Here is an interesting snip about mortgages and the housing situation both in the US and Canada by Dave Rosenberg in Monday’s Breakfast with Dave.

Once again, this Houdini recovery has involved a situation where mortgage rates have plunged and yet Treasury bond yields have been rising — 30-year fixed rate mortgages have fallen to 4.93% and are sitting are record-tight spreads over long Treasury bonds (see Chart 7). Historically, the average spread is 150bps and this differential is now 20bps. This is remarkable and our concern is that investors who may be exposed to mortgages are at serious risk because there is a considerable chance that these rates will be moving higher over the intermediate term — notwithstanding continued support from Uncle Sam’s pocketbook.

Investors must be reminded time and again that mortgages are callable, Treasuries are not; and we are now in a situation where net of fees, which average 70bps, anyone buying mortgage paper today is receiving a rate that is less than what the borrower is paying, How nutty is that?

Remember — despite all the ridiculous comparisons to the Weimar Republic, the long bond is THE risk-free benchmark interest rate in the U.S. and with State taxes going up, Treasuries are an even further bargain because of their tax status.

The stretch for yield is just as evident in Canada where provincial bonds now trade at a tight 42bps over the Government of Canada (the spread exceeded 100bps at the end of 2008); and Nova Scotia (Canada’s second smallest province) just issued a 30-year bond that has since tightened to a mere 7 bps over Ontario government debt (perhaps this is a market comment on Ontario’s fiscal strategies of overspending and over-borrowing as much as it is a comment on investor risk appetite at the current time. Both messages make us uncomfortable).


All of a sudden, the Canadian economic data are coming a tad below expectations, including the 0.4% MoM advance in December retail sales, which just came up short from recouping the 0.5% decline the month before (revised from down 0.3%). Excluding autos, sales are running at a 2.1 % annual rate over the past three months, which can only be described as tepid in view of all the rampant monetary and fiscal stimulus percolating through the system.

Not only that, but the supply response in the Canadian housing market is beginning to, at the margin, alter the inventory balance. The number of new listings surged 4.0% in January and has risen sharply now in three of the past four months. After outpacing new listings over 90% of the time between January and October of 2009, sales has now lagged in each of the past two months and this has taken the sales-to-listing ratio down to 0.614x from 0.634x in December and the nearby October high of 0.683x (and now stands at its lowest level in eight months). Pricing is sure to follow suit. Better buying opportunities lie ahead for the fence-sitters, in our view.

Even without the caution about callable securities, why anyone would be rushing into mortgages with the Fed about to pull the plug on buying is certainly a mystery. Are pension funds chasing yield to ridiculous extremes again? Can the Fed’s purchasing account for 100% of that silliness?

Assuming the answer to the second question is no, this is yet another one of those reflation risk trades that just will not die, until it does, more than likely all of a sudden, and more than likely sooner rather than later.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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