The high end of the real estate market is faltering, and banks are feeling it acutely. So-called jumbo mortgages, or those outside of Fannie and Freddie backing, have been shrinking recently. In a sign of caution from rich home buyers, issuance of jumbo mortgages fell 12% last year and were off 27% from their post-Crisis peak a couple of years ago. That compares to just a 7% decline in normal mortgages last year. Jumbo mortgages dominate some cities. For instance, 61% of mortgages in Manhattan qualify as such. Banks are feeling the sting as jumbo mortgages have been a big profit center for them in recent years.
FINSUM: The housing market is slowing in all areas. The big question is whether this is a leading indicator of a recession, or just an isolated asset-level downturn.
If you are of the opinion that rates are not going to move higher, or if just want some great yields and aren’t too worried about rates, take a look at mortgage REIT ETFs. Mortgage REITs are a special subsector of the REIT industry, and have recently become greatly more accessible because of ETFs. For instance, consider the iShares Mortgage Real Estate ETF (REM). The fund has a 30-day SEC yield of 9.36%. It is obviously rate sensitive, but even during last year’s brutal hiking cycle, it only lost 3.75%.
FINSUM: If the Fed stays put this year, which it likely will, these could be a great investment as we head into a downward rate cycle.
“Cross-selling” has been the name of the game at Bank of America Merrill Lynch for years, but Merrill is about to take the idea to new heights. Partnering with BofA, the Thundering Herd is now offering mortgage discounts of up to half a percentage point to clients if they bring more of their business to the brokerage or the bank. According to Barron’s “Merrill is testing the rate reductions in California, Oregon, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida. The 50-basis-point reduction is available to clients with $500,000 in deposits or investments to qualify for the half a percent mortgage reduction.”
FINSUM: This could be a considerable competitive advantage for luring clients away from other brokerages. We expect Wells Fargo will follow suit, but it will be harder for Morgan Stanley and UBS to do so.
The real estate market has been heading south for almost a year. Disappointing numbers keep coming in, but there has not been major urgency or alarm. In fact, homebuilders are having a stellar year, up almost 20% and well above the S&P 500’s gain. However, Stephen Kim at Evercore is warning that investors should be wary of hosuing stocks. Citing the most risky names as DR Horton, PulteGroup, Toll Brothers, and KBHome, Kim says about the group that “Hope is not a strategy”. Kim was bullish on the shares in the Fall before their big move higher, but now believes they are fully valued.
FINSUM: The trend may be your friend, but given the direction of the housing market and the big recent price rises, we wouldn’t want to be long the homebuilders index right now.
Another month, anther patch of really rough data on the US real estate market. New data from December has just been released, and shows a clearly negative trend for the market. Housing starts dropped 11.2% in the month, and overall, the market saw the worst price growth (4.7% in major metropolitan areas) since 2014. Stock market turbulence and higher rates plagued the market at the end of 2018.
FINSUM: We have seen many months of deteriorating real estate performance. The big question now is whether the market can rebound in time for the peak spring selling season.