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A recession bellwether is flashing red


Editor’s note: Morning Money is a free version of POLITICO Pro Financial Services morning newsletter, which is delivered to our subscribers each morning at 5:15 a.m. The POLITICO Pro platform combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.

A few months back, we asked a handful of prominent economists which data point or sector they watch most closely for an early sign that a recession is nigh.

Diane Swonk, who was then the chief economist at Grant Thornton, said that was easy — housing. “[T]hat is the first one into a recession in what would be a typical Fed tightening cycle,” she told MM.

Just three months later, Swonk says we’re there: “The reality is the housing market certainly is in a recession” and is contracting rapidly, Swonk — now chief economist at KPMG — said Wednesday. “It won’t be long before we see a national decline, and the national decline next year could easily be 10 to 15 percent without breaking a sweat.”

Her comments followed more grim data for the market yesterday, as Federal Reserve interest-rate hikes send housing costs soaring:

—New home construction declined in September from a year earlier for the fifth month in a row, and starts fell to the lowest level since May 2020.

—Data on mortgage applications showed demand continued to plummet, as refinancing and new mortgage applications sank 86 percent and 38 percent respectively from the same week a year ago, the Mortgage Bankers Association said.

—Home builders are as pessimistic as they were in the early days of the pandemic, according to the National Association of Homebuilders/Wells Fargo sentiment index, which is half of what it was six months ago.

Underlying resilience: Swonk says the U.S. economy is going to post its strongest growth all year in the third quarter. (The first estimate of third-quarter GDP comes out next Thursday). That would undoubtedly be good.

But we’re already starting to see the strain in the housing market spilling into other adjacent areas. Consumer spending on appliances and furniture — which is often paired with new home purchases — has declined in recent months, Swonk noted.

While household balance sheets remain strong, a decline in home values next year would likely prompt households to pull back on spending further. Unlike a drop in the stock market, “it’s a wealth effect that hits a lot more people,” Swonk said.

IT’S THURSDAY — Have a tip, story idea or feedback to share? Send it to: [email protected] and [email protected].

Acting FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg speaks at a Brookings Institution conference on regulating digital assets at 10 a.m. … Existing home sales data released at 10 a.m. … Fed Governor Lisa Cook speaks at 12:30 p.m.

CFPB RULING — Our Katy O’Donnell: “An appeals court on Wednesday ruled that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s funding mechanism is unconstitutional, in a victory for lenders that have targeted the agency’s structure in a years-long bid to tamp down regulation.

“A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the design of the CFPB violated the Constitution because it receives funding through the Federal Reserve, rather than appropriations legislation passed by Congress. Democrats established the structure when they created the CFPB in the 2010 Dodd-Frank law as a way to shield the bureau from political pressures that could impact its oversight of the finance industry.”

THE SEC WON’T LET STAFF BE — Our Declan Harty: “A federal watchdog for the SEC is warning that employees are strained as they try to roll out an ambitious overhaul of Wall Street regulations driven by Chair Gary Gensler. The SEC inspector general said in a report that agency managers were concerned that the uptick in rulemaking activity is stretching staff thin.”

BIG HIRE — The venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz has tapped Collin McCune, a top House Financial Services aide to ranking GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), to lead its crypto-related government affairs team in Washington, a16z crypto Managing Partner and Chief Operating Officer Anthony Albanese told MM. “We were just very impressed with him,” he said, adding that the firm first encountered McCune during a meeting with committee members earlier this year. “He’s very smart on crypto and Web3.”

McCune’s hiring signals an escalation of a16z’s splashy efforts to influence crypto policy in D.C. McHenry has signaled that bipartisan stablecoin legislation is a top priority and many expect the North Carolina Republican to play a leading role in future crypto policy battles as chair of Financial Services should Republicans secure a majority in the midterms.

INSURER PUSHBACK — We flagged in yesterday’s MM a Treasury Department proposal to collect data from insurers on climate-related risk, which raised the hackles of at least one industry group. But Treasury officials tell MM the blowback is, well, overblown.

They argued that there is overwhelming anecdotal evidence supporting the need for such data collection — including reports from a number of states about distress in insurance markets — and said it fits squarely within the mandate given to Treasury’s Federal Insurance Office under Dodd-Frank. They also emphasized that this is still just a proposal, with final details TBD.

Phil Carons, vice president of financial regulation for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, told our Katy O’Donnell the group plans to respond to the proposal, but “we are only beginning our review for any potential substantive or technical issues it might create for insurers.”

That was more measured than the response from the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, which decried the proposal as a massive data collection effort without a clear purpose. (Treasury officials said the proposal would not involve collection of any individual homeowner data.)

BAD LOOK — WSJ’s Rebecca Ballhaus, Joe Palazzolo, Brody Mullins, Chad Day and John West: “Federal officials working on the government response to Covid-19 made well-timed financial trades when the pandemic began — both as the markets plunged and as they rallied … A deputy to top health official Anthony Fauci reported 10 sales of mutual funds and stocks totaling between $157,000 and $480,000 that month. Collectively, officials at another health agency, Health and Human Services, reported 60% more sales of stocks and funds in January than the average over the previous 12 months, driven by a handful of particularly active traders.”

UNDER PRESSURE — Our Kelly Hooper: “President Joe Biden on Wednesday urged American oil companies to increase production and refining to bring down the price of gas for consumers. ‘You should be using these record-breaking profits to increase production and refining,’ Biden said during a speech at the White House.”

TRUSS BUT VERIFY — NYT’s Jeanna Smialek, Jim Tankersley and Joe Rennison: “Federal Reserve researchers and officials quizzed experts from Wall Street and around the world last week about a pressing question: Could a market meltdown like the one that happened in Britain late last month occur here? The answer they got back … was that it probably could — though a crash does not appear to be imminent.”

BEIGE BOOK — WSJ’s Bryan Mena: “The Fed’s 12 regional reserve-bank districts said business contacts noted ‘growing concerns about weakening demand,’ according to the central bank’s latest compilation of economic anecdotes from around the country, known as the Beige Book.”

A CURSE UPON YOUR ‘QUIET QUITTING’ HEADLINES — Bloomberg’s Jo Constantz: “Over half of working Americans have considered holding multiple jobs to pay their living expenses as inflation remained stubbornly high in September and real wages fell.”

DEFI — Our Bjarke Smith-Meyer: “The Financial Stability Board should be in charge of setting global standards for the opaque world of ‘DeFi, or decentralized finance, according to Bundesbank heavyweight Joachim Wuermeling.”

MINOR SETBACK FOR A MAJOR COMEBACK — Reuters: “Former Celsius executive Aaron Iovine has joined JPMorgan Chase & Co as executive director of digital assets regulatory policy, according to his LinkedIn profile, days after the bank’s Chief Executive Jamie Dimon blasted cryptocurrencies as fraud and decentralized ponzi schemes.”

The Ghost of Christmas Past haunts U.S. store shelves, sales floors and stockrooms this year. — Reuters’ Arriana McLymore and Doyinsola Oladipo

Ukrainian officials have expressed “shock” over Republican suggestions that future assistance for Kyiv could be limite d if the party wins the House of Representatives in November’s US midterm elections, calling on Washington to continue providing bipartisan support. — FT’s Felicia Schwartz, Kiran Stacey and Roman Olearchyk

Tesla Inc. reported third-quarter sales that fell short of Wall Street estimates, citing the U.S. dollar’s growing strength, along with production and delivery bottlenecks. — Bloomberg’s Dana Hull and Sean O’Kane



Read More: A recession bellwether is flashing red

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