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.
Jobs, jobs, jobs, and more jobs! The November jobs report crushed expectations Friday morning, with job creation growing at the fastest clip in 10 months. The jobs report reinforces the thesis that the U.S. economy is on good footing, the U.S. consumer remains bullish, and that the recession fears have abated. The report followed other positive reports earlier in the week on housing, big-ticket purchases, and trade.
On the jobs front, the employment rate dropped to 3.500% with the addition of 266,000 new jobs blowing past the estimate of 182,000 new jobs. The U-6 reading, or total unemployed, fell to 6.90% from a reading last year of 7.6%. Wage growth grew year over year above inflation.
This combination of low rates, a strong consumer, and a strong workforce has created a “Goldilocks” environment. These numbers will keep the economy chugging ahead and work as a tailwind for the housing market heading into next year. As we have opined previously, interest rates remain attractive which provides more buying power for potential borrowers. For refinances, reduced mortgage payments free up money for other purchases. Our position on interest rates at these levels is to grab ’em while they are hot!
U.S. economic growth remains solid and better than many economists thought was possible just a few years ago, though it’s still below the White House’s goal of 4% growth. However, our strong U.S. economy is halting the move to lower yields as all eyes are fixed on the action-packed economic calendar next week which includes the Core PCE reading, the Fed meeting, and the July jobs report.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2019 rose 2.1%, down from 3.1% in Q1 though a surge in consumer and business spending. This pushed the personal consumption expenditures index higher by 4.5%, the best since Q4 2017. Recent tariffs and a global economic slowdown stunted growth somewhat in Q2 though a GDP with a 2% handle is still solid.
2nd quarter earnings proved better than expected as stocks continue to trade well on the good earnings coming out of some of the world’s biggest companies. Interest rates remain low and consumer and business confidence remains high. With the Fed set to lower the short-term lending rates between .25% and .5%, fears of recession have been taken off the table for the time being.
With a resilient U.S. economy and the unemployment rate under 4%, we continue to appreciate long-term interest rates around 2%, but also watchful of a move higher in interest rates here in the U.S. if inflation ticks up. However, one could argue that the U.S. economy does not need lower rates given the ongoing positive economic trends. Only time will tell if gloomier days are on the horizon given the slowdowns of the other major world economies.
It’s hard to time the bottom of the market, but with rates this good, we are biased towards locking.
The prospect of lower rates has propelled the purchase of riskier asset classes such as equities. U.S. equities hit all times highs this week with the S&P index surpassing the 3,000 mark.
Fed Chairman Powell spoke Wednesday and Thursday with Congress and all but assured the markets that there will be a .25% point decrease in the Fed Funds rate later in the month. Market forecasters have already baked this rate increase into their investment strategies, but Chairman Powell used the visit to drive home the point.
Even with the prospect of lower short term rates, longer-dated Treasury bonds have moved higher with the all-important 10-year Treasury yield rising from below 2.00% to over 2.10% this past week. This steeping of the yield curve is a good sign and has put to the side recession concerns for the moment. An increase in the CPI reading this week also put pressure on bond yields. So long as the inflation readings do not get too hot, a little inflation is another positive indicator of a good economy.
Economic readings remain a mixed bag of good and bad. Consumer confidence remains high, and unemployment remains at historic lows. Both are positives. However, some key manufacturing and other producer related reading are starting to show signs of a slowdown. Also weighing on the direction or long term growth are the ongoing trade negotiations with China and their uncertain outcome.
With respect to the mortgage market, rates continue to remain at very attractive levels and are spurring purchases and refinances in both the residential and commercial marketplace. We continue to be biased toward locking-in loans at these levels as bank profitability remains under pressure due to the flattened yield curve. However, we do believe interest rates will remain low and do not foresee a big move up in rates in the near future.
In what has become a tale of two different forecasts on the state of the U.S. economy, bond yields continue to test multi-year lows as stocks continue to climb the wall of worry. With all eyes on the G-20 summit and if a trade deal or path to a trade deal can be worked out, interest rates are stuck and equities grind higher. The outcome of this summit has the potential to move bond and equity markets in a big way, as well as the structure of our global economy. Also of concern is the slowing of corporate earnings, the decline in manufacturing data, and the move lower in consumer and business confidence (although readings still are high but off of higher levels).
Lack of inflation, as indicated by the Fed’s favorite inflation reading, the May core PCE reading, was unchanged at 1.60%. Low inflation serves as a benefit to bond yields and is yet another reason the Fed may bring down short-term lending rates at their next meeting. However, it is important to note that future price reductions in short-term lending facilities have already been priced in by “Mr. Market.” With the middle of the yield curve beginning to steepen from recent levels (although parts of the curve still remain inverted and should serve as a warning sign of heightened recession risk), absent a very big unforeseen negative event such as major bank default or big slowdown in economic activity, interest rates may be near the bottom in the U.S and both individuals and corporations are taking advantage of these lower rates via the surge in loan application and corporate bond deals.
The savings in monthly mortgage payments is a positive sign for consumer spending as those savings can be used to buy other goods and services. Lower rates also make home buying more affordable assuming it is not offset by a price increase. Considering the health of the U.S. economy in relation to the plunge in bond yields, we continue to be biased toward locking-in interest rates at these extremely accommodative levels.
A better than expected April jobs report is further evidence of the “Goldilocks scenario” that our economy continues to flourish in – albeit one that complexes many financial experts. With no near-term threat of inflation as well as improving data on productivity and manufacturing, the U.S. is experiencing the greatest recovery in many of our lifetimes. Today’s job report supported the current administration’s belief that the combination of lowered taxes and less restrictive regulation would stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit of American business owners. It is hard to argue against this position at the moment.
There were 263,000 jobs created in April, well above estimates of 180,000 to 200,000. The unemployment rate fell to an almost 50-year low at 3.60% (WOW!). With wage inflation coming in lower than expected, bonds reacted favorably to this report and stocks surged.
Setting aside the myriad of potential issues impacting the market, which include Brexit, the 2020 election, and China-US trade tension, the talk for the moment is the near-perfect market conditions of the U.S. is economy right now. As a rising stock market is a strong vote of confidence for U.S. consumption, we are seeing an increase in home buying activity as well as other financing activity. With rates still not too far off historical lows, it should be a good home buying season.
With the 10-year Treasury range-bound, we are biased toward locking in rates given the positive economic reporting and comments from the Fed this week about their concerns that inflation may be transitory.
A strong GDP reading of 3.2% for the first quarter of 2019 has allayed concerns about a slowing U.S. economy. This result was well above the expected reading of 2.8%. Report highlights include a decline in inflation, which pushed bond yields lower, as well as strong economic data and retail sales. One point of caution within the report regarded built-up inventories. This first quarter build-up may be followed by a decrease later in the year, possibly creating a drag on later GDP readings.
In further good news this week, housing has picked up. This was expected given the time of year and the nice drop in interest rates.
With continued good news on the U.S. economy, important inflations readings next week, and the 10-year Treasury note trading at around 2.500%, we remain biased toward locking-in rates at these levels. However, we do acknowledge that there are many geopolitical and economic issues around the world that could push yields lower in the coming months.
The U.S. economy continues to chug along, at least that’s the consensus for the moment. With consumer and business sentiment still going strong, along with a recent surge in retail sales, low inflation and near full employment, the overall picture of the economy is good.
The Fed hitting the pause button earlier this year on raising rates and running off the balance sheet has certainly helped investor confidence as evidenced by the rise in equities. In addition, mortgage applications amongst other finance activities have improved due to the pause in short term rate increases by the Fed. Finally, the steeping of the yield curve has put to rest rumors of recession talk as several top bank economists see no signs of a recession, near-term.
For the moment, we are in a “Goldilocks Environment” with an economy that is neither running too hot nor too cold. As a result, the spring home buying season should be a good one.
Even as other parts of the world are experiencing a slow-down, it is hard to bet against the U.S. and all of the opportunity that this country has to offer its citizens. However, risks remain in Europe, and in our negotiations with China and North Korea, as well as the massive government debt burdens. These economic and geopolitical risks are capping our rates back home as the German 10-year Bund is trading in negative territory juxtaposed to US Treasuries which are trading above 2.50%.
Given the drift up in the 10-year U.S. Treasury from around 2.39% to 2.54%, we believe rates are range-bound. We can see rates continue to drift higher if the U.S. economy continues to stay strong and stocks continue to rise.
Declining mortgage rates have spurred refinance activity, as well as increased the probability of a strong spring home buying season. With inflation in check and the Fed on pause, interest rates should remain attractive for the foreseeable future. However be on the alert as rates may have bottomed and hit resistance in moving lower after rallying greatly since the beginning of the year.
Fears of global economic activity slowing continue to weigh on bonds. The recent drop in rates has pushed several wealthy nations debt to trade at zero % or below. In the U.S., the 10-year Treasury bond briefly dropped below 2.4% this week and the 3 month to 10-year Treasury yields inverted, a potential ominous signal of a looming recession should the inversion hold. An inverting yield curve has predicted most recessions and the inversion is the result of fears of economic growth globally as well as a lack of inflation. These fears will keep investors on their toes and may create a more volatile rate environment in the coming months.
Given that we believe most of the concerns we’ve mentioned are priced in, we are biased toward locking in rates at these very attractive levels. Any unexpected good news could move rates up higher quickly.
The highly anticipated Fed meeting this past Wednesday did not disappoint. The Fed went “max dovish” in their policy statement by stating no more rate hikes for 2019 and possibly only one rate hike in 2020. Many market watchers actually believe the next Fed move in interest rate policy will be lower, a far cry from just this past December where the Fed believed that two more rate hikes were likely for 2019. Less understood but equally important was the Fed’s timeline on the end of the balance sheet run-off, which will be ending later in the year.
Bonds responded as expected as both government and mortgage bond yields fell precipitously. Stocks responded with caution, falling Wednesday, rallying Thursday, and as of the time of this post, falling hard on Friday.
What’s next? The big question being asked is what does the Fed see that others don’t with such a quick shift in policy. Low rates will help borrowers buy new homes, cars, refinance debt, and also aid corporations, but the return of low rates due to the fear of either a brewing U.S. recession or quickly slowing European, Japanese, and the Chinese economies is quite worrisome. Longer-dated German bunds have gone negative for the first time in quite a while, and our own 10-year U.S. Treasury bond is trading at 2.45%, well below the 3.25% seen just a couple of months ago.
For those who qualify, low rates are another bite at the apple, which will help boost the spring buying season, as well as spur refinances, which will result in more savings or more disposable cash flow to buy other items, so in that sense we are grateful to the Fed.
Should the U.S. avoid recession (keep an eye on the flattening yield curve), rates at today’s levels are very attractive, but should the U.S. slip into a recession, expect rates to fall lower. At the moment, we are in a wait-and-see mode on rate direction and would not be surprised if rates were headed lower.