Bernanke Paves the Way for QE3 on August 1st

At the January press conference, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke hinted at further accommodation (QE3) based on incoming data. Then the January and February employment reports were above expectations, and inflation also picked up a little due to the surge in oil and gasoline prices.

In April, based on the stronger data, the FOMC participants revised up their projections for GDP and inflation, and revised down their projections for the unemployment rate - and QE3 was put on hold.

Compare the current projections released today (below) not just with the April projections, but with the January projections. GDP is below the projections in January, and inflation is also below the January projection.

Only the unemployment rate is slightly improved from the January projections - and then only for 2012 - 2013 and 2014 are now worse. As Tim Duy wrote, the projections are "shocking".
[T]his is a significant downward revision to the forecast for not just this year, but next year as well. Moreover, they expect no meaningful progress on the unemployment rate and the PCE inflation forecast remains centered well below 2%.
In the press conference today, Bernanke made it clear that further accommodation is very likely if employment indicators don't improve soon. He also pointed out that the Fed can't do any more "twisting" because of the lack of short duration securities.

And that strongly suggests QE3 following the two day meeting ending August 1st.

Also the FOMC statement was changed to "The Committee is prepared to take further action as appropriate ..." from "The Committee will regularly review the size and composition of its securities holdings and is prepared to adjust those holdings as appropriate ...". A little more aggressive.

One of the reasons I thought QE3 was unlikely today was the lack of foreshadowing from the Fed. Now the markets are prepared - and unless employment indicators pick up significantly, QE3 seems very likely. (Note: There is only one employment report between now and the next FOMC meeting - the June report on July 6th. Otherwise the Fed will rely on weekly unemployment claims and other indicators).

It is possible the Fed will wait until September (depending on incoming data), but right now I think QE3 will arrive on August 1st.

GDP projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
Change in Real GDP1201220132014
June 2012 Projections1.9 to 2.42.2 to 2.83.0 to 3.5
April 2012 Projections2.4 to 2.92.7 to 3.13.1 to 3.6
January 2012 Projections2.2 to 2.72.8 to 3.23.3 to 4.0
1 Projections of change in real GDP and in inflation are from the fourth quarter of the previous year to the fourth quarter of the year indicated.
Unemployment projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
Unemployment Rate2201220132014
June 2012 Projections8.0 to 8.27.5 to 8.07.0 to 7.7
April 2012 Projections7.8 to 8.07.3 to 7.76.7 to 7.4
January 2012 Projections8.2 to 8.57.4 to 8.16.7 to 7.6
2 Projections for the unemployment rate are for the average civilian unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of the year indicated. 
Inflation projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
PCE Inflation1201220132014
June 2012 Projections1.2 to 1.71.5 to 2.01.5 to 2.0
April 2012 Projections1.9 to 2.01.6 to 2.01.7 to 2.0
January 2012 Projections1.4 to 1.81.4 to 2.01.6 to 2.0


Census: Number of Shared Households increased 2.25 million from 2007 to 2010

From the Census Bureau: Sharing a Household: Household Composition and Economic Well-Being: 2007–2010
In spring 2007, there were 19.7 million shared households. By spring 2010, the number of shared households had increased by 11.4 percent, while all households increased by only 1.3 percent
According to the report, there were 22.0 million shared households in spring 2010.

Most of the adults sharing a household were related:
In both 2007 and 2010, additional adults were more likely to live with relatives than with nonrelatives. In 2010, additional adults related to the householder accounted for 81.8 percent of all additional adults. ... additional adults related to the householder rose by 2.4 million ... Additional adults not related to the householder, i.e., roomates, housemates, or boarders, increased by 910,000 between 2007 and 2010.
About 1.2 million were adult children of the householder (823 thousand were in the 25 to 34 age bracket). These are the people that we discussed as "moving into their parent's basement". Other relatives moving in included parents, siblings, adult grandchildren (190 thousand), and others.

Definition from Census:
This report classifies a shared household as a household which includes at least one “additional adult,” a person aged 18 or older who is not enrolled in school and who is neither the householder, the spouse, nor the cohabiting partner of the householder.
A large number of these adults will eventually move out of their parent's (grandparent's) homes. The recent surge in rental demand suggests that many of these people are already moving out. This will be demand for housing units, although mostly for rental units.


FOMC Projections and Bernanke Press Conference

Here are the updated projections from the FOMC meeting.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's press conference starts at 2:15 PM ET. Here is the video stream.


Live Video streaming by Ustream

Below are the update projections starting with when participants project the initial increase in the target federal funds rate should occur, and the participants view of the appropriate path of the federal funds rate. I've included the chart from the April meeting to show the change.


Appropriate Timing of Policy FirmingThe four tables below show the FOMC June meeting projections, and the previous two projections to show the change (January and April).

Click on graph for larger image.

"The shaded bars represent the number of FOMC participants who project that the initial increase in the target federal funds rate (from its current range of 0 to ¼ percent) would appropriately occur in the specified calendar year."

Appropriate Timing of Policy FirmingHere is the April chart for comparison.

There was a shift to 2015 with two additional participants.

A key is the same number of participants think the FOMC should raise rates before 2014.

Appropriate Pace of Policy Firming"The dots represent individual policymakers’ projections of the appropriate federal funds rate target at the end of each of the next several years and in the longer run. Each dot in that chart represents one policymaker’s projection."

Most participants still think the Fed Funds rate will be in the current range into 2014.

On the projections, GDP was revised down, unemployment rate up, and inflation down.

GDP projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
Change in Real GDP1201220132014
June 2012 Projections1.9 to 2.42.2 to 2.83.0 to 3.5
April 2012 Projections2.4 to 2.92.7 to 3.13.1 to 3.6
January 2012 Projections2.2 to 2.72.8 to 3.23.3 to 4.0
1 Projections of change in real GDP and in inflation are from the fourth quarter of the previous year to the fourth quarter of the year indicated.

GDP projections have been revised down for 2012, and revised down for 2013 and 2014.

The unemployment rate increased to 8.2% in April, and the projection for 2012 has been revised up.

Unemployment projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
Unemployment Rate2201220132014
June 2012 Projections8.0 to 8.27.5 to 8.07.0 to 7.7
April 2012 Projections7.8 to 8.07.3 to 7.76.7 to 7.4
January 2012 Projections8.2 to 8.57.4 to 8.16.7 to 7.6
2 Projections for the unemployment rate are for the average civilian unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of the year indicated.

The forecasts for overall and core inflation were revised down to reflect the recent decrease in inflation.

Inflation projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
PCE Inflation1201220132014
June 2012 Projections1.2 to 1.71.5 to 2.01.5 to 2.0
April 2012 Projections1.9 to 2.01.6 to 2.01.7 to 2.0
January 2012 Projections1.4 to 1.81.4 to 2.01.6 to 2.0

Here is core inflation:

Core Inflation projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
Core Inflation1201220132014
June 2012 Projections1.7 to 2.01.6 to 2.01.6 to 2.0
April 2012 Projections1.8 to 2.01.7 to 2.01.8 to 2.0
January 2012 Projections1.5 to 1.81.5 to 2.01.6 to 2.0


FOMC Statement: Continue Twist through end of Year

FOMC Statement:
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in April suggests that the economy has been expanding moderately this year. However, growth in employment has slowed in recent months, and the unemployment rate remains elevated. Business fixed investment has continued to advance. Household spending appears to be rising at a somewhat slower pace than earlier in the year. Despite some signs of improvement, the housing sector remains depressed. Inflation has declined, mainly reflecting lower prices of crude oil and gasoline, and longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects economic growth to remain moderate over coming quarters and then to pick up very gradually. Consequently, the Committee anticipates that the unemployment rate will decline only slowly toward levels that it judges to be consistent with its dual mandate. Furthermore, strains in global financial markets continue to pose significant downside risks to the economic outlook. The Committee anticipates that inflation over the medium term will run at or below the rate that it judges most consistent with its dual mandate.

To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with its dual mandate, the Committee expects to maintain a highly accommodative stance for monetary policy. In particular, the Committee decided today to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that economic conditions--including low rates of resource utilization and a subdued outlook for inflation over the medium run--are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through late 2014.

The Committee also decided to continue through the end of the year its program to extend the average maturity of its holdings of securities. Specifically, the Committee intends to purchase Treasury securities with remaining maturities of 6 years to 30 years at the current pace and to sell or redeem an equal amount of Treasury securities with remaining maturities of approximately 3 years or less. This continuation of the maturity extension program should put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities. The Committee is prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Elizabeth A. Duke; Dennis P. Lockhart; Sandra Pianalto; Jerome H. Powell; Sarah Bloom Raskin; Jeremy C. Stein; Daniel K. Tarullo; John C. Williams; and Janet L. Yellen. Voting against the action was Jeffrey M. Lacker, who opposed continuation of the maturity extension program.
At 2:00 PM, the FOMC Forecasts will be released, and at 2:15 PM, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will hold a press briefing.

Here is the previous FOMC Statement for comparison.


AIA: Architecture Billings Index declines sharply in May

Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.

From AIA: Substantial Drop in Architecture Billings Index
Following the first negative reading in five months, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) has had a significant drop in May. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the May ABI score was 45.8, following a mark of 48.4 in April. This score reflects a sharp decrease in demand for design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry index was 54.0, down slightly from mark of 54.4 the previous month.

“For the second year in a row, we’re seeing declines in springtime design activity after a healthy first quarter. Given the ongoing uncertainly in the economic outlook, particularly the weak job growth numbers in recent months, this should be an alarm bell going off for the design and construction industry,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “The commercial/industrial sector is the only one recording gains in design activity at present, and even this sector has slowed significantly. Construction forecasters will have to reassess what conditions will look like moving forward.”
AIA Architecture Billing Index Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 45.8 in May, the lowest since July of last year. Anything below 50 indicates contraction in demand for architects' services.

Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions.

According to the AIA, there is an "approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending" on non-residential construction. This suggests further weakness in CRE investment (it will be some time before investment in offices and malls increases).
All current Commercial Real Estate graphs


LPS: Mortgage delinquencies increased in May

LPS released their First Look report for May today. LPS reported that the percent of loans delinquent increased in May from April, and declined year-over-year. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased slightly and remains at a very high level.

LPS reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) increased to 7.20% from 7.12% in March. The percent of delinquent loans is still significantly above the normal rate of around 4.5% to 5%. The percent of delinquent loans peaked at 10.97%, so delinquencies have fallen over half way back to normal. The increase was in the less than 90 days delinquent category.

The following table shows the LPS numbers for May 2012, and also for last month (April 2012) and one year ago (May 2011).

LPS: Percent Loans Delinquent and in Foreclosure Process
May-12Apr-12May-11
Delinquent7.20%7.12%7.96%
In Foreclosure4.12%4.14%4.11%
Number of loans:
Loans Less than 90 days1,967,0001,927,0002,265,000
Loans More than 90 days1,575,0001,595,0001,921,000
Loans In foreclosure2,027,0002,048,0002,164,000
Total5,569,0005,570,0006,350,000

The number of delinquent loans, but not in foreclosure, is down about 15% year-over-year (644,000 fewer mortgages delinquent), and the number of loans in the foreclosure process is down 6% or 137,000 year-over-year (the percent in foreclosure is mostly unchanged, but the number of total loans has declined).

The percent of loans less than 90 days delinquent is about normal, but the percent (and number) of loans 90+ days delinquent and in the foreclosure process are still very high.


MBA: FHA Mortgage Refinance Applications increase sharply

From the MBA: Government Refinance Applications More Than Double in Latest MBA Survey
The Refinance Index increased 1 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index fell 9 percent from one week earlier.

“Refinance volume increased again last week, but the composition of activity changed markedly. Despite rates remaining near all-time lows, conventional refinance application volume declined, and the HARP share of refinance activity dropped to 20 percent,” said Michael Fratantoni, MBA's Vice President of Research and Economics. “On the other hand, FHA refinance volume exploded to an all-time high, more than doubling over the week. New, lower FHA premiums on streamlined refinance loans came fully into effect, and borrowers seized the opportunity to lower their mortgage rates without increasing their FHA premiums. Purchase activity fell off last week, but this is likely only a recalibration following the Memorial Day holiday, as the level of activity remains within the narrow band seen for the past 3 years.”

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,500 or less) decreased to 3.87 percent, matching the lowest rate in the history of the survey, from 3.88 percent, with points increasing to 0.49 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.
Mortgage rates and refinance activity Click on graph for larger image.

The purchase index is still very weak, and is mostly moving sideways.

Refinance activity continues to increase, especially with the surge in FHA streamline refinancing - and because mortgage rates are near the record low set the previous week.

Mortgage rates and refinance activityIt usually takes around a 50 bps decline from the previous mortgage rate low to get a huge refinance boom - and rates have fallen about that far - and refinance activity is now at the highest level since 2009.


Look Ahead: Fed Day

For those suffering with insomnia, here is the G20 communiqué released tonight. There is no grand bond buying scheme mentioned as was rumored earlier in the day.

The decision of the FOMC tomorrow is very uncertain. Cardiff Garcia at Alphaville has an excellent overview: Problems with extending Twist, and one final preview

The WSJ argues there are several possible outcomes: Europe, Weak Economy Add to Pressure on Fed
Fed officials ... could extend a program known as "Operation Twist," in which the central bank sells short-term Treasury bills and notes and plows the proceeds into longer-term securities. They also could decide to shift the proceeds into mortgage- backed securities rather than long-term Treasury bonds.

Among other choices: launching a new round of bond-buying, known to some as quantitative easing, to expand the central bank's portfolio of assets. Or they could alter the way they describe their plans for interest rates with an assurance that short-term interest rates will stay near zero beyond 2014.

Policy makers also could stand pat but offer assurance that they stand ready to act if the economy gets weaker.
The consensus seems to be the FOMC will expand and extend Operation Twist, but anything - including QE3 - or doing nothing are possible.

And on Wednesday:

• At 7:00 AM ET, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) will release the mortgage purchase applications index. Refinance activity has been increasing sharply, and it appears purchase activity is increasing too.

• At 12:30 PM, the FOMC statement will be released.

• At 2:00 PM, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) participants' projections will be released.

• And at 2:15 PM, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will hold a press briefing.

• Also tomorrow, the AIA's Architecture Billings Index for May will be released (expect some weakness), and the LPS First Look Mortgage Report.


ATA Trucking index declined 0.7% in May

From ATA: ATA Truck Tonnage Fell 0.7% in May
The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 0.7% in May after falling 1.1% in April. (April’s loss was the same as ATA reported on May 22.) The latest drop lowered the SA index to 117.8 (2000=100), down from April’s level of 118.7. Compared with May 2011, the SA index was 4.1% higher, the largest year-over-year increase since February 2012. Year-to-date, compared with the same period last year, tonnage was up 3.8%.
...
“Two straight months of contractions is disappointing,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. “The drops in tonnage are reflective of the broader economy, which has slowed.”

“The good news is that the decrease in fuel prices will help support retail sales going forward, which is a big part of truck tonnage,” he said. As a negative, Costello said he’s concerned about businesses sitting on cash instead of hiring more workers or spending it on capital, both of which would give the economy and tonnage a shot in the arm, as they are worried about Europe and the so-called U.S. fiscal cliff at the end of the year. He also reiterated last month’s comment: “Annualized tonnage growth should be in the 3% to 3.9% range this year.”
ATA Trucking Click on graph for larger image.

Here is a long term graph that shows ATA's For-Hire Truck Tonnage index.

The dashed line is the current level of the index. The index is above the pre-recession level and still up 3.8% year-over-year - but has been moving mostly sideways in 2012.

From ATA:
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 67.2% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 9 billion tons of freight in 2010. Motor carriers collected $563.4 billion, or 81.2% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.
Earlier on Housing:
• On Yahoo: McBride: Total Housing Starts Decline in May, but the Trend Is Positive
Comments on Housing
Housing Starts at 708 thousand in May, Single Family starts increase to 516 thousand


Comments on Housing and Article on Yahoo

Over on Yahoo today: McBride: Total Housing Starts Decline in May, but the Trend Is Positive

Here are some more thoughts ...

For the housing industry, the recovery has started. As I've noted before, the debate is now about the strength of the recovery, not whether there is a recovery. My view is housing will remain sluggish for some time, and I expect 2012 to be another weak year, but better than 2011.

Economist Michelle Meyer at Merrill Lynch, who remains cautious on housing, wrote the following this morning:
We look for residential investment to increase 8% in Q2, following the 19% pop in Q1. This will add 0.2pp to GDP growth in the quarter. Assuming similar gains in the second half of the year, real residential investment should be up 10% this year, adding 0.2pp to annual GDP growth. This is the first annual contribution since before the housing bubble burst in 2006.

... Although housing demand is improving ... it is still slow and many potential homebuyers are restricted due to tight credit. Moreover, homebuilders are continuing to compete with the overhang of distressed inventory in many markets. The gain in homebuilding is about relative strength - multifamily building (to satisfy the increase in renters) and single family construction in non-distressed markets.
The question about house prices is not as clear. Although I think prices have bottomed for the national repeat sales indexes, others are more pessimistic. As an example, from RadarLogic this morning:
Radar Logic also contends that there is a grave risk that economic forces outside the housing market will deliver a significant blow to housing demand. Given the excess supply in the market, such a reduction in demand could in turn result in another precipitous decline in housing prices.

The excess supply consists of homes that are currently on the market as well as homes that are not currently for sale but could enter the market when home prices start to strengthen. As home prices start to firm, home owners who are eager to sell but have been unable or unwilling to do so at prior price levels will put their homes on the market. The increase in supply will cut off price appreciation and, to the extent that the newly unleashed supply exceeds demand, push down home prices.
I think this is an argument for little or no increase in house prices, not for an additional "precipitous decline".

Here is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment).

These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions.

Multifamily Starts and completionsClick on graph for larger image.

The blue line is for multifamily starts and the red line is for multifamily completions.

The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) has been increasing since mid-2010. The 12 month total for starts is steadily increasing, and completions (red line) is lagging behind - but completions will following starts up over the course of the year (completions lag starts by about 12 months).

Single family Starts and completionsThis second graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions.

For the fourth consecutive month, the rolling 12 month total for starts has been above completions. This usually only happens at a bottom, although the recovery for single family starts will probably remain sluggish.


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