted to combat Covid’s impact on the economy.

Equities have responded well to the Fed’s messaging. A new infrastructure plan will create another boost to the economy and will create good new job opportunities.  

Rising housing prices are beginning to create issues for borrowers, especially in the lower-income tiers, as the combination of rising prices and higher interest rates affect home affordability. If rates do move higher, housing prices will need to adjust.  

Interest rates remain low but could move up sooner than expected if inflation is deemed more structural and less transitory by investors and economists. We continue to advise clients to take advantage of these ultra-accommodative interest rates and to lock in long-term financing as a hedge against inflation. 

01_24_2020_blog

Market Commentary 1/24/20

Stocks dipped and bond yields fell in a light economic news week, but nonetheless, it was a week filled with plenty of market-moving events. The fears of a new coronavirus out of China moved money from riskier assets into the safe haven of government bonds. Also, soft global PMI data helped to lower bond yields, which remained flat but may have bottomed. 

Back here in the U.S., on the one hand, the consumer remains bullish as equity and real estate asset prices are at historical levels supported by a dovish Federal Reserve interest rate policy.  While on the other hand, business leaders are skeptical and large scale purchases are soft. 

With the U.S. economy expected to grow between 2.00% and 2.50%, the consensus is that it will continue to hum along and equity indexes will continue to reluctantly move higher. Some recent positives supporting that narrative include the Phase 1 U.S. – China trade deal and the expected signing of the USMCA agreement. 

The strong consumer should bode well for a strong spring homebuying season so long as sellers don’t push prices back up in response to a very accommodative interest rate environment and strong demand. Interest rates are also spurring refinances as refinances lower monthly debt service payments and or cash-out refinances tap home equity to pay down more expensive debts. 

With the 10-year Treasury bond set to close below 1.700%, our continued view is to take advantage of these near historically low rates. However, a “Black Swan” event such as this new virus that broke out in China could temporarily push U.S. bond yields much lower if government health officials cannot contain the spread of the virus. For perspective, very few people to date have been infected with this new virus, and the fears of widespread contagion are remote, as of this writing.

Jan-10-blog 2020

Market Commentary 1/10/20

Bond yields flattened after a very tense week filled with heightened geopolitical tensions, as well as significant economic news.  Rates dropped Wednesday after it was reported that Iran fired missiles at U.S.-occupied air bases in Iraq. Thankfully, no U.S. casualties were reported. The flight to safety was short-lived as the stock market rallied the day after the attack. Both the U.S. and Iran suggested that further escalations would be halted. Oil prices took a wild ride up and then quickly came back down as oversupply halted a surge in oil prices based on disruption fears surrounding the conflict. 

On the economic front, weak manufacturing data was discounted due to the Phase One U.S. China trade deal being inked on January 15th.  The all-important December jobs report was a bit lighter than expected, but overall not a terrible report. Unemployment remains at 3.5% and at a multi-decade low, and the U-6, or total employed, fell to 6.7%. The U.S. economy remains on solid footing and appears to be in what is often referred to as a “goldilocks” trend as the combination of low-interest rates, low unemployment, and low but stable economic growth increases our overall prosperity.

A surging stock market and low-interest rates should bode well for the coming spring home-buying season as potential homeowners feel flush. Inventory remains tight, but home builders are optimistic. With this in mind, we continue to advocate locking-in interest rates at these attractive levels. Many economic forecasts are factoring in higher inflation in the coming year, which would propel bond yields higher. Also, the overall global economy seems to be doing better and for now, any sign of a potential recession in 2020 has faded. 

June-7-blog

Market Commentary 6/7/19

Treasury yields dropped this week to a 21-month low. Multiple Fed officials spoke of the possibility of lowering short-term interest rates as ongoing trade tensions with China begin to wear on the U.S. economy. Further causes of concern include slowing manufacturing data both in the U.S. and abroad, negative interest rates in Europe and Japan, and the European Central Bank opining on the high probability of rate cuts in the Eurozone to combat its sluggish economy.

At the moment, there are several conflicting economic signals: consumer and business confidence is strong, but other key economic data are showing signs of a potential recession on the horizon. Of greatest concern is the 3-month to 10-year Treasury curve, which has inverted. A prolonged inversion supports the notion that the markets believe rates are too high, and more importantly, it is a key recession indicator. 

Further pushing bond yields lower Friday was the release of the May Jobs report which came in much cooler than expected (75,000 actual versus 185,000 estimated). Some of the weakness in hires last month could be blamed on worker shortages in certain sectors such as construction. It will be interesting to see how the June jobs report plays out. A tepid June jobs report will all but guarantee a Fed rate cut.  Due to the Fed Funds Rate already at a very low level relative to the length of the economic recovery which dates back almost 10 years now, the Fed has very little room to lower short-term rates and it will act sooner than later once it believes economic growth is stalling. 

Speaking of rate cuts, corporate and individuals are enjoying lower borrowing costs and lenders are aggressively pricing home and commercial loans in the search for new business. With so many experts expecting lower rates to come, we continue to advise clients to be cautious as any unexpected good news (think trade deal with China) could catch markets off guard.  For the moment, we are biased toward floating rates at these levels with the understanding the market is severely overbought.