The Yield Curve Is Back to Being Interesting Again (More Interesting If Powell & The Gang Take Their Foot Off The Monetary Accelerator Pedal)

I remember my academic colleague at The Ohio State University (now at Notre Dame), Paul Schultz saying “Why do you find fixed-income and the yield curve interesting?” I have always found the yield curve to be interesting … at least until The Federal Reserve hammered down the short-end with it zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP) and tried manipulating the 10-year Treasury Note yield through Quantitative Easing (QE) meaning The Fed’s purchase of Treasuries and Agency Mortgage-backed Securities (MBS). No, I still think the manipulated yield curve is interesting.

Here is today’s Treasury actives curve (green) versus the yield curve at the peak of the previous housing bubble in 2005 yellow). That is a 300 basis point shift as the short-end. And a 243 basis point shift for the 10-year Treasury Note.

(Bloomberg) — The yield curve is one of the most-powerful forces in the observable financial universe. While much of the price action that we see on a day-to-day basis may be driven by some sort of dark energy, the curve provides a highly visible lodestone indicating the state of policy settings and the likely trajectory of the economy. That being said, the curve is often misunderstood — a bear flattening often produces plenty of hand-wringing, when it’s the bull steepening that you should really worry about. In fact, referring to “the curve” itself is something of a misnomer — while different iterations of the yield curve often travel in tandem, sometimes their paths diverge. That has been the case recently, though perhaps not for much longer. The recent rise in two-year yields looks more than justified, as various fixed income models demonstrate in a roundabout way.

For the past year and a half or so, most of the focus on the yield curve in this column has been on the 5s-30s iteration. The rationale for this has been relatively straightforward: With the Fed funds rate locked in near zero for the foreseeable future, the two-year note has been moribund. As such, 2s-10s has really just been another articulation of the 10-year yield. And much like recent price action vis-a-vis my 10-year model, the curve briefly traded where it “ought” to in March before once again becoming too flat in recent months.


 
At least 5s-30s has had the benefit of containing a useful forward-looking component on both legs of the spread. Yet even as I type that, it is interesting to note that 2s-10s and 5s-30s exhibited virtually identical price action at virtually identical levels earlier this year. While they remain positively correlated, of course, a clear wedge has emerged between the two curves as five-year yields have broken decisively through 1%, pricing greater conviction that a monetary tightening cycle will fully emerge over the next half-decade.


 
Yet I am left to wonder about the two-year note. The eurodollar strip is pricing that the bulk of monetary tightening will come by the end of 2023, a period that’s now largely captured by the shortest-maturity coupon security. To be sure, the appropriate level for 2s is a function not only of the ultimate magnitude of monetary tightening, but when it begins. After all, a 150 bp hike in Q4 of 2023 carries very different implications for the current two-year note than a 25 bp rate rise every three months from Q3 of next year onwards.

It occurred to me that I could back out a model for two-year yields by simply subtracting the output of my yield curve model from that of the 10-year model. I had no real idea of what to expect from this exercise, but even with the proviso that short-end yields rarely stray too far from the policy rate, I was pleasantly surprised at how close the fit is from this “derivative” model for the two-year.


 
The question then arose, naturally, of what actually went into the calculation of this “model.” After all, knowing the formulae of the two constituent models — for the 10-year and the yield curve– should allow for the distillation of a separate equation for the two-year note. Because that sort of thing is more fun than unpacking more boxes, that’s how I spent a few minutes on Wednesday night. The outcome isn’t necessarily an optimal model for the two-year, but more of an accidental one.

A bit of high school algebra

For what it’s worth, the resultant formula is 2y = 1.24 * FDTR + 1.3 * (ED2 – ED6) -0.015  PCE CYOY + 0.08 * USURTOT – 0.25 * (10y average of FDTR) + 0.12 * (10y average of USURTOT) – 1.27. I am pretty sure that one could get similar results with a simpler framework; the notion that a 2% rise in core inflation is worth just 3 bps on the two-year yield, all else being equal, leaves me simultaneously amused and bemused.

What does seem evident, however, is that henceforth there is going to be considerably more signal generated from two-year yields than has been the case in recent quarters. As such, 2s-10s are going to be worth following again, just as much if not more than 5s-30s. Both nominal yields and the curves are clearly constrained by the notion that all of this inflation kerfuffle really is transitory at its heart, and that, with r* remaining in the gutter, the long-run lid on nominal policy rates is going to be extraordinarily low.

That’s probably as good a null hypothesis as any, and possibly better than most. That being said, if we’re still having a lot of the same inflation conversations a year from now, we’re gonna need a long hard think about whether some of the post-GFC lessons need to be unlearned. In the meantime, at least fixed income is interesting again. I wonder where the yield curve and the model will eventually meet up to shake hands again… -Cameron Crise

The yield curve will become more interesting if Powell and The Gang take their foot off the monetary accelerator pedal.

September US Existing Home Sales Surprise! 6.29M Home Sold SAAR, Median Price Drops Like A Rock, Inventory Still MIA

It was a surprise to see 6.29 million home sold SAAR in September. That is a 7% MoM growth rate.

The median price of existing home sales GROWTH slowed to 15.85% YoY (it was over 24% for the last two months).

And INVENTORY of existing homes for sale remains MIA.

Perhaps President Biden can issue an executive order forcing households to place their homes up for sale if they refuse to get vaccinated for Covid. /sarc

Other than insanely high prices for existing homes and the utter lack of available inventory, the September EHS report is a shining star.

Fed Inferno? Mortgage Purchase Applications Rise 1.87% From Previous Week, But Down 10% From Same Week Last Year

Yes, the super-heated housing market is showing signs of slowing down.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), mortgage purchase applications rose 1.87% from the previous week. However, purchase applications are down 10% from the same week last year.

Refinancing applications dropped -.48% from the previous week as the 30-year mortgage contract rate rose from 3.14% to 3.18%. Refi apps are up 6% from the same week last year.

As rates begin to rise, mortgage refi applications will decline.

With the Atlanta Fed GDP tracker showing GDP growth slowing to 0.5%, we are starting to see the beginning of a Fed inferno.

Here is Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki!

Time To Buy? Real 30Y Mortgage Rate At -2.21% As Real Home Price Growth At 14.34% YoY (UMich Home Buying Sentiment Improves To 75)

Wake up. Time to buy?

This is a time even unlike the disastrous housing bubble of the 2000s that led to the financial crisis and Great Recession. Even during the housing bubble years, we still had positive REAL mortgage rates: Bankrate 30Y Fixed rate – CPI YoY. But today we have even FASTER REAL home price growth and NEGATIVE mortgage rates!

And yes, REAL home price growth is 14.34% YoY while REAL hourly earnings growth is -0.79%.

The University of Michigan consumer survey came out today and buying conditions for housing improved to 75. Which means that more people were negative than positive due to skyrocketing home prices.

With negative 30Y mortgage rates and rising apartment rents, is it time to buy? Just remember what happened to Leon in Blade Runner.

Consumer Sentiment For Housing Falls Due To Skyrocketing Home Prices (Consumers Get Powell’d!)

I have a new term for consumers that get beaten-up by The Fed’s massive distortion of markets. I call this being “Powell’d”.

The latest example of consumers getting Powell’d is in the University of Michigan consumer survey. Buying conditions for housing just fell to the lowest level since 1982.

Foul Powell on the prowl.

Dracula’s enemy Harker says that he sees rate hike in late 2022 or early 2023.

“I am in the camp that believes it will soon be time to begin slowly and methodically — frankly, boringly — tapering our $120 billion in monthly purchases of Treasury bills and mortgage-backed securities.”

Here is a photo of Harker with Fed Chair Powell.

The Fed Helped Create Housing Bubble I And Then Helped Create Housing Bubble II: The Sequel (Case Study Of Phoenix AZ Home Price Bubble)

Phil Hall of Benzinga wrote a series of excellent articles in four parts for MortgageOrb (although “The Orb” has removed his name). Here are the links to his stories.

https://mortgageorb.com/the-fall-and-rise-of-the-housing-market-part-one

https://mortgageorb.com/the-fall-and-rise-of-the-housing-market-part-two

https://mortgageorb.com/the-fall-and-rise-of-the-housing-market-part-three

https://mortgageorb.com/the-fall-and-rise-of-the-housing-market-part-four

After re-reading these excellent articles on the housing bubble and crash, I thought I would take the opportunity to present a few charts to highlight the housing bubble, pre-crash and post-crash.

Here is a graph of Phoenix AZ home prices. Note the bubble that peaked in mid 2006. The Phoenix bubble correlates with the large volume of sub-620 FICO lending and Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) lending. Bear in mind, many of the ARMs prior to 2010 were NINJA (no income, no job) ARM loans.

What happened? Serious delinquenices at the national levels spiked as The Great Recession set in and unemployment spiked.

Since the housing bubble burst and surge in serious mortgage delinquencies, The Federal Reserve entered the economy with a vengeance. And have never left, and increased their drowning of markets with liquidity.

The Fed whip-sawing of interest rates in response to the 2001 recession was certainly a problem. They dropped The Fed Funds Target rate like a rock, then homebuilding went wild nationally and home prices soared thanks to Alt-A (NINJA) and ARM lending. But now The Fed is dominating markets like a gigantic T-Rex.

Oddly, then Fed Chair Ben Bernanke never saw the bubble coming. Or the burst.

Speaking of pizza, Donato’s from Columbus Ohio is my favorite. Founder’s Favorite is my favorite, but they do offer the dreaded Hawaiian pizza (ham, pineapple, almonds and … cinnamon?)

Bleech!

Urkel Economy! US Consumer Confidence Lowest In Decades Thanks To Rising Prices (Home Buying Conditions Fall To 60)

This is the Steve Urkel economy where The Federal Reserve and Federal government screw everything up with their policies (or follicies) and say “Whoops! Did I do that?”

(Bloomberg) — U.S. consumer sentiment rose slightly in early September but remained close to a near-decade low, while buying conditions deteriorated to their worst since 1980 because of high prices.

The University of Michigan’s preliminary sentiment index edged up to 71 from 70.3 in August, data released Friday showed. The figure trailed the median estimate of 72 in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Buying conditions for household durables, homes and motor vehicles all fell to the lowest in decades. The report said the declines were due to complaints about high prices. Consumers expect inflation to rise 4.7% over the coming year, matching the highest since 2008.

September’s UMich Buying Conditions for Houses fell to 60 … thanks to superheated house prices.

I can just picture Fed Chair Jerome Powell channeling Steve Urkel and saying “Whoops!! Did I do that?”

Rent Inflation: National Average RENT Rose 10.3% YoY (Fed’s Got A Line On YOU!)

Not only after home prices screaming at near 20% YoY growth, but apartment rents are surging as well.

(Bloomberg) — Apartment rents were up in August from a year earlier in all the top 30 U.S. metro areas, the first time that’s happened since the start of the pandemic, according to a new report by Yardi.

The national average rent in multi-family buildings rose 10.3% from a year earlier to $1,539 — the first double-digit rise in the dataset’s history — after a $25 increase in August, the real-estate firm said. Over the past 10 years, the average pace of growth has been 2%.

Zillow’s rent index of all homes is growing at 9.25% YoY.

Fed Chair Jerome “Inflation is Transitory” Powell.

The Fed has a line on you! Or at least a bullseye on the back of renters.

Is it safe …. for renters?

85% Of High Yield Bonds Have A Negative Real Yield (And Real 30Y Mortgages Rates At -2.5% While Real Fed Funds Target Rate Is -5.12%)

We are living in a negative real yield world.

According to Deutsche Bank, 85% of the US High Yield market has a yield below the current rate of inflation.

Its not only high-yield bonds that have negative REAL yields, but even The Fed Funds Target rate is negative at -5.12%. The real 10-year government bond yield is -4.01% and the REAL Freddie Mac 30-year mortgage survey rate is -2.5%.

Yes, its The Fed’s little green bag at work. Is Fed Chair Powell REALLY Mr. Blonde???

Fed’s Ability to Set Rates Floor Is Weakening on Cash Deluge (“Charming” Powell Had At Least 350 Meetings, Dinners Or Phone Calls With Members Of Congress)

Powell and The Fed’s policies have veered from their mandate requiring Chairman Powell to meet 350 times with Congress to sell The Fed’s policies.

Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve’s floor for overnight funding markets is proving to be no match for the deluge of cash. 

Money-market securities ranging from Treasury bills to repurchase agreements continue to trade below 0.05% — the offering rate on the overnight reverse repo facility, which is supposed to act like a floor for the front end. The Fed at its June meeting had raised the rate by five basis points to help support the smooth functioning of short-term funding markets.

Still, usage of the tool climbed to a record $1.136 trillion on Monday, eclipsing the previous high of $1.116 trillion on Aug. 18. 

Demand for the so-called RRP facility has surged as a flood of dollars threatens to overwhelm funding markets. That’s in part a result of the central bank’s long-standing asset purchases and drawdowns of the Treasury’s cash account, which is pushing reserves into the system. As a result, liquidity has been swelling, especially as the Treasury cuts supply to create more borrowing room under the debt ceiling.

The pressure pushing down overnight rates toward zero is proving a major headache for money-market funds. It hampers their ability to invest profitably, and can lead to further disruptions as they begin to waive fees to avoid passing on negative rates to shareholders. A number of firms including Vanguard Group shut down prime money-market funds last year after struggling to cover operating costs in the low-interest-rate environment.

Yes, overnight rates such as the US SOFR rate, are near zero.

Powell’s Charm Offensive in Congress Positions Him to Keep Job

Perhaps that is why Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is acting as a lobbyist with Congress for The Fed’s nontraditional approach to monetary policy.

(Bloomberg) Since he took the helm of the Fed in February 2018, through June of this year, he’s held at least 350 meetings, dinners or phone calls with members of Congress, according to his monthly calendars. That’s almost nine per month, and many of those included more than one lawmaker. The tally doesn’t count at least 16 appearances as chair before numerous congressional committees.

Well, the stock market has zoomed-up since Bernanke and The Fed adopted zero-interest rate (ZIRP) policies and the now famous quantitative easing (QE) policies in late 2008.

Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked Fed Chair Powell about the Fed helping with US unemployment. We are already at zero rates (on the short-end), and Congress should look at their policies on why labor force participation is slow to recover from the Covid epidemic.

Powell is sounding more and more like Parks and Recreation’s Tom Haverford in terms of schmoozing Congress for support.

Update: The Mises Stationarity Index is flashing “BUBBLE.”

The Mises Stationarity Index is different than the Shiller CAPE index, which is showing equities as being overpriced, but not yet in dot.com bubble zone.