Market Commentary 07/12/2024

Jumbo Rates to Drop as Inflation Data Boosts Market Confidence

Thursday’s encouraging inflation data sent equity markets soaring, making future interest rate cuts almost certain by September and no later than November. For those in real estate and mortgage origination, the 4.65% to 4.45% drop in the 2-year Treasury is significant and should result in numerous banks lowering jumbo interest rates next week. Conforming and government loan products are also enjoying better pricing. The combination of reduced inflation, rising unemployment, and stalling consumer confidence, is helping to lower yields on the longer end of the yield curve.

While the CPI print was well-received by the markets, PPI (or wholesale inflation) surprised a bit to the upside, suggesting that inflation is not dead and could reaccelerate later in the year.  Of importance in the CPI reading was the attention paid to the owner’s equivalent rent, a lagging indicator and a main component of CPI. Although this reading came in soft, the indicator lags by 12-18 months, and there are many other signs that rents are starting to rise. Finally, huge deficits, geopolitical tensions, and massive spending all support the notion that inflation may not return to the 2% target. The United States and the free market economy have historically benefited from a complex and uncertain world, lowering bond yields.

Real estate experts are beginning to agree with an idea we shared a while back: if interest rates fall, inventory may rise. As a result, lower interest rates may lead to lower prices and increased activity as buyers have more property options, contrary to what we have all been taught. Since COVID-19, many economic principles have not made sense. Here are just a few thoughts:

• Higher rates for longer should have led to a lower stock market.

• Higher rates for longer should have led to lower housing prices.

• Commercial property defaults should have crippled regional banks by now.

• High Fed Funds should have seen inflation drop more than it has by now.

• An inverted yield curve is an ominous sign of recession.

None of this has happened. For housing, the longer people stay in their homes, the more inventory builds up. For those in real estate who can survive to 2025, there are signs that the overall residential market is getting much busier. This would be a welcome sign for us all.

Market Commentary 06/28/2024

Reduced Rates On The Horizon As Housing Data Drifts Lower

Economic Data and Mortgage Lending Trends

Employers and economists alike continue to be challenged by the mixed bag of data presented by the economic landscape. Although a key inflation indicator emerged lower than expected, supporting the Fed’s belief that inflation is cooling, other reports like home sales, personal spending, and jobless claims have disappointed. Additionally, corporate earnings showed weakness, most evidenced by Nike’s significant miss. On top of that, declining furniture purchases underscore the ongoing difficulties of homeownership. The adage “as goes housing, so goes the economy” seems more relevant than ever.

The Fed faces a tough balancing act given the cumulative rise in costs for food, insurance, healthcare, and energy. The most vulnerable populations are suffering the brunt of these inflationary pressures. Lowering rates could help consumers but may also risk reaccelerating inflation, further impacting marginalized groups.

In the mortgage lending space, opportunities remain limited due to slowing sales and reduced refinancing activity. In response, banks, credit unions, and debt funds are sharpening their pencils on interest rates, specifically on residential 1-4 unit properties. Notably, Insignia Mortgage has identified a local lender offering stated income-stated asset home equity lines of credit. This lender focuses on credit scores and home values, with a maximum loan amount of $500,000 and combined loans on the property not exceeding 60%. The rate is prime +0.5%, offering a quick way to pay down credit cards and other expensive debt.

Indicators for Mortgage Rate Trends

Monitoring oil prices and the 2- and 10-year Treasuries provides insights into mortgage rate trends. Oil prices and interest rates are closely correlated, moving in tandem. The 2-year Treasury is a good proxy for shorter-term jumbo ARM pricing, such as 5-year ARMs, while the 10-year Treasury serves as a proxy for jumbo 10-year ARMs. Recently, with the 10-year Treasury down about 35 basis points, many jumbo lenders have lowered rates on their 7- and 10-year ARM products by about 25 basis points, offering a reliable estimate of rate direction and potential decreases.

Market Commentary 06/21/2024

Housing Inventory Remains Tight As Mortgage Rates Drift Lower

Existing Home Sales: Trends and Insights

Existing home sales data has confirmed what industry insiders already knew: home inventory is extremely tight in many parts of the country. California is no exception. Home valuations continue to rise despite increased interest rates. There is growing optimism that interest rates have leveled off. Should rates drift lower, there’s a possibility for an increase in existing home inventory. Additional inventory could pressure sellers, but it would provide potential buyers more options across affordable, mid, and luxury home spaces up to $5M, significantly boosting activity.

The Rise of Non-QM Loans

Non-QM loans, typically offered by smaller banks, credit unions, and mortgage banks, provide more favorable guidelines, higher debt-to-income ratios, and interest-only products for borrowers who can’t qualify through traditional means. These “individual lending” loans do not rely on rigid guidelines. Instead, they focus on bank reserves, bank statement cash flow, foreign income, or rental income to qualify borrowers. Despite concerns about a repeat of 2008, these loans go through robust underwriting and require significant borrower investment, contributing to their strong performance since their introduction about a decade ago. Insignia Mortgage has identified non-QM lenders that are now comfortable with larger loan sizes up to $10M. 

Economic Outlook and Mortgage Rates

The economy presents a mixture of good and bad data. Technological advancements have created efficiencies, which some forecasters believe will lead to lower rates. However, input costs, commodity costs, and service costs remain high, hurting small business owners. Government debt remains a worry and needs to be monitored as the deficit continues to balloon. However, recent Fed comments have given the all-clear for banks to gradually lower rates. A+ borrowers will start seeing offers under 6%, and non-QM borrowers will find rates in the high 6’s to low 7’s, benefiting the existing home sales market.

Indicators for Mortgage Rate Trends

Monitoring oil prices and the 2- and 10-year Treasuries provides insights into mortgage rate trends. Oil prices and interest rates are closely correlated, moving symbiotically. The 2-year Treasury is a good proxy for shorter-term jumbo ARM pricing, such as 5-year ARMs, while the 10-year Treasury serves as a proxy for jumbo 10-year ARMs. For instance, with the 10-year Treasury down about 35 basis points recently, many jumbo lenders have lowered rates on their 7- and 10-year ARM products by about 25 basis points, offering a reliable estimate of rate direction and potential decreases.

Market Commentary 06/07/2024

Stronger Than Expected May Jobs Data Pressures Bonds

We were initially encouraged by the JOLTS report which showed signs of a cooling economy as interest rates trended lower, earlier this week. However, Friday’s much better-than-expected May jobs report exceeded expectations for job creation and wage growth, reversing this trend. As a result, interest rates surged, and the likelihood of a Fed rate cut has been pushed to September. Those hoping for rate cuts are focusing on the rise in the unemployment rate to 4% as a sign of a subtly eroding economy.

While there are early signs of consumer stress, such as rising credit card balances and commercial real estate defaults, it is difficult to justify a near-term rate cut after today’s employment report. Cumulative inflation has been a significant drag on our most vulnerable citizens. However, the consumer remains in good shape overall. The stock market is at record highs, with a resurgence of FOMO, reminiscent of the Gamestock mania. We will listen closely to Chairman Powell’s insights on the economy and the direction of rates. The anticipated pain that Powell suggested would be needed to bring inflation down never fully materialized. With the upper 30% of the US population enjoying strong home price appreciation, stock market wealth, and rising wages, the loosening of financial conditions may stoke further inflation.

Trending In Real Estate Finance

Smaller banks and creative lenders are making exceptions on home loans that make sense. We are seeing some banks begin to waive income requirements for very liquid borrowers, increase debt-to-income ratio limits to 60% for the right profiles, and accept a credit blemish or two with a good explanation. Given the slowing existing home sale market, lenders who can lend are doing what they can to approve loans. This is significantly helping good borrowers secure home loans that they would have easily qualified for just a few years ago. Notably, interest rates remain range-bound, and lenders remain eager for business, with our best-priced lenders offering rates under 6% for well-heeled applicants.

Market Commentary 05/31/2024

Rates Drift Lower As Inflation Data Matches Expectations

Despite a bumpy mid-week for bond yields, interest rates recovered following reports of slowing GDP and an as-expected PCE inflation reading. Additionally, a lackluster mid-week Treasury auction rattled the bond market, casting uncertainty amid ongoing US debt issuance. As discussed in previous analyses, a 10-year Treasury yield hovering around 4.50% appears justified with the current state of the job market, economy, and inflation. While the PCE number came in as expected, the real issue is inflation is not pushing lower and appears stagnant. 

High prices and interest rates have challenged housing affordability, resulting in declining home sales. Nonetheless, the recent surge in equities, particularly in the technology and AI sectors, has exceeded many market forecasts. This surge has notably impacted homebuyers in the $1.5M to $20M price range.

The unexpected rise in equities has contributed to a loosening of financial conditions, complicating the Fed’s stance on interest rate cuts. With the wealthiest 20% experiencing significant asset appreciation, including home and equity values, and high interest rates on their savings, the overall economic outlook remains positive. The consensus now points to one rate cut for 2024, a shift from earlier projections of up to seven cuts at the start of the year. In order to facilitate lower rates, one would need to see a worse-than-expected jobs report or some other major black swan. For now, the higher for longer projection remains intact.

Market Commentary 05/17/2024

Balancing Act: Bonds Rally Amid Mixed Inflation Signals

It was another positive week for bonds as CPI data turned out to be cooler than expected. Inflation concerns eased with a slight dip in mortgage rates by about a quarter point on many products.

However, it’s premature to celebrate just yet, as PPI, or wholesale inflation, turned out hotter than forecast. While companies will always try to pass on input costs, sustained inflation makes transferring these higher prices to the end consumer increasingly challenging. Although a milder CPI print is encouraging, we anticipate the Fed may lower interest rates only once this year, especially given the recent Fed communications suggesting the unlikelihood of a July rate cut.

Despite unemployment being below 4%, a soaring stock market, and consumers still in relatively good shape, the Fed seems inclined towards a “higher for longer” approach with interest rates. There’s a concern that lowering interest rates may fuel animal spirits and exacerbate inflation. Notably, the resurgence of “Roaring Kitty” this week sparked a surge in option trading on some Meme stocks, indicating a shift away from restrictive financial conditions.

Nevertheless, there’s a strong desire to reduce interest rates. If unemployment softens and the unemployment rate hovers around the 4.5% range, then the probability of lowered rates becomes more likely. Lower interest rates would greatly benefit the US Government amidst record deficit spending and the need to fund these deficits with bond issuance.

Market Commentary 5/3/2024

Fed Believes Inflation Will Decline Without Further Rate Hikes 

Markets found solace as the Fed committed to returning inflation to 2% without the need for further interest rate hikes. The April Jobs Report was disappointing while jobs growth came in lower than expected, pushing yields on Treasuries and mortgage-related products lower. April non-farm unemployment clocked in at 3.9% up a tick and hourly wage growth cooled, a data point that must stabilize for the Fed to begin lowering rates.  

The economy’s trajectory remains uncertain, compounded by the unprecedented government spending in response to Covid. The influx of funds continues to impact the economy in unforeseen ways, challenging traditional economic models’ predictive accuracy. 

Overall, the economy remains a mixed bag and is a fool’s errand predicting where interest rates and the financial system are headed.  Even the Fed, with a world of data and Ph.D.’s, has been wrong during the last few years. With trillions of dollars moving through our economy, many economic models were not designed to interpret this type of spending with accuracy.     

Keep an eye on the Treasury issuance as the Government has increased the money it will need to borrow for Government funding.  This may put a floor on interest rates overall.  However, for the moment a 10-year Treasury of around 4.50% feels about right given the uncertainty in the world. 

Market Commentary 04/26/2024

Equity Markets Bounce Back As Inflation Firms

The near-term trajectory of interest rates became increasingly ambiguous this week. GDP growth rates slowed more than forecasted while inflation firmed up, indicating a prolonged path to reach the 2% inflation target. The ten-year Treasury yield remains steady above 4.500%, with expectations of staying within a range of 4.500% to 5.00% in the near term. Additionally the upward trend of core PCE, the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, further dampened prospects for a near-term rate reduction. Speculation suggests the first rate cut may not occur until December 2024. Chair Powell is likely to adopt a more hawkish stance given the rise in inflation, consumer spending, and the overall resilient economy.

While the economy appears robust and recession concerns have eased, underlying issues remain. Credit card debt has increased, accompanied by a rise in late payments. This is a strong indication that the surge in living costs is becoming increasingly burdensome, particularly with credit card rates exceeding 20%. Commercial real estate, especially office and some multi-family projects is under considerable stress. With interest rates on the rise, more defaults will be coming. With mortgage rates for conforming loans reaching the high 6’s to mid-7’s and high-quality jumbo loans hovering around the 6’s, there’s apprehension about a potential slowdown in the home purchase market, particularly in existing home sales. Despite this, the new home market continues to attract strong interest driven by home builders, incentives, and access to inventory.

Navigating the real estate and lending landscape in today’s environment poses significant challenges. Banks facing capital constraints and market volatility affect lenders’ ability to lower interest rates in a dynamic landscape. Constantly surveying the marketplace has become a daily practice for our team, enabling our boutique brokerage to secure deals effectively. Understanding the nuances of the market is paramount, given the notable variance in rates—sometimes up to 1/4% – 1/2% —among lenders offering similar products. This underscores the importance of being a broker and having access to a diverse range of products, from private banking and niche portfolio loans to government and conforming loans.

Market Commentary 3/15/2024

Hot Inflation Data Takes The Shine Out of Bonds

Hotter-than-expected CPI and PPI data caused bond traders to adjust their expectations on Fed rate cuts, causing a decline in US Treasuries. Despite a decent jobs report indicating continued hiring, many Americans are taking on multiple jobs to cope with rising costs. For example, everyday goods are significantly more expensive than pre-Covid times. On top of that, job creation has been predominantly driven by necessity rather than productivity-enhancing employment.

Nevertheless, the economy displays resilience amidst many negative factors, including credit card and auto-loan defaults, geopolitical tensions, and oil prices hovering around $80 per barrel. Speculative investments in AI, daily options, and crypto remain robust. Such data suggests that financial conditions may not be as tight as anticipated, potentially leading to Fed rate cut disappointments. Although rate cuts would be welcomed, market dynamics currently support a narrative of 1-3 cuts rather than the 6 cuts expected at the beginning of the year. We should gain more clarity on the path of interest rates next week when the Japanese and US Central Banks meet. Japan is expected to move away from negative interest rate policies. 

Despite the rise in Treasuries, mortgage rates remain relatively stable. Banks and financial firms continue to maintain razor-thin margins in an increasingly competitive market. With refinance activity at a 20-year low, success in today’s mortgage market hinges on strong relationships with realtors and financial planners.

Although many homeowners benefit from low-rate mortgages, other expenses such as credit card interest, insurance, margin debt, and household costs continue to rise. The prolonged period of low interest rates has led to an accumulation of homes, with homeowners staying put longer than historical norms. However, signs suggest this trend may be shifting. According to Zillow in February, homeowners in some regions are increasingly likely to list their properties for sale. 

Regarding the recent NAR settlement and its potential impact on commissions, no lenders have yet offered financing options for buyers. This significant ruling is expected to reshape buyer-seller interactions in real estate transactions, and we will continue to monitor and provide updates as necessary.

Market Commentary 03/01/2024

How Non-Traditional Mortgages Are Benefiting From Animal Spirits

Speculation and momentum are driving many public markets, from cryptocurrencies and zero-day options to companies at the forefront of AI. Even non-fungible tokens are seeing renewed interest. Investors seem willing to take on more risk for less reward, as evidenced by compressed bond and equity spreads. Expectations of higher interest rates persist, yet animal spirits remain strong, suggesting that financial conditions may not be as tight as feared. The outlook for rate cuts has diminished. Renewed discussion by economists indicates the possibility of only one expected cut (the consensus of 3 cuts remains).

Interestingly, in the residential mortgage market, non-traditional lenders are competitively pricing single-family, mortgages. Borrowers with some income documentation, good credit, and a larger down payment, may secure mortgages at rates in the mid-6s. This represents a significant improvement from just a few months ago, particularly for non-QM products catering to less traditional borrowers. Also, these lenders continue to raise jumbo loan limits. These products, only slightly higher in interest rate than traditional loans, support real estate and mortgage brokers in their accessibility. 

A recent bullish publication featured balloons floating into the sky, which may indicate a sign of market exuberance. Front-page stories often precede market peaks, and while we say this half-heartedly, it’s worth noting. Despite potential headwinds such as geopolitical tensions, higher oil prices, and persistent inflation, the market seems to be discounting them for now. If sentiment turns, bonds could rally. This would push mortgage yields lower right in time for the spring buying season.