T-Dazzle! Is The Fed The New Investment Performance Benchmark? (Hint: All Assets Beat It)

Can you say Treasury-dazzle or T-Dazzle?

Since March 2009, after a massive intervention by The US Federal Reserve in terms of target rate cuts and assets purchases (QE), the S&P 500 index, the NAREIT Equity index and the NCREIF All-property index have zoomed to all-time highs (note that lack of volatility of the NCREIF commercial property index).

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It seems that all assets classes have been “juiced-up” by The Federal Reserve monetary expansion that seems to be permanent. All assets classes can beat it.

And since March 2009, the Treasury actives curve has declined by over 100 bps.

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But over the past 30 years, the best performers have not been real estate, but non-real estate companies.

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Can you say Treasury Dazzle?

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Double Shot! World Economy Haunted by Risk Just Got a Double Shot in the Arm (How Long Before Mortgage Rates Rise??)

Its a double shot of economic love!

(Bloomberg) — Two of the biggest hurdles constraining the world economyhave just been cleared.

Dogged for most of 2019 by trade tensions and political risk that hammered business confidence, the outlook for global growth will enter 2020 on a firmer footing after the U.S. and China struck a partial trade deal and outlook for Brexit cleared somewhat.

“The China trade deal and U.K. election result have taken out a major tail risk overhanging markets and companies,” said Ben Emons, managing director for global macro strategy at Medley Global Advisors in New York. “Business confidence should see a large boost that could see a restart of global investment, inventory rebuild and a resurgence of global trade volume.”

Like financial markets, most economists had factored in some kind of phase-one trade agreement between the world’s largest economies when projecting the world economy would stabilize into 2020 after a recession scare earlier this year.

But at a minimum, the agreement between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping means some of the more dire scenarios being contemplated just a few months ago now appear less likely. 

Bloomberg Economics estimated in June that the cost of the U.S.-China trade war could reach $1.2 trillion by 2021, with the impact spread across the Asian supply chain. That estimate was based on 25% tariffs on all U.S.-China trade and a 10% drop in stock markets.

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Both the VIX and TYVIX are near historic lows.

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With this bevy of good news, how long before residential mortgage rates rise??

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Of course, forecasting is difficult … like forecasting your second wife.

 

Fed Leaves Rates on Hold; Forecasts Show No Change Through 2020

(Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged and signaled it would stay on hold through 2020, keeping it on the sidelines in an election year while also opening the possibility it might buy short-term coupon-bearing securities to ease money-market strain.

“Our economic outlook remains a favorable one despite global developments and ongoing risks,” Chairman Jerome Powell told a press conference Wednesday in Washington following the decision. “As long as incoming information about the economy remains broadly consistent with this outlook, the current stance of monetary policy likely will remain appropriate.”

The Treasury 10-year yields fell below 1.8%, the dollar declined and U.S. stocks edged higher. Powell spoke after the Federal Open Market Committee held the target range of the federal funds rate steady at 1.5% to 1.75% and its median forecast showed no rate change through next year.

“The FOMC’s monetary policy message is that the Fed is on hold and that it would take some significant change in the outlook to induce the Fed to move,” Roberto Perli, a partner at Cornerstone Macro LLC in Washington, wrote in a note. “Powell, however, made some news when talking about the problems affecting the repo market.”

Powell told reporters that the committee might consider widening reserves management-related Treasuries purchases to include short-term coupon-bearing securities, if necessary, to ease liquidity strains in money markets.

Here is the current Fed “Dots Plot” indicating a hold on rate changes through 2020, but rising after the 2020 election.

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The Fed has helped push relevant rate to around 1.576%.

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Jerome Powell should be happy that someone hasn’t painted a picture of him ala Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata.

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Jesse?

The Big Short: Part Deux? US Home Prices Slow As Wage Growth Highest Since Early 2009 (Tiny Bubble OR BIG Bubble?)

No matter which US home price index you choose, US home prices have risen above the peak of the housing bubble in April 2007 (as highlighted in the book and film “The Big Short”).

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Thanks to relaxed credit standards, including the infamous NINJA (no income, no job) loans, the US saw a steady and increasing growth in mortgage credit and a corresponding growth in home price growth … until 2005. Then the bottom fell out out the housing market.

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Today, we are witnessing a slowing of home price growth even as earnings growth is at its highest level since early 2009.  The last time we saw home price growth and earnings growth so in alignment was back in the 1995-1998 period following the enactment of HUD’s National Homeownership Strategy. 

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The big difference between the 2000s housing bubble and today’s housing bubble is that the 2000s housing bubble was driven by subprime and ALT-A credit. But today’s housing bubble is in part driven by foreign investors on both the west and east coasts, not to mention the Federal Reserves low interest-rate policies. And we are seeing a softening of credit standards from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

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And Fannie and Freddie’s debt-to-income (DTI) is rising to 2008 (financial crisis levels).

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So does the US have a tiny bubble? Or a big bubble?

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Big Feet! Fannie, Freddie Soar as Hedge Funds Get Good News on Two Fronts (GSEs + FHA/VA Account For 63% Of Single Family Mortgage Debt Outstanding)

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into conservatorship in September 2008, so it has been over ten years after that they may be finally released from conservatorship with their regulator, FHFA. So, Fannie and Freddie may be going home … to the private market.

(Bloomberg) — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac soared as hedge funds and other investors that have long hoped to make a windfall on their investments in the mortgage giants got a double-dose of good news.

First, shareholders won an important legal victory after markets closed Sept. 6 that gave them renewed optimism of getting their hands on billions of dollars in company profits that now go to the government.

Then, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday that he will soon reach a deal that allows Fannie and Freddie to hold on to some of their earnings, so they can start rebuilding their capital buffers.

The step is considered crucial in eventually freeing the companies from federal control, which has been their status since the 2008 financial crisis. That’s because Fannie and Freddie are currently restricted from holding more than $3 billion in capital apiece, far short of what they would need to weather another housing crash as private companies.

Fannie jumped 26% to $3.42 as of 11:23 am in New York trading, reaching its highest level since Feb. 2017. Freddie rose 25% to $3.22, also its highest level in more than two years.

Among investors benefiting from the gains are some of the biggest names in finance, including John Paulson, Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management and Blackstone Group Inc.

Treasury is “in the process of negotiating” a plan for Fannie and Freddie to retain earnings with the Federal Finance Housing Agency, Fannie and Freddie’s regulator, Mnuchin said early Monday in an interview with Fox Business “We expect a near-term agreement to retain their earnings,” he said.

Revamping Sweep
For Fannie and Freddie to hold on to their earnings, Treasury and FHFA would have to halt or revamp a controversial policy implemented in 2012 during the Obama administration, known as the net worth sweep, that requires the companies to send virtually all their profits to the Treasury.

Hedge funds and other investors that own Fannie and Freddie shares have long fought to end the sweep through litigation, claiming it was illegal. The shareholders won a big victory Sept. 6 when a panel of federal appeals court judges overturned a lower ruling that had backed the government’s right to take all of the mortgage giants’ profits.

The Fifth Circuit appeals court judges, based in New Orleans, also concluded last week that the structure of the FHFA is unconstitutional. Investors still face many hurdles, as the decision just kicks the case back to the lower court. Many other federal courts have ruled against the shareholders, making it more likely that an appeal could ultimately be heard by the Supreme Court if the case isn’t settled before then.

Litigating Shareholders
Fannie and Freddie don’t lend money to home buyers. Instead, they purchase mortgages from banks and other lenders and package them into bonds. Those securities have guarantees that protect investors from the risk of borrowers defaulting. Fannie and Freddie backstop nearly half of the U.S.’s $10 trillion of home loans, a process that keeps the mortgage market harming and borrowing rates low.

Fannie and Freddie were put into federal conservatorship in 2008 as the housing market cratered and were sustained by taxpayer aid. They have since started making money again and paid $115 billion more in dividends to the Treasury, through the net profit sweep, than they received in bailout funds.

Assuming that Fannie and Freddie would eventually released, hedge funds started buying their shares for pennies in the years after the crisis. Paulson & Co., Pershing Square and Blackstone Group’s GSO Capital were among those who got in on the trade.

Until now, shareholders have mostly suffered setbacks in their attempts to overturn the profits sweep. Their Sept. 6 win follows what also might be a watershed moment in Fannie and Freddie getting out of the government’s grip: the release of a Treasury report a day earlier that outlines the Trump administration’s plan to end the conservatorships.

Treasury Report
The Treasury document laid out dozens of suggested reforms to protect Fannie and Freddie from another housing crash, shrink their dominant market shares and create new competitors to the companies. Yet, it is only an initial step in what still would be a long and arduous road to freeing the companies from the government’s grip.

The Treasury Department’s proposal left much to be ironed out, signaling many of the suggested changes may not come until after the 2020 presidential election. And if a Democrat beats President Donald Trump next year, the overhaul would likely be scrapped all together.

Mnuchin said Monday that while he hopes to work with Congress to implement changes to Fannie and Freddie over the next three to six months, he is “perfectly comfortable” making administrative fixes if necessary. Only Congress can create competitors to Fannie and Freddie. But there is much the Trump administration can do on its own with FHFA, including ending the profit sweep.

The Treasury secretary will testify tomorrow on the administration’s plan before the Senate Banking Committee. Joining Mnuchin will be FHFA Director Mark Calabria and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

The officials are expected to face aggressive push back for Democratic lawmakers, who are concerned that the administration’s proposals will do more to help hedge funds than assist consumers in getting loans, particularly lower-income buyers.

Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac saw a surge in their equity price on the news.

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The GSEs Fannie and Freddie account for nearly 44% of single-family mortgage debt outstanding. Note that GSEs and the Federal government (mostly FHA) jointly account for  63% of mortgage debt.

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Note that after the financial crisis, the FHFA Director Edward DeMarco and FHA Commission David Stevens promised to shrink the footprints of government lending/insurance. Yet they both rose in footprint size.

Here is Treasury’s report on Housing Finance Reform. While it seems to seek a shrinking government footprint, history teaches us that the big foot of government only increases.

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