Agency Mortgage REIT Dividends Get Better & Better

by REIT Wrecks on June 25, 2009

Shamefully, I haven’t done much with Agency Mortgage REITs here, but the times they are a changing. Agency REITs are killing it on net interest spreads, and that is causing higher net incomes and increased dividends. What else could an investor want, next to a portfolio of government-guaranteed mortgage debt? Not surpringly, many investors screech to a halt on mention of the latter, and that’s one of the reasons these REITs deliver high teens yields quarter after quarter.

But those who had been yawning at the mention of an Agency Mortgage REIT are probably taking a closer look now. (AGNC), which is a relatively new Agency REIT, surprised everybody on Tuesday when they announced a quarterly dividend of $1.50 per share, a whopping 76% higher than the previous quarter (the dividend is payable July 27th, and the ex-dividend date is June 30).

AGNC’s dividend increase follows dividend increases from Annaly Capital (NLY) last week and Capstead Mortgage (CMO) the week before.

What’s causing all this? The earnings driver is the so-called “steep yield curve”, as it’s known in industry speak. In this market, a steep yield curve basically means nobody wants to own anything with a maturity beyond next week, especially if it has a mortgage attached to it. This is resulting in a huge spread between short yields and long yields, and Agency Mortgage REITs are busy collecting the difference. The difference between these Mortgage REITs and others is that Agency REITs are doing it with portfolios of AAA-rated government paper, not a bunch of dodgy TRUPS and CDOs.

In AGNC’s case, the weighted average yield on its portfolio last quarter was 5.13%, but its average cost of funds was 2.11%, resulting in a margin of 3.02%. This is pretty good work if you can get it, and last quarter AGNC delivered a 24.1% return on equity for sitting in between.

AGNC is not alone. Annaly Capital Management increased its dividend last week – by 20% to $0.60 per share (payable July 29, ex-date is June 25). NLYs net interest margin went from 1.71% to 2.11%, and they rode the recovery in mortgage bonds with a $5 million gain on sale. Combined, this drove earnings to $0.63 per share, up 19% from the year-ago quarter.

CMO’s dividend increase was less spectacular, up 4% to $0.58 per share for the third quarter of 2009, but the story is the same: their net interest margin increased to 2.16%, and they have plenty of cash to invest after participating in the recent frenzy of REIT stock offerings.

Other cashed-up REITs investing in agencies, though not exclusively, include Redwood Trust (RWT) and Chimera (CIM). Incidentally, RWT sold its stock in two separate overnight offerings, the latter at a 10% discount to the previous day’s close.

Despite these rich dividends, Agency Mortgage REITs are not for widows and orphans. Concerns over the government losing its AAA rating (which Annaly management calls “gossip”), interest rate wories, news about Asians selling their dollar assets, inflation prospects, high leverage ratios and re-investment risk all amount to a big detour sign for a lot of investors. From my perspective, owning these things right now amounts to a front row seat for the greatest show on earth (at the very least), and it’s probably worth the risk.

REIT Investments
Disclosures: None at the time of publication

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