Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of Each Class
Name of Each Exchange on Which Registered
Common Stock, par value $0.01 per share
New York Stock Exchange
7.50% Series B Cumulative Redeemable Preferred Stock, par value $0.01 per share
New York Stock Exchange
8.00% Senior Notes due 2042
New York Stock Exchange
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yesx No o
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Exchange Act. Yes oNox
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yesx No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files). Yesx No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of
the Exchange Act. (Check one):
Large accelerated filer
Smaller reporting company
Emerging growth company
If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes ☐ No x
On June 28, 2019, the aggregate market value of the registrant’s common stock held by non-affiliates of the registrant was $3.2 billion based on the closing sales price of our common stock on such date as reported on the New York Stock Exchange.
On February 14, 2020, the registrant had a total of 453,114,714 shares of Common Stock outstanding.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
Portions of the registrant’s proxy statement to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with the Annual Meeting of Stockholders scheduled to be held on or about May 19, 2020, are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
In this Annual Report on Form 10-K, references to “we,” “us,” “our” or “the Company” refer to MFA Financial, Inc. and its subsidiaries unless specifically stated otherwise or the context otherwise indicates. The following defines certain of the commonly used terms in this Annual Report on Form 10-K: MBS generally refers to mortgage-backed securities secured by pools of residential mortgage loans; Agency MBS refers to MBS that are issued or guaranteed by a federally chartered corporation, such as the Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”) or the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“Freddie Mac”), or an agency of the U.S. Government, such as the Government National Mortgage Association (“Ginnie Mae”); Non-Agency MBS refers to MBS that are not guaranteed by any agency of the U.S. Government or any federally chartered corporation and include (i) Legacy Non-Agency MBS, which are MBS issued prior to 2008, and (ii) RPL/NPL MBS, which refers to MBS backed primarily by securitized re-performing and non-performing loans and are generally structured such that the coupon increases from 300 - 400 basis points at 36 - 48 months from issuance or sooner. Hybrids refer to hybrid mortgage loans that have interest rates that are fixed for a specified period of time and, thereafter, generally adjust annually to an increment over a specified interest rate index; ARMs refer to adjustable-rate mortgage loans which have interest rates that reset annually or more frequently; CRT securities refer to credit risk transfer securities, that are debt obligations issued by or sponsored by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and MSR-related assets refer to certain term notes backed directly or indirectly by mortgage servicing rights or loans to certain entities that are generally secured by cash flows generated by mortgage servicing rights and other unencumbered assets owned by the borrower.
This Annual Report on Form 10-K includes forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which are subject to risks and uncertainties. The forward-looking statements contain words such as “will,” “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “estimate,” “plan,” “continue,” “intend,” “should,” “could,” “would,” “may” or similar expressions.
These forward-looking statements include information about possible or assumed future results with respect to our business, financial condition, liquidity, results of operations, plans and objectives. Statements regarding the following subjects, among others, may be forward-looking: changes in interest rates and the market (i.e., fair) value of our MBS, residential whole loans, CRT securities and other assets; changes in the prepayment rates on residential mortgage assets, an increase of which could result in a reduction of the yield on certain investments in its portfolio and could require MFA to reinvest the proceeds received by it as a result of such prepayments in investments with lower coupons, while a decrease in which could result in an increase in the interest rate duration of certain investments in MFA’s portfolio making their valuation more sensitive to changes in interest rates and could result in lower forecasted cash flows or, in certain circumstances, impairment on certain Legacy Non-Agency MBS purchased at a discount; credit risks underlying our assets, including changes in the default rates and management’s assumptions regarding default rates on the mortgage loans securing our Non-Agency MBS and relating to our residential whole loan portfolio; our ability to borrow to finance our assets and the terms, including the cost, maturity and other terms, of any such borrowings; implementation of or changes in government regulations or programs affecting our business; our estimates regarding taxable income the actual amount of which is dependent on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, changes in the amount of interest income and financing costs, the method elected by us to accrete the market discount on Non-Agency MBS and residential whole loans and the extent of prepayments, realized losses and changes in the composition of our Agency MBS, Non-Agency MBS and residential whole loan portfolios that may occur during the applicable tax period, including gain or loss on any MBS disposals and whole loan modifications, foreclosures and liquidations; the timing and amount of distributions to stockholders, which are declared and paid at the discretion of our Board and will depend on, among other things, our taxable income, our financial results and overall financial condition and liquidity, maintenance of our REIT qualification and such other factors as the Board deems relevant; our ability to maintain our qualification as a REIT for federal income tax purposes; our ability to maintain our exemption from registration under the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended (or the Investment Company Act), including statements regarding the concept release issued by the SEC relating to interpretive issues under the Investment Company Act with respect to the status under the Investment Company Act of certain companies that are engaged in the business of acquiring mortgages and mortgage-related interests; our ability to continue growing our residential whole loan portfolio, which is dependent on, among other things, the supply of loans offered for sale in the market; expected returns on MFA’s investments in nonperforming residential whole loans (or NPLs), which are affected by, among other things, the length of time required to foreclose upon, sell, liquidate or otherwise reach a resolution of the property underlying the NPL, home price values, amounts advanced to carry the asset (e.g., taxes, insurance, maintenance expenses, etc. on the underlying property) and the amount ultimately realized upon resolution of the asset; targeted or expected returns on our investments in Purchased Performing Loans, the performance of which is, similar to our other mortgage loan investments, subject to, among other things, differences in prepayment risk, credit risk and financing cost associated with such investments; risks associated with MFA’s investments in MSR-related assets, including servicing, regulatory and economic risks, risks associated with our investments in loan originators and risks associated with investing in real estate assets, including changes in business conditions and the general economy. These and other risks, uncertainties and factors, including those described in the annual, quarterly and current reports that we file with the SEC, could cause our actual results to differ materially from those projected in any forward-looking statements we make. All forward-looking statements are based on beliefs, assumptions and expectations of our future performance, taking into account all information currently available. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date on which they are made. New risks and uncertainties arise over time and it is not possible to predict those events or how they may affect us. Except as required by law, we are not obligated to, and do not intend to, update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. (See Part I, Item 1A. “Risk Factors” of this Annual Report on Form 10-K)
We are an internally-managed real estate investment trust (or REIT) primarily engaged in the business of investing, on a leveraged basis, in residential mortgage assets. Our investments include principally the following;
Residential whole loans, including Purchased Performing Loans, Purchased Credit Impaired and non-performing loans. We also own residential real estate (or REO) that is typically acquired in connection with our loan investment activities;
Residential mortgage securities including Non-Agency MBS, Agency MBS and CRT securities; and
MSR-related assets, which include term notes backed directly or indirectly by MSRs and loans to provide financing to entities that originate residential mortgage loans and own the related MSRs.
Our principal business objective is to deliver shareholder value through the generation of distributable income and through asset performance linked to residential mortgage credit fundamentals. We selectively invest in residential mortgage assets with a focus on credit analysis, projected prepayment rates, interest rate sensitivity and expected return.
We were incorporated in Maryland on July 24, 1997 and began operations on April 10, 1998. We have elected to be treated as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes. In order to maintain our qualification as a REIT, we must comply with a number of requirements under federal tax law, including that we must distribute at least 90% of our annual REIT taxable income to our stockholders. We have elected to treat certain of our subsidiaries as taxable REIT subsidiaries (or TRS). In general, a TRS may hold assets and engage in activities that a REIT or qualified REIT subsidiary (or QRS) cannot hold or engage in directly and generally may engage in any real estate or non-real estate related business.
We are a holding company and conduct our real estate finance businesses primarily through wholly-owned subsidiaries, so as to maintain an exemption from registration under the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended (or the Investment Company Act) by ensuring that less than 40% of the value of our total assets, exclusive of U.S. Government securities and cash items (which we refer to as our adjusted total assets for Investment Company Act purposes), on an unconsolidated basis, consist of “investment securities” as defined by the Investment Company Act. We refer to this test as the “40% Test.”
We primarily invest, through our various subsidiaries, in residential mortgage assets. While we continue to selectively acquire residential mortgage securities, these investments comprised less than 40% of our total assets at the end of 2019 (down from over 50% at December 31, 2018). This is primarily the result of our increased investments in residential whole loans in recent years, as proceeds received from portfolio run-off from Agency and Non-Agency MBS and capital raised in the market have been deployed primarily in loan investments. Consequently, at the end of 2019, residential whole loan investments comprised approximately 55% of our assets and more than 60% of our allocated net equity. During 2020, we expect to continue to seek investment opportunities primarily focused on residential whole loans and selectively in residential mortgage securities and MSR-related assets as market opportunities arise. We expect that we will moderately increase leverage to support further asset growth in 2020, both through repurchase agreement financing and securitization.
Residential Whole Loans
During 2019, we significantly increased our residential whole loan portfolio primarily through acquisitions or commitments to acquire Purchased Performing Loans. Such loans include: (i) loans to finance (or refinance) one-to four-family residential properties that are not considered to meet the definition of a “Qualified Mortgage” in accordance with guidelines adopted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (or Non-QM loans), (ii) short-term business purpose loans collateralized by residential properties made to non-occupant borrowers who intend to rehabilitate and sell the property for a profit (or Rehabilitation loans or Fix and Flip loans), (iii) loans to finance (or refinance) non-owner occupied one-to four-family residential properties that are rented to one or more tenants (or Single-family rental loans), and (iv) previously originated loans secured by residential real estate that is generally owner occupied (or Seasoned performing loans). The majority of our Purchased Performing Loans are Hybrids or, in the case of Rehabilitation loans, are expected to have relatively short duration. Consequently, we believe that our Purchased Performing Loans acquired to date will exhibit relatively lower interest rate sensitivity than conventional fixed-rate residential whole loans. Approximately 80% of our Purchased Performing Loans at December 31, 2019 were acquired on a servicing retained basis (i.e., the sellers of such loans retained the right to service the loans sold).
In addition, during 2019, we continued to purchase packages of non-performing residential whole loans and also maintained our portfolio of Purchased Credit Impaired Loans. Purchased Credit Impaired Loans are typically characterized by borrowers who have previously experienced payment delinquencies and the amount owed may exceed the value of the property pledged as collateral. The majority of these loans are acquired at purchase prices that are discounted (often substantially so) to their contractual loan balance to reflect the impaired credit history of the borrower, the loan-to-value ratio (or LTV) of the loan and the coupon rate. Non-performing loans are typically characterized by borrowers who have defaulted on their obligations and/or have payment delinquencies of 60 days or more at the time we acquire the loan. The majority of these loans are also acquired at purchase prices that are discounted (often substantially so) to the contractual loan balance that reflects primarily the non-performing nature of the loan. Typically, this purchase price is a discount to the expected value of the collateral securing the loan, such value to be realized after foreclosure and liquidation of the property. The majority of our non-performing and Purchased Credit Impaired Loans were purchased on a servicing-released basis (i.e., the sellers of such loans transferred the right to service the loans as part of the sale). We do not directly service any of these loans and have contracted with loan servicing companies to perform this function on our behalf. These companies were selected to leverage their expertise in working with delinquent borrowers in an effort to cure delinquencies through, among other things, loan modification and third-party refinancing. To the extent these efforts are successful, we believe our investments in Purchased Credit Impaired and non-performing loans will yield attractive returns. In addition, to the extent that it is not possible to achieve a successful outcome for a particular borrower and the real property collateral must be foreclosed on and liquidated, we believe that the discounted purchase price at which the asset was acquired provides us with a level of protection against financial loss. Given the nature of the increase in the size of our residential whole loan investments, the balances of REO property also increased during 2019, and this may continue going forward as we continue to manage non-performing loans in our portfolio.
Residential Mortgage Securities
Our Legacy Non-Agency MBS have been acquired primarily at discounts to face/par value, which we believe serves to mitigate our exposure to credit risk. A portion of the purchase discount on substantially all of our Legacy Non-Agency MBS is designated as a non-accretable purchase discount (also referred to hereafter as Credit Reserve), which effectively mitigates our risk of loss on the mortgages collateralizing such MBS, and is not expected to be accreted into interest income. The portion of the purchase discount that is designated as accretable discount is accreted into interest income over the life of the security. The mortgages collateralizing our Legacy Non-Agency MBS consist primarily of ARMs, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages and Hybrids. Legacy Non-Agency ARMs and Hybrids typically exhibit reduced interest rate sensitivity (as compared to fixed-rate Legacy Non-Agency MBS) due to their interest rate adjustments (similar to Agency ARMs and Hybrids). However, yields on Legacy Non-Agency MBS, unlike Agency MBS, also exhibit sensitivity to changes in credit performance. If credit performance improves, the Credit Reserve may be decreased (and accretable discount increased), resulting in a higher yield over the remaining life of the security. Similarly, deteriorating credit performance could increase the Credit Reserve and decrease the yield over the remaining life of the security, or impairment could result. To the extent that higher interest rates in the future are indicative of an improving economy, better employment data and/or higher home prices, it is possible that these factors will improve the credit performance of Legacy Non-Agency MBS and therefore mitigate the interest rate sensitivity of these securities. Due to their strong performance over the past several years, and resulting increased demand for these investments, returns available on Legacy Non-Agency MBS have been lower than for other residential mortgage assets. Consequently, in recent years we have managed this portfolio through opportunistic sales of certain Legacy Non-Agency MBS based on an assessment of expected future cash flows and prevailing market pricing.
Our RPL/NPL MBS were purchased primarily at prices around par and represent the senior and mezzanine tranches of the related securitizations. These securities are generally structured with significant credit enhancement (typically approximately 50% for the most senior tranches and approximately 25-35% for mezzanine tranches) and the subordinate tranches absorb all credit losses (until those tranches are extinguished) and typically receive no cash flow (interest or principal) until the senior tranches are paid off. Prior to purchase, we analyze the deal structure and the credit risk of the underlying loans. Subsequent to purchase, the ongoing credit risk associated with the deal is evaluated by analyzing the extent to which actual credit losses occur that result in a reduction in the amount of subordination supporting our bond. Based on the recent performance of the collateral underlying our RPL/NPL MBS and current subordination levels, we do not believe that we are currently exposed to significant risk of credit loss on these investments. In addition, the structures of these investments generally contain a contractual coupon step-up feature where the coupon increases from 300 - 400 basis points at 36 - 48 months or sooner. We expect that the combination of the priority cash flow and the step-up feature associated with these investments will result in their exhibiting short average lives and, accordingly, reduced interest rate sensitivity.
The mortgages collateralizing our Agency MBS portfolio are predominantly Hybrids, 15 and 30-year fixed-rate mortgages and ARMs. Our Agency MBS were selected to generate attractive returns relative to interest rate and prepayment risks. The Hybrid loans collateralizing our MBS typically have initial fixed-rate periods at origination of three, five, seven or ten years. At the end of this fixed-rate period, these mortgages become adjustable and their interest rates adjust based on the London Interbank
Offered Rate (or LIBOR) or in some cases the one-year constant maturity treasury rate (or CMT). These interest rate adjustments are typically limited by periodic caps (which limit the amount of the interest rate change from the prior rate) and lifetime caps (which are maximum interest rates permitted for the life of the mortgage). As coupons earned on Agency Hybrids and ARMs adjust over time as interest rates change, the fair values of these assets are generally less sensitive to changes in interest rates than are fixed-rate MBS. In general, Hybrid loans and ARMs have 30-year final maturities and they amortize over this 30-year period. While the coupons on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages do not adjust, they amortize according to a 15-year amortization schedule and have a 15-year final maturity. Due to their accelerated amortization and shorter final maturity, these assets are generally less sensitive to changes in long-term interest rates as compared to fixed-rate mortgages with a longer final maturity, such as 30-year mortgages. During 2019, our Hybrid and 15-year Agency MBS continued to run off. We also sold approximately $54 million of lower yielding 15-year Agency MBS and $307 million of 30-Year Agency MBS during the year.
CRT securities are debt obligations issued by or sponsored by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The coupon payments on CRT securities are paid by the issuer and the principal payments received are dependent on the performance of loans in either a reference pool or an actual pool of loans. As an investor in a CRT security, we may incur a principal loss if the performance of the actual or reference pool loans results in either an actual or calculated loss that exceeds the credit enhancement on the security owned by us. We assess the credit risk associated with our investments in CRT securities by assessing the current and expected future performance of the associated loan pool. During 2019, we have reduced our portfolio by taking advantage of market opportunities to rotate out of seasoned higher dollar priced securities, resulting in realized gains, and reinvesting the sales proceeds in newer issue securities at prices close to par.
Although we do not own or otherwise invest directly in MSRs, we have made investments in term notes backed directly or indirectly by MSRs and loans to finance entities that originate residential mortgage loans and own the related MSRs. In the case of term notes backed by MSR-related collateral, we believe the credit risk on these investments is mitigated by structural credit support in the form of over-collateralization as well as a corporate guarantee from the ultimate parent or sponsor of the related special purpose vehicle issuing the note, that is intended to provide for payment of interest and principal to the holders of the term notes should cash flows generated by the underlying MSRs be insufficient. Credit risk on MSR-related corporate loans is mitigated as the loans are secured by MSRs as well as certain other unencumbered assets owned by the borrower.
Our financing strategy is designed to increase the size of our investment portfolio by borrowing against a substantial portion of the market value of the assets in our portfolio. We primarily use repurchase agreements to finance our holdings of residential mortgage assets. We enter into interest rate derivatives to hedge the interest rate risk associated with a portion of our repurchase agreement borrowings. We have also securitized both re-performing and non-performing residential whole loans as part of our financing strategy. Going forward, in connection with our current and any future investment in residential whole loans, we expect that our financing strategy will include the use of additional loan securitization transactions or the use of other forms of structured financing.
Repurchase agreements, although legally structured as sale and repurchase transactions, are financing contracts (i.e., borrowings) under which we pledge our residential mortgage assets as collateral to secure loans with repurchase agreement counterparties (i.e., lenders). Repurchase agreements involve the transfer of the pledged collateral to a lender at an agreed upon price in exchange for such lender’s simultaneous agreement to return the same asset back to the borrower at a future date (i.e., the maturity of the borrowing) at a price that is higher than the original sales price. The difference between the sale price that we receive and the repurchase price that we pay represents interest paid to the lender. Our cost of borrowings under repurchase agreements is generally LIBOR based. Under our repurchase agreements, we pledge our assets as collateral to secure the borrowing, in an amount equal to a specified percentage of the fair value of the pledged collateral, while we retain beneficial ownership of the pledged collateral. At the maturity of a repurchase financing, unless the repurchase financing is renewed with the same counterparty, we are required to repay the loan including any accrued interest and concurrently receive back our pledged collateral from the lender. With the consent of the lender, we may renew a repurchase financing at the then prevailing financing terms. Margin calls, whereby a lender requires that we pledge additional assets or cash as collateral to secure borrowings under our repurchase financing with such lender, are routinely experienced by us when the value of the assets pledged as collateral declines as a result of principal amortization and prepayments or due to changes in market interest rates, spreads or other market conditions. We also may make margin calls on counterparties when collateral values increase.
In order to reduce our exposure to counterparty-related risk, we generally seek to enter into repurchase agreements and other financing arrangements, and derivatives, with a diversified group of financial institutions. At December 31, 2019, we had outstanding balances under repurchase agreements with 28 separate lenders.
In addition to repurchase agreements, we may also use other sources of funding in the future to finance our residential mortgage assets, including, but not limited to, loan securitization and other types of collateralized borrowings, loan agreements, lines of credit or the issuance of debt and/or equity securities.
We believe that our principal competitors in the business of acquiring and holding residential mortgage assets of the types in which we invest are financial institutions, such as banks, specialty finance companies, insurance companies, institutional investors, including mutual funds and pension funds, hedge funds and other mortgage REITs, as well as the U.S. Federal Reserve (or Federal Reserve) as part of its monetary policy activities. Some of these entities may not be subject to the same regulatory constraints (i.e., REIT compliance or maintaining an exemption under the Investment Company Act) as we are. In addition, many of these entities have greater financial resources and access to capital than we have. The existence of these entities, as well as the possibility of additional entities forming in the future, may increase the competition for the acquisition of residential mortgage assets, resulting in higher prices and lower yields on such assets.
At December 31, 2019, we had 65 full-time and one part-time employee.
We maintain a website at www.mfafinancial.com. We make available, free of charge, on our website our (a) Annual Report on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q and Current Reports on Form 8-K (including any amendments thereto), proxy statements and other information (or, collectively, the Company Documents) filed with, or furnished to, the Securities and Exchange Commission (or SEC), as soon as reasonably practicable after such documents are so filed or furnished, (b) Corporate Governance Guidelines, (c) Code of Business Conduct and Ethics and (d) written charters of the Audit Committee, Compensation Committee and Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee of our Board of Directors (or our Board). Our Company Documents filed with, or furnished to, the SEC are also available at the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov. We also provide copies of the foregoing materials, free of charge, to stockholders who request them. Requests should be directed to the attention of our General Counsel at MFA Financial, Inc., 350 Park Avenue, 20th Floor, New York, New York 10022.
This section highlights specific risks that could affect our Company and its business. Readers should carefully consider each of the following risks and all of the other information set forth in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. Based on the information currently known to us, we believe the following information identifies the most significant risk factors affecting our Company. However, the risks and uncertainties we face are not limited to those described below. Additional risks and uncertainties not presently known to us or that we currently believe to be immaterial may also adversely affect our business.
If any of the following risks and uncertainties develops into actual events or if the circumstances described in the risks and uncertainties occur or continue to occur, these events or circumstances could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or liquidity. These events could also have a negative effect on the trading price of our securities.
The results of our business operations are affected by a number of factors, many of which are beyond our control, and primarily depend on, among other things, the level of our net interest income, the market value of our assets and collateral, which is driven by numerous factors, including the supply and demand for residential mortgage assets in the marketplace, our ability to source new investments at appropriate yields, the terms and availability of adequate financing, general economic and real estate conditions (both on a national and local level), the impact of government actions, especially in the real estate and mortgage sector, our competition, and the credit performance of our credit sensitive residential mortgage assets. Our net interest income varies primarily as a result of changes in interest rates, the slope of the yield curve (i.e., the differential between long-term and short-term interest rates), market credit spreads, borrowing costs (i.e., our interest expense), delinquencies, defaults and prepayment speeds on our investments, the behavior of which involves various risks and uncertainties. Interest rates and conditional prepayment rates (or CPRs) (which are a measure the amount of unscheduled principal prepayment on a loan or security) vary according to the type of investment, conditions in the financial markets, competition and other factors, none of which can be predicted with any certainty. Our operating results also depend upon our ability to effectively manage the risks associated with our business operations, including interest rate, prepayment, financing, liquidity, and credit risks, while maintaining our qualification as a REIT.
We may change our investment strategy, operating policies and/or asset allocations without stockholder consent, which could materially adversely affect our results of operations.
We may change our investment strategy, operating policies and/or asset allocation with respect to investments, acquisitions, leverage, growth, operations, indebtedness, capitalization and distributions at any time without the consent of our stockholders which would result in an investment portfolio with a different risk profile. A change in our investment strategy may increase our exposure to various risks, including but not limited to: interest rate risk, credit risk, default risk, liquidity risk, financing risk, legal or regulatory risk, and/or real estate market fluctuations. Furthermore, a change in our asset allocation could result in our making investments in asset categories different from those of our historical investments. For example, in recent years, we have made new investments principally in residential whole loans, RPL/NPL MBS, CRT securities, MSR-related assets and fixed rate 30-Year Agency MBS. These changes could materially adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations, the market price of our common stock or our ability to pay dividends or make distributions.
Credit and Other Risks Related to Our Investments
Our investments in residential whole loans, residential mortgage securities and MSR-related assets involve credit risk, which could materially adversely affect our results of operations.
Investors in residential mortgage assets assume the risk that the related borrowers may default on their obligations to make full and timely payments of principal and interest. Under our investment policy, we may invest in residential whole loans, residential mortgage securities, MSR-related assets and other investment assets of that may be considered to be lower credit quality. In general, these investments are less exposed to credit risk than Agency MBS because the former are not guaranteed as to principal or interest by the U.S. Government, any federal agency or any federally chartered corporation. Higher-than-expected rates of default and/or higher-than-expected loss severities on the mortgages underlying these investments could adversely affect the value of these assets. Accordingly, defaults in the payment of principal and/or interest on our residential whole loans, residential mortgage securities, MSR-related assets and other investment assets of less-than-high credit quality could result in our incurring losses of income from, and/or losses in market value relating to, these assets, which could materially adversely affect our results of operations.
Our investments in residential whole loans involve credit risks, some of which are different from those of our Non-Agency MBS, which could materially adversely affect our results of operations.
Our portfolio of residential whole loans is our largest asset class as of the end of 2019, and represented approximately 55% of our total assets as of December 31, 2019. We expect that our investment portfolio in residential whole loans will continue to increase during 2020. As a holder of residential whole loans, we are subject to the risk that the related borrowers may default or have defaulted on their obligations to make full and timely payments of principal and interest. A number of factors impact a borrower’s ability to repay including, among other things, changes in employment status, changes in interest rates or the availability of credit, and changes in real estate values. In addition to the credit risk associated with these assets, residential whole loans are less liquid than certain of our other credit sensitive assets, such as Non-Agency MBS, which may make them more difficult to dispose of if the need or desire arises. If actual results are different from our assumptions in determining the prices paid to acquire such loans, particularly if the market value of the underlying properties decreases significantly subsequent to purchase, we may incur significant losses, which could materially adversely affect our results of operations.
Our investments are subject to changes in credit spreads and other risks.
Credit spreads, which at times can be very volatile and react to various macro-economic events or conditions, measure the additional yield demanded on securities by the market based on their perceived credit relative to a specific benchmark. Fixed rate securities are valued based on a market credit spread over the rate payable on fixed rate U.S. Treasuries of like maturity. Floating rate securities are generally valued based on a market credit spread over LIBOR (which is under reform and may be replaced). Excessive supply of these securities combined with reduced demand will generally cause the market to require a higher yield on these securities, resulting in the use of a higher, or “wider,” spread over the benchmark rate to value such securities. Under such conditions, the value of our MBS portfolio would tend to decline. Conversely, if the spread used to value such securities were to decrease, or “tighten,” the value of our MBS portfolio would tend to increase. In addition, MBS valuations are subject to other financial risks, including mortgage basis spread risk. In periods of market volatility, changes in credit spreads and mortgage basis may result in changes in the value of MBS not being equally offset by changes in the value of derivative contracts used to manage portfolio valuation risks arising due to changes in interest rates. Such changes in the market value of our investments may affect our net equity, net income or cash flow directly through their impact on portfolio unrealized gains or losses, and therefore our ability to realize gains on such investments, or indirectly through their impact on our ability to borrow and access capital.
A significant portion of our residential whole loans and residential mortgage securities are secured by properties in a small number of geographic areas and may be disproportionately affected by economic or housing downturns, our competition, natural disasters, terrorist events, regulatory changes, adverse climate changes or other adverse events specific to those markets.
A significant number of the mortgages underlying our residential whole loans and residential mortgage securities are concentrated in certain geographic areas. For example, we have significant exposure in California, New York, Florida, New Jersey and Maryland. (For a discussion of the percentage of these assets in these states, see “Credit Risk” included under Part II, Item 7A “Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk” in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.) Certain markets within these states (particularly in California and Florida) have experienced significant decreases in residential home values from time to time. Any event that adversely affects the economy or real estate market in any of these states could have a disproportionately adverse effect on our residential whole loan and residential mortgage securities. In general, any material decline in the economy or significant problems in a particular real estate market would likely cause a decline in the value of residential properties securing the mortgages in that market, thereby increasing the risk of delinquency, default and foreclosure of residential whole loans and the loans underlying our residential mortgage securities and the risk of loss upon liquidation of these assets. This could, in turn, have a material adverse effect on our credit loss experience on residential mortgage investments in the affected market if higher-than-expected rates of default and/or higher-than-expected loss severities on our investments in residential whole loans and residential mortgage securities were to occur.
In addition, the occurrence of a natural disaster (such as an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flood, mudslide or wildfires), terrorist attack or a significant adverse climate change, including potential rises in sea-levels, may cause a sudden decrease in the value of real estate in the area or areas affected and would likely reduce the value of the properties securing the mortgages collateralizing our residential whole loans or residential mortgage securities. Because certain natural disasters are not typically covered by the standard hazard insurance policies maintained by borrowers (such as hurricanes, earthquakes or certain flooding), or the proceeds payable for losses covered by any such policy are not sufficient to make the related repairs, the affected borrowers may have to pay for any repairs themselves. Under these circumstances, borrowers may decide not to repair the damaged property or may stop paying the mortgage, either of which could cause defaults and credit loss severities to increase.
Changes in governmental laws and regulations, fiscal policies, property taxes and zoning ordinances can also have a negative impact on property values, which could result in borrowers’ deciding to stop paying their mortgages. This circumstance could cause defaults and loss severities to increase, thereby adversely impacting our results of operations.
We have investments in Non-Agency MBS collateralized by Alt A loans and may also have investments collateralized by subprime mortgage loans, which, due to lower underwriting standards, are subject to increased risk of losses.
We have certain investments in Non-Agency MBS backed by collateral pools containing mortgage loans that were originated under underwriting standards that were less strict than those used in underwriting “prime” mortgage loans. These lower standards permitted mortgage loans, often with LTV ratios in excess of 80%, to be made to borrowers having impaired credit histories, lower credit scores, higher debt-to-income ratios and/or unverified income. Difficult economic conditions, including increased interest rates and lower home prices, can result in Alt A and subprime mortgage loans having increased rates of delinquency, foreclosure, bankruptcy and loss, and are likely to otherwise experience delinquency, foreclosure, bankruptcy and loss rates that are higher, and that may be substantially higher, than those experienced by mortgage loans underwritten in a more traditional manner. Thus, because of higher delinquency rates and losses associated with Alt A and subprime mortgage loans, the performance of our Non-Agency MBS that are backed by these types of loans could be correspondingly adversely affected, which could materially adversely impact our results of operations, financial condition and business.
We are subject to counterparty risk and may be unable to seek indemnity or require counterparties to repurchase residential whole loans if they breach representations and warranties, which could cause us to suffer losses.
In connection with our residential whole loan investments, we typically enter into a loan purchase agreement, as buyer, of the loans from a seller. When we invest in certain mortgage loans, sellers may make representations and warranties about such loans that are very limited both in scope and duration. Residential mortgage loan purchase agreements may entitle the purchaser of the loans to seek indemnity or demand repurchase or substitution of the loans in the event the seller of the loans breaches a representation or warranty given to the purchaser. However, there can be no assurance that a mortgage loan purchase agreement will contain appropriate representations and warranties, that we or the trust that purchases the mortgage loans would be able to enforce a contractual right to repurchase or substitution, or that the seller of the loans will remain solvent or otherwise be able to honor its obligations under its mortgage loan purchase agreements. The inability to obtain or enforce an indemnity or require repurchase of a significant number of loans could require us to absorb the associated losses, and adversely affect our results of operations, financial condition and business.
The due diligence we undertake on potential investments may be limited and/or not reveal all of the risks associated with such investments and may not reveal other weaknesses in such assets, which could lead to losses.
Before making an investment, we typically conduct (either directly or using third parties) certain due diligence. There can be no assurance that we will conduct any specific level of due diligence, or that, among other things, our due diligence processes will uncover all relevant facts, which could result in losses on these assets to the extent we ultimately acquire them, which, in turn, could adversely affect our results of operations, financial condition and business.
We have experienced and may experience in the future increased volatility in our GAAP results of operations due in part to the increasing contribution to financial results of assets accounted for under the fair value option.
We have elected the fair value option accounting model for certain of our investments. Changes in the fair value of assets accounted for using the fair value option are recorded in our consolidated statements of operations each period, which may result in volatility in our financial results. There can be no assurance that such volatility in periodic financial results will not occur during 2020 or in future periods.
We have experienced, and may in the future experience, declines in the market value of certain of our investment securities resulting in our recording impairments, which have had, and may in the future have, an adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
A decline in the market value of our residential mortgage securities that are accounted for as available-for-sale (or AFS) may require us to recognize impairment against such assets under GAAP. When the fair value of an AFS security is less than its amortized cost at the balance sheet date, the security is considered impaired. If we intend to sell an impaired security, or it is more likely than not that we will be required to sell the impaired security before any anticipated recovery, then we must recognize charges to earnings equal to the entire difference between the investment’s amortized cost and its fair value at the balance sheet date. If we do not expect to sell an impaired security, only the portion of the impairment related to credit losses is recognized through charges to earnings with the remainder recognized through accumulated other comprehensive income/(loss) (or AOCI)
on our consolidated balance sheets. Impairments recognized through other comprehensive income/(loss) (or OCI) do not impact earnings. Following the recognition of an impairment through earnings, a valuation allowance will be established for the security. The determination as to the amount of credit impairment recognized in earnings is subjective, as such determination is based on factual information available at the time of assessment as well as on our estimates of the future performance and cash flow projections. As a result, the timing and amount of impairments recognized in earnings constitute material estimates that are susceptible to significant change.
The use of models in connection with the valuation of our assets subjects us to potential risks in the event that such models are incorrect, misleading or based on incomplete information.
As part of our risk management process, models may be used to evaluate, depending on the asset class, house price appreciation and depreciation by county or region, prepayment speeds and frequency, cost and timing of foreclosures, as well as other factors. Certain assumptions used as inputs to the models may be based on historical trends. These trends may not be indicative of future results. Furthermore, the assumptions underlying the models may prove to be inaccurate, causing the model output also to be incorrect. In the event models and data prove to be incorrect, misleading or incomplete, any decisions made in reliance thereon expose us to potential risks. For example, by relying on incorrect models and data, we may buy certain assets at prices that are too high, sell certain assets at prices that are too low or miss favorable opportunities altogether, which could have a material adverse impact on our business and growth prospects.
Valuations of some of our assets are subject to inherent uncertainty, may be based on estimates, may fluctuate over short periods of time and may differ from the values that would have been used if a ready market for these assets existed.
While the determination of the fair value of our investment assets generally takes into consideration valuations provided by third-party dealers and pricing services, the final determination of exit price fair values for our investment assets is based on our judgment, and such valuations may differ from those provided by third-party dealers and pricing services. Valuations of certain assets may be difficult to obtain or may not be reliable (particularly as related to residential whole loans, as discussed below). In general, dealers and pricing services heavily disclaim their valuations as such valuations are not intended to be binding bid prices. Additionally, dealers may claim to furnish valuations only as an accommodation and without special compensation, and so they may disclaim any and all liability arising out of any inaccuracy or incompleteness in valuations. Depending on the complexity and illiquidity of an asset, valuations of the same asset can vary substantially from one dealer or pricing service to another.
Our results of operations, financial condition and business could be materially adversely affected if our fair value determinations of these assets are materially higher than could actually be realized in the market.
Our investments in residential whole loans are difficult to value and are dependent upon the borrower’s ability to service or refinance their debt. The inability of the borrower to do so could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and results of operations.
The difficulty in valuation is particularly significant with respect to our less liquid investments such as our re-performing loans (or RPLs) and non-performing loans (or NPLs). RPLs are loans on which a borrower was previously delinquent but has resumed repaying. Our ability to sell RPLs for a profit depends on the borrower continuing to make payments. An RPL could become a NPL, which could reduce our earnings. Our investments in residential whole loans may require us to engage in workout negotiations, restructuring and/or the possibility of foreclosure. These processes may be lengthy and expensive. If loans become REO, we, through a designated servicer that we retain, will have to manage these properties and may not be able to sell them. See the risk factor captioned “Our ability to sell REO on terms acceptable to us or at all may be limited.”
We may work with our third-party servicers and seek to help a borrower to refinance an NPL or RPL to realize greater value from such loan. However, there may be impediments to executing a refinancing strategy for NPLs and RPLs. For example, many mortgage lenders have adjusted their loan programs and underwriting standards, which has reduced the availability of mortgage credit to prospective borrowers. This has resulted in reduced availability of financing alternatives for borrowers seeking to refinance their mortgage loans. In addition, the value of some borrowers’ homes may have declined below the amount of the mortgage loans on such homes resulting in higher loan-to-value ratios, which has left the borrowers with insufficient equity in their homes to permit them to refinance. To the extent prevailing mortgage interest rates rise from their current low levels, these risks would be exacerbated. The effect of the above would likely serve to make the refinancing of NPLs and RPLs potentially more difficult and less profitable for us.
Mortgage loan modification and refinancing programs and future legislative action may materially adversely affect the value of, and the returns on, our MBS and residential whole loan investments.
The U.S. Government, through the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Treasury Department, the Federal Housing Administration (or the FHA), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (or CFPB), and other agencies have in the past implemented, and may in the future implement, a number of federal programs designed to assist homeowners and help them avoid residential mortgage loan foreclosures, reduce or forgive certain mortgage payments, or otherwise mitigate losses for homeowners. In addition, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac implemented their Flex Modification foreclosure prevention program, developed at the direction of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (or FHFA). Federal loss mitigation programs, as well as proprietary loss mitigation programs offered by investors and servicers, may involve, among other things, the modification of mortgage loans to reduce the principal amount of the loans (through forbearance and/or forgiveness) and/or the rate of interest payable on the loans, or to extend the payment terms of the loans. Especially with respect to our Non-Agency MBS and residential whole loan investments, loan modifications with respect to a given underlying loan, including, but not limited to, those related to principal forgiveness and coupon reduction, could negatively impact the realized yields and cash flows on such investments. These loan modification programs, future legislative or regulatory actions, including possible amendments to the bankruptcy laws, that result in the modification of outstanding residential mortgage loans, as well as changes in the requirements necessary to qualify for refinancing mortgage loans with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or Ginnie Mae, may materially adversely affect the value of, and the returns on, these assets.
We may be adversely affected by risks affecting borrowers or the asset or property types in which certain of our investments may be concentrated at any given time, as well as from unfavorable changes in the related geographic regions.
We are not required to limit our assets in terms of geographic location, diversification or concentration, except that we concentrate in residential mortgage-related investments. Accordingly, our investment portfolio may be concentrated by geography, asset type, property type and/or borrower, increasing the risk of loss to us if the particular concentration in our portfolio is subject to greater risks or is undergoing adverse developments. In addition, adverse conditions in the areas where the properties securing or otherwise underlying our investments are located (including business layoffs or downsizing, industry slowdowns, changing demographics and other factors) and local real estate conditions (such as oversupply or reduced demand) may have an adverse effect on the value of our investments. A material decline in the demand for real estate in these areas may materially and adversely affect us. Lack of diversification can increase the correlation of non-performance and foreclosure risks to these investments.
Our investments in residential whole loans subject us to servicing-related risks, including those associated with foreclosure and liquidation.
We rely on third-party servicers to service and manage the mortgages underlying our residential whole loans. The ultimate returns generated by these investments may depend on the quality of the servicer. If a servicer is not vigilant in seeing that borrowers make their required monthly payments, borrowers may be less likely to make these payments, resulting in a higher frequency of default. If a servicer takes longer to liquidate non-performing mortgages, our losses related to those loans may be higher than originally anticipated. Any failure by servicers to service these mortgages and/or to competently manage and dispose of REO properties could negatively impact the value of these investments and our financial performance. In addition, while we have contracted with third-party servicers to carry out the actual servicing of the loans (including all direct interface with the borrowers), for loans that we purchase together with the related servicing rights, we are nevertheless ultimately responsible, vis-à-vis the borrowers and state and federal regulators, for ensuring that the loans are serviced in accordance with the terms of the related notes and mortgages and applicable law and regulation. (See the risk factor captioned “Regulatory Risk and Risks Related to the Investment Company Act of 1940 - Our business is subject to extensive regulation”) In light of the current regulatory environment, such exposure could be significant even though we might have contractual claims against our servicers for any failure to service the loans to the required standard.
The foreclosure process, especially in judicial foreclosure states such as New York, Florida and New Jersey (in which states we have significant exposure), can be lengthy and expensive, and the delays and costs involved in completing a foreclosure, and then subsequently liquidating the REO property through sale, may materially increase any related loss. In addition, at such time as title is taken to a foreclosed property, it may require more extensive rehabilitation than we estimated at acquisition. Thus, a material amount of foreclosed residential mortgage loans, particularly in the states mentioned above, could result in significant losses in our residential whole loan portfolio and could materially adversely affect our results of operations.
The expanding body of federal, state and local regulations and investigations of originators and servicers may increase costs of compliance and the risks of noncompliance, and may adversely affect servicers’ ability to perform their servicing obligations.
We work with and rely on third-party servicers to service the residential mortgage loans that we acquire through consolidated trusts. The mortgages underlying the MBS that we acquire are also serviced by third-party servicers that have been hired by the bond issuers. The mortgage servicing business is subject to extensive regulation by federal, state and local governmental authorities and is subject to various laws and judicial and administrative decisions imposing requirements and restrictions and increased compliance costs on a substantial portion of their operations. The volume of new or modified laws and regulations has increased in recent years. Some jurisdictions and municipalities have enacted laws that restrict loan servicing activities, including delaying or preventing foreclosures or forcing the modification of certain mortgages.
Federal laws and regulations have also been proposed or adopted which, among other things, could hinder the ability of a servicer to foreclose promptly on defaulted residential loans, and which could result in assignees being held responsible for violations in the residential loan origination process. In addition, certain mortgage lenders and third-party servicers have voluntarily, or as part of settlements with law enforcement authorities, established loan modification programs relating to loans they hold or service. These federal, state and local legislative or regulatory actions that result in modifications of our outstanding mortgages, or interests in mortgages acquired by us either directly through consolidated trusts or through our investments in residential MBS, may adversely affect the value of, and returns on, such investments. Mortgage servicers may be incented by the federal government to pursue such loan modifications, as well as forbearance plans and other actions intended to prevent foreclosure, even if such loan modifications and other actions are not in the best interests of the beneficial owners of the mortgages. As a consequence of the foregoing matters, our business, financial condition, results of operations and ability to pay dividends, if any, to our stockholders may be adversely affected.
The federal conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and related efforts, along with any changes in laws and regulations affecting the relationship between Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the U.S. Government, may materially adversely affect our business.
The payments of principal and interest we receive on our Agency MBS, which depend directly upon payments on the mortgages underlying such securities, are guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or Ginnie Mae. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are U.S. Government-sponsored entities (or GSEs), but their guarantees are not backed by the full faith and credit of the United States (although the FHFA largely controls their actions through its conservatorship of the two GSEs, which occurred in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis). Ginnie Mae is part of a U.S. Government agency and its guarantees are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.
Although the U.S. Government has undertaken several measures to support the positive net worth of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since the financial crisis of 2007-2008, there is no guarantee of continuing capital support if such support were to become necessary. These uncertainties lead to questions about the availability of, and trading market for, Agency MBS. Despite the steps taken by the U.S. Government, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could default on their guarantee obligations which would materially and adversely affect the value of our Agency MBS. Accordingly, if these government actions are inadequate in the future and the GSEs were to suffer losses, be significantly reformed, or cease to exist (as discussed below), our business, operations and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected.
A number of legislative proposals have been introduced in recent years that would wind down or phase out the GSEs, including a March 2019 memorandum signed by President Trump calling for an end of the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and a Housing Reform Plan issued in September 2019 by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which includes legislative and administrative reforms to achieve the goals set forth in the presidential memorandum. The future roles of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may be reduced (perhaps significantly) and the nature of their guarantee obligations could be limited relative to historical measurements. Alternatively, it is still possible that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could be dissolved entirely or privatized, and, as mentioned above, the U.S. Government could determine to stop providing liquidity support of any kind to the mortgage market. Any changes to the nature of the GSEs or their guarantee obligations could redefine what constitutes an Agency MBS and could have broad adverse implications for the market and our business, operations and financial condition. If Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac were to be eliminated, or their structures were to change radically (in particular a limitation or removal of the guarantee obligation), we could be unable to acquire additional Agency MBS and our existing Agency MBS could be materially and adversely impacted.
We could be negatively affected in a number of ways depending on the manner in which events unfold for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We rely on our Agency MBS as collateral for a significant portion of our financings under our repurchase agreements.
Any decline in their value, or perceived market uncertainty about their value, would make it more difficult for us to obtain financing on our Agency MBS on acceptable terms or at all, or to maintain our compliance with the terms of any financing transactions.
As indicated above, future legislation could, among other things, reform the GSEs and their functions, or nationalize, privatize, or eliminate them entirely. Any law affecting the GSEs may create market uncertainty and have the effect of reducing the actual or perceived credit quality of securities issued or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. As a result, such laws could increase the risk of loss on our investments in Agency MBS guaranteed by Fannie Mae and/or Freddie Mac. It also is possible that such laws could adversely impact the market for such securities and the spreads at which they trade. All of the foregoing could materially and adversely affect our business, operations and financial condition.
Rapid changes in the values of our residential mortgage investments and other assets may make it more difficult for us to maintain our qualification as a REIT or exemption from registration under the Investment Company Act.
If the market value or income potential of our MBS, residential mortgage investments and other assets declines as a result of changes in interest rates, prepayment rates or other factors, we may need to increase certain real estate investments and income and/or liquidate our non-qualifying assets in order to maintain our REIT qualification or exemption from registration under the Investment Company Act. If the decline in real estate asset values and/or income occurs quickly, this may be especially difficult to accomplish. This difficulty could be exacerbated by the illiquid nature of certain investments. We might have to make investment decisions that we otherwise would not make absent our REIT qualification and Investment Company Act considerations. (See risk factor captioned “Regulatory Risk and Risks Related to the Investment Company Act of 1940” and “Risks Related to Our Taxation as a REIT and the Taxation of Our Assets.”)
Our ability to sell REO on terms acceptable to us or at all may be limited.
REO properties are illiquid relative to other assets we own. Furthermore, real estate markets are affected by many factors that are beyond our control, such as general and local economic conditions, availability of financing, interest rates and supply and demand. We cannot predict whether we will be able to sell any REO for the price or on the terms set by us or whether any price or other terms offered by a prospective purchaser would be acceptable to us. We also cannot predict the length of time needed to find a willing purchaser and to close the sale of an REO. In certain circumstances, we may be required to expend cash to correct defects, pay expenses or to make improvements before a property can be sold, and we cannot assure that we will have cash available to make these payments. As a result, our ownership of REOs could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and results of operations.
Our investments in MSR-related assets expose us to additional risks.
As of December 31, 2019, we had approximately $1.2 billion of investments in financial instruments whose cash flows are considered to be largely dependent on underlying MSRs that either directly or indirectly act as collateral for the investment. Generally, we have the right to receive certain cash flows from the owner of the MSRs that are generated from the servicing fees and/or excess servicing spread associated with the MSRs. While we do not directly own MSRs, our investments in MSR-related assets indirectly expose us to risks associated with MSRs, such as the illiquidity of MSRs, the risks associated with servicing MSRs (that include, for example, significant regulatory risks and costs) and the ability of the owner to successfully manage its MSR portfolio. Furthermore, the value of MSRs is highly sensitive to changes in prepayment rates. Decreasing market interest rates are generally associated with increases in prepayment rates as borrowers are able to refinance their loans at lower costs. Prepayments result in the partial or complete loss of the cash flows from the related MSR. If these or other MSR-related risks come to fruition, the value of our MSR-related assets could decline significantly.
Our investments in mortgage loan originators expose us to additional risks.
As of December 31, 2019, we had approximately $148 million of investments in certain loan originators from whom we acquire mortgage loans for investment on a periodic basis. These investments have taken the form of common equity, preferred equity and/or unsecured debt. Unlike our investments in residential mortgage loans and mortgage-backed securities, our investments in loan originators are unsecured and not collateralized by any property of the originators. In addition, we do not manage any of the loan originators in which we have made investments, and because none of our investments give us a controlling stake in any of the loan originators, our ability to influence the business and operations of the originators is limited, in some instances significantly so. Also, because these loan originators are private closely-held enterprises, there are significant restrictions on our ability to sell or otherwise transfer our investments (which are generally illiquid). In the event one or more of the loan originators in which we have made investments should experience a significant decline in its business and operations or otherwise not be able to respond adequately to managerial, compliance or operational challenges that it may encounter, we may be required to write-down all or a portion of the applicable investment, which could have a material adverse impact on our results of operations.
Prepayment rates on the mortgage loans underlying certain of our residential mortgage assets may materially adversely affect our profitability or result in liquidity shortfalls that could require us to sell assets in unfavorable market conditions.
In general, the mortgages collateralizing certain of our residential mortgage assets may be prepaid at any time without penalty. Prepayments result when borrowers satisfy (i.e., pay off) the mortgage upon selling or refinancing their mortgaged property. When we acquire assets collateralized by residential mortgage loans, we anticipate that the underlying mortgage loans will prepay at a projected rate which, together with expected coupon income, provides us with an expected yield on that asset. If we purchase an asset at a premium to par value, and borrowers then prepay the underlying mortgage loans at a faster rate than we expected, the increased prepayments would result in a yield lower than expected on such assets because we would be required to amortize the related premium on an accelerated basis. Conversely, if we purchase residential mortgage assets at a discount to par value, and borrowers then prepay the underlying mortgage loans at a slower rate than we expected, the decreased prepayments would result in a lower yield than expected on the asset and/or may result in a decline in the fair value of the asset, which would result in losses if the asset is accounted for at fair value or impairment for an AFS security if the fair value of the security is less than its amortized cost.
Prepayment rates on mortgage loans are influenced by changes in mortgage and market interest rates and a variety of economic, geographic, governmental and other factors beyond our control. Consequently, prepayment rates cannot be predicted with certainty and no strategy can completely insulate us from prepayment risks. In periods of declining interest rates, prepayment rates on mortgage loans generally increase. Because of prepayment risk, the market value of certain of our assets (in particular our longer duration Agency MBS) may benefit less than other fixed income securities from a decline in interest rates. If general interest rates decline at the same time, we would likely not be able to reinvest the proceeds of the prepayments that we receive in assets yielding as much as those yields on the assets that were prepaid.
With respect to certain residential mortgage assets, we have, at times, purchased assets that have a higher coupon rate than the prevailing market interest rates. In exchange for a higher coupon rate, we typically pay a premium over par value to acquire such assets. In accordance with GAAP, we amortize premiums over the life of the related asset. If the underlying mortgage loans securing these assets prepay at a more rapid rate than anticipated, we will be required to amortize the related premiums on an accelerated basis, which could adversely affect our profitability.
Prepayments, which are the primary feature of MBS that distinguishes them from other types of bonds, are difficult to predict and can vary significantly over time. As the holder of MBS, we receive a monthly payment equal to a portion of our investment principal in a particular MBS as the underlying mortgages are prepaid. With respect to Agency MBS, we typically receive notice of monthly principal prepayments on the fifth business day of each month (such day is commonly referred to as “factor day”) and receive the related scheduled payment on a specified later date, which for (a) our Agency ARM-MBS and fixed-rate Agency MBS guaranteed by Fannie Mae is the 25th day of the month (or next business day thereafter), (b) our Agency ARM-MBS guaranteed by Freddie Mac is the 15th day of the following month (or next business day thereafter), (c) our fixed-rate Agency MBS guaranteed by Freddie Mac is the 15th day of the month (or next business day thereafter), and (d) our Agency ARM-MBS guaranteed by Ginnie Mae is the 20th day of that month (or next business day thereafter). With respect to our Non-Agency MBS, we typically receive notice of monthly principal prepayments and the related scheduled payment on the 25th day of each month (or next business day thereafter). In general, on the date each month that principal prepayments are announced (i.e., factor day for Agency MBS), the value of our MBS pledged as collateral under our repurchase agreements is reduced by the amount of the prepaid principal and, as a result, our lenders will typically initiate a margin call that requires us to pledge additional collateral in the form of cash or additional MBS, in an amount equal to the prepaying principal, in order to re-establish the required ratio of borrowing to collateral value under such repurchase agreements. Accordingly, in the case of Agency MBS, the announcement on factor day of principal prepayments occurs prior to our receipt of the related scheduled payment. This timing differential creates a short-term receivable for us in the amount of any such principal prepayments; however, under our repurchase agreements, we may receive a margin call in the amount of the related reduction in value of the Agency MBS and be required to post on or about factor day additional cash or other collateral in the amount of the prepaying principal to be received, which thereby would reduce our liquidity during the period in which the short-term receivable is outstanding. As a result, in order to meet any such margin calls, we might be forced to sell assets in order to maintain adequate liquidity. Forced sales, particularly under adverse market conditions, may result in lower sales prices than sales made under ordinary market conditions in the normal course of business. If our MBS were to be liquidated at prices below our amortized cost (i.e., our cost basis) of such assets, we would incur losses, which could materially adversely affect our earnings. In addition, in order to continue to earn a return on this prepaid principal, we must reinvest it in additional MBS or other assets; however, in a declining interest rate environment, we might earn a lower return on our reinvested funds as compared to the return earned on the MBS that had prepaid.
Prepayments may have a materially negative impact on our financial results, the effects of which depend on, among other things, the timing and amount of the prepayment delay on Agency MBS, the amount of unamortized premium on assets purchased at a premium which are prepaid, the rate at which prepayments are made on our certain assets purchased at a discount, the reinvestment lag and the availability of suitable reinvestment opportunities.
Risks Related to Our Use of Leverage
Our business strategy involves the use of leverage, and we may not achieve what we believe to be optimal levels of leverage or we may become overleveraged, which may materially adversely affect our liquidity, results of operations or financial condition.
Our business strategy involves the use of borrowing or “leverage.” Pursuant to our leverage strategy, we borrow against a substantial portion of the market value of our residential mortgage investments and use the borrowed funds to finance our investment portfolio and the acquisition of additional investment assets. Although we are not required to maintain any particular debt-to-equity ratio, certain of our borrowing agreements contain provisions requiring us not to have a debt-to-equity ratio exceeding specified levels. Future increases in the amount by which the collateral value is required to contractually exceed the repurchase transaction loan amount, decreases in the market value of our residential mortgage investments, increases in interest rate volatility and changes in the availability of acceptable financing could cause us to be unable to achieve the amount of leverage we believe to be optimal. The return on our assets and cash available for distribution to our stockholders may be reduced to the extent that changes in market conditions prevent us from achieving the desired amount of leverage on our investments or cause the cost of our financing to increase relative to the income earned on our leveraged assets. If the interest income on the residential mortgage investments that we have purchased with borrowed funds fails to cover the interest expense of the related borrowings, we will experience net interest losses and may experience net losses from operations. Such losses could be significant as a result of our leveraged structure. The use of leverage to finance our residential mortgage investments involves a number of other risks, including, among other things, the following:
Adverse developments involving major financial institutions or involving one of our lenders could result in a rapid reduction in our ability to borrow and materially adversely affect our business, profitability and liquidity. As of December 31, 2019, we had amounts outstanding under repurchase agreements with 28 separate lenders. A material adverse development involving one or more major financial institutions or the financial markets in general could result in our lenders reducing our access to funds available under our repurchase agreements or terminating such repurchase agreements altogether. Because all of our repurchase agreements are uncommitted and renewable at the discretion of our lenders, our lenders could determine to reduce or terminate our access to future borrowings at virtually any time, which could materially adversely affect our business and profitability. Furthermore, if a number of our lenders became unwilling or unable to continue to provide us with financing, we could be forced to sell assets, including MBS in an unrealized loss position, in order to maintain liquidity. Forced sales, particularly under adverse market conditions may result in lower sales prices than ordinary market sales made in the normal course of business. If our residential mortgage investments were liquidated at prices below our amortized cost (i.e., the cost basis) of such assets, we would incur losses, which could adversely affect our earnings. In addition, any uncertainty in the global finance market or weak economic conditions in Europe could cause the conditions described above to have a more pronounced affect on our European counterparties.
Ourprofitability may be materially adversely affected by a reduction in our leverage. As long as we earn a positive spread between interest and other income we earn on our leveraged assets and our borrowing costs, we believe that we can generally increase our profitability by using greater amounts of leverage. There can be no assurance, however, that repurchase financing will remain an efficient source of long-term financing for our assets. The amount of leverage that we use may be limited because our lenders might not make funding available to us at acceptable rates or they may require that we provide additional collateral to secure our borrowings. If our financing strategy is not viable, we will have to find alternative forms of financing for our assets which may not be available to us on acceptable terms or at acceptable rates. In addition, in response to certain interest rate and investment environments or to changes in market liquidity, we could adopt a strategy of reducing our leverage by selling assets or not reinvesting principal payments as assets amortize and/or prepay, thereby decreasing the outstanding amount of our related borrowings. Such an action could reduce interest income, interest expense and net income, the extent of which would be dependent on the level of reduction in assets and liabilities as well as the sale prices for which the assets were sold.
If we are unable to renew our borrowings at acceptable interest rates, it may force us to sell assets under adverse market conditions, which may materially adversely affect our liquidity and profitability. Since we rely primarily on borrowings under short-term repurchase agreements to finance our generally longer-term residential mortgage investments, our ability to achieve our investment objectives depends on our ability to borrow funds in sufficient amounts
and on acceptable terms, and on our ability to renew or replace maturing borrowings on a continuous basis. Our repurchase agreement credit lines are renewable at the discretion of our lenders and, as such, do not contain guaranteed roll-over terms. Our ability to enter into repurchase transactions in the future will depend on the market value of our residential mortgage investments pledged to secure the specific borrowings, the availability of acceptable financing and market liquidity and other conditions existing in the lending market at that time. If we are not able to renew or replace maturing borrowings, we could be forced to sell assets, including assets in an unrealized loss position, in order to maintain liquidity. Forced sales, particularly under adverse market conditions, could result in lower sales prices than ordinary market sales made in the normal course of business. If our residential mortgage investments were liquidated at prices below our amortized cost (i.e., the cost basis) of such assets, we would incur losses, which could materially adversely affect our earnings.
A decline in the market value of our assets may result in margin calls that may force us to sell assets under adverse market conditions, which may materially adversely affect our liquidity and profitability. In general, the market value of our residential mortgage investments is impacted by changes in interest rates, prevailing market yields and other market conditions, including general economic conditions, home prices and the real estate market generally. A decline in the market value of our residential mortgage investments may limit our ability to borrow against such assets or result in lenders initiating margin calls, which require a pledge of additional collateral or cash to re-establish the required ratio of borrowing to collateral value, under our repurchase agreements. Posting additional collateral or cash to support our credit will reduce our liquidity and limit our ability to leverage our assets, which could materially adversely affect our business. As a result, we could be forced to sell a portion of our assets, including MBS in an unrealized loss position, in order to maintain liquidity.
If a counterparty to our repurchase transactions defaults on its obligation to resell the underlying security back to us at the end of the transaction term or if we default on our obligations under the repurchase agreement, we could incur losses. When we engage in repurchase transactions, we generally transfer securities to lenders (i.e., repurchase agreement counterparties) and receive cash from such lenders. Because the cash we receive from the lender when we initially transfer the securities to the lender is less than the value of those securities (this difference is referred to as the “haircut”), if the lender defaults on its obligation to transfer the same securities back to us, we would incur a loss on the transaction equal to the amount of the haircut (assuming there was no change in the value of the securities). See Item 7, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” of this Annual Report on Form 10-K, for further discussion regarding risks related to exposure to financial institution counterparties in light of recent market conditions. Our exposure to defaults by counterparties may be more pronounced during periods of significant volatility in the market conditions for mortgages and mortgage-related assets as well as the broader financial markets. At December 31, 2019, we had greater than 5% stockholders’ equity at risk to the following repurchase agreement counterparties: Credit Suisse (approximately 12.3%), Barclay's Bank (approximately 11.6%), Goldman Sachs (approximately 7.3%) and Wells Fargo (approximately 6.1%).
In addition, generally, if we default on one of our obligations under a repurchase transaction with a particular lender, that lender can elect to terminate the transaction and cease entering into additional repurchase transactions with us. In addition, some of our repurchase agreements contain cross-default provisions, so that if a default occurs under any one agreement, the lenders under our other repurchase agreements could also declare a default. Any losses we incur on our repurchase transactions could materially adversely affect our earnings and thus our cash available for distribution to our stockholders.
Our use of repurchase agreements to borrow money may give our lenders greater rights in the event of bankruptcy. Borrowings made under repurchase agreements may qualify for special treatment under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. If a lender under one of our repurchase agreements defaults on its obligations, it may be difficult for us to recover our assets pledged as collateral to such lender. In the event of the insolvency or bankruptcy of a lender during the term of a repurchase agreement, the lender may be permitted, under applicable insolvency laws, to repudiate the contract, and our claim against the lender for damages may be treated simply as an unsecured creditor. In addition, if the lender is a broker or dealer subject to the Securities Investor Protection Act of 1970, or an insured depository institution subject to the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, our ability to exercise our rights to recover our securities under a repurchase agreement or to be compensated for any damages resulting from the lender’s insolvency may be further limited by those statutes. These claims would be subject to significant delay and, if and when received, may be substantially less than the damages we actually incur. In addition, in the event of our insolvency or bankruptcy, certain repurchase agreements may qualify for special treatment under the Bankruptcy Code, the effect of which, among other things, would be to allow the creditor under the agreement to avoid the automatic stay provisions of the Bankruptcy Code and take possession of, and liquidate, our collateral under our repurchase agreements without delay. Our risks associated with the insolvency or bankruptcy of a lender maybe
more pronounced during periods of significant volatility in the market conditions for mortgages and mortgage-related assets as well as the broader financial markets.
An increase in our borrowing costs relative to the interest we receive on our investments may materially adversely affect our profitability.
Our earnings are primarily generated from the difference between the interest income we earn on our investment portfolio, less net amortization of purchase premiums and discounts, and the interest expense we pay on our borrowings. We rely primarily on borrowings under repurchase agreements to finance the acquisition of residential mortgage investments, which have longer-term contractual maturities. Even though the majority of our investments have interest rates that adjust over time based on changes in corresponding interest rate indexes, the interest we pay on our borrowings may increase at a faster pace than the interest we earn on our investments. In general, if the interest expense on our borrowings increases relative to the interest income we earn on our investments, our profitability may be materially adversely affected, including due to the following reasons:
Changes in interest rates, cyclical or otherwise, may materially adversely affect our profitability. Interest rates are highly sensitive to many factors, including fiscal and monetary policies and domestic and international economic and political conditions, as well as other factors beyond our control. In general, we finance the acquisition of our investments through borrowings in the form of repurchase transactions, which exposes us to interest rate risk on the financed assets. The cost of our borrowings is based on prevailing market interest rates. Because the terms of our repurchase transactions typically range from one to six months at inception, the interest rates on our borrowings generally adjust more frequently (as new repurchase transactions are entered into upon the maturity of existing repurchase transactions) than the interest rates on our investments. During a period of rising interest rates, our borrowing costs generally will increase at a faster pace than our interest earnings on the leveraged portion of our investment portfolio, which could result in a decline in our net interest spread and net interest margin. The severity of any such decline would depend on our asset/liability composition, including the impact of hedging transactions, at the time as well as the magnitude and period over which interest rates increase. Further, an increase in short-term interest rates could also have a negative impact on the market value of our residential mortgage investments. If any of these events happen, we could experience a decrease in net income or incur a net loss during these periods, which may negatively impact our distributions to stockholders.
Interest rate caps on certain of our loans and the loans collateralizing our MBS may materially adversely affect our profitability if short-term interest rates increase. The coupons earned on adjustable rate and hybrid loans as well as ARM-MBS adjust over time as interest rates change (typically after an initial fixed-rate period for Hybrids). The financial markets primarily determine the interest rates that we pay on the repurchase transactions used to finance the acquisition of our assets; however, the level of adjustment to the interest rates earned on our ARM-MBS and certain of our loans is typically limited by contract (or in certain cases by state or federal law). The interim and lifetime interest rate caps on certain of our loans and the loans collateralizing our MBS limit the amount by which the interest rates on such assets can adjust. Interim interest rate caps limit the amount interest rates on a particular ARM can adjust during the next adjustment period. Lifetime interest rate caps limit the amount interest rates can adjust upward from inception through maturity of a particular ARM. Our repurchase transactions are not subject to similar restrictions. Accordingly, in a sustained period of rising interest rates or a period in which interest rates rise rapidly, we could experience a decrease in net income or a net loss because the interest rates paid by us on our borrowings (excluding the impact of hedging transactions) could increase without limitation (as new repurchase transactions are entered into upon the maturity of existing repurchase transactions) while increases in the interest rates earned on certain of our loans and the loans collateralizing our MBS could be limited due to interim or lifetime interest rate caps.
Adjustments of interest rates on our borrowings may not be matched to interest rate indexes on our MBS. In general, the interest rates on our repurchase transactions are based on LIBOR, while the interest rates on our ARM-MBS may be indexed to LIBOR or CMT rate. Accordingly, any increase in LIBOR relative to one-year CMT rates will generally result in an increase in our borrowing costs that is not matched by a corresponding increase in the interest earned on our ARM-MBS tied to these other index rates. Any such interest rate index mismatch could adversely affect our profitability, which may negatively impact our distributions to stockholders.
A flat or inverted yield curve may adversely affect prepayment rates and supply. Our net interest income varies primarily as a result of changes in interest rates as well as changes in interest rates across the yield curve. When the differential between short-term and long-term benchmark interest rates narrows, the yield curve is said to be “flattening.” In addition, a flatter yield curve generally leads to fixed-rate mortgage rates that are closer to the interest rates available on ARMs, potentially decreasing the supply of ARM-MBS. At times, short-term interest rates may increase and exceed long-term interest rates, causing an inverted yield curve. When the yield curve is inverted, fixed-rate mortgage rates may approach or be lower than mortgage rates on ARMs, further increasing related prepayments and further negatively impacting ARM-
MBS supply. Increases in prepayments on our MBS portfolio cause our premium amortization to accelerate, lowering the yield on such assets. In addition, a flatter yield curve would generally reduce the net spread we could earn on new investments. If this happens, we could experience a decrease in net income or incur a net loss during these periods, which may negatively impact our distributions to stockholders.
Changes in inter-bank lending rate reporting practices, the method pursuant to which LIBOR is determined or the establishment of alternative reference rates may adversely affect our profitability.
As discussed above, the interest rates on certain of our investments, our repurchase transactions and our interest rate swap agreements (or Swaps) are generally based on LIBOR. LIBOR and other indices which are deemed “benchmarks” have been the subject of recent national, international and other regulatory guidance and proposals for reform. Some of these reforms are already effective while others are still to be implemented. These reforms may cause such benchmarks to perform differently than in the past, or have other consequences which cannot be predicted. In particular, regulators and law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are conducting criminal and civil investigations into whether the banks that contribute information to the British Bankers’ Association (or BBA) in connection with the daily calculation of LIBOR may have been under-reporting or otherwise manipulating or attempting to manipulate LIBOR. A number of BBA member banks have reached settlements with their regulators and law enforcement agencies with respect to this alleged manipulation of LIBOR. Actions by the regulators or law enforcement agencies, as well as ICE Benchmark Administration (the current administrator of LIBOR), may result in changes to the manner in which LIBOR is determined or the establishment of alternative reference rates. For example, on July 27, 2017, the United Kingdom Financial Conduct Authority announced that it intends to stop persuading or compelling banks to submit LIBOR rates after 2021. It currently appears that, over time, U.S. Dollar LIBOR may be replaced by the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (or SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. However, the manner and timing of this shift is currently unknown. Market participants are still considering how various types of financial instruments and securitization vehicles should react to a discontinuation of LIBOR. It is possible that not all of our assets and liabilities will transition away from LIBOR at the same time, and it is possible that not all of our assets and liabilities will transition to the same alternative reference rate, in each case increasing the difficulty of hedging. We and other market participants have less experience understanding and modeling SOFR-based assets and liabilities than LIBOR-based assets and liabilities, increasing the difficulty of investing, hedging, and risk management. The process of transition involves operational risks. It is also possible that no transition will occur for many financial instruments.
At this time, it is not possible to predict the effect of any such changes, any establishment of alternative reference rates or any other reforms to LIBOR that may be implemented in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. Uncertainty as to the nature of such potential changes, alternative reference rates or other reforms may adversely affect our profitability, which may negatively impact our distributions to stockholders.
Certain of our current lenders require, and future lenders may require, that we enter into restrictive covenants relating to our operations.
The various agreements pursuant to which we borrow money to finance our residential mortgage investments generally include customary representations, warranties and covenants, but may also contain more restrictive supplemental terms and conditions. Although specific to each master repurchase or loan agreement, typical supplemental terms include requirements of minimum equity, leverage ratios and performance triggers relating to a decline in equity or net income over a period of time. If we fail to meet or satisfy any covenants, supplemental terms or representations and warranties, we could be in default under the affected agreements and those lenders could elect to declare all amounts outstanding under the agreements to be immediately due and payable, enforce their respective interests against collateral pledged under such agreements and restrict our ability to make additional borrowings. Certain of our financing agreements contain cross-default or cross-acceleration provisions, so that if a default or acceleration of indebtedness occurs under any one agreement, the lenders under our other agreements could also declare a default. Further, under our repurchase agreements, we are typically required to pledge additional assets to our lenders in the event the estimated fair value of the existing pledged collateral under such agreements declines and such lenders demand additional collateral, which may take the form of additional securities, loans or cash.
Future lenders may impose similar or additional restrictions and other covenants on us. If we fail to meet or satisfy any of these covenants, we could be in default under these agreements, and our lenders could elect to declare outstanding amounts due and payable, require the posting of additional collateral and enforce their interests against then-existing collateral. We could also be subject to cross-default and acceleration rights and, with respect to collateralized debt, the posting of additional collateral and foreclosure rights upon default. Further, this could also make it difficult for us to satisfy the qualification requirements necessary to maintain our status as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes.
The use of non-recourse long-term financing structures expose us to risks, which could result in losses to us.
We use securitization financing for certain of our residential whole loan investments. In such structures, our financing sources typically have only a claim against the special purpose vehicle which we sponsor rather than a general claim against us. Prior to any such financing, we generally seek to finance our investments with relatively short-term repurchase agreements until a sufficient portfolio of assets is accumulated. As a result, we are subject to the risk that we would not be able to acquire, during the period that any short-term repurchase agreements are available, sufficient eligible assets or securities to maximize the efficiency of a securitization. We also bear the risk that we would not be able to obtain new short-term repurchase agreements or would not be able to renew any short-term repurchase agreements after they expire should we need more time to seek and acquire sufficient eligible assets or securities for a securitization. In addition, conditions in the capital markets may make the issuance of any such securitization less attractive to us even when we do have sufficient eligible assets or securities. While we would generally intend to retain a portion of the interests issued under such securitizations and, therefore, still have exposure to any investments included in such securitizations, our inability to enter into such securitizations may increase our overall exposure to risks associated with direct ownership of such investments, including the risk of default. If we are unable to obtain and renew short-term repurchase agreements or to consummate securitizations to finance the selected investments on a long-term basis, we may be required to seek other forms of potentially less attractive financing or to liquidate assets at an inopportune time or price.
These financing arrangements require us to make certain representations and warranties regarding the assets that collateralize the borrowings. Although we perform due diligence on the assets that we acquire, certain representations and warranties that we make in respect of such assets may ultimately be determined to be inaccurate. Such representations and warranties may include, but are not limited to, issues such as the validity of the lien; the absence of delinquent taxes or other liens; the loans’ compliance with all local, state and federal laws and the delivery of all documents required to perfect title to the lien. In the event of a breach of a representation or warranty, we may be required to repurchase affected loans, make indemnification payments to certain indemnified parties or address any claims associated with such breach. Further, we may have limited or no recourse against the seller from whom we purchased the loans. Such recourse may be limited due to a variety of factors, including the absence of a representation or warranty from the seller corresponding to the representation provided by us or the contractual expiration thereof. A breach of a representation or warranty could adversely affect our results of operations and liquidity.
Certain of our financing arrangements are rated by one or more rating agencies and we may sponsor financing facilities in the future that are rated by credit agencies. The related agency or rating agencies may suspend rating notes at any time. Rating agency delays may result in our inability to obtain timely ratings on new notes, which could adversely impact the availability of borrowings or the interest rates, advance rates or other financing terms and adversely affect our results of operations and liquidity. Further, if we are unable to secure ratings from other agencies, limited investor demand for unrated notes could result in further adverse changes to our liquidity and profitability.
Risks Associated with Adverse Developments in the Mortgage Finance and Credit Markets and Financial Markets Generally
Market conditions for mortgages and mortgage-related assets as well as the broader financial markets may materially adversely affect the value of the assets in which we invest.
Our results of operations are materially affected by conditions in the markets for mortgages and mortgage-related assets, including MBS, as well as the broader financial markets and the economy generally. Significant adverse changes in financial market conditions leading to the forced sale of large quantities of mortgage-related and other financial assets would result in significant volatility in the market for mortgages and mortgage-related assets and potentially significant losses for ourselves and certain other market participants. In addition, concerns over actual or anticipated low economic growth rates, higher levels of unemployment or uncertainty regarding future U.S. monetary policy (particularly in light of the current presidential administration , the upcoming presidential election and related uncertainties) may contribute to increased interest rate volatility. Declines in the value of our investments, or perceived market uncertainty about their value, may make it difficult for us to obtain financing on favorable terms or at all, or maintain our compliance with terms of any financing arrangements already in place. Additionally, increased volatility and/or deterioration in the broader residential mortgage and MBS markets could materially adversely affect the performance and market value of our investments.
A lack of liquidity in our investments may materially adversely affect our business.
The assets that comprise our investment portfolio and that we acquire are not traded on an exchange. A portion of our investments are subject to legal and other restrictions on resale and are otherwise generally less liquid than exchange-traded securities. Any illiquidity of our investments may make it difficult for us to sell such investments if the need or desire arises. In addition, if we are required to liquidate all or a portion of our portfolio quickly, we may realize significantly less than the value
at which we have previously recorded our investments. Further, we may face other restrictions on our ability to liquidate an investment in a business entity to the extent that we have or could be attributed with material, non-public information regarding such business entity. As a result, our ability to vary our portfolio in response to changes in economic and other conditions may be relatively limited, which could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
Actions by the U.S. Government designed to stabilize or reform the financial markets may not achieve their intended effect or otherwise benefit our business, and could materially adversely affect our business.
In July 2010, the U.S. Congress enacted the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (or the Dodd-Frank Act), in part to impose significant investment restrictions and capital requirements on banking entities and other organizations that are significant to U.S. financial markets. For instance, the Dodd-Frank Act imposes significant restrictions on the proprietary trading activities of certain banking entities and subjects other systemically significant entities and activities regulated by the Federal Reserve to increased capital requirements and quantitative limits for engaging in such activities. The Dodd-Frank Act also seeks to reform the asset-backed securitization market (including the MBS market) by requiring the retention of a portion of the credit risk inherent in the pool of securitized assets and by imposing additional registration and disclosure requirements. The Dodd-Frank Act also imposes significant regulatory restrictions on the origination and servicing of residential mortgage loans. The Dodd-Frank Act’s extensive requirements, and implementation by regulatory agencies such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (or CFTC), CFPB, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (or FDIC), Federal Reserve, and the SEC may have a significant effect on the financial markets, and may affect the availability or terms of financing, derivatives or MBS, each of which could have a material adverse effect on our business.
In addition, the U.S. Government, the Federal Reserve, U.S. Treasury and other governmental and regulatory bodies have increased focus and scrutiny on our industry. New proposals for legislation continue to be introduced in the U.S. Congress that could further substantially increase regulation of our industry, impose restrictions on the operations and general ability of firms within the industry to conduct business consistent with historical practices, including in the areas of compensation, interest rates, financial product offerings and disclosures, and have an effect on bankruptcy proceedings with respect to consumer residential real estate mortgages, among other things. International financial regulators are examining standard setting for systemically significant entities, such as those considered by the Third Basel Accords (Basel III) to be incorporated by domestic entities. We cannot predict whether or when such actions may occur or what effect, if any, such actions could have on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
The Federal Reserve announced in November 2008 a program of large-scale purchases of Agency MBS in an attempt to lower longer-term interest rates and contribute to an overall easing of adverse financial conditions. Subject to specified investment guidelines, the portfolios of Agency MBS purchased through the programs established by the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve may be held to maturity and, based on mortgage market conditions, adjustments may be made to these portfolios. This flexibility may adversely affect the pricing and availability of Agency MBS during the remaining term of these portfolios.
Regulatory Risk and Risks Related to the Investment Company Act of 1940
Our business is subject to extensive regulation.
Our business is subject to extensive regulation by federal and state governmental authorities, self-regulatory organizations and securities exchanges. We are required to comply with numerous federal and state laws. The laws, rules and regulations comprising this regulatory framework change frequently, as can the interpretation and enforcement of existing laws, rules and regulations. Some of the laws, rules and regulations to which we are subject are intended primarily to safeguard and protect consumers, rather than stockholders or creditors. From time to time, we may receive requests from federal and state agencies for records, documents and information regarding our policies, procedures and practices regarding our business activities. We incur significant ongoing costs to comply with these government regulations.
Although we do not originate or directly service residential mortgage loans, we must comply with various federal and state laws, rules and regulations as a result of owning MBS and residential whole loans. These rules generally focus on consumer protection and include, among others, rules promulgated under the Dodd-Frank Act, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Modernization Act of 1999 (or Gramm-Leach-Bliley). These requirements can and do change as statutes and regulations are enacted, promulgated, amended and interpreted, and the recent trend among federal and state lawmakers and regulators has been toward increasing laws, regulations and investigative proceedings in relation to the mortgage industry generally. Although we believe that we have structured our operations and investments to comply with existing legal and regulatory requirements and interpretations, changes in regulatory and legal requirements, including changes in their interpretation and enforcement by lawmakers and regulators, could materially and adversely affect our business and our financial condition, liquidity and results of operations.
Maintaining our exemption from registration under the Investment Company Act imposes significant limits on our operations.
We conduct our operations so that neither we nor any of our subsidiaries are required to register as an investment company under the Investment Company Act. Section 3(a)(1)(A) of the Investment Company Act defines an investment company as any issuer that is or holds itself out as being engaged primarily in the business of investing, reinvesting or trading in securities. Section 3(a)(1)(C) of the Investment Company Act defines an investment company as any issuer that is engaged or proposes to engage in the business of investing, reinvesting, owning, holding or trading in securities and owns or proposes to acquire investment securities having a value exceeding 40% of the value of the issuer’s total assets (exclusive of U.S. Government securities and cash items) on an unconsolidated basis (i.e., the 40% Test). Excluded from the term “investment securities” are, among other things, U.S. Government securities and securities issued by majority-owned subsidiaries that are not themselves investment companies and are not relying on the exception from the definition of investment company for private funds set forth in Section 3(c)(1) or Section 3(c)(7) of the Investment Company Act.
We are a holding company and conduct our real estate businesses primarily through wholly-owned subsidiaries. We conduct our real estate business so that we do not come within the definition of an investment company because less than 40% of the value of our adjusted total assets on an unconsolidated basis will consist of “investment securities.” The securities issued by any wholly-owned or majority-owned subsidiaries that we may form in the future that are excepted from the definition of “investment company” based on Section 3(c)(1) or 3(c)(7) of the Investment Company Act, together with any other investment securities we may own, may not have a value in excess of 40% of the value of our adjusted total assets on an unconsolidated basis. We monitor our holdings to ensure continuing and ongoing compliance with this test. In addition, we believe we will not be considered an investment company under Section 3(a)(1)(A) of the Investment Company Act because we will not engage primarily or hold ourselves out as being engaged primarily in the business of investing, reinvesting or trading in securities. Rather, through our wholly-owned subsidiaries, we will be primarily engaged in the non-investment company businesses of these subsidiaries.
If the value of securities issued by our subsidiaries that are excepted from the definition of “investment company” by Section 3(c)(1) or 3(c)(7) of the Investment Company Act, together with any other investment securities we own, exceeds 40% of our adjusted total assets on an unconsolidated basis, or if one or more of such subsidiaries fail to maintain an exception or exemption from the Investment Company Act, we could, among other things, be required either (a) to substantially change the manner in which we conduct our operations to avoid being required to register as an investment company, (b) to effect sales of our assets in a manner that, or at a time when, we would not otherwise choose to do so or (c) to register as an investment company under the Investment Company Act, any of which could have an adverse effect on us and the market price of our securities. If we were required to register as an investment company under the Investment Company Act, we would become subject to substantial regulation with respect to our capital structure (including our ability to use leverage), management, operations, transactions with affiliated persons (as defined in the Investment Company Act), portfolio composition, including restrictions with respect to diversification and industry concentration, and other matters.
We expect that our subsidiaries that invest in residential mortgage loans (whether through a consolidated trust or otherwise) will rely upon the exemption from registration as an investment company under the Investment Company Act pursuant to Section 3(c)(5)(C) of the Investment Company Act, which is available for entities “primarily engaged in the business of purchasing or otherwise acquiring mortgages and other liens on and interests in real estate.” This exemption generally requires that at least 55% of each of these subsidiaries’ assets be comprised of qualifying real estate assets and at least 80% of each of their portfolios be comprised of qualifying real estate assets and real estate-related assets under the Investment Company Act. Mortgage loans that were fully and exclusively secured by real property are generally qualifying real estate assets for purposes of the exemption. All or substantially all of our residential mortgage loans are fully and exclusively secured by real property with a loan-to-value ratio of less than 100%. As a result, we believe our residential mortgage loans that are fully and exclusively secured by real property meet the definition of qualifying real estate assets. To the extent we own any residential mortgage loans with a loan-to-value ratio of greater than 100%, we intend to classify, depending on guidance from the SEC staff, only the portion of the value of such loans that does not exceed the value of the real estate collateral as qualifying real estate assets and the excess as real estate-related assets.
In August 2011, the SEC issued a “concept release” pursuant to which they solicited public comments on a wide range of issues relating to companies engaged in the business of acquiring mortgages and mortgage-related instruments and that rely on Section 3(c)(5)(C) of the Investment Company Act. The concept release and the public comments thereto have not yet resulted in SEC rulemaking or interpretative guidance and we cannot predict what form any such rulemaking or interpretive guidance may take. There can be no assurance, however, that the laws and regulations governing the Investment Company Act status of REITs, or guidance from the SEC or its staff regarding the exemption from registration as an investment company on which we rely, will not change in a manner that adversely affects our operations. We expect each of our subsidiaries relying on Section 3(c)(5)(C) to rely on guidance published by the SEC staff or on our analyses of guidance published with respect to other types of assets, if any,
to determine which assets are qualifying real estate assets and real estate-related assets. To the extent that the SEC staff publishes new or different guidance with respect to these matters, we may be required to adjust our strategy accordingly. In addition, we may be limited in our ability to make certain investments and these limitations could result in us holding assets we might wish to sell or selling assets we might wish to hold.
Certain of our subsidiaries may rely on the exemption provided by Section 3(c)(6) to the extent that they hold residential mortgage loans through majority owned subsidiaries that rely on Section 3(c)(5)(C). The SEC staff has issued little interpretive guidance with respect to Section 3(c)(6) and any guidance published by the staff could require us to adjust our strategy accordingly.
To the extent that the SEC staff provides more specific guidance regarding any of the matters bearing upon the exceptions we and our subsidiaries rely on from registration under the Investment Company Act, we may be required to adjust our strategy accordingly. Any additional guidance from the SEC staff could provide additional flexibility to us, or it could further inhibit our ability to pursue the strategies we have chosen.
There can be no assurance that the laws and regulations governing the Investment Company Act status of REITs, including the Division of Investment Management of the SEC providing more specific or different guidance regarding these exemptions, will not change in a manner that adversely affects our operations.
Risks Related to Our Use of Hedging Strategies
Our use of hedging strategies to mitigate our interest rate exposure may not be effective.
In accordance with our operating policies, we pursue various types of hedging strategies, including Swaps, to seek to mitigate or reduce our exposure to losses from adverse changes in interest rates. Our hedging activity will vary in scope based on the level and volatility of interest rates, the type of assets held and financing sources used and other changing market conditions. No hedging strategy, however, can completely insulate us from the interest rate risks to which we are exposed and there is no guarantee that the implementation of any hedging strategy would have the desired impact on our results of operations or financial condition. Certain of the U.S. federal income tax requirements that we must satisfy in order to qualify as a REIT may limit our ability to hedge against such risks. We will not enter into derivative transactions if we believe that they will jeopardize our qualification as a REIT.
Interest rate hedging may fail to protect or could adversely affect us because, among other things:
interest rate hedging can be expensive, particularly during periods of rising and volatile interest rates;
available interest rate hedges may not correspond directly with the interest rate risk for which protection is sought;
the duration of the hedge may not match the duration of the related hedged instrument;
the credit quality of the party owing money on the hedge may be downgraded to such an extent that it impairs our ability to sell or assign our side of the hedging transaction; and
the party owing money in the hedging transaction may default on its obligation to pay.
We primarily use Swaps to hedge against future increases in interest rates on our repurchase agreements. Should a Swap counterparty be unable to make required payments pursuant to such Swap, the hedged liability would cease to be hedged for the remaining term of the Swap. In addition, we may be at risk for any collateral held by a hedging counterparty to a Swap, should such counterparty become insolvent or file for bankruptcy. Our hedging transactions, which are intended to limit losses, may actually adversely affect our earnings, which could reduce our cash available for distribution to our stockholders.
We may enter into hedging instruments that could expose us to contingent liabilities in the future, which could materially adversely affect our results of operations.
Subject to maintaining our qualification as a REIT, part of our financing strategy involves entering into hedging instruments that could require us to fund cash payments in certain circumstances (e.g., the early termination of a hedging instrument caused by an event of default or other voluntary or involuntary termination event or the decision by a hedging counterparty to request the posting of collateral that it is contractually owed under the terms of a hedging instrument). With respect to the termination of an existing Swap, the amount due would generally be equal to the unrealized loss of the open Swap position with the hedging counterparty and could also include other fees and charges. These economic losses will be reflected in our financial results of
operations and our ability to fund these obligations will depend on the liquidity of our assets and access to capital at the time. Any losses we incur on our hedging instruments could materially adversely affect our earnings and thus our cash available for distribution to our stockholders.
The characteristics of hedging instruments present various concerns, including illiquidity, enforceability, and counterparty risks, which could adversely affect our business and results of operations.
As indicated above, from time to time we enter into Swaps. Entities entering into Swaps are exposed to credit losses in the event of non-performance by counterparties to these transactions. Rules issued by the CFTC that became effective in October 2012 require the clearing of all Swap transactions through registered derivatives clearing organizations, or swap execution facilities, through standardized documents under which each Swap counterparty transfers its position to another entity whereby the centralized clearinghouse effectively becomes the counterparty to each side of the Swap. It is the intent of the Dodd-Frank Act that the clearing of Swaps in this manner is designed to avoid concentration of swap risk in any single entity by spreading and centralizing the risk in the clearinghouse and its members. In addition to greater initial and periodic margin (collateral) requirements and additional transaction fees both by the swap execution facility and the clearinghouse, the Swap transactions are now subjected to greater regulation by both the CFTC and the SEC. These additional fees, costs, margin requirements, documentation requirements, and regulations could adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Clearing facilities or exchanges upon which our hedging instruments are traded may increase margin requirements on our hedging instruments in the event of adverse economic developments.
In response to events having or expected to have adverse economic consequences or which create market uncertainty, clearing facilities or exchanges upon which some of our hedging instruments (i.e., interest rate swaps) are traded may require us to post additional collateral against our hedging instruments. For example, in response to the U.S. approaching its debt ceiling without resolution and the federal government shutdown, in October 2013, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange announced that it would increase margin requirements by 12% for all over-the-counter interest rate swap portfolios that its clearinghouse guaranteed. This increase was subsequently rolled back shortly thereafter upon the news that Congress passed legislation to temporarily suspend the national debt ceiling and reopen the federal government, and provide a time period for broader negotiations concerning federal budgetary issues. In the event that future adverse economic developments or market uncertainty (including those due to governmental, regulatory, or legislative action or inaction) result in increased margin requirements for our hedging instruments, it could materially adversely affect our liquidity position, business, financial condition and results of operations.
We may fail to qualify for hedge accounting treatment, which could materially adversely affect our results of operations.
We record derivative and hedge transactions in accordance with GAAP, specifically according to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (or FASB) Accounting Standards Codification Topic on Derivatives. Under these standards, we may fail to qualify for hedge accounting treatment for a number of reasons, including if we use instruments that do not meet the definition of a derivative, we fail to satisfy hedge documentation and hedge effectiveness assessment requirements or our instruments are not highly effective. If we fail to qualify for hedge accounting treatment, though the fundamental economic performance of our business would be unaffected, our operating results for financial reporting purposes may be materially adversely affected because losses on the derivatives we enter into would be recorded in net income, rather than AOCI, a component of stockholders’ equity.
Risks Related to Our Taxation as a REIT and the Taxation of Our Assets
If we fail to remain qualified as a REIT, we will be subject to tax as a regular corporation and could face a substantial tax liability, which would reduce the amount of cash available for distribution to our stockholders.
We have elected to qualify as a REIT and intend to comply with the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (or the Code), related to REIT qualification. Accordingly, we will not be subject to U.S. federal income tax to the extent we distribute 100% of our REIT taxable income (which is generally our taxable income, computed without regard to the dividends paid deduction, any net income from prohibited transactions, and any net income from foreclosure property) to stockholders within the timeframe permitted under the Code and provided that we comply with certain income, asset ownership and other tests applicable to REITs. We believe that we currently meet all of the REIT requirements and intend to continue to qualify as a REIT under the provisions of the Code. Many of the REIT requirements, however, are highly technical and complex. The determination of whether we are a REIT requires an analysis of various factual matters and circumstances, some of which may not be totally within our control and some of which involve interpretation. For example, if we are to qualify as a REIT, annually at least 75% of our gross income must come from, among other sources, interest on obligations secured by mortgages on real property or interests in real property, gain from the disposition of real property, including mortgages or interests in real property (other than sales or dispositions of real property, including mortgages on real property, or securities that are treated as mortgages on real property, that we hold
primarily for sale to customers in the ordinary course of a trade or business (i.e., prohibited transactions)), dividends or other distributions on, and gains from the disposition of shares in other REITs, commitment fees received for agreements to make real estate loans and certain temporary investment income. In addition, the composition of our assets must meet certain requirements at the close of each quarter. We are also required to distribute to stockholders at least 90% of our REIT taxable income (determined without regard to the deduction for dividends paid and by excluding net capital gain). There can be no assurance that we will be able to satisfy these or other requirements or that the Internal Revenue Service (or IRS) or a court would agree with any conclusions or positions we have taken in interpreting the REIT requirements.
Even a technical or inadvertent mistake could jeopardize our REIT qualification unless we meet certain statutory relief provisions. If we were to fail to qualify as a REIT in any taxable year for any reason, we would be subject to U.S. federal income tax on our taxable income, and dividends paid to our stockholders would not be deductible by us in computing our taxable income. Any resulting corporate tax liability could be substantial and would reduce the amount of cash available for distribution to our stockholders, which in turn could have an adverse impact on the value of our common stock. Unless we were entitled to relief under certain Code provisions, we also would be disqualified from taxation as a REIT for the four taxable years following the year in which we failed to qualify as a REIT.
Our failure to maintain our qualification as a REIT would cause our stock to be delisted from the NYSE.
The New York Stock Exchange (or NYSE) requires, as a condition to the listing of our shares, that we maintain our REIT status. Consequently, if we fail to maintain our REIT status, our shares would promptly be delisted from the NYSE, which would decrease the trading activity of such shares. This could make it difficult to sell shares and would likely cause the market volume of the shares trading to decline.
If we were delisted as a result of losing our REIT status and desired to relist our shares on the NYSE, we would have to reapply to the NYSE to be listed as a domestic corporation. As the NYSE’s listing standards for REITs are less onerous than its standards for domestic corporations, it would be more difficult for us to become a listed company under these heightened standards. We might not be able to satisfy the NYSE’s listing standards for a domestic corporation. As a result, if we were delisted from the NYSE, we might not be able to relist as a domestic corporation, in which case our shares could not trade on the NYSE.
REIT distribution requirements could adversely affect our ability to execute our business plan.
To maintain our qualification as a REIT, we must distribute at least 90% of our REIT taxable income (determined without regard to the dividends paid deduction and excluding any net capital gain) to our stockholders within the timeframe permitted under the Code. We generally must make these distributions in the taxable year to which they relate, or in the following taxable year if declared before we timely (including extensions) file our tax return for the year and if paid with or before the first regular dividend payment after such declaration. To the extent that we satisfy this distribution requirement, but distribute less than 100% of our taxable income, we will be subject to U.S. federal income tax on our undistributed taxable income at regular corporate income tax rates. In addition, if we should fail to distribute during each calendar year at least the sum of (a) 85% of our REIT ordinary income for such year, (b) 95% of our REIT capital gain net income for such year, and (c) any undistributed taxable income from prior periods, we would be subject to a non-deductible 4% excise tax on the excess of such required distribution over the sum of (x) the amounts actually distributed, plus (y) the amounts of income we retained and on which we have paid corporate income tax.
The dividend distribution requirement limits the amount of cash we have available for other business purposes, including amounts to fund our growth. Also, it is possible that because of differences in timing between the recognition of taxable income and the actual receipt of cash, we may have to borrow funds on unfavorable terms, sell investments at disadvantageous prices, distribute amounts that would otherwise be invested in future acquisitions or make a taxable distribution of our stock to make distributions sufficient to maintain our qualification as a REIT or avoid corporate income tax in a particular year. These alternatives could increase our costs or reduce our stockholders’ equity. Thus, compliance with the REIT requirements may hinder our ability to grow, which could adversely affect the value of our common stock.
Even if we remain qualified as a REIT, we may face other tax liabilities that reduce our cash flow.
Even if we qualify as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes, we may be required to pay certain U.S. federal, state and local taxes on our income and assets, including taxes on any undistributed income, tax on income from some activities conducted as a result of a foreclosure, excise taxes, state or local income, property and transfer taxes, such as mortgage recording taxes, and other taxes. In addition, in order to meet the REIT qualification requirements, to prevent the recognition of certain types of non-cash income, or to avert the imposition of a 100% tax that applies to certain gains derived by a REIT from dealer property or inventory (i.e., prohibited transactions tax) we may hold some of our assets through TRSs or other subsidiary corporations that
will be subject to corporate level income tax at regular rates. In addition, if we lend money to a TRS, the TRS may be unable to deduct all or a portion of the interest paid to us, which could result in an even higher corporate level tax liability. Furthermore, the Code imposes a 100% excise tax on certain transactions between a TRS and a REIT that are not conducted at an arm’s-length basis. We intend to structure any transaction with a TRS on terms that we believe are arm’s-length to avoid incurring this 100% excise tax. There can be no assurances, however, that we will be able to avoid application of the 100% excise tax. Any of these taxes would reduce our operating cash flow and thus our cash available for distribution to our stockholders.
If our foreign TRS is subject to U.S. federal income tax at the entity level, it would greatly reduce the amounts those entities would have available to pay its creditors and distribute to us.
There is a specific exemption from regular U.S. federal income tax for non-U.S. corporations that restrict their activities in the United States to trading stock and securities (or any activity closely related thereto) for their own account, whether such trading (or such other activity) is conducted by the corporation or its employees through a resident broker, commission agent, custodian or other agent. We intend that our foreign TRS will rely on that exemption or otherwise operate in a manner so that it will not be subject to regular U.S. federal income tax on its net income at the entity level. If the IRS succeeded in challenging that tax treatment, it would greatly reduce the amount that the foreign TRS would have available to pay to its creditors and to distribute to us. In addition, even if our foreign TRS qualifies for that exemption, it may nevertheless be subject to U.S. federal withholding tax on certain types of income.
Complying with REIT requirements may cause us to forgo otherwise attractive opportunities.
To remain qualified as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes, we must continually satisfy tests concerning, among other things, the sources of our income, the nature and diversification of our assets, the amounts that we distribute to our stockholders and the ownership of our stock. We may be required to make distributions to stockholders at disadvantageous times or when we do not have funds readily available for distribution, and may be unable to pursue investments that would be otherwise advantageous to us in order to satisfy the source-of-income or asset-diversification requirements for qualifying as a REIT. In addition, in certain cases, the modification of a debt instrument could result in the conversion of the instrument from a qualifying real estate asset to a wholly or partially non-qualifying asset that must be contributed to a TRS or disposed of in order for us to maintain our qualification as a REIT. Thus, compliance with the REIT requirements may hinder our ability to make and, in certain cases, to maintain ownership of, certain attractive investments.
Our use of TRSs may cause us to fail to qualify as a REIT
The net income of our TRSs is not required to be distributed to us, and such undistributed TRS income is generally not subject to our REIT distribution requirements. However, if the accumulation of cash or reinvestment of significant earnings in our TRSs causes the fair market value of our securities in those entities, taken together with other non-qualifying assets, to exceed 25% of the fair market value of our assets, in each case as determined for REIT asset testing purposes, we would, absent timely responsive action, fail to maintain our qualification as a REIT. Additionally, if the accumulation of cash or reinvestment of significant earnings in our TRSs causes the fair market value of our securities in those entities to exceed 20% of the fair market value of our assets, in each case as determined for REIT asset testing purposes, we would, absent timely responsive action, similarly fail to maintain our qualification as a REIT.
We may generate taxable income that differs from our GAAP income on our Non-Agency MBS and residential whole loan investments purchased at a discount to par value, which may result in significant timing variances in the recognition of income and losses.
We have acquired and intend to continue to acquire Non-Agency MBS and residential whole loans at prices that reflect significant market discounts on their unpaid principal balances. For financial statement reporting purposes, we generally establish a portion of the purchase discount on Non-Agency MBS as a Credit Reserve. This Credit Reserve is generally not accreted into income for financial statement reporting purposes. For tax purposes, however, we are not permitted to anticipate, or establish a reserve for, credit losses prior to their occurrence. As a result, discount on securities acquired in the primary or secondary market is included in the determination of taxable income and is not impacted by losses until such losses are incurred. Such differences in accounting for tax and GAAP can lead to significant timing variances in the recognition of income and losses. Taxable income on Non-Agency MBS purchased at a discount to their par value may be higher than GAAP earnings in early periods (before losses are actually incurred) and lower than GAAP earnings in periods during and subsequent to when realized credit losses are incurred. Dividends will be declared and paid at the discretion of our Board and will depend on REIT taxable earnings, our financial results and overall financial condition, maintenance of our REIT qualification and such other factors as our Board may deem relevant from time to time.
The tax on prohibited transactions may limit our ability to engage in transactions, including certain methods of securitizing mortgage loans, that would be treated as sales for U.S. federal income tax purposes.
A REIT’s net income from prohibited transactions is subject to a 100% tax. In general, prohibited transactions are sales or other dispositions of property, other than foreclosure property, but including mortgage loans, held primarily for sale to customers in the ordinary course of business. We might be subject to this tax if we were to dispose of or securitize loans or MBS securities in a manner that was treated as a sale of the loans or MBS for U.S. federal income tax purposes. Therefore, to avoid the prohibited transactions tax, we may choose to engage in certain sales of loans through a TRS and not at the REIT level, and we may be limited as to the structures we are able to utilize for our securitization transactions, even though the sales or structures might otherwise be beneficial to us. We do not believe that our securitizations to date have been subject to this tax, but there can be no assurances that the IRS would agree with such treatment. If the IRS successfully challenged such treatment, our results of operations could be materially adversely affected.
The “taxable mortgage pool” rules may increase the taxes that we or our stockholders may incur and may limit the manner in which we effect future securitizations.
Securitizations by us or our subsidiaries could result in the creation of taxable mortgage pools for U.S. federal income tax purposes. The real estate mortgage investment conduit (or REMIC) provisions of the Code generally provide that REMICs are the only form of pass-through entity permitted to issue debt obligations with two or more maturities if the payments on those obligations bear a relationship to the mortgage obligations held by such entity. If we engage in a non-REMIC securitization transaction, directly or indirectly through a QRS, in which the assets held by the securitization vehicle consist largely of mortgage loans or MBS, in which the securitization vehicle issues to investors two or more classes of debt instruments that have different maturities, and in which the timing and amount of payments on the debt instruments is determined in large part by the amounts received on the mortgage loans or MBS held by the securitization vehicle, the securitization vehicle will be a taxable mortgage pool. As long as we or another REIT holds a 100% interest in the equity interests in a taxable mortgage pool, either directly or through a QRS, the taxable mortgage pool will not be subject to tax. A portion of the income that we realize with respect to the equity interest we hold in a taxable mortgage pool will, however, be considered to be excess inclusion income and, as a result, a portion of the dividends that we pay to our stockholders will be considered to consist of excess inclusion income. Such excess inclusion income is treated as unrelated business taxable income (or UBTI) for tax-exempt stockholders, is subject to withholding for foreign stockholders (without the benefit of any treaty reduction), and is not subject to reduction by net operating loss carryovers. In addition to the extent that our stock is owned by tax-exempt “disqualified organizations,” such as certain government-related entities and charitable remainder trusts that are not subject to tax on unrelated business income, we may incur a corporate level tax on a portion of our income from the taxable mortgage pool. In that case, we may reduce the amount of our distributions to any disqualified organization whose stock ownership gave rise to the tax. Historically, we have not generated excess inclusion income; however, despite our efforts, we may not be able to avoid creating or distributing excess inclusion income to our stockholders in the future. In addition, we could face limitations in selling equity interests to outside investors in securitization transactions that are taxable mortgage pools or selling any debt securities issued in connection with these securitizations that might be considered to be equity interests for tax purposes. These limitations may prevent us from using certain techniques to maximize our returns from securitization transactions.
We have not established a minimum dividend payment level, and there is no guarantee that we will maintain current dividend payment levels or pay dividends in the future.
In order to maintain our qualification as a REIT, we must comply with a number of requirements under U.S. federal tax law, including that we distribute at least 90% of our REIT taxable income within the timeframe permitted under the Code, which is calculated generally before the dividends paid deduction and excluding net capital gain. Dividends will be declared and paid at the discretion of our Board and will depend on our REIT taxable earnings, our financial results and overall condition, maintenance of our REIT qualification and such other factors as our Board may deem relevant from time to time. We have not established a minimum dividend payment level for our common stock and our ability to pay dividends may be negatively impacted by adverse changes in our operating results. Therefore, our dividend payment level may fluctuate significantly, and, under some circumstances, we may not pay dividends at all.
Our reported GAAP net income may differ from the amount of REIT taxable income and dividend distribution requirements and, therefore, our GAAP results may not be an accurate indicator of future taxable income and dividend distributions.
Generally, the cumulative net income we report over the life of an asset will be the same for GAAP and tax purposes, although the timing of this income recognition over the life of the asset could be materially different. Differences exist in the accounting for GAAP net income and REIT taxable income which can lead to significant variances in the amount and timing of when income and losses are recognized under these two measures. Due to these differences, our reported GAAP financial results could materially differ from our determination of REIT taxable income and our dividend distribution requirements, and, therefore, our GAAP results may not be an accurate indicator of future taxable income and dividend distributions.
Over time, accounting principles, conventions, rules, and interpretations may change, which could affect our reported GAAP and taxable earnings, and stockholders’ equity.
Accounting rules for the various aspects of our business change from time to time. Changes in GAAP, or the accepted interpretation of these accounting principles, can affect our reported income, earnings, and stockholders’ equity. In addition, changes in tax accounting rules or the interpretations thereof could affect our REIT taxable income and our dividend distribution requirements. These changes may materially adversely affect our results of operations.
The failure of assets subject to repurchase agreements to qualify as real estate assets could adversely affect our ability to remain qualified as a REIT.
We enter into certain financing arrangements that are structured as sale and repurchase agreements pursuant to which we nominally sell certain of our assets to a counterparty and simultaneously enter into an agreement to repurchase these assets at a later date in exchange for a purchase price. Economically, these agreements are financings that are secured by the assets sold pursuant thereto. We generally believe that we would be treated for REIT asset and income test purposes as the owner of the assets that are the subject of any such sale and repurchase agreement notwithstanding that such agreement may transfer record ownership of the assets to the counterparty during the term of the agreement. It is possible, however, that the IRS could assert that we did not own the assets during the term of the sale and repurchase agreement, in which case we could fail to remain qualified as a REIT.
Complying with REIT requirements may limit our ability to hedge effectively and may cause us to incur tax liabilities.
The REIT provisions of the Code could substantially limit our ability to hedge our business. Any income from a properly designated hedging transaction we enter into to manage the risk of interest rate changes with respect to borrowings made or to be made, or ordinary obligations incurred or to be incurred, to acquire or carry real estate assets, or from certain other limited types of hedging transactions, generally does not constitute “gross income” for purposes of the 75% or 95% gross income tests. To the extent that we enter into other types of hedging transactions, the income from those transactions is likely to be treated as non-qualifying income for purposes of both of the gross income tests. As a result of these rules, we may have to limit our use of advantageous hedging techniques or implement those hedges through a TRS. This could increase the cost of our hedging activities because a TRS would be subject to tax on gains or expose us to greater risks associated with changes in interest rates than we would otherwise want to bear. In addition, losses in a TRS will generally not provide any tax benefit, except for being carried forward against future taxable income in the TRS.
We may be required to report taxable income for certain investments in excess of the economic income we ultimately realize from them.
We may acquire debt instruments in the secondary market for less than their face amount. The discount at which such debt instruments are acquired may reflect doubts about their ultimate collectability rather than current market interest rates. The amount of such discount will nevertheless generally be treated as “market discount” for U.S. federal income tax purposes, which we are required to include in our taxable income either over time or as principal payments are received, as applicable. If we collect less on the debt instrument than our purchase price plus the market discount we had previously reported as income, we may not be able to benefit from any offsetting loss deductions.
Some of the debt instruments that we acquire may have been issued with original issue discount. We will be required to report such original issue discount based on a constant yield method and will be taxed based on the assumption that all future projected payments due on such debt instruments will be made. If such debt instruments turn out not to be fully collectible, an offsetting loss deduction will become available only in the later year that uncollectability is provable.
In addition, we may acquire debt instruments that are subsequently modified by agreement with the borrower. If the amendments to the outstanding instrument are “significant modifications” under the applicable U.S. Treasury regulations, the
modified instrument will be considered to have been reissued to us in a debt-for-debt exchange with the borrower. In that event, we may be required to recognize taxable gain to the extent the principal amount of the modified instrument exceeds our adjusted tax basis in the unmodified instrument, even if the value of the instrument or the payment expectations have not changed. Following such a taxable modification, we would hold the modified loan with a cost basis equal to its principal amount for U.S. federal income tax purposes.
Finally, in the event that any debt instruments acquired by us are delinquent as to mandatory principal and interest payments, or in the event payments with respect to a particular instrument are not made when due, we may nonetheless be required to continue to recognize the unpaid interest as taxable income as it accrues, despite doubt as to its ultimate collectability. Similarly, we may be required to accrue interest income with respect to debt instruments at its stated rate regardless of whether corresponding cash payments are received or are ultimately collectible. In each case, while we would in general ultimately have an offsetting loss deduction available to us when such interest was determined to be uncollectible, the utility of that deduction could depend on our having taxable income in that later year or thereafter.
For these and other reasons, we may have difficulty making distributions sufficient to maintain our qualification as a REIT or avoid corporate income tax and the 4% excise tax in a particular year.
The interest apportionment rules may affect our ability to comply with the REIT asset and gross income tests.
Most of the purchased credit impaired and non-performing loans that we have acquired were acquired by us at a discount from their outstanding principal amount, because our pricing was generally based on the value of the underlying real estate that secures those mortgage loans. Treasury Regulation Section 1.856-5(c) (the “interest apportionment regulation”) provides that if a mortgage is secured by both real property and other property, a REIT is required to apportion its annual interest income to the real property security based on a fraction, the numerator of which is the value of the real property securing the loan, determined when the REIT commits to acquire the loan, and the denominator of which is the highest “principal amount” of the loan during the year. If a mortgage is secured by both real property and personal property and the value of the personal property does not exceed 15% of the aggregate value of the property securing the mortgage, the mortgage is treated as secured solely by real property for this purpose. Revenue Procedure 2014-51 interprets the “principal amount” of the loan to be the face amount of the loan, despite the Code requiring taxpayers to treat any market discount, that is the difference between the purchase price of the loan and its face amount, for all purposes (other than certain withholding and information reporting purposes) as interest rather than principal.
The interest apportionment regulation applies only if the debt in question is secured both by real property and personal property. We believe that all of the mortgage loans that we acquire at a discount under the circumstances contemplated by Revenue Procedure 2014-51 are secured only by real property, and no other property value is taken into account in our underwriting and pricing. Accordingly, we believe that the interest apportionment regulation does not apply to our portfolio.
Nevertheless, if the IRS were to assert successfully that our mortgage loans were secured by property other than real estate, that the interest apportionment regulation applied for purposes of our REIT testing, and that the position taken in Revenue Procedure 2014-51 should be applied to our portfolio, then depending upon the value of the real property securing our loans and their face amount, and the sources of our gross income generally, we might not be able to meet the REIT 75% gross income test, and possibly the asset tests applicable to REITs. If we did not meet these tests, we could potentially either lose our REIT status or be required to pay a tax penalty to the IRS. With respect to the REIT 75% asset test, Revenue Procedure 2014-51 provides a safe harbor under which the IRS will not challenge a REIT’s treatment of a loan as being a real estate asset in an amount equal to the lesser of (1) the greater of (a) the current value of the real property securing the loan or (b) the fair market value of the real property securing the loan determined as of the date the REIT committed to acquire the loan or (2) the fair market value of the loan on the date of the relevant quarterly REIT asset testing date. This safe harbor, if it applied to us, would help us comply with the REIT asset tests following the acquisition of distressed debt if the value of the real property securing the loan were to subsequently decline. If we did not meet one or more of the REIT asset tests, then we could potentially either lose our REIT status or be required to pay a tax penalty to the IRS.
Dividends paid by REITs do not qualify for the reduced tax rates available for “qualified dividend income.”
The maximum regular U.S. federal income tax rate for qualified dividend income paid to domestic stockholders that are individuals, trusts and estates is currently 20%. Dividends paid by REITs, however, are generally not eligible for the reduced qualified dividend rates. For taxable years beginning before January 1, 2026, non-corporate taxpayers may deduct up to 20% of certain pass-through business income, including “qualified REIT dividends” (generally, dividends received by a REIT stockholder that are not designated as capital gain dividends or qualified dividend income), subject to certain limitations, resulting in an effective maximum U.S. federal income tax rate of 29.6% on such income. Although the reduced U.S. federal income tax rate applicable to qualified dividend income does not adversely affect the taxation of REITs or dividends payable by REITs, the more favorable rates applicable to regular corporate qualified dividends and the reduced corporate tax rate could cause certain non-corporate investors to perceive investments in REITs to be relatively less attractive than investments in the stocks of non-REIT corporations that pay dividends, which could adversely affect the value of the shares of REITs, including our common stock.
We may in the future choose to make distributions in our own stock, in which case you could be required to pay income taxes in excess of any cash distributions you receive.
We may in the future make taxable distributions that are payable in cash and shares of our common stock at the election of each stockholder. Taxable stockholders receiving such distributions will be required to include the full amount of the distribution as ordinary income to the extent of our current and accumulated earnings and profits for federal income tax purposes. As a result, stockholders may be required to pay income taxes with respect to such distributions in excess of the cash distributions received. If a U.S. stockholder sells the stock that it receives as a distribution in order to pay this tax, the sale proceeds may be less than the amount included in income with respect to the distribution, depending on the market price of our stock at the time of the sale. Furthermore, with respect to certain non-U.S. stockholders, we may be required to withhold U.S. tax with respect to such distributions, including in respect of all or a portion of such distribution that is payable in stock. In addition, if a significant number of our stockholders determine to sell shares of our common stock in order to pay taxes owed on distributions, it may put downward pressure on the market price of our common stock.
The IRS has issued guidance authorizing elective cash/stock dividends to be made by public REITs where there is a minimum (of at least 20%) amount of cash that must be paid as part of the dividend, provided that certain requirements are met. It is unclear whether and to what extent we would be able to or choose to pay taxable distributions in cash and stock. In addition, no assurance can be given that the IRS will not impose additional requirements in the future with respect to taxable cash/stock distributions, including on a retroactive basis, or assert that the requirements for such taxable cash/stock distributions have not been met.
New legislation or administrative or judicial action, in each instance potentially with retroactive effect, could make it more difficult or impossible for us to remain qualified as a REIT.
The present U.S. federal income tax treatment of REITs and their shareholders may be modified, possibly with retroactive effect, by legislative, judicial or administrative action at any time, which could affect the U.S. federal income tax treatment of an investment in us. Revisions in U.S. federal income tax laws and interpretations thereof, including those dealing with REITs, are constantly under review by persons involved in the legislative process, the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department, which results in statutory changes as well as frequent revisions to regulations. Such changes could affect or cause us to change our investments and commitments and affect the tax considerations of an investment in us. We cannot predict the long-term effect of any future law changes on REITs and their stockholders. Any such changes could have an adverse effect on an investment in our stock or on the market value or the resale potential of our assets.
Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure
Our ownership limitations may restrict business combination opportunities.
To qualify as a REIT under the Code, no more than 50% of the value of our outstanding shares of capital stock may be owned, directly or under applicable attribution rules, by five or fewer individuals (as defined by the Code to include certain entities) during the last half of each taxable year. To preserve our REIT qualification, among other things, our charter generally prohibits direct or indirect ownership by any person of more than 9.8% of the number or value of the outstanding shares of our capital stock or more than 9.8% of the number or value, whichever is more restrictive, of the outstanding shares of our preferred stock. Generally, shares owned by affiliated owners will be aggregated for purposes of the ownership limit. Any transfer of shares of our capital stock or other event that, if effective, would violate the ownership limit will be void as to that number of shares of capital stock in excess of the ownership limit and the intended transferee will acquire no rights in such shares. Shares issued or transferred that would cause any stockholder to own more than the ownership limit or cause us to become “closely held” under Section 856(h) of the Code will automatically be converted into an equal number of shares of excess stock. All excess stock will be automatically
transferred, without action by the prohibited owner, to a trust for the exclusive benefit of one or more charitable beneficiaries that we select, and the prohibited owner will not acquire any rights in the shares of excess stock. The restrictions on ownership and transfer contained in our charter could have the effect of delaying, deferring or preventing a change in control or other transaction in which holders of shares of common stock might receive a premium for their shares of common stock over the then current market price or that such holders might believe to be otherwise in their best interests. The ownership limit provisions also may make our shares of common stock an unsuitable investment vehicle for any person seeking to obtain, either alone or with others as a group, ownership of more than 9.8% of the number or value of our outstanding shares of capital stock.
Provisions of Maryland law and other provisions of our organizational documents may limit the ability of a third party to acquire control of the Company.
Certain provisions of the Maryland General Corporation Law (or MGCL) may have the effect of delaying, deferring or preventing a transaction or a change in control of our company that might involve a premium price for holders of our common stock or otherwise be in their best interests, including:
“business combination” provisions that, subject to limitations, prohibit certain business combinations between us and an “interested stockholder” (defined generally as any person who beneficially owns 10% or more of the voting power of our outstanding voting stock or an affiliate or associate of ours who, at any time within the two-year period immediately prior to the date in question, was the beneficial owner of 10% or more of the voting power of our then outstanding stock) or an affiliate of an interested stockholder for five years after the most recent date on which the stockholder becomes an interested stockholder, and thereafter impose two supermajority stockholder voting requirements to approve these combinations (unless our common stockholders receive a minimum price, as defined under Maryland law, for their shares in the form of cash or other consideration in the same form as previously paid by the interested stockholder for its shares); and
“control share” provisions that provide that holders of “control shares” of our company (defined as voting shares of stock which, when aggregated with all other shares controlled by the acquiring stockholder, entitle the stockholder to exercise one of three increasing ranges of voting power in electing directors) acquired in a “control share acquisition” (defined as the direct or indirect acquisition of ownership or control of “control shares”) have no voting rights except to the extent approved by our stockholders by the affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of all the votes entitled to be cast on the matter, excluding all interested shares.
Our bylaws provide that we are not subject to the “control share” provisions of the MGCL. However, our Board may elect to make the “control share” statute applicable to us at any time, and may do so without stockholder approval.
Title 3, Subtitle 8 of the MGCL permits our Board, without stockholder approval and regardless of what is currently provided in our charter or bylaws, to elect on behalf of our company to be subject to statutory provisions that may have the effect of delaying, deferring or preventing a transaction or a change in control of our company that might involve a premium price for holders of our common stock or otherwise be in their best interest. Our Board may elect to opt in to any or all of the provisions of Title 3, Subtitle 8 of the MGCL without stockholder approval at any time. In addition, without our having elected to be subject to Subtitle 8, our charter and bylaws already (1) provide for a classified board, (2) require the affirmative vote of the holders of at least 80% of the votes entitled to be cast in the election of directors for the removal of any director from our Board, which removal will be allowed only for cause, (3) vest in our Board the exclusive power to fix the number of directorships and (4) require, unless called by our Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer or President or our Board, the written request of stockholders entitled to cast not less than a majority of all votes entitled to be cast at such a meeting to call a special meeting. These provisions may delay or prevent a change of control of our company.
Future offerings of debt securities, which would rank senior to our common stock upon liquidation, and future offerings of equity securities, which would dilute our existing stockholders and may be senior to our common stock for the purposes of dividend and liquidating distributions, may adversely affect the market price of our common stock.
In the future, we may attempt to increase our capital resources by making offerings of debt or additional offerings of equity securities, including commercial paper, senior or subordinated notes and series or classes of preferred stock or common stock. Upon liquidation, holders of our debt securities and shares of preferred stock, if any, and lenders with respect to other borrowings will receive a distribution of our available assets prior to the holders of our common stock. Additional equity offerings may dilute the holdings of our existing stockholders or reduce the market price of our common stock, or both. Preferred stock could have a preference on liquidating distributions or a preference on dividend payments or both that could limit our ability to make a dividend distribution to the holders of our common stock. Because our decision to issue securities in any future offering will depend on market conditions and other factors beyond our control, we cannot predict or estimate the amount, timing or nature of our future
offerings. Thus, holders of our common stock bear the risk of our future offerings reducing the market price of our common stock and diluting their stock holdings in us.
Our Board may approve the issuance of capital stock with terms that may discourage a third party from acquiring the Company.
Our charter permits our Board to issue shares of preferred stock, issuable in one or more classes or series. We may issue a class of preferred stock to individual investors in order to comply with the various REIT requirements or to finance our operations. Our charter further permits our Board to classify or reclassify any unissued shares of preferred or common stock and establish the preferences and rights (including, among others, voting, dividend and conversion rights) of any such shares of stock, which rights may be superior to those of shares of our common stock. Thus, our Board could authorize the issuance of shares of preferred or common stock with terms and conditions that could have the effect of discouraging a takeover or other transaction in which holders of the outstanding shares of our common stock might receive a premium for their shares over the then current market price of our common stock.
Future issuances or sales of shares could cause our share price to decline.
Sales of substantial numbers of shares of our common stock in the public market, or the perception that such sales might occur, could adversely affect the market price of our common stock. In addition, the sale of these shares could impair our ability to raise capital through a sale of additional equity securities. Other issuances of our common stock, such as through equity awards to our employees, could have an adverse effect on the market price of our common stock. In addition, future issuances of our common stock may be dilutive to existing stockholders.
Other Business Risks
We are dependent on our executive officers and other key personnel for our success, the loss of any of whom may materially adversely affect our business.
Our success is dependent upon the efforts, experience, diligence, skill and network of business contacts of our executive officers and other key personnel. The departure of any of our executive officers and/or key personnel could have a material adverse effect on our operations and performance.
We are dependent on information systems and their failure (including in connection with cyber attacks) could significantly disrupt our business.
Our business is highly dependent on our information and communications systems. Any failure or interruption of our systems or cyber attacks or security breaches of our networks or systems could cause delays or other problems in our securities trading activities, which could have a material adverse effect on operating results, the market price of our common stock and other securities and our ability to pay dividends to our stockholders. In addition, we also face the risk of operational failure, termination or capacity constraints of any of the third parties with which we do business or that facilitate our business activities, including clearing agents or other financial intermediaries we use to facilitate our securities transactions as well as the servicers of our loans.
Computer malware, viruses, and computer hacking and phishing and cyber attacks have become more prevalent in our industry and may occur on our systems in the future. Although we have not detected a material cybersecurity breach to date, we nonetheless are regularly working to install new, and upgrade our existing, information technology systems and provide employee awareness training around computer malware, phishing, and other cyber risks. However, there can be no assurance that we are or will be fully protected against cyber risks and security breaches and not be vulnerable to new and evolving threats to our information technology systems. We rely heavily on financial, accounting and other data processing systems. It is difficult to determine what, if any, negative impact may directly result from any specific interruption or cyber attacks or security breaches of our networks or systems (or networks or systems of, among other third parties, our lenders and servicers) or any failure to maintain performance, reliability and security of our technical infrastructure. As a result, any such computer malware, viruses, and computer hacking and phishing attacks may negatively affect our operations.
We operate in a highly competitive market for investment opportunities and competition may limit our ability to acquire desirable investments, which could materially adversely affect our results of operations.
We operate in a highly competitive market for investment opportunities. Our profitability depends, in large part, on our ability to acquire residential mortgage assets or other investments at favorable prices. In acquiring our investments, we compete with a variety of institutional investors, including other REITs, public and private funds, commercial and investment banks,
commercial finance and insurance companies and other financial institutions. Many of our competitors are substantially larger and have considerably greater financial, technical, marketing and other resources than we do. Some competitors may have a lower cost of funds and access to funding sources that are not available to us. Many of our competitors are not subject to the operating constraints associated with REIT compliance or maintenance of an exemption from the Investment Company Act similar to ours. In addition, some of our competitors may have higher risk tolerances or different risk assessments, which could allow them to consider a wider variety of investments, establish business relationships that we would not be willing to enter into, or compete aggressively against us to acquire residential mortgage assets from our existing asset sellers or financing counterparties. Furthermore, government or regulatory action and competition for investment securities of the types and classes which we acquire may lead to the price of such assets increasing, which may further limit our ability to generate desired returns. We cannot assure you that the competitive pressures we face will not have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Also, as a result of this competition, desirable investments may be limited in the future and we may not be able to take advantage of attractive investment opportunities from time to time, as we can provide no assurance that we will be able to identify and make investments that are consistent with our investment objectives.
Deterioration in the condition of European banks and financial institutions could have a material adverse effect on our business.
In the years following the financial and credit crisis of 2007-2008, certain of our repurchase agreement counterparties in the United States and Europe experienced financial difficulty and were either rescued by government assistance or otherwise benefited from accommodative monetary policy of central banks. Several European governments implemented measures to attempt to shore up their financial sectors through loans, credit guarantees, capital infusions, promises of continued liquidity funding and interest rate cuts. Additionally, other governments of the world’s largest economic countries also implemented interest rate cuts. Although economic and credit conditions have stabilized in the past few years, there is no assurance that these and other plans and programs will be successful in the longer term, and, in particular, when governments and central banks begin to significantly unwind or otherwise reverse these programs and policies. If unsuccessful, this could materially adversely affect our financing and operations as well as those of the entire mortgage sector in general.
Several of our financing counterparties are European banks (or their U.S. based subsidiaries) that have provided financing to us, particularly repurchase agreement financing for the acquisition of residential mortgage assets. If European banks and financial institutions experience a deterioration in financial condition, there is the possibility that this would also negatively affect the operations of their U.S. banking subsidiaries. This risk could be more pronounced in light of Brexit. This could adversely affect our financing and operations as well as those of the entire mortgage sector in general.
Any downgrade, or perceived potential of a downgrade, of U.S. sovereign credit ratings or the credit ratings of the GSEs by the various credit rating agencies may materially adversely affect our the value of our Agency MBS and our business more generally.
During the summer of 2011, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services (or S&P), one of the major credit rating agencies, downgraded the U.S. sovereign credit rating in response to the protracted debate over the “U.S. debt ceiling limit” and S&P’s perception of the U.S. Government’s ability to address its long-term budget deficit. At the same time, S&P also lowered the credit ratings of the GSEs in response to the downgrade in the U.S. sovereign credit rating, as the value of the Agency MBS issued by the GSEs and their ability to meet their obligations under such Agency MBS are largely determined by the support provided to them by the U.S. Government and market perceptions of the strength of such support and the likelihood of its continuity.
We could be adversely affected in a number of ways in the event of a default by the U.S. Government, a further downgrade by S&P or a downgrade of the U.S. sovereign credit rating by another credit rating agency Such adverse effects could include higher financing costs and/or a reduction in the amount of financing provided based on the market value of collateral posted under our repurchase agreements and other financing arrangements. In addition, although the rating agencies have more recently determined that the GSEs’ outlook is generally stable, to the extent that the credit rating of any of the GSEs were to be downgraded in the future, the value of our Agency MBS could be adversely affected. These outcomes could in turn materially adversely affect our operations and financial condition in a number of ways, including a reduction in the net interest spread between our assets and associated repurchase agreement borrowings or a decrease in our ability to obtain repurchase agreement financing on acceptable terms, or at all.
We currently pay monthly rent pursuant to three office leases. In November 2018, we amended the lease for our corporate headquarters in New York, New York, under the same terms and conditions, to extend the expiration date for the lease by up to one year, through June 30, 2021, with a mutual option to terminate in February 2021. For the year ended December 31, 2019, we recorded an expense of approximately $2.6 million in connection with the lease for our current corporate headquarters.
In addition, in November 2018, we executed a lease agreement on new office space in New York, New York. We plan to relocate our corporate headquarters to this new office space upon the substantial completion of the building. The lease term specified in the agreement is fifteen years with an option to renew for an additional five years. Our current estimate of annual lease rental expense under the new lease, excluding escalation charges which at this point are unknown, is approximately $4.6 million. We currently expect to relocate to the space in the fourth quarter of 2020, but this timing as well as when we are required to begin making payments and recognize rental and other expenses under the new lease, is dependent on when the building is actually available for use.
Item 3.Legal Proceedings.
There are no material legal proceedings to which we are a party or to which any of our assets are subject.
Item 5.Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.
Our common stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, under the symbol “MFA”, and our preferred stock is also listed on the NYSE, under the symbol “MFA/PB.”
As of February 14, 2020, we had 532 registered holders of our common stock. Such information was obtained through our registrar and transfer agent, based on the results of a broker search.
No dividends may be paid on our common stock unless full cumulative dividends have been paid on our preferred stock. We have paid full cumulative dividends on our preferred stock on a quarterly basis through December 31, 2019. We have historically declared cash dividends on our common stock on a quarterly basis. During 2019 and 2018, we declared total cash dividends to holders of our common stock of $361.0 million ($0.80 per share) and $339.2 million ($0.80 per share), respectively. In general, our common stock dividends have been characterized as ordinary income to our stockholders for income tax purposes. However, a portion of our common stock dividends may, from time to time, be characterized as capital gains or return of capital. For the years ended December 31, 2019, 2018 and 2017 the portions of our common stock dividends that were deemed to be capital gains were $0.1672, $0.1290 and $0.0831 per share of common stock, respectively. (For additional dividend information, see Notes 11(a) and 11(b) to the consolidated financial statements, included under Item 8 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.)
We elected to be taxed as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes commencing with our taxable year ended December 31, 1998 and, as such, anticipate distributing at least 90% of our REIT taxable income within the timeframe permitted by the Code. Although we may borrow funds to make distributions, cash for such distributions has generally been, and is expected to continue to be, largely generated from our results of our operations.
We declared and paid the following dividends on our common stock during the years 2019 and 2018:
December 12, 2019
December 30, 2019
January 31, 2020
September 12, 2019
September 30, 2019
October 31, 2019
June 12, 2019
July 1, 2019
July 31, 2019
March 6, 2019
March 29, 2019
April 30, 2019
December 12, 2018
December 28, 2018
January 31, 2019
September 13, 2018
October 1, 2018
October 31, 2018
June 7, 2018
June 29, 2018
July 31, 2018
March 7, 2018
March 29, 2018
April 30, 2018
At December 31, 2019, we had accrued dividends and dividend equivalents payable of $90.7 million related to the common stock dividend declared on December 12, 2019.
We have not established a minimum payout level for our common stock. Dividends are declared and paid at the discretion of our Board and depend on our cash available for distribution, financial condition, ability to maintain our qualification as a REIT, and such other factors that our Board may deem relevant. (See Part I, Item 1A., “Risk Factors” and Item 7, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” of this Annual Report on Form 10-K, for information regarding the sources of funds used for dividends and for a discussion of factors, if any, which may adversely affect our ability to pay dividends.)
As previously disclosed, in August 2005, our Board authorized a stock repurchase program (or Repurchase Program), to repurchase up to 4.0 million shares of our outstanding common stock under the Repurchase Program. The Board reaffirmed such authorization in May 2010. In December 2013, our Board increased the number of shares authorized under the Repurchase Program to an aggregate of 10.0 million shares (under which approximately 6.6 million shares remain available for repurchase). Such authorization does not have an expiration date and, at present, there is no intention to modify or otherwise rescind such authorization. Subject to applicable securities laws, repurchases of common stock under the Repurchase Program are made at times and in amounts as we deem appropriate (including, in our discretion, through the use of one or more plans adopted under Rule 10b5-1 promulgated under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (or 1934 Act)), using available cash resources. Shares of common stock repurchased by us under the Repurchase Program are cancelled and, until reissued by us, are deemed to be authorized but unissued shares of our common stock. The Repurchase Program may be suspended or discontinued by us at any time and without prior notice.
We did not repurchase any shares of our common stock under the Repurchase Program during the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018.
We engaged in no share repurchase activity during the fourth quarter of 2019 pursuant to the Repurchase Program. We did, however, withhold restricted shares (under the terms of grants under our Equity Compensation Plan (or Equity Plan)) to offset tax withholding obligations that occur upon the vesting and release of restricted stock awards and/or restricted stock units (or RSUs). The following table presents information with respect to (i) such withheld restricted shares, and (ii) eligible shares remaining for repurchase under the Repurchase Program:
Total Number of
Shares Repurchased as
Part of Publicly
or Employee Plan
Maximum Number of
Shares that May Yet be
Purchased Under the
Repurchase Program or
October 1-31, 2019:
Repurchase Program (2)
Employee Transactions (3)
November 1-30, 2019:
Repurchase Program (2)
Employee Transactions (3)
December 1-31, 2019:
Repurchase Program (2)
Employee Transactions (3)
Total Repurchase Program(2)
Total Employee Transactions(3)
Includes brokerage commissions.
As of December 31, 2019, we had repurchased an aggregate of 3,383,645 shares under the Repurchase Program.
Our Equity Plan provides that the value of the shares delivered or withheld be based on the price of our common stock on the date the relevant transaction occurs.
Discount Waiver, DirectStock Purchase and Dividend Reinvestment Plan
In September 2003, we initiated a Discount Waiver, Direct Stock Purchase and Dividend Reinvestment Plan (or the DRSPP) to provide existing stockholders and new investors with a convenient and economical way to purchase shares of our common stock. Under the DRSPP, existing stockholders may elect to automatically reinvest all or a portion of their cash dividends in additional shares of our common stock and existing stockholders and new investors may make optional cash purchases of shares of our common stock in amounts ranging from $50 (or $1,000 for new investors) to $10,000 on a monthly basis and, with our prior approval, in excess of $10,000. At our discretion, we may issue shares of our common stock under the DRSPP at discounts of up to 5% from the prevailing market price at the time of purchase. Computershare Shareowner Services LLC is the administrator of the DRSPP (or the Plan Agent). Stockholders who own common stock that is registered in their own name and who want to participate in the DRSPP must deliver a completed enrollment form to the Plan Agent. Stockholders who own common stock that is registered in a name other than their own (e.g., broker, bank or other nominee) and who want to participate in the DRSPP must either request such nominee holder to participate on their behalf or request that such nominee holder re-register our common stock in the stockholder’s name and deliver a completed enrollment form to the Plan Agent. During the years ended 2019 and 2018, we issued 322,888 and 379,903 shares of common stock through the DRSPP generating net proceeds of approximately $2.4 million and $2.8 million, respectively.
At-the-Market Offering Program
On August 16, 2019 we entered into a distribution agreement under the terms of which we may offer and sell shares of our common stock having an aggregate gross sales price of up to $400.0 million (or the ATM Shares), from time to time, through various sales agents, pursuant to an at-the-market equity offering program (or ATM Program). Sales of the ATM Shares, if any, may be made in negotiated transactions or by transactions that are deemed to be “at-the-market” offerings, as defined in Rule 415 under the Securities Act of 1933 (or the 1933 Act), including sales made directly on the NYSE or sales made to or through a market maker other than an exchange. The sales agents are entitled to compensation of up to two percent of the gross sales price per share for any shares of common stock sold under the distribution agreement.
During the year ended December 31, 2019, we sold 1,357,526 shares of common stock through the ATM Program at a weighted average price of $7.40, raising proceeds of approximately $9.9 million, net of fees and commissions paid to sales agents of approximately $100,000. At December 31, 2019, approximately $390.0 million remained outstanding for future offerings under this program.
Securities Authorized For Issuance Under Equity Compensation Plans
During 2015, we adopted the Equity Plan, as approved by our stockholders. The Equity Plan amended and restated our 2010 Equity Compensation Plan. (For a description of the Equity Plan, see Note 13(a) to the consolidated financial statements included under Item 8 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.)
The following table presents certain information with respect to our equity compensation plans as of December 31, 2019: