Suddenly, Wall Street Is Bailing On Housing

Among this week's most notable moves was the decompression of high-yield credit spreads to near 9 month wides (and continued outflows). What went notably-under-reported by the mainstream media, however, was an even bigger selloff in US mortgage bonds. While JPMorgan is unable to see "any fundamental reason" for the plunge in prices, the worrying indication from the magnitude of the drop relative to volumes is that liquidity has evaporated. As Bloomberg notes, with dealer inventories sold down (due to new regulations that make repo and agency securities unpalatable), they have no way to 'smooth' the selling when investors want to exit positions. Weakness of this magnitude when the 10Y gained only 2bps on the week is a big wake-up call that traders are looking for the exits from housing debt and the door is very narrow.

Bloomberg warns, prices of a new type of U.S. mortgage bonds are plunging this month, teaching investors a lesson on the risks to markets wrought by the growing constraints on Wall Street banks.

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Here's why...

Thanks to the Fed, turnover and volume in Agencies has been crushed...


as turnover in most markets depends on repo (remember how important we explained repo was?)


because Fed/regulators have made agency/repo uneconomic...


Bloomberg explains,

Dealers have reduced their bond holdings in response to rules ranging from the international Basel III accord on banks’ capital to the U.S. Volcker Rule limiting their ability to make bets with their own money. An expansion of Finra’s Trace trade disclosures to more types of debt is also increasing risks and cutting into profits for market makers.


Inventories of corporate securities and other debt without government backing at the biggest dealers fell to $56 billion in March 2013 from as much as $235 billion in 2007, according to the last Federal Reserve data before a change in calculations.

and so dealers have dramatically reduced inventory to cope with market movements...


Bloomberg adds,

As a few holders continued selling the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities without an immediate emergence of investor demand, most of the dealers active in trading the debt “disappeared,” said Vishal Khanduja, a money manager at Bethesda, Maryland-based Calvert, which oversees about $13 billion.


Until recently, “everybody wanted to trade it: I think there were 10 to 12 dealers messaging me and looking to make markets,” Khanduja said in a telephone interview. “It’s partially indicative of the regulations’ impact on their balance sheets.”

None of this matters all the time the virtuous circle continues of billions in Fed money driving down spreads/rates across the board... but when investors get itchy fingers and decide to sell, this happens...


As Bloomberg reports,

the $8.2 billion of risk-sharing securities sold in the last year by government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can shift their losses from homeowner defaults to bond buyers. One slice of a deal issued in May traded at 95.7 cents on the dollar yesterday, down from 99.7 cents at the end of last month, according to Trace, the bond-price reporting system of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

A plunge like this in one specific mortgage bond as small doors and large crowds do not play well with one another.

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As Bloomberg adds,

“It could be symbolic of what could happen more broadly in a real ‘risk-off’ environment,” Bill Murray, a New York-based money manager at $14 billion hedge-fund firm CQS, said in an interview.

There is little that the dealers can do if the selling continues on Monday as 'any' credit risk positions are unwound. The problem is that the Fed's dominance of the market and unintended consequences of controlling the repo/shadow-banking system have left bond markets more fragile than they have ever been.


Charts: FINRA and Citi's Matt King