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How comfortable would you be buying National Atlantic Holdings (NAHC)?

Or Deerfield Triarc (DFR)?

Or YRC Worldwide (NASDAQ:YRCW)?

I could go on, after all, recently I bought some Redwood Trust (NYSE:RWT), and a number of smaller cap value names that don’t seem to be getting much respect right now. Value as a strategy is lagging now, and I am feeling that in my performance. Financials that deal with mortgages are out of favor also.

So why mortgage REITs now? Take a look at this chart of the 10-year Treasury yield less that on mortgage REITs:

Yields are pretty high relative to “safe” Treasuries, comparable with 1990 and mid-2002 spreads. Only the bad old days of 1974 surpass the yield spreads of this era by a significant amount. As I recall, REITs had a really bad name in the late 1970s after the mid-decade shellacking. I remember technical terms like “fraud,” but then, I was an impressionable teenager with an active imagination.

Now consider this chart of the 10-year Treasury yield less that on equity REITs:

The result is closer to fair value. I certainly would not call equity REITs as a group cheap; future returns rely on property price appreciation, which doesn’t seem likely to me at present.
Now, I’m not endorsing all mortgage REITs. Review funding structures and excess liquidity; you want excess cash flow and conservatism at this point. Heroics offer more downside than upside here.

As for YRC Worldwide, trucking is needed in our economy, and even with some slowdown, YRC should still make money, just not as much. On National Atlantic, I would only say that it seems that there is a forced seller in the name now, and when he is exhausted, the stock will lift. It is difficult to destroy a personal lines insurer with a conservative balance sheet. At 60% of a conservative book value, I can live with adverse outcomes.

Remember, do your own due diligence here. Just because it looks cheap does not mean it can’t get cheaper.

Full disclosure: long RWT NAHC DFR YRCW.