Mortgage Applications Drop Despite Lower Mortgage Rates (Industry is Dazed And Confused)

Ah, the problems of trying to model residential mortgage purchase and refinancing applications. When mortgage rates fall, model predict a rise in both purchase and refinancing applications. This has left mortgage modelers dazed and confused.

But the recent Mortgage Bankers Association report, revealed that mortgage applications DROPPED 4.78% WoW despite mortgage rates dropping as well.

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Mortgage rates have been dropping since November, yet mortgage purchase applications dropped in for the latest week. Very likely this was the displacement of purchase applications was simply the “start of the year” effect after a sleepy holiday season.

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Ditto for mortgage refinancing applications. Despite mortgage rates declining. there was “start of the year” surge. But continued rate decreases have resulted in generally declining purchase applications after the surge.

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On a long term view, purchase applications have remained sedate following the financial crisis and new regulations.

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Mortgage refinancing applications remain in Death Valley.

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Perhaps there is a communications breakdown?

“Solid” Fannie-Freddie earnings are a foundation for mortgage giants’ next act (EPS Miss)

MarketWatch – Fannie Mae FNMA-3.02% and Freddie Mac FMCC-2.57% on Thursday reported earnings that reflected a healthy, yet slowing, housing market, even as weighty questions about their future swirl.

The two enterprises are at the heart of the American housing finance system: they buy mortgages from banks and other lenders, enabling lenders to extend credit for longer periods than would be possible if they had to keep the loans on their own balance sheets, and, presumably, open up the housing market to a larger swath of the population. Throughout 2018, the two companies together funded approximately 3.2 million mortgages.

In the fourth quarter, Fannie had net income of $3.2 billion, and Freddie had $1.5 billion. The two enterprises are still in government conservatorship, as they have been since the 2008 financial crisis, and will sweep those profits over to the U.S. Treasury in March, while continuing to retain a slim capital buffer of $3 billion each.

It is difficult to compare the companies’ financial results to the year-earlier quarter because that’s when changes in the tax laws left both with hefty accounting losses. Compared to the year ago quarter, Fannie’s pretax income fell to $4.06 billion from $4.96 billion, while Freddie Mac’s dropped to $1.39 billion from $3.82 billion.

Despite Fannie and Freddie’s positive net income, analysts were expecting even higher earnings. Take Fannie Mae, who earnings have generally fallen as the housing market cools.

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But FF’s equity has soared recently on specualtion of Fannie and Freddie being released from Treasury bondage.

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On Thursday, the Trump administration’s pick for head of the regulatory agency overseeing Fannie and Freddie, Mark Calabria, is facing the Senate Banking Committee. As MarketWatch was first to report, the interim director of the regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, has already begun working with Treasury to lay out a long-term vision for the American housing finance system, finally freeing the two companies from conservatorship.

If he is approved, Calabria’s responsibility will include two companies that look vastly different than the entities that helped plunge the U.S. economy into turmoil about a decade ago. In the fourth quarter, Fannie’s serious delinquency rate was just 0.76%, and Freddie’s was 0.69%, both near historical lows. Both companies continue to experiment with additional ways of selling slices of their portfolio to private-market investors, in order to spread the risk more broadly. And they continue to work toward the issuance of a single bond, a step that aligns their fortunes more closely, rather than intensifying the competition between them.

Being released from conservatorship can mean many things. One, they became private corporations again (but who or what will provide their capital buffer?). Second, they could be shut down (likely gradually) and the private market takes care of securitizing residential mortgage loans. And about 5,000 other proposals, most are just more of the same.

But this is Washington DC, and they will tell “we the people” as little as possible.

Here is the link to Mark Anthony Calabria’s hearing testimony that began at 10am. Perhaps Calabria will shed some light on what he plans to to as FHFA Director.

Here is a photo of both Mark Calabria and I testifying in the House. Calabria looks like he is thinking “What is Sanders going to say?”

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The Average Adjustable-rate Mortgage Is Nearly $700,000! (Misleading Because Mortgage Refis Are Essentially Dead)

MarketWatch has the tantalizing headline of “The Average Adjustable-rate Mortgage Is Nearly $700,000.”

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True, the average loan size for ARMs (adjustable-rate mortgages) is substantially higher than for FRMs (fixed-rate mortgages).

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But here is a catch. Mortgage refinancing applications are virutally dead.

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Mortgage purchase applications are relatively sedate but rising following the financial crisis with new rules governing bank lending such as QM (Qualified Mortgage) and other Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rules.

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A more relevant chart that the one posted by MarketWatch is a comparison of average loan size by purchase applications and refi applications. Note that following the financial crisis, average loan size for purchases is higher than for refi applications.

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For the week ending 02/01/19, mortgage purchase applications SA declined 4.58% while mortgage refis were up 2.6% from the preceding week.

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The bottom line is that the MarketWatch piece, while tantalizing, is fundamentally misleading. Mortgage refi applications are nearly dead and mortgage purchase applications are rising again, but are no where near the 2000-2007 levels.

So, who killed mortgage refinancing applications?

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These guys! (Paul Volker can be excluded from the blame list).

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Fed Tightens Agency MBS Holdings Day After Powell Hinted At Stopping QT (Oops, They Did It Again!)

Oops, they did it again. 

After hinting on January 30th that The Fed is considering halting shrinking of its balance sheet (better known as Quantitative Tightening), The New York Fed reported yesterday that their agency mortgage-backed securities holdings had been reduced by $7 billion. Aparently, The Fed is sticking to autopilot in terms of shrinking their balance sheet, at least for the moment.

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Again, only Agency MBS was reduced in the amount of just over $7 billion. All other holdings remained the same from the previous week.

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In other words, despite the talk, talk, The Fed is continuing to drain the punchbowl.

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US New Home Sales Fall 7.7% YoY In November, But Rise 16.9% MoM, Most Since 1992 (Months Supply Still Elevated, Median Price Falls)

Now you know why Fox Business and CNBC no longer invite me to be interviewed. They love the headline “November New Home Sales Surge By The Most Since 1992!”

Let’s start with the +16.9% MoM number, a more cheery, pop the champagne bottle headline.

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But on a YoY basis, new home sales fell 7.7% in November.

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Months supply of new home sales fell in November, but are still at elevated levels.

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And the median price of new home sales fell in November as The Fed’s normalization grabs the housing market with its icy grip.

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“The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed….”

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US Economy Growing Above Long-run Trend Without Sustained Inflation (As Gov’t Measures Inflation)

The good news? The US economy is growing above the long-run trend. But without sustained inflation.

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At the last reading Core Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) growth was only 1.88%. Compare that to home prices growing at 4.7% YoY (CS) and FHFA’s Purchase Only YoY at 5.76%.

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Zillow’s rent index for all homes YoY is only 0.485, well below The Fed Funds Target rate and Core PCE growth. And The Fed Funds Target rate is above Core PCE growth.

Here is a closer look at the past year. Rising Fed Funds Target rate, stable inflation (Core PCE YoY), decling house price growth and continued balance sheet undwinding.

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Home Prices in U.S. Cities Rise by Lowest Rate in Almost Four Years As Fed Unwinds Its Balance Sheet (Vegas Fastest Growing, DC Slowest)

Yes, US home price growth continues to slow as The Federal Reserve continues to unwind its bloated balance sheet.862767_cshomeprice-release-0129

(Bloomberg) — Home prices in 20 U.S. cities rose in November at the slowest pace since early 2015, decelerating for an eighth straight month as buyers balk at the ever-receding affordability of properties.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index of property values increased 4.7 percent from a year earlier, down from 5 percent in the prior month, and below the median estimate of economists, data showed Tuesday. Nationally, home-price gains slowed to a 5.2 percent pace.

Sure enough, US housing has gotten quite expensive (although not Singapore, Hong Kong or London expensive). But the interesting story is … look at house price growth when The Fed enacted QE3, their third round of asset purchases. Then look at house price growth when The Fed began unwinding its bloated balance sheet.

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Let’s see what happens if The Fed continues its unwind.

On a metro level, Las Vegas (still recovering from the horrid collapse in house prices in the late 2000s) was the YoY leader … again. Followed by Phoenix, rising from the housing ashes of the housing bubble of the 2000s.

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The slowest growing metro areas? Once again, Washington DC has the slowest growth rate followed by Chicago. And then New Yawk (or New York).

 

Dust Their Brooms: Should Lehman Bros Have Been “Surprised” By Their Sudden Illiquidity? (Bear Stearns Then Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac’s Stock Price Already Plunged)

Movies like “Margin Call” and “The Big Short” make the financial crisis look like a total surprise … to them. Well, it wasn’t a surprise to GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Their common stock prices (green line) began plummeting in December 2007. Lehman Bros stock price didn’t start plummeting until February 2008.

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Why? National home prices had peaked in 2006 and had slowly begun to retreat. But as of December 2007, the Case-Shiller national home price index had fallen 17.4% from the peak in 2016. Subprime delinquencies had risen 46.5% over the same period. U-3 unemployment started rising in a big way in 2008.

But as home prices nosedived in 2008, subprime delinquencies skyrocketed. You can see Fannie Mae’s large drop in price in November 2008 (while they didn’t purchase subprime loans in high volume, they did invest in subprime ABS and ALT-A loan deals). While ALT-A turned out to suffer big losses, they performed better than subprime after the intial subprime spike.

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On September 6, 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into conservatorship with their regulator, FHFA and remain there ever since. Also in September, Lehman Bros declared bankruptcy … afer Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into conservatorship.

*There was other lenders that failed or had to be absorbed elsewhere, like Countrywide, and Wachovia.

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But Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Lehman Bros demise came AFTER Bear Stearns demise in March 2008, owing to subprime deal failures. In fact, you could see trouble brewing shortly after home prices started to fall. By 2007, both Bear and Lehman were showing distress, but not Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s regulator, FHFA saw the warning signs with subprime and took action on September 8th (maybe prematurely since they could have continued).

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Congress bailed out the banks and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and swept the financial dust away (aka, dust their brooms).

Just look at the above chart. Starting in 2016, risk managment at all financial firms should have been on yellow alert. By Q4 2007, it should have been upgraded to red alert. How is it possible that Lehman Bros or Bear Stearns (or Goldman Sachs) were taken by surprise as Margin Call implied.

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Oh well.

The “Sanders Polynomial” Update: Mortgage Purchase Applications And Mortgage Rates (The Raising Of Credit Standards And Demise Of Non-vanilla ARMs Since Financial Crisis)

Back in 2010, bank analyst Chris Whalen wrote this piece for Zero Hedge entitled “The Sanders Polynomial or Why “Esto se va a poner de la chingada””.

Yes, things got ugly for the residential mortgage market following the mortgage purchase application bubble that peaked around 2005. If you fit a non-linear curve to MBA Mortgage Purchase Applications, you can see a polynomial peaking in 2005.

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Here is the updated chart. Mortgage purchase applications have started to rise again since 2010, but at a much slower pace. And there is no polynomial since 2010, just a nice linear increase.

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But the mortgage market has fundamentally changed since 2005-7.  First, the volume of adjustable rate mortgages (blue line) has declined to under 10% of all mortgage applications. Second, the number of mortgage originations under 620 (also known as “subprime” is far below the levels seen in 2003-2007. Also, the number of non-vanilla ARMs (like pay-option and Limited Documentation ARMs) have reduced greatly.

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So when the narrator at the end of the movie “The Big Short” said that nothing has changed,  that was fundamentally incorrect. As you can see, ARMs and subprime have essentially vanished.  Here is a chart of The Big Short period (in red) and notice that mortgage lending truly did change.

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Also, a non-banker lender, Quicken Loans, is the second lending originator after Wells Fargo.  My how times have changed.

But are lender credit standards too high? Or are lenders and investors low riding credit?

How about a spoonful of extra credit box expansion?

But let’s not turn back the credit clock too far!!

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Fed Dead Redemption II: Fed Officials Weigh Earlier-Than-Expected End to Bond Portfolio Runoff

First, the expectations for furthering tighening of The Fed Funds Target Rate are near zero, at least according to WIRP.

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Now, according to Nick Timiraos at the Wall Street Journal, Federal Reserve officials are close to deciding they will maintain a larger portfolio of Treasury securities than they’d expected when they began shrinking those holdings two years ago, putting an end to the central bank’s portfolio wind-down closer into sight.

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The Fed indeed may slow the unwind of its balance sheet which is primarily allowing Treasury Notes and Treasury Bonds to mature. Agency MBS are expected to mature at later dates.

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So, The Fed may, at their next meeting, adjust their redemption schedule.

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And alter their redemption caps.

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Clearly, The Fed is trying to keep interest rates from rising too quickly. Good luck with that! It could be that The Fed has run out of ammo.

Case in point? Recent Fed Balance sheet reductions correspond to LOWER 10-year Tteasury yields and 30-year mortgage rates.

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Here is The Fed’ image of itself and “the savior” Ben Bernanke. But here is the reality.

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