Where is Value in Structured Mortgage Products? – Early December 2007 edition
Back on March 1st 2007, Toomre Capital Markets LLC ("TCM") created a post entitled Where is Value in Sub-Prime Mortgage Market? In recent days, UBS has announced a further write-down of $10 billion in sub-prime mortgages and CDO securities; London-based HSBC, Paris-based Societe Generale and Germany's WestLB have all rescued their sponsored SIVs either by taking them on to the balance sheet or providing credit lines that ensure that all of the outstanding senior commercial paper will be repaid; and MBIA has announced a $1 billion investment by Warburg Pincus LLC that for at least for a few weeks will help ensured that MBIA maintains its AAA credit enhancement rating. Late on Monday December 10th 2007, Washington Mutual, the United States' largest savings and loan by market value, declared that it was exiting the subprime mortgage business, eliminating another 3,150 jobs and raising some $2.5 billion dollars in additional capital through the issuance of convertible shares.
Based on the recent TCM posts about the perils of reaching for yield and some the enormous losses various financial institutions are taking from their subprime and CDO security activities, a couple of investors have asked Lars Toomre to go back and update his thoughts on that Where is Value in Sub-Prime Mortgage Market? post. Hence, a few hours ahead of the release of Lehman Brothers 4th quarter 2007 earnings release, here goes:
Clearly, Lehman Brothers was wrong back in late February arguing that the sell-off in the ABX index was way overdone. From their historically very tight levels around the start of 2007, the risk premiums for all types of credit investments have dramatically increased. For all practical purposes, the mortgage sector has virtually stopped trading and those risk premiums are now more of a "pick 'em" variety.
So where is value from here? As Lars has preached in many different conversations and written comments, the trade-off from going from a liquid to an illiquid position requires a very significant yield pick-up and recognition that one must be able to live with the illiquid investment for five years or more. Given that criteria, most, if not all, mortgage investments are still not trading cheaply enough to justify going illiquid. Hence, Lars Toomre would recommend that interested institutions remain more in a seller mode than an acquisition mode when considering structured mortgage investments.
As The Wall Street Journal reminded investors, home prices will need to fall about 30 percent to restore their historic relationship to inflation, rents and incomes. Hence, Toomre Capital Markets LLC would urge that investors avoid the mortgage sector for at least another six months as housing prices continue to decline. Whether the popping of the housing bubble will take five or six years as Jim Rogers has argued remains to be seen.
However, clearly the full effects of cheap and easy mortgage credit are not fully reflected in mortgage security valuations. Make a point of following just how badly home equity loans, Pay Option ARMs, other intermediate and hybrid ARMs and the Alt-A security sector will decline in the coming months. While there no doubt will be periodic spikes as people perceive the housing market is bottoming, remember that a 30% price decline is going to turn almost all of these mortgage types into "upside down" positions with borrowers having negative equity in their homes.
An interesting question is just how prevalent the "jingle mail" phenomena will become. Also, remember that the housing price bubble is beginning to deflate during a period of relatively healthy employment. Just imagine how bad the delinquency and default statistics would be if the United States economy were to enter a "normal" recession.
As before, thoughts and comments are most welcome.