Mortgage REITs have dropped over the past week based on fears surrounding the debt ceiling issue. Yet, perhaps the exact opposite result should have occurred. While people will initially view the debt deal as a “bullish sign," in fact, it’s just the opposite. It could very well ignite the next recession, as more money is pulled from the economy. Couple this with continued problems in the eurozone and a potential East Asian crisis, and there are a lot of reasons to be cautious.
I expect inflation and interest rates to stay subdued for the next 12-24 months, at the very least. There are too many hurdles in the way of a more vibrant recovery, and a U.S. austerity package will add another one. While I continue to hold a few bullish bets, including the homebuilders, I have certainly veered more toward a hedged position over the past five months and I’ve made an effort to increase my position in high-dividend paying stocks, with an emphasis on mortgage REITs (“mREITs”) and utilities.
Here are four mortgage REITs that I believe represent good value based on the thesis laid out above:
(1) Two Harbors Investment Corp (TWO) - P/B ratio = 0.99, 16.3% yield, under $11.50
This is a value-based mREIT that invests in both agency and non-agency securities. It is managed by Pine River Capital Management and it has some hedge fund-like characteristics. What attracts me to Two Harbors is the quality of its management team (or I should say, Pine River’s team), the value orientation of the company, and the heavy insider buying. With a price-to-book ratio right around 1, it's priced fairly, and the dividend is strong at 16.3%.
If you want to read more about Two Harbors, check out Marc Gerstein’s excellent article back in March. While this is hardly a low-risk investment, I believe in a weak market, it would be an attractive holding.
One risk to consider here is that this is a relatively new mREIT without a long-term track record. Also, while Two Harbors does invest in a lot of non-agency securities, it has moved more toward fixed-rate agency holdings over the past year, making it more vulnerable to interest rate movements.
(2) MFA Financial (MFA) - P/B ratio = 0.92, 13.4% yield, under $8.25
MFA Financial is a mortgage REIT that invests in both agency and non-agency securities. This is another mREIT with a considerable amount of insider buying. Part of my strategy on mREITs is to diversify my holdings, with some that have high agency holdings, some others with substantial non-agency holdings, and some that fit somewhere in the middle. I’ve looked for high insider buying, strong management track records, and attractive pricing. MFA is one that has caught my eye for all of these factors. Unlike the neophyte TWO, MFA also has a solid long-term track record
To read more about this REIT, I would recommend Parsimony Investment Research’s article on MFA in June.
(3) Dynex (DX) - P/B ratio = 0.95, 11.9% yield, under $10.50
(4) Hatteras Financial Corp (HTS) - P/B ratio = 1.00, 14.9% yield, under $29
Continuing with my theme of mREITs with high levels of insider buying, we come to Dynex (DX) and Hatteras Financial (HTS). Both HTS and DX invest in agency MBS. The primary risk factor for these REITs is that interest rates could move up, making the yield on their securities less attractive, comparatively speaking. However, some of the mREITs are better hedged against rising interest rates than many tend to believe. Parisomony’s recent article on Hatteras gets into this very issue. Hatteras is actually very well hedged against rising interest rates, since they invest exclusively in adjustable rate mortgages. Likewise, Dynex is better hedged against rising rates than many others. I would recommend George Spritzer’s article on DX for those who want to learn more.
Conclusions and Risks
There are substantial risks with investing in mortgage REITs. For example, in the rising rate environment of 2005, many mREITs had horrendous performances. Given the very low rates in the market right now, this could be a bad omen for the mREITs, but my belief is that the market is already pricing this in. Moreover, many will be surprised at how stubbornly low the rates will become. Not only is “hyperinflation” not likely, there's a significant possibility that we’ll stay in an environment of subdued inflation, or even minor deflation. This could make mREITs an attractive investment class.
For this reason, I see mREITs as a vital class of securities to own. Betting the farm on these securities would be folly, but they could definitely help hedge one’s portfolio in a down or sideways market environment if used properly.
If you want to learn more about mREITs, I’d recommend following the authors below on Seeking Alpha: