09_17_2021_blog

Market Commentary 9/17/21

Bond yields are under some pressure this week as the equities markets trade with renewed volatility and investors become more cautious. We also saw a mixed bag of economic reporting with some manufacturing data and retail sales coming in better than expected. Inflation remains a global concern and while the Fed remains in the transitory camp. For the moment, there is no denying that the cost of living has increased. Landlords are raising rents, costs of goods and services have surged, and while income has risen it is not keeping up with inflation for the average wage earner. The 10-year Treasury breached its 200-day moving average for the first time in many months. Fears of inflation and of the even more worrisome stagflation (slowing growth and high employment) are the topic of anxious conversation. Compounding matters are the 4 million people who have decided to leave the workforce permanently due to the Covid epidemic while help wanted signs are omnipresent and companies struggle to fill positions.

The markets are also digesting the administration’s new tax proposal which is focused on increasing tax rates on those who earn over $400,000. This new proposal will also increase tax on capital gains and place limits on how retirement savings, affecting primarily upper-income workers. Overall, I believe this plan is a negative for the equity and real estate markets as higher taxes mean less available funds would be freed up for investing in stocks and buying real estate. The impact will be felt especially in very expensive coastal cities.  

On the housing front, San Francisco and other California cities are experiencing a surge in homes for sale. High home prices and high demand are encouraging sellers to list properties, a boon for prospective buyers. We will see if it continues. If yields move up, more supply will be needed to cool off buying frenzies. Tight home supply remains a major issue as the Covid pandemic has triggered supply chain issues and delays in home construction.   

The market could be impacted by a recent development we noticed in the margins. A large Chinese development firm, Evergrande, has defaulted on billions of dollars of debt. While this will have little effect in the U.S., it could ripple out to multi-national banks that lent billions Evergrande. It is also a reminder of the consequences of what may happen when companies lever up to unreasonable levels and banks permit this to generate fees. Whether this is the first of many overleveraged Chinese developers to default is yet to be seen, but this story reminds me of what happened in the U.S. with Lehman Brothers, which started off as an isolated incident and quickly devolved into the Great Financial Crisis of our time.  

05_21_2021_blog

Market Commentary 5/21/21

Mortgage Rates Hold Up As Economic Recovery Continues

In another volatile week on Wall Street, cryptocurrencies crashed as much as 40% in one day before rebounding although Bitcoin remains down significantly from highs reached just a few weeks ago. Existing home sales slipped as home prices across the country hit all-time highs. Affordability will become an issue if home prices continue to surge. Inflation data is concerning but for the moment the bond market is in agreement with the Fed that inflation is more transitory in nature and will settle back down as the year progresses and the U.S. economy normalizes. However, if month-over-month inflation readings push higher, interest rates will spike quickly and the Fed will be forced to act. For now, the combination of ultra-low interest rates and global money printing is the tonic pushing some sectors of equities, real estate, and alternative assets to nosebleed levels. In my primary field of expertise, residential real estate lending, bidding wars on properties are stretching out prices even beyond what the property appraisals. While this is not common, it is happening frequently enough right now to warrant comment. Leverage levels in the equity markets are also very high. Caution is advisable in this environment.

However, banks and mortgage banks are pushing product like I have not seen in many years. While underwriting has loosened up, lenders are still doing proper due diligence and demanding a fair amount of borrower’s “skin in the game” which is keeping prices from being even higher. Many of our borrowers are highly qualified and the combination of low rates and a strong financial statement opens the door to incredibly low rates. Since interest rates are so low, prospective buyers of new homes are justifying the higher price against ultra-low monthly payments and jumping into the market. With supply so tight, buyers must act quickly or miss out on the property.  

Looking ahead to next week, we have core inflation data, housing data, and personal spending data. All the important reports have given the markets’ jitters on inflation. 

05_14_2021_blog

Market Commentary 5/14/21

Mortgage Rates Still Attractive Even With Blow Out CPI Data

This was a wild week for market participants. Inflation readings were hotter than expected but really not a surprise given the massive amount of liquidity sloshing around and the economy experiencing growing pains as the U.S. reopens. Retail sales were strong, but not the blowout number many thought we would see. Perhaps this is a sign that consumer spending will slow in the coming years, which would help rein in inflation on product goods. The argument for goods inflation being transitory is that you can only buy so many new appliances, or upgrade your home throughout the year. Demand has been pushed forward due to the pandemic but now that households are stocked up on goods (think new Apple computer or a dishwasher), there will be some period of time before consumers need to replenish big-ticket items. However, costs to operate a business are up, as are prices for food and gas. Core material prices such as copper and lumber have risen hurting lower-income earners the most. 

At the same time, wage inflation is also picking up, which is something the Fed policymakers want to see. It is unclear why there are so many job openings. Some reasons for people not taking better-paying jobs, especially on the lower end, could include stimulus payments that equal lower-end wages, child care challenges, and of course, the fear of taking on a risky more public-facing job while Covid remains a risk. The result of all of this is mass job openings for restaurant workers, retail sales, trucking, etc. Many employers are offering cash bonuses in efforts to hire. Margins are being squeezed which is forcing businesses to not only raise pay but also prices.

With all of the volatility in the marketplace this week, the 10-year Treasury bond has only moved up slightly. For the moment, bond traders are following the Fed’s expectation that inflation is transitory. One hot CPI report does not make a trend, but watch out below should the next few CPI reports confirm an uptrend in inflation. It remains to be seen if the Fed can have it both ways and can keep inflation on goods and services from running too hot while pushing up wage inflation. This is no small task and I have my doubts that it will happen. 

Now is the time to take advantage of very attractive rates on mortgages. At some point as the pandemic fades into the rearview mirror, the Fed will need to adjust its ultra-monetary policy and interest rates will rise. The good news is that lenders are very hungry for business, and harder to place loan scenarios that have many options with fair to attractive rates and terms. In a world starved for yields, mortgages have been a great source of income for banks, insurance companies, and the government.

May-3-blog

Market Commentary 5/3/19

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.

Apr-5-blog

Market Commentary 4/5/19

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.

Mar-28-blog

Market Commentary 3/29/19

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.

Mar-15-blog

Market Commentary 3/15/19

Easing global monetary policy continues to provide the tailwinds pushing mortgage rates lower and equity prices higher. Recent confirmation from the February PPI and CPI also confirmed that inflation remains in check. As stocks have gained back most of the losses from late last year, risk is back in vogue. 

Reduced mortgage rates have arrived just in time to boost what has been a slowing new market for the new and resale housing market. Recent stories on the glut of high-end homes (those over $10 million) have brought back the conversation as to whether and when housing will reset much lower. Our view is that a glut is unlikely given the strict underwriting guidelines that banks continue to follow. If anything, the return of low-interest rates may ignite a better than expected spring buying season in housing.

However, fears remain in the highly leveraged first world economies, especially in the corporate and government debt markets.  As previously mentioned, QE has created absurdly low rates around the world and true price discovery is difficult to attain.  Geopolitical events such as China trade talks, Brexit, and Italian debt levels are also worrisome, as well as the slowing of the global economy.  Low rates work as a tonic in addressing these issues and central banks realize that.

With the 10-year Treasury dipping below 2.600%, locking is not a bad idea.  However, given where European and Japanese bonds are trading, rates in the U.S. may go lower.  Be careful what your wish for, as lower rates may mean trouble ahead.  For now, all looks to be OK and borrower appear to be taking advantage of renewed low rates for both purchases and refinance. We continue to be cautious and are biased on locking-in interest rates at these levels.

Mar-08-blog

Market Commentary 3/8/19

The highly watched monthly non-farms payroll report was a bit of shocker at first blush with only 20k new jobs created in February versus economists’ estimates of 180k jobs.  However, other details within the jobs report were positive with the unemployment rate dropping to 3.8% and a decline in the U-6 number (total unemployed) falling to 7.3% from 8.1%, which was the largest decline ever.  The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) remained unchanged at 63.2%.  We will await revisions on this month’s report to see if the new jobs created are revised higher. Our hunch is that there were more jobs created then stated in this report as evidenced by the bond market’s muted reaction to the report.  Stocks initially sold off but recovered most of the losses by day’s end. 

Other big news this week was concerns over Europe and China’s slowing economy and the ECB reinstating stimulus. We are concerned about how long the U.S. can expand its economy in the face of global economic deceleration. Global bond yields have fallen again, and the Fed has also stalled on normalizing monetary policy which has capped interest rates globally for the moment.  The fear is that with rates already so low (many bonds yield negative rates in Europe and Japan), central bankers have limited tools to in their toolkit to deploy should the world economy slow further.  Keep an eye on the flattening yield curve in the U.S., especially the short-term treasury bills to 10-year Treasury spread.  While a flattening yield curve does not mean a recession is near, an inversion of the yield curve is an ominous sign and has often properly predicted a recession. 

Not all of this gloom and doom is bad for the consumer, as low-interest rates have spurred home refinances and purchases of both commercial and residential real estate.  With home prices dipping a bit, it appears as if sales are starting to pick up into the spring buying season. 

Given that the 10-year Treasury yield is below 2.62%, we remain biased toward locking-in interest rates, especially on purchase transactions. 

MAR-1-blog

Market Commentary 3/1/19

The U.S. economy grew at the best clip in almost a decade even in the face of a slowing global economy, China-US trade tensions, and political uncertainty in Europe.  The strong job market and tax reform helped spur consumer spending and on-going positive business investment. Fourth quarter GDP closed the year out at 2.6%. With the White House gunning for 3% economic growth and the Fed pausing on interest rate hikes, the good times look likely to roll on at least for a while.

Further supporting keeping interest rates on hold was the Fed’s favorite measure of inflation, Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE), which came in at 1.9%, as expected. Low inflation readings cap bond yields and force investors to invest in riskier but higher-yielding assets classes.

Stocks continue to climb the wall of worry and are re-approaching all-time highs. Market risk-taking is back in vogue even in the face of a decline in earnings.  A return to low rates has triggered increases in mortgage refinances and have certainly helped on-the-fence home buyers jump into the housing market.

With Europe and China slowing, and the Fed being very careful about its next move, we can see interest rates remaining low for the next several months.  With the 10-year Treasury yield under 2.67%, we advise locking rates except for those borrowers willing to play the market in search of a marginally better deal.

Feb-22-blog

Market Commentary 2/22/19

U.S. Treasuries and major equity markets continue to trade benevolently as investors adjust to a more a “risk on” environment. A December wash-out in stocks and subsequent dovish commentary out of the Fed stoked this move upward in stocks and a move downward in interest rates.  For the moment, Mr. Market has moved aside global growth concerns, some weak earnings guidance from analysts, and the fear of Brexit and Italian bond defaults.  Positive talks with China are encouraging and have helped ease the markets.  No less important is the fact that low interest rates spur risk-taking in equities and have arrived just in time for the spring buying season.  Refinance volume has also improved amongst other debt-related activities.

The Fed pausing on their rate hike forecasts does raise some concerns given the supposed strength of our economy and near all-time highs in the stock market.  Historically, the Fed mandate was to watch over employment and inflation, but it is clear that supporting equity and asset valuations is no less important in today’s world. Low rates have probably distorted true price discovery and the Fed will need to be very careful about how to move rates as December’s vicious stock market decline is evidence of what one misstep can bring on.

Next week will be an important week for Fed-related news.  We believe they will be very careful with policy statements and promote their “patience” policy to Congress. 

We are grateful for the low interest rates and continue to advise clients to be cautious with respect to floating rates.  One quickly forgets how fast stocks and bonds can move against you should the market have a change of heart.  A 10-year U.S. Treasury bond trading under 2.700% was not forecasted by many this time last year.