ITEM 1. BUSINESS
AG Mortgage Investment Trust, Inc. ("we," "us," "the Company" or "our") is a hybrid mortgage REIT that opportunistically invests in a diversified risk-adjusted portfolio of Credit Investments and Agency RMBS. Our Credit Investments include Residential Investments and Commercial Investments. The Company was incorporated in Maryland on March 1, 2011 and commenced operations in July 2011 after the successful completion of our initial public offering.
We conduct our operations to qualify and be taxed as a real estate investment trust ("REIT") for U.S. federal income tax purposes. Accordingly, we generally will not be subject to U.S. federal income taxes on our taxable income that we distribute currently to our stockholders as long as we maintain our intended qualification as a REIT. We also operate our business in a manner that permits us to maintain our exemption from registration under the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended, or the Investment Company Act.
We are externally managed and advised by AG REIT Management, LLC (our "Manager"), a subsidiary of Angelo, Gordon & Co., L.P. ("Angelo Gordon"). Pursuant to the terms of our management agreement with AG REIT Management, LLC, our Manager provides us with our management team, including our officers, along with appropriate support personnel. All of our officers are employees of Angelo Gordon or its affiliates. We do not have any employees. Our Manager is at all times subject to the supervision and oversight of our Board of Directors and has only such functions and authority as our Board of Directors delegates to it. Our Manager, pursuant to a delegation agreement dated as of June 29, 2011, has delegated to Angelo Gordon the overall responsibility with respect to our Manager’s day-to-day duties and obligations arising under our management agreement.
Our investment portfolio
Our investment portfolio is comprised of our Credit Investments and Agency RMBS. Our Credit Investments include Residential Investments and Commercial Investments. These investments are described in more detail below.
The Residential Investments that we own include RMBS that are not issued or guaranteed by Ginnie Mae or a GSE, as well as RMBS that are collateralized by non-U.S. mortgages. We collectively refer to these investments as our Non-Agency RMBS. The mortgage loan collateral for residential Non-Agency RMBS consists of residential mortgage loans that do not generally conform to underwriting guidelines issued by U.S. government agencies or U.S. government-sponsored entities, or are non-U.S. mortgages. Our Non-Agency RMBS include investment grade and non-investment grade fixed and floating-rate securities.
Residential Investments also include:
•Re/Non-Performing Loans (described below);
•Non-QM Loans (described below); and
•Land Related Financing (described below).
Re/Non-Performing Loans include:
•RPLs or NPLs in securitized form issued by an entity in which we own an equity interest and that we hold alongside other private funds under the management of Angelo Gordon. The securitizations typically take the form of equity and various classes of notes. These investments are included in the "RMBS" and "Investments in debt and equity of affiliates" line items on our consolidated balance sheets.
•RPLs or NPLs we hold through interests in certain consolidated trusts. These investments are secured by residential real property, including prime, Alt-A, and subprime mortgage loans, and are included in the "Residential mortgage loans, at fair value" line item on our consolidated balance sheets.
Non-QM Loans include:
•Residential mortgage loans that do not qualify for the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau's (the "CFPB") safe harbor provision for "qualifying mortgages," or "QM," that we hold alongside other private funds under the management of
Angelo Gordon. These investments are held in one of our unconsolidated subsidiaries, Mortgage Acquisition Trust I LLC ("MATT") (see the "Contractual obligations" section of Part II, Item 7 for more detail), and are included in the "Investments in debt and equity of affiliates" line item on our consolidated balance sheets.
•Non-QM Loans in securitized form that are issued by MATT. The securitizations typically take the form of various classes of notes. These investments are included in the "Investments in debt and equity of affiliates" line item on our consolidated balance sheets.
Land Related Financing includes first mortgage loans we originate to third-party land developers and home builders for purposes of the acquisition and horizontal development of land. These loans may be held through our unconsolidated subsidiaries or in securitized form. These loans are included either in the "Investments in debt and equity of affiliates" or in the "RMBS" line items on our consolidated balance sheets.
Our Commercial Investments include:
•Fixed and floating rate commercial mortgage-backed securities ("CMBS") secured by commercial mortgage loans to multiple borrowers ("Conduit") or secured by a single commercial mortgage loan which is backed by a single asset (usually a large commercial property) or by a pool of cross collateralized mortgage obligations to a single borrower or related borrowers ("Single-Asset/Single-Borrower");
•Interest Only securities (CMBS backed by interest-only strips);
•Commercial real estate loans secured by commercial real property, including first mortgages and mezzanine loans for construction or redevelopment of a property; and
•CMBS, Interest-Only securities and CMBS principal-only securities which are regularly-issued by Freddie Mac as structured pass-through securities backed by multifamily mortgage loans. (“Freddie Mac K-Series” or “K-Series”).
Our investment portfolio includes residential mortgage-backed securities ("RMBS"). Certain of the assets in our RMBS portfolio have a guarantee of principal and interest by a U.S. government agency such as the Government National Mortgage Association, or Ginnie Mae, or by a government-sponsored entity such as the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae, or the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, or Freddie Mac (each, a "GSE"). We refer to these securities as Agency RMBS ("Agency RMBS"). Our Agency RMBS includes fixed rate securities held as mortgage pass-through securities, as well as excess mortgage servicing rights ("Excess MSRs"). Excess MSRs are interests in mortgage servicing rights ("MSR"), representing a portion of the interest payment collected from a pool of mortgage loans, net of a basic servicing fee paid to the mortgage servicer. An MSR provides a mortgage servicer with the right to service a mortgage loan or a pool of mortgages in exchange for a portion of the interest payments made on the mortgage or the underlying mortgages.
Throughout this report, (1) we use the terms "credit portfolio" and "credit investments" to refer to our Residential Investments and Commercial Investments inclusive of investments held within affiliated entities but exclusive of AG Arc (discussed below); (2) we refer to our Re/Non-Performing Loans (exclusive of our RPLs or NPLs in securitized form that we purchase from an affiliate (or affiliates) of the Manager), Non-QM Loans (exclusive of those in securitized form), Land Related Financing (exclusive of loans in securitized form), and commercial real estate loans, collectively, as our "loans"; (3) we use the term "credit securities" to refer to our credit portfolio, excluding Excess MSRs and loans; and (4) we use the term "real estate securities" or "securities" to refer to our Agency RMBS portfolio, exclusive of Excess MSRs, and our credit securities. Our "investment portfolio" refers to our combined Agency RMBS portfolio and credit portfolio and encompasses all of the investments described above.
We also use the term "GAAP investment portfolio" which consists of (i) our Agency RMBS, exclusive of (x) to-be-announced securities ("TBAs"), if any, and (y) any investment classified as "Other assets" on our consolidated balance sheets (our "GAAP Agency RMBS portfolio"), and (ii) our credit portfolio, exclusive of (x) all investments held within affiliated entities and (y) any investments classified as "Other assets" on our consolidated balance sheets (our "GAAP credit portfolio"). See Note 2 to the "Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements" for a discussion of our investments held within affiliated entities. For a reconciliation of our investment portfolio to our GAAP investment portfolio, see the GAAP Investment Portfolio Reconciliation Table included in Part II, Item 7 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
This presentation of our investment portfolio is consistent with how our management evaluates our business, and we believe this presentation, when considered with the GAAP presentation, provides supplemental information useful for investors in evaluating our investment portfolio and financial condition.
Arc Home LLC
We, alongside private funds under the management of Angelo Gordon, through AG Arc LLC, one of our indirect subsidiaries ("AG Arc"), formed Arc Home LLC ("Arc Home"). Arc Home, through its wholly-owned subsidiary, originates conforming, Government, Jumbo, Non-QM and other non-conforming residential mortgage loans and retains the mortgage servicing rights associated with the loans that it originates. From time to time, Arc Home may sell originated loans to us or other private funds under the management of Angelo Gordon. See Note 10 to the "Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements" for additional financial information regarding transactions with affiliates.
On November 15, 2019, we sold our portfolio of single-family rental properties to a third-party. We reclassified the operating results of our single-family rental properties segment to discontinued operations and excluded the income associated with the portfolio from continuing operations for all periods presented. See Note 13 to the "Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements" for additional financial information regarding our discontinued operations.
Our investment strategy
We invest in Residential, Agency, and Commercial Investments, with a primary intended focus on residential mortgage loans with the intent to securitize Residential Investments as market conditions permit. We rely on the experience of our Manager’s personnel to direct our investments. Our Manager’s investment philosophy is based on a rigorous and disciplined approach to credit analysis and is focused on fundamental in-depth research, taking a conservative valuation approach. Our Manager makes investment decisions based on a variety of factors, including expected risk-adjusted returns, yields, relative value, credit fundamentals, vintage of collateral, prepayment speeds, supply and demand trends, general economic and market sector trends, the shape of the yield curve, liquidity, availability of adequate financing, borrowing costs, macroeconomic conditions, and maintaining our REIT qualification and our exemption from registration under the Investment Company Act.
Our financing and hedging strategy
We generate income principally from the yields earned on our investment portfolio and, to the extent that leverage is deployed, on the difference between (i) the yields earned on our investments and (ii) the sum of our borrowing and hedging costs. We use leverage to increase potential returns to our stockholders and to fund the acquisition of our investment portfolio. 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 expect to finance our investments using a variety of financing sources including financing arrangements and securitized debt.
Subject to maintaining our qualification as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes and our Investment Company Act exemption, to the extent leverage is deployed, we may use a number of sources to finance our investments. We currently finance the acquisition of certain assets within our portfolio with repurchase agreements and financing facilities (collectively "Financing arrangements"). Due to market volatility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we executed on various asset sales during 2020 in an effort to create additional liquidity and de-risk our portfolio. As a result of these asset sales and related debt pay-offs, we have reduced the number of our financing counterparties, bringing the overall number of counterparties with debt outstanding down from 30 as of December 31, 2019 to 5 as of December 31, 2020 with debt outstanding of $0.7 billion, inclusive of financing arrangements through affiliated entities.
Subject to maintaining our qualification as a REIT and our Investment Company Act exemption, to the extent leverage is deployed, we may utilize derivative instruments in an effort to hedge the interest rate risk associated with the financing of our portfolio. We may utilize interest rate swaps, swaption agreements, and other financial instruments such as short positions in U.S. Treasury securities. In addition, we may utilize Eurodollar Futures, U.S. Treasury Futures, British Pound Futures and Euro Futures (collectively, "Futures"). Specifically, we may seek to hedge our exposure to potential interest rate mismatches between the interest we earn on our investments and our borrowing costs caused by fluctuations in short-term interest rates. In utilizing leverage and interest rate derivatives, our objectives are to improve risk-adjusted returns and, where possible, to lock in, on a long-term basis, a spread between the yield on our assets and the costs of our financing and hedging. As of December 31, 2020,
we had entered into $417.0 million notional amount of interest rate swaps that have variable maturities between August 25, 2025 and January 4, 2031 on a GAAP and non-GAAP basis and $3.3 million notional amount of short positions on British Pound Futures that have a maturity of March 15, 2021.
Risk management strategy
The primary components of our risk management strategy are:
•Disciplined adherence to risk-adjusted return. Our Manager deploys capital when it believes that risk-adjusted returns are attractive. In this analysis, our Manager considers the initial net interest spread of the investment, the cost of hedging and our ability to optimize returns over time through rebalancing activities. Our Manager’s management team has extensive experience implementing this approach.
•Concurrent evaluation of interest rate and credit risk. Our Manager seeks to balance our portfolio with both credit risk-intensive assets and interest rate risk-intensive assets. Both of these primary risk types are evaluated against a common risk-adjusted return framework.
•Active hedging and rebalancing of portfolio. Our Manager periodically evaluates our portfolio against pre-established risk tolerances and will take corrective action through asset sales, asset acquisitions, and dynamic hedging activities to bring the portfolio back within these risk tolerances. We believe this approach generates more attractive long-term returns than an approach that either attempts to hedge away a majority of the interest rate or credit risk in the portfolio at the time of acquisition, on the one end of the risk spectrum, or a highly speculative approach that does not attempt to hedge any of the interest rate or credit risk in the portfolio, on the other end of the risk spectrum.
•Opportunistic approach to increased risk. Our Manager’s investment strategy is to preserve our ability to extend our risk-taking capacity during periods of changing market fundamentals.
We comply with investment policies and procedures and investment guidelines (our "Investment Policies") that are approved by our Board of Directors and implemented by our Manager. Our Manager reports on our investment portfolio at each regularly scheduled meeting of our Board of Directors. Our independent directors do not review or approve individual investment, leverage or hedging decisions made by our Manager made in accordance with our Investment Policies.
Our Investment Policies include the following guidelines, among others:
•No investment shall be made that would cause us to fail to qualify as a REIT for federal income tax purposes;
•No investment shall be made that would cause us to be regulated as an investment company under the Investment Company Act; and
•Our investments will be in our target assets, as described below.
Our Investment Policies may be changed by our Board of Directors without the approval of our stockholders.
Our target assets
Our target asset classes and the principal investments in which we invest include a diversified portfolio of residential and commercial mortgage assets, with a primary intended focus on residential mortgage loans. Our Board of Directors has adopted a set of investment guidelines that outline our target assets and other criteria which are used by our Manager to evaluate specific investment opportunities as well as our overall portfolio composition. Our Manager makes day-to-day determinations as to the timing and percentage of our assets that will be invested in each of the approved asset classes. These decisions depend upon prevailing market conditions and may change over time in response to opportunities available in different interest rate, economic and credit environments. As a result, we cannot predict the percentage of our assets that will be invested in any one of our approved asset classes at any given time. We may change our strategy and policies without a vote of our stockholders. We believe that the diversification of our portfolio of assets and the flexibility of our strategy combined with our Manager’s and its affiliates’ experience will enable us to achieve attractive risk-adjusted returns.
Angelo Gordon has an investment allocation policy that governs the allocations of investment opportunities among itself and its clients, and this investment allocation policy also applies to our Manager and us. Pursuant to this policy, Angelo Gordon and our Manager allocate investment opportunities among its clients in a manner which is fair and equitable over time and does not favor one client or group of clients.
Investment opportunities in our target assets are generally allocated among us and the Angelo Gordon funds and accounts that are eligible to purchase target assets, on a pro rata basis based upon relative amounts of investment capital (including undrawn capital commitments) available for new investments by us or such Angelo Gordon funds or accounts, respectively. In addition to capital availability, Angelo Gordon considers the following additional factors, among others, when assigning investment opportunities among us and its other clients:
• existing ownership and target position size;
• investment objective or strategies;
• risk or investment concentration parameters;
• supply or demand for an investment at a given price level;
• cash availability and liquidity requirements;
• regulatory restrictions;
• minimum investment size;
• relative size or "buying power;"
• regulatory and tax considerations, including the impact on our status under the Investment Company Act and
REIT status; and
• such other factors as may be relevant to a particular transaction.
In addition, our Manager may be precluded from transacting in particular investments in certain situations, including but not limited to situations where Angelo Gordon or its affiliates may have a prior contractual commitment with other accounts or clients or as to which Angelo Gordon or any of its affiliates possesses material, non-public information. Consistent with Angelo Gordon’s fiduciary duty to all of its clients, it may give priority in the allocation of investment opportunities to certain clients to the extent necessary to meet regulatory requirements, client guidelines and/or contractual obligations. Angelo Gordon or our Manager may determine that an investment opportunity is appropriate for a particular account, but not for another. In addition, Angelo Gordon or its employees may invest in opportunities declined by our Manager for us. The investment allocation policy may be amended by Angelo Gordon at any time without our consent. As the investment programs of the various entities and accounts managed by Angelo Gordon change and develop over time, additional issues and considerations may affect Angelo Gordon’s allocation policy and its expectations with respect to the allocation of investment opportunities. To the extent permitted by law, Angelo Gordon is permitted to bunch or aggregate orders or to elect not to bunch or aggregate orders for a particular client account with orders for other accounts, notwithstanding that the effect of such bunching, aggregation or lack thereof may operate to the disadvantage of some clients.
Operating and regulatory structure
We have elected to be treated as a REIT under Sections 856 through 859 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the "Code"). Our qualification as a REIT depends upon our ability to meet on a continuing basis, through actual investment and operating results, various complex requirements under the Code relating to, among other things, the sources of our gross income, the composition and values of our assets, our distribution levels and the diversity of ownership of our shares. We believe that we are organized in conformity with the requirements for qualification and taxation as a REIT under the Code, and that our manner of operation enables us to meet the requirements for qualification and taxation as a REIT.
We generally need to distribute at least 90% of our ordinary taxable income each year (subject to certain adjustments) to our stockholders in order to qualify as a REIT under the Code. Our ability to make distributions to our stockholders depends, in part, upon the performance of our investment portfolio.
As a REIT, we generally are not subject to U.S. federal income tax on our REIT taxable income that we distribute currently to our stockholders. If we fail to qualify as a REIT in any taxable year and do not qualify for certain statutory relief provisions, we will be subject to U.S. federal income tax at regular corporate rates and may be precluded from qualifying as a REIT for the subsequent four taxable years following the year during which we lost our REIT qualification. Accordingly, our failure to qualify as a REIT could have a material adverse impact on our results of operations and our ability to pay distributions, if any, to our stockholders. Even if we qualify for taxation as a REIT, we may be subject to some U.S. federal, state and local taxes on our income or property. In addition, any income earned by a domestic taxable REIT subsidiary, or TRS, will be subject to corporate income taxation.
Investment Company Act exemption
We conduct our operations so that we are not considered an investment company under Section 3(a)(1)(C) of the Investment
Company Act. Under Section 3(a)(1)(C) of the Investment Company Act, a company is deemed to be an investment company if it 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 its total assets (exclusive of U.S. government securities and cash items) on an unconsolidated basis, (the "40% test"). "Investment securities" do not include, among other things, U.S. government securities and securities issued by majority-owned subsidiaries that (i) are not investment companies and (ii) are not relying on the exceptions from the definition of investment company provided by Section 3(c)(1) or 3(c)(7) of the Investment Company Act.
Conducting our operations so as not to be considered an investment company under the Investment Company Act limits our ability to make certain investments. For example, these restrictions limit our and our subsidiaries’ ability to invest directly in Agency RMBS mortgage-related securities that represent less than the entire ownership in a pool of mortgage loans or debt and equity tranches of Non-Agency and Commercial RMBS (in each case to the extent such interest are not retained interest in securitizations consisting of mortgage loans that were owned by us and such securitizations were not sponsored by us in order to obtain financing to acquire additional mortgage loans), certain real estate companies and assets not related to real estate.
Our net income depends, in large part, on our ability to acquire assets at favorable spreads over our borrowing and hedging costs. In acquiring our investments, we compete with other REITs, specialty finance companies, mortgage bankers, insurance companies, mutual funds, institutional investors, investment banking firms, financial institutions, governmental bodies, hedge funds, and other entities. In addition, there may be numerous REITs and specialty finance companies with similar asset acquisition objectives. These other REITs and specialty finance companies increase competition for the available supply of our target assets suitable for purchase. Many of our competitors are significantly larger than we are, have access to greater capital and other resources and may have other advantages over us. 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 and establish more relationships than we can. Market conditions may attract more competitors, which may increase the competition for sources of financing. An increase in the competition for sources of financing could adversely affect the availability and cost of financing.
We have access to our Manager’s professionals and their industry expertise, which we believe provides us with a competitive advantage. These professionals help us assess investment risks and determine appropriate pricing for certain potential investments. These relationships enable us to compete more effectively for attractive investment opportunities. Despite certain competitive advantages, we may not be able to achieve our business goals or expectations due to the competitive risks that we face.
Human Capital Resources
We are managed by our Manager pursuant to a management agreement. Our Manager, pursuant to a delegation agreement dated as of June 29, 2011, has delegated to Angelo Gordon the overall responsibility with respect to our Manager’s day-to-day duties and obligations arising under our management agreement. In addition, all of our officers are employees of Angelo Gordon or its affiliates. We have no employees. Angelo Gordon has over 550 employees. Angelo Gordon has advised us that investing in and fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce is a key pillar in operating its business. By supporting, recognizing, and investing in the employees who do work for our Manager, we believe that Angelo Gordon is able to attract and retain the highest quality talent for our benefit.
Our principal executive offices are located at 245 Park Avenue, 26th Floor, New York, New York 10167. Our telephone number is (212) 692-2000. Our website can be found at www.agmit.com. We make available free of charge, through the SEC filings section of our website, access to our annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, and any amendments to those reports, as are filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Exchange Act, as well as our proxy statements with respect to our annual meetings of stockholders, as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file such material with, or furnish it to, the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC"). Our Exchange Act reports filed with, or furnished to, the SEC are also available at the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov and can also be found on our website at www.agmit.com. The content of any website referred to in this Form 10-K is not incorporated by reference into this Form 10-K unless expressly noted.
ITEM 1A. RISK FACTORS
If any of the following risks occur, our business, financial condition or results of operations could be materially and adversely affected. In that case, the trading price of our common stock could decline, and stockholders may lose some or all of their investment. Readers should not consider any descriptions of these factors to be a complete set of all potential risks that could affect us.
Summary Risk Factors
Risks Related to our Company, Business, and Operations
•The COVID-19 pandemic has had and may continue to have a material adverse effect on our business.
•The mortgage loans we acquire or that underlie our MBS exposes us to significant credit risk that could negatively affect the value of those investments.
•We may engage in securitization transactions relating to residential mortgage loans which exposes us to potentially material risks.
•Our Manager’s due diligence of potential investments may be insufficient, which could lead to investment losses.
•Our Manager’s investment models may be incorrect either due to inaccurate models or incorrect third-party data, which could lead to investment losses.
•We may experience periods of significant illiquidity for our assets, which could adversely impact our business.
•Valuations of our investments may at times be unavailable or unreliable.
•Disruptive, exogenous geopolitical or other macroeconomic events could lead to declines in the fair value of our investments which could materially and adversely affect our business.
•We may be adversely affected by risks affecting borrowers or the asset or property types in which our investments may be concentrated at any given time, as well as from unfavorable changes in the related geographic regions.
•Cybersecurity risks may cause a disruption to our operations, a compromise or corruption of our confidential information, and/or damage to our business relationships, all of which could negatively impact our business.
•The failure of servicers to effectively service the mortgage loans in our portfolio and the MSRs in Arc Home's portfolio may materially and adversely affect us, and market disruptions caused by COVID-19 may make it more difficult for the loan servicers to perform a variety of services for us, which may adversely impact our business and financial results.
•Increases in interest rates could adversely affect the value of our investments and cause our interest expense to increase, which could negatively affect our profitability and our ability to make distributions.
•Arc Home is highly dependent upon programs administered by the Agencies, and changes in the Agencies’ servicing or origination guidelines or overall operations could have a material adverse effect on Arc Home’s business.
•An economic slowdown or a deterioration of the housing market could increase both interest expense on servicing advances and operating expenses and could cause a reduction in income from, and the value of, Arc Home’s servicing portfolio.
Risks Related to our Non-Agency Residential Investments
•Our investments in Non-QM Loans subject us to legal, regulatory and other risks.
Risks Related to our Agency Assets
•Changes in prepayment rates may adversely affect the return on our investments.
•Prepayment rates are difficult to predict, and market conditions may disrupt the historical correlation between interest rate changes and prepayment trends.
Risks Related to Financing Activities
•Our business strategy involves the use of leverage, and we may become overleveraged or not achieve what we believe is optimal leverage, which may materially adversely affect our liquidity, results of operations or financial condition.
•The securitization process expose us to risks, which could result in losses to us.
•Our financing arrangements contain restrictive operating covenants.
•If a counterparty to our repurchase transaction defaults on its obligation to resell or return the underlying security back to us at the end of the transaction term, we may lose money on such financing arrangement.
•Our rights under our repurchase agreements may be subject to the effects of the bankruptcy laws in the event of the bankruptcy or insolvency of us or our lenders under the financing arrangements, which may allow our lenders to repudiate our financing arrangements.
•Pursuant to the terms of borrowings under our financing arrangements, we are subject to margin calls that could result in defaults or force us to sell assets under adverse market conditions or through foreclosure.
•Changes in the method pursuant to which LIBOR is determined, or a discontinuation of LIBOR, may adversely affect the value of the financial obligations to be held or issued by us that are linked to LIBOR.
Risks Related to our Commercial Investments
•Commercial real estate-related investments that are secured by real property are subject to delinquency, foreclosure and
loss, which could result in losses to us.
Risks Related to our Management and our Relationships with our Manager and its Affiliates
•We are dependent upon our Manager, its affiliates and their key personnel and may not find a suitable replacement if the management agreement with our Manager is terminated or such key personnel are no longer available to us, which would materially and adversely affect us.
•The management agreement was not negotiated on an arm’s length basis and the terms, including the fees payable to our Manager, may not be as favorable to us as if the agreement was negotiated with unaffiliated third-parties.
•Our governance and operational structure could result in conflicts of interest.
•We may enter into transactions to purchase or sell investments with entities or accounts managed by our Manager or its affiliates.
•Our Board of Directors has approved very broad investment policies for our Manager, may change such policies without stockholder consent, and does not review or approve each investment or financing decision made by our Manager.
•The management fee may not provide sufficient incentive to our Manager to maximize risk-adjusted returns on our investment portfolio because it is based on our stockholders’ equity, adjusted for certain non-cash and other items, and not on our performance.
•Our Manager will not be liable to us for any acts or omissions performed in accordance with the Management Agreement, including with respect to the performance of our investments.
•Termination of our management agreement would be costly and, in certain cases, not permitted.
•Our Manager may terminate our management agreement, which could materially adversely affect our business.
•We have engaged Red Creek Asset Management LLC, an affiliate of our Manager (the "Asset Manager") to manage certain of our residential mortgage loans. The terms of the asset management agreement with the Asset Manager may not be as favorable to us as if the agreement was negotiated with unaffiliated third-parties.
Risks Related to Taxation
•Our failure to qualify as a REIT would result in higher taxes and reduced cash available for distribution to our stockholders.
•Complying with the REIT requirements can be difficult and may cause us to be forced to liquidate assets or to forego otherwise attractive opportunities.
•The REIT distribution requirements could adversely affect our ability to execute our business strategies.
•Even if we qualify as a REIT, we may face tax liabilities that reduce our cash flow.
•The failure of assets subject to repurchase agreements to be treated as owned by us for U.S. federal income tax purposes could adversely affect our ability to qualify as a REIT.
•Our ownership of and relationship with our TRSs will be limited, and a failure to comply with the limits would jeopardize our REIT status and may result in the application of a 100% excise tax.
•Uncertainty exists with respect to the treatment of TBAs for purposes of the REIT asset and income tests.
•New legislation or administrative or judicial action, in each instance potentially with retroactive effect, could make it more difficult or impossible for us to qualify as a REIT.
•Complying with the REIT requirements may limit our ability to hedge effectively.
•Certain financing activities may subject us to U.S. federal income tax and could have negative tax consequences for our stockholders.
•Our ability to make cash distributions to our stockholders may be adversely affected by COVID-19.
•The tax on prohibited transactions will 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.
•The share ownership limits applicable to us that are imposed by the Code for REITs and our charter may restrict our business combination opportunities.
Risks Related to our Organization and Strategy
•Loss of our exemption from regulation under the Investment Company Act would negatively affect the value of shares of our common stock and our ability to distribute cash to our stockholders.
•If we were required to register with the CFTC as a Commodity Pool Operator, it could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
•Certain provisions of Maryland law could inhibit a change in our control.
•Our rights and the rights of our stockholders to take action against our directors and officers are limited, which could limit your recourse in the event of actions taken not in your best interest.
Risks Related to U.S. Government Programs
•The federal conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and related efforts, along with any changes in laws and regulations affecting the relationship between these agencies and the U.S. government, may adversely affect our business.
•We are subject to the risk that agencies of and entities sponsored by the U.S. government may not be able to fully satisfy their guarantees of Agency RMBS or that these guarantee obligations may be repudiated, which may adversely affect the value of our investment portfolio and our ability to sell or finance these securities.
•The implementation of the Single Security Initiative may adversely affect our results and financial condition.
•Mortgage loan modification and refinancing programs may adversely affect the value of, and our returns on, mortgage-backed securities and residential mortgage loans.
Risks Related to our Company, Business, and Operations
The COVID-19 pandemic has had and may continue to have a material adverse effect on our business.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant disruptions to the U.S. and global economies and has contributed to volatility and negative pressure in financial markets. The outbreak has led governments and other authorities around the world to impose measures intended to control its spread. The impact of the pandemic and measures to prevent its spread have negatively impacted us and could further negatively impact our business.
In particular, we experienced significant declines in the value of our target assets as well as adverse developments with respect to the cost and terms of financing available to us, and received margin calls, default notices and deficiency letters from certain of our financing counterparties well in excess of historical norms. These conditions were particularly acute during the first and second quarters of 2020 at the onset on the pandemic. Additionally, we expect over the near and long term that the economic impacts of the pandemic may impact the financial condition of the mortgage loans and mortgage loan borrowers underlying the residential and commercial securities and loans that we own and, as a result, the number of borrowers who become delinquent or default on their loans may increase. Elevated levels of delinquency or default would have an adverse impact on our income and the value of our assets. Moreover, a number of states have implemented temporary moratoriums on the ability of lenders to initiate foreclosures, which could further limit our ability to foreclose and recover against our collateral, or pursue recourse claims (should they exist) against a borrower in the event of a default or failure to meet its financial obligations to us.
Forced sales of the securities and other assets that secure our repurchase and other financing arrangements have been on terms less favorable to us than might otherwise be available in a regularly functioning market and could result in deficiency judgments and other claims against us. These conditions would have a materially negative effect on our results of operations, and, in turn, cash available for distribution to our stockholders and on the value of our assets.
In response to these conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government has implemented unprecedented financial support and relief measures to support the economy and the continued functioning of the financial markets. However, the success of such measures cannot be predicted, and we can offer no assurance that these programs will be effective, sufficient or otherwise have a positive impact on our business.
Moreover, certain actions taken by U.S. or other governmental authorities, including the Federal Reserve, that are intended to ameliorate the macroeconomic effects of COVID-19 may harm our business, including Foreclosure moratoriums.
The mortgage loans we acquire or that underlie our MBS exposes us to significant credit risk that could negatively affect the value of those investments.
As of December 31, 2020, our residential loan portfolio was one of our primary asset classes, and we expect to continue to seek investment opportunities primarily focused on residential whole loans in the near term. We are exposed to significant credit risk primarily through direct investments in residential real estate loans and the ownership of MBS backed by residential loans. 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, as well as the risk discussed below.
No U.S. Government Guarantee or Structural Credit Enhancement. We acquire residential mortgage loans including reperforming loans, nonperforming loans (the borrower is severely delinquent), and Non-QM Loans, which are subject to significant risk of loss. Unlike Agency RMBS, residential mortgage loans generally are not guaranteed by the U.S. Government or any government-sponsored enterprise such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Additionally, by directly acquiring residential mortgage loans, we do not receive the structural credit enhancements that benefit senior tranches of RMBS. A residential mortgage loan is directly exposed to losses resulting from a default by the borrower. Therefore, the value of the underlying property, the creditworthiness and financial position of the borrower, and the priority and enforceability of the lien will significantly impact the value of such mortgage loan. In the event of a foreclosure, we may assume direct ownership of the underlying real estate. The liquidation proceeds upon sale of such real estate may not be sufficient to recover our cost basis in the loan, and any cost or delay involved in the foreclosure or liquidation process may increase losses. The value of residential mortgage loans is also subject to property damage caused by hazards, such as earthquakes or environmental hazards, not covered by standard property insurance policies and to a reduction in a borrower's mortgage debt by a bankruptcy court. In addition, claims may be assessed against us because of our position as a mortgage holder or property owner, including assignee liability, environmental hazards, tax and other liabilities. In some cases, these claims may lead to losses exceeding the purchase price of the related mortgage or property.
Enhanced Non-QM Loan Risks. As of December 31, 2020, a significant portion of our residential loan portfolio is Non-QM Loans. Non-QM Loans are generally 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 CFPB, and may be considered to be lower credit quality. The ownership of Non-QM Loans will also subject us to legal, regulatory and other risks, including those arising under federal consumer protection laws and regulations designed to regulate residential mortgage loan underwriting and originators’ lending processes, standards, and disclosures to borrowers. Failure of residential mortgage loan originators or servicers to comply with the ability-to-repay laws and regulations could subject us, as an assignee or purchaser of these loans (or as an investor in securities backed by these loans), to monetary penalties assessed by the CFPB and by mortgagors, including by recoupment or setoff of finance charges and fees collected, and could result in rescission of the affected residential mortgage loans. See the Risk Factor captioned “We may acquire and sell from time to time Non-QM Loans, which may subject us to legal, regulatory and other risks, which could adversely impact our business and financial results” in this 2020 Form 10-K for more details.
Greater General Credit Risks. In addition, credit losses on residential mortgage loans can occur for many reasons (many of which are beyond our control), including: fraud; poor underwriting; poor servicing practices; weak economic conditions; increases in payments required to be made by borrowers; declines in the value of homes; earthquakes, the effects of climate change (including flooding, drought, wildfire and severe weather), and other natural disaster events; uninsured property loss; borrower over-leveraging; costs of remediation of environmental conditions, such as indoor mold; changes in zoning or building codes and the related costs of compliance; acts of war or terrorism; pandemics; changes in legal protections for borrowers and other changes in law or regulation; and personal events affecting borrowers, such as reduction in income and job loss.
All of the risks discussed above could negatively impact the value of our investments and have a material adverse effect on our business. These risks may be more pronounced during times of market volatility and negative economic conditions, such as those being experienced in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We may engage in securitization transactions relating to residential mortgage loans which exposes us to potentially material risks.
A significant part of our business and growth strategy is to engage in securitization transactions to finance the acquisition of residential mortgage loans. Engaging in securitization transactions and other similar transactions generally requires us to accumulate loans or other assets prior to securitization. If demand for investing in securitization transactions weakens, we may be unable to complete the securitization of loans accumulated for that purpose, and we may have to hold them on our consolidated balance sheet and therefor are retaining risk associated with mark-to-market recourse financing.
Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act and related laws and regulations relating to credit risk retention for securitizations (the "Risk Retention Rules"), when we sponsor a residential mortgage loan securitization, we are required to retain at least 5% of the fair value of the mortgage-backed securities issued in the securitization. We can retain either an “eligible vertical interest” (which consists of at least 5% of each class of securities issued in the securitization), an “eligible horizontal residual interest” (which is the most subordinate class of securities with a fair market value of at least 5% of the aggregate credit risk) or a combination of both totaling 5% (the "Required Credit Risk"). We are required to hold the Required Credit Risk until the later of (i) the fifth anniversary of the securitization closing date and (ii) the date on which the aggregate unpaid principal balance of the mortgage loans in such securitization has been reduced to 25% of the aggregate unpaid principal balance of the mortgage loans as of the securitization closing date, but no longer than the seventh anniversary of the closing date (such date, the "Sunset Date"). In addition, before the Sunset Date, we may not engage in any hedging transactions if payments on the hedge instrument are materially related to the Required Credit Risk and the hedge position would limit our financial exposure to the Required Credit Risk. Also, we may not pledge our interest in any Required Credit Risk as collateral for any financing unless such financing is full recourse to us. If we pledge our interest in Required Credit Risk as collateral on financing that is full recourse to us and the lender takes possession of the underlying collateral, we may not be in compliance with the Risk Retention Rules and it is uncertain as to what the consequences may be. Our Required Credit Risk could subject us to the first losses on our securitizations and is illiquid, which may make it more difficult to meet our liquidity needs, which may materially and adversely affect our business and financing condition. Thus, the Risk Retention Rules materially limit our ability to sell and hedge a portion of our RMBS that we acquire through our securitizations and subjects us to the credit risk related to the retained RMBS that we otherwise may have sold.
Additional risks include:
Risks relating to repurchase agreements. Our inability to securitize these loans would require us to secure financing in the form of repurchase agreements. Repurchase agreements may be shorter term in nature as compared to the financing term
achieved by way of securitization and will subject us to the risk of margin calls and the risk that we may not be able to refinance these repurchase agreements when they mature. These risks may have an adverse impact on our business and our liquidity. See the Risk Factor captioned “Pursuant to the terms of borrowings under our financing arrangements, we are subject to margin calls that could result in defaults or force us to sell assets under adverse market conditions or through foreclosure.” in this 2020 Form 10-K for more details.
Risks relating to underwriting and due diligence. Prior to acquiring loans or other assets for securitizations, we may undertake underwriting and due diligence efforts with respect to various aspects of the loan or asset. When underwriting or conducting due diligence, we rely on resources and data available to us, which may be limited, and we rely on investigations by third-parties. We may also only conduct due diligence on a sample of a pool of loans or assets we are acquiring and assume that the sample is representative of the entire pool. Our underwriting and due diligence efforts may not reveal matters that could lead to losses. Additionally, servicers can perform loan modifications, which could potentially impact the value of our securities.
Risks relating to marketing and disclosure documentation. When engaging in securitization transactions, we may prepare marketing and disclosure documentation. If our marketing and disclosure documentation are alleged or found to contain inaccuracies or omissions, we may be liable under federal and state securities laws (or under other laws) for damages to third-party investors or otherwise incur litigation costs. Additionally, we may retain various third-party service providers when we engage in securitization transactions, including underwriters or initial purchasers, trustees, administrative and paying agents, and custodians, among others. We may contractually agree to indemnify these service providers against various third-party claims and associated losses they may suffer in connection with the provision of services to us and/or the securitization trust.
Our Manager’s due diligence of potential investments may be insufficient, which could lead to investment losses.
Our Manager values our target assets based on loss-adjusted yields, taking into account estimated future defaults on the mortgage loans and other investments, and the estimated impact of those defaults on expected future cash flows. These default estimates are based in part on our Manager’s assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the originators, borrowers, and the underlying property values, as well as other factors. Our Manager’s default estimates may not prove accurate, which could lead to investment losses (particularly as related to investments with significant credit risk, as discussed above). This risk may be more pronounced during times of market volatility and negative economic conditions, such as those being experienced in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Manager’s investment models may be incorrect either due to inaccurate models or incorrect third-party data, which could lead to investment losses.
Given the complexity of certain of our investments and strategies, our Manager must rely heavily on analytical models (both proprietary models developed by our Manager and those supplied by third-parties) as well as models and data supplied by third-parties ("Third-Party Data"). When this information or analysis proves to be incorrect, any decisions made in reliance thereon expose us to potential risks. For example, by relying on this potentially faulty information or analysis, our Manager may be induced to buy certain investments at prices that are too high, to sell certain other investments at prices that are too low or to miss favorable opportunities altogether. Similarly, any hedging may prove to be unsuccessful.
Some of the analytical models used by our Manager, such as mortgage prepayment models, mortgage default models, and models providing risk sensitivities (e.g., duration) rely on predictive assumptions which could prove to be incorrect. In addition, the predictive models used by our Manager may differ substantially from those models used by other market participants, with the result that valuations based on these predictive models may be substantially higher or lower for certain investments than actual market prices. Furthermore, since predictive models are usually constructed based on historical data supplied by third-parties, the success of relying on such models may depend heavily on the accuracy and reliability of the supplied historical data and the ability of these historical models accurately to reflect future periods.
Many of the models we use include LIBOR as an input. The expected transition away from LIBOR may require changes to models and may change the underlying economic relationships being modeled. We may incorrectly value LIBOR-based instruments because our models do not currently properly account for LIBOR cessation. See the Risk Factor captioned “Changes in the method pursuant to which LIBOR is determined, or a discontinuation of LIBOR, may adversely affect the value of the financial obligations to be held or issued by us that are linked to LIBOR..” in this 2020 Form 10-K for more details.
All valuation models rely on correct market data inputs. If incorrect market data is entered into even a well-founded valuation model, the resulting valuations will be incorrect. Third-party data may be more prone to inaccuracies in light of the unprecedented conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic because the catalyst for these conditions (i.e., a global pandemic) is an event unparalleled in modern history and therefore is unpredictable. However, even if the input of market data is correct,
"model prices" often differ substantially from prices that could be achieved in a market transaction, especially for securities that are illiquid and have complex characteristics or embedded structural leverage, such as derivative securities.
These risks may lead to investment losses (particularly as related to investments with significant credit risk, as discussed above).
We may experience periods of significant illiquidity for our assets, which could adversely impact our business.
Future market developments or disruptions, including adverse developments in financial and capital markets, could reduce the liquidity in the markets of the assets that we own. For example, upon the onset of the volatility created by the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable efficiently to liquidate certain assets to raise capital, and residential whole loans present more acute liquidity risks as they are generally more cumbersome to sell (unlike MBS, which normally trade in an active market). Such decreased liquidity can cause us to sell our assets at a price lower than we would normally sell them or cause us to hold our assets longer than we would normally hold them. In addition, such illiquidity could cause our lenders to require us to pledge additional assets as collateral. If we are unable to obtain sufficient short-term financing or our assets are insufficient to meet the collateral requirements, then we may be compelled to liquidate particular assets at an inopportune time and at distressed sale prices. These conditions could adversely impact our business.
Valuations of our investments may at times be unavailable or unreliable.
The values of some of our investments may not be readily determinable. We measure the fair value of these investments in accordance with guidance set forth in Financial Accounting Standards Board, or FASB, Accounting Standards Codification, or ASC 820-10, "Fair Value Measurements and Disclosures." Ultimate realization of the value of an asset depends to a great extent on economic and other conditions that are beyond our control. Further, fair value is only an estimate based on our Manager's good faith judgment of the price at which an investment can be sold between willing buyers and sellers. If we were to liquidate a particular asset, the realized value may be more than or less than the fair value that we ascribe to that asset.
Our Manager’s determination of the fair value of our investments often depends on inputs provided by third-party dealers and pricing services. Valuations of certain securities in which we invest are often difficult to obtain or are unreliable. In general, dealers and pricing services heavily disclaim their valuations. Depending on the complexity and illiquidity of a security, valuations of the same security can vary substantially from one dealer or pricing service to another. Wide disparities in asset valuations may be more pronounced during periods when market participants are engaged in distressed sales, as was experienced in the early stage of the market volatility related to COVID-19. Therefore, our results of operations for a given period could be adversely affected if our determinations regarding the fair value of these investments are materially higher than the values that we ultimately realize upon their disposal.
Disruptive, exogenous geopolitical or other macroeconomic events could lead to declines in the fair value of our investments which could materially and adversely affect our business.
During 2020, we experienced a significant amount of realized and unrealized losses on our assets as a result of the volatile conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly disruptive exogenous events may occur in the future. The subsequent disposition or sale of such impacted assets could further affect our future losses or gains, as they are based on the difference between the sale price received and adjusted amortized cost of such assets at the time of sale. These risks may be more pronounced for investments with significant credit risk, as discussed above. If we experience a decline in the fair value of our investments, it could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations, financial condition and ability to make distributions to our stockholders.
We may be adversely affected by risks affecting borrowers or the asset or property types in which our investments may be concentrated at any given time, as well as from unfavorable changes in the related geographic regions.
Our assets are not subject to any geographic, diversification or concentration limitations except that we concentrate in residential mortgage-related investments. Accordingly, our investment portfolio may be concentrated by geography, asset type (as is the case currently, as residential whole loans are by far our most concentrated 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 suffers adverse developments. In addition, adverse economic 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 further increase the correlation of non-performance and foreclosure risks among our investments.
Cybersecurity risks may cause a disruption to our operations, a compromise or corruption of our confidential information, and/or damage to our business relationships, all of which could negatively impact our business.
Our business is highly dependent on the communications and information systems of our Manager. A cyber incident is considered to be any adverse event that threatens the confidentiality, integrity or availability of our information resources. These incidents could involve gaining unauthorized access to our information systems for purposes of misappropriating assets, stealing proprietary and confidential information, corrupting data or causing operational disruption. System breaches in particular are evolving. Computer malware, viruses, computer hacking, phishing attacks, ransomware, and other electronic security breaches have become more frequent and more sophisticated. The result of these incidents may include disrupted operations, delays or other problems in our securities trading activities, misstated or unreliable financial data, liability for stolen assets or information, increased cybersecurity protection and insurance costs, litigation and damage to our investor relationships, and or all of which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and cash flows and negatively affect the market price of our common stock and our ability to make distributions to our stockholders.
As our reliance on technology has increased, so have the risks posed to our information systems, including those provided by the Manager and third-party service providers. We may be liable for losses suffered by individuals whose personal information is stolen as a result of a breach of the security of the systems on which we or third-party service providers of ours store this information, or as a result of other mismanagement of such information, and any such liability could be material. Even if we are not liable for such losses, any breach of these systems could expose us to material costs in notifying affected individuals or other parties and providing credit monitoring services, as well as to regulatory fines or penalties. Our Manager and its affiliates are and will continue to be from time to time the target of attempted cyber and other security threats. We rely on our Manager to continuously monitor and develop our information technology networks and infrastructure to prevent, detect, address and mitigate the risk of unauthorized access, misuse, computer viruses and other events that could have a security impact. There is no guarantee that these efforts will be successful. Even with all reasonable security efforts, not every breach can be prevented or even detected. Further, in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of our Manager's personnel are working remotely at least a few days a week, which may increase the risk of cyber-security incidents and cyber-attacks.
The failure of servicers to effectively service the mortgage loans in our portfolio and the MSRs in Arc Home's portfolio may materially and adversely affect us, and market disruptions caused by COVID-19 may make it more difficult for the loan servicers to perform a variety of services for us, which may adversely impact our business and financial results.
In connection with our business of acquiring and holding residential mortgage loans and investing in RMBS, we rely on third-party service providers, principally loan servicers, to perform a variety of services, comply with applicable laws and regulations, and carry out contractual covenants and terms. For example, we rely on the mortgage servicers who service the mortgage loans we purchase as well as the loans underlying our RMBS to, among other things, collect principal and interest payments on such loans and perform loss mitigation services, such as forbearance, workouts, modifications, foreclosures, short sales and sales of foreclosed property.
Servicer quality. Servicer quality is of prime importance in the performance of residential mortgage loans, RMBS and MSRs. Both default frequency and default severity of loans may depend upon the quality of the servicer. Servicers may not be vigilant in encouraging borrowers to make their monthly payments, may take longer to liquidate non-performing assets, or less competent in disposing REO properties. In the case of pools of securitized loans, servicers may be required to advance interest on delinquent loans to the extent the servicer deems those advances recoverable. In the event the servicer does not advance interest on delinquent loans, interest may not be able to be paid even on more senior securities. Servicers may also advance more interest than is in fact recoverable once a defaulted loan is disposed, and the loss to the trust may be greater than the outstanding principal balance of that loan. The failure of servicers to effectively service the mortgage loans underlying the RMBS in our portfolio, any mortgage loans we own or any MSRs Arc Home owns could negatively impact the value of our investments and our performance.
Servicer default. The servicer has a fiduciary obligation to act in the best interest of the securitization trust, but significant latitude exists with respect to its servicing activities. The servicer also has a contractual obligation to obey all laws and regulations (including federal, state, and local laws and regulations) and to act in accordance with applicable servicing standards; however, as we do not control these servicers, we cannot be sure that they are acting in accordance with their contractual and legal obligations or applicable law. The servicer's failure to comply with these obligations could expose us to regulatory scrutiny and litigation risk. If a third-party servicer fails to perform its duties under the securitization documents or its duties to us, this may result in a material increase in delinquencies or losses on the MBS or mortgage loans we own or the MSRs Arc Home owns or in a fine or adverse finding from a regulatory authority. Any such servicing failures and resulting delinquencies or losses may impact the value of the MBS, mortgage loans or MSRs, and we may incur losses on our
investment. If a third-party servicer fails to perform its contractual duties to us, this may result in fines or adverse action from a regulatory authority if the ownership of loans is tied to the servicing of those loans.
Transfer of Servicing. Servicing transfers may occur for various reasons, including because servicers often go out of business. This transfer takes time, and loans may become delinquent because of confusion or lack of attention, which could cause us to incur losses that may materially and adversely affect us. In addition, when servicing is transferred, servicing fees may increase, which may have an adverse effect on the RMBS held by us or the MSRs held by Arc Home.
COVID-19 effect on servicing activities. Over the near and long term, we expect that the economic and market disruptions caused by COVID-19 will adversely impact the financial condition of the borrowers of our residential mortgage loans and the loans that underlie our RMBS investments. As a result, we anticipate that the number of borrowers who request a payment deferral or forbearance arrangement or become delinquent or default on their financial obligations may increase significantly, and such increase may place greater stress on the servicers’ finances and human capital, which may make it more difficult for these servicers to successfully service these loans. In addition, many loan servicing activities are not permitted to be done through a remote work setting. To the extent that shelter-in-place orders and remote work arrangements for non-essential businesses continue in the future, loan servicers may be materially adversely impacted. As a result, we could be materially and adversely affected if a mortgage servicer is unable to adequately or successfully service our residential mortgage loans and the loans that underlie our RMBS or if any such servicer experiences financial distress.
COVID-19 effect on servicer liquidity. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic disruption it has caused may result in liquidity pressures on servicers and other third-party vendors that we rely upon. For instance, as a result of an increase in mortgagors requesting relief in the form of forbearance plans and/or other loss mitigation, servicers and other parties responsible in capital markets securitization transactions for funding advances with respect to delinquent mortgagor payments of principal and interest may begin to experience financial difficulties if mortgagors do not make monthly payments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The negative impact on the business and operations of such servicers or other parties responsible for funding such advances could be significant. Sources of liquidity typically available to servicers and other relevant parties for the purpose of funding advances of monthly mortgage payments, especially entities that are not depository institutions, may not be sufficient to meet the increased need that could result from significantly higher delinquency and/or forbearance rates. The extent of such liquidity pressures in the future is not known at this time and is subject to continual change.
Increases in interest rates could adversely affect the value of our investments and cause our interest expense to increase, which could negatively affect our profitability and our ability to make distributions.
Our investment portfolio contains a significant allocation to residential mortgage loans and RMBS. An investment in such assets will generally decline in value if interest rates increase, particularly long-term interest rates. Declines in market value may ultimately reduce earnings or result in losses to us, which may negatively affect cash available for distribution to our stockholders.
The relationship between short-term and longer-term interest rates is often referred to as the "yield curve." In a normal yield curve environment, short-term interest rates are lower than longer-term interest rates. If short-term interest rates rise disproportionately relative to longer-term interest rates (a flattening of the yield curve), our borrowing costs will generally increase more rapidly than the interest income earned on our assets.
Because our investments will generally bear interest based on longer-term rates than our borrowings, a flattening of the yield curve would tend to decrease our net interest margin, net income, and book value. It is also possible that short-term interest rates may exceed longer-term interest rates (a yield curve inversion), in which event our borrowing costs may exceed our interest income and we could incur operating losses. Additionally, to the extent cash flows from investments that return scheduled and unscheduled principal are reinvested, the spread between the yields on the new investments and available borrowing rates may decline, which would likely decrease our net income.
A significant risk associated with our target assets is the risk that both long-term and short-term interest rates will increase significantly. If long-term rates increase significantly, the market value of these investments will decline, and the duration and weighted average life of the investments will increase due to the slowing of the prepayment rate. At the same time, an increase in short-term interest rates will increase the amount of interest owed on the financing arrangements we enter into to finance the purchase of our investments.
Arc Home is highly dependent upon programs administered by the Agencies, and changes in the Agencies’ servicing or origination guidelines or overall operations could have a material adverse effect on Arc Home’s business.
Arc Home sells a majority of its mortgage loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain in conservatorship, and a path forward to emerge from conservatorship is unclear. Their roles could be reduced, modified or eliminated, and the nature of their guarantees could be limited or eliminated relative to historical measurements. Any discontinuation of, or significant reduction in, the role or operation of these agencies, or any significant adverse change in the level of activity of these agencies in the primary or secondary mortgage markets could materially and adversely affect Arc Home’s business, which in turn would have a negative impact on our results.
An economic slowdown or a deterioration of the housing market could increase both interest expense on servicing advances and operating expenses and could cause a reduction in income from, and the value of, Arc Home’s servicing portfolio.
During any period in which a borrower is not making payments, under most of its servicing agreements Arc Home is required to advance its own funds to meet contractual principal and interest remittance requirements for investors, pay property taxes and insurance premiums and process foreclosures. Arc Home also advances funds to maintain, repair and market real estate properties on behalf of investors. Most of its advances have the highest standing and are "top of the waterfall" so that Arc Home is entitled to repayment from respective loan or REO liquidations proceeds before most other claims on these proceeds, and in the majority of cases, advances in excess of respective loan or REO liquidation proceeds may be recovered from pool level proceeds. Consequently, the primary impact of an increase in advances is through increased interest expense as Arc Home finances a large portion of servicing advance obligations.
Higher delinquencies also increase Arc Home’s cost to service loans as loans in default require more intensive effort to bring them current or manage the foreclosure process. An increase in delinquencies may delay the timing of revenue recognition because Arc Home recognizes servicing fees as earned, which is generally upon collection of payments from borrowers or proceeds from REO liquidations. An increase in delinquencies also generally leads to lower balances in custodial and escrow accounts (float balances) and lower net earnings on custodial and escrow accounts (float earnings). Additionally, an increase in delinquencies in our GSE servicing portfolio will result in lower revenue because Arc Home collects servicing fees from GSEs only on performing loans.
Foreclosures are involuntary prepayments resulting in a reduction in Unpaid Principal Balance ("UPB"). This may result in higher amortization expense as well as charges to recognize impairment and declines in the value of Arc Home’s MSRs.
Adverse economic conditions could also negatively impact our lending businesses. For example, during the economic crisis that began in 2007, total U.S. residential mortgage originations volume decreased substantially. Moreover, declining home prices and increasing loan-to-value ratios may preclude many potential borrowers from refinancing their existing loans. Further, an increase in prevailing interest rates could decrease originations volume.
The risks associated with an economic slowdown or a deterioration of the housing or lending markets are more pronounced due to the conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any of the foregoing could adversely affect Arc Home’s business, which in turn would have a negative impact on our results.
Risks Related to our Non-Agency Residential Investments
Our investments in Non-QM Loans subject us to legal, regulatory and other risks.
We believe our primary risks related to Non-Agency residential assets are credit-related risks (see “Risks Related to our Company, Business, and Operations” above). In addition, the ownership of Non-QM Loans (currently our primary targeted asset class) will subject us to legal, regulatory and other risks, including those arising under federal consumer protection laws and regulations designed to regulate residential mortgage loan underwriting and originators’ lending processes, standards, and disclosures to borrowers. These laws and regulations include the "ability-to-repay" rules ("ATR Rules") under the Truth-in-Lending Act and "qualified mortgage" regulations. The ATR Rules specify the characteristics of a "qualified mortgage" and two levels of presumption of compliance with the ATR Rules: a safe harbor and a rebuttable presumption for higher priced loans. The "safe harbor" under the ATR Rules applies to a covered transaction that meets the definition of "qualified mortgage" and is not a "higher-priced covered transaction." For any covered transaction that meets the definition of a "qualified mortgage" and is not a "higher-priced covered transaction," the creditor or assignee will be deemed to have complied with the ability-to-repay requirement and, accordingly, will be conclusively presumed to have made a good faith and reasonable determination of the
consumer’s ability to repay. Creditors or assignees will have the benefit of a rebuttable presumption of compliance with the applicable ATR Rules if they have complied with the qualified mortgage characteristics of the ATR Rules other than the residential mortgage loan being higher-priced in excess of certain thresholds.
Non-QM Loans, such as residential mortgage loans with a debt-to-income ratio exceeding 43%, are among the loan products we may acquire that do not constitute qualified mortgages and, accordingly, do not have the benefit of either a safe harbor from liability under the ATR Rules or a rebuttable presumption of compliance with the ATR Rules. Application of certain standards set forth in the ATR Rules is highly subjective and subject to interpretive uncertainties. For example, a court may determine that a residential mortgage loan did not meet the standard or test even if the originator reasonably believed such standard or test had been satisfied. Failure of residential mortgage loan originators or servicers to comply with these laws and regulations could subject us, as an assignee or purchaser of these loans (or as an investor in securities backed by these loans), to monetary penalties assessed by the CFPB through its administrative enforcement authority and by mortgagors through a private right of action against lenders or as a defense to foreclosure, including by recoupment or setoff of finance charges and fees collected, and could result in rescission of the affected residential mortgage loans, which could adversely impact our business and financial results. Such risks may be higher in connection with the acquisition of Non-QM Loans. Borrowers under Non-QM Loans may be more likely than borrowers under qualified loans to challenge the analysis conducted under the ATR Rules by lenders. Even if a borrower does not succeed in the challenge, additional costs may be incurred in connection with challenging and defending such claims, which may be more costly in judicial foreclosure jurisdictions than in non-judicial foreclosure jurisdictions, and there may be more of a likelihood such claims are made since the borrower is already exposed to the judicial system to process the foreclosure.
Risks Related to our Agency Investments
Changes in prepayment rates may adversely affect the return on our investments.
Our investment portfolio includes securities backed by pools of mortgage loans which receive payments related to the underlying mortgage loans. When borrowers prepay their mortgage loans at rates faster or slower than anticipated, it exposes us to prepayment or extension risk, respectively. Generally, prepayments increase during periods of falling mortgage interest rates and decrease during periods of rising mortgage interest rates. However, this may not always be the case as other factors can affect the rate of prepayments, including loan age and size, loan-to-value ratios, housing price trends, general economic conditions and other factors.
To the extent that actual prepayment speeds differ from our expectations, our operating results could be adversely affected, and we could be forced to sell assets to maintain adequate liquidity, which could cause us to incur realized losses. In addition, should significant prepayments occur, there is no certainty that we will be able to identify acceptable new investments, which could reduce our invested capital or result in us investing in less favorable securities.
Prepayment rates are difficult to predict, and market conditions may disrupt the historical correlation between interest rate changes and prepayment trends.
Our success depends, in part, on our ability predict prepayment behavior under a variety of economic conditions and particularly the relationship between changing interest rates and the rate of prepayments. As part of our overall portfolio risk management, we analyze interest rate changes and prepayment trends separately and collectively to assess their effects on our investment portfolio. To a large extent our analysis is based on models that are dependent on a number of assumptions and inputs. Many of the assumptions we use are based upon historical trends with respect to the relationship between interest rates and prepayments under normal market conditions. There is risk that our assumptions prove to be incorrect. Dislocations in the residential mortgage market and other developments may disrupt the relationship between the way that prepayment trends have historically responded to interest rate changes. Prepayment rates are also impacted by other factors beyond interest rates, such as when borrowers sell their property and use the proceeds to prepay their mortgage, or when borrowers default on their mortgages and the mortgages are prepaid from the proceeds of a foreclosure sale of the property.
The impact of each of these factors on prepayment rates is difficult to predict and may negatively impact our ability to assess the market value of our investment portfolio, implement hedging strategies and/or implement techniques to reduce our prepayment rate volatility, which could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
Risks Related to Financing Activities
Our business strategy involves the use of leverage, and we may become overleveraged or not achieve what we believe is optimal leverage, which may materially adversely affect our liquidity, results of operations or financial condition.
We use leverage as a strategy to increase the return on our assets. Pursuant to our leverage strategy, we borrow against a substantial portion of the market value of our mortgage investments and use the borrowed funds to finance our investment portfolio and the acquisition of additional investment assets. The risks associated with leverage are more acute during periods of economic slowdown or recession, which the U.S. economy has experienced in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. We may not be able to achieve our desired leverage ratio for a number of reasons, including if:
•our lenders require that we pledge additional collateral to cover our borrowings;
•our lenders do not make financing arrangements available to us at acceptable rates;
•certain of our lenders exit the repurchase market; or
•we determine that the leverage would expose us to excessive risk.
In addition, the use of leverage exposes us to other significant risks, including:
Change of collateral valuation. The amount of financing that we receive under our repurchase agreements will be directly related to our counterparties’ valuation of our assets that collateralize the outstanding financing. Typically, repurchase agreements grant the repurchase agreement counterparty the absolute right to reevaluate the fair market value of the assets that cover the amount financed under the repurchase agreement at any time. If a repurchase agreement counterparty determines in its sole discretion that the value of the assets subject to the repurchase agreement financing has decreased, it has the right to initiate a margin call. These valuations may be different than the values that we ascribe to these assets and may be influenced by recent asset sales at distressed levels by forced sellers. A margin call requires us to transfer additional assets to a repurchase agreement counterparty without any advance of funds from the counterparty for such transfer or to repay a portion of the outstanding repurchase agreement financing. We would also be required to post additional collateral if haircuts (as defined below) increase under a repurchase agreement. In these situations, we could be forced to sell assets at significantly depressed prices to meet such margin calls and to maintain adequate liquidity, which could cause significant losses.
Significant margin calls could have a material adverse effect on our business. For example, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, late in the first quarter of 2020, we observed a mark-down of a substantial portion of our assets by our repurchase agreement counterparties, resulting in us having to pay cash or additional securities to satisfy margin calls that were well beyond historical norms. This eventually resulted in us seeking temporary forbearance from our counterparties, which resulted in significant losses.
Financing terms. Our ability to fund our purchases of target assets may be impacted by our ability to secure financing arrangements on acceptable terms and renew or roll these financing arrangements. The terms we receive on such financings are influenced by the demand for similar funding by our competitors, including other REITs, specialty finance companies and other financial entities. Many of our competitors are significantly larger than us, have greater financial resources and significantly larger balance sheets than we do. Any sizable interest rate shock or disruption in secondary mortgage markets resulting in the failure of one or more of our largest competitors may have a materially adverse effect on our ability to access or maintain short-term financing for our target assets. If we are not able to renew or roll our existing repurchase agreements or arrange for new financing on terms acceptable to us, we may have to dispose of assets at significantly depressed prices and at inopportune times, which could cause significant losses, and may also force us to curtail our asset acquisition activities.
Adverse change in financing counterparties. We have reduced the aggregate number of our financing counterparties from 30 as of December 31, 2019 to 5 as of December 31, 2020. The reduction of financing counterparties may reduce our ability to obtain financing on favorable terms and increases our risk to heightened counterparty credit risk. In addition, our ability to fund our operations, meet financial obligations and finance asset acquisitions may be impacted by an inability to secure and maintain our repurchase agreements with our counterparties. Because repurchase agreements are short-term commitments of capital, repurchase agreement counterparties may respond to market conditions in a manner that makes it more difficult for us to renew or replace on a continuous basis our maturing short-term financings. Such counterparties have and may continue to impose more onerous conditions when rolling such financings. If major lenders stop financing our target assets, the value of our target assets could be negatively impacted, thus reducing net stockholders’ equity, or book value. If we are faced with a larger haircut in order to roll a financing with a particular counterparty, or in order to move a financing from one counterparty to another, then we would need to make up the difference between the two haircuts in the form of cash, which could similarly require us to dispose of assets at significantly depressed prices and at inopportune times, which could cause significant losses.
COVID-19 effects. Issues related to financing are exacerbated in times of significant dislocation in the financial markets, such as those experienced in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is possible that our financing counterparties will become unwilling or unable to provide us with financing, and we could be forced to sell our assets at an inopportune time when prices are depressed or markets are illiquid, which could cause significant losses. Many mortgage REITs, including us, experienced this during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and related market dislocations. In addition, if the regulatory capital requirements imposed on our financing counterparties change, they may be required to significantly increase the cost of the financing that they provide to us, or to increase the amounts of collateral they require as a condition to providing us with financing. Our financing counterparties also have revised, and may continue to revise, their eligibility requirements for the types of assets that they are willing to finance or the terms of such financings, including increased haircuts and requiring additional cash collateral, based on, among other factors, the regulatory environment and their management of actual and perceived risk, particularly with respect to assignee liability.
The securitization process 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 assets included in a securitization rather than a general claim against us as an entity. 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 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 and give rise to material litigation.
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.
Our financing arrangements contain restrictive operating covenants.
As of December 31, 2020, we, either directly or through our equity method investments in affiliates, have outstanding master repurchase agreements or loan agreements with multiple counterparties. These agreements generally include customary representations, warranties and covenants, but may also contain more restrictive supplemental terms and conditions. Although specific to each agreement, typical supplemental terms include requirements of minimum equity, leverage ratios, performance triggers or other financial ratios. The negative impacts on our business caused by COVID-19 have and may make it more difficult to meet or satisfy these covenants, and we cannot assure you that we will remain in compliance with these covenants in the future. Future lenders may impose similar or more onerous restrictions.
If we fail to meet or satisfy any covenant, supplemental term or representation and warranty, an event of default could be declared under these agreements and our lenders could elect to declare all amounts outstanding under the agreements to be immediately due and payable (or such amounts may automatically become due and payable), terminate their commitments, require the posting of additional collateral, enforce their respective interests against existing collateral pledged under such agreements and restrict our ability to make additional borrowings. Certain financing agreements may contain cross-default and cross-acceleration provisions, so that if a default occurs under any one agreement, the lenders under our other agreements could also declare a default. A default also could significantly limit our financing alternatives, which could cause us to curtail our investment activities or dispose of assets when we otherwise would not choose to do so. As a result, a default on any of our financing agreements could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations, financial condition and ability to make distributions to our stockholders. 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.
If a counterparty to our repurchase transaction defaults on its obligation to resell or return the underlying security back to us at the end of the transaction term, we may lose money on such financing arrangement.
When we engage in financing arrangements, we generally sell securities to lenders (i.e., repurchase agreement counterparties) and receive cash from the lenders. The lenders are obligated to resell or return the same securities back to us at the end of the term of the transaction. Because the cash we receive from lenders when we initially sell or deliver the securities to the lender is less than the value of those securities (this difference is the haircut), if the lender defaults on its obligation to resell or return the same securities back to us (whether due to insolvency of the lender or otherwise) we may incur a loss on the transaction equal to the amount of the haircut (assuming there was no change in the value of the securities). On December 31, 2020, we had greater than 5% stockholders' equity at risk on a GAAP basis and non-GAAP basis with three repurchase agreement counterparties: BofA Securities, Inc., Credit Suisse AG, Cayman Islands Branch, and Barclays Capital Inc.
Our rights under our repurchase agreements may be subject to the effects of the bankruptcy laws in the event of the bankruptcy or insolvency of us or our lenders under the financing arrangements, which may allow our lenders to repudiate our financing arrangements.
In the event of our insolvency or bankruptcy, certain repurchase agreements may qualify for special treatment under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the effect of which, among other things, would be to allow the lender under the applicable repurchase agreements to avoid the automatic stay provisions of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and to foreclose on the pledged collateral without delay, impacting our legal title and the right to proceeds. 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 that of 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 agreements 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.
Pursuant to the terms of borrowings under our financing arrangements, we are subject to margin calls that could result in defaults or force us to sell assets under adverse market conditions or through foreclosure.
We enter into financing arrangements to finance the acquisition of our target assets. Pursuant to the terms of borrowings under our financing arrangements, a decline in the value of the collateral may result in our lenders initiating margin calls. A margin call requires us to pledge additional collateral to re-establish the ratio of the value of the collateral to the amount of the borrowing. The specific collateral value to borrowing ratio that would trigger a margin call is not set in the master repurchase agreements or loan agreements and is not determined until we engage in a repurchase transaction or borrowing arrangement under these agreements. Our fixed-rate collateral are generally more susceptible to margin calls as periods of increased interest rates tend to affect more negatively the market value of fixed-rate securities. In addition, some collateral may be more illiquid than other instruments in which we invest, which could cause them to be more susceptible to margin calls in a volatile market environment. Moreover, collateral that prepays more quickly increases the frequency and magnitude of potential margin calls as there is a significant time lag between when the prepayment is reported (which reduces the market value of the security) and when the principal payment is actually received. If we are unable to satisfy margin calls, our lenders may foreclose on our collateral. The threat of or occurrence of a margin call could force us to sell, either directly or through a foreclosure, our collateral under adverse market conditions. Because of the leverage we expect to have, we may incur substantial losses upon the threat or occurrence of a margin call. The risks associated with leverage are more acute during periods of economic slowdown or recession, which the U.S. economy has experienced in connection with the conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Changes in the method pursuant to which LIBOR is determined, or a discontinuation of LIBOR, may adversely affect the value of the financial obligations to be held or issued by us that are linked to LIBOR.
The interest rates on our repurchase agreements, as well as adjustable-rate mortgage loans in our securitizations, are generally based on LIBOR, which is subject to 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.
Currently, 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 U.K. or elsewhere. Uncertainty as to the nature of such potential changes, alternative reference rates or other reforms may adversely affect the rates on our repurchase facilities, securitizations or residential loans held for longer-term investment. If LIBOR is discontinued or is no longer quoted, the applicable base rate used to calculate interest on our repurchase agreements will be determined using alternative methods. In the U.S., efforts to identify a set of U.S. dollar reference interest rates include proposals by the Alternative Reference Rates Committee of the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The U.S. Federal Reserve, in conjunction with the Alternative Reference Rates Committee, a steering committee comprised of large U.S. financial institutions, is considering replacing U.S. dollar LIBOR with the Secured Overnight Funding Rate, or SOFR. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York began publishing SOFR rates in April 2018. The market transition away from LIBOR and towards SOFR is expected to be gradual and complicated. There are significant differences between LIBOR and SOFR, such as LIBOR being an unsecured lending rate and SOFR a secured lending rate, another is SOFR is an overnight rate and LIBOR reflects term rates at different maturities. These and other differences create the potential for basis risk between the two rates. The impact of any basis risk difference between LIBOR and SOFR may negatively affect our net interest margin. Any of these alternative methods may result in interest rates that are higher than if the LIBOR Rate was available in its current form, which could have a material adverse effect on our net interest margin. In addition, the manner and timing of the 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.
Any additional changes announced by the FCA, other regulators or any other successor governance or oversight body, or future changes adopted by such body, in the method pursuant to which reference rates are determined may result in a sudden or prolonged increase or decrease in the reported reference rates. If that were to occur, the level of interest payments we incur may change. In addition, although certain of our LIBOR based obligations provide for alternative methods of calculating the interest rate payable on certain of our obligations if LIBOR is not reported, which include requesting certain rates from major reference banks in London or New York, or alternatively using LIBOR for the immediately preceding interest period or using the initial interest rate, as applicable, uncertainty as to the extent and manner of future changes may result.
Risks Related to our Commercial Investments
Commercial real estate-related investments that are secured by real property are subject to delinquency, foreclosure and loss, which could result in losses to us.
Commercial real estate debt instruments (e.g., mortgages, mezzanine loans and preferred equity) that are secured by commercial property are subject to risks of delinquency and foreclosure and risks of loss that are arguably greater than similar risks associated with a pool of loans secured by single-family residential properties. The ability of a borrower to repay a loan secured by an income-producing property typically is dependent primarily upon the successful operation of the property rather than upon the existence of independent income or assets of the borrower. If the net operating income of the property is reduced, the borrower’s ability to repay the loan may be impaired. Net operating income of an income-producing property can be affected by a number of factors that include:
•overall macroeconomic conditions in the area in which the properties underlying the mortgages are located;
•tenant mix and the success of tenant businesses;
•property location, condition and management decisions;
•competition from comparable types of properties; and
•changes in law that increase operating expenses or limit rents that may be charged.
In addition, we are exposed to the risk of judicial proceedings with our borrowers and entities we invest in, including bankruptcy or other litigation, as a strategy to avoid foreclosure or enforcement of other rights by us as a lender or investor. In the event that any of the properties or entities underlying or collateralizing our loans or investments experiences any of the foregoing events or occurrences, the value of, and return on, such investments could be reduced, which would adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
Risks Related to our Management and our Relationship with our Manager and its Affiliates
We are dependent upon our Manager, its affiliates and their key personnel and may not find a suitable replacement if the management agreement with our Manager is terminated or such key personnel are no longer available to us, which would materially and adversely affect us.
In accordance with our management agreement, we are externally managed and advised by our Manager, and all of our officers are employees of Angelo Gordon or its affiliates. We have no separate facilities, and we have no employees. Pursuant to our management agreement, our Manager is obligated to supply us with our senior management team, and the members of that team may have conflicts in allocating their time and services between us and other entities or accounts managed by our Manager and its affiliates, now or in the future, including other Angelo Gordon funds. Substantially all of our investment, financing and risk management decisions are made by our Manager and not by us, and our Manager also has significant discretion as to the implementation of our operating policies and strategies.
Furthermore, our Manager has the sole discretion to hire and fire employees, and our Board of Directors and stockholders have no authority over the individual employees of our Manager or Angelo Gordon, although our Board of Directors does have direct authority over our officers who are supplied by our Manager. Accordingly, we are completely reliant upon, and our success depends exclusively on, our Manager’s personnel, services, resources, facilities, relationships and contacts. No assurance can be given that our Manager will act in our best interests with respect to the allocation of personnel, services and resources to our business.
In addition, the management agreement does not require our Manager to dedicate specific personnel to us or to require personnel servicing our business to allocate a specific amount of time to us. The failure of any of our Manager’s key personnel to service our business with the requisite time and dedication, or the departure of such personnel from our Manager, or the failure of our Manager to attract and retain key personnel, would materially and adversely affect our ability to execute our business plan.
Further, when there are turbulent conditions in the real estate industry, distress in the credit markets or other times when we will need focused support and assistance from our Manager, the attention of our Manager’s personnel and executive officers and the resources of Angelo Gordon will also be required by the other funds and accounts managed by our Manager and its affiliates, placing our Manager’s resources in high demand. In such situations, we may not receive the level of support and assistance that we may receive if we were internally managed or if our Manager and its affiliates did not act as a manager for other entities. If the management agreement is terminated and a suitable replacement for our Manager is not secured in a timely manner or at all, we would likely be unable to execute our business plan, which would materially and adversely affect us.
The management agreement was not negotiated on an arm’s length basis and the terms, including the fees payable to our Manager, may not be as favorable to us as if the agreement was negotiated with unaffiliated third-parties.
All of our officers and our non-independent directors are employees of Angelo Gordon or its affiliates. The management agreement was negotiated between related parties, and we did not have the benefit of arm’s length negotiations of the type normally conducted with an unaffiliated third-party and the terms, including the fees payable to our Manager, may not be as favorable to us. We may choose not to enforce, or to enforce less vigorously, our rights under the management agreement because of our desire to maintain our ongoing relationship with our Manager.
Our governance and operational structure could result in conflicts of interest.
Our Manager is managed by Angelo Gordon, whose interests may not always be aligned with ours or our Manager’s. The employees of Angelo Gordon that devote time to managing our business may have conflicting interests between us and Angelo Gordon when managing our business. Angelo Gordon may decide to sell or transfer an equity interest in the Manager, which could increase the potential conflicts.
There are conflicts of interest inherent in our relationship with our Manager insofar as our Manager and its affiliates invest in real estate and other securities and loans, and whose investment objectives overlap with our investment objectives. Certain
investments appropriate for us may also be appropriate for one or more of these other investment vehicles. Certain employees of our Manager and its affiliates who are our officers also may serve as officers and/or directors of these other entities. We may compete with entities affiliated with our Manager for certain target assets. From time to time, affiliates of our Manager focus on investments in assets with a similar profile as our target assets that we may seek to acquire. These affiliates may have meaningful purchasing capacity. To the extent such other investment vehicles acquire or divest of the same target assets as us, the scope of opportunities otherwise available to us may be adversely affected and/or reduced.
We have broad investment guidelines, and we have co-invested and may co-invest with Angelo Gordon funds in a variety of investments. We also may invest in securities that are senior or junior to securities owned by funds managed by our Manager or its affiliates. There can be no assurance that any procedural protection will be sufficient to assure that these transactions will be made on terms that will be at least as favorable to us as those that would have been obtained in an arm’s length transaction.
We are subject to Angelo Gordon’s investment allocation policy, which specifically addresses some of the conflicts relating to our investment opportunities. However, there is no assurance that this policy will be adequate to address all of the conflicts that may arise, or address such conflicts in a manner that results in the allocation of a particular investment opportunity to us or is otherwise favorable to us.
Our Manager and Angelo Gordon and their respective employees also may have ongoing relationships with the obligors of investments or the clients’ counterparties and they or their clients may own equity or other securities or obligations issued by such parties. In addition, Angelo Gordon, either for its own accounts or for the accounts of other clients, may hold securities or obligations that are senior to, or have interests different from or adverse to, the securities or obligations that are acquired for us. Employees of our Manager and its affiliates may also invest in other entities managed by other Angelo Gordon entities which are eligible to purchase target assets. See Part I, Item 1 "Business - Investment Policies" for additional information related to target assets. Angelo Gordon or our Manager and their respective employees may make investment decisions for us that may be different from those undertaken for their personal accounts or on behalf of other clients (including the timing and nature of the action taken). Angelo Gordon and its affiliates may at certain times simultaneously seek to purchase or sell the same or similar investments for clients or for themselves. Likewise, our Manager may on our behalf purchase or sell an investment in which another Angelo Gordon client or affiliate is already invested or has co-invested. Such transactions may differ across Angelo Gordon clients or affiliates. These instances may result in conflicts of interest, which may adversely affect our operations.
Some of our officers may hold executive or management positions with other entities managed by affiliates of our Manager, and some of our officers and directors may own equity interests or limited partnership interests in such entities. The owners of the Manager or its affiliates may be entitled to receive profit from the management fee we pay to our Manager either in the form of distributions by our Manager or increased value of their ownership interests (whether direct or indirect) in the Manager. Such ownership may create, or may create the appearance of, conflicts of interest when these directors and officers are faced with decisions that could have different implications for such entities than they do for us.
We may enter into transactions to purchase or sell investments with entities or accounts managed by our Manager or its affiliates.
Our Manager may make, or may be required to make, investment decisions on our behalf where our trading counterparty is an entity affiliated with or an account managed by our Manager or its affiliates. Although we have adopted an Affiliated Transactions Policy, which specifically addresses the requirements of these types of trades, there is no assurance that this policy will ensure the most favorable outcome for us or will be adequate to address all of the conflicts that may arise. There is no assurance that the terms of such transactions would be as favorable to us as transacting in the open market with unaffiliated third-parties. As the investment programs of the various entities and accounts managed by our Manager and its affiliates change over time, additional issues and considerations may affect our Affiliated Transactions Policy and our Manager’s expectations with respect to such transactions, which could adversely affect our operations.
Our Board of Directors has approved very broad investment policies for our Manager, may change such policies without stockholder consent, and does not review or approve each investment or financing decision made by our Manager.
Our Board of Directors determines our operational policies and may amend or revise such policies, including our policies with respect to our REIT qualification, acquisitions, dispositions, operations, indebtedness and distributions, or approve transactions that deviate from these policies, without a vote of, or notice to, our stockholders. Operational policy changes could adversely affect the market value of our common stock and our ability to make distributions to our stockholders, such as reduction in the size of our GAAP investment portfolio. For example, 2020 was marked by unprecedented conditions caused by the COVID-19
pandemic, and as a result of and in response to these conditions, we significantly reduced the size and composition of our investment portfolio during 2020.
We may also change our investment strategies and policies and target asset classes at any time without the consent of our stockholders, which could result in our making investments that are different in type from, and possibly riskier than, our current assets or the investments contemplated in this report. A change in our investment strategies and policies and target asset classes may increase our exposure to interest rate risk, default risk and real estate market fluctuations, which could adversely affect the market value of our common stock and our ability to make distributions to our stockholders.
Our Manager is authorized to follow very broad investment policies and, therefore, has great latitude in determining the types of assets that are proper investments for us, the financing related to such assets, the allocations among asset classes and individual investment decisions. In the future, our Manager may make investments with lower rates of return than those anticipated under current market conditions or may make investments with greater risks to achieve those anticipated returns. Our Board of Directors periodically reviews our investment policies and our investment portfolio but does not review or approve each proposed investment by our Manager or the financing related thereto. In addition, in conducting periodic reviews, our Board of Directors relies primarily on information provided to it by our Manager. Furthermore, our Manager may use complex strategies and transactions that may be costly, difficult or impossible to unwind by the time they are reviewed by our Board of Directors.
The management fee may not provide sufficient incentive to our Manager to maximize risk-adjusted returns on our investment portfolio because it is based on our stockholders’ equity, adjusted for certain non-cash and other items, and not on our performance.
Our Manager is entitled to receive a management fee at the end of each quarter that is based on our Stockholders’ Equity as further discussed in Part II, Item 7. "Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations." Accordingly, the possibility exists that significant management fees could be payable to our Manager for a given quarter despite the fact that we could experience a net loss during that quarter. Our Manager’s entitlement to such significant non-performance-based compensation may not provide sufficient incentive to our Manager to devote its time and effort to source and maximize risk-adjusted returns on our investment portfolio, which could, in turn, adversely affect our ability to make distributions to our stockholders and the market price of our common stock. The compensation payable to our Manager will increase as a result of any future issuances of our equity securities, even if the issuances are dilutive to existing stockholders.
Our Manager will not be liable to us for any acts or omissions performed in accordance with the Management Agreement, including with respect to the performance of our investments.
Pursuant to our Management Agreement, our Manager will not assume any responsibility other than to render the services called for thereunder in good faith and will not be responsible for any action of our Board of Directors in following or declining to follow its advice or recommendations. Our Manager maintains a contractual as opposed to a fiduciary relationship with us. Our Manager, its members, managers, officers and employees will not be liable to us or any of our subsidiaries, to our Board of Directors, or our or any subsidiary’s stockholders or partners for any act or omission by our Manager, its members, managers, officers or employees, except by reason of acts constituting bad faith, willful misconduct, gross negligence or reckless disregard of our Manager’s duties under our Management Agreement. We shall, to the full extent lawful, reimburse, indemnify and hold our Manager, its members, managers, officers and employees and each other person, if any, controlling our Manager harmless of and from any and all expenses, losses, damages, liabilities, demands, charges and claims of any nature whatsoever (including attorneys’ fees) in respect of or arising from any act or omission of an indemnified party made in good faith in the performance of our Manager’s duties under our Management Agreement and not constituting such indemnified party’s bad faith, willful misconduct, gross negligence or reckless disregard of our Manager’s duties under our Management Agreement.
Termination of our management agreement would be costly and, in certain cases, not permitted.
It is difficult and costly to terminate the management agreement we have entered into with our Manager without cause. Our independent directors review our Manager’s performance and the management fees annually. The management agreement renews automatically each year for an additional one-year period, subject to certain termination rights. As of December 31, 2020, our management agreement has not been terminated. The management agreement provides that it may be terminated annually by us without cause upon the affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of our independent directors or by a vote of the holders of at least two-thirds of our outstanding common stock, in each case based upon (i) our Manager’s unsatisfactory performance that is materially detrimental to us or (ii) our determination that the management fees payable to our Manager are not fair, subject to our Manager’s right to prevent termination based on unfair fees by accepting a reduction of management fees agreed to by at least two-thirds of our independent directors. Our Manager must be provided 180-days’ prior notice of any such
termination. We may not terminate or elect not to renew the management agreement, even in the event of our Manager’s poor performance, without having to pay substantial termination fees. Upon any such termination without cause, the management agreement provides that we will pay our Manager a termination fee equal to three times the average annual management fee earned by our Manager during the 24-month period prior to termination, calculated as of the end of the most recently completed fiscal quarter. While under certain circumstances the obligation to make such a payment might not be enforceable, this provision may increase the cost to us of terminating the management agreement and adversely affect our ability to terminate the management agreement without cause.
Our Manager may terminate our management agreement, which could materially adversely affect our business.
Our Manager may terminate the management agreement if we become required to register as an investment company under the Investment Company Act with termination deemed to occur immediately before such event, in which case we would not be required to pay a termination fee to our Manager. Our Manager may decline to renew the management agreement by providing us with 180 days’ written notice, in which case we would not be required to pay a termination fee to our Manager. Our Manager may also terminate the management agreement upon at least 60 days’ prior written notice if we default in the performance of any material term of the management agreement and the default continues for a period of 30 days after written notice to us, whereupon we would be required to pay to our Manager the termination fee described above. If the management agreement is terminated and no suitable replacement is found to manage us, we may not be able to execute our business plan.
Depository institutions that finance our investments may require that AG REIT Management, LLC remain as our Manager under the management agreement and that certain key personnel of our Manager continue to service our business. If AG REIT Management, LLC ceases to be our Manager or one or more of our Manager’s key personnel are no longer servicing our business, it may constitute an event of default, and the depository institution providing the arrangement may have acceleration rights with respect to outstanding borrowings and termination rights with respect to our ability to finance our future investments with that institution. If we are unable to obtain financing for our accelerated borrowings and for our future investments under such circumstances, we may be required to curtail our asset acquisitions and/or dispose of assets at an inopportune time.
We have engaged Red Creek Asset Management LLC, an affiliate of our Manager (the "Asset Manager") to manage certain of our residential mortgage loans. The terms of the asset management agreement with the Asset Manager may not be as favorable to us as if the agreement was negotiated with unaffiliated third-parties.
In connection with our investments in Non-QM Loans, residential mortgage loans, and Re/Non-Performing Loans, we engage asset managers to provide advisory, consultation, asset management and other services to help our third-party servicers formulate and implement strategic plans to manage, collect and dispose of loans in a manner that is reasonably expected to maximize the amount of proceeds from each loan. We engaged the Asset Manager, a related party of the Manager and direct subsidiary of Angelo Gordon, as the asset manager for certain of our Non-QM Loans, residential mortgage loans and Re/Non-Performing Loans. We pay separate arm’s-length asset management fees as assessed and confirmed by a third-party valuation firm for (i) Non-QM Loans, (ii) non-performing loans and (iii) re-performing loans, in each case, to the Asset Manager. The asset management agreement was negotiated between related parties, and we did not have the benefit of arm’s-length negotiations as we normally would with unaffiliated third-parties. As such, the terms may not be as favorable to us as they otherwise might have been.
Risks Related to Taxation
Our failure to qualify as a REIT would result in higher taxes and reduced cash available for distribution to our stockholders.
We operate in a manner that is intended to qualify us as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes. However, the U.S. federal income tax laws governing REITs are complex, and interpretations of such laws are limited. Maintaining our qualification as a REIT requires us to meet various tests regarding the nature of our assets and our income, the ownership of our outstanding stock, and the amount of our distributions on an ongoing basis.
Our ability to satisfy the asset tests depends upon the characterization and fair values of our assets, some of which are not susceptible to a precise determination and for which we will not obtain independent appraisals. Our compliance with the annual REIT income and quarterly asset requirements also depends upon our ability to successfully manage the composition of our income and assets on an ongoing basis. Although we intend to operate so that we will maintain our qualification as a REIT, no assurance can be given that we will so qualify for any particular year.
We also own an interest in an entity that has elected to be taxed as a REIT under the U.S. federal income tax laws, or a "Subsidiary REIT." The Subsidiary REIT is subject to the same REIT requirements that are applicable to us. If the Subsidiary REIT were to fail to qualify as a REIT, then (i) that Subsidiary REIT would become subject to regular U.S. federal, state and local corporate income tax, (ii) our interest in such Subsidiary REIT would cease to be a qualifying asset for purposes of the REIT asset tests, and (iii) it is possible that we would fail certain of the REIT asset tests, in which event we also would fail to qualify as a REIT unless we could avail ourselves of certain relief provisions. While we believe that the Subsidiary REIT has qualified as a REIT under the Code, we have joined the Subsidiary REIT in filing a "protective" TRS election under Section 856(l) of the Code. We cannot assure you that such "protective" TRS election would be effective to avoid adverse consequences to us. Moreover, even if the "protective" election were to be effective, we cannot assure you that we would not fail to satisfy the requirement that not more than 20% of the value of our total assets may be represented by the securities of one or more taxable REIT subsidiaries ("TRS").
If we fail to qualify as a REIT in any calendar year, we would be required to pay U.S. federal income tax on our taxable income at regular corporate rates, and dividends paid to our stockholders would not be deductible by us in computing our taxable income. Further, if we fail to qualify as a REIT, we might need to borrow money or sell assets in order to pay any resulting tax. Our payment of income tax would decrease the amount of our income available for distribution to our stockholders. Furthermore, if we fail to maintain our qualification as a REIT, we no longer would be required to distribute substantially all of our REIT taxable income to our stockholders. Unless our failure to qualify as a REIT was subject to relief under U.S. federal income tax laws, we could not re-elect to qualify as a REIT for four taxable years following the year in which we failed to qualify.
Complying with the REIT requirements can be difficult and may cause us to be forced to liquidate assets or to forego otherwise attractive opportunities.
To qualify 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 we distribute to our stockholders and the ownership of our shares. If we are compelled to liquidate our investments to repay obligations to our lenders, we may be unable to comply with these requirements, ultimately jeopardizing our qualification as a REIT, or we may be subject to a 100% tax on any resultant gain if we sell assets that are treated as dealer property or inventory. We may be required to make distributions to our stockholders at disadvantageous times or when we do not have funds readily available for distribution, and may be unable to pursue otherwise attractive investments in order to satisfy the source-of-income or asset-diversification requirements for qualifying as a REIT. Thus, compliance with the REIT requirements may hinder our ability to operate solely on the basis of maximizing profits.
The REIT distribution requirements could adversely affect our ability to execute our business strategies.
We generally must distribute annually at least 90% of our net taxable income, excluding any net capital gain, in order for corporate income tax not to apply to earnings that we distribute. 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 corporate income tax, and may be subject to state and local income tax on our undistributed taxable income. In addition, we will be subject to a 4% nondeductible excise tax if the actual amount that we pay out to our stockholders in a calendar year is less than a minimum amount specified under U.S. federal income tax laws. We intend to make distributions to our stockholders to comply with the requirements of the Code and to avoid paying corporate income tax. However, differences in timing between the recognition of taxable income and the actual receipt of cash could require us to sell assets or borrow funds on a short-term or long-term basis to meet the distribution requirements of the Code.
We may find it difficult or impossible to meet distribution requirements in certain circumstances. Due to the nature of the assets in which we invest, we may be required to recognize taxable income from those assets in advance of our receipt of cash flow on or proceeds from disposition of such assets. For example, we may be required to accrue interest and discount income on mortgage loans, mortgage-backed securities, and other types of debt securities or interests in debt securities before we receive any payment of interest or principal on such assets. We may also acquire distressed debt investments that may be subsequently modified by agreement with the borrower. If the amendments to the outstanding debt are "significant modifications" under the applicable Treasury regulations, the modified debt may be considered to have been reissued to us at a gain in a debt-for-debt exchange with the borrower, with gain recognized by us to the extent that the principal amount of the modified debt exceeds our cost of purchasing it prior to modification. Finally, we may be required under the terms of indebtedness that we incur to use cash received from interest payments to make principal payments on that indebtedness, with the effect of recognizing income but not having a corresponding amount of cash available for distribution to our stockholders.
As a result, to the extent such income is not recognized within a domestic TRS, the requirement to distribute a substantial portion of our net taxable income could cause us to: (i) sell assets in adverse market conditions, (ii) borrow on unfavorable terms, (iii) distribute amounts that would otherwise be invested in future acquisitions, capital expenditures or repayment of debt or (iv) make a taxable distribution of our shares as part of a distribution in which stockholders may elect to receive shares or (subject to a limit measured as a percentage of the total distribution) cash, in order to comply with REIT requirements. Moreover, if our only feasible alternative were to make a taxable distribution of our shares to comply with the REIT distribution requirements for any taxable year and the value of our shares was not sufficient at such time to make a distribution to our stockholders in an amount at least equal to the minimum amount required to comply with such REIT distribution requirements, we would generally fail to qualify as a REIT for such taxable year and would be precluded from being taxed as a REIT for the four taxable years following the year during which we ceased to qualify as a REIT.
Even if we qualify as a REIT, we may face tax liabilities that reduce our cash flow.
Even if we qualify for taxation as a REIT, we may be subject to certain U.S. federal, state and local taxes on our income and assets, including taxes on any undistributed income, tax on income from certain activities conducted as a result of a foreclosure, and state or local income, property and transfer taxes, such as mortgage recording taxes. In addition, in order to meet the REIT qualification requirements, or to avert the imposition of a 100% tax that applies to certain gains derived by a REIT from dealer property or inventory, we may hold certain assets through, and derive a significant portion of our taxable income and gains in, TRSs. Such subsidiaries are subject to corporate level income tax at regular rates. Any of these taxes would decrease cash available for distribution to our stockholders.
The failure of assets subject to repurchase agreements to be treated as owned by us for U.S. federal income tax purposes could adversely affect our ability to qualify as a REIT.
We have entered and may in the future enter into repurchase agreements 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 which are secured by the assets sold pursuant thereto. We believe that we are 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 agreements 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 qualify as a REIT.
Our ownership of and relationship with our TRSs will be limited, and a failure to comply with the limits would jeopardize our REIT status and may result in the application of a 100% excise tax.
A REIT may own up to 100% of the stock of one or more TRSs. A TRS may earn income that would not be qualifying income if earned directly by the parent REIT. Both the subsidiary and the REIT must jointly elect to treat the subsidiary as a TRS. A corporation (other than a REIT) of which a TRS directly or indirectly owns more than 35% of the voting power or value of the stock will automatically be treated as a TRS. Overall, no more than 20% of the value of a REIT's total assets may consist of stock or securities of one or more TRSs. A domestic TRS will pay federal, state and local income tax at regular corporate rates on any income that it earns. In addition, the TRS rules limit the deductibility of interest paid or accrued by a TRS to its parent REIT to assure that the TRS is subject to an appropriate level of corporate taxation, and in certain circumstances, the ability of our TRSs to deduct net business interest expenses generally may be limited. The rules also impose a 100% excise tax on certain transactions between a TRS and its parent REIT that are not conducted on an arm's-length basis.
Uncertainty exists with respect to the treatment of TBAs for purposes of the REIT asset and income tests.
We have purchased and sold and may in the future purchase and sell Agency RMBS through TBAs and have recognized and may in the future recognize income or gains from the disposition of those TBAs, through dollar roll transactions or otherwise. While there is no direct authority with respect to the qualification of TBAs as real estate assets or U.S. Government securities for purposes of the REIT 75% asset test or the qualification of income or gains from dispositions of TBAs as gains from the sale of real property or other qualifying income for purposes of the REIT 75% gross income test, we treat our TBAs under which we contract to purchase a to-be-announced Agency RMBS ("long TBAs") as qualifying assets for purposes of the REIT 75% asset test, and we treat income and gains from our long TBAs as qualifying income for purposes of the REIT 75% gross income test, based on a legal opinion of counsel substantially to the effect that (i) for purposes of the REIT asset tests, our ownership of a long TBA should be treated as ownership of real estate assets, and (ii) for purposes of the REIT 75% gross income test, any gain recognized by us in connection with the settlement of our long TBAs should be treated as gain from the sale or disposition of an interest in mortgages on real property. Opinions of counsel are not binding on the IRS, and no
assurance can be given that the IRS will not successfully challenge the conclusions set forth in such opinions. In addition, it must be emphasized that the opinion of counsel is based on various assumptions relating to our TBAs and is conditioned upon fact-based representations and covenants made by our Manager regarding our TBAs. No assurance can be given that the IRS would not assert that such assets or income are not qualifying assets or income. If the IRS were to successfully challenge the opinion of counsel, we could be subject to a penalty tax or we could fail to remain qualified as a REIT if a sufficient portion of our assets consists of TBAs or a sufficient portion of our income consists of income or gains from the disposition of TBAs.
New legislation or administrative or judicial action, in each instance potentially with retroactive effect, could make it more difficult or impossible for us to qualify as a REIT.
The present U.S. federal income tax treatment of REITs 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 our stock. The U.S. federal tax rules that affect REITs are under review constantly 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 Treasury regulations and interpretations. Revisions in U.S. federal tax laws and interpretations thereof could cause us to change our investments, commitments and strategies, which could also affect the tax considerations of an investment in our stock.
Complying with the REIT requirements may limit our ability to hedge effectively.
The REIT provisions of the Code may limit our ability to hedge our assets and operations. Under current law, any income that we generate from transactions intended to hedge our interest rate, inflation or currency risks will be excluded from gross income for purposes of the REIT 75% and 95% gross income tests if (i) the instrument hedges risk of interest rate or currency fluctuations on indebtedness incurred or to be incurred to carry or acquire real estate assets, (ii) the instrument hedges risk of currency fluctuations with respect to any item of income or gain that would be qualifying income under the REIT 75% or 95% gross income tests, or (iii) the instrument was entered into to "offset" certain instruments described in clauses (i) or (ii) of this sentence and certain other requirements are satisfied and such instrument is properly identified under applicable Treasury Regulations. Income from hedging transactions that do not meet these requirements may constitute nonqualifying income for purposes of both the REIT 75% and 95% gross income tests. As a result of these rules, we may have to limit our use of hedging techniques that might otherwise be advantageous to us and could result in greater risks associated with interest rate fluctuations or other changes than we would otherwise be able to mitigate.
Certain financing activities may subject us to U.S. federal income tax and could have negative tax consequences for our stockholders.
We may enter into securitization transactions and other financing transactions that could result in us, or a portion of our assets, being treated as a taxable mortgage pool for U.S. federal income tax purposes. If we enter into such a transaction in the future, we could be taxable at the highest corporate income tax rate on a portion of the income arising from a taxable mortgage pool, referred to as "excess inclusion income," that is allocable to the percentage of our shares held in record name by disqualified organizations (generally tax-exempt entities that are exempt from the tax on unrelated business taxable income, such as state pension plans and charitable remainder trusts and government entities). In that case, we could reduce distributions to such stockholders by the amount of tax paid by us that is attributable to such stockholder's ownership.
If we were to realize excess inclusion income, IRS guidance indicates that the excess inclusion income would be allocated among our stockholders in proportion to the dividends paid. Excess inclusion income cannot be offset by losses of a stockholder. If the stockholder is a tax-exempt entity and not a disqualified organization, then this income would be fully taxable as unrelated business taxable income under Section 512 of the Code. If the stockholder is a foreign person, it would be subject to U.S. federal income tax at the maximum tax rate and withholding will be required on this income without reduction or exemption pursuant to any otherwise applicable income tax treaty.
Our ability to make cash distributions to our stockholders may be adversely affected by COVID-19.
We are generally required to distribute to our stockholders at least 90% of our REIT taxable income (excluding net capital gain and without regard to the deduction for dividends paid) each year for us to qualify as a REIT under the Code, which requirement we have historically satisfied through quarterly distributions of all or substantially all of our REIT taxable income in such year, subject to certain adjustments. Under IRS guidance, “publicly offered” REITs (i.e., REITs required to file annual and periodic reports with the SEC under the Exchange Act) are also permitted to make elective cash/stock dividends (i.e., dividends paid in a mixture of stock and cash), with a minimum percentage of the total distribution being paid in cash, to satisfy their REIT distribution requirements. 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 U.S. federal
income tax purposes. As a result, common stockholders may be required to pay income taxes with respect to such dividends in excess of cash received. If a U.S. stockholder sells the common stock that it receives as a dividend in order to pay this tax, the sale proceeds may be less than the amount included in income with respect to the dividend, depending on the market price of our common stock at the time of the sale. Furthermore, with respect to certain non-U.S. stockholders, we or the applicable withholding agent may be required to withhold U.S. tax with respect to such dividends, including in respect of all or a portion of such dividend that is payable in common 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 dividends, it may put downward pressure on the trading price of our
The tax on prohibited transactions will 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 with no offset for losses. 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 dispose of or securitize loans in a manner that was treated as a sale of the loans, if we frequently buy and sell securities or open and close TBA contracts in a manner that is treated as dealer activity with respect to such securities or contracts for U.S. federal income tax purposes. Therefore, in order 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 may limit the structures we utilize for our securitization transactions, even though the sales or structures might otherwise be beneficial to us.
The share ownership limits applicable to us that are imposed by the Code for REITs, and our charter may restrict our business combination opportunities.
In order for us to maintain our qualification as a REIT under the Code, not more than 50% in value of our outstanding shares may be owned, directly or indirectly, by five or fewer individuals (as defined in the Code to include certain entities) at any time during the last half of each taxable year after our first taxable year. Our charter, with certain exceptions, authorizes our Board of Directors to take the actions that are necessary or appropriate to preserve our qualification as a REIT. Under our charter, no person may own, directly or indirectly, (i) more than 9.8% in value or in number of shares, whichever is more restrictive, of our outstanding common stock or (ii) more than 9.8% in value or in number of shares, whichever is more restrictive, of our outstanding capital stock. However, our Board of Directors may, in its sole discretion, grant an exemption to the share ownership limits (prospectively or retrospectively), subject to certain conditions and the receipt by our board of certain representations and undertakings. The share ownership limit is based upon direct or indirect ownership by "persons," which is defined to include entities and certain groups of stockholders. Our share ownership limits might delay or prevent a transaction or a change in our control that might involve a premium price for our common stock or otherwise be in the best interests of our stockholders.
The constructive ownership rules contained in our charter are complex and may cause the outstanding shares owned by a group of related individuals or entities to be deemed to be constructively owned by one individual or entity. As a result, the acquisition of less than these percentages of the outstanding shares by an individual or entity could cause that individual or entity to own constructively in excess of these percentages of the outstanding shares and thus violate the share ownership limits. Any attempt to own or transfer our common stock or preferred shares in excess of the share ownership limits without the consent of our Board of Directors or in a manner that would cause us to be "closely held" under Section 856(h) of the Code (without regard to whether the shares are held during the last half of a taxable year) will result in the shares being deemed to be transferred to a director for a charitable trust or, if the transfer to the charitable trust is not automatically effective to prevent a violation of the share ownership limits or the restrictions on ownership and transfer of our shares, any such transfer of our shares will be void ab initio. Further, any transfer of our shares that would result in our shares being held by fewer than 100 persons will be void ab initio.
Risks Related to our Organization and Structure
Loss of our exemption from regulation under the Investment Company Act would negatively affect the value of shares of our common stock and our ability to distribute cash to our stockholders.
We conduct our operations so that we maintain an exemption from the Investment Company Act. Under Section 3(a)(1)(A) of the Investment Company Act, a company is an investment company if it is, or holds itself out as being, engaged primarily, or proposes to engage primarily, in the business of investing, reinvesting or trading in securities. Under Section 3(a)(1)(C) of the Investment Company Act, a company is deemed to be an investment company if it 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 its total assets (exclusive of U.S. government securities and cash items) on an unconsolidated basis (the "40% test"). "Investment securities" do not include, among other things, U.S. government securities, and securities issued by majority-owned subsidiaries that (i) are not investment companies and (ii) are not relying on the exceptions from the definition of investment company provided by Section 3(c)(1) or 3(c)(7) of the Investment Company Act (the so called "private investment company" exemptions). We believe that we are not an investment company as defined in Section 3(a)(1)(A) or 3(a)(1)(C).
The operations of many of our wholly-owned or majority-owned subsidiaries are generally conducted so that they are exempted from investment company status in reliance upon Section 3(c)(5)(C) of the Investment Company Act. Our interests in those subsidiaries do not constitute "investment securities" for purposes of Section 3(a)(1)(C). Section 3(c)(5)(C) exempts from the definition of "investment company" entities primarily engaged in the business of purchasing or otherwise acquiring mortgages and other liens on and interests in real estate. The staff of the the SEC generally requires an entity relying on Section 3(c)(5)(C) to invest at least 55% of its portfolio in "qualifying assets" (the “55% test”) and at least another 25% in additional qualifying assets or in "real estate-related" assets (the “80% test”) (with no more than 20% comprised of miscellaneous assets). To the extent that our direct subsidiaries qualify only for either Section 3(c)(1) or 3(c)(7) exemptions from the Investment Company Act, we limit our holdings in those kinds of entities so that, together with other investment securities, we satisfy the 40% test. Although we continuously monitor our and our subsidiaries’ portfolios on an ongoing basis to determine compliance with that test, there can be no assurance that we will be able to maintain the exemptions from registration for us and each of our subsidiaries.
The method we use to classify our and our subsidiaries’ assets for purposes of the Investment Company Act is based in large measure upon no-action positions taken by the SEC staff. These no-action positions were issued in accordance with factual situations that may be substantially different from the factual situations we may face, and a number of these no-action positions were issued decades ago. No assurance can be given that the SEC or its staff will concur with our classification of our or our subsidiaries’ assets. In August 2011, the SEC solicited public comment on a wide range of issues relating to Section 3(c)(5)(C), including the nature of the assets that qualify for purposes of the exemption and leverage used by mortgage-related vehicles. There can be no assurance that the laws and regulations governing the Investment Company Act status of companies primarily owning real estate-related assets, including more specific or different guidance regarding these exemptions from the SEC, will not change in a manner that adversely affects our operations. To the extent of such additional guidance regarding Section 3(c)(5)(C) or any of the other matters bearing upon the definition of investment company and the exceptions to that definition, we may be required to adjust our investment strategy accordingly.
Qualification for exemption from the definition of an investment company under the Investment Company Act limits our ability to make certain investments. For example, these restrictions limit our and our subsidiaries’ ability to invest directly in mortgage-related securities that represent less than the entire ownership in a pool of mortgage loans, debt and equity tranches of securitizations, certain real estate companies or assets not related to real estate. If we fail to qualify for these exemptions, or the SEC determines that companies that invest in RMBS are no longer able to rely on these exemptions, we could be required to restructure our activities in a manner that, or at a time when, we would not otherwise choose to do so, or we may be required to register as an investment company under the Investment Company Act. Either of these outcomes could negatively affect the value of shares of our stock and our ability to make distributions to our stockholders.
If we were required to register with the CFTC as a Commodity Pool Operator, it could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or the CFTC, was given jurisdiction over the regulation of swaps. Under rules implemented by the CFTC, companies that utilize swaps as part of their business model, including many mortgage REITs, may be deemed to fall within the statutory definition of Commodity Pool Operator, or CPO, and, absent relief from the CFTC’s Division of Swap Dealer and Intermediary Oversight, may be required to register with the CFTC as a CPO. As a result of numerous requests for no-action relief from CPO registration, in December 2012 the CFTC issued no-action relief entitled "No-Action Relief from the Commodity Pool Operator Registration Requirement for Commodity Pool Operators of Certain Pooled Investment Vehicles Organized as Mortgage Real Estate Investment Trusts," which permits a CPO to receive relief from registration requirements by filing a claim stating that the CPO meets the criteria specified in the no-action letter. We submitted a claim for relief within the required time period and believe we meet the criteria for such relief. There can be no assurance, however, that the CFTC will not modify or withdraw the no-action letter in the future or that we will be able to continue to satisfy the criteria specified in the no-action letter in order to qualify for relief from CPO registration. If we were required to register as a CPO in the future or change our business model to ensure that we can continue to satisfy the requirements of the no-action relief, it could materially and adversely affect our financial condition, our results of operations and our ability to operate our business.
Certain provisions of Maryland law could inhibit a change in our control.
Certain provisions of the Maryland General Corporation Law, or the MGCL, may have the effect of inhibiting a third-party from making a proposal to acquire us or of impeding a change in our control under circumstances that otherwise could provide the holders of our common stock with the opportunity to realize a premium over the then prevailing market price of such shares.
•We are subject to the "business combination" provisions of the MGCL 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 then outstanding voting shares or an affiliate or associate of ours who, at any time within the two-year period prior to the date in question, was the beneficial owner of 10% or more of the voting power of our then outstanding voting shares) or an affiliate thereof for five years after the most recent date on which the stockholder becomes an interested stockholder and, thereafter, imposes special stockholder voting requirements to approve these combinations unless the consideration being received by common stockholders satisfies certain conditions. Pursuant to the statute, our Board of Directors has, by resolution, exempted business combinations between us and any other person, provided that the business combination is first approved by our Board of Directors. This resolution, however, may be altered or repealed in whole or in part at any time. The "control share" provisions of the MGCL provide that a holder of "control shares" of a Maryland corporation (defined as shares which, when aggregated with all other shares controlled by the stockholder, entitle the stockholder to exercise one of three increasing ranges of voting power in the election of directors) acquired in a "control share acquisition" (defined as the acquisition of "control shares," subject to certain exceptions) has no voting rights with respect to those shares 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 votes entitled to be cast by the acquirer of control shares, and by our officers and our directors who are also our employees. Our bylaws contain a provision exempting from the control share acquisition statute any and all acquisitions by any person of our shares. There can be no assurance that this provision will not be amended or eliminated in the future.
•The "unsolicited takeover" provisions of the MGCL permit our Board of Directors, without stockholder approval and regardless of what is currently provided in our charter or bylaws, to implement certain takeover defenses, such as a classified board, some of which we do not yet have.
Our rights and the rights of our stockholders to take action against our directors and officers are limited, which could limit your recourse in the event of actions taken not in your best interest.
Our charter limits the liability of our present and former directors and officers to us and to our stockholders for money damages to the maximum extent permitted under Maryland law. Under current Maryland law, our present and former directors and officers will not have any liability to us or our stockholders for money damages other than liability resulting from:
•actual receipt of an improper benefit or profit in money, property or services; or
•active and deliberate dishonesty by the director or officer that was established by a final judgment as being material to the cause of action.
Our charter authorizes us, and our bylaws require us, to indemnify, and advance expenses to, each present and former director or officer, to the maximum extent permitted by Maryland law, in the defense of any proceeding to which he or she is made, or threatened to be made, a party by reason of his or her service to us. As a result, we and our stockholders may have more limited rights against our present and former directors and officers than might otherwise exist absent the current provisions in our charter and bylaws or that might exist with other companies.
Risks Related to U.S. Government Programs
The federal conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and related efforts, along with any changes in laws and regulations affecting the relationship between these agencies and the U.S. government, may adversely affect our business.
The payments we receive on the Agency RMBS in which we invest depend upon a steady stream of payments on the mortgages underlying the securities and are guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. In 2008 Congress and the U.S. Treasury undertook a series of actions to stabilize financial markets, generally, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in particular. On September 7, 2008, in response to the deterioration in the financial condition of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the FHFA placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship, which is a statutory process pursuant to which the FHFA operates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as conservator in an effort to stabilize the entities. The appointment of the FHFA as conservator of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac allows the FHFA to control the actions of the two GSEs.
Shortly after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed in federal conservatorship, the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, noted that the guarantee structure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac required examination and that changes in the structures of the entities were necessary to reduce risk to the financial system. The future roles of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could be significantly reduced and the nature of their guarantees could be eliminated or considerably limited relative to historical measurements. Any changes to the nature of the guarantees provided by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could redefine what constitutes Agency RMBS and could have broad adverse market implications as well as negatively impact our liquidity, financing rates, net income, and book value.
The problems faced by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that resulted in their being placed into federal conservatorship have stirred debate among some federal policy makers regarding the continued role of the U.S. Government in providing liquidity for the residential mortgage market. The gradual recovery of the housing market has made Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac profitable again and increased the uncertainty about their futures. If federal policy makers decide that the U.S. Government’s role in providing liquidity for the residential mortgage market should be reduced or eliminated, each of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could be dissolved and the U.S. Government could decide to stop providing liquidity support of any kind to the mortgage market. If Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac were eliminated, or their structures were to change radically, the amount and type of Agency RMBS available for investment would drastically reduce, affecting our ability to acquire Agency RMBS.
Our income could be negatively affected in a number of ways depending on the manner in which related events unfold. For example, the continued backing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by the U.S. Treasury and any additional credit support it may provide in the future to the GSEs (as defined below) could have the effect of lowering the interest rate we receive from Agency RMBS, thereby tightening the spread between the interest we earn on our Agency RMBS portfolio and our cost of financing that portfolio. A reduction in the supply of Agency RMBS could also increase the prices of Agency RMBS we seek to acquire thereby reducing the spread between the interest we earn on our portfolio of targeted assets and our cost of financing that portfolio.
Any new law affecting these GSEs may exacerbate 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. It is also 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 adversely affect the pricing, supply, liquidity and value of our target assets and otherwise materially adversely affect our business, operations and financial condition.
The recent U.S. elections may result in changes in federal policy with significant impacts on the legal and regulatory framework affecting the mortgage industry. These changes, including personnel changes at the applicable regulatory agencies, may alter the nature and scope of oversight affecting the mortgage finance industry generally (particularly with respect to the future role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).
We are subject to the risk that agencies of and entities sponsored by the U.S. government may not be able to fully satisfy their guarantees of Agency RMBS or that these guarantee obligations may be repudiated, which may adversely affect the value of our investment portfolio and our ability to sell or finance these securities.
The interest and principal payments we receive on the Agency RMBS in which we invest are guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or Ginnie Mae. Unlike the Ginnie Mae certificates in which we may invest, the principal and interest on securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not guaranteed by the U.S. government. All the Agency RMBS in which we invest depend on a steady stream of payments on the mortgages underlying the securities.
As conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Finance Agency ("FHFA") may disaffirm or repudiate (subject to certain limitations for qualified financial contracts) contracts that Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae entered into prior to the FHFA’s appointment as conservator if it determines, in its sole discretion, that performance of the contract is burdensome and that disaffirmation or repudiation of the contract promotes the orderly administration of its affairs. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, or HERA, requires the FHFA to exercise its right to disaffirm or repudiate most contracts within a reasonable period of time after its appointment as conservator. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have disclosed that the FHFA has disaffirmed certain consulting and other contracts that these entities entered into prior to the FHFA’s appointment as conservator. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have also disclosed that the FHFA has advised that it does not intend to repudiate any guarantee obligation relating to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s mortgage-related securities, because the FHFA views repudiation as incompatible with the goals of the conservatorship. In addition, HERA provides that mortgage loans and mortgage-related assets that have been transferred to a Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae securitization trust must be held for the beneficial owners of the related mortgage-related securities and cannot be used to satisfy the general creditors of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.
If the guarantee obligations of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae were repudiated by the FHFA, payments of principal and/or interest to holders of Agency RMBS issued by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae would be reduced in the event of any borrowers’ late payments or failure to pay or a servicer’s failure to remit borrower payments to the trust. In that case, trust administration and servicing fees could be paid from mortgage payments prior to distributions to holders of Agency RMBS. Any actual direct compensatory damages owed due to the repudiation of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae’s guarantee obligations may not be sufficient to offset any shortfalls experienced by holders of Agency RMBS. The FHFA also has the right to transfer or sell any asset or liability of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, including its guarantee obligation, without any approval, assignment or consent. If the FHFA were to transfer Freddie Mac's or Fannie Mae’s guarantee obligations to another party, holders of Agency RMBS would have to rely on that party for satisfaction of the guarantee obligation and would be exposed to the credit risk of that party. If the new party does not guarantee these Agency RMBS, we are subject to credit loss on the Agency RMBS which could negatively affect liquidity, net income and book value.
The implementation of the Single Security Initiative may adversely affect our results and financial condition.
The Single Security Initiative is a joint initiative of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises), under the direction of the FHFA, the Enterprises’ regulator and conservator, to develop a common security MBS issued by the Enterprises.
Our liquidity is typically reduced each month when we receive margin calls related to factor changes, and typically increased each month when we receive payment of principal and interest on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities. Legacy Freddie Mac securities pay principal and interest earlier in the month than Fannie Mae and Uniform Mortgage Backed Securities ("UMBS"), meaning that legacy Freddie Mac positions reduce the period of time between meeting factor-related margin calls and receiving principal and interest. The percentage of legacy Freddie Mac positions in the market and in our portfolio will likely decrease over time as those securities are converted to UMBS or pay off.
In November of 2019, the FHFA released a Request For Input regarding pooling practices and other topics relating to aligning the prepayment speeds of UMBS issued by each of the Enterprises. There is no certainty about what, if any, change may result from the Request For Input. Some of the proposals described in the Request For Input, if implemented, could negatively impact the Agency RMBS market and could make it more difficult for us to comply with our Investment Company Act exemption.
Mortgage loan modification and refinancing programs may adversely affect the value of, and our returns on, mortgage-backed securities and residential mortgage loans.
The U.S. government, through the Federal Reserve, the Federal Housing Administration ("FHA"), the FHFA and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC"), has implemented a number of federal programs designed to assist homeowners, including the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, which provides homeowners with assistance in avoiding residential mortgage loan foreclosures, and the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, which allows borrowers who are current on their mortgage payments to refinance and reduce their monthly mortgage payments at loan-to-value ratios up to 125% without new mortgage insurance. Similar modification programs are also offered by several large non-GSE financial institutions.
HAMP, HARP and other loss mitigation programs 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. Non-Agency RMBS and residential mortgage loan yields and cash flows could particularly be negatively impacted by a significant number of loan modifications with respect to a given security or residential mortgage loan pool, including, but not limited to, those related to principal forgiveness and coupon reduction. These loan modification, loss mitigation and refinance programs may adversely affect the value of, and the returns on, mortgage-backed securities and residential mortgage loans that we own or may purchase.
In addition, the CARES Act includes programs related to mortgage loan forbearance and loan modification to qualifying borrowers who have difficulty making their loan payments, and the FHA and FHFA have implemented a number of federal programs designed to assist homeowners, including foreclosure moratoriums. It is anticipated that as a result of financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, borrowers will continue to request forbearance or other relief with respect to their mortgage payments. Further, across the country, moratoriums are in place in certain states to stop evictions and foreclosures in an effort to lessen the financial burden created by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is anticipated that other forbearance programs, foreclosure moratoriums or other programs or mandates will be imposed or extended, including those that will impact mortgage related assets. These forbearance and foreclosure moratorium programs may adversely affect the value of, and the returns on, mortgage-backed securities and residential mortgage loans that we own or may purchase.