According to recent data by the Commerce Department, new home sales in the US are at their 3-year highs, rising by 20% in 2012. Moreover, the sales of pre-owned homes stood at 4.65 million, which is at its 5-year high. In my opinion, we can see continued growth momentum in 2013, especially since the Fed decided to inject $45 billion of additional liquidity every month. Moreover investor sentiment and consumer confidence is gradually recovering, which will further contribute to the real estate recovery. This presents a bullish case for REITs like Annaly Capital Management, Inc. (NYSE:NLY), Apollo Residential Mortgage Inc (NYSE:AMTG), American Capital Agency Corp. (NASDAQ:AGNC) and Chimera Investment Corporation (NYSE:CIM).
Savvy investors must know that the excess of liquidity in a low-interest rate environment has narrowed the gap between agency mREIT borrowing rates and the RMBS yield (Residential Mortgage Backed Securities). Naturally this puts pressure on the profit margin, as the company now have to leverage even further in order to retain their current profitability. This not only amplifies the rewards, but also risks. Moreover, the liquidity injections have pushed conditional prepayments higher, which further lowers the reward/risk ratio. So then where is the bullish case?
In a market with intense competition and low margins, it’s always good to diversify and expand. Annaly already owns 12.4% of Crexus, and announced that it would acquire the remaining stake for $872 million. Crexus Investment is a commercial REIT, and this acquisition would allow Annaly to enjoy better spreads. But it should also be noted that Commercial MBS carry higher risks as compared to RMBS, which justifies the higher yield.
So basically, Annaly is moving away from a leveraged low-margin portfolio to high-margin/high-risk portfolio. Once this deal goes through, it will be interesting to see Annaly’s asset allocation pattern, which will hold the key to its reward/risk and risk management.
Shares of Annaly Capital Management, Inc. (NYSE:NLY) yield a high 11.9%, with a high payout of 117%. Moreover its EPS over the last 5 years has averaged just around 5%. In a bid to reduce its dividend burden and boost its EPS, its board has approved a $1.5 billion buyback program. At the CMP, this equates to a repurchase of around 99 million shares, and would lower its dividend burden by around 11.7%.
The prepayment game
As mentioned before, Constant Prepayments (CPR) steal away the rewards of holding risky assets by a REIT. Thus high CPRs are seen as a big negative in this industry, and Chimera is a classic example of that. Although its CPRs have declined by 3% YoY, it’s still a risky bet, as its quarterly prepayment rate is still towering at 19%. Even after a 20% reduction, its CPR would still be higher than most of its peers.