Market Commentary 12/16/2022

Recession Fears Escalate As Fed Holds Firm On Rate Hikes 

As anticipated, The Fed raised short-term interest rates by .50 bp on Wednesday. The initial market reaction was neutral, but sentiments changed once the markets digested the Fed’s resolve to fight inflation on Thursday. Additionally, the Fed emphasized its projection that short-term interest rates may go higher than expected due to the very tight labor market. The markets are concerned because the economy seems to be weakening. Major corporations have announced job cuts, credit card balances have risen, and U.S. retail and manufacturing spending has slowed. Market experts are attempting to reconcile how far the Fed is willing to see real estate and equity markets decline, rather than not do enough to squash inflation. The most vulnerable parts of society are hurt by inflation the most. Powell has referenced the need for “pain”(financial pain or the decline in asset prices) several times over the last many months as the unfortunate result of taming inflation.

Across the pond, European central bankers were also very hawkish about where interest rates will need to go to quell inflation. U.S. Treasury yields remain very volatile as expectations of tighter financial conditions loom. Speaking of bonds, the inverted yield curve is an excellent indicator of recession probability. How steeply the yield curve dips signifies to the bond market that a recession is likely.  However, a counterargument can be made for higher interest rates as liquidity is taken out of the system.  It seems logical investors will demand more yield for each unit of risk. Interest rates along the yield curve should move up. Also, onshoring of industrial production and pivoting from just-in-time inventory to certainty-of-inventory, employee demands for higher wages, as well as a low level of “total employed” are inflationary. In the end, the best financial advice this year has been to “not fight the Fed.”  The Fed wants positive real rates across the whole yield curve and fighting the Fed is usually not wise.  While no one can predict the future, we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in interest rates. The results of this shift will be felt in the coming year.

Interest rates have dipped slightly, and that has led to a small increase in activity. Winter has always been a historically slow time of year, but the jumbo hikes the Fed has undertaken have certainly slowed the market. With inflation coming down, the hope is interest rates will normalize and thereby help the real estate market. As 2023 approaches, lenders will have new funding targets, which should help as banks compete for new business. 

Market Commentary 11/18/2022

Mortgage Rates Continue To Fall In Uncertain World

Over the past several decades, the inverted yield curve has been a tried-and-true recession predictor. With some parts of the year yield at historically wide inversions, financial conditions are becoming too tight. This indicates a strong likelihood that the economy is slowly marching toward a recession. However, there is evidence to the flip side of this argument, including consistently strong employment data, decent capital spending by companies, and a rebounding stock market.

Housing has been hit pretty hard by the 4 super-sized rate hikes by the Fed, with more upset on the horizon with the additional hikes anticipated in December and early next year. The terminal rate should cross 5.00%. Some Fed officials have opined the need to go much higher to stomp out inflation.  A recent Fed study on housing speaks of the potential for a 20% adjustment to prices in specific markets.  Speaking to our market, prices will continue to come down, but the lack of inventory will set a floor for how low prices can go. As long as California continues to be a robust and diversified economy, wealth creation, weather, and opportunity will support prices better than some other parts of the country. Nevertheless, affordable housing remains a big problem on a national level, and the Fed will want to see housing prices fall. Such a decline won’t be as severe in the more undersupplied and desirable areas.

Important Update On Mortgage Products

Insignia Mortgage has located a few portfolio lenders willing to offer very sharp pencils on non-traditional loan products. These non-QM products rely on post-closing reserves more than income analysis.  Loan amounts go up to several million with a 30% down payment. Interest rates begin at 5.00% or so. We share this info because these types of products are crucial for the high-end markets, especially with the move in interest rates. Borrowers are struggling to qualify for loans due to the rapid rise in rates, and the fact that interest-only loans require an additional stress test, making it difficult for well-qualified borrowers to obtain financing. 

Market Commentary 10/7/2022

More Pain On The Horizon As Fed Pivot Is Deferred

The decent September jobs report had a “good news is bad news” effect on the markets. Traders were looking for signs that the Fed’s super-sized rate hikes are lowering wage inflation, which would indicate that overall inflation may be coming down. While wage growth eased and the overall jobs picture declined, it was not enough to sway the Fed from its restrictive stance. More likely than not, another .75 bp rate increase will occur at the next Fed meeting. Combining these large rate hikes with the balance sheet runoff, also known as QT, is quickly creating very cramped financial conditions. Our suspicion is that it will not take much longer for the Fed to break something in the financial system. Risks are high for a black swan type of event. There is real destruction happening in the marketplace as riskier bond yields start to tick up again. Oil is now over 90 and investor confidence is crumbling. It seems unlikely that the Fed can orchestrate an elegant economic soft landing. Caution remains the word du jour.

It is going to take time for real estate prices to adjust, especially in the way many of us believe they will.  It is simple math. If your cost of carry doubles this quickly, prices and cap rates must adjust despite a limited supply. Next week holds a lot of critical news for CPI, PPI, retail sales, and bank earnings. Buckle up as it is going to be a rough ride as we anticipate these updates. We hope things will not be as painful as the Fed wants us to believe.

Market Commentary 9/30/2022

Mortgage Rates Ease As Economy Shows Signs of Slowdown

Market pain remains the theme. There are simply too many variables to consider for anyone to know what is going to happen in the economy. The UK shocked markets this week when conflicting policy decisions by different parts of the government caused bonds to soar. In addition, the Pound plunged and pension funds cried for help as their treasury positions got smoked. Losses from the UK pensions were magnified due to leverage. Back here in the US, still the best place to invest by far, markets remain rocky. The bond market is back in charge of the direction of equities, real estate, and all other asset classes. Want to see where the world is headed? Continue to watch the 10-year Treasury for a sign. Should it move above 4.000%, there is the expectation pain for the markets will be even more exacerbated. Hopefully, it can find some footing under 3.500%- 3.750%. This would help bring the fear premium out of mortgage and other debt markets. While financing costs remain high, it does not benefit the economy for activity to crawl to a halt. As historical events like the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 and Covid 2020 have shown, it is hard to restart the economic machine once it’s stopped.

Has Inflation Reached Its Peak?    

The Fed’s favorite inflation gauge, the PCE, came in hotter than expected yet again.  However, markets shrugged off this bad news as bonds and equities early on in the trading session, but markets fell apart in the afternoon. This may be a sign that we have reached peak inflation as this report did not cause the market to panic. Our internal conversations with clients support the notion that the economy is slowing. Business owners are starting to hunker down, retail sales of luxury items are slowing (a sign that even the rich are beginning to worry),  restaurants seem much less busy and the residential and commercial real estate markets are materially slower. 

With negativity at 2008 levels across financial markets, perhaps we are nearing the end of the damage to the economy and markets. It is hard to tell, but valuations have certainly come in. A reasonable bottom in the S&P may be approaching (3,200 – 3,400). The Fed will continue to tighten, but, the pace with which they have gone so far may justify a pause or slow down to .25 -.50 bp increases over the coming year-end meetings. This column previously advocated rate hikes and was not excited about ongoing stimulus or other money giveaways, all of which are of course inflationary.  However, the Fed message is clear now, and doing too much too quickly to combat inflation may unnecessarily damage the fragile global financial system.  We think the Fed, like us, is seeing the economy weaken and confidence deteriorate to the point that inflation will subside.    

Market Commentary 9/23/2022

Markets In Turmoil As Fed Raises Rates Yet Again

It was another brutal week for the equity and bond markets. Fed Chairman Powell reiterated his belief that pain is necessary in order to bring down inflation. The Fed raised by 75 bp and emphasized that more hikes are ahead. Chances are very high of a global recession. Bank CEOs are talking about stagflation, or a combination of slow growth, high unemployment, and rising rates. The volatile gyrations in the equity market make us wonder when something will break. Fear is high as it feels as if we are paying back all of the stimulus and easy money policies we’ve had over the last few years… With interest. 

If you listened to the talking heads, you would think there is no loan activity.  While the rapid rise in rates has slowed the pace of activity, there are still transactions happening at the right price. With the rise in interest rates, it is harder to qualify for a mortgage. This will continue to put pressure on housing prices.

Famed bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach spoke after the Fed’s meeting this Wednesday and made some good points.  He sees the S&P bottoming somewhere between 3,500 and 3,000. He is also noticing some very compelling bond opportunities. In particular, he advised that you should never time the bottom. As the market washes out, you should not sell, but look to accumulate for the long term. This same formula applies to real estate investing. Become more opportunistic while there is panic in the air. 

Market Commentary 9/16/2022

All Eyes On Fed Next Week As Markets Remain On Edge

FedEx, one of the premier delivery companies worldwide, warned of a global recession. This is concerning news, given their intimate knowledge of the manner goods and services flow through the global economy. This warning came on the heels of ongoing fears amongst market participants about inflation, Fed tightening, and stagflation anxiety (stagflation is the combination of rising costs, higher unemployment, and slowing growth). One can look at the equity markets as a proxy for deflating asset prices worldwide. Fed Chair Powell echoed this much when he used the word “pain” on two separate occasions when discussing the Fed’s plans to bring inflation down, which is through the combination of higher rates and wealth destruction. One should remember the words “don’t fight the Fed” applies to both uptrends and downtrends.

How Deep Will The Recession Go?

A .75 bp hike on the short-term Fed Funds Rate is baked in at near 100%. However, there is a chance the Fed may go up to 100 bp in hikes. Given the slowdown in housing, the destruction of wealth in many Americans’ retirements, equity/bond holdings, and the grim outlook by business owners, our hope is that a 100 bp hike does not become a reality. Slow and steady may be a better policy. We have advocated for more and faster hikes in previous commentaries, but, the combination of Fed hikes and quantitative tightening (which is just rolling out) may succeed in bringing down inflation.  The aim at this point is to avoid a deep global recession. The comments from FedEx should not go ignored. Next week’s Fed meeting is so important, as a too-aggressive Fed could break something, which would not be good. Breaking inflation by way of an international financial crisis serves no one’s interests and would do more harm than good.  

The Lending Narrative Continues

On the lending side, higher short-term rates and even higher longer rates impede the ability of new buyers to qualify for mortgages. Home builders are trading poorly as are home improvement companies. Housing is a major component of GDP growth so there is no doubt in our minds that the U.S. is in a mild recession.  The bigger question is, how long does this last? When do interest rates top out, how will new and existing home sales and all other property types adjust to much higher interest rates? While there are lenders making practical decisions on applicants, increased mortgage payments have doubled from where they were just a few months ago. This will be a drag on housing prices, even with the limited demand in many large cities. A bit of positive news though, as potential new buyer income is holding up, and many are looking to the current volatile market as a good entry point.   

The great Warren Buffet is famous for saying he is greedy when others are fearful. Well, there is certainly fear in the air. Smart and thoughtful purchases of assets such as real estate or high-quality equities may be at the beginning phase of attractiveness. 

Market Commentary 9/2/2022

Russia Gas Closure Spoils A Goldilocks Job Report

Equity markets were soothed earlier in the day due to an as-expected August Jobs Report. Hourly earning increases fell and more people entered the workforce. This is a sign that inflation is forcing people to accept jobs and re-think life without work.  A volatile stock market has pushed older workers back into employment, as retirement accounts have been jeopardized by the traditional 60% stock/40% bond allocation this year. And, just when you thought the equity markets were gaining some footing… Gazprom, the Russian-controlled gas company, shut down its pipeline to Europe citing an oil leak. This news was not unexpected but took equities and U.S. Treasury yields lower. The markets are in some mood. It is virtually impossible to estimate where the U.S. economy, real estate prices, and interest rates are headed. There are simply too many variables to consider and too many black swans circling

Navigating The Gazprom Effect

Taking the Fed at face value, a 50 bp hike is certain. However, one cannot rule out 75 bp, especially if oil starts surging again in response to the Gazprom news. The Baseline Fed Funds rate is gaining support for settling at around 4.00%. Inflation is starting to show signs of moderating, but it is mathematically improbable that it will fall to the Fed’s target rate of 2% in 2023.  Wall Street has had to reevaluate the higher interest rates for a longer Fed narrative as the interest rates start to do their job. Meanwhile equity and bond prices have fallen, real estate is under pressure, and business confidence remains between cautious to downright negative. The return to a more normal interest rate environment is resetting asset prices. 

I want to say a few words about the manner in which I write this weekly blog. While I am personally inclined to be a little more conservative in my thinking, I do my very best to paint a weekly picture of what I am reading. In addition to the news and other industry sources, everything shared in terms of the economy’s direction is combined with the feedback I receive from our network of clients and bank executives. Lately, the current environment is not too positive. In my opinion, we are already in a recession. That is probably going to get worse before it gets better. However, one must remember it is during times of heightened volatility and turmoil that some of the best investments present themselves. So, while I am not bullish on the economy at the moment, I do believe patience will pay off in the form of lower house prices, and better entry points for non-housing investments. 

Market Commentary 07/01/2022

Mortgage Rates Fall As Recession Fears Intensify

Treasury yields quickly raced to well under 3.00% this week. In my opinion, this is not a good sign of things to come. Recession fears have escalated. The long bond acts like this when recession fears rise.  GDP now has economic growth at -2.1%. Micron, a major chip supplier, guided down and reaffirmed what many of us already know. The economy is slowing. The combination of Fed rate hikes and quantitative tightening is a dangerous cocktail for the equity, real estate, and debt markets. I am hearing from several banks that liquidity is quickly drying up. They are weary to lend, and risk spreads have increased. As expected, housing supply has jumped as homeowners look to sell before things get worse, or in some cases unload their second or third home. A violent stock market and bitcoin correction have consumer confidence at a many years low, with liquid savings and retirement accounts down a great deal.  With margins being squeezed and earnings estimates falling, S&P year-end estimates have come down with year-end S&P to be somewhere in the range of 3,200 and 4,100.   

Where Do We Go From Here? Equity, Real Estate, Inflation. 

First, let us start with the equity market. Equities rise and fall and are prone to large drawdowns and rebounds. Many of us got into trouble chasing momentum stocks and high beta tech stocks, which have no earnings power.  Stocks represent ownership in a business, but zero rates and money spraying had fooled many professionals into believing that stocks only go up. The same applies to crypto. 

Two, regarding real estate, price is what you pay, and value is what you get.  Homes are a bit different asset class than other real estate as many homeowners were able to lock in exceptionally low-interest rates. Even if the housing market declines, homeowners will be able to service their debts. Home appreciation over the last few years has been unsustainable. The new listings appearing amidst the dwindling economy warrant the need for a correction. People are becoming increasingly cautious. As interest rates return to the historical mean, speculation will lighten, and buyers and sellers can enter a more even playing field.   

Three, the Fed will beat inflation. It is already happening. It will occur at a significant cost and over time, but inflation will come down. The Fed’s tools are very good at breaking inflation (higher rates and quantitative tightening). The collective negative sentiment compounded with quickly deteriorating financial conditions indicates the need for the Fed to halt its rate-hiking cycle expeditiously. The 2-year Treasury has fallen mightily the last few days which supports the notion of fewer rate hikes ahead.

Finally, it is important to remember that this is a long game. Absent the last 20 years or so, recessions and rebounds were much more common.  Recessions clean out the financial system and are healthy.  Speculators are taught about assessing risk, bad companies die off – clearing the way for new more innovative businesses, and prices reset allowing investors to buy assets for cheaper.  While I may be negative on the markets currently, I am always bullish on America. We have so much to be grateful for, even in tough times.

Have a great 4th of July.

Market Commentary 6/10/2022

Who’s Most Impacted By Inflation? All Of Us. 

Things are looking grim. Today’s inflation report came in hotter than expected much to the disappointment of the bond and equity markets. Equity markets are getting slammed, while Treasury yields are rising. Today’s report puts the Fed substantially behind the curve on inflation. A dramatic action might be necessary to provide even the smallest form of relief.  Until today, you wouldn’t hear this from most commentators on CNBC – that one cannot take a 75 or 100 bp event totally off the table. This blog has advocated for rate hikes for quite some time and believed a 75 bp hike a few months ago would have been appropriate.  Signaling from the Fed has been very poor, as well as, from the Treasury. Letting inflation run hot was a terrible mistake. Like most Americans, inflation has been evident in our daily purchases for months. Let’s hope the Fed makes the right decisions soon, to avoid recession. It is becoming an increasingly difficult environment to navigate.  In my opinion, inflation, and not the equity or housing market, remains priority number one. So, there will certainly be more pain ahead.

Although consumer and business confidence remains weak, a combination of stock market volatility, the slowing housing market, and 120 oil may be doing some of the work for the Fed. Anecdotally, this week I happened to be out to dinner more than usual, and I noticed that restaurants are less busy. The gas attendant at the local gas station said fewer people are filling up. Bank management is less eager to lend. All these things suggest the economy may already be in recession.  With unemployment at 3.60%, it is hard to envision a major recession taking place. Nonetheless, I am reading about many layoffs, especially in higher-paying jobs such as technology. 

The Housing Market & Our National Reality Check

There is not much good news to talk about. Rising rates and a cooling economy will lead to lower house prices. Supply-constrained markets such as Southern California probably won’t see a big price dip unless the bond market and equity market do not steady, but home prices will come down as demand wanes. This is a positive note for those waiting to buy, but not so much for those who recently bought.

The one benefit of this reset is that wages, the cost of living, and people’s expectations of what a normal rate of return looks like, have gotten a major reality check. There is no such thing as a free lunch, unlimited debt financing, or continued parabolic returns on investments. You can’t spend your way out of inflation. There is now a return to the mean and that is good news for the next generation. Easy money is never easy. Success is earned and above-average returns require skill and thought. 

Market Commentary 06/03/2022

Strong Jobs Report Supports More Fed Tightening

Concerns over the Fed’s progress on quelling inflation have been heightened considering May’s solid Jobs Report. The 10-year Treasury Bond is now nearing 3.000%. The Fed has publicly stated they see no reasons to pause rate hikes (even after the expected 100 bp hikes expected in the summer) and the Jobs report has reinforced a tight labor market. Inflation will not come down for some time. It may have peaked, but the slide to lower inflation is expected to linger. Since labor makes up over 65% of corporate expenses, rising incomes will continue to put pressure on companies to raise prices when possible. Additionally, commodities inflation (especially oil) remains high. Case in point, gas prices hit $8 per gallon in California recently. 

Lookout: The June Balance Sheet & Major CEO Premonition

Expect ongoing volatility as the Fed is willing to let markets fall to wring inflation out of the system. This includes equities and housing. I advise you to watch the Treasury market closely. The Fed begins to run off its balance sheet in June, but the real action begins on June 15th. It will be interesting to see the effects of QT after so many years of liquidity support in the financial system by the Fed. This reinforces the need to be a fundamental thinker when buying real estate, a home, or any other security. Price always matters. 

Some major CEOs are beginning to warn of a looming recession. These individuals have access to troves of data and have the best minds in the world advising them. It goes without saying that the economy is too complex to truly predict what could happen. Economists and forecasters get things wrong more often than not. However, all this negativity is causing banks to be more cautious in underwriting.  The need for volume is creating competition for high-quality loans. Rate spreads are tight as banks compete to obtain the safest credit candidates in the jumbo space.  Non-QM and alternative documentation loans have fallen out of favor with the investor community. Such products are not getting a bid in the secondary market. Insignia remains focused on portfolio lending solutions for our customers who are mostly self-employed or foreign nationals.  

The combination of a slowing economy and elevated inflation is a worst-case outcome for the economy.  The Treasury market leads the way as a signpost for where the economy is headed.  In some ways, we must hope for higher long bonds as an inverted yield curve portends recession. Given all the debt in the system, one must not forget that things can still get worse.