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.
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.