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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“Bond King” Gross Retires, Dudley “Amazed and Baffled” About Fed’s Balance Sheet Unwind And World’s Largest Pension Fund Suffers Catastrophic Quarter (Boogie In The Dark?)

I feel like investors are doing the “Boogie In The Dark” when it comes to understanding this broken market.

What’s going on?

First, bond king Bill Gross (formerly of PIMCO then Janus-Henderson) has thrown in the towel after 50 years.  His success at PIMCO was in the greatest bond bull run in modern history. But his Janus fund started near the peak of The Fed’s QE3 balance sheet expansion. Then his fund underperformed when The Fed started unwinding their balance sheet (and raising their target rate). Translation: The Fed got bond king Gross dizzy … and he retired.

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And that brings me to the former New York Fed President William Dudley.

(Bloomberg) — Former Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley said he’s “amazed and baffled” at the attention the wind-down of the U.S. central bank’s balance sheet has been receiving from investors, pointing to other culprits as the likely cause of recent volatility in financial markets.

Amazed and baffled? Just ask Bill Gross about the importance of Fed’s wind-down.

Then we have the world’s largest pension fund, Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund that lost 9.1 percent, or 14.8 trillion yen ($136 billion), in the three months ended Dec. 31. The decline in value and the rate of loss were the steepest based on comparable data back to April 2008. Domestic stocks were the fund’s worst performing investment, followed by foreign equities. Assets fell to 150.7 trillion yen at the end of December from a record 165.6 trillion yen in September.

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But who helped break the market by distorting asset prices and returns? The Federal Reserve and other global central banks.

With so many uncertainties in global market (Brexit, trade wars, Venezuela’s meltdown, The Fed’s uncertain policy path, Italian debt crisis. etc., …

(Bloomberg) — Italy is preparing to sell as much as 1.8 billion euros ($2.1 billion) of state-owned real estate as it seeks to rein in soaring debt, people with knowledge of the plan said.

investors should hedge their risk exposure across markets … or move to cash or short-term Treasuries. In other words, take out some insurance.

Lastly, down in Virginia, we are suffering through yet another embarrassing governor (Northam) after McAuliffe and his electric call debacle.

Bye, bye Bill Gross. I can’t stand to see you go.

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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 Pending Home Sales Fall 9.5% YoY In December To Lowest Level Since 2014 As Fed Unwinds

As The Federal Reserve continues to unwind its balance sheet, pending home sales YoY declined 9.5% YoY, the worst since 2014.

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Pending home sales got a big boost from The Fed’s third round of asset purchases (QE3), but PHS are feeling the pain of The Fed’s unwind.

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I wonder if “The Savior,” Ben Bernanke, saw this coming. Doctor, doctor (Bernanke), we’ve got a bad case of declining pending home sales.

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Simply Unaffordable! The Fed And Why Apartment Rents Are So High And The 1-Unit Housing Bubble of 2006 Market Distortion

The infamous home price bubble and financial crisis of 2008 is easily blamed on 1) subprime borrowers, 2) Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs), 3) financial derivatives, 4) tricked-up ARMs (adjustabe rate mortgages) like pay-option ARMs, 4) lack of regulatory oversight (The Fed claimed that is wasn’t their job!), etc.

But what generally overlooked is the supply response by developers and homebuilders to the sudden decline in interest rates (following the Fed Funds target rate).  A construction boom occured in the early to mid-2000s until The Fed decided to raise rates rapidly again in 2004 that helped result in a crash of 1-unit housing starts that never really recovered. True, subprime borrrowers disappeared (or shifted to FHA-insured loans), and tricked-up ARMs have been discouraged by the Elizabeth Warren brainchild The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). So, now we have increasing 1-unit housing starts at a lower level (fewer borrowers relative to the 2000s) and an over-supply of houses that the US is still trying to work through.

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Multifamily (5+ unit) starts collapsed in 2008 following the foreclosure wave that put thousands of homes on the market, generally at reduced prices. But as wage growth slowed following The Great Recession, the demand for apartments increased (generally more affordable) and the rental vacancy rate is near the lowest level since 2000. Low vacancy rates, rising apartment rates = affordability crisis.

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Why don’t developers and homebuilders (apartments) put up more supply? If some areas, like Northern Virginia, they have responded. But rents in Washington DC and NOVA remain high. (Check out Rent Cafe). But national rents continue to rise as well.

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Another compounding factor is tight land use controls in most major cities, preventing a supply response. This essentially forced some households to the suburbs for more affordable housing (some DC workers actually commute from West Virginia to DC or Virginia cities like Front Royal (great apple cider doughnuts at the Apple House in nearby Linden VA).

So housing in the US remains “simply unaffordable.” And with tight local housing regulations. the US housing market is addicted to gov(ernment).

 

 

 

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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