Category Archives: Bonds

US Federal Reserve Bank’s Net Worth Turns Negative, They’re Insolvent, A Zombie Bank, That’s All Folks

While the Fed has been engaging in quantitative tightening for over a year now in an attempt to shrink its asset holdings, it still has over $4.1 trillion in bonds on its balance sheet, and as a result of the spike in yields since last summer, their massive portfolio has suffered substantial paper losses which according to the Fed’s latest quarterly financial report, hit a record $66.453 billion in the third quarter, raising questions about their strategy at a politically charged moment for the central bank, whose “independence” has been put increasingly into question as a result of relentless badgering by Donald Trump.

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What immediately caught the attention of financial analysts is that the gaping Q3 loss of over $66 billion, dwarfed the Fed’s $39.1 billion in capital, leaving the US central bank with a negative net worth…

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/Fed%20BS%2012.12.jpg?itok=f5WkIqu4

… which would suggest insolvency for any ordinary company, but since the Fed gets to print its own money, it is of course anything but an ordinary company as Bloomberg quips.

It’s not just the fact that the US central bank prints the world’s reserve currency, but that it also does not mark its holdings to market. As a result, Fed officials usually play down the significance of the theoretical losses and say they won’t affect the ability of what they call “a unique non-profit entity’’ to carry out monetary policy or remit profits to the Treasury Department. Indeed, confirming this the Fed handed over $51.6 billion to the Treasury in the first nine months of the year.

The risk, however, is that should the Fed’s finances continue to deteriorate if only on paper, it could impair its standing with Congress and the public when it is already under attack from President Donald Trump as being a bigger problem than trade foe China.

Commenting on the Fed’s paper losses, former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh told Bloomberg that “a central bank with a negative net worth matters not in theory. But in practice, it runs the risk of chipping away at Fed credibility, its most powerful asset.’’

Additionally, the growing unrealized losses provide fuel to critics of the Fed’s QE and the monetary operating framework underpinning them, just as central bankers begin discussing the future of its balance sheet. And, as Bloomberg cautions, the metaphoric red ink also could make it politically more difficult for the Fed to resume QE if the economy turns down.

“We’re seeing the downside risk of unconventional monetary policy,’’ said Andy Barr, the outgoing chairman of the monetary policy and trade subcommittee of the House Financial Services panel. “The burden should be on them to tell us why this does not compromise their credibility and why the public and Congress should not be concerned about their solvency.’’

Of course, the culprit for the record loss is not so much the holdings, as the impact on bond prices as a result of rising rates which spiked in the summer as a result of the Fed’s own overoptimism on the economy, and which closed the third quarter at 3.10% on the 10Y Treasury. Indeed, with rates rising slower in the second quarter, the loss for Q3 was a more modest $19.6 billion.

And with yields tumbling in the fourth quarter as a result of the current growth and markets scare, it is likely that the Fed could book a major “profit” for the fourth quarter as the 10Y yield is now trading just barely above the 2.86% where it was on June 30.

Meanwhile, the Fed continues to shrink its bond holdings by a maximum of $50 billion per month, an amount that was hit on October 1, not by selling them, which could force it to recognize but by opting not to reinvest some of the proceeds of securities as they mature.

The Fed is expected to continue shrinking its balance sheet at rate of $50BN / month until the end of 2020 (as shown below) unless of course market stress forces the Fed to halt QT well in advance of its tentative conclusion.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/Fed%20Soma%20Nov%202018_1.jpg?itok=i1IAr1B1

In any case, the Fed will certainly never return to its far leaner balance sheet from before the crisis, which means that it will continue to indefinitely pay banks interest on the excess reserves they park at the Fed, with many of the recipient banks being foreign entities.

Barr, a Kentucky Republican, has accurately criticized that as a subsidy for the banks, one which will amount to tens of billions in annual “earnings” from the Fed, the higher the IOER rate goes up. He is not alone: so too has California Democrat Maxine Waters, who will take over as chair of the House Financial Services Committee in January following her party’s victory in the November congressional elections.

* * *

Going back to the Fed’s unique treatment of losses on its income statement and its under capitalization, in an Aug. 13 note, Fed officials Brian Bonis, Lauren Fiesthumel and Jamie Noonan defended the central bank’s decision not to follow GAAP in valuing its portfolio. Not only is the central bank a unique creation of Congress, it intends to hold its bonds to maturity, they wrote.

Under GAAP, an institution is required to report trading securities and those available for sale at fair or market value, rather than at face value. The Fed reports its balance-sheet holdings at face value.

The Fed is far less cautious with the treatment of its “profits”, which it regularly hands over to the Treasury: the interest income on its bonds was $80.2 billion in 2017. The central bank turns a profit on its portfolio because it doesn’t pay interest on one of its biggest liabilities – $1.7 trillion in currency outstanding.

The Fed’s unique financial treatments also extends to Congress, which while limiting to $6.8 billion the amount of profits that the Fed can retain to boost its capital has also repeatedly “raided” the Fed’s capital to pay for various government programs, including $19 billion in 2015 for spending on highways.

Still, a negative net worth is sure to raise eyebrows especially after Janet Yellen said in December 2015 that “capital is something that I believe enhances the credibility and confidence in the central bank.”

* * *

Furthermore, as Bloomberg adds, if it had to the Fed could easily operate with negative net worth – as it is doing now – like other central banks in Chile, the Czech Republic and elsewhere have done, according to Nathan Sheets, chief economist at PGIM Fixed Income. That said, questionable Fed finances pose communications and mostly political problems for Fed policymakers.

As for long-time Fed critic and former Fed governor, Kevin Warsh, he zeroed in on the potential impact on quantitative easing.

“QE works predominantly through its signaling to financial markets,’’ he said. “If Fed credibility is diminished for any reason — by misunderstanding the state of the economy, under-estimating the power of QE’s unwind or carrying a persistent negative net worth — QE efficacy is diminished.’’

The biggest irony, of course, is that the more “successful” the Fed is in raising rates – and pushing bond prices lower – the greater the un-booked losses on its bond holdings will become; should they become great enough to invite constant Congressional oversight, the casualty may be none other than the equity market, which owes all of its gains since 2009 to the Federal Reserve.

While a central bank can operate with negative net worth, such a condition could have political consequences, Tobias Adrian, financial markets chief at the IMF said. “An institution with negative equity is not confidence-instilling,’’ he told a Washington conference on Nov. 15. “The perception might be quite destabilizing at some point.”

That point will likely come some time during the next two years as the acrimonious relationship between Trump and Fed Chair Jerome Powell devolves further, at which point the culprit by design, for what would be the biggest market crash in history will be not the Fed – which in the past decade blew the biggest asset bubble in history – but President Trump himself.

Source: ZeroHedge

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Diagnosing What Ails The Market

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Credit “Death Spiral” Begins As Loan ETF Sees Massive Outflows, Liquidates Quality Paper

One week after even the IMF joined the chorus of warnings sounding the alarm over the unconstrained, unregulated growth of leveraged loans, and which as of November included the Fed, BIS, JPMorgan, Guggenheim, Jeff Gundlach, Howard Marks and countless others, it appears that investors have finally also joined the bandwagon and are now fleeing an ETF tracking an index of low-grade debt as credit spreads blow out and cracks appear across virtually all credit products.

Not only has the $6.4 billion BKLN Senior Loan ETF seen seven straight days of outflows, with investors pulling $129 million on Wednesday alone and reducing the fund’s assets by 2% to the lowest level in more than two years, but over 800 million has been pulled in last current month, the biggest monthly outflow ever as investors are packing it in.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/bkln%20loan.jpg?itok=lKtR3fpZ

Year to date, the shares of the largest ETF backed by the risky debt are down 1.7% and reached their lowest since April 2016; the ETF’s underlying benchmark, the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index, has also been hit recently and is down 0.6% YTD.

What is more concerning is that what has been a mere trickle of selling appears to be evolving into a full blown liquidation: some 29 million shares of BKLN, worth $654 million, traded on Tuesday – mostly on the downside – resulting in a record trading day for the fund and more than eight times its average daily turnover for the past five years.

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Speaking to Bloomberg, Yannis Couletsis, principal at Credence Capital Management said that “outflows for BKLN have most probably to do with the most recent deterioration of the credit environment,”; he ascribed the ETF’s drift on the deterioration of low-grade credit and “repricing of investors’ forecast regarding the path of Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes.”

Couletsis pointed to widening credit spreads and the fact that BKLN has floating-rate underlying instruments, assets that become less attractive than fixed-rate ones should the Fed skip its March rate hike, as some are anticipating.

The loan ETF puke comes at a time when both US investment grade and junk bond spreads have blown out this week the most in nearly two years, while yields spiked to a 30-month high this month. In fact, investment grade bonds are on track for their worst year in terms of total returns since 2008.

“The price action in the ETF hasn’t warranted investors to justify keeping it on to collect the monthly coupon it pays,” said Mohit Bajaj, director of exchange-traded funds at WallachBeth Capital. “The risk/reward hasn’t been there compared to short-term treasury products like JPST,” he added, referring to the $4.2 billion JPMorgan Ultra-Short Income ETF, which hasn’t seen a daily outflow since April 9.

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BLKN isn’t alone: investors have pulled $1.5 billion from loan funds since mid-October. According to a note from Citi strategists Michael Anderson and Philip Dobrinov, leveraged loans in the U.S. may no longer be the “star performer” amid a potential pause in rate hikes by the Fed, while the recent redemption scramble has caused ETFs to offload better quality loans to raise cash, according to the Citi duo. That’s despite leveraged loan issuance being at its highest since 2008 and returns on the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index at about 3.5 percent so far this year.

If investors are, indeed, unloading to raise cash, Anderson and Dobrinov write “this is a bearish sign, particularly if outflows persist and managers eventually turn to deep discount paper for cash. Furthermore, as we get closer to the end of the Fed’s hiking cycle, we expect further outflows as traditional fixed-rate credit products become more in vogue.”

Incidentally the behavior described by Citi’s strategists, in which ETF administrators first sell high quality paper then shift to deep discount holdings, was one of the catalysts that hedge fund manager Adam Schwartz listed three weeks ago as a necessary condition for credit ETFs to enter a “death spiral.” And with virtually everyone – including the Fed, BIS and IMF – all warning that the next crisis will begin in the leverage loan sector, the question to ask is “has it begun.”?

Source: ZeroHedge

 

Is The Corporate Debt Bubble Bursting? GE’s 5% Perpetual Bond Falls To $79 While Stock Goes Sub-$10

Last decade, there was a residential mortgage credit bubble that burst. While there doesn’t appear to be a residential mortgage credit bubble (well, just a little), there is most definitely a corporate debt credit bubble that appears to be bursting.

Take General Electric. Their stock price has slipped to under $10 per share from over $30 per share back in early 2017 while the 5% perpetual bond has rapidly gone from around par ($100) to $79 in the wink of The Fed’s eye.

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Of course, GE’s earnings-per-share have been tanking as interest rates have been rising.

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And to make matters worse, US investment grade debt is on track for worst year since 2008.

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Like Robot Monster, the Federal Reserve has helped to create bubbles in the corporate bond market.

Source: Confounded Interest


“The Collapse Has Begun” – GE Is Now Trading Like Junk

Two weeks after we reported that GE had found itself locked out of the commercial paper market following downgrades that made it ineligible for most money market investors, the pain has continued, and yesterday General Electric lost just over $5bn in market capitalization. While far less than the $49bn wiped out from AAPL the same day, it was arguably the bigger headline grabber.

The shares slumped -6.88% after dropping as much as -10% at the lows after the company’s CEO, in an interview with CNBC yesterday, failed to reassure market fears about a weakening financial position. The CEO suggested that the company will now urgently sell assets to address leverage and its precarious liquidity situation whereby it will have to rely on revolvers – and the generosity of its banks – now that it is locked out of the commercial paper market.

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Indeed, shares hit levels first seen in 1995 yesterday and have only been lower since, very briefly, during the financial crisis when they hit $6.66 in March 2009. For a bit of perspective, Deutsche Bank notes that the market cap of GE now is $69.5bn and it’s the 80th largest company in the S&P 500. Yet in August 2003, GE was the largest company in the index (and regularly the world between 1993-2005) at a market cap of $296bn, $12bn more than Microsoft in second place. Since then, the tech giant has grown to be a $826bn company well over 10 times the size, while GE’s market cap peaked (ironically) during the dot com bubble in August 2000 at $594BN before tumbling first in the tech crash and then the GFC.

But while most investors have been focusing on GE’s sliding equity, the bigger concern is what happens to the company’s giant debt load, especially if it is downgraded to junk.

First, some background: GE had about $115 billion of debt outstanding as of the end of September, down from $136 billion a year earlier. And while GE is targeting a net EBITDA leverage ratio of 2.5x, this hasn’t been enough to appease credit raters, which have expressed concern recently that GE’s beleaguered power business and deteriorating cash flows will continue to weaken the company’s financial position. As a result, Moody’s downgraded GE two levels last month to Baa1, three steps above speculative grade. S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings assign the company an equivalent BBB+, all with stable outlooks.

The problem is that while the rating agencies still hold GE as an investment grade company, the market disagrees.

GE – a top 15 issuer in both the US and EU indices – was recently downgraded into the BBB bucket, and as recently as September it was trading 20bps inside BBB- bonds. However they crossed over at the end of that month and now trade up to 50bps wide to the average of the weakest notch of IG.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/GE%20vs%20BBB.png?itok=NBrvx6Au

In other words, GE is already trading like junk, and has become the proverbial canary in the coalmine for what many have said could be the biggest risk facing the bond market: over $1 trillion in potential “fallen angel” debt, or investment grade names that end up being downgraded to high yield, resulting in a junk bond crisis.

As Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid notes, GE’s recent collapse has come at time when much discussion in recent months has been about BBBs as a percentage of the size of the HY market. Since 2005, BBBs have been steadily rising as a percentage of HY climbing back above the previous peak in 2014 (175%) before extending that growth to a current level of 274%. Meanwhile, the total notional of BBB investment grade debt has grown to $2.5 trillion in par value today, a 227% increase since 2009, and now represents 50% of the entire IG index. 

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Next, to get a sense of just how large the risk of fallen angels in the US is, consider that the BBB part of the IG index is now ~2.5x as large as the entire HY index.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/BBB%20par%20vs%20HY%20par.jpg

So large BBB companies – and none are larger than GE – with a deteriorating credit story are prone to additional widening pressure as investors fear the risks of an eventual downgrade to HY and a swamping of paper into that market. This, as Deutsche Bank writes, isn’t helping GE at the moment and may be a dress rehearsal for what happens for weaker and large BBB issuers in the next recession.

Meanwhile, while GE is not trading as a pure play junk bond just yet, it is well on its way as the following chart of GE’s spread in the context of both IG and HY shows.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/GE%20spread%20IG%20vs%20HY.jpg?itok=xpv-KlGJ

Which is both sad, and ironic: as Bloomberg’s Sebastian Boyd writes this morning, “the company’s CEOs boasted of its AAA rating as a key strategic asset, but it was more than that. The rating, which it maintained for more than half a century, was symbolic of the company’s status as a champion of American commerce. Now, Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson are the only U.S. corporates with the top rating from S&P.”

And while rating agencies have yet to indicate they are contemplating further cuts to the company’s investment grade rating, the bond market has clearly awoken, and nowhere more so than in the swap space, where GE’s Credit Default Swaps have exploded in recent weeks.

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What kind of an impact would GE’s downgrade have? With $48 billion of bonds in the Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate index, GE would become almost 9% of the BB universe. And one look at Boyd’s chart below shows that the market is increasingly pricing GE’s index-eligible bonds as junk, especially in the context of the move over the past month.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/GE%20bonds%20vs%20BB%2B.jpg?itok=opTII-vm

An additional risk to the company’s credit profile: GE has more debt coming due in the next 18 months than any other BBB rated borrower: that fact alone makes it the most exposed to higher rates according to Boyd.

Meanwhile, GE’s ongoing spread blow out, and junk-equivalent price, has not escaped unnoticed, and as we have been warning for a while, could portend a broader repricing in the credit sector. As Guggenheim CIO commented this morning, “the selloff in GE is not an isolated event. More investment grade credits to follow. The slide and collapse in investment grade debt has begun.”

Then again, Minerd’s concern pales in comparison to what some other credit strategists. In an interview with Bloomberg TV on November 8, Bruce Richards, chairman and chief executive officer of the multi-billion Marathon Asset Management warned that over leveraged companies “are going to get crushed” in the next recession.  Richards also warned that when the cycle does turn, “with no liquidity in the high-yield market to speak of, when these tens of billions or potentially hundreds of billions falls into junk land, it’s “Watch out below!” because there’s going to be enormous price adjustments.”

Echoing what we said above, Richards noted that about $1 trillion of bonds are rated as BBB, as investment- grade, when they has leverage ratios worthy of junk, adding that “the magnifying glass is now shifting” toward ratings companies.

For now the “magnifying glass” appears to have focused on GE, and judging by the blow out in spreads for this “investment grade” credit, what it has found has been unexpected. Which brings us to the question we asked at the top: will GE be the canary in the credit crisis coalmine and, when the next crisis finally does strike, the biggest fallen angel of them all?

Source: ZeroHedge

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“There Is No Corner To Hide”: $100 Billion Fund Manager Warns Credit Rout Is Just Starting

Without that central bank support and transitioning off the fiscal stimulus, our long-term outlook for investment grade is definitely on the more bearish side over the last two to three years.”

Interest On US Treasury Debt Hits $523 Billion As China Issues “Ron Swanson” Bonds

US debt continues to climbs along with interest rates. The interest paid to private banks and others on US Treasury debt has hit $523 BILLIION … and rising.

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Meanwhile, in China bondholders are being paid in ham instead of cash. Or perhaps bacon. Ron Swanson would approve!

Source: Confounded Interest

Where The Next Financial Crisis Begins

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(Global Macro Monitor) We are not sure of how the next financial crisis will exactly unfold but reasonably confident it will have its roots in the following analysis. Maybe it has already begun.

The U.S. Treasury market is the center of the financial universe and the 10-year yield is the most important price in the world, of which, all other assets are priced. We suspect the next major financial crisis may not be in the Treasury market but will most likely emanate from it.

U.S. Public Sector Debt Increase Financed By Central Banks 

The U.S. has had a free ride for this entire century, financing its rapid run up in public sector debt,  from 58 percent of GDP at year-end 2002, to the current level of 105 percent, mostly by foreign central banks and the Fed.

Marketable debt, in particular, notes and bonds, which drive market interest rates have increased by over $9 trillion during the same period, rising from 20 percent to 55 percent of GDP.

Central bank purchases, both the Fed and foreign central banks, have, on average, bought 63 percent of the annual increase in U.S. Treasury notes and bonds from 2003 to 2018. Note their purchases can be made in the secondary market, or, in the case of foreign central banks,  in the monthly Treasury auctions.

In the shorter time horizon leading up to the end of QE3,  that is 2003 to 2014, central banks took down, on average, the equivalent of 90 percent of the annual increase in notes and bonds.  All that mattered to the price-insensitive central banks was monetary and exchange rate policy. 

Stunning.

Greenspan’s Bond Market Conundrum

The charts and data also explain what Alan Greenspan labeled the bond market conundrum just before the Great Financial Crisis (GFC).   The former Fed chairman was baffled as long-term rates hardly budged while the Fed raised the funds rate by 425 bps from 2004 to 2006, largely, to cool off the housing market.

The data show foreign central banks absorbed 120 percent of all the newly issued T-notes and bonds during the years of the Fed tightening cycle, freeing up and displacing liquidity for other asset markets, including mortgages. Though the Fed was tight, foreign central bank flows into the U.S., coupled with Wall Street’s financial engineering, made for easy financial conditions.

Greenspan lays the blame on these flows as a significant factor as to why the Fed lost control of the yield curve.  The yield curve inverted because of these foreign capital flows and the reasoning goes that the inversion did not signal a crisis; it was a leading cause of the GFC (great financial crisis) as mortgage lending failed to slow, eventually blowing up into a massive bubble.

Because it had lost control of the yield curve, the Fed was forced to tighten until the glass started shattering.  Boy, did it ever.

Central Bank Financing Is A Much Different Beast

The effective “free financing” of the rapid increase in the portion of the U.S debt that matters most to markets, by creditors who could not give one whit about pricing, displaced liquidity from the Treasury market, while at the same time, keeping rates depressed, thus lifting other asset markets.

More importantly, central bank Treasury purchases are not a zero-sum game. There is no reallocation of assets to the Treasury market in order to make the bond buys.  The purchases are made with printed money.

Reserve Accumulation

It is a bit more complicated for foreign central banks, which accumulate reserves through currency intervention and are often forced to sterilize their purchase of dollars, and/or suffer the inflationary consequences.

Nevertheless, foreign central banks park much of their reserves in U.S. Treasury securities, mainly notes.

Times They Are A Chang ‘en

The charts and data show that since 2015, central banks have on average been net sellers of Treasury notes and bonds to the tune of an annual average of -19 percent of the yearly increase in net new note and bonds issued. The roll-off of the Fed’s SOMA Treasury portfolio, which is usually financed by a further increase in notes and bonds, does not increase the debt stock but, it is real cash flow killer for the U.S. government.

Unlike the years before 2015, the increase in new note and bond issuance is now a zero-sum game and financed by either the reallocation from other asset markets or an increase in financial leverage. The structural change in the financing of the Treasury market is taking place at a unpropitious time as deficits are ramping up.

Because 2017 was unique and an aberration of how the Treasury financed itself due to debt ceiling constraint, the markets are just starting to feel this effect. Consequently, the more vulnerable emerging markets are taking a beating this year and volatility is increasing across the board.

The New Market Meta-Narrative 

We suspect very few have crunched these numbers or understand them and this new meta-narrative supported by the data is the main reason for the increase in market gyrations and volatile capital flows this year.   We are pretty confident in the data, and the construction of our analysis. Feel free to correct us if you suspect data error and where you think we are wrong in our analysis. We look forward to hearing from you.

Moreover, the screws will tighten further as the ECB ends their QE in December.  We don’t think, though we reserve the right to be wrong, as we often are, this is just a short-term bout of volatility, but it is the beginning of a structural change in the markets as reflected in the data.

Interest Rates Will Continue To Rise

It is clear, at least to us, the only possibility for the longer-term U.S. Treasury yields to stay at these low levels is an increase in haven buying, which, ergo other asset markets will have to be sold. If you expect a normal world going forward, that is no recession or sharp economic slowdown, no major geopolitical shock, or no asset market collapse,  by default, you have to expect higher interest rates.  The sheer logic is in the data.

Of course,  Chairman Powell could cave to political pressure and “just print money to lower the debt” but we seriously doubt it and suspect the markets would not respond positively.

Stay tuned.

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Source: Global Macro Monitor

From Russia With Love?

Russia Dumps US Treasuries As Rates Climb

As predicted, Russia has reduced its holdings of US Treasuries as US rates continue to rise.

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But Russia is a relatively small player in the US Treasury market (unless they are using proxies like postage-stamp sized Luxembourg, Ireland or the Cayman Islands).

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As The Federal Reserve SLOWLY unwinds its balance sheet, the Confounded Interest blog is surprised that Japan and China have not unloaded MORE of their Treasury holdings.

Source: Confounded Interest

Mortgage Rates Surge The Most Since Trump’s Election, Hit New Seven Year High

With US consumers suddenly dreading to see the bottom line on their next 401(k) statement, they now have the housing market to worry about.

As interest rates spiked in the past month, one direct consequence is that U.S. mortgage rates, already at a seven-year high, surged by the most since the Trump elections.

According to the latest weekly Freddie Mac statement, the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage jumped to 4.9%, up from 4.71% last week and the highest since mid-April 2011. It was the biggest weekly increase since Nov. 17, 2016, when the 30-year average surged 37 basis points.

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With this week’s jump, the monthly payment on a $300,000, 30-year loan has climbed to $1,592, up from $1,424 in the beginning of the year, when the average rate was 3.95%.

Even before this week’s spike, the rise in mortgage rates had cut into affordability for buyers, especially in markets where home prices have been climbing faster than incomes, which as we discussed earlier this week, is virtually all. That’s led to a sharp slowdown in sales of both new and existing homes: last month the NAR reported that contracts to buy previously owned properties declined in August by the most in seven months, as purchasing a new home becomes increasingly unaffordable.

“With the escalation of prices, it could be that borrowers are running out of breath,” said Sam Khater, chief economist at Freddie Mac.

“Rising rates paired with high and escalating home prices is putting downward pressure on purchase demand,” Khater told Bloomberg, adding that while rates are still historically low, “the primary hurdle for many borrowers today is the down payment, and that is the reason home sales have decreased in many high-priced markets.”

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Meanwhile, lenders and real-estate agents say that, even now, all but the most qualified buyers making large down payments face borrowing rates of 5%. And while rates have been edging higher in recent months, “the last week we’ve seen an explosion higher in mortgage rates,” said Rodney Anderson, a mortgage lender in the Dallas area quoted by the WSJ.

Meanwhile, the WSJ reports that once-hot markets are showing signs of cooling down. Bill Nelson, president of Your Home Free, a Dallas-based real-estate brokerage, said that in the neighborhoods where he works, the number of homes experiencing price cuts is more than double the number that are going into contract.

The rise in rates could have far-reaching effects for the mortgage industry. Some lenders—particularly non-banks that don’t have other lines of business —could take on riskier customers to keep up their level of loan volume, or be forced to sell themselves. Many U.S. mortgage lenders, including some of the biggest players, didn’t exist a decade ago and only know a low-rate environment, and many younger buyers can’t remember a time when rates were higher.

Meanwhile, in more bad news for the banks, higher rates will kill off any lingering possibility of a refinancing boom, which bailed out the mortgage industry in the years right after the 2008 financial crisis. If rates hit 5%, the pool of homeowners who would qualify for and benefit from a refinance will shrink to 1.55 million, according to mortgage-data and technology firm Black Knight Inc. That would be down about 64% since the start of the year, and the smallest pool since 2008.

Naturally, hardest hit by the rising rates will be young and first-time buyers who tend to make smaller down payments than older buyers who have built up equity in their previous homes, and middle-income buyers, who can least afford the extra cost. Khater said that about 45% of the loans that Freddie Mac is backing are to first-time buyers, up from about 30% normally, which also means that rising rates could have an even bigger impact on the market than usual.

Younger buyers are also more likely to be shocked by higher rates because they don’t remember when rates were more than 18% in the early 1980s, or more recently, the first decade of the 2000s, when rates hovered around 5% to 7%.

“There’s almost a generation that has been used to seeing 3% or 4% rates that’s now seeing 5% rates,” said Vishal Garg, founder and chief executive of Better Mortgage.

Source: ZeroHedge