It’s a tale of two worlds as money on Wall Street floods into COVID-19-resistant sectors such as technology and biotech while Main Street struggles and many retail and public-facing businesses face hard times and tough decisions. With many cities and states scaling back on the re-opening of the economy as COVID-19 cases surge, it is becoming harder to imagine a V-shape economic recovery. Even amongst the backdrop of all the political bickering, more stimulus out of Washington seems baked-in, especially for the hardest-hit industries such as restaurants, fitness, airlines, and hotels, all of which employ a significant amount of folks, and they may be asked to close their doors again. Some positive news from Pfizer and Gilead on treatments to combat the virus is encouraging, but even if these treatments prove to be effective, getting these treatments out to our citizens and the 4 billion global population will be a herculean task.
With little to no inflation and unemployment rates in the teens, interest rates are going nowhere for a while. It is interesting to see gold run above $1,800 per ounce. With global coordinated central bank stimulus packages in the trillions (and rising), there will be a day of reckoning one day in the future, and inflating dollars to pay a historical debt is one way out of this catastrophe. So it’s not surprising to see the rise in gold as a store of real value. Rising inflation is probably years away, but if and when inflation hits, watch out.
Speaking of hard assets and inflation, residential real estate made a strong comeback after the initial shutdown. Home sales are on the rise and banks are flooded with loan applications. We at Insignia Mortgage are seeing tremendous demand for jumbo mortgage product as non-QM loans return and as our portfolio of lenders continue to work hard to approve loans during this difficult time. We continue to have access to lenders who do not require a banking relationship from customers and who are offering purchase-money loans with as little as 10% down up to $1.5 million, interest-only loans, unrestricted amounts of cash-out, and attractive interest rates, and terms for investment property transactions.
A strong June jobs report pushed equities higher on a shortened trading week. While the economy is still so fragile, back-to-back better-than-expected jobs reports support the premise that quite possibly the worst is behind us on Covid-19. However, new cases have been spiking which is worrisome. The next few weeks will be key as fresh data is released on infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths.
If you think of the stock market as a voting machine, the rally higher in stocks and less volatility in the bond market is telling us things are really improving. Yet many customer-facing businesses (retail, restaurants, services) are struggling. Meanwhile, the tech sector rallies based on the explosive growth of services that affect the new normal in the work-from-home economy. How these tech services help or the nearly 20 million unemployed find new opportunities is not yet clear, but never underestimate U.S. innovation and resilience. Pfizer released some very promising Covid-19 vaccination data. It is still early but should a treatment(s) become a reality, all markets (stocks and bonds) would breathe a sigh of relief and economic productivity would surge.
With the jobs picture improving, the new and resale housing market has improved as well. Supply remains a big issue, especially in tight markets like California. Interest rates are very attractive and the need for more space at home supports a stable housing market and perhaps even one that moves higher in price in certain pockets.
Local banks and credit unions appear to be picking up the loans the large money center banks simply don’t want to deal with or lack the capacity to close on time. Insignia Mortgage continues to close purchase loans on time and with very attractive rates and terms. Cash-outs without restrictions, interest-only loans, and investment property loans are all readily available through our lending sources.
Major U.S. indexes fell this week as Covid-19 cases surged, putting the economic re-openings at risk. The resurgence of Covid-19 overshadowed what had been positive consumer-related data this week. Consumer spending, which had been on the upswing, slowed down. The notion of a quick recovery is unclear and the rise in infection rates suggest the recovery will be choppy. Should the economy stall, we fully expect there will be more Fed stimulus and lending programs to help individuals and businesses get to the other side.
Home buying and mortgage applications, at least in Southern California, have seen a major uptick. We are encouraged by this activity. Housing has been sheltered from this pandemic and is in a much better place than other real estate sectors, such as commercial properties and retail. Our L.A. office has been receiving a surge in applications as borrowers’ businesses recover and interest rates remain at historical lows. While we don’t expect rates to go too much lower, if equity volatility continues to increase, we may see rates drop.
Core inflation is non-existent in the U.S. and for the moment presents no challenges to the Fed.There’s a massive stimulus being pushed out to the debt and equity markets as well as to Main street in response to Covid-19’s biologic shock translating into an economic one.
On Friday, Fed chair Powell reiterated a by-any-means-necessary attitude to support the economy in the event of the second wave of virus-related economic setbacks. Later in the day, the equity markets responded with relief to President Trump leaving the U.S.-China trade deal untouched.
Mortgage rates have remained flat even after Core PCE fell to less than 1%. While we believe mortgage rates will move lower later in the year, we still believe that banks are keeping interest rates padded above their corresponding benchmark U.S. treasury yields while simultaneously keeping an eye out for easing loan deferments and reduced unemployment.
Americans’ savings continue to increase due to a combination of government assistance and sheltering in place. Evidence is mounting that consumption will rebound as life begins to return to normal. Traffic to websites such as Zillow has surged as prospective home buyers are researching potential new homes. Also, the stay-at-home orders have prompted people to re-evaluate their current housing situations. As a result, many families are deciding that it is time to look for a new home or upgrade their current home.
In closing, Insignia Mortgage’s brokers are encouraged by the increase of purchase activity in the last few weeks. The coronavirus situation has temporarily stalled action in the real estate market, boosting supply. Buyers are definitely taking advantage of this situation and benefitting from historically low mortgage rates, which make housing payments very manageable.
In another dismal week of economic data, equity volatility increased while bonds closed the week out the week essentially unchanged. Further adding to the horrible economic news, U.S. and China tensions increased as well as the U.S. is set to impose restrictions against Huawei Technologies.
Fed chairman Powell spooked markets this week with his comments calling for more federal financial support or risk long-term damage to the U.S. economy. Truthfully, no one knows how the economy will re-open and we need to support our citizens with both monetary and fiscal stimulus to avoid small business owners sinking to a point of no return. Federal support along with congressional bipartisanship is needed as businesses many businesses will need the lifeline of the government to be in order to hang on long enough to gradually reopen during the coming months.
On the residential lending front, we are starting to see a little bit more optimism as some lenders begin to loosen up Covid-19 related guideline overlays. This is welcome news as we are also seeing a slight uptick in new purchase inquiries in what is normally the busiest home-buying season of the year. Some lenders have lowered interest rates and expanded loan-to-value guidelines in a bid to grab market share. Overall, the lending landscape remains tough to navigate, but transactions are closing, and that’s a win in this otherwise challenging moment.
The April jobs report was the worst on record with over 20 million of the U.S. workforce currently unemployed. Our hearts go out to each and every person who has lost their job as a result of Covid-19. However, the U.S. equities market is trading up today, so we ask ourselves, “what gives?” Perhaps the market is telling us the worst is behind us. We sure hope so, but we still believe there will be a tough road ahead as our governors and mayors slowly begin to re-open up the economy.
Interest rates remain pegged near zero on U.S. T-Bills and the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond has traded within a tight range over the last couple of weeks as volatility has subsided. However, mortgage rates have untethered from the U.S. Treasury rates as banks have raised interest rates and tightened guidelines, understandably. We expect mortgage rates to trade better if and when the U.S. economy can re-open without significant spikes in Covid-19 infections.
Commercial lending, including multi-family, so far has been hit the hardest due to so many tenants or renters unable to pay their rent. Despite this, we are starting to see some relief as lenders slowly re-enter the market. Expect several months of payment reserves as part of the loan request, also known as an interest reserve, and reduced loan-to-values and risk-based pricing.
On the residential lending front, there has been no better time in my career to be a mortgage broker. Insignia Mortgage’s many long-term relationships are paying off as we are customizing loans for our clients day in and day out. Our suite of lenders all have different risk appetites, so having optionality and pricing power with different lenders has resulted in our ability to place loans that other large money center banks have declined.
We continue to offer the loans for the following scenarios with very fair rates and terms:
- Interest-only purchase loans, refinances, and cash-out loans for primary residences, second homes, and investment properties.
- Non-occupant co-borrowers.
- Foreign national loans.
- Cross-collateralized loans and Asset consumption loans.
- 1031 exchanges and loan structure with LLC, LP, or corporation as borrowers.
Economic pain caused by Covid-19 deepened this week as the unemployment numbers hit 30 million people. Expect next week’s April jobs report to hit 20%. With consumer spending down, and so many people out of work, it was no surprise that Q1 2020 GDP contracted by – 4.80% and will likely be followed up by a much larger drop in Q2 2020. The Fed and the federal government are implementing a “by any means necessary” approach, which is echoed by the European and Japanese central banks and governments as well. These trends continue to backstop our economy. It’s hoped that the approach will boost economic recovery once the U.S. economy is turned on again, as well as support asset prices. We sure hope this is the case but are also aware that consumer and business behavior has changed due to the pandemic and the recovery could take much longer than anticipated.
Regarding housing and lending, Covid-19 hit the spring buying season hard. However, interest rates remain low and may drop further over time, enticing more buyers into the market. There are also signs that the non-QM market is slowly reviving, which is a positive sign, especially for cities such as Los Angeles which have many self-employed borrowers. Big banks continue to pull back from the marketplace. Our office has received an unprecedented number of requests for financing the past few weeks as borrowers look for alternative financing options. We are happy to report that for the most part, our partner lenders remain committed to pulling out all the stops to help borrowers refinance or purchase homes. In our opinion, there has never been a better time to be a broker with long-term lending relationships and that is proving to be a great benefit for our clients during this very difficult time.
The details of reopening our economy are still in flux. State governors are taking the lead and will coordinate their efforts for optimal results in that arena. Equity markets responded positively on Friday to some positive news from our biotech sector on cutting-edge coronavirus treatments. While we are a long way from a normally functioning economy, any and all positive news on how we can start to get back to work is welcomed. Expect April economic data to be horrific. The hope remains in a May re-opening of the economy safely and gradually. Look for a tick up in auto sales both new and used as a signal that we are returning to normalcy.
A national shutdown is a black swan event that is rarely accounted for in investment or lending assumptions. The pandemic has caused great suffering with unemployment expected to hit somewhere between 15% and 30% near-term, with a recovery thereafter. It is no easy task for lenders to navigate an environment where income is on hold, liquid reserves have been hit hard, and appraised values are expected to be lower, not higher in the foreseeable future. This is why lending rates are priced higher than what borrowers are expecting, which seems contradictory in this environment. The link between U.S. government and mortgage spreads has untethered as portfolio lenders (the only lenders in the jumbo mortgage space) demand a higher premium for elevated risk levels.
Portfolio banks are where deals can be done quickly and with certainty and this is where Insignia Mortgage shines. Our lending relationships for residential transactions are fully functional and while guidelines have been pulled back, you can expect reasonable purchase and refinance applications to close. Interest-only loans are still available as are cash-out up to 60% to 70% loan-to-value deals. We anticipate interest rates to gradually move lower as economic activity is ramped up along with the assumption that the virus curve declines as the economy opens.
COVID-19 continues to be the focus as the entire world fights this disease and many countries hit pause on their economies to help tame the spread of the virus.
The U.S. saw the highest weekly jobless claims on record on Thursday as well as a downright awful March employment report. While the numbers were horrible, it was not unexpected. As we have opined previously, economic data is meaningless when the economy is on hold. What is important is COVID-19 testing, infection rates, and government assistance programs. We need testing to determine who is sick or has built an immunity to the disease so they may stay isolated or go back to work, and we need assistance to keep businesses from laying off staff or closing down so that once the virus passes, the economic engine can begin to churn.
The state of the residential mortgage market has tightened, as expected. However, our suite of lenders are still active and are offering common-sense underwriting. Most lenders are now offering drive-by appraisals as a safety-first response to the virus. Mortgage rates have decoupled from U.S. Treasury rates as banks are pricing mortgages higher in response to the volume surge and uncertainty of the moment (same with the commercial market). Liquid reserves are key and are being weighed more heavily on jumbo mortgages than income analysis. Interest-only loans and cash-out refinances are still available but at reduced loan-to-values. Overall, our lenders want to continue to help clients through this difficult time with a slightly more cautious approach when underwriting larger loan requests.
Major fiscal and monetary stimulus out of the U.S. helped to thaw out the mortgage-backed security market which locked up last week in response to unprecedented volatility in global financial markets caused by Covid-19.
The Fed’s response was big and bold as was Congress’s and it helped to soothe the secondary mortgage and corporate bond markets. However, with a third of the U.S. not working, it is unclear how lenders will underwrite loans.
For the moment, Insignia’s lender partners are being quite flexible in structuring new loans, but this could change over time should U.S. workers be unable to return to work in a few weeks.
The non-QM mortgage banking sector of the market has been decimated. Those types of loans, which are riskier by nature, are on hold. We imagine that a fair number of lenders who offered these types of loans will go out of business or greatly scale back their loan products.
Thankfully, Insignia Mortgage has spent years building relationships with community banks and local credit unions. For the moment, these federally-regulated lenders are actively lending, albeit a bit more cautiously. Nonetheless, they remain active and willing to provide financing to our borrowers.
Currently, borrowers should understand that there’s a disconnect between U.S. Treasuries trade and mortgage rates at the moment. Lenders are trying to balance the increased risk associated with this pandemic against loan volume against a backdrop of a very difficult work environment. Don’t be surprised to receive rate quotes higher than what you would imagine given the low rates the U.S. government is borrowing at.