Stocks surged mid-week in response to some positive news regarding the news that the U.S. and China may be returning to the negotiating table on trade talks. Also, the U.S. economy, while slowing, appears to be in pretty good shape for the moment. The August jobs report was lower than expected but had no real effect on stocks and bonds. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.70%, and while the report suggests the economy is slowing, there were no real surprises within the report.
However, multiple mixed signals regarding recession persist. It is hard to reconcile the various reports as there many cross-currents on the direction of both the economy. Interest rates and bond yields are flashing different signals. Recently published manufacturing data in the U.S. is worrisome and support the need for lower rates to boost growth, but better than expected economic data out of China suggest otherwise. An inverted yield curve in the U.S. (indicating a potential recession) support the argument that U.S. interest rate policy may be too tight, but low inflation and low unemployment suggest that interest rate policy may be near neutral and on target. Strong consumer spending and high levels of small business optimism argue strongly against the recession outcome, while a global slowdown and negative yields in Europe and Japan are an ominous signal of a recession or worse in the coming 24 months.
What has been great for many homeowners or those buyers sitting on the sidelines is that low-interest rates are either lowering monthly expenses or helping new home buyers qualify for a bigger mortgage or a better quality home. We continue to be in the rate-lock camp and continue to advise clients to take advantage of the 10-year Treasury note at ~1.500% which has pushed loan rates way down.
Some positive headlines on trade negotiations as well as good consumer readings, modest corporate profits, and low inflation data helped stabilize the equity market this week. Bond yields seem to have hit a floor with the 10-year U.S. Treasury touching a low of 1.47% before settling at 1.50%. While the yield curve remains inverted and should be closely watched as it has historically foretold past recessions, fears of recession quieted this week as the markets stabilized after last Friday’s ugly trading day. However, there remain many potential landmines in the coming weeks that could turn markets for the worst beginning with an increase in tariffs on Chinese goods September 1st, a highly anticipated Fed meeting, and a no-deal Brexit at the end of October. With negative rates in Europe and Japan, U.S. mortgage rates will only move so high, which should keep investors analyzing riskier asset classes such as equities and real estate for yield.
What is not making headlines is the fact that lenders are so busy that in order to slow the flow of business rates are being increased. This disconnect is creating opportunities for some smaller lenders to compete with larger money center banks on deals that they would usually not be able to compete on. Our office continues to see increased volume from our clients who are both buying new real estate and refinancing currently owned properties with favorable terms.
As we mentioned last week, our stance is to lock-in interest rates at these attractive levels, especially with the added knowledge that lenders are filling up to the point where rates may have to rise lender by lender to slow down the volume. This does not mean rates couldn’t go lower, but with the 10-year at ~1.500%, there is no shame in locking in loans at these low levels.
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.
In a volatile week on Wall Street, bonds have traded well with the 10-year Treasury note touching 2.350% for the week. Market strategists have had to react to both tough trade talk on China by the Trump administration, as well as elevated tensions with Iran in the Middle East in directing trades this week. Traders flight to quality investments benefited high-quality bond yields such as government-guaranteed and A-paper mortgage debt with yields moving slightly lower but within a tight band.
Back home, the U.S. economy is humming, job growth is robust, and inflation is tame as evidenced by GDP expanding at a 3.2% annual pace in the first quarter. Unemployment touched a 50-year low and year-over-year CPI is running at 1.9%. This begs the question “why are rates so low?” The answer probably lies in long-term economic growth forecasts as well as fears of a looming recession given the potential for an elongated trade negotiation with China and anemic economic growth out of Europe and Japan. Continue to keep an eye on the 2-10 Treasury spread as signs of looming trouble ahead. For the moment, the spread is around 19 basis points and rebounding from the 9 basis point spread just a short while ago. Treasury inversions are one of the most reliable indicators of a recession and need to be taken seriously when they occur.
Home sales have rebounded due to both the time of year as spring is an important home buying season enhanced by the low-interest rate environment. Our feeling remains that the economy is strong and rates should be higher. However, we have no magic ball and so for the moment, we continue to advise clients to lock-in interest rates at these highly attractive 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.
The highly watched Monthly Jobs Report put to rest concerns about a slowing economy as the report beat estimates with 196,000 jobs created versus 177,000 expected.
This data should put to rest for now fears on a looming recession and thus help boost stocks and slightly lower bond yields. Unemployment remained at a multi-decade low of 3.80% and hourly earnings rose to 3.20% year over year from February (which is bond-friendly as wage inflation remains tame). The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) remained unchanged at 63.20%.
In other good news, the yield curve steepened. The potential flattening of the curve was a major concern just a few weeks ago, as that would be a sign of impending recession. However, a positive sloping yield curve is an indicator of a healthy outlook for the economy. Also, China and U.S. trade talks appear to be going well for the moment which has also helped stocks move higher. However, concerns remain as global economic growth has slowed in Europe, China, and Japan as central bankers continue to provide massive stimuli to their respective economies to spur growth. Finally, a Brexit deadline is looming in what is turning out to be a very complicated matter. So far, the markets have not been spooked by a no-deal Brexit, but that could change as the deadline approaches.
Here in the U.S., low rates have spurred home buying and refinances. We recommend taking advantage of the low interest environment because if the U.S. economy continues to surge, the Fed rate hike conversation will be back on the table. With this thought in mind, we remain biased toward locking-in interest rates at these very attractive levels, especially with the strong jobs report confirming no recession and the positive chatter regarding U.S. and China relations coming out of Washington.