We know, we know, a mortgage meltdown sounds like a claim coming out of left field. However, it comes from a potentially big issue that no one is paying attention to—the fact that the Fed is winding down its massive $1.6tn+ mortgage bond portfolio. As the Fed has begun to unwind its MBS portfolio, there are growing worries over the economy and real estate market. This could lead to a mortgage shock. Spreads between MBS and Treasuries have already risen as investors have grown nervous about oversupply.
FINSUM: So this is more of a technical issue than a fundamental one, but given the confluence of negative sentiment and oversupply, there is certainly some significant risk on the horizon for MBS.
Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has just announced that he will sign a dramatic bill which overhauls New York’s rental market. The bill would make permanent laws which govern over one million apartments in New York City. The bill needs to pass through the state’s Assembly and Senate on Friday, but if enacted, would greatly limit landlords’ ability to work around rent control regulations. “We believe this is going to be a huge shift in the ability of people in New York City and the surrounding areas to live in their communities comfortably without fear of being displaced”, says Senator Brian Kavanaugh.
FINSUM: Looking at the details of this bill, it appears more an effort to get votes by saying ”we froze rent increases”, than it is a well-thought out plan. We wonder if this will have an impact on the growing package of incentives wealthy people have to leave the New York area.
There is an enormous asset bubble that has engulfed much of the US, yet you probably haven’t even heard of it. That bubble is threatening a meltdown that has not occurred since the 1980s. Where is the bubble? In debt linked to farm land values. Despite falling grain prices for years, Midwest farm land has held its value very well. This has led to debt levels that hve not been seen since the farm debt crisis of the 1980s. Farm income has fallen by half since its peak in 2013, yet farm equity has only dropped 5%. According to the FT, “Farmers remain creditworthy in the eyes of banks, even as their incomes fall, because the collateral value of land remains high”.
FINSUM: That last sentence is very dangerous because it sets the stage for a doom loop of dropping values and high rates, and foreclosures, leading to even worse values. Many big lenders have a lot of money tied up here, and there are likely implications for muni bonds as well.
REITs are having an outstanding year. The FTSE Nareit Equity REITs Index is up almost 18% this year, well ahead of the market’s 12% gain. With the direction of rates and yields, it is easy to understand why. The question is which are the best REITs, which is not always easy to answer. Here are five of the best performers so far this year: DFA Real Estate Securities I (DFREX), Neuberger Berman Real Estate (NREAX), Principal Real Estate Securities (PRRAX), Cohen & Steers Real Estate Securities (PRRAX), DWS RREEF Real Estate Securities (RRRAX).
FINSUM: We like REITs right now. They have solid yields (e.g. 3%), and given the likely direction of rates, stand do well in terms of price appreciation.
The US real estate market has looked weak for over a year now, and things aren’t really improving. While the market has not seen the bottom fall out, it is going through a weak period. New data on home sales shows that home price gains in 20 US cities have slowed for the 12th straight month. Property values in March were up 2.7% from a year earlier, their weakest gain since August 2012.
FINSUM: The market is steadily slowing. One might hope that falling yields could help perk up the market, but the threat of the trade war will probably keep buyers anxious.
The term that property owners and landlords generally cringe at hearing is echoing in cities all across the US. That term is rent control. Oregon passed a law this February to cap rent increases at 7% plus inflation, and now many other locations, including Colorado and New York are considering such measures. In some instances, it is a matter of repealing an existing ban on rent control, which would then let cities set their own rules.
FINSUM: The biggest hit to public markets from the spread of such measures will be in apartment REITs like Equity Residential, AvalonBay Communities, and Essex Property Trust.