US Housing Hits A Brick Wall: “The House Price Deceleration Is Staggering”

(by Mark Hanson) RedFin puts out a monthly home sales report, which contains a lot of great data. The chart below shows Feb 2018 year-over-year price growth, which was off the charts, compared to Feb 2019 year-over-year growth, which was very weak.

This y/y growth deceleration is staggering, especially in the high-flying regions.

Very few regions escaped a significant deceleration with some prominent regions like San Jose and San Francisco even getting crushed on a year-over-year absolute basis.

The only thing that even comes close to this sharp of deceleration was circa-2007.

It was data like these I have been tracking that led to my call last year that there was no way the Fed could continue to hike in 2019.

For certain housing and related names, this is a killer unless prices re-accelerate quickly.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/House-Price-Deceleration-Feb-2018.jpg?itok=IGorIP80

Source: ZeroHedge

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Yield Curve Inverts For The First Time Since 2007: Recession Countdown Begins

The most prescient recession indicator in the market just inverted for the first time since 2007.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm960.jpg?itok=c0gP8hQC

Don’t believe us? Here is Larry Kudlow last summer explaining that everyone freaking out about the 2s10s spread is silly, they focus on the 3-month to 10-year spread that has preceded every recession in the last 50 years (with few if any false positives)… (fwd to 4:20)

As we noted below, on six occasions over the past 50 years when the three-month yield exceeded that of the 10-year, economic recession invariably followed, commencing an average of 311 days after the initial signal. 

And here is Bloomberg showing how the yield curve inverted in 1989, in 2000 and in 2006, with recessions prompting starting in 1990, 2001 and 2008. This time won’t be different.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/prior%20inversions.jpg?itok=BgnEMjCQ

On the heels of a dismal German PMI print, world bond yields have tumbled, extending US Treasuries’ rate collapse since The Fed flip-flopped full dovetard.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm14B0.jpg?itok=Ez0lIVd_

The yield curve is now inverted through 7Y…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm1EA4.jpg?itok=xPH6zVO8

With the 7Y-Fed-Funds spread negative…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm2864.jpg?itok=HqnSx1RR

Bonds and stocks bid after Powell threw in the towell last week…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfmA98E.jpg?itok=D4zUXHf3

But the message from the collapse in bond yields is too loud to ignore. 10Y yields have crashed below 2.50% for the first time since Jan 2018…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm5670.jpg?itok=rocy5sKV

Crushing the spread between 3-month and 10-year Treasury rates to just 2.4bps – a smidge away from flashing a big red recession warning…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm36A8.jpg?itok=3cfUyMJ1

Critically, as Jim Grant noted recently, the spread between the 10-year and three-month yields is an important indicator, James Bianco, president and eponym of Bianco Research LLC notes today. On six occasions over the past 50 years when the three-month yield exceeded that of the 10-year, economic recession invariably followed, commencing an average of 311 days after the initial signal. 

Bianco concludes that the market, like Trump, believes that the current Funds rate isn’t low enough:

While Powell stressed over and over that the Fed is at “neutral,” . . . the market is saying the rate hike cycle ended last December and the economy will weaken enough for the Fed to see a reason to cut in less than a year.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm1B73_0.jpg?itok=iZGfa7C7

Equity markets remain ignorant of this risk, seemingly banking it all on The Powell Put. We give the last word to DoubleLine’s Jeff Gundlach as a word of caution on the massive decoupling between bonds and stocks…

“Just because things seem invincible doesn’t mean they are invincible. There is kryptonite everywhere. Yesterday’s move created more uncertainty.”

Source: ZeroHedge

10Y Treasury Yield Tumbles Below 2.50% As 7Y Inverts

The bond bull market is alive and well with yesterday’s bond-bear-battering by The Fed extending this morning.

10Y Yields are back below 2.50% for the first time since Jan 2018…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfmCA1F.jpg?itok=_jgnif7R

…completely decoupled from equity markets….

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm51AD.jpg?itok=s4YZh3r-

The yield is now massively inverted to Fed Funds…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm8BAA.jpg?itok=hEx0M8LV

With 7Y yields now below effective fed funds rate…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm5F7C.jpg?itok=yYvetY6-

Source: ZeroHedge

Under “Basel III” Rules Gold Becomes Money Again

In 2018, central banks added nearly 23 million ounces of gold, up 74% from 2017. This is the highest annual purchase rate increase since 1971, and the second-highest rate in history. Russia was the biggest buyer. And not surprisingly, the lion’s share of gold is flowing into central banks of countries that are in the sights of America’s killing machine—the Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned us about in 1958.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/Central-bank-gold-reserves-March-19.jpg?itok=bLc9J7va

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), located in Basal, Switzerland, is often referred to as the central bankers’ bank. Related to this issue of central bank hoarding of gold is the fact that on March 29 the BIS will permit central banks to count the physical gold it holds (marked to market) as a reserve asset just the same as it allows cash and sovereign debt instruments to be counted.

There has been a long-term view that China and other nations dishoarding dollars in favor of gold have been quite happy about western banks trashing the gold price through the synthetic paper markets. But one has to wonder if that might not change, once physical gold is marked to market for the sake of enlarging bank balance sheets.

This also raises the question with regard to how much gold the U.S. actually holds as opposed to what it claims to hold. James Sinclair has always argued that the only way the world can overcome the debt that is strangling the global economy is to remonetize gold on the balance sheets of central banks at a price in many thousands of dollars higher. This would mean a major change in the global monetary system away from the dollar, as China has been pushing for the last decade or so.

If banks own and possess gold bullion, they can use that asset as equity and thus this will enable them to print more money. It may be no coincidence that as March 29th has been approaching banks around the world have been buying huge amounts of physical gold and taking delivery. For the first time in 50 years, central banks bought over 640 tons of gold bars last year, almost twice as much as in 2017 and the highest level raised since 1971, when President Nixon closed the gold window and forced the world onto a floating rate currency system.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/gold-vs-fiat-money_0.jpg?itok=WLnwyvvd

But as Chris Powell of GATA noted, that in itself is not news. The move toward making gold equal to cash and bonds was anticipated several years ago. However, what is news is the realization by a major Italian Newspaper, II Sole/24 Ore, that “synthetic gold,” or “paper gold,” has been used to suppress the price of gold, thus enabling countries and their central banks to continue to buy gold and build up their reserves at lower and lower prices as massive amounts of artificially-created “synthetic gold” triggers layer upon layer of artificially lower priced gold as unaware private investors panic out of their positions.

The paper concludes that,

“In recent years, but especially in 2018, a jump in the price of gold would have been the normal order of things. On the contrary, gold closed last year with a 7-percent downturn and a negative financial return. How do you explain this? While the central banks raided “real” gold bars behind the scenes, they pushed and coordinated the offer of hundreds of tons of “synthetic gold” on the London and New York exchanges, where 90 percent of the trading of metals takes place. The excess supply of gold derivatives obviously served to knock down the price of gold, forcing investors to liquidate positions to limit large losses accumulated on futures. Thus, the more gold futures prices fell, the more investors sold “synthetic gold,” triggering bearish spirals exploited by central banks to buy physical gold at ever-lower prices”.

The only way governments can manage the levels of debt that threaten the financial survival of the Western world is to inflate (debase) their currencies. The ability to count gold as a reserve from which banks can create monetary inflation is not only to allow gold to become a reserve on the balance sheet of banks but to have a much, much higher, gold price to build up equity in line with the massive debt in the system.

Source: ZeroHedge

US Department Store Sales Lowest Since 1992 (Retail REIT and CMBS Alert!)

The US Commerce Department reported that Department stores are a “wipeout.”

E-commerce continue to wipeout brick and mortar store sales.

https://confoundedinterestnet.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/screen-shot-2019-03-15-at-11.59.42-am.png?w=621&h=277

At the same time, e-commerce sales continue to rise.

https://confoundedinterestnet.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/screen-shot-2019-03-15-at-12.00.35-pm.png?w=621&h=282

It’s not the end of the world for bricks and mortar shopping. Consumers still eat out at restaurants, use fitness clubs, bars, etc. But, it does cause a rethinking of retail REIT and CMBS valuation and growth projections.

https://confoundedinterestnet.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/wipo.jpg?w=625

Source: Confounded Interest

Basement-Dwelling Millennials Beware: Reverse Mortgages May Evaporate Your Inheritance

With nearly 90% of millennials reporting that they have less than $10,000 in savings and more than 100 million Americans of working age with nothing in retirement accounts, we have bad news for basement-dwelling millennials invested in the “waiting for Mom and Dad to die” model;

Reverse mortgages are set to make a comeback if a consortium of lenders have their way, according to Bloomberg.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/adult%20at%20home.jpg?itok=__UGDfV9

Columbia Business School real estate professor Chris Mayer – who’s also the CEO of reverse mortgage lender Longbridge Financial, says the widely-panned financial arrangements deserve a second look. Mayer is a former economist at the Federal Reserve of Boston with a Ph.D. from MIT. 

In 2012, Mayer co-founded Longbridge, based in Mahwah, New Jersey, and in 2013 became CEO. He’s on the board of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. He said his company, which services 10,000 loans, hasn’t had a single completed foreclosure because of failure to pay property taxes or insurance. –Bloomberg

Reverse mortgages allow homeowners to pull equity from their home in monthly installments, lines of credit or lump sums. Over time, their loan balance grows – coming due upon the borrower’s death. At this point, the house is sold to pay off the loan – typically leaving heirs with little to nothing

Elderly borrowers, meanwhile, must continue to pay taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities – which can lead to foreclosure.

While even some critics agree that reverse mortgages make sense for some homeowners – they have been criticized for excessive fees and tempting older Americans into spending their home equity early instead of using it for things such as healthcare expenses. Fees on a $100,000 loan on a house worth $200,000, for example, can total as much as $10,000 – and are typically wrapped into the mortgage. 

The profits are significant, the oversight is minimal, and greed could work to the disadvantage of seniors who should be protected by government programs and not targeted as prey,” said critic Dave Stevens – former Obama administration Federal Housing Administration commissioner and former CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. 

To support his claims that reverse mortgages are far less risky than they used to be, Mayer cites a 2014 study by Alicia Munnell of Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. Munnell, a professor and former assistant secretary of the Treasury Department in the Clinton Administration (who once invested $150,000 in Mayer’s company and has since sold her stake). Munnell concluded that industry changes requiring lenders to assess a prospective borrower’s ability to pay property taxes and homeowner’s insurance significantly reduces the risk of a reverse mortgage

The number of reverse mortgages, or Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM) in the United States between 2005 and 2018 has not shown a recent upward trend – however that may change if Mayer and his cohorts are able to convince homeowners that reverse mortgages aren’t what they used to be.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/reverse%20mortgages.png?itok=RB-pSImm

Cleaning up their image

For years, the reverse mortgage industry has relied on celebrity pitchmen to convince Americans to part with the equity in their homes in order to maintain their lifestyle. 

The late Fred Thompson, a U.S. senator and Law & Order actor, represented American Advisors Group, the industry’s biggest player. These days, the same company leans on actor Tom Selleck.

Just like you, I thought reverse mortgages had to have some catch,” Selleck says in an online video. Then I did some homework and found out it’s not any of that. It’s not another way for a bank to get your house.

Michael Douglas, in his Golden Globe-winning performance on the Netflix series The Kominsky Method, satirizes such pitches. His financially desperate character, an acting teacher, quits filming a reverse mortgage commercial because he can’t stomach the script. –Bloomberg

In 2016, American Advisers and two other companies were accused by the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of running deceptive ads. Without admitting guilt, American Advisers agreed to add more caveats to its promotions and paid a $400,000 fine. 

As a result, the company has made “significant investments” in compliance, according to company spokesman Ryan Whittington, adding that reverse mortgages are now “highly regulated, viable financial tools,” which require homeowners to undergo third-party counseling before participating in one. 

The FHA has backed more than 1 million such reverse mortgages. Homeowners pay into an insurance fund an upfront fee equal to 2 percent of a home’s value, as well as an additional half a percentage point every year.

After the last housing crash, taxpayers had to make up a $1.7 billion shortfall because of reverse mortgage losses. Over the past five years, the government has been tightening rules, such as requiring homeowners to show they can afford tax and insurance payments. –Bloomberg

As a result of tightened regulations, the number of reverse mortgage loans has dropped significantly since 2008. 

Making the case for reverse mortgages is Shelly Giordino – a former executive at reverse mortgage company Security 1 Lending, who co-founded the Funding Longevity Task Force in 2012. 

Giordino now works for Mutual of Obama’s reverse mortgage division as their “head cheerleader” for positive reverse mortgages research. One Reverse Mortgage CEO Gregg Smith said that the group is promoting “true academic research” to convince the public that reverse mortgages are a good idea. 

Mayer under fire

University of Massachusetts economics professor Gerald Epstein says that Columbia may need to scrutinize Mayer’s business relationships for conflicts of interest. 

They really should be careful when people have this kind of dual loyalty,” said Epstein. 

Columbia said it monitors Mayer’s employment as CEO of the mortgage company to ensure compliance with its policies. “Professor Mayer has demonstrated a commitment to openness and transparency by disclosing outside affiliations,” said Chris Cashman, a spokesman for the business school. Mayer has a “special appointment,” which reduces his salary and teaching load and also caps his hours at Longbridge, Cashman said.

Likewise, Boston College said it reviewed Professor Munnell’s investment in Mayer’s company, on whose board she served from 2012 through 2014. Munnell said another round of investors in 2016 bought out her $150,000 stake in Longbridge for an additional $4,000 in interest.

“Anytime I had a conversation like this, I had to say at the beginning that I have $150,000 in Longbridge,” said Munnell. “I had to do it all the time. I’m just as happy to be out, for my academic life.” 

Source: ZeroHedge

New Home Sales Slump In January, Despite Drop In Prices

Following a rebound in November and December, January’s (delayed due to the govt shutdown) new home sales plunged 6.9% MoM despite a jump in homebuilder sentiment.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/2019-03-14_7-05-01.png?itok=z81jYHNO

This pushes year-over-year growth in new home sales back into decline.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/2019-03-14_7-06-40.png?itok=iI2VJQa9

Sales of new U.S. homes in January fell to the weakest pace since October, driven by a decline in the Midwest as still-elevated prices keep buyers on the sidelines.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/2019-03-14_7-01-56.png?itok=8wOcford

The number of properties sold for which construction hadn’t yet started declined to 183,000, the lowest in three months, showing a weaker pipeline of building for the coming months.

The sales drop occurred despite a drop in the median sales price, down 3.8% from a year earlier to $317,200.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/2019-03-14_7-12-07.png?itok=8Te0gwF0

As a reminder, new-home purchases are seen as a timelier barometer of the market, as they’re calculated when contracts are signed rather than when they close, like the previously-owned homes data.

Source: ZeroHedge