SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2012
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the transition period from to
Commission file number 001-34569
Ellington Financial LLC
(Exact Name of Registrant as Specified in Its Charter)
(State or Other Jurisdiction of Incorporation or Organization)
(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)
53 Forest Avenue, Old Greenwich, Connecticut
(Address of Principal Executive Office)
(Registrant’s Telephone Number, Including Area Code)
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Name of each exchange on which registered
Common shares representing limited liability company interests, no par value
New York Stock Exchange
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes ¨ No x
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Exchange Act. Yes ¨ No x
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes x No ¨
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically and posted on its corporate Web site, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit and post such files). Yes x No ¨
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will no be contained to the best of the registrant's knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part II of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K. x
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or a smaller reporting company. See definitions of “large accelerated filers” “accelerated filer” and “smaller reporting company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large Accelerated Filer
Smaller Reporting Company
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes ¨ No x
As of June 29, 2012, the last business day of the Registrant's most recently completed second fiscal quarter, the aggregate market value of the registrant's common shares held by non-affiliates was $280,976,784 based on the closing price as reported on the New York Stock Exchange on that date.
Number of the registrant's common shares outstanding as of March 8, 2013: 20,403,723
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
Portions of the registrant's definitive Proxy Statement with respect to its 2013 Annual Meeting of Shareholders to be filed not later than 120 days after the end of the registrant's fiscal year are incorporated by reference into Part III hereof as noted therein.
ELLINGTON FINANCIAL LLC
Item 1. Business
Except where the context suggests otherwise, “EFC,” “we,” “us,” and “our” refer to Ellington Financial LLC and its subsidiaries, our “Manager” refers to Ellington Financial Management LLC, our external manager, and “Ellington” refers to Ellington Management Group, L.L.C. and its affiliated investment advisory firms, including our Manager, and “Manager Group” refers collectively to Ellington and its principals (including family trusts established by its principals) and entities in which 100% of the interests are beneficially owned by the foregoing. In certain instances, references to our Manager and services to be provided to us by our Manager may also include services provided by Ellington and its other affiliates from time to time.
Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements
When used in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, in future filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) or in press releases or other written or oral communications, statements which are not historical in nature, including those containing words such as “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “estimate,” “project,” “plan,” “continue,” “intend,” “should,” “would,” “could,” “goal,” “objective,” “will,” “may,” “seek,” or similar expressions, are intended to identify “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, and, as such, may involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties, and assumptions.
Forward-looking statements are based on our beliefs, assumptions, and expectations of our future performance, taking into account all information currently available to us. These beliefs, assumptions, and expectations are subject to risks and uncertainties and can change as a result of many possible events or factors, not all of which are known to us. If a change occurs, our business, financial condition, liquidity, and results of operations may vary materially from those expressed or implied in our forward-looking statements. The following factors are examples of those that could cause actual results to vary from our forward-looking statements: changes in interest rates and the market value of our securities; market volatility; changes in the prepayment rates on the mortgage loans underlying our agency securities; increased rates of default and/or decreased recovery rates on our assets; our ability to borrow to finance our assets; changes in government regulations affecting our business; our ability to maintain our exemption from registration under the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended (the “Investment Company Act”); and risks associated with investing in real estate assets, including changes in business conditions and the general economy. These and other risks, uncertainties and factors, including the risk factors described under Item 1A of this Annual Report on Form 10-K, could cause our actual results to differ materially from those projected or implied in any forward-looking statements we make. All forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which they are made. New risks and uncertainties arise over time and it is not possible to predict those events or how they may affect us. Except as required by law, we are not obligated to, and do not intend to, update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise.
Ellington Financial LLC is a specialty finance company formed in August 2007 that specializes in acquiring and managing mortgage-related assets. Our primary objective is to generate attractive, risk-adjusted total returns for our shareholders by making investments that we believe compensate us appropriately for the risks associated with them. We seek to attain this objective by utilizing an opportunistic strategy. Our targeted assets currently include:
residential mortgage-backed securities, or “RMBS,” backed by prime jumbo, Alternative A-paper, or “Alt-A,” manufactured housing and subprime residential mortgage loans, or “non-Agency RMBS”;
RMBS for which the principal and interest payments are guaranteed by a U.S. Government agency or a U.S. Government-sponsored entity, or “Agency RMBS”;
commercial mortgage-backed securities, or “CMBS,” commercial mortgage loans and other commercial real estate debt;
Asset-backed securities, or “ABS,” backed by consumer and commercial assets;
corporate debt and equity securities and derivatives.
We also may opportunistically acquire and manage other types of mortgage-related assets and financial assets, such as residential whole mortgage loans, non-mortgage-related derivatives, and real property.
We believe that we have been organized and have operated so that we have qualified, and will continue to qualify, to be treated for U.S. federal income tax purposes as a partnership and not as an association or a publicly traded partnership taxable
as a corporation.
Effective January 1, 2013, we conduct all of our operations and business activities through Ellington Financial Operating Partnership LLC, our operating partnership subsidiary (the “Operating Partnership”). See Note 13 of the notes to our consolidated financial statements.
Our Manager and Ellington
We are externally managed and advised by our Manager, an affiliate of Ellington, pursuant to a management agreement. Our Manager was formed solely to serve as our manager and does not have any other clients. In addition, our Manager currently does not have any employees and instead relies on the employees of Ellington to perform its obligations to us. Ellington is an investment management firm and registered investment advisor with an 18-year history of investing in a broad spectrum of mortgage-backed securities, or “MBS,” and related derivatives.
The members of our management team include Michael Vranos, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ellington, who serves as our Co-Chief Investment Officer and a member of our Board of Directors; Laurence Penn, Vice Chairman of Ellington, who serves as our Chief Executive Officer and President and a member of our Board of Directors; Mark Tecotzky, a Managing Director of Ellington, who serves as our Co-Chief Investment Officer; Lisa Mumford, who serves as our dedicated Chief Financial Officer; and Daniel Margolis, General Counsel of Ellington, who serves as our Secretary. Each of these individuals is an officer of our Manager. We currently do not have any employees.
Our Manager is responsible for administering our business activities and day-to-day operations and, pursuant to a services agreement between our Manager and Ellington, relies on the resources of Ellington to support our operations. Ellington has established portfolio management resources for each of our targeted asset classes and an established infrastructure supporting those resources. Through our relationship with our Manager, we benefit from Ellington’s highly analytical investment processes, broad-based deal flow, extensive relationships in the financial community, financial and capital structuring skills, investment surveillance database, and operational expertise. Ellington’s analytic approach to the investment process involves collection of substantial amounts of data regarding historical performance of MBS collateral and MBS market transactions. Ellington analyzes this data to identify possible trends and develops financial models used to support the investment and risk management process. In addition, throughout Ellington’s 18-year history of investing in MBS and related derivatives, it has developed strong relationships with a wide range of dealers and other market participants that provide Ellington access to a broad range of trading opportunities and market information. In addition, our Manager provides us with access to a wide variety of asset acquisition and disposition opportunities and information that assist us in making asset management decisions across our targeted asset classes, which we believe provides us with a significant competitive advantage. We also benefit from Ellington’s finance, accounting, operational, legal, compliance, and administrative functions.
As of December 31, 2012, Ellington employed over 100 employees and had assets under management of approximately $4.9 billion, of which approximately $3.9 billion comprised our company and various alternative investment vehicles, including hedge funds and various private accounts, and of which approximately $1.1 billion comprised accounts with more traditional mandates.
We utilize an opportunistic strategy to seek to provide investors with attractive, risk-adjusted total returns by:
taking advantage of opportunities in the residential mortgage market by purchasing investment grade and non-investment grade non-Agency RMBS, including senior and subordinated securities;
acquiring Agency RMBS on a more leveraged basis in order to take advantage of opportunities in that market sector and assist us in maintaining our exclusion from regulation as an investment company under the Investment Company Act;
acquiring CMBS, commercial mortgage loans, and other commercial real estate debt instruments;
opportunistically entering into and managing a portfolio of mortgage-related derivatives;
opportunistically acquiring and managing other mortgage-related and financial assets, such as residential whole mortgage loans, ABS backed by consumer or commercial assets, and non-mortgage-related derivatives;
opportunistically acquiring real estate such as single and multi-family residential properties; and
opportunistically mitigating our credit and interest rate risk by using a variety of hedging instruments.
Our strategy is adaptable to changing market environments, subject to compliance with the income and other tests that will allow us to continue to be treated as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes and to maintain our exclusion from
regulation as an investment company under the Investment Company Act. As a result, although we focus on the assets described above, our acquisition and management decisions depend on prevailing market conditions and our targeted asset classes may vary over time in response to market conditions. We may engage in a high degree of trading volume as we implement our strategy. Our Manager is authorized to follow very broad investment guidelines and, as a result, we cannot predict our portfolio composition. We may change our strategy and policies without a vote of our shareholders. Moreover, although our independent directors periodically review our investment guidelines and our portfolio, they generally do not review our proposed asset acquisitions or asset management decisions.
Ellington’s investment philosophy revolves around the pursuit of value across various types of MBS and related assets. Ellington seeks investments across a wide range of MBS sectors without any restriction as to ratings, structure, or position in the capital structure. Over time and through market cycles, opportunities will present themselves in varying sectors and in varying forms. By rotating between and allocating among various sectors of the MBS markets and adjusting the extent to which it hedges, Ellington believes that it is able to capitalize on the disparities between these sectors as well as on overall trends in the marketplace, and therefore provide better and more consistent returns for its investors. Disparities between MBS sectors vary from time to time and are driven by a combination of factors. For example, as various MBS sectors fall in and out of favor, the relative yields that the market demands for those sectors may vary. In addition, Ellington’s performance projections for certain sectors may differ from those of other market participants and such disparities will naturally cause us, from time to time, to gravitate towards certain sectors and away from others. Disparities between MBS sectors may also be driven by differences in collateral performance (for example, subprime loans originated before 2005 have generally performed better than subprime loans originated between 2005 and 2007) and in the structure of particular investments (for example, in the timing of cash flow or the level of credit enhancement), and our Manager may believe that other market participants are overestimating or underestimating the value of these differences. Furthermore, we believe that risk management, including opportunistic portfolio hedging and prudent financing and liquidity management, is essential for consistent generation of attractive, risk-adjusted total returns across market cycles.
Ellington’s continued emphasis on and development of proprietary MBS credit, interest rate, and prepayment models, as well as other proprietary research and analytics, underscores the importance it places on a disciplined and analytical approach to fixed income investing, especially in MBS. Our Manager uses Ellington’s proprietary models to identify attractive assets, value these assets, monitor, and forecast the performance of these assets, and opportunistically hedge our credit and interest rate risk. We leverage these skills and resources to seek to meet our objectives.
We believe that our Manager is uniquely qualified to implement our strategy. Our strategy is consistent with Ellington’s investment approach, which is based on its distinctive strengths in sourcing, analyzing, trading, and hedging complex MBS. Furthermore, we believe that Ellington’s extensive experience in buying, selling, analyzing and structuring fixed income securities, coupled with its broad access to market information and trading flows, provides us with a steady flow of opportunities to acquire assets with favorable trade executions.
We also employ a wide variety of hedging instruments and derivative contracts. See “-Risk Management.”
Our Targeted Asset Classes
Our targeted asset classes currently include:
RMBS backed by prime jumbo, Alt-A, manufactured housing, and subprime mortgages;
RMBS backed by fixed rate mortgages, ARMs, Option-ARMs, and Hybrid ARMs;
RMBS backed by first lien and second lien mortgages;
Investment grade and non-investment grade securities;
Senior and subordinated securities; and
Interest only securities, or “IOs,” principal only securities, or “POs,” inverse interest only securities, or “IIOs,” and inverse floaters.
Whole pool pass-through certificates;
Partial pool pass-through certificates;
Agency collateralized mortgage obligations, or “CMOs,” including IOs; and
To-Be-Announced mortgage pass-through certificates, or “TBAs.”
Credit default swaps on individual RMBS, on the ABX, CMBX and PrimeX indices and on other mortgage-related indices; and
Other mortgage-related derivatives.
CMBS and Commercial Mortgage Loans
Commercial mortgages and other commercial real estate debt.
Corporate Debt and Equity Securities and Derivatives
Credit default swaps on corporations or on corporate indices;
Corporate debt or equity securities; and
Options or total return swaps on corporate equity or on corporate equity indices.
Residential whole mortgage loans;
ABS backed by consumer or commercial assets, including collateralized debt obligations, or “CDOs,” and collateralized loan obligations, or “CLOs”;
Other non-mortgage-related derivatives; and
Real estate including single and multi-family residential properties.
The following briefly discusses the principal types of assets we purchase.
We acquire non-Agency RMBS backed by prime jumbo, Alt-A, manufactured housing, and subprime residential mortgage loans. Our non-Agency RMBS holdings can include investment-grade and non-investment grade classes, including the BB-rated, B-rated and non-rated classes.
Non-Agency RMBS are debt obligations issued by private originators of or investors in residential mortgage loans. Non-Agency RMBS generally are issued as CMOs and are backed by pools of whole mortgage loans or by mortgage pass-through certificates. Non-Agency RMBS generally are securitized in senior/subordinated structures, or in excess spread/over-collateralization structures. In senior/subordinated structures, the subordinated tranches generally absorb all losses on the underlying mortgage loans before any losses are borne by the senior tranches. In excess spread/over-collateralization structures, losses are first absorbed by any existing over-collateralization, then borne by subordinated tranches and excess spread, which represents the difference between the interest payments received on the mortgage loans backing the RMBS and the interest due on the RMBS debt tranches, and finally by senior tranches and any remaining excess spread.
Our assets in this asset class consist primarily of whole pool (and to a lesser extent, partial pool) pass-through certificates, the principal and interest of which are guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, and which are backed by ARMs, hybrid ARMs, or fixed-rate mortgages. In addition to investing in pass-through certificates which are backed by traditional mortgages, we have also invested in Agency RMBS backed by reverse mortgages. Reverse mortgages are mortgage loans for which neither principal nor interest is due until the borrower dies, the home is sold, or other trigger events occur. Mortgage pass-through certificates are securities representing undivided interests in pools of mortgage loans secured by real property where payments of both interest and principal, plus prepaid principal, on the securities are made monthly to holders of the security, in effect “passing through” monthly payments made by the individual borrowers on the mortgage loans that underlie the securities, net of fees paid to the issuer/guarantor and servicers of the securities. Whole pool pass-through certificates are mortgage pass-through certificates that represent the entire ownership of (as opposed to merely a partial undivided interest in) a pool of mortgage loans.
In addition to investing in specific pools of Agency RMBS, we utilize forward-settling purchases and sales of Agency RMBS where the underlying pools of mortgage loans are TBAs. Pursuant to these TBA transactions, we agree to purchase or sell, for future delivery, Agency RMBS with certain principal and interest terms and certain types of underlying collateral, but the particular Agency RMBS to be delivered is not identified until shortly before the TBA settlement date. TBAs are liquid and have quoted market prices and represent the most actively traded class of MBS. We use TBAs primarily for hedging purposes. TBA trading is based on the assumption that mortgage pools that are eligible to be delivered at TBA settlement are fungible and thus the specific mortgage pools to be delivered do not need to be explicitly identified at the time a trade is initiated.
We primarily engage in TBA transactions for purposes of managing certain risks associated with our long Agency RMBS and, to a lesser extent, our non-Agency RMBS. The principal risks that we use TBAs to mitigate are interest rate and yield spread risks. For example, we may hedge the interest rate and/or yield spread risk inherent in our long Agency RMBS by taking short positions in TBAs that are similar in character. Alternatively, we may engage in TBA transactions because we find them attractive on their own, from a relative value perspective or otherwise.
We take long and short positions in various mortgage-related derivative instruments, including credit default swaps. A credit default swap is a credit derivative contract in which one party (the protection buyer) pays an ongoing periodic premium (and often an upfront payment as well) to another party (the protection seller) in return for compensation for default (or similar credit event) by a reference entity. In this case, the reference entity can be an individual MBS or an index of several MBS, such as an ABX, PrimeX or CMBX Index. Payments from the protection seller to the protection buyer typically occur if a credit event takes place; a credit event may be triggered by, among other things, the reference entity’s failure to pay its principal obligations or a severe ratings downgrade of the reference entity.
CMBS are mortgage-backed securities collateralized by loans on commercial properties. The majority of CMBS issued are fixed rate securities backed by fixed rate loans made to multiple borrowers on a variety of property types, though single-borrower CMBS and floating-rate CMBS have also been issued.
The majority of CMBS utilize senior/subordinate structures, similar to those found in non-Agency RMBS. Subordination levels vary so as to provide for one or more AAA credit ratings on the most senior classes, with less senior securities rated investment grade and non-investment grade, including a first loss component which is typically unrated.
Commercial Mortgage Loans and Other Commercial Real Estate Debt
Commercial mortgage loans are loans secured by liens on commercial properties, including retail, office, industrial, hotel, and multifamily properties. Loans may be fixed or floating rate and will generally range from two to ten years. Commercial real estate debt typically limits the borrower’s right to freely prepay for a period of time through provisions such as prepayment fees, lockout, yield maintenance, or defeasance provisions.
First lien loans may be structured as whole loans, or alternatively bifurcated into a senior participation interest (“A-Note”) and a subordinated participation interest (“B-Note”). The rights of an A-Note or B-Note holder are typically governed by an intercreditor agreement which sets forth the respective rights and obligations of the holders, with the B-Note’s entitlement to principal and interest subordinated to that of the A-Note.
A subordinate loan may be structured simply as a second mortgage, or alternatively as a mezzanine loan, which is a loan secured by the pledge of the borrower’s ownership interests in the property, and therefore subordinate to any mortgage loan but senior to the borrower’s equity in the property. An intercreditor agreement typically governs the rights of a second mortgage or mezzanine loan relative to a first mortgage loan, with the second mortgage loan’s or mezzanine loan’s entitlement to interest and principal subordinated to that of the first mortgage loan.
Commercial real estate loans may also be structured into more complicated senior/subordinate structures, including those providing for multiple B-Note or multiple mezzanine loan senior/subordinate components. A loan or a component of a loan may have only one lender, or pari passu participation interests may be issued to multiple lenders. Loans are generally privately negotiated, and so structures can vary based on the specific facts and circumstances relating to the loan, property and borrower, among other things.
Commercial mortgage loans are sometimes made for the acquisition, renovation, or redevelopment of a property. These loans are typically shorter term loans, or “bridge loans.” We may also acquire non-performing commercial mortgage loans.
Corporate Debt and Equity Securities and Derivatives
For hedging purposes, we may take short positions in corporate debt and equity (including indices on corporate debt and equity) by entering into derivative contracts such as credit default swaps, total return swaps, and options. These are generally not hedges against risks that are directly related to specific corporate entities. Rather, these hedges reference corporations (such as financial institutions that have substantial mortgage-related exposure) or indices whose performance we believe may have a reasonable degree of correlation with the performance of our portfolio. Given this correlation, a short position with respect to such corporations or indices provides a hedge to our portfolio of MBS as a whole.
A credit default swap is a derivative contract in which one party (the protection buyer) pays an ongoing periodic premium (and often an upfront payment as well) to another party (the protection seller) in return for compensation upon the occurrence of a credit event with respect to the corporation or index referenced by such derivative contract. A credit event relating to a credit default swap on an individual corporation or an index of corporate names would typically be triggered by a corporation’s bankruptcy or failure to make scheduled payments in respect of debt obligations. A total return swap is a derivative whereby one party makes payments to the other representing the total return on a reference debt or equity security (or index of debt or equity securities) in exchange for an agreed upon ongoing periodic premium. An equity option is a derivative that gives the holder the option to buy or sell an equity security or index of securities at a predetermined price within a certain time period. The option may reference the equity of a publicly traded company or an equity index. In addition to general market risk, our derivatives on corporate debt and equity securities are subject to risks related to the underlying corporate entities.
We also may from time to time opportunistically acquire other mortgage-related and financial assets that may include, among others: residential whole mortgage loans, ABS backed by consumer and commercial assets, and real property.
As of December 31, 2012, our investment portfolio consisted of the following:
Fair Value as a Percentage of Shareholders’ Equity
Non-Agency MBS and Commercial mortgage loans:
Non-Agency CMBS and Commercial mortgage loans
Agency RMBS - other than TBAs
Agency RMBS - TBAs
Agency RMBS - TBAs Sold Short
U.S. Treasury Securities Sold Short
As of December 31, 2012, our derivatives portfolio consisted of the following:
Fair Value as a Percentage of Shareholders’ Equity
Credit Default Swaps on Asset-Backed Indices(1)
Interest Rate Swaps(2)
Credit Default Swaps on Asset-Backed Indices(3)
Credit Default Swaps on Asset-Backed Securities(3)
Credit Default Swaps on Corporate Bond Indices(3)
Interest Rate Swaps(4)
Total Return Swaps(5)
Long positions using credit default swaps represent transactions where the Company sold protection to the counterparty.
For long interest rate swaps, a floating rate is being paid and a fixed rate is being received.
Short positions using credit default swaps represent transactions where the Company purchased protection from a counterparty.
For short interest rate swaps, a fixed rate is being paid and a floating rate is being received.
Notional value represents the number of underlying shares or par value times the closing price of the underlying security.
Every $1,000,000 in notional value represents one contract.
The table below shows the credit rating categories from Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s, or Fitch Rating Ltd., for our long investment portfolio as of December 31, 2012, excluding IOs, POs, and other similar securities with an aggregate fair value of $10.1 million, but including our long investments that were unrated but affiliated with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, including TBAs. Ratings tend to be a lagging credit indicator; as a result, the credit quality of our long investment holdings may be lower than the credit quality implied based on the ratings listed below. In situations where an investment has a split rating, the lowest provided rating is used.
Fair Value as a Percentage of Shareholders’ Equity
Unrated but Agency-Guaranteed
Ba/BB/BB and below
Our investment process benefits from the resources and professionals of our Manager and Ellington. The process is managed by an investment and risk management committee, which includes the following three officers of our Manager: Messrs. Vranos, Penn, and Tecotzky. These officers of our Manager also serve as our Co-Chief Investment Officer; Chief Executive Officer; and Co-Chief Investment Officer, respectively. The investment and risk management committee operates under investment guidelines and meets periodically to develop a set of preferences for the composition of our portfolio. The primary focus of the investment and risk management committee, as it relates to us, is to review and approve our investment policies and our portfolio holdings and related compliance with our investment policies and guidelines. The investment and risk management committee has authority delegated by our Board of Directors to authorize transactions consistent with our investment guidelines. Any transactions deviating in a material way from these guidelines must be approved by our Board of Directors.
Ellington has a focused investment team for each of our targeted asset classes. Each team evaluates acquisition opportunities consistent with the guidelines developed and maintained by our Manager’s investment and risk management committee. Our asset acquisition process includes sourcing and screening of asset acquisition opportunities, credit analysis, due diligence, structuring, financing, and hedging, each as appropriate, to seek attractive total returns commensurate with our risk tolerance. We also screen and monitor all potential assets to determine their impact on maintaining our exclusion from regulation as an investment company under the Investment Company Act and our qualification as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes.
Risk management is a cornerstone of Ellington’s portfolio management process. Ellington’s risk management infrastructure system includes “ELLiN,” a proprietary portfolio management system that Ellington uses for all of its accounts, which provides real time and batch reporting to all departments at Ellington, including trading, research, risk management, finance, operations, accounting, and compliance. We benefit from Ellington’s comprehensive risk management infrastructure and ongoing assessment of both portfolio and operational risks. In addition, we utilize derivatives and other hedging instruments to opportunistically hedge our credit and interest rate risk.
Credit Risk Hedging
We enter into short positions using credit default swaps to protect against adverse credit events with respect to our non-Agency MBS. We may use credit default swaps to hedge non-Agency MBS credit risk by buying protection on a single non-Agency MBS or by buying protection on a basket of non-Agency MBS assets. We may also enter into credit default swaps on the ABX, PrimeX, or CMBX indices. We also enter into derivative contracts for hedging purposes referencing the unsecured corporate credit, or the equity of, certain corporations.
Interest Rate Hedging
We opportunistically hedge our interest rate risk by using various hedging strategies to mitigate such risks. The interest rate hedging instruments that we use and may use in the future include, without limitation:
U.S. Treasury securities;
interest rate swaps (including, floating-to-fixed, fixed-to-floating, or more complex swaps such as floating-to-inverse floating, callable or non-callable);
swaptions, caps, floors, and other derivatives on interest rates;
futures and forward contracts; and
options on any of the foregoing.
In particular, from time to time we enter into short positions in interest rate swaps to offset the potential adverse effects that changes in interest rates will have on the value of certain of our assets and our financing costs. An interest rate swap is an agreement to exchange interest rate cash flows, calculated on a notional principal amount, at specified payment dates during the life of the agreement. Typically one party pays a fixed interest rate and receives a floating interest rate and the other party pays a floating interest rate and receives a fixed interest rate. Each party’s payment obligation is computed using a different interest rate. In an interest rate swap, the notional principal is never exchanged.
As part of the risk management and liquidity management functions that our Manager performs for us, our Manager computes a “cash buffer” which at any given point in time represents the amount of our free cash in excess of what our Manager estimates would conservatively be required, especially in times of market dislocation, to support our particular assets and liabilities at such time. Thus, rather than focusing solely on our leverage, our Manager typically seeks to maintain a positive cash buffer. However, our Manager is not required to maintain a positive cash buffer and may choose not to maintain a positive cash buffer at certain times, for example if it believes there are compelling market opportunities to pursue.
Our Financing Strategies and Use of Leverage
We finance our assets with what we believe to be a prudent amount of leverage, the level of which varies from time to time based upon the particular characteristics of our portfolio, availability of financing and market conditions. As of December 31, 2012, our debt financings consisted almost exclusively of reverse repurchase agreements, or “reverse repos.” Currently, the majority of our reverse repos are collateralized by Agency RMBS; however, we also have reverse repo borrowings that are collateralized by non-Agency holdings, including U.S. Treasury Securities. In a reverse repo, we sell an asset to a counterparty at a discounted value, or the loan amount, and simultaneously agree to repurchase the same asset from such counterparty at a specified later date at a price equal to the loan amount plus an interest factor. Despite being legally structured as sales and subsequent repurchases, reverse repos are generally accounted for as debt secured by the underlying assets. During the term of a reverse repo, we generally receive the income and other payments distributed with respect to the underlying assets, and pay interest to the counterparty. While the proceeds of our reverse repo financings are often used to purchase the assets subject to the transaction, our financing arrangements do not restrict our ability to use proceeds from these arrangements to support our other liquidity needs. Our reverse repo arrangements are typically documented under the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s, or “SIFMA’s,” standard form Master Repurchase Agreement, with the ability for both parties to demand margin (i.e., to demand that the other party post additional collateral or repay a portion of the funds advanced) should the value of the underlying assets and posted collateral change. Given daily market volatility, we and our repo counterparties are required to post additional margin collateral to each other from time to time as part of the normal course of our business. Our reverse repo financing counterparties generally have the right, to varying degrees, to determine the value of the underlying collateral for margining purposes, subject to the terms and conditions of our agreement with the counterparty. As of December 31, 2012, we had approximately $905.7 million outstanding on reverse repos with ten counterparties. We also had financing through a small resecuritization transaction where the outstanding borrowing was $1.3 million at December 31, 2012. These borrowings were the only debt financings we had outstanding as of December 31, 2012, and, given that we had approximately $506.4 million of shareholders’ equity as of December 31, 2012, our debt-to-equity ratio was 1.79 to 1. Our debt-to-equity ratio does not account for liabilities other than debt financings.
We may utilize other types of borrowings in the future, including term facilities or other more complex financing structures. We may also take advantage of available borrowings, if any, under financing programs established from time to time by the Federal Government. We also may raise capital by issuing debt securities, preferred or common shares, warrants, or other securities.
Our use of leverage, especially in order to increase the amount of assets supported by our capital base, may have the effect of increasing losses when these assets underperform. Our investment policies require no minimum or maximum leverage and our Manager’s investment and risk management committee will have the discretion, without the need for further approval by our Board of Directors, to change both our overall leverage and the leverage used for individual asset classes. Because our strategy is flexible, dynamic, and opportunistic, our overall leverage will vary over time. As a result, we do not have a targeted debt-to-equity ratio.
We entered into a management agreement with our Manager upon our inception in August 2007, pursuant to which our Manager provides for the day-to-day management of our operations.
The management agreement, which was most recently amended and restated effective January 1, 2013, requires our Manager to manage our assets, operations, and affairs in conformity with the policies and the investment guidelines that are approved and monitored by our Board of Directors. Our Manager is under the supervision and direction of our Board of Directors. Our Manager is responsible for:
the selection, purchase and sale of assets in our portfolio;
our financing activities;
providing us with advisory services; and
providing us with a management team, inclusive of a dedicated Chief Financial Officer and appropriate support personnel as necessary.
Our Manager is responsible for our day-to-day operations and performs (or causes to be performed) such services and activities relating to the management, operation, and administration of our assets and liabilities, and business as may be appropriate.
Under the management agreement, we pay our Manager a management fee quarterly in arrears, which includes a “base” component and an “incentive” component, and we reimburse certain expenses of our Manager. Effective January 1, 2013, we entered into a Fourth Amended and Restated Management Agreement with our Manager, which replaces and supersedes the Third Amended and Restated Management Agreement dated August 2, 2011. The Fourth Amended and Restated Management Agreement was adopted and executed for the primary purpose of making our operating partnership subsidiary a party to the management agreement and to cause, effective for all fiscal quarters beginning on or after January 1, 2013, base management fees and incentive fees to be calculated at the Operating Partnership level (as opposed to at the Company level).
Although we have not done so to date, if we invest at issuance in the equity of any CDO that is managed, structured, or originated by Ellington or one of its affiliates, or if we invest in any other investment fund or other investment for which Ellington or one of its affiliates receives management, origination or structuring fees, the base management and incentive fees payable by us to our Manager will be reduced by (or our Manager will otherwise rebate to us) an amount equal to the applicable portion of any such related management, origination, or structuring fees.
The management agreement provides that 10% of each incentive fee payable to our Manager is to be paid in common shares, with the balance paid in cash; provided, however, that our Manager may, in its sole discretion, elect to receive a greater percentage of any incentive fee in the form of common shares by providing our Board of Directors with written notice of its election to receive a greater percentage of its incentive fee in common shares before the first day of the last calendar month in the quarter to which such incentive fee relates. Our management agreement further provides that our Manager may not elect to receive common shares as payment of its incentive fee, other than in accordance with all applicable securities exchange rules and securities laws (including prohibitions on insider trading). The number of our common shares to be received by our Manager is based on the fair market price of those common shares, which is determined based on the average of the closing prices of our common shares on the NYSE during the last calendar month of the quarter to which such incentive fee relates. Common shares delivered as payment of the incentive fee are immediately vested, provided that our Manager has agreed not to sell such common shares prior to one year after the date they are issued to our Manager, provided further, however, that this transfer restriction will lapse if the management agreement is terminated.
Base Management Fees, Incentive Fees and Reimbursement of Expenses
Base Management Fees
Periods prior to January 1, 2013 — Under the previous management agreement, we paid our Manager a base management fee quarterly in arrears in an amount equal to 1.50% per annum of our shareholders’ equity (calculated in accordance with U.S Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or “U.S. GAAP,” as of the end of each fiscal quarter (before deductions for base management fees and incentive fees payable with respect to such fiscal quarter), provided that shareholders’ equity is adjusted to exclude one-time events pursuant to changes in U.S. GAAP, as well as non-cash charges after discussion between our Manager and our independent directors, and approval by a majority of our independent directors in the case of non-cash charges.
Periods after January 1, 2013 — Under the current management agreement, the Operating Partnership pays our Manager the same base management fee described above for the periods prior to January 1, 2013, except that shareholder’s equity is defined as the members’ equity of the Operating Partnership.
Periods prior to January 1, 2013 — In addition to the base management fee, with respect to each fiscal quarter we paid our Manager an incentive fee equal to the excess, if any, of (i) the product of (A) 25% and (B) the excess of (1) our Adjusted Net Income (described below) for the Incentive Calculation Period (which means such fiscal quarter and the immediately preceding three fiscal quarters) over (2) the sum of the Hurdle Amounts (described below) for the Incentive Calculation Period, over (ii) the sum of the incentive fees already paid or payable for each fiscal quarter in the Incentive Calculation Period preceding such fiscal quarter.
For purposes of calculating the incentive fee, “Adjusted Net Income” for the Incentive Calculation Period means our net increase in shareholders’ equity from operations (or such equivalent U.S. GAAP measure based on the basis of presentation of our consolidated financial statements), after all base management fees but before any incentive fees for such period, and excluding any non-cash equity compensation expenses for such period, as reduced by any Loss Carryforward (as described below) as of the end of the fiscal quarter preceding the Incentive Calculation Period. Adjusted Net Income will be adjusted to exclude one-time events pursuant to changes in U.S. GAAP, as well as non-cash charges after discussion between our Manager and our independent directors and approval by a majority of our independent directors in the case of non-cash charges. For the avoidance of doubt, Adjusted Net Income includes both net investment income and net realized and unrealized gains and losses.
For purposes of calculating the incentive fee, the “Loss Carryforward” as of the end of any fiscal quarter was calculated by determining the excess, if any, of (1) the Loss Carryforward as of the end of the immediately preceding fiscal quarter over (2) our net increase in shareholders’ equity from operations (expressed as a positive number) or net decrease in shareholders’ equity from operations (expressed as a negative number) for such fiscal quarter (or such equivalent U.S. GAAP measures as may be appropriate depending on the basis of presentation of our consolidated financial statements), as the case may be, calculated in accordance with U.S. GAAP, adjusted to exclude one-time events pursuant to changes in U.S. GAAP, as well as non-cash charges after discussion between our Manager and our independent directors and approval by a majority of our independent directors in the case of non-cash charges.
For purposes of calculating the incentive fee, the “Hurdle Amount” meant, with respect to any fiscal quarter, the product of (i) one-fourth of the greater of (A) 9% and (B) 3% plus the ten-year Treasury rate for such fiscal quarter, (ii) the sum of (A) the weighted average gross proceeds per share of all our common share issuances (excluding issuances of our common shares (a) as equity incentive awards, (b) to our Manager as part of its base management fee or incentive fee and (c) to our Manager or any of its affiliates in privately negotiated transactions) up to the end of such fiscal quarter (with each such issuance weighted by both the number of shares issued in such issuance and the number of days that such issued shares were outstanding during such fiscal quarter) and (B) the result obtained by dividing (I) retained earnings attributable to our common shares at the beginning of such fiscal quarter by (II) the average number of our common shares outstanding for each day during such fiscal quarter, and (iii) the average number of our common shares and Long-Term Incentive Plan Units, “LTIP Units,” outstanding for each day during such fiscal quarter.
Periods after January 1, 2013 — Under the current management agreement, our Operating Partnership pays our Manager the same incentive fee described immediately above, except that:
Adjusted Net Income and Loss Carryforward are determined by reference to the net increase in members’ equity resulting from operations of the Operating Partnership, as opposed to by reference to the net increase in our shareholders’ equity;
Hurdle Amount is determined by reference to the sum of the average number of our common shares and LTIP Units outstanding and the average number of partnership units in our Operating Partnership (“Operating Partnership Units”) and LTIP Units in our Operating Partnership (“Operating Partnership LTIP Units”) (other than Operating Partnership Units and Operating Partnership LTIP Units held by us) outstanding, as opposed to by reference only to the average number of our common shares and LTIP Units outstanding; and
Hurdle Price Per Share is determined: (i) by reference to both our common share issuances and Operating Partnership Unit issuances (other than Operating Partnership Units issued to us), as opposed to by reference only to our common share issuances, and (ii) by reference to the ratio of retained earnings attributable to both our common shares and Operating Partnership Units (other than Operating Partnership Units held by us) to the average number of our common shares and Operating Partnership Units (other than Operating Partnership Units held by us) outstanding, as opposed to by reference to the ratio of retained earnings attributable only to our common shares to the average number of our common shares outstanding.
Reimbursement of Expenses
We do not maintain an office or employ personnel. We rely on the facilities and resources of our Manager to conduct our operations. We pay all of our direct operating expenses, except those specifically required to be borne by our Manager under the management agreement. Our Manager is responsible for all costs incident to the performance of its duties under the management agreement, including compensation of our Manager’s employees and other related expenses, other than the costs incurred by our Manager for a dedicated Chief Financial Officer, dedicated controller, an in-house legal counsel, and certain internal audit staff in connection with Sarbanes-Oxley compliance initiatives as approved by the Board of Directors (provided that the costs for any time spent by such in-house legal counsel or internal audit staff on matters unrelated to the Company will not be borne by the Company). In addition, other than as expressly described in the management agreement, we are not required to pay any portion of rent, telephone, utilities, office furniture, equipment, machinery, and other office, internal and overhead expenses of our Manager and its affiliates. Expense reimbursements to our Manager are made within 60 days following delivery of the expense statement by our Manager.
Term and Termination
The management agreement has a current term that expires on December 31, 2013, and will automatically renew for a one year term each anniversary date thereafter unless notice of non-renewal is delivered by either party to the other party at least 180 days prior to the expiration of the then current term. Our independent directors will review our Manager’s performance annually and the management agreement may be terminated annually upon the affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of our independent directors, or by the affirmative vote of the holders of at least a majority of the outstanding common shares, based upon unsatisfactory performance that is materially detrimental to us or a determination by our independent directors that the base management and incentive fees payable to our Manager are not fair, subject to our Manager’s right to prevent such a compensation termination by accepting a mutually acceptable reduction of management fees. In the event we terminate the management agreement without cause or elect not to renew the management agreement, we will be required to pay our Manager a termination fee equal to the amount of three times the sum of (i) the average annual base management fee earned by our Manager during the 24-month period immediately preceding the date of termination, calculated as of the end of the most recently completed fiscal quarter prior to the date of termination and (ii) the average annual incentive fee earned by our Manager during the 24-month period immediately preceding the date of termination, calculated as of the end of the most recently completed fiscal quarter prior to the date of termination.
We may also terminate the management agreement without payment of the termination fee with 30 days prior written notice from our Board of Directors for cause, which is defined as:
our Manager’s continued material breach of any provision of the management agreement following a period of 30 days after written notice of such breach;
our Manager’s fraud, misappropriation of funds, or embezzlement against us;
our Manager’s gross negligence in performance of its duties under the management agreement;
the occurrence of certain events with respect to the bankruptcy or insolvency of our Manager, including, but not limited to, an order for relief in an involuntary bankruptcy case or our Manager authorizing or filing a voluntary bankruptcy petition;
the dissolution of our Manager; and
certain changes of control of our Manager, including but not limited to the departure of Mr. Vranos from senior management of Ellington, whether through resignation, retirement, withdrawal, long-term disability, death or
termination of employment with or without cause or for any other reason.
Our Manager may terminate the management agreement effective upon 60 days prior written notice of termination to us in the event that we default in the performance or observance of any material term, condition or covenant in the management agreement and the default continues for a period of 30 days after written notice to us specifying the default and requesting that the default be remedied in such 30-day period. In the event our Manager terminates the management agreement due to our default in the performance or observance of any material term, condition or covenant in the management agreement, we will be required to pay our Manager the termination fee. Our Manager may also terminate the management agreement in the event we become regulated as an investment company under the Investment Company Act, with such termination deemed to occur immediately prior to such event; provided, however, that in the case of such termination, if our Manager was not at fault for our becoming regulated as an investment company under the Investment Company Act, we will be required to pay a termination fee.
Conflicts of Interest; Equitable Allocation of Opportunities
Ellington manages, and expects to continue to manage, other funds, accounts, and vehicles that have strategies that are similar to, or that overlap with, our strategy. As of December 31, 2012, Ellington managed various funds, accounts, and other vehicles that have strategies that are similar to, or that overlap with, our strategy, that have assets under management of approximately $4.4 billion (excluding our assets but including $1.1 billion of accounts with more traditional mandates). Ellington makes available to our Manager all opportunities to acquire assets that it determines, in its reasonable and good faith judgment, based on our objectives, policies and strategies, and other relevant factors, are appropriate for us in accordance with Ellington’s written investment allocation policy, it being understood that we might not participate in each such opportunity, but will on an overall basis equitably participate with Ellington’s other accounts in all such opportunities. Ellington’s investment and risk management committee and its compliance committee (headed by its Chief Compliance Officer) are responsible for monitoring the administration of, and facilitating compliance with, Ellington’s investment allocation procedures and policies.
Because many of our targeted assets are typically available only in specified quantities and because many of our targeted assets are also targeted assets for other Ellington accounts, Ellington often is not able to buy as much of any given asset as required to satisfy the needs of all its accounts. In these cases, Ellington’s investment allocation procedures and policies typically allocate such assets to multiple accounts in proportion to their needs and available capital. Ellington may at times allocate opportunities on a preferential basis to accounts that are in a “start-up” or “ramp-up” phase. The policies permit departure from such proportional allocation under certain circumstances, for example when such allocation would result in an inefficiently small amount of the security being purchased for an account. In that case, the policy allows for a protocol of allocating assets so that, on an overall basis, each account is treated equitably.
Other policies of Ellington that our Manager applies to the management of our company include controls for:
Cross Transactions—defined as transactions between us or one of our subsidiaries, on the one hand, and an account (other than us or one of our subsidiaries) managed by Ellington or our Manager, on the other hand. It is Ellington’s policy to engage in a cross transaction only when the transaction is in the best interests of, and is consistent with the objectives and policies of, both accounts involved in the transaction. Ellington or our Manager may enter into cross transactions where it acts both on our behalf and on behalf of the other party to the transaction. Upon written notice to our Manager, we may at any time revoke our consent to our Manager’s executing cross transactions. Additionally, unless approved in advance by a majority of our independent directors or pursuant to and in accordance with a policy that has been approved by a majority of our independent directors, all cross transactions must be effected at the then-prevailing market prices. Pursuant to our Manager’s current policies and procedures, assets for which there are no readily observable market prices may be purchased or sold in cross transactions (i) at prices based upon third party bids received through auction, (ii) at the average of the highest bid and lowest offer quoted by third party dealers, or (iii) according to another pricing methodology approved by our Manager’s Chief Compliance Officer.
Principal Transactions—defined as transactions between Ellington or our Manager (or any related party of Ellington or our Manager, which includes employees of Ellington and our Manager and their families), on the one hand, and us or one of our subsidiaries, on the other hand. Certain cross transactions may also be considered principal transactions whenever our Manager, Ellington (or any related party of Ellington or our Manager, which includes employees of Ellington and our Manager and their families) have a substantial ownership interest in one of the transacting parties. Our Manager is only authorized to execute principal transactions with the prior approval of a majority of our independent directors and in accordance with applicable law. Such prior approval includes approval of the pricing methodology to be used, including with respect to assets for which there are no readily observable market prices.
Investment in other Ellington accounts—pursuant to our management agreement, although we have not done so to date, if we invest at issuance in the equity of any CDO that is managed, structured or originated by Ellington or one of
its affiliates, or if we invest in any other investment fund or other investment for which Ellington or one of its affiliates receives management, origination or structuring fees, the base management and incentive fees payable by us to our Manager will be reduced by an amount equal to the applicable portion (as described in the management agreement) of any such management, origination or structuring fees.
Split price executions—pursuant to our management agreement, our Manager is authorized to combine purchase or sale orders on our behalf together with orders for other accounts managed by Ellington, our Manager or their affiliates and allocate the securities or other assets so purchased or sold, on an average price basis or other fair and consistent basis, among such accounts.
To date, we have not entered into any cross transactions with other Ellington-managed accounts or principal transactions with Ellington, or invested in other Ellington accounts.
Our Manager is authorized to follow very broad investment guidelines. Our independent directors will periodically review our investment guidelines and our portfolio. However, our independent directors generally will not review our proposed asset acquisitions, dispositions or other management decisions. In addition, in conducting periodic reviews, the independent directors will rely primarily on information provided to them by our Manager. Furthermore, our Manager may arrange for us to use complex strategies or to enter into complex transactions that may be difficult or impossible to unwind by the time they are reviewed by our Board of Directors. Our Manager has great latitude within our broad investment guidelines to determine the types of assets it may decide are proper for purchase by us. The management agreement with our Manager does not restrict the ability of its officers and employees from engaging in other business ventures of any nature, whether or not such ventures are competitive with our business. We may acquire assets from entities affiliated with our Manager, even where the assets were originated by such entities. Affiliates of our Manager may also provide services to entities in which we have invested.
Our executive officers and the officers and employees of our Manager are also officers and employees of Ellington, and, with the exception of those officers that are dedicated to us, we compete with other Ellington accounts for access to these individuals. We have not adopted a policy that expressly prohibits our directors, officers, security holders or affiliates from having a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any asset to be acquired or disposed of by us or any of our subsidiaries or in any transaction to which we or any of our subsidiaries is a party or has an interest, nor do we have a policy that expressly prohibits any such persons from engaging for their own account in business activities of the types conducted by us. However, our code of business conduct and ethics contains a conflicts of interest policy that prohibits our directors, officers and employees, as well as employees of our Manager who provide services to us, from engaging in any transaction that involves an actual or apparent conflict of interest with us, absent approval by the Board of Directors or except as expressly set forth above or as provided in the management agreement between us and our Manager. In addition, nothing in the management agreement binds or restricts our Manager or any of its affiliates, officers or employees from buying, selling or trading any securities or commodities for their own accounts or for the accounts of others for whom our Manager or any of its affiliates, officers or employees may be acting.
In acquiring our assets, we compete with mortgage REITs, specialty finance companies, savings and loan associations, banks, mortgage bankers, insurance companies, mutual funds, institutional investors, investment banking firms, financial institutions, governmental bodies, and other entities. Many of our competitors are significantly larger than us, have greater access to capital and other resources and may have other advantages over us. In addition to existing companies, other companies may be organized for similar purposes, including companies focused on purchasing mortgage assets. A proliferation of such companies may increase the competition for equity capital and thereby adversely affect the market price of our common shares. 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 assets and establish more relationships than us.
In the face of this competition, we have access to our Manager’s and Ellington’s professionals and their industry expertise, which may provide us with a competitive advantage and help us assess risks and determine appropriate pricing for certain potential assets. In addition, we believe that these relationships enable us to compete more effectively for attractive asset acquisition opportunities. However, we may not be able to achieve our business goals or expectations due to the competitive risks that we face.
Operating and Regulatory Structure
We believe that we have been organized and have operated so that we have qualified, and will continue to qualify, to be treated for U.S. federal income tax purposes as a partnership and not as an association or a publicly traded partnership taxable as a corporation. In general, an entity that is treated as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes is not subject to U.S. federal income tax at the entity level. Consequently, holders of our common shares will be required to take into account their
allocable share of items of our income, gain, loss, deduction and credit for our taxable year ending within or with their taxable year, regardless of whether we make cash distributions on a current basis with which to pay any resulting tax.
We believe that we are treated, and will continue to be treated, as a publicly traded partnership. Publicly traded partnerships are generally treated as partnerships for U.S. federal income tax purposes as long as they satisfy certain income and other tests on an ongoing basis. We believe that we have satisfied and will continue to satisfy those requirements and that we have been and will continue to be treated as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes.
Investment Company Act Exclusions
Most of our business is conducted through various wholly-owned and majority-owned subsidiaries in a manner such that neither we nor our subsidiaries are subject to regulation under the Investment Company Act. Under Section 3(a)(1) of the Investment Company Act, a company is deemed to be 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 (Section 3(a)(1)(A)); or
it is engaged or proposes to engage in the business of investing, reinvesting, owning, holding or trading in securities and does own or proposes to acquire “investment securities” having a value exceeding 40% of the value of its total assets (excluding U.S. Government securities and cash) on an unconsolidated basis, or the 40% Test. “Investment securities” excludes U.S. Government securities and securities of majority-owned subsidiaries that are not themselves investment companies and are not relying on the exception from the definition of investment company for private funds under Section 3(c)(1) or Section 3(c)(7) of the Investment Company Act.
We believe we and our Operating Partnership, will not be considered investment companies under Section 3(a)(1)(A) of the Investment Company Act because we do not engage primarily or hold ourselves out as being engaged primarily in the business of investing, reinvesting or trading in securities. Rather, through wholly-owned or majority-owned subsidiaries, we are primarily engaged in the non-investment company businesses of these subsidiaries.
The 40% Test limits the types of businesses in which we may engage either directly or through our subsidiaries. EF Mortgage LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of our Operating Partnership, relies on the exclusion provided by Section 3(c)(5)(C) under the Investment Company Act. EF Mortgage LLC, in turn, has a wholly-owned subsidiary, EF CMO LLC, which invests in mortgage-related securities and relies on Section 3(c)(7) of the Investment Company Act. EF Mortgage LLC treats its investment in EF CMO LLC as a real estate-related asset for purposes of its own exclusion under Section 3(c)(5)(C). EF Securities LLC, another wholly-owned subsidiary of our Operating Partnership, owns securities, including various kinds of mortgage-related securities and relies on the exemption provided by Section 3(c)(7) of the Investment Company Act; therefore, we treat securities that we own and that were issued by EF Securities LLC as “investment securities” and are required to keep the value of these securities, together with any other investment securities we own, below 40% of our total assets (excluding U.S. Government securities and cash) on an unconsolidated basis. Any subsidiaries we may form in the future may not be majority-owned or wholly-owned by us or our operating partnership or might rely on the exemption provided by Section 3(c)(1) or 3(c)(7) of the Investment Company Act, in which case we would treat securities that we own and that were issued by these types of subsidiaries as “investment securities” and be required to keep the value of these securities, together with the value of the investment in EF Securities LLC and any other investment securities we own, below 40% of our total assets (excluding U.S. Government securities and cash) on an unconsolidated basis. Section 3(c)(5)(C), the Investment Company Act exclusion upon which EF Mortgage LLC relies, is designed for entities “primarily engaged in the business of purchasing or otherwise acquiring mortgages and other liens on and interests in real estate.” This exclusion generally requires that at least 55% of the entity’s assets consist of qualifying real estate assets and at least 80% of the entity’s assets consist of either qualifying real estate assets or real estate-related assets. Qualifying real estate assets for this purpose include mortgage loans, whole pool Agency pass-through certificates and other assets that the SEC staff has determined in various no-action letters are the functional equivalent of mortgage loans for the purposes of the Investment Company Act. We intend to treat as real estate-related assets RMBS that do not satisfy the conditions set forth in those SEC staff no-action letters. In classifying the assets held by EF Mortgage LLC as qualifying real estate assets or real estate-related assets, we also will rely on any other guidance published by the SEC staff or on our analyses (in consultation with outside counsel) of guidance published with respect to other types of assets to determine which assets are qualifying real estate assets and real estate-related assets.
Both the 40% Test and the requirements of the Section 3(c)(5)(C) exclusion limit the types of businesses in which we may engage and the types of assets we may hold, as well as the timing of sales and purchases of assets.
On August 31, 2011, the SEC published a concept release entitled “Companies Engaged in the Business of Acquiring Mortgages and Mortgage Related Instruments” (Investment Company Act Rel. No. 29778). This release notes that the SEC is reviewing the 3(c)(5)(C) exemption relied upon by companies similar to us that invest in mortgage loans and mortgage-backed
securities. There can be no assurance that the laws and regulations governing the Investment Company Act status of companies similar to ours, or the guidance from the Division of Investment Management of the SEC regarding the treatment of assets as qualifying real estate assets or real estate-related assets, will not change in a manner that adversely affects our operations as a result of this review. To the extent that the SEC staff provides more specific guidance regarding any of the matters bearing upon our exclusion from the need to register under the Investment Company Act, we may be required to adjust our strategy accordingly. Any additional guidance from the SEC staff could provide additional flexibility to us, or it could further inhibit our ability to pursue the strategies that we have chosen. Furthermore, although we intend to monitor the assets of EF Mortgage LLC regularly, there can be no assurance that EF Mortgage LLC will be able to maintain this exclusion from registration. In that case, our investment in EF Mortgage LLC would be classified as an investment security, and we might not be able to maintain our overall exclusion from registering as an investment company under the Investment Company Act.
If we or our subsidiaries were required to register as an investment company under the Investment Company Act, we would become subject to substantial regulation with respect to our capital structure (including our ability to use leverage), management, operations, transactions with affiliated persons (as defined in the Investment Company Act), and portfolio composition, including restrictions with respect to diversification and industry concentration and other matters. Compliance with the restrictions imposed by the Investment Company Act would require us to make material changes to our strategy which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders. Accordingly, to avoid that result, we may be required to adjust our strategy, which could limit our ability to make certain investments or require us to sell assets in a manner, at a price or at a time that we otherwise would not have chosen. This could negatively affect the value of our common shares, the sustainability of our business model and our ability to make distributions. See “Risk Factors-Maintenance of our exclusion from registration under the Investment Company Act imposes significant limitations on our operations.”
Investment Advisers Act of 1940
Both Ellington and our Manager are registered as investment advisers under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and are subject to the regulatory oversight of the Investment Management Division of the SEC.
All of our executive officers, including our dedicated Chief Financial Officer and controller, and our partially dedicated in-house legal counsel and internal audit staff are employees of Ellington or one or more of its affiliates. See “-Management Agreement” above.
A copy of this Annual Report on Form 10-K, as well as our Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, Current Reports on Form 8-K and any amendments to such reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, are available, free of charge, on our internet website at www.ellingtonfinancial.com. All of these reports are made available on our internet website as soon as reasonably practicable after they are electronically filed with or furnished to the SEC. Our Corporate Governance Guidelines and Code of Business Conduct and Ethics and the charters of the Audit, Compensation and Nominating and Corporate Governance Committees of our Board of Directors are also available at www.ellingtonfinancial.com and are available in print to any shareholder upon request in writing to Ellington Financial LLC, c/o Investor Relations, 53 Forest Avenue, Old Greenwich, CT 06870. The information on our website is not, and shall not be deemed to be, a part of this report or incorporated into any other filing we make with the SEC.
All reports filed with the SEC may also be read and copied at the SEC’s public reference room at 100 F Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20549. Further information regarding the operation of the public reference room may be obtained by calling 1-800-SEC-0330. In addition, all of our reports filed with or furnished to the SEC can be obtained at the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov.
Item 1A. Risk Factors
If any of the following risks occurs, our business, financial condition or results of operations could be materially and adversely affected. The risks and uncertainties described below are not the only ones we face. Additional risks and uncertainties not presently known to us, or not presently deemed material by us, may also impair our operations and performance. In connection with the forward-looking statements that appear in our periodic reports on Form 10-Q and Form 10-K, our Current Reports on Form 8-K and our other disclosure documents, you should also carefully review the cautionary statements referred to in such reports and other disclosure documents under “Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements.”
Risks Related To Our Business
Difficult conditions in the mortgage and residential real estate markets as well as general market concerns have caused and may cause us to experience losses and these conditions may persist for the foreseeable future.
Our business is materially affected by conditions in the residential mortgage market, the residential real estate market, the financial markets and the economy in general including inflation, energy costs, unemployment, geopolitical issues, concerns over the creditworthiness of governments worldwide and the stability of the global banking system. In particular, the residential mortgage market in the U.S. has experienced a variety of difficulties and changed economic conditions, including defaults, credit losses, and liquidity concerns. Certain commercial banks, investment banks, and insurance companies have announced extensive losses from exposure to the residential mortgage market. These factors have impacted investor perception of the risk associated with RMBS, other real estate-related securities and various other asset classes in which we may invest. As a result, values for RMBS, other real estate-related securities and various other asset classes in which we may invest have experienced significant volatility.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, homeowner access to residential mortgage loans has been substantially limited. Lending standards have become significantly more stringent than in past periods, and access to many mortgage products has been severely curtailed or eliminated. This financing limitation has had an impact on new demand for homes, has lowered homeownership rates and is weighing heavily on home price performance. There is a strong correlation between home price depreciation and mortgage loan delinquencies. Any deterioration of the mortgage market and investor perception of the risks associated with RMBS, residential mortgage loans, real estate-related securities and various other assets that we acquire could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
The federal conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and related efforts, along with any changes in laws and regulations affecting the relationship between Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae and the Federal Government, may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
The payments we receive on our Agency RMBS depend upon a steady stream of payments on the underlying mortgages and such payments are guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government sponsored enterprises, or “GSEs,” but their guarantees are not backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. Ginnie Mae, which guarantees MBS backed by federally insured or guaranteed loans primarily consisting of loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration, or “FHA,” or guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, or “VA,” is part of a U.S. Government agency and its guarantees are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.
During 2008, there were increased market concerns about Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s ability to withstand future credit losses associated with securities held in their investment portfolios, and on which they provide guarantees, without the direct support of the Federal Government. In September 2008 Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into the conservatorship of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, or “FHFA,” their federal regulator, pursuant to its powers under The Federal Housing Finance Regulatory Reform Act of 2008, a part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Under this conservatorship, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are required to reduce the amount of mortgage loans they own or for which they provide guarantees on Agency RMBS.
In addition to the FHFA becoming the conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, (i) the U.S. Treasury, or the “Treasury,” and FHFA entered into preferred stock purchase agreements with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pursuant to which the U.S. Treasury ensures that each of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac maintains a positive net worth through 2012; (ii) the U.S. Treasury established a secure lending credit facility for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the FHFA to serve as a liquidity backup; and (iii) the U.S. Treasury initiated a program to purchase RMBS issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In August 2012, the Treasury announced a set of modifications to its preferred stock agreements with the FHFA, with a goal of expediting the wind down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The revised agreements replace the 10% dividend payments made to the Treasury with a sweep of all profits from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac going forward. These agreements, as amended, also require the
reduction of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s mortgage and Agency securities portfolios (they must be reduced by at least 15% each year until their respective mortgage assets reach $250 billion).
Shortly after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed in federal conservatorship, the Secretary of the 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 considerably limited relative to historical measurements or even eliminated. The Treasury could also stop providing financial support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the future. The substantial financial assistance provided by the Federal Government to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, especially in the course of their being placed into conservatorship and thereafter, together with the substantial financial assistance provided by the Federal Government to the mortgage-related operations of other GSEs and government agencies, such as the FHA, the VA, and Ginnie Mae, has stirred debate among many federal policymakers over the continued role of the Federal Government in providing such financial support for the mortgage-related GSEs in particular, and for the mortgage and housing markets in general. In fact, in February 2011, the Treasury released a white paper entitled “Reforming America’s Housing Finance Market” in which the Treasury outlined three possible options for reforming the Federal Government’s role in housing finance. Under each option, the role of the Federal Government in the mortgage market would be reduced. Each of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae could be dissolved and the Federal Government could determine to stop providing liquidity support of any kind to the mortgage market. If Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or Ginnie Mae were eliminated, or their structures were to change radically or the Federal Government significantly reduced its support for any or all of them, we may be unable or significantly limited in our ability to acquire Agency RMBS, which would drastically reduce the amount and type of Agency RMBS available for purchase which, in turn, could materially adversely affect our ability to maintain our exclusion from regulation as an investment company under the Investment Company Act. Moreover, any changes to the nature of the guarantees provided by, or laws affecting, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae could materially adversely affect the credit quality of the guarantees, could increase the risk of loss on purchases of Agency RMBS issued by these GSEs and could have broad adverse market implications for the Agency RMBS they currently guarantee. Any action that affects the credit quality of the guarantees provided by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae could materially adversely affect the value of our Agency RMBS.
In addition, we rely on our Agency RMBS (as well as non-Agency MBS and other securities) as collateral for our financings under the reverse repos that we have entered into. Any decline in their value, or perceived market uncertainty about their value, would make it more difficult for us to obtain financing on our Agency RMBS on acceptable terms or at all, or to maintain compliance with the terms of any financing transactions.
Mortgage loan modification programs and future legislative action may adversely affect the value of, and the returns on, our targeted assets.
In the second half of 2008, the Federal Government, through the Treasury, FHA and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or “FDIC,” commenced implementation of programs designed to provide homeowners with assistance in avoiding foreclosure. The programs involve, among other things, the modification of mortgage loans to reduce the principal amount of the loans or the rate of interest payable on the loans, or to extend the payment terms of the loans. Extension and expansion of these programs and adoption of new mortgage loan modification programs have been regularly discussed as part of the ongoing debate regarding the country’s housing market including most recently as part of President Obama’s “Blueprint for an America Built to Last” announced as part of his January 2012 State of the Union address. It is likely that loan modifications would result in interest rate reductions or principal reductions on the mortgage loans that back our RMBS. However, it is also likely that loan modifications would result in increased prepayments on some RMBS. See below “-Prepayment rates can change, adversely affecting the performance of our assets,” for information relating to the impact of prepayments on our business.
Congress and various state and local legislatures are considering, and in the future may consider, legislation, which, among other provisions, would permit limited assignee liability for certain violations in the mortgage loan origination process, and would allow judicial modification of loan principal in the event of personal bankruptcy. We cannot predict whether or in what form Congress or the various state and local legislatures may enact legislation affecting our business or whether any such legislation will require us to change our practices or make changes in our portfolio in the future. These changes, if required, could materially adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders, particularly if we make such changes in response to new or amended laws, regulations or ordinances in any state where we acquire a significant portion of our mortgage loans, or if such changes result in us being held responsible for any violations in the mortgage loan origination process.
These loan modification programs, as well as future legislative or regulatory actions, including amendments to the bankruptcy laws, that result in the modification of outstanding mortgage loans may adversely affect the value of, and the returns on, our assets which, in turn, could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations
and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
The principal and interest payments on our non-Agency RMBS are not guaranteed by any entity, including any government entity or GSE, and, therefore, are subject to increased risks, including credit risk.
Our portfolio includes non-Agency RMBS which are backed by residential mortgage loans that do not conform to the Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac underwriting guidelines, including subprime, manufactured housing, Alt-A and prime jumbo mortgage loans. Consequently, the principal and interest on non-Agency RMBS, unlike those on Agency RMBS, are not guaranteed by GSEs such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or, in the case of Ginnie Mae, the Federal Government.
Non-Agency RMBS are subject to many of the risks of the respective underlying mortgage loans. A residential mortgage loan is typically secured by single-family residential property and are subject to risks of delinquency and foreclosure and risks of loss. The ability of a borrower to repay a loan secured by a residential property is dependent upon the income or assets of the borrower. A number of factors, including a general economic downturn, unemployment, acts of God, terrorism, social unrest and civil disturbances, may impair borrowers’ abilities to repay their mortgage loans. In periods following home price declines, “strategic defaults” (decisions by borrowers to default on their mortgage loans despite having the ability to pay) also may become more prevalent.
In the event of defaults under mortgage loans backing any of our non-Agency RMBS, we will bear a risk of loss of principal to the extent of any deficiency between the value of the collateral and the principal and accrued interest of the mortgage loan. Additionally, in the event of the bankruptcy of a mortgage loan borrower, the mortgage loan to such borrower will be deemed to be secured only to the extent of the value of the underlying collateral at the time of bankruptcy (as determined by the bankruptcy court), and the lien securing the mortgage loan will be subject to the avoidance powers of the bankruptcy trustee or debtor-in-possession to the extent the lien is unenforceable under state law. Foreclosure of a mortgage loan can be an expensive and lengthy process which could have a substantial negative effect on our anticipated return on the foreclosed mortgage loan. If borrowers default on the mortgage loans backing our non-Agency RMBS and we are unable to recover any resulting loss through the foreclosure process, our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders could be materially adversely affected.
Less stringent underwriting guidelines and the resultant potential for delinquencies or defaults on certain mortgage loans could lead to losses on many of the non-Agency RMBS we hold.
Many, if not most, of the non-Agency RMBS in which we invest are collateralized by Alt-A and subprime mortgage loans, which are mortgage loans that were originated using less stringent underwriting guidelines than those used in underwriting prime mortgage loans (mortgage loans that generally conform to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac underwriting guidelines). These underwriting guidelines were more permissive as to borrower credit history or credit score, borrower debt-to-income ratio, loan-to-value ratio, and/or as to documentation (such as whether and to what extent borrower income was required to be disclosed or verified). In addition, even when specific underwriting guidelines were represented by loan originators as having been used in connection with the origination of mortgage loans, these guidelines were in many cases not followed as a result of aggressive lending practices, fraud (including borrower or appraisal fraud), or other factors. Mortgage loans that were underwritten pursuant to less stringent or looser underwriting guidelines, or that were poorly underwritten to their stated guidelines, have experienced, and should be expected to experience in the future, substantially higher rates of delinquencies, defaults and foreclosures than those experienced by mortgage loans that were underwritten in a manner more consistent with Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac guidelines. Thus, because of the higher delinquency rates and losses associated with Alt-A and subprime mortgage loans, the performance of RMBS backed by Alt-A and subprime mortgage loans that we may acquire could be correspondingly adversely affected, which could adversely impact our results of operations, financial condition and business.
We rely on analytical models and other data to analyze potential asset acquisition and disposition opportunities and to manage our portfolio. Such models and other data may be incorrect, misleading or incomplete, which could cause us to purchase assets that do not meet our expectations or to make asset management decisions that are not in line with our strategy.
Our Manager relies on the analytical models (both proprietary and third-party models) of Ellington Management Group, L.L.C. and information and data supplied by third parties. These models and data may be used to value assets or potential asset acquisitions and dispositions and also in connection with our asset management activities. If Ellington’s models and data prove to be incorrect, misleading or incomplete, any decisions made in reliance thereon could expose us to potential risks. Our Manager’s reliance on Ellington’s models and data may induce it to purchase certain assets at prices that are too high, to sell certain other assets at prices that are too low, or to miss favorable opportunities altogether. Similarly, any hedging activities that are based on faulty models and data may prove to be unsuccessful.
Some of the risks of relying on analytical models and third-party data include the following:
collateral cash flows and/or liability structures may be incorrectly modeled in all or only certain scenarios, or may be modeled based on simplifying assumptions that lead to errors;
information about collateral may be incorrect, incomplete or misleading;
collateral or RMBS historical performance (such as historical prepayments, defaults, cash flows, etc.) may be incorrectly reported, or subject to interpretation (e.g. different RMBS issuers may report delinquency statistics based on different definitions of what constitutes a delinquent loan); and
collateral or RMBS information may be outdated, in which case the models may contain incorrect assumptions as to what has occurred since the date information was last updated.
Some models, such as prepayment models or mortgage default models, may be predictive in nature. The use of predictive models has inherent risks. For example, such models may incorrectly forecast future behavior, leading to potential losses. 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 assets than actual market prices. Furthermore, because 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, in the case of predicting performance in scenarios with little or no historical precedent (such as extreme broad-based declines in home prices, or deep economic recessions or depressions), such models must employ greater degrees of extrapolation, and are therefore more speculative and of more limited reliability.
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. However, even if market data is input correctly, “model prices” will often differ substantially from market prices, especially for securities with complex characteristics or whose values are particularly sensitive to various factors. If our market data inputs are incorrect or our model prices differ substantially from market prices, our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders could be materially adversely affected.
Valuations of some of our assets are inherently uncertain, may be based on estimates, may fluctuate over short periods of time and may differ from the values that would have been used if a ready market for these assets existed. As a result, the values of some of our assets are uncertain.
The values of some of the assets in our portfolio are not readily determinable. We value these assets quarterly at fair value, as determined in good faith by our Manager, subject to the oversight of our Manager’s valuation committee. Because such valuations are inherently uncertain, may fluctuate over short periods of time and may be based on estimates, our Manager’s determinations of fair value may differ from the values that would have been used if a ready market for these assets existed or from the prices at which trades occur. Furthermore, we do not obtain third party valuations for all of our assets. Changes in the fair value of our assets directly impact our net income through recording unrealized appreciation or depreciation of our investments and derivative transactions, and so our Manager’s determination of fair value has a material impact on our net income.
While in many cases our Manager’s determination of the fair value of our assets is based on valuations provided by third-party dealers and pricing services, our Manager can and does value assets based upon its judgment and such valuations may differ from those provided by third-party dealers and pricing services. Valuations of certain assets are often difficult to obtain or are unreliable. In general, dealers and pricing services heavily disclaim their valuations. Additionally, dealers may claim to furnish valuations only as an accommodation and without special compensation, and so they may disclaim any and all liability for any direct, incidental, or consequential damages arising out of any inaccuracy or incompleteness in valuations, including any act of negligence or breach of any warranty. Depending on the complexity and illiquidity of an asset, valuations of the same asset can vary substantially from one dealer or pricing service to another. Higher valuations of our assets have the effect of increasing the amount of base management fees and incentive fees we pay to our Manager. Therefore, conflicts of interest exist because our Manager is involved in the determination of the fair value of our assets.
Our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders could be materially adversely affected if our Manager’s fair value determinations of these assets were materially different from the values that would exist if a ready market existed for these assets.
We depend on third-party service providers, including mortgage servicers, for a variety of services related to our non-Agency RMBS, and we intend to utilize third-party service providers if we acquire pools of whole mortgage loans. We are, therefore, subject to the risks associated with third-party service providers.
We depend on a variety of services provided by third-party service providers related to our non-Agency RMBS, and we will depend on similar services should we acquire pools of whole mortgage loans. We rely on the mortgage servicers who service the mortgage loans backing our non-Agency RMBS to, among other things, collect principal and interest payments on the underlying mortgages and perform loss mitigation services. Our mortgage servicers and other service providers to our non-Agency RMBS, such as trustees, bond insurance providers and custodians, may not perform in a manner that promotes our interests. In addition, legislation that has been enacted or that may be enacted in order to reduce or prevent foreclosures through, among other things, loan modifications may reduce the value of mortgage loans backing our non-Agency RMBS or whole mortgage loans that we acquire. Mortgage servicers may be incentivized by the Federal Government to pursue such loan modifications, as well as forbearance plans and other actions intended to prevent foreclosure, even if such loan modifications and other actions are not in the best interests of the beneficial owners of the mortgage loan. In addition to legislation that creates financial incentives for mortgage loan servicers to modify loans and take other actions that are intended to prevent foreclosures, legislation has also been adopted that creates a safe harbor from liability to creditors for servicers that undertake loan modifications and other actions that are intended to prevent foreclosures. Finally, recent laws delay the initiation or completion of foreclosure proceedings on specified types of residential mortgage loans or otherwise limit the ability of mortgage services to take actions that may be essential to preserve the value of the mortgage loans underlying the mortgage servicing rights. Any such limitations are likely to cause delayed or reduced collections from mortgagors and generally increase servicing costs. As a result of these legislative actions, the mortgage loan servicers on which we rely may not perform in our best interests or up to our expectations. If our third-party service providers do not perform as expected, our business, financial condition and results of operations and ability to make distributions to our shareholders may be materially adversely affected.
We rely on mortgage servicers for our loss mitigation efforts, and we also may engage in our own loss mitigation efforts with respect to whole mortgage loans we may purchase. Such loss mitigation efforts may be unsuccessful or not cost effective.
Both default frequency and default severity of mortgage loans are highly dependent on the quality of the mortgage servicer. We depend on the loss mitigation efforts of mortgage servicers and in some cases “special servicers,” which are mortgage servicers who specialize in servicing non-performing loans. If mortgage servicers are not vigilant in encouraging borrowers to make their monthly payments, the borrowers are far less likely to make those payments. In addition, if we purchase pools of whole mortgage loans, we may engage in our own loss mitigation efforts in addition to the efforts of the mortgage servicers, including more hands-on mortgage servicer oversight and management, borrower refinancing solicitations, as well as other efforts. Our and our mortgage servicers’ loss mitigation efforts may be unsuccessful in limiting delinquencies, defaults and losses, or may not be cost effective, which may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
To the extent that due diligence is conducted on potential assets, such due diligence may not reveal all of the risks associated with such assets and may not reveal other weaknesses in such assets, which could lead to losses.
Before making an investment, our Manager may decide to conduct (either directly or using third parties) certain due diligence. There can be no assurance that our Manager will conduct any specific level of due diligence, or that, among other things, our Manager’s due diligence processes will uncover all relevant facts or that any purchase will be successful, which could result in losses on these assets, which, in turn, could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
Sellers of the mortgage loans that underlie the non-Agency RMBS in which we invest may be unable to repurchase defective mortgage loans, which could have a material adverse effect on the value of the loans held by the trust that issued the RMBS and could cause shortfalls in the payments due on the RMBS.
Sellers of mortgage loans to the trusts that issued the non-Agency RMBS in which we invest made various representations and warranties related to the mortgage loans sold by them to the trusts that issued the RMBS. If a seller fails to cure a material breach of its representations and warranties with respect to any mortgage loan in a timely manner, then the trustee or the servicer of the loans may have the right to require that the seller repurchase the defective mortgage loan (or in some cases substitute a performing mortgage loan). It is possible, however, that for financial or other reasons, the seller either may not be capable of repurchasing defective mortgage loans, or may dispute the validity of or otherwise resist its obligation to repurchase defective mortgage loans. The inability or unwillingness of a seller to repurchase defective mortgage loans from a non-Agency RMBS trust in which we invest would likely cause higher rates of delinquencies, defaults and losses for the mortgage loans backing such non-Agency RMBS trust, and ultimately greater losses for our investment in such non-Agency RMBS.
Our assets include subordinated and lower-rated securities that generally have greater risks of loss than senior and higher-rated securities.
Certain securities that we acquire are deemed by rating companies to have substantial vulnerability to default in payment of interest and/or principal. Other securities we acquire have the lowest quality ratings or are unrated. Many securities that we acquire are subordinated in cash flow priority to other more “senior” securities of the same securitization. The exposure to defaults on the underlying mortgages is severely magnified in subordinated securities. Certain subordinated securities (“first loss securities”) absorb all losses from default before any other class of securities is at risk. Such securities therefore are considered to be highly speculative investments. Also, the risk of declining real estate values, in particular, is amplified in subordinated RMBS, as are the risks associated with possible changes in the market’s perception of the entity issuing or guaranteeing them, or by changes in government regulations and tax policies. Accordingly, these securities may experience significant price and performance volatility relative to more senior securities and they are subject to greater risk of loss than more senior securities which, if realized, could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
Investments in second lien mortgage loans could subject us to increased risk of losses.
We may invest in second lien mortgage loans or RMBS backed by such loans. If a borrower defaults on a second lien mortgage loan or on its senior debt (i.e., a first-lien loan, in the case of a residential mortgage loan), or in the event of a borrower bankruptcy, such loan will be satisfied only after all senior debt is paid in full. As a result, if we invest in second lien mortgage loans and the borrower defaults, we may lose all or a significant part of our investment.
Prepayment rates can change, adversely affecting the performance of our assets.
The frequency at which prepayments (including both voluntary prepayments by the borrowers and liquidations due to defaults and foreclosures) occur on mortgage loans underlying RMBS is affected by a variety of factors, including the prevailing level of interest rates as well as economic, demographic, tax, social, legal, and other factors. Generally, borrowers tend to prepay their mortgages when prevailing mortgage rates fall below the interest rates on their mortgage loans. Many of the mortgage loans underlying our existing RMBS were originated in a relatively higher interest rate environment than currently in effect and, therefore, could be prepaid if borrowers are eligible for refinancing. When borrowers prepay their mortgage loans at rates that are faster or slower than expected, it results in prepayments that are faster or slower than expected on the related RMBS. These faster or slower than expected payments may adversely affect our profitability.
In general, premium securities (securities whose market values exceed their principal or par amounts) are adversely affected by faster-than-anticipated prepayments because the above-market coupon that such premium securities carry will be earned for a shorter period of time. Generally, discount securities (securities whose principal or par amounts exceed their market values) are adversely affected by slower-than-anticipated prepayments. Since many RMBS will be discount securities when interest rates are high, and will be premium securities when interest rates are low, these RMBS may be adversely affected by changes in prepayments in any interest rate environment.
The adverse effects of prepayments may impact us in various ways. First, particular investments may experience outright losses, as in the case of IOs and IIOs in an environment of faster actual or anticipated prepayments. Second, particular investments may under-perform relative to any hedges that our Manager may have constructed for these assets, resulting in a loss to us. In particular, prepayments (at par) may limit the potential upside of many RMBS to their principal or par amounts, whereas their corresponding hedges often have the potential for unlimited loss. Furthermore, to the extent that faster prepayment rates are due to lower interest rates, the principal payments received from prepayments will tend to be reinvested in lower-yielding assets, which may reduce our income in the long run. Therefore, if actual prepayment rates differ from anticipated prepayment rates our business, financial condition and results of operations and ability to make distributions to our shareholders could be materially adversely affected.
Increases in interest rates could negatively affect the value of our assets and increase the risk of default on our assets.
Our RMBS investments, especially most fixed-rate RMBS and most RMBS backed by fixed-rate mortgage loans, decline in value when long-term interest rates increase. Even in the case of Agency RMBS, the guarantees provided by GSEs do not protect us from declines in market value caused by changes in interest rates. In the case of RMBS backed by ARMs, increases in interest rates can lead to increases in delinquencies and defaults as borrowers become less able to make their mortgage payments following interest payment resets. At the same time, an increase in short-term interest rates would increase the amount of interest owed on our reverse repo borrowings. See “-Interest rate mismatches between our assets and any borrowings used to fund purchases of our assets may reduce our income during periods of changing interest rates.”
An increase in interest rates may cause a decrease in the volume of certain of our target assets, which could adversely affect our ability to acquire target assets that satisfy our investment objectives and to generate income and pay dividends.
Rising interest rates generally reduce the demand for mortgage loans due to the higher cost of borrowing. A reduction in the volume of mortgage loans originated may affect the volume of target assets available to us, which could adversely affect our ability to acquire assets that satisfy our investment objectives. If rising interest rates cause us to be unable to acquire a sufficient volume of our target assets with a yield that is above our borrowing cost, our ability to satisfy our investment objectives and to generate income and pay dividends may be materially and adversely affected.
Interest rate caps on the ARMS and hybrid ARMS that back our RMBS may reduce our net interest margin during periods of rising interest rates.
ARMs and hybrid ARMS are typically subject to periodic and lifetime interest rate caps. Periodic interest rate caps limit the amount an interest rate can increase during any given period. Lifetime interest rate caps limit the amount an interest rate can increase through the maturity of the loan. Our borrowings typically are not subject to similar restrictions. Accordingly, in a period of rapidly increasing interest rates, our financing costs could increase without limitation while caps could limit the interest we earn on the ARMs and hybrid ARMs that back our RMBS. This problem is magnified for ARMs and hybrid ARMs that are not fully indexed because such periodic interest rate caps prevent the coupon on the security from fully reaching the specified rate in one reset. Further, some ARMs and hybrid ARMs may be subject to periodic payment caps that result in a portion of the interest being deferred and added to the principal outstanding. As a result, we may receive less cash income on RMBS backed by ARMs and hybrid ARMs than necessary to pay interest on our related borrowings. Interest rate caps on RMBS backed by ARMs and hybrid ARMs could reduce our net interest margin if interest rates were to increase beyond the level of the caps, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
Whole mortgage loans, including subprime residential mortgage loans and non-performing and sub-performing residential and commercial mortgage loans, are subject to increased risks.
We may acquire and manage whole mortgage loans. Whole mortgage loans, including subprime mortgage loans and non-performing and sub-performing mortgage loans, are subject to increased risks of loss. Unlike Agency MBS, whole mortgage loans generally are not guaranteed by the Federal Government or any GSE, though in some cases they may benefit from private mortgage insurance. Additionally, by directly acquiring whole mortgage loans, we do not receive the structural credit enhancements that benefit senior tranches of MBS. A whole mortgage loan is directly exposed to losses resulting from default. 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. 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 costs or delays involved in the foreclosure or liquidation process may increase losses.
Whole mortgage loans are also subject to “special hazard” risk (property damage caused by hazards, such as earthquakes or environmental hazards, not covered by standard property insurance policies), and to bankruptcy risk (reduction in a borrower’s mortgage debt by a bankruptcy court). In addition, claims may be assessed against us on account of our position as mortgage holder or property owner, including assignee liability, responsibility for tax payments, environmental hazards and other liabilities. In some cases, these liabilities may be “recourse liabilities” or may otherwise lead to losses in excess of the purchase price of the related mortgage or property.
The commercial mortgage loans we acquire and the mortgage loans underlying our CMBS investments are subject to the ability of the commercial property owner to generate net income from operating the property as well as the risks of delinquency and foreclosure.
Commercial mortgage loans are secured by multifamily or commercial property and are subject to risks of delinquency and foreclosure, and risks of loss that may be greater than similar risks associated with loans made on the security of single-family residential property. The ability of a borrower to repay a loan secured by an income-producing property typically is dependent primarily upon the successful operation of such 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 adversely affected by, among other things,
success of tenant businesses;
property management decisions;
property location, condition, and design;
new construction of competitive properties;
changes in laws that increase operating expenses or limit rents that may be charged;
changes in national, regional or local economic conditions and/or specific industry segments, including the credit and securitization markets;
declines in regional or local real estate values;
declines in regional or local rental or occupancy rates;
increases in interest rates, real estate tax rates, and other operating expenses;
costs of remediation and liabilities associated with environmental conditions;
the potential for uninsured or underinsured property losses;
changes in governmental laws and regulations, including fiscal policies, zoning ordinances and environmental legislation and the related costs of compliance; and
acts of God, terrorist attacks, social unrest, and civil disturbances.
In the event of any default under a mortgage loan held directly by us, we will bear a risk of loss to the extent of any deficiency between the value of the collateral and the outstanding principal and accrued interest of the mortgage loan, and any such losses could have a material adverse effect on our cash flow from operations and limit amounts available for distribution to our shareholders.
In the event of the bankruptcy of a mortgage loan borrower, the mortgage loan to such borrower will be deemed to be secured only to the extent of the value of the underlying collateral at the time of bankruptcy (as determined by the bankruptcy court), and the lien securing the mortgage loan will be subject to the avoidance powers of the bankruptcy trustee or debtor-in-possession to the extent the lien is unenforceable under state law. Foreclosure of a mortgage loan can be an expensive and lengthy process, which could have a substantial negative effect on our anticipated return on the foreclosed mortgage loan.
CMBS are secured by a single commercial mortgage loan or a pool of commercial mortgage loans. Accordingly, the CMBS we invest in are subject to all of the risks of the respective underlying commercial mortgage loans.
Our investments in CMBS are at risk of loss.
Our investments in CMBS are at risk of loss. In general, losses on a mortgaged property securing a mortgage loan included in a securitization will be borne first by the equity holder of the property, then by the holder of a mezzanine loan or B-Note, if any, then by the “first loss” subordinated security holder (generally, the “B-Piece” buyer) and then by the holder of a higher-rated security. In the event of default and the exhaustion of any applicable reserve fund, letter of credit, or classes of securities junior to those in which we invest, we may not be able to recover all of our investment in the securities we purchase. In addition, if the underlying mortgage portfolio has been overvalued by the originator, or if the values subsequently decline and, as a result, less collateral is available to satisfy interest and principal payments due on the related CMBS we may incur losses. The prices of lower credit quality securities are generally less sensitive to interest rate changes than more highly rated investments, but more sensitive to adverse economic downturns or individual issuer developments.
We may not control the special servicing of the mortgage loans included in the CMBS in which we invest and, in such cases, the special servicer may take actions that could adversely affect our interests.
With respect to the CMBS in which we invest, overall control over the special servicing of the related underlying mortgage loans will be held by a “directing certificateholder” or a “controlling class representative,” which is generally appointed by the holders of the most subordinate class of CMBS in such series. In connection with the servicing of the specially serviced mortgage loans, the related special servicer may, at the direction of the directing certificateholder, take actions with respect to the specially serviced mortgage loans that could adversely affect our interests. For further discussion of the risks of our reliance on special servicers, see above “-We rely on mortgage servicers for our loss mitigation efforts, and we also may engage in our own loss mitigation efforts with respect to whole mortgage loans we may purchase. Such loss mitigation efforts may be unsuccessful or not cost effective.”
Our real estate assets and our real-estate-related assets (including mortgage loans and MBS) are subject to the risks associated with real property.
We own assets secured by real estate and may own real estate directly in the future, either through direct acquisitions or upon a default of mortgage loans. Real estate assets are subject to various risks, including:
continued declines in the value of real estate;
acts of God, including earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters, which may result in uninsured losses;
acts of war or terrorism, including the consequences of terrorist attacks, such as those that occurred on September 11, 2001;
adverse changes in national and local economic and market conditions;
changes in governmental laws and regulations, fiscal policies and zoning ordinances and the related costs of compliance with laws and regulations, fiscal policies and zoning ordinances;
costs of remediation and liabilities associated with environmental conditions such as indoor mold;
potential liabilities for other legal actions related to property ownership including tort claims; and
the potential for uninsured or under-insured property losses.
The occurrence of any of the foregoing or similar events may reduce our return from an affected property or asset and, consequently, materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
If we acquire and subsequently re-sell any whole mortgage loans, we may be required to repurchase such loans or indemnify investors if we breach representations and warranties.
If we acquire and subsequently re-sell any whole mortgage loans, we would generally be required to make customary representations and warranties about such loans to the loan purchaser. Our residential mortgage loan sale agreements and terms of any securitizations into which we sell loans will generally require us to repurchase or substitute loans in the event we breach a representation or warranty given to the loan purchaser. In addition, we may be required to repurchase loans as a result of borrower fraud or in the event of early payment default on a mortgage loan. The remedies available to a purchaser of mortgage loans are generally broader than those available to us against an originating broker or correspondent. Repurchased loans are typically worth only a fraction of the original price. Significant repurchase activity could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We engage in short selling transactions, which may subject us to additional risks.
Many of our hedging transactions, and occasionally our investment transactions, are short sales. Short selling may involve selling securities that are not owned and typically borrowing the same securities for delivery to the purchaser, with an obligation to repurchase the borrowed securities at a later date. Short selling allows the investor to profit from declines in market prices to the extent such declines exceed the transaction costs and the costs of borrowing the securities. A short sale may create the risk of an unlimited loss, in that the price of the underlying security might theoretically increase without limit, thus increasing the cost of repurchasing the securities. There can be no assurance that securities sold short will be available for repurchase or borrowing. Repurchasing securities to close out a short position can itself cause the price of the securities to rise further, thereby exacerbating the loss.
We use leverage in executing our business strategy, which may adversely affect the return on our assets and may reduce cash available for distribution to our shareholders, as well as increase losses when economic conditions are unfavorable.
We use leverage to finance our investment operations and to enhance our financial returns. Most of our leverage is in the form of short-term repurchase agreement financings for our Agency and non-Agency RMBS assets. Other forms of leverage may include credit facilities, including term loans and revolving credit facilities.
Through the use of leverage, we may acquire positions with market exposure significantly greater than the amount of capital committed to the transaction. For example, by entering into repurchase agreements with advance rates, or haircut levels, of 3%, we could theoretically leverage capital allocated to Agency RMBS by a debt-to-equity ratio of as much as 33 to 1.
There is no specific limit on the amount of leverage that we may use. Leverage can enhance our potential returns but can also exacerbate losses. Even if an asset increases in value, if the asset fails to earn a return that equals or exceeds our cost of borrowing, the leverage will diminish our returns.
Leverage also increases the risk of our being forced to precipitously liquidate our assets. See below - “Our lenders and our derivative counterparties may require us to post additional collateral, which may force us to liquidate assets, and if we fail to post sufficient collateral our debts may be accelerated and/or our derivative contracts terminated on unfavorable terms.”
Our access to financing sources, which may not be available on favorable terms, or at all, may be limited, and this may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We depend upon the availability of adequate capital and financing sources to fund our operations. Our lenders are generally large global financial institutions, with exposures both to global financial markets and to more localized conditions. For example, several of our lenders are large European-based banks with substantial exposure to the creditworthiness of certain European countries, and concerns persist over the ability of these European countries to honor their sovereign debt obligations. Whether because of a global or local financial crisis or other circumstances, if one or more of our lenders experiences severe financial difficulties, they or other lenders could become unwilling or unable to provide us with financing, or could increase the costs of that financing, or could become insolvent, as was the case with Lehman Brothers. Moreover, we are currently party to short-term borrowings (in the form of reverse repos) and there can be no assurance that we will be able to replace these borrowings, or “roll” them, as they mature on a continuous basis and it may be more difficult for us to obtain debt financing on favorable terms or at all. In addition, if regulatory capital requirements imposed on our lenders change, they may be required to limit, or increase the cost of, financing they provide to us. In general, this could potentially increase our financing costs and reduce our liquidity or require us to sell assets at an inopportune time or price. Consequently, depending on market conditions at the relevant time, we may have to rely on additional equity issuances to meet our capital and financing needs, which may be dilutive to our shareholders, or we may have to rely on less efficient forms of debt financing that consume a larger portion of our cash flow from operations, thereby reducing funds available for our operations, future business opportunities, cash distributions to our shareholders and other purposes. We cannot assure you that we will have access to such equity or debt capital on favorable terms (including, without limitation, cost and term) at the desired times, or at all, which may cause us to curtail our asset acquisition activities and/or dispose of assets, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
Interest rate mismatches between our assets and any borrowings used to fund purchases of our assets may reduce our income during periods of changing interest rates.
Some of our assets are fixed-rate securities or have a fixed rate component (such as RMBS backed by hybrid ARMs). This means that the interest we earn on these assets will not vary over time based upon changes in a short-term interest rate index. Although the interest we earn on our RMBS backed by ARMs generally will adjust for changing interest rates, such interest rate adjustments may not occur as quickly as the interest rate adjustments to any related borrowings, and such interest rate adjustments will generally be subject to interest rate caps, which potentially could cause such RMBS to acquire many of the characteristics of fixed-rate securities if interest rates were to rise above the cap levels. Therefore, to the extent we finance our assets with floating-rate debt or debt with shorter maturities (including reverse repos), there will be an interest rate mismatch between our assets and liabilities. The use of interest rate hedges also will introduce the risk of other interest rate mismatches and exposures, as will the use of other financing techniques. Additionally, to the extent cash flows from RMBS are reinvested in new RMBS, the spread between the yields of the new RMBS and available borrowing rates may decline, which could reduce our net interest margin or result in losses. Any one of the foregoing interest rate related risks could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to pay distributions to our shareholders.
Our lenders and our derivative counterparties may require us to post additional collateral, which may force us to liquidate assets, and if we fail to post sufficient collateral our debts may be accelerated and/or our derivative contracts terminated on unfavorable terms.
Our reverse repo agreements and our derivative contracts allow our lenders and derivative counterparties, to varying degrees, to determine an updated market value of our collateral and derivative contracts to reflect current market conditions. If the market value of our collateral or our derivative contracts with a particular lender or derivative counterparty declines in value, we may be required by the lender or derivative counterparty to provide additional collateral or repay a portion of the funds advanced on minimal notice, which is known as a margin call. Posting additional collateral will reduce our liquidity and limit our ability to leverage our assets. Additionally, in order to satisfy a margin call, we may be required to liquidate assets at a disadvantageous time, which could cause us to incur further losses and adversely affect our results of operations, financial condition, and may impair our ability to make distributions. We receive margin calls from our lenders and derivative counterparties from time to time in the ordinary course of business similar to other entities in the specialty finance business. In the event we default on our obligation to satisfy these margin calls, our lenders or derivative counterparties can accelerate our indebtedness, terminate our derivative contracts (potentially on unfavorable terms requiring additional payments, including additional fees and costs), increase our borrowing rates, liquidate our collateral and terminate our ability to borrow. In certain cases, a default on one reverse repo agreement or derivative contract (whether caused by a failure to satisfy margin calls or another event of default) can trigger “cross defaults” on other such agreements. A significant increase in margin calls could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to
our shareholders, and could increase our risk of insolvency.
Our use of derivatives may expose us to counterparty risks
We enter into interest rate swaps and other derivatives. If a derivative counterparty cannot perform under the terms of the derivative contract, we would not receive payments due under that agreement, we may lose any unrealized gain associated with the derivative, and the hedged liability would cease to be hedged by such instrument. We may also be at risk for any collateral we have pledged to secure our obligations under a derivative contract if the counterparty become insolvent or file for bankruptcy and we may incur significant costs in attempting to recover such collateral.
Our rights under our reverse repos are subject to the effects of the bankruptcy laws in the event of the bankruptcy or insolvency of us or our lenders.
In the event of our insolvency or bankruptcy, certain reverse repos may qualify for special treatment under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the effect of which, among other things, would be to allow the lender to avoid the automatic stay provisions of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and to foreclose on and/or liquidate the collateral pledged under such agreements without delay. In the event of the insolvency or bankruptcy of a lender during the term of a reverse repo, the lender may be permitted, under applicable insolvency laws, to repudiate the contract, and our claim against the lender for damages may be treated simply as an unsecured creditor. In addition, if the lender is a broker or dealer subject to the Securities Investor Protection Act of 1970, or an insured depository institution subject to the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, our ability to exercise our rights to recover our securities under a reverse repo or to be compensated for any damages resulting from the lenders’ insolvency may be further limited by those statutes. These claims would be subject to significant delay and costs to us and, if and when received, may be substantially less than the damages we actually incur.
Certain actions by the U.S. Federal Reserve could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to pay distributions to our shareholders.
On September 21, 2011, the U.S. Federal Reserve, or the “Federal Reserve,” announced “Operation Twist,” a program by which it had purchased, by the end of December 2012, more than $650 billion of U.S. Treasury securities with remaining maturities between 6 and 30 years and had sold an equal amount of U.S. Treasury securities with remaining maturities of three years or less. In addition, on September 13, 2012, the Federal Reserve announced a third round of quantitative easing, or “QE3,” which is an open-ended program designed to expand the Federal Reserve’s holdings of long-term securities by purchasing an additional $40 billion of Agency RMBS per month until key economic indicators show sufficient signs of improvement.
In December 2012, in an effort to keep long-term interest rates at low levels, the Federal Reserve announced an expansion of its asset buying program starting in January 2013, at which time it would commence outright purchases of longer-term U.S. Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month. This new U.S. Treasury securities purchase program replaces “Operation Twist,” which expired in December 2012. On January 30, 2013, the Federal Reserve affirmed its intention to continue this policy. The effect of Operation Twist, or the securities purchase program that replaced it, has been and could continue to be a flattening in the yield curve, which could result in increased prepayment rates (resulting from lower long-term interest rates, including mortgage rates) and a narrowing of our net interest margin. Conversely, the precipitous termination of (or even just a phasing out of) Federal Reserve asset purchase programs could cause interest rates to rise substantially. See "-Increases in interest rates could negatively affect the value of our assets and increase the risk of default on our assets." The modification or termination by the Federal Reserve of any of its programs could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations, and our ability to pay distributions to our shareholders.
Hedging against credit events and interest rate changes and other risks may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We opportunistically pursue various hedging strategies to seek to reduce our exposure to losses from adverse credit events, interest rate changes, and other risks. Hedging against a decline in the values of our portfolio positions does not prevent losses if the values of such positions decline, or eliminate the possibility of fluctuations in the value of our portfolio. Hedging transactions generally will limit the opportunity for gain if the values of our other portfolio positions should increase. Further, certain hedging transactions could result in our experiencing significant losses. Moreover, at any point in time we may choose not to hedge all or a portion of our risks, and we generally will not hedge those risks that we believe are appropriate for us to take at such time, or that we believe would be impractical or prohibitively expensive to hedge. Even if we do choose to hedge certain risks, for a variety of reasons we generally will not seek to establish a perfect correlation between our hedging instruments and the risks being hedged. Any such imperfect correlation may prevent us from achieving the intended hedge and expose us to risk of loss. Our hedging activity will vary in scope based on the composition of our portfolio, our market views, and changing market conditions, including the level and volatility of interest rates. When we do choose to hedge, hedging may
fail to protect or could materially adversely affect us because, among other things:
our Manager may fail to correctly assess the degree of correlation between the performance of the instruments used in the hedging strategy and the performance of the assets in the portfolio being hedged;
our Manager may fail to recalculate, re-adjust, and execute hedges in an efficient and timely manner;
the hedging transactions may actually result in poorer over-all performance for us than if we had not engaged in the hedging transactions;
credit hedging can be expensive, particularly when the market is forecasting future credit deterioration and when markets are more illiquid;
interest rate hedging can be expensive, particularly during periods of volatile interest rates;
available hedges may not correspond directly with the risks for which protection is sought;
the durations of the hedges may not match the durations of the related assets or liabilities being hedged;
many hedges are structured as over-the-counter contracts with counterparties whose creditworthiness is not guaranteed, raising the possibility that the hedging counterparty may default on their payment obligations;
to the extent that the creditworthiness of a hedging counterparty deteriorates, it may be difficult or impossible to terminate or assign any hedging transactions with such counterparty; and
our hedging instruments are generally structured as derivative contracts, and so are subject to additional risks such as those described above under “-Our lenders and our derivative counterparties may require us to post additional collateral, which may force us to liquidate assets, and if we fail to post sufficient collateral our debts may be accelerated and/or our derivative contracts terminated on unfavorable terms.”
For these and other reasons, our hedging activity may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
Hedging instruments and other derivatives, including some credit default swaps, may not, in many cases, be traded on regulated exchanges, or may not be guaranteed or regulated by any U.S. or foreign governmental authority and involve risks and costs that could result in material losses.
Hedging instruments and other derivatives, including credit default swaps, involve risk because they may not, in many cases, be traded on regulated exchanges and may not be guaranteed or regulated by any U.S. or foreign governmental authorities. Consequently, for these instruments there are no requirements with respect to record keeping, financial responsibility or segregation of customer funds and compliance with applicable statutory and commodity and other regulatory requirements and, depending on the identity of the counterparty, applicable international requirements. While Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, or “Dodd-Frank Act,” provides for new federal regulation of the swaps market and sweeping changes to its structure, many of the provisions of Title VII that will have the most fundamental impact on the swaps market have not been finalized. Any such rulemaking may make our hedging more difficult or increase costs. Our Manager is not restricted from dealing with any particular counterparty or from concentrating any or all of its transactions with one counterparty. Furthermore, our Manager has only a limited internal credit function to evaluate the creditworthiness of its counterparties, mainly relying on its experience with such counterparties and their general reputation as participants in these markets. The business failure of a hedging counterparty with whom we enter into a hedging transaction will most likely result in a default under the hedging agreement. Default by a party with whom we enter into a hedging transaction, such as occurred with Lehman Brothers, may result in losses and may force us to re-initiate similar hedges with other counterparties at the then-prevailing market levels. Generally we will seek to reserve the right to terminate our hedging transactions upon a counterparty’s insolvency, but absent an actual insolvency, we may not be able to terminate a hedging transaction without the consent of the hedging counterparty, and we may not be able to assign or otherwise dispose of a hedging transaction to another counterparty without the consent of both the original hedging counterparty and the potential assignee. If we terminate a hedging transaction, we may not be able to enter into a replacement contract in order to cover our risk. There can be no assurance that a liquid secondary market will exist for hedging instruments purchased or sold, and therefore we may be required to maintain any hedging position until exercise or expiration, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or “CFTC,” and certain commodity exchanges have established limits referred to as speculative position limits or position limits on the maximum net long or net short position which any person or group of persons may hold or control in particular futures and options. Limits on trading in options contracts also have been established by the various options exchanges. It is possible that trading decisions may have to be modified and that positions held may have to be liquidated in order to avoid exceeding such limits. Such modification or liquidation, if required, could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our
Changes in regulations relating to swaps activities may cause us to limit our swaps activity or subject us and our Manager to additional disclosure, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements.
The enforceability of agreements underlying hedging transactions may depend on compliance with applicable statutory and commodity and other regulatory requirements and, depending on the identity of the counterparty, applicable international requirements. Recently, new regulations have been promulgated by U.S. and foreign regulators attempting to strengthen oversight of derivative contracts. Any actions taken by regulators could constrain our strategy and could increase our costs, either of which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders. In particular, the Dodd-Frank Act requires most derivatives to be executed on a regulated market and cleared through a central counterparty, which may result in increased margin requirements and costs.
In addition, changes to regulations promulgated under Dodd-Frank Act pursuant to which swaps are viewed as commodities for purposes of determining whether an entity is a “commodity pool” for purposes of the Commodity Exchange Act, as amended, have required our Manager to decide whether to limit our swap activity in order to meet certain exemptions from registration with the CFTC or to register as a “commodity pool operator” with the CFTC. Our Manager is currently registered as a “commodity pool operator” operating pursuant to an exemption under CFTC Regulation 4.12. If in the future we do not meet the conditions set forth in CFTC Regulation 4.12, such exemption becomes unavailable for any other reason, or the Manager pursues the Company’s derivative activities in another manner, we may need to seek another exemption from registration or the Company and our Manager may become subject to additional disclosure, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements, which may increase our expenses.
We may change our investment strategy, investment guidelines, hedging strategy, and asset allocation, operational and management policies without shareholder consent, which may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We may change our investment strategy, investment guidelines, hedging strategy, and asset allocation, operational and management policies at any time without the consent of our shareholders, which could result in our purchasing assets or entering into hedging transactions that are different from, and possibly riskier than, the assets and hedging transactions described elsewhere in this report. A change in our asset acquisition or hedging strategy may increase our exposure to real estate values, interest rates, and other factors. A change in our asset allocation could result in us purchasing assets in classes different from those described in this report. Our Board of Directors determines our investment guidelines and our operational policies, and may amend or revise our policies, including those with respect to our acquisitions, growth, operations, indebtedness, capitalization and distributions or approve transactions that deviate from these policies without a vote of, or notice to, our shareholders. Operational policy changes could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We, Ellington, or its affiliates may be subject to adverse legislative or regulatory changes.
At any time, laws or regulations that impact our business, or the administrative interpretations of those laws or regulations, may be enacted or amended. For example, on July 21, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires significant revisions to the existing financial regulations. Certain portions of the Dodd-Frank Act were effective immediately, while other portions will be effective only following rulemaking and extended transition periods, but many of these changes could in the future materially impact the profitability of our business or the business of our Manager or Ellington, the value of the assets that we hold, expose us to additional costs, require changes to business practices, or adversely affect our ability to pay dividends. For example, the Dodd-Frank Act alters the regulation of commodity interests, imposes new regulation on the over-the-counter derivatives market, places restrictions on residential mortgage loan originations and reforms the asset-backed securitization markets most notably by imposing credit requirements. While there continues to be uncertainty about the exact impact of all of these changes, we do know that the Company and the Manager will be subject to a more complex regulatory framework, and will incur costs to comply with new requirements as well as to monitor compliance in the future.
We cannot predict when or if any new law, regulation or administrative interpretation, including those related to the Dodd-Frank Act, such as increased regulatory oversight of derivative transactions, or any amendment to any existing law, regulation or administrative interpretation, will be adopted or promulgated or will become effective. Additionally, the adoption or implementation of any new law, regulation or administrative interpretation, or any revisions in these laws, regulations or administrative interpretations, including those related to the Dodd-Frank Act, could cause us to change our portfolio, could constrain our strategy or increase our costs. We could be adversely affected by any change in or any promulgation of new law, regulation, or administrative interpretation.
We, Ellington, or its affiliates may be subject to regulatory inquiries or proceedings.
At any time, industry-wide or company-specific regulatory inquiries or proceedings can be initiated and we cannot predict when or if any such regulatory inquiries or proceedings will be initiated that involve us, Ellington, or its affiliates, including our Manager. For example, over the years, Ellington and its affiliates have received, and we expect in the future that they may receive, inquiries and requests for documents and information from various federal, state, and foreign regulators.
We can give no assurances that regulatory inquiries will not result in investigations of Ellington or its affiliates or enforcement actions, fines or penalties or the assertion of private litigation claims against Ellington or its affiliates. We believe that the heightened scrutiny of MBS market participants in general, and CDO market participants in particular (including large CDO collateral managers such as Ellington), increases the risk of additional inquiries and requests from regulatory or enforcement agencies. In the event regulatory inquiries were to result in investigations, enforcement actions, fines, penalties or the assertion of private litigation claims against Ellington or its affiliates, our Manager’s ability to perform its obligations to us under the management agreement between us and our Manager, or Ellington’s ability to perform its obligations to our Manager under the services agreement between Ellington and our Manager, could be adversely impacted, which could in turn have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations, and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We operate in a highly competitive market.
Our profitability depends, in large part, on our ability to acquire targeted assets at favorable prices. We compete with a number of entities when acquiring our targeted assets, including mortgage REITs, financial companies, public and private funds, commercial and investment banks, and residential and commercial finance companies. We may also compete with (i) the Federal Reserve and the Treasury to the extent they purchase assets in our targeted asset classes and (ii) companies that partner with and/or receive financing from the Federal Government. Many of our competitors are substantially larger and have considerably greater access to capital and other resources than we do. Furthermore, new companies with significant amounts of capital have recently been formed or have raised additional capital, and may continue to be formed and raise additional capital in the future, and these companies may have objectives that overlap with ours, which may create competition for assets we wish to acquire. Some competitors may have a lower cost of funds and access to funding sources that are not available to 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 assets to acquire and establish more relationships than us. We also may have different operating constraints from those of our competitors including, among others, (i) tax-driven constraints such as those arising from maintenance of our publicly traded partnership status for tax purposes and in some cases to avoid adverse tax consequences to our shareholders, (ii) restraints imposed on us by our attempt to comply with certain exclusions from the definition of an “investment company” or other exemptions under the Investment Company Act and (iii) restraints and additional costs arising from our status as a public company. Furthermore, competition for assets in our targeted asset classes may lead to the price of such assets increasing, which may further limit our ability to generate desired returns. We cannot assure you that the competitive pressures we face will not have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are highly dependent on information systems and system failures could significantly disrupt our business, which may, in turn, materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
Our business is highly dependent on communications and information systems. Any failure or interruption of our systems could cause delays or other problems in our securities trading activities, including RMBS trading activities, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
Lack of diversification in the number of assets we acquire would increase our dependence on relatively few individual assets.
Our management objectives and policies do not place a limit on the amount of capital used to support, or the exposure to (by any other measure), any individual asset or any group of assets with similar characteristics or risks. As a result, our portfolio may be concentrated in a small number of assets or may be otherwise undiversified, increasing the risk of loss and the magnitude of potential losses to us and our shareholders if one or more of these assets perform poorly.
For example, our portfolio of mortgage-related assets may at times be concentrated in certain property types that are subject to higher risk of foreclosure, or secured by properties concentrated in a limited number of geographic locations. To the extent that our portfolio is concentrated in any one region or type of security, downturns relating generally to such region or type of security may result in defaults on a number of our assets within a short time period, which may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
The lack of liquidity in our assets may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We acquire assets and other instruments that are not publicly traded, including privately placed RMBS, and residential and commercial mortgage loans. As such, they may be subject to legal and other restrictions on resale, transfer, pledge or other disposition or will otherwise be less liquid than publicly-traded securities. Other assets that we acquire, while publicly issued, have limited liquidity on account of their complexity, turbulent market conditions or other factors. In addition, mortgage-related assets from time to time have experienced extended periods of illiquidity, including during times of financial stress (such as the during the recent financial crisis), which is often the time that liquidity is most needed. Illiquid assets typically experience greater price volatility, because a ready market does not exist, and they can be more difficult to value or sell if the need arises. In addition, if we are required to liquidate all or a portion of our portfolio quickly, we may realize significantly less than the value at which we have previously recorded our assets. We may also face other restrictions on our ability to liquidate any assets for which we or our Manager has or could be attributed with material non-public information. Furthermore, assets that are illiquid are more difficult to finance, and to the extent that we finance assets that are or become illiquid, we may lose that financing or have it reduced. If we are unable to sell our assets at favorable prices or at all, it could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We could be subject to liability for potential violations of predatory lending laws, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
Residential mortgage loan originators and servicers are required to comply with various federal, state and local laws and regulations, including anti-predatory lending laws and laws and regulations imposing certain restrictions on requirements on “high cost” loans. Failure of residential mortgage loan originators or servicers to comply with these laws, to the extent any of their residential mortgage loans become part of our mortgaged-related assets, could subject us, as an assignee or purchaser to the related residential mortgage loans, to monetary penalties and could result in the borrowers rescinding the affected residential mortgage loans. Lawsuits have been brought in various states making claims against assignees or purchasers of high cost loans for violations of state law. Named defendants in these cases have included numerous participants within the secondary mortgage market. If the loans are found to have been originated in violation of predatory or abusive lending laws, we could incur losses, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We may be exposed to environmental liabilities with respect to properties in which we have an interest.
In the course of our business, we may take title to real estate, and, if we do take title, we could be subject to environmental liabilities with respect to these properties. In such a circumstance, we may be held liable to a governmental entity or to third parties for property damage, personal injury, investigation, and clean-up costs incurred by these parties in connection with environmental contamination, or may be required to investigate or clean up hazardous or toxic substances, or chemical releases at a property. The costs associated with investigation or remediation activities could be substantial. In addition, the presence of hazardous substances may adversely affect an owner’s ability to sell real estate or borrow using real estate as collateral. To the extent that an owner of an underlying property becomes liable for removal costs, the ability of the owner to make debt payments may be reduced, which in turn may materially adversely affect the value of the relevant mortgage-related assets held by us.
Risks Related to our Relationship with our Manager and Ellington
We are dependent on our Manager and certain key personnel of Ellington that are provided to us through our Manager and may not find a suitable replacement if our Manager terminates the management agreement or such key personnel are no longer available to us.
We do not have any employees of our own. Our officers are employees of Ellington or one or more of its affiliates. We have no separate facilities and are completely reliant on our Manager, which has significant discretion as to the implementation of our operating policies and execution of our business strategies and risk management practices. We also depend on our Manager’s access to the professionals and principals of Ellington as well as information and deal flow generated by Ellington. The employees of Ellington identify, evaluate, negotiate, structure, close, and monitor our portfolio. The departure of any of the senior officers of our Manager, or of a significant number of investment professionals or principals of Ellington, could have a material adverse effect on our ability to achieve our objectives. We can offer no assurance that our Manager will remain our manager or that we will continue to have access to our Manager’s senior management. We are subject to the risk that our Manager will terminate the management agreement or that we may deem it necessary to terminate the management agreement or prevent certain individuals from performing services for us and that no suitable replacement will be found to manage us.
The base management fee payable to our Manager is payable regardless of the performance of our portfolio, which may reduce our Manager’s incentive to devote the time and effort to seeking profitable opportunities for our portfolio.
We pay our Manager substantial base management fees based on our equity capital (as defined in the management agreement) regardless of the performance of our portfolio. The base management fee takes into account the net issuance proceeds of both common and preferred share offerings. Our Manager’s entitlement to non-performance-based compensation might reduce its incentive to devote the time and effort of its professionals to seeking profitable opportunities for our portfolio, which could result in a lower performance of our portfolio and materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our Manager’s incentive fee may induce our Manager to acquire certain assets, including speculative or high risk assets, or to acquire assets with increased leverage, which could increase the risk to our portfolio.
In addition to its base management fee, our Manager is entitled to receive an incentive fee based, in large part, upon our achievement of targeted levels of net income. In evaluating asset acquisition and other management strategies, the opportunity to earn an incentive fee based on net income may lead our Manager to place undue emphasis on the maximization of net income at the expense of other criteria, such as preservation of capital, maintaining liquidity and/or management of credit risk or market risk, in order to achieve a higher incentive fee. Assets with higher yield potential are generally riskier or more speculative. This could result in increased risk to our portfolio.
Our Board of Directors has approved very broad investment guidelines for our Manager, but will not approve each decision made by our Manager to acquire, dispose of, or otherwise manage an asset.
Our Manager is authorized to follow very broad guidelines in pursuing our strategy. Our Board of Directors periodically reviews our guidelines and our portfolio and asset-management decisions; however, it does not review all of our proposed acquisitions. In addition, in conducting periodic reviews, our Board of Directors relies primarily on information provided to them by our Manager. Furthermore, our Manager may arrange for us to use complex strategies or to enter into complex transactions that may be difficult or impossible to unwind by the time they are reviewed by our Board of Directors. Our Manager has great latitude within the broad guidelines in determining the types of assets it may decide are proper for us to acquire and other decisions with respect to the management of those assets. Poor decisions could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We compete with Ellington’s other accounts for access to Ellington.
Ellington has sponsored and/or currently manages accounts with a focus that overlaps with our investment focus, and expects to continue to do so in the future. Ellington is not restricted in any way from sponsoring or accepting capital from new accounts, even for investing in asset classes or strategies that are similar to, or overlapping with, our asset classes or strategies. Therefore, we compete for access to the benefits that our relationship with our Manager and Ellington provides us. For the same reasons, the personnel of Ellington and our Manager may be unable to dedicate a substantial portion of their time managing our assets.
We compete with other Ellington accounts for opportunities to acquire assets, which are allocated in accordance with Ellington’s investment allocation policies.
Many, if not most, of our targeted assets are also targeted assets of other Ellington accounts, and Ellington has no duty to allocate such opportunities in a manner that preferentially favors us. Ellington makes available to us all opportunities to acquire assets that it determines, in its reasonable and good faith judgment, based on our objectives, policies and strategies, and other relevant factors, are appropriate for us in accordance with Ellington’s written investment allocation policy, it being understood that we might not participate in each such opportunity, but will on an overall basis equitably participate with Ellington’s other accounts in all such opportunities.
Since many of our targeted assets are typically available only in specified quantities, Ellington often is not able to buy as much of any asset or group of assets as would be required to satisfy the needs of all of Ellington’s accounts. In these cases, Ellington’s investment allocation procedures and policies typically allocate such assets to multiple accounts in proportion to their needs and available capital. As part of these policies, accounts that are in a “start-up” or “ramp-up” phase may get allocations above their proportion of available capital, which could work to our disadvantage, particularly because there are no limitations surrounding Ellington’s ability to create new accounts. In addition, the policies permit departure from proportional allocations under certain circumstances, for example when such allocation would result in an inefficiently small amount of the security being purchased for an account, which may also result in our not participating in certain allocations.
There are conflicts of interest in our relationships with our Manager and Ellington, which could result in decisions that are not in the best interests of our shareholders.
We are subject to conflicts of interest arising out of our relationship with Ellington and our Manager. Two of Ellington’s employees are our directors and all of our executive officers-even those expected to dedicate all or substantially all of their time to us-are or will be employees of Ellington or one or more of its affiliates. As a result, our Manager and our officers may have conflicts between their duties to us and their duties to, and interests in, Ellington or our Manager.
We may acquire or sell assets in which Ellington or its affiliates have or may have an interest. Similarly, Ellington or its affiliates may acquire or sell assets in which we have or may have an interest. Although such acquisitions or dispositions may present conflicts of interest, we nonetheless may pursue and consummate such transactions. Additionally, we may engage in transactions directly with Ellington or its affiliates, including the purchase and sale of all or a portion of a portfolio asset.
Acquisitions made for entities with similar objectives may be different from those made on our behalf. Ellington may have economic interests in or other relationships with others in whose obligations or securities we may acquire. In particular, such persons may make and/or hold an investment in securities that we acquire that may be pari passu, senior or junior in ranking to our interest in the securities or in which partners, security holders, officers, directors, agents or employees of such persons serve on boards of directors or otherwise have ongoing relationships. Each of such ownership and other relationships may result in securities laws restrictions on transactions in such securities and otherwise create conflicts of interest. In such instances, Ellington may, in its sole discretion, make recommendations and decisions regarding such securities for other entities that may be the same as or different from those made with respect to such securities and may take actions (or omit to take actions) in the context of these other economic interests or relationships the consequences of which may be adverse to our interests.
In deciding whether to issue additional debt or equity securities, we will rely in part on recommendations made by our Manager. While such decisions are subject to the approval of our Board of Directors, two of our directors are also Ellington employees. Because our Manager earns base management fees that are based on the total amount of our equity capital, and earns incentive fees that are based in part on the total net income that we are able to generate, our Manager may have an incentive to recommend that we issue additional debt or equity securities. See below “-Future offerings of debt or equity securities may adversely affect the market price of common shares” for further discussion of the adverse impact future debt or equity offerings could have on our common shares.
The officers of our Manager and its affiliates devote as much time to us as our Manager deems appropriate, however, these officers may have conflicts in allocating their time and services among us and Ellington and its affiliates’ accounts. During turbulent conditions in the mortgage industry, distress in the credit markets or other times when we will need focused support and assistance from our Manager and Ellington employees, other entities that Ellington advises or manages will likewise require greater focus and attention, placing our Manager and Ellington’s resources in high demand. In such situations, we may not receive the necessary support and assistance we require or would otherwise receive if we were internally managed or if Ellington did not act as a manager for other entities.
We, directly or through Ellington, may obtain confidential information about the companies or securities in which we have invested or may invest. If we do possess confidential information about such companies or securities, there may be restrictions on our ability to dispose of, increase the amount of, or otherwise take action with respect to the securities of such companies. Our Manager’s and Ellington’s management of other accounts could create a conflict of interest to the extent our Manager or Ellington is aware of material non-public information concerning potential investment decisions. We have implemented compliance procedures and practices designed to ensure that investment decisions are not made while in possession of material non-public information. We cannot assure you, however, that these procedures and practices will be effective. In addition, this conflict and these procedures and practices may limit the freedom of our Manager to make potentially profitable investments, which could have an adverse effect on our operations. These limitations imposed by access to confidential information could therefore materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
The Manager Group currently owns approximately 16.6% of our outstanding common shares and other equity interests convertible into our common shares. In evaluating opportunities for us and other management strategies, this may lead our Manager to emphasize certain asset acquisition, disposition or management objectives over others, such as balancing risk or capital preservation objectives against return objectives. This could increase the risks, or decrease the returns, of your investment.
The management agreement with our Manager was not negotiated on an arm’s-length basis and may not be as favorable to us as if it had been negotiated with an unaffiliated third party.
Our management agreement with our Manager was negotiated between related parties, and its terms, including fees payable, may not be as favorable to us as if it had been negotiated with an unaffiliated third party. Various potential and actual conflicts of interest may arise from the activities of Ellington and its affiliates by virtue of the fact that our Manager is controlled by Ellington.
Termination of our management agreement would be costly and, in certain cases, not permitted.
Termination of our management agreement without cause is subject to several conditions which may make such a termination difficult and costly. The management agreement, which was most recently amended and restated effective January 1, 2013, has a current term that expires on December 31, 2013, and will be automatically renewed for successive one-year terms thereafter unless notice of non-renewal is delivered by either party to the other party at least 180 days prior to the expiration of the then current term. The management agreement provides that it may be terminated by us based on performance upon the affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of our independent directors, or by a vote of the holders of at least a majority of our outstanding common shares, based either upon unsatisfactory performance by our Manager that is materially detrimental to us or upon a determination by the Board of Directors that the management fee payable to our Manager is not fair, subject to our Manager’s right to prevent such a termination by accepting a mutually acceptable reduction of management fees. In the event we terminate the management agreement as discussed above or elect not to renew the management agreement, we will be required to pay our Manager a termination fee equal to the amount of three times the sum of the average annual base management fee and the average annual incentive fee earned by our Manager during the 24-month period immediately preceding the date of termination, calculated as of the end of the most recently completed fiscal quarter prior to the date of termination. These provisions will increase the effective cost to us of terminating the management agreement, thereby adversely affecting our ability to terminate our Manager without cause.
If our Manager ceases to serve as our manager pursuant to the management agreement, or one or more of our Manager’s key personnel are no longer servicing our business, our reverse repo and our derivative counterparties may cease doing business with us.
If our Manager ceases to serve as our manager, including upon non-renewal of our management agreement which has a current term that expires on December 31, 2013, or one or more of our Manager’s key personnel are no longer servicing our business it could constitute an event of default or early termination event under many of our reverse repo or derivative transaction agreements, upon which our counterparties would have the right to terminate their agreements with us. If as a result we are then unable to obtain or renew financing or enter into or maintain derivative transactions, our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders may be materially adversely affected.
Our Manager’s failure to identify and acquire assets that meet our asset criteria or perform its responsibilities under the management agreement could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
Our ability to achieve our objectives depends on our Manager’s ability to identify and acquire assets that meet our asset criteria. Accomplishing our objectives is largely a function of our Manager’s structuring of our investment process, our access to financing on acceptable terms and general market conditions. Our shareholders will not have input into our investment decisions. All of these factors increase the uncertainty, and thus the risk, of investing in our common shares. The senior management team of our Manager has substantial responsibilities under the management agreement. In order to implement certain strategies, our Manager may need to hire, train, supervise, and manage new employees successfully. Any failure to manage our future growth effectively could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
We do not own the Ellington brand or trademark, but may use the brand and trademark as well as our logo pursuant to the terms of a license granted by Ellington.
Ellington has licensed the “Ellington” brand, trademark and logo to us for so long as our Manager or another affiliate of Ellington continues to act as our Manager. We do not own the brand, trademark, or logo that we will use in our business and may be unable to protect this intellectual property against infringement from third parties. Ellington retains the right to continue using the “Ellington” brand and trademark. We will further be unable to preclude Ellington from licensing or transferring the ownership of the “Ellington” brand and trademark to third parties, some of whom may compete against us. Consequently, we will be unable to prevent any damage to goodwill that may occur as a result of the activities of Ellington or others.
Furthermore, in the event our Manager or another affiliate of Ellington ceases to act as our Manager, or in the event
Ellington terminates the license we will be required to change our name and trademark. Any of these events could disrupt our recognition in the marketplace, damage any goodwill we may have generated and otherwise harm our business. Finally, the license is a domestic license in the United States only and does not give us any right to use the “Ellington” brand, trademark, and logo overseas even though we expect to use the brand, trademark, and logo overseas. Our use of the “Ellington” brand, trademark, and logo overseas will therefore be unlicensed and could expose us to a claim of infringement.
Risks Related To Our Common Shares
The market for our common shares may be limited, which may adversely affect the price at which our common shares trade and make it difficult to sell our common shares.
While our common shares are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, such listing does not provide any assurance as to:
whether the market price of our shares will reflect our actual financial performance;
the liquidity of our common shares;
the ability of any holder to sell common shares; or
the prices that may be obtained for our common shares.
The market price and trading volume of our common shares may be volatile.
The market price of our common shares may be highly volatile and could be subject to wide fluctuations. In addition, the trading volume in our common shares may fluctuate and cause significant price variations to occur. We cannot assure you that the market price of our common shares will not fluctuate or decline significantly in the future. Some of the factors that could negatively affect our share price or result in fluctuations in the price or trading volume of our common shares include:
actual or anticipated variations in our quarterly operating results or distributions;
changes in our earnings estimates, failure to meet earnings or operating results expectations of public market analysts and investors, or publication of research reports about us or the real estate specialty finance industry;
increases in market interest rates that lead purchasers of our common shares to demand a higher yield;
changes in applicable laws or regulations, court rulings and enforcement and legal actions;
changes in government policies or changes in timing of implementation of government policies, including with respect Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae;
changes in market valuations of similar companies;
adverse market reaction to any increased indebtedness we incur in the future;
additions or departures of key management personnel;
actions by institutional shareholders;
speculation in the press or investment community; and
general market and economic conditions.
Future offerings of debt or equity securities may adversely affect the market price of common shares.
In the future, we may attempt to increase our capital resources by making offerings of debt or additional offerings of equity securities, including commercial paper, medium-term notes, senior or subordinated notes and classes of preferred shares. If we decide to issue senior securities in the future, it is likely that they will be governed by an indenture or other instrument containing covenants restricting our operating flexibility. Holders of senior securities may be granted specific rights, including the right to hold a perfected security interest in certain of our assets, the right to accelerate payments due under an indenture, rights to restrict dividend payments and rights to require approval to sell assets. Additionally, any convertible or exchangeable securities that we issue in the future may have rights, preferences and privileges more favorable than those of our common shares and may result in dilution of owners of our common shares. We and, indirectly, our shareholders, will bear the cost of issuing and servicing such securities. Upon liquidation, holders of our debt securities and preferred shares and lenders with respect to other borrowings will receive a distribution of our available assets prior to the holders of our common shares. Additional equity offerings may dilute the holdings of our existing shareholders or reduce the market price of our common shares, or both. Our preferred shares, if issued, could have a preference on liquidating distributions or a preference on dividend payments that could limit our ability to make a dividend distribution to the holders of our common shares. Because our decision to issue securities in any future offering will depend on market conditions and other factors beyond our control, we cannot predict or estimate the amount, timing or nature of our future offerings. Thus, holders of our common shares bear the risk of our future offerings reducing the market price of our common shares and diluting their share holdings in us.
Future sales of our common shares could have an adverse effect on our share price.
We cannot predict the effect, if any, of future sales of our common shares, or the availability of our common shares for future sales, on the market price of our common shares. Sales of substantial amounts of our common shares, or the perception that such sales could occur, may adversely affect prevailing market prices for our common shares.
Our shareholders may not receive dividends or dividends may not grow over time.
We have not established a minimum dividend payment level and our ability to pay dividends may be adversely affected by a number of factors, including the risk factors described herein. All dividends will be declared at the discretion of our Board of Directors and will depend on our earnings, our financial condition and other factors as our Board of Directors may deem relevant from time to time. Our Board of Directors is under no obligation or requirement to declare a dividend. We cannot assure you that we will achieve results that will allow us to pay a specified level of dividends or year-to-year increases in dividends. Among the factors that could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to pay dividends to our shareholders are:
our inability to realize positive or attractive returns on our portfolio, whether because of defaults in our portfolio, decreases in the value of our portfolio, or otherwise;
margin calls or other expenditures that reduce our cash flow and impact our liquidity; and
increases in actual or estimated operating expenses.
Market interest rates may have an effect on the trading value of our shares.
One of the factors that investors may consider in deciding whether to buy or sell our common shares is our dividend rate or earnings as a percentage of our common share price, as compared to market interest rates. If market interest rates increase, prospective investors may demand a higher dividend or earnings rate or seek higher-yielding alternative debt or equity investments. As a result, interest rate fluctuations and other capital market conditions can affect the market price of our common shares independent of the effects such conditions may have on our portfolio. For instance, if interest rates rise, it is likely that the market price of our common shares will decrease as market rates on interest-bearing securities, such as bonds, increase.
Investing in our common shares involves a high degree of risk.
The assets we purchase in accordance with our objectives may result in a higher amount of risk than other alternative asset acquisition options. The assets we acquire may be highly speculative and aggressive and may be subject to a variety of risks, including credit risk, prepayment risk, interest rate risk and market value risks. As a result, an investment in our common shares may not be suitable for investors with lower risk tolerance.
Risks Related To Our Organization and Structure
Our operating agreement and management agreement contain provisions that may inhibit potential acquisition bids that shareholders may consider favorable, and the market price of our common shares may be lower as a result.
Our operating agreement contains provisions that have an anti-takeover effect and inhibit a change in our Board of Directors. These provisions include the following:
allowing only our Board of Directors to fill newly created directorships;
requiring advance notice for our shareholders to nominate candidates for election to our Board of Directors or to propose business to be considered by our shareholders at a meeting of shareholders;
our ability to issue additional securities, including, but not limited to, preferred shares, without approval by shareholders;
the ability of our Board of Directors to amend the operating agreement without the approval of our shareholders except under certain specified circumstances; and
limitations on the ability of shareholders to call special meetings of shareholders or to act by written consent.
Certain provisions of the management agreement also could make it more difficult for third parties to acquire control of us by various means, including limitations on our right to terminate the management agreement and a requirement that, under certain circumstances, we make a substantial payment to our Manager in the event of a termination.
There are ownership limits and restrictions on transferability and ownership in our operating agreement.
Our operating agreement, subject to certain exceptions, contains restrictions on the amount of our shares that a person
may own and may prohibit certain entities from owning our shares. Although we do not currently have any subsidiaries that qualify as REITs, it is possible that we may acquire or form a REIT subsidiary in the future. Accordingly, in order to ensure that we are able to satisfy the REIT ownership requirements should we acquire or form a REIT subsidiary in the future, our operating agreement provides that (subject to certain exceptions described below) no person may own, or be deemed to own by virtue of the attribution provisions of the Code, more than 9.8% of the aggregate value or number (whichever is more restrictive) of our outstanding shares.
Any person who acquires or attempts or intends to acquire beneficial or constructive ownership of our shares that will or may violate any of the foregoing restrictions on transferability and ownership, or who is the intended transferee of our common shares which are transferred to the trust (as described below), will be required to give written notice immediately to us, or in the case of proposed or attempted transactions will be required to give at least 15 days written notice to us, and provide us with such other information as we may request in order to determine the effect of such transfer, including, without limitation, the effect on the qualification as a REIT of any potential REIT subsidiary we acquire or form in the future.
Our Board of Directors, in its sole discretion, may exempt any person from the foregoing restrictions. Any person seeking such an exemption must provide to our Board of Directors such representations, covenants and undertakings as our Board of Directors may deem appropriate. Our Board of Directors may also condition any such exemption on the receipt of a ruling from the IRS or an opinion of counsel as it deems appropriate. Our Board of Directors has granted an exemption from this limitation to Ellington, certain affiliated entities of Ellington and certain non-affiliates, subject to certain conditions.
Our rights and the rights of our shareholders to take action against our directors and officers or against our Manager or Ellington are limited, which could limit your recourse in the event actions are taken that are not in your best interests.
Our operating agreement limits the liability of our directors and officers to us and our shareholders for money damages, except (i) for any breach of such person’s duty of loyalty to us or our shareholders; (ii) for acts or omissions not in good faith or which involve intentional misconduct or knowing violation of law; or (iii) for any transaction from which such Person derived an improper benefit.
In addition, our operating agreement authorizes us to obligate our company to indemnify our present and former directors and officers (except in certain limited circumstances) for actions taken by them in those capacities to the maximum extent permitted by Delaware law if such person acted in good faith and in a manner the person reasonably believed to be in or not opposed to the best interests of the Company, and, with respect to any criminal action or proceeding, had no reasonable cause to believe the person’s conduct was unlawful. We have entered into indemnification agreements with our directors and officers implementing these indemnification provisions that obligate us to indemnify them to the maximum extent permitted by Delaware law. Such indemnification includes defense costs and expenses incurred by such officers and directors.
Our management agreement with our Manager requires us to indemnify our Manager and its affiliates against any and all claims and demands arising out of claims by third parties caused by acts or omissions of our Manager and its affiliates not constituting bad faith, willful misconduct, gross negligence, or reckless disregard of our Manager’s duties under the management agreement.
In light of the liability limitations contained in our operating agreements and our management agreement with our Manager, as well as our indemnification arrangements with our directors and officers and our Manager, our and our shareholders’ rights to take action against our directors and officers and our Manager are limited, which could limit your recourse in the event actions are taken that are not in your best interests.
Maintenance of our exclusion from registration under the Investment Company Act imposes significant limitations on our operations.
We have conducted and intend to continue to conduct our operations through various wholly-owned or majority-owned subsidiaries in a manner such that neither we nor those subsidiaries are subject to regulation under the Investment Company Act. The securities issued by our subsidiaries that are excluded from the definition of “investment company” under Section 3(c)(1) or Section 3(c)(7) of the Investment Company Act, together with other investment securities we may own, cannot exceed a combined value of 40% of the value of all our assets (excluding U.S. Government securities and cash) on an unconsolidated basis. This requirement limits the types of businesses in which we may engage and the assets we may hold. EF Mortgage LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of our Operating Partnership, relies on the exclusion provided by Section 3(c)(5)(C) under the Investment Company Act. Section 3(c)(5)(C) of the Investment Company Act is designed for entities “primarily engaged in the business of purchasing or otherwise acquiring mortgages and other liens on and interests in real estate.” This exclusion generally requires that at least 55% of the entity’s assets consist of qualifying real estate assets and at least 80% of the entity’s assets consist of qualifying real estate assets or real estate-related assets. These requirements limit the assets we can own and the timing of sales and purchases of our assets.
Although we have monitored and intend to continue to monitor the assets of EF Mortgage LLC regularly, there can be no assurance that EF Mortgage LLC will be able to maintain this exclusion from the definition of “investment company.” To classify the assets held by EF Mortgage LLC as qualifying real estate assets or real estate-related assets, we rely on no-action letters and other guidance published by the SEC staff regarding those kinds of assets, as well as upon our analyses (in consultation with outside counsel) of guidance published with respect to other types of assets. On August 31, 2011, the SEC published a concept release entitled “Companies Engaged in the Business of Acquiring Mortgages and Mortgage Related Instruments” (Investment Company Act Rel. No. 29778). This release notes that the SEC is reviewing the 3(c)(5)(C) exemption relied upon by companies similar to us that invest in mortgage loans and mortgage-backed securities. There can be no assurance that the laws and regulations governing the Investment Company Act status of companies similar to ours, or the guidance from the Division of Investment Management of the SEC regarding the treatment of assets as qualifying real estate assets or real estate-related assets, will not change in a manner that adversely affects our operations as a result of this review. To the extent that the SEC staff provides more specific guidance regarding any of the matters bearing upon our exemption from the need to register under the Investment Company Act, we may be required to adjust our strategy accordingly. Any additional guidance from the SEC staff could further inhibit our ability to pursue the strategies that we have chosen. If the SEC acts to narrow the availability of, or if we otherwise fail to qualify for, an exclusion, we could among other things, be required either (a) to change the manner in which we conduct our operations to avoid being required to register as an investment company, or (b) to register as an investment company, either of which could limit our ability to make certain investments or require us to sell assets in a manner, at a price or at a time that we otherwise would not have chosen, and have a material adverse effect on our operations, the sustainability of our business model, the market price of our common shares and our ability to make distributions.
If we were required to register as an investment company under the Investment Company Act, we would be subject to the restrictions imposed by the Investment Company Act, which would require us to make material changes to our strategy.
If we are deemed to be an investment company under the Investment Company Act, we would be required to materially restructure our activities or to register as an investment company under the Investment Company Act, which would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial conditions and results of operations. In connection with any such restructuring, we may be required to sell portfolio assets at a time we otherwise might not choose to do so, and we may incur losses in connection with such sales. Further, our Manager may unilaterally terminate the management agreement if we become regulated as an investment company under the Investment Company Act. Further, if it were established that we were an unregistered investment company, there would be a risk that we would be subject to monetary penalties and injunctive relief in an action brought by the SEC, that we would be unable to enforce contracts with third parties and that third parties could seek to obtain rescission of transactions undertaken during the period it was established that we were an unregistered investment company.
Federal Income Tax Risks
If we fail to satisfy the “qualifying income exception” under the tax rules for publicly traded partnerships, all of our income will be subject to an entity-level tax.
We have operated, and intend to continue to operate, so that we qualify as a partnership, and not as an association or a publicly traded partnership taxable as a corporation, for U.S. federal income tax purposes. In general, if a partnership is “publicly traded” (as defined in the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, or the Code), it will be treated as a corporation for U.S. federal income tax purposes. A publicly traded partnership will, however, be treated as a partnership, and not as a corporation, for U.S. federal income tax purposes, so long as at least 90% of its gross income for each taxable year constitutes “qualifying income” within the meaning of Section 7704(d) of the Code and it would not be included in the definition of a regulated investment company, or RIC, under Section 851(a) of the Code if it were a domestic corporation (which generally applies to entities required to register under the Investment Company Act). We refer to this exception as the “qualifying income exception.” Qualifying income generally includes rents, dividends, interest, and gains from the sale or other disposition of stocks, bonds and real property. Qualifying income also includes other income derived from the business of investing in, among other things, stocks and securities. Interest is not qualifying income if it is derived in the “conduct of a financial or insurance business” or is based, directly or indirectly, on the income or profits of any person. Our income currently consists primarily of interest income, income and gain from interest rate, credit risk and other derivatives, gain from sale of securities (including income from the short sale of securities) all of which is generally qualifying income for purposes of the qualifying income exception.
If we fail to satisfy the “qualifying income exception” described above, we would be treated as a corporation for U.S. federal income tax purposes. In that event, items of income, gain, loss, deduction and credit would not pass through to holders of our common shares and such holders would be treated for U.S. federal (and certain state and local) income tax purposes as shareholders in a corporation. We would be required to pay income tax at regular corporate rates on all of our income. In
addition, we would likely be liable for state and local income and/or franchise taxes on some or all of our income. Distributions to holders of our common shares would constitute ordinary dividend income taxable to such holders to the extent of our earnings and profits, and these distributions would not be deductible by us. Additionally, distributions paid to non-U.S. holders of our common shares would be subject to U.S. federal withholding taxes at the rate of 30% (or such lower rate provided by an applicable tax treaty). Thus, if we were treated as a corporation, such treatment would result in a material reduction in cash flow and after-tax returns for holders of our common shares and thus would result in a substantial reduction in the value of our common shares.
Holders of our common shares will be subject to U.S. federal income tax on their share of our taxable income, regardless of whether or when they receive any cash distributions from us, and may recognize income in excess of our cash distributions.
We intend to continue to operate so as to qualify, for U.S. federal income tax purposes, as a partnership and not as an association or a publicly traded partnership taxable as a corporation. Holders of our common shares are subject to U.S. federal income taxation and, in some cases, state, local and foreign income taxation, on their allocable share of our items of income, gain, loss, deduction, and credit, regardless of whether or when they receive cash distributions. Individuals, trusts and estates whose income exceeds certain thresholds are also subject to a Medicare tax on their share of our taxable income. In addition, certain of our assets may produce taxable income without corresponding distributions of cash to us or produce taxable income prior to or following the receipt of cash relating to such income. Consequently, it is possible that the U.S. federal income tax liability of shareholders with respect to their respective allocable shares of our earnings in a particular taxable year could exceed the cash distributions we make to shareholders with respect to that taxable year, thus requiring out-of-pocket tax payments by shareholders. Furthermore, if we did not make cash distributions with respect to a taxable year, holders of our common shares would still have a tax liability attributable to their allocation of our taxable income for that taxable year.
The ability of holders of our common shares to deduct certain expenses incurred by us may be limited.
We believe that the expenses incurred by us, including base management fees and incentive fees paid to our Manager, will generally not be treated as “miscellaneous itemized deductions” and will be deductible as ordinary trade or business expenses. In general, “miscellaneous itemized deductions” may be deducted by a holder of our common shares that is an individual, estate or trust only to the extent that such deductions exceed, in the aggregate, 2% of such holder’s adjusted gross income. In addition, “miscellaneous itemized deductions” are also not deductible in determining the alternative minimum tax liability of a holder. Although we believe that our expenses will not be treated as “miscellaneous itemized deductions,” there can be no assurance that the IRS will not successfully challenge that treatment. In that event, a holder’s inability to deduct all or a portion of such expenses could result in an amount of taxable income to such holder with respect to us that exceeds the amount of cash actually distributed to such holder for the year.
Tax-exempt holders of our common shares will likely recognize significant amounts of “unrelated business taxable income,” the amount of which may be material.
An organization that is otherwise exempt from U.S. federal income tax is nonetheless subject to taxation with respect to its “unrelated business taxable income,” or “UBTI.” Because we have incurred and will incur “acquisition indebtedness” with respect to many of our investments, a proportionate share of a holder’s income from us with respect to such investments will be treated as UBTI. Accordingly, tax-exempt holders of our common shares will likely recognize significant amounts of UBTI. For certain types of tax-exempt entities, the receipt of any UBTI might have adverse consequences. Tax-exempt holders of our common shares are strongly urged to consult their tax advisors regarding the tax consequences of owning our common shares.
There can be no assurance that the IRS will not assert successfully that some portion of our income is properly treated as effectively connected income with respect to non-U.S. holders of our common shares.
While it is expected that our method of operation will not result in the generation of significant amounts of income treated as effectively connected with the conduct of a U.S. trade or business with respect to non-U.S. holders of our common shares, there can be no assurance that the IRS will not assert successfully that some portion of our income is properly treated as effectively connected income with respect to such non-U.S. holders. If a non-U.S. holder were treated as being engaged in a U.S. trade or business in any year because our activities in such year constituted a U.S. trade or business, such holder generally would be required to (i) file a U.S. federal income tax return for such year reporting their allocable portion, if any, of our income or loss effectively connected with such trade or business and (ii) pay U.S. federal income tax at regular U.S. tax rates on any such income. Additionally, we would be required to withhold tax at the highest applicable tax rate on a non-U.S. holder’s allocable share of our effectively connected income. Non-U.S. holders that are corporations also would be required to pay branch profits tax at a 30% rate (or lower rate provided by applicable treaty). To the extent our income is treated as effectively connected income, it may also be treated as non-qualifying income for purposes of the qualifying income exception.
If the IRS challenges our election to mark our assets to market for U.S. federal income tax purposes, the taxable income allocated to the holders of our common shares would be adjusted (possibly retroactively) and our ability to provide tax information on a timely basis could be negatively affected.
We intend to continue to qualify as a trader in securities and have elected to mark-to-market our positions in securities that we hold as a trader, in accordance with Section 475(f) of the Code. There are limited authorities under Section 475(f) of the Code as to what constitutes a trader for U.S. federal income tax purposes. Under other sections of the Code, the status of a trader in securities depends on all of the facts and circumstances, including the nature of the income derived from the taxpayer’s activities, the frequency, extent and regularity of the taxpayer’s securities transactions, and the taxpayer’s investment intent. Therefore, there can be no assurance that we have qualified or will continue to qualify as a trader in securities eligible for the mark-to-market election. We have not received, nor are we seeking, an opinion from counsel or a ruling from the IRS regarding our qualification as a trader. If our eligibility for, or our application of, the mark-to-market election were successfully challenged by the IRS, in whole or in part, it could, depending on the circumstances, result in retroactive (or prospective) changes in the amount of taxable income recognized by us and allocated to the holders of our common shares. An inability to utilize the mark-to-market election might also have an adverse effect on our ability to provide tax information to you on a timely basis. The IRS could also challenge any conventions that we use in computing, or in allocating among holders of our common shares, any gain or loss resulting from the mark-to-market election.
In addition, we intend to take the position that our mark-to-market gain or loss, and any gain or loss on the actual disposition of marked-to-market assets, should be treated as ordinary income or loss. However, because the law is unclear as to the treatment of assets that are held for investment, and the determination of which assets are held for investment, the IRS could take the position that the mark-to-market gain or loss attributable to certain assets should be treated as capital gain or loss and not as ordinary gain or loss. In that case, we will not be able to offset our non-cash ordinary income with capital losses from such assets, which could increase the amount of our non-cash taxable income recognized by us and allocated to the holders of our shares. The tax on such taxable income allocated to you may be in excess of our cash distributions to you.
The IRS may challenge our allocations of income, gain, loss, deduction and credit.
Our operating agreement provides for the allocation of income, gain, loss, deduction and credit among the holders of our common shares. The rules regarding partnership allocations are complex. If the allocations provided by our operating agreement were successfully challenged by the IRS, the redetermination of the allocations to a particular holder for U.S. federal income tax purposes could be less favorable than the allocations set forth in our operating agreement.
Complying with certain tax-related requirements may cause us to forego otherwise attractive business opportunities.
To be treated as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes, and not as an association or publicly traded partnership taxable as a corporation, we must satisfy the qualifying income exception, which requires that at least 90% of our gross income each taxable year consist of interest, dividends, capital gains and other types of “qualifying income.” Interest income will not be qualifying income for the qualifying income exception if it is derived from “the conduct of a financial or insurance business.” This requirement limits our ability to originate loans or acquire loans originated by our Manager and its affiliates. In addition, we intend to operate so as to avoid generating a significant amount of income that is treated as effectively connected with the conduct of a U.S. trade or business with respect to non-U.S. holders. In order to comply with these requirements, we (or our subsidiaries) may be required to invest through foreign or domestic corporations or forego attractive business opportunities. Thus, compliance with these requirements may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and our ability to make distributions to our shareholders.
The IRS Schedules K-1 we will provide will be significantly more complicated than the IRS Forms 1099 provided by REITs and regular corporations, and holders of our common shares may be required to request an extension of time to file their tax returns.
Holders of our common shares are required to take into account their allocable share of items of our income, gain, loss, deduction and credit for our taxable year ending within or with their taxable year. We have agreed to use reasonable efforts to furnish holders of our common shares with tax information (including IRS Schedule K-1) as promptly as practicable after the end of each taxable year, which describes their allocable share of such items for our preceding taxable year. However, we may not be able to provide holders of our common shares with tax information on a timely basis. Because holders of our common shares will be required to report their allocable share of each item of our income, gain, loss, deduction, and credit on their tax returns, tax reporting for holders of our common shares will be significantly more complicated than for shareholders in a REIT or a regular corporation. In addition, delivery of this information to holders of our common shares will be subject to delay in the event of, among other reasons, the late receipt of any necessary tax information from an investment in which we hold an interest. It is therefore possible that, in any taxable year, holders of our common shares will need to apply for extensions of time to file their tax returns.
Our structure involves complex provisions of U.S. federal income tax law for which no clear precedent or authority may be available, and which is subject to potential change, possibly on a retroactive basis. Any such change could result in adverse consequences to the holders of our common shares.
The U.S. federal income tax treatment of holders of our common shares depends in some instances on determinations of fact and interpretations of complex provisions of U.S. federal income tax law for which no clear precedent or authority may be available. The rules dealing with U.S. federal income taxation are constantly under review by persons involved in the legislative process, the IRS and the Treasury, frequently resulting in revised interpretations of established concepts, statutory changes, revisions to regulations and other modifications and interpretations. Also, the IRS pays close attention to the proper application of tax laws to partnerships. The present U.S. federal income tax treatment of an investment in our common shares may be modified by administrative, legislative or judicial interpretation at any time, and any such action may affect investments and commitments we have previously made. We and holders of our common shares could be adversely affected by any such change in, or any new tax law, regulation or interpretation. Our operating agreement permits our Board of Directors to modify (subject to certain exceptions) the operating agreement from time to time, without the consent of the holders of our common shares. These modifications may address, among other things, certain changes in U.S. federal income tax regulations, legislation or interpretation. In some circumstances, such revisions could have an adverse impact on some or all of the holders of our common shares. Moreover, we intend to apply certain assumptions and conventions in an attempt to comply with applicable rules and to report income, gain, deduction, loss and credit to holders of our common shares in a manner that reflects their distributive share of our items, but these assumptions and conventions may not be in compliance with all aspects of applicable tax requirements. It is possible that the IRS will assert successfully that the conventions and assumptions we use do not satisfy the technical requirements of the Code and/or Treasury Regulations and could require that items of income, gain, deduction, loss or credit be adjusted or reallocated in a manner that adversely affects holders of our common shares.
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments
Item 2. Properties
We do not own any properties. Our principal offices are located in leased space at 53 Forest Avenue, Old Greenwich, CT 06870. The offices of our Manager and Ellington are at the same location. As part of our management agreement, our Manager is responsible for providing offices necessary for all operations, and accordingly, all lease responsibilities belong to our Manager.
Item 3. Legal Proceedings
Neither we nor our Manager is currently subject to any legal proceedings that we or our Manager considers material. Nevertheless, we, our Manager and Ellington operate in highly regulated markets that currently are under intense regulatory scrutiny, and Ellington and its affiliates have received, and we expect in the future that they may receive, inquiries and requests for documents and information from various federal, state and foreign regulators. See “Risk Factors -We or Ellington or its affiliates may be subject to regulatory inquiries or proceedings.” Ellington has advised us that, at the present time, it is not aware that any material legal proceeding against Ellington and its affiliates is contemplated in connection with any of these inquiries or requests. However, we believe that the continued scrutiny of CDO and mortgage market participants (including large CDO collateral managers such as Ellington) increases the risk of additional inquiries and requests from regulatory or enforcement agencies. Ellington and we cannot provide any assurance that these inquiries and requests will not result in further investigation of or the initiation of a proceeding against Ellington or its affiliates or that, if any such investigation or proceeding were to arise, it would not materially adversely affect our company.
Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures
Item 5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Shareholders Matters, and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities
Our common shares have been listed on the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) under the symbol “EFC” since October 8, 2010. The following table sets forth, for the periods indicated, the high and low sales prices for the Company’s common stock, as reported on the NYSE:
Common Stock Sales Price
The closing price for our common shares, as reported by the NYSE on March 8, 2013, was $24.64.
Holders of Our Common Shares
Based upon a review of a securities position listing as of March 8, 2013, we had an aggregate of 105 holders of record and holders of our common shares who are nominees for an undetermined number of beneficial owners.
While we have historically paid dividends to holders of our common shares on a quarterly basis, the declaration of dividends to our shareholders and the amount of such dividends are at the discretion of our Board of Directors. In setting our dividends, our Board of Directors takes into account, among other things, our earnings, our financial condition, our working capital needs, and new investment opportunities. In particular, we may deviate from our dividend policy when we believe it is prudent to do so for liquidity management purposes, during financial crises or extreme market dislocations, or in order to take advantage of what we deem to be extraordinary investment opportunities. Furthermore, it is possible that some of our future financing arrangements could contain provisions restricting our ability to pay dividends. In addition, our ability to pay dividends is subject to certain restrictions under the Delaware LLC Act. Under the Delaware LLC Act, a limited liability company generally is not permitted to pay a dividend if, after giving effect to the dividend, the liabilities of the company will exceed the value of the company’s assets. Shareholders generally will be subject to U.S. federal income tax (and any applicable state and local taxes) on their respective allocable shares of our net taxable income regardless of the timing or amount of dividend we pay to our shareholders.
The following table sets forth the dividends per share we have paid to our shareholders with respect to the periods indicated.
Dividend Per Share
For the year ended December 31, 2012:
June 1, 2012
June 15, 2012
August 31, 2012
September 17, 2012
November 30, 2012
December 17, 2012
March 1, 2013
March 15, 2013
For the year ended December 31, 2011:
June 1, 2011
June 15, 2011
September 1, 2011
September 15, 2011
December 1, 2011
December 15, 2011
March 1, 2012
March 15, 2012
Includes a special dividend for the 2012 fiscal year in the amount of $0.75 per share.
We cannot assure you that we will pay any future dividends to our shareholders and the dividends set forth in the table above are not intended to be indicative of the amount and timing of future dividends, if any.
We generally refer to payments made to our shareholders with respect to our common shares as “dividends” for purposes of this Annual Report on Form 10-K. For U.S. federal income tax purposes, those payments will be treated as distributions from a partnership.
Unregistered Sales of Equity Securities
Pursuant to our 2007 Individual Long-Term Incentive Plan, on December 12, 2012, we granted 2,000 LTIP units to Lisa Mumford, our dedicated Chief Financial Officer, and 500 LTIP units to another employee of our Manager. The LTIP units are subject to forfeiture restrictions that will lapse on December 31, 2013. Once vested, the LTIP units may be converted at the election of the holder into common shares representing limited liability interests of the Company on a one-for-one basis. Such grants were exempt from the registration requirements of the Securities Act based on the exemption provided in Section 4(2) of the Securities Act.
In connection with the formation of the Operating Partnership described in Note 13 of the notes to our consolidated financial statements, the Operating Partnership issued 212,000 Partnership units to EMG Holdings, L.P., an affiliate of our Manager, pursuant to an exemption from registration under Regulation D of the Securities Act. The Partnership units may be redeemed in exchange for cash or, at the Company’s option, the Company’s common shares on a one-for-one basis.
Purchases of Equity Securities
Total Number of Shares Purchased
Average Price Paid
Total Number of Shares Purchased as Part of Publicly Announced Plans or Programs
Approximate Dollar Value of Shares that May Yet be Purchased Under the Plans or Programs
October 1, 2012 - October 31, 2012(1)
November 1, 2012 - November 31, 2012(1)
December 1, 2012 - December 31, 2012(1)
On August 8, 2011, the Company announced that its Board of Directors had approved the adoption of a $10.0 million share repurchase program. The program, which is open-ended in duration, allows the Company to make repurchases from time to time on the open market or in negotiated transactions. Repurchases are at the Company’s discretion, subject to applicable law, share availability, price, and the Company’s financial performance, among other considerations.
This performance graph is furnished and shall not be deemed filed with the SEC or subject to Section 18 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, nor shall it be deemed incorporated by reference in any of our filings under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended.
The following graph provides a comparison of the cumulative total return on our common shares to the cumulative total return on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Stock Price Index (the “S&P 500”) and the FTSE National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts Mortgage REIT Index (the “FTSE NAREIT MREIT”). The comparison is for the period from October 8, 2010, the day our common shares commenced trading on the NYSE, to December 31, 2012, and assumes in each case, a $100 investment on October 8, 2010 and the reinvestment of dividends.
The actual cumulative total returns shown on the graph above are as follows:
October 8, 2010
December 31, 2010
December 31, 2011
December 31, 2012
Ellington Financial LLC
FTSE NAREIT MREIT
Item 6. Selected Financial Data
The following table presents selected consolidated financial information as of December 31, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008, and for the years ended December 31, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008. The consolidated financial information presented below as of December 31, 2012 and 2011 and for the years ended December 31, 2012, 2011 and 2010, has been derived from our audited financial statements included elsewhere in this Annual Report. The consolidated financial information as of December 31, 2010, 2009, and 2008, and for the years ended December 31, 2009 and 2008, was derived from our historical audited consolidated financial statements not included in this Annual Report.
Since the information presented below is only selected financial data and does not provide all of the information contained in our historical consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this Annual Report, including the related notes, you should read it in conjunction with “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” and our historical consolidated financial statements, including the related notes to our consolidated financial statements, included in this Annual Report.
Condensed Statement of Operations
Year Ended December 31,
(In thousands except per share amounts)
Base management fee
Other operating expense
Net Investment Income
Net Realized and Unrealized Gain (Loss) on Investments and Financial Derivatives:
Net realized gain (loss) on:
Net realized gain (loss)
Change in net unrealized gain (loss) on:
Change in net unrealized gain (loss)
Net Realized and Unrealized Gain (Loss) on Investments and Financial Derivatives
Net Increase (Decrease) in Shareholders’ Equity Resulting from Operations
Net Increase (Decrease) in Shareholders’ Equity Resulting from Operations per share
Dividends per common share(1)
Dividends are declared and paid on a quarterly basis in arrears. For example, dividends for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2012 include the dividends declared on February 12, 2013 for the fourth quarter of 2012. In the case of the year ended December 31, 2012, dividend amounts also include a special dividend declared for the 2012 fiscal year.
Condensed Consolidated Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Shareholders’ Equity
As of December 31,
(In thousands except per share amounts)
Cash and cash equivalents
Investments at fair value
Financial derivatives at fair value
Receivable for securities sold
Deposits with dealers held as collateral
Investments sold short at fair value
Financial derivatives at fair value
Reverse repurchase agreements
Payable for securities purchased
Due to brokers on margin accounts
Shareholders’ equity per common share
Shareholders’ equity per common share, diluted
Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Conditions and Results of Operations
In this Annual Report on Form 10-K, except where the context suggests otherwise, “EFC,” “we,” “us,” and “our” refer to Ellington Financial LLC and its subsidiaries, our “Manager” refers to Ellington Financial Management LLC, our external manager, and “Ellington” refers to Ellington Management Group, L.L.C. and its affiliated investment advisory firms.
We are a specialty finance company that acquires and manages mortgage-related assets, including RMBS backed by prime jumbo, Alt-A, manufactured housing, and subprime residential mortgage loans, RMBS for which the principal and interest payments are guaranteed by a U.S. government agency or a U.S. government-sponsored enterprise, mortgage-related derivatives, CMBS, commercial mortgage loans and other commercial real estate debt, as well as corporate debt and equity securities, and derivatives. We also may opportunistically acquire and manage other types of mortgage-related and financial asset classes, such as residential whole mortgage loans, ABS backed by consumer and commercial assets, non-mortgage-related derivatives, and real property. We are externally managed and advised by our Manager, an affiliate of Ellington. Ellington is a registered investment advisor with an 18-year history of investing in a broad spectrum of MBS and related derivatives.
Our primary objective is to generate attractive, risk-adjusted total returns for our shareholders. We seek to attain this objective by utilizing an opportunistic strategy to make investments, without restriction as to ratings, structure or position in the capital structure, that we believe compensate us appropriately for the risks associated with them rather than targeting a specific yield. Our evaluation of the potential risk-adjusted return of any potential investment typically involves weighing the potential returns of such investment under a variety of economic scenarios against the perceived likelihood of the various scenarios. Potential investments subject to greater risk (such as those with lower credit ratings and/or those with a lower position in the capital structure) will generally require a higher potential return to be attractive in comparison to investment alternatives with lower potential return and a lower degree of risk. However, at any particular point in time, depending on how we perceive the market’s pricing of risk both generally and across sectors, we may favor higher-risk assets or we may favor lower-risk assets, or a combination of the two in the interests of portfolio diversification or other considerations.
Through December 31, 2012, our non-Agency RMBS strategy has been the primary driver of our risk and return, and we expect that it will continue to be over the near term. We continue to maintain a highly leveraged portfolio of Agency RMBS to take advantage of opportunities in that market sector and to maintain our exclusion from regulation as an investment company under the Investment Company Act. Unless we acquire very substantial amounts of whole mortgage loans or there are changes to the rules and regulations applicable to us under the Investment Company Act, we expect that we will always maintain some core amount of Agency RMBS. We also expect that we will continue to allocate some of our capital to CMBS and commercial mortgage loan strategy.
We also use leverage in our non-Agency MBS strategies, albeit significantly less leverage than that used in our Agency RMBS strategy. Through December 31, 2012, we financed our purchases of Agency RMBS and non-Agency MBS almost exclusively through reverse repo agreements, which we account for as collateralized borrowings. In January 2012, we completed a small resecuritization transaction using one of our non-Agency RMBS assets; this transaction is accounted for as a collateralized borrowing and is classified on our Consolidated Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Shareholders’ Equity as “Securitized debt.” This securitized debt represents long-term financing for the related asset, in contrast to our reverse repos collateralized by non-Agency MBS which typically have 30 to 180 day terms. However, we expect to continue to obtain the vast majority of our financing through the use of reverse repos.
The strategies that we are currently employing are intended to capitalize on opportunities in the current market environment. We intend to adjust our strategies to changing market conditions by shifting our asset allocations across various asset classes as credit and liquidity trends evolve over time. We believe that this flexibility, combined with Ellington’s experience, will help us generate more consistent returns on our capital throughout changing market cycles.
As of December 31, 2012, outstanding borrowings under reverse repos and securitized debt were $907.1 million and our debt-to-equity ratio was 1.79 to 1. Our debt-to-equity ratio does not account for liabilities other than debt financings. Of our total borrowings outstanding, approximately 77.8% or $704.9 million relates to our Agency RMBS holdings.
We opportunistically hedge our credit risk and interest rate risk; however, at any point in time we may choose not to hedge all or a portion of these risks, and we will generally not hedge those risks that we believe are appropriate for us to take at such time, or that we believe would be impractical or prohibitively expensive to hedge.
We believe that we have been organized and have operated so that we have qualified, and will continue to qualify, to be treated for U.S. federal income tax purposes as a partnership and not as an association or a publicly traded partnership taxable as a corporation.
Trends and Recent Market Developments
Key trends and recent market developments for the MBS market include the following:
Federal Reserve and Monetary Policy—On December 12, 2012, the U.S. Federal Reserve, or the “Federal Reserve,” announced that while the U.S. economy had shown some signs of improvement since its October 2012 meeting, the unemployment rate remained at an elevated level, growth in business fixed investment slowed, and in that light, it planned to continue its accommodative monetary policies;
Mortgage Market Statistics—Throughout most of 2012, mortgage delinquency and foreclosure rates have fallen, home prices have trended higher, and existing and new home sales have also increased, suggesting that, barring any unexpected economic relapses, the recovery in the U.S. housing market seems to be on solid footing;
Government Homeowner Assistance Programs—Changes made to the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or “HARP,” in 2011 led to a much higher level of refinancings under the program in 2012 as compared to 2011, and there is speculation that the program may be extended beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of 2013;
REO to Rental—A number of large institutional investors have been purchasing significant numbers of single family properties in select regions of the country, removing foreclosure inventory from the market and supporting home prices; in late 2012 one such institution completed its initial public offering;
GSE Developments—Government-sponsored enterprise, or “GSE,” related developments include Federal Housing Finance Agency, or “FHFA,” directing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to begin to more rationally price their risk, and the U.S. Treasury Department’s focus on accelerating the wind down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac;
Mortgage Servicing and Origination—Consolidation continued to drive the mortgage servicing industry toward larger, more efficient servicers, leading to higher prepayment speeds and more liberal use of short sales and principal reduction modifications instead of foreclosures;
Eminent Domain—On January 24, 2013, San Bernardino County announced that, contrary to its previous proposals, it would not use eminent domain to acquire “underwater” mortgages (i.e., mortgages for which the amount owed exceeds the property value);
Consumer Finance Protection Board—On January 10, 2013, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, or “CFPB,” issued its “Ability-to-Repay” rule, designed to ensure that lenders offer mortgages that borrowers can afford to pay back and also proposed to establish the final requirements for “Qualified Mortgages”; and
Liquidity and Valuations—Non-Agency MBS experienced a significant rally in 2012 in response to a number of positive developments, including widespread home-price improvements, a declining shadow inventory, a generally more optimistic economic outlook of market participants and decreased selling of non-Agency MBS by banks.
Federal Reserve and Monetary Policy
In order to continue to provide support to the recovery of the U.S. economy, on December 12, 2012, the Federal Reserve announced its ongoing plans with respect to its accommodative monetary policies. The Federal Reserve announced that it would continue purchasing Agency RMBS at a pace of $40 billion per month, a program also referred to as “QE3,” that was originally announced in September 2012. The Federal Reserve also announced an expansion of its asset buying program commencing in January 2013 pursuant to which it would make monthly purchases of U.S. Treasury securities, initially at a pace of $45 billion per month. This program replaces “Operation Twist,” a program designed to extend the average maturity of the Federal Reserve’s holdings of U.S. Treasury securities. The Federal Reserve further announced that it would be maintaining its existing policies of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of Agency debt and Agency RMBS into Agency RMBS and of rolling over maturing U.S. Treasury securities at auction. The Federal Reserve also reiterated its stated goals of “maintaining downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, supporting mortgage markets and helping to make broader financial conditions more accommodative.” Similar to its September 2012 announcement, the Federal Reserve did not state a projected end date for these activities. Rather, its activities will be tied to “substantial” improvement in the labor market. The Federal Reserve also stated that it would continue to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0% to 0.25% as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5%. In its September announcement, the Federal Reserve stated an expectation that the target federal funds rate would need to remain at this level at least through mid-2015. The Federal Reserve plans to closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments and adjust its actions accordingly.
The Federal Reserve’s policy initiatives are designed to lower yields on Agency RMBS and thereby drive mortgage rates lower in order to spur financing activity and support a stronger economic recovery. Upon the release of the minutes of the December 12, 2012 meeting, however, it became clear to market participants that there was discussion among Federal Reserve members suggesting that the Federal Reserve may slow or stop its asset purchase programs well before the end of 2013, in order to limit the growth of its record-large balance sheet. At its January 2013 meeting, the Federal Reserve reiterated its intention to continue its asset purchase and other programs until the outlook for the labor market improves substantially.
However, market perception of uncertainty with respect to future Federal Reserve actions has added significant volatility to the market for Agency RMBS. While the actions of the Federal Reserve have been successful in causing investors to sell lower-yielding assets, such as Agency RMBS and U.S. Treasury securities, and buy higher-yielding assets such as non-Agency MBS and high-yield corporate bonds, more recently, these actions have been somewhat less successful in lowering yields on Agency RMBS and U.S. Treasury securities. Market volatility notwithstanding, Agency RMBS prices remain at high levels and prepayment risk remains elevated. As a result, prepayments on our Agency RMBS may increase, which would reduce the yields on these securities. In light of these risks, we continue to seek Agency RMBS investments with prepayment protection characteristics. or “prepayment protected pools.” Examples of prepayment protected pools are those comprised of low loan balance mortgages, mortgages backing investor properties, those containing mortgages originated through the government-sponsored “Making Homes Affordable” refinancing programs, and those containing mortgages with various other prepayment protection characteristics. The increased volatility, as a result of market perception of uncertainty with respect to future Federal Reserve actions, reinforces the importance of the Company’s ability to hedge its risks using a variety of tools, including TBAs, as it navigates the changing market landscape.
Mortgage Market Statistics
The percentage of subprime mortgages either delinquent or in foreclosure has declined over the period beginning December 31, 2010 through December 31, 2012, as reported by the Mortgage Bankers Association, or the “MBA,” in their National Delinquency Survey:
December 31, 2012
December 31, 2011
December 31, 2010
Source: Based on Mortgage Bankers Association, National Delinquency Survey press releases issued February 21, 2013, February 16, 2012 and February 17, 2011.
Includes loans that are at least one payment past due but does not include loans in foreclosure, seasonally adjusted.
The improving trend in delinquency and foreclosure statistics is at least in part due to the improvement in home prices that has occurred over the past year. As homeowners re-establish equity in their homes through recovering real estate prices, they are less likely to become delinquent on their mortgages. Data released by S&P Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices for November 2012 showed that, on average, home prices increased 4.5% for its 10-City Composite and by 5.5% for the 20-City Composite as compared to November 2011. According to the report, home prices remain below the peak levels of 2006, but on average, are back to their autumn 2003 levels for both the 10-City and 20-City Composites. In addition to home prices rising, new and existing home sales have increased. Existing home sales in November 2012 were the highest since November 2009 and new home sales were the highest since 2010. The slow pace of the recovery of the U.S. economy, including the still elevated level of unemployment, continues to create potential risk to the recovering housing market. However, recent trends continue to indicate a recovery has taken hold in the housing market.
On March 8, 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that, as of February 2013, the U.S. unemployment rate was 7.7%. This compares to 8.3% as of February 2012. While it is difficult to quantify the relationship between the unemployment rate and the housing and mortgage markets, we believe that continued unemployment at such levels could impede the positive trends that have occurred in the housing market and could contribute to further increases in mortgage delinquencies and decreases in home prices. As a mitigating factor, however, the Federal Reserve’s accommodative monetary policies continue to support the housing market, and furthermore the Federal Reserve has announced that it will maintain these accommodative policies as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5% and as long as inflation seems to remain contained.
Government Homeowner Assistance Programs
According to the FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refinanced approximately one million loans in the eleven month period ended November 30, 2012 under HARP, more than twice the HARP refinancing activity for all of 2011. The increase in HARP refinancings is attributable to record-low mortgage rates and enhancements to the program made in late 2011, including
removal of the loan-to-value ceiling for borrowers who refinance into fixed-rate loans and the elimination or lowering of fees for certain borrowers. Given the low level of mortgage rates, it is likely that HARP refinancing volume will remain elevated. Currently, the program is due to expire at the end of 2013; however, there is some market speculation that the program could be extended.
In November 2012, the FHFA announced the results of pilot transactions completed by Fannie Mae under the REO Pilot Program. Under this program, single-family foreclosed properties owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are sold to institutional investors in bulk and converted to rental properties, with seller financing available under certain conditions. Since the July 2012 launch of this program, almost 1,800 properties have been sold.
REO to Rental
In addition to the FHFA’s pilot program, a number of large institutional investors have been purchasing significant numbers of single family properties in select regions of the country with the objective of generating rental income and, potentially, long-term gains. Certain banks are also providing financing for these “REO to rental” purchases, in some cases with the goal of ultimately replacing such borrowings with long term debt through securitization of rental cashflows. Meanwhile, in late 2012 one newly formed real estate investment trust focused solely on REO to rental strategies successfully completed an initial public offering. In those regions where REO to rental activity is most concentrated, this activity is having two primary effects on the housing market. First, it is removing some of the foreclosure property inventory from the market, and second, the robust purchasing activity is supporting, and in many cases lifting, home prices.
In the third quarter of 2012, the FHFA implemented several changes designed to more rationally price their risk, to broaden homeowner access to mortgage financing, and to increase the participation of private capital in the mortgage market. In August 2012, the FHFA directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to raise guarantee fees on single-family mortgages by an average of 10 basis points. The increase became effective with mortgage settlements starting on December 1, 2012 for mortgage loans exchanged for mortgage-backed securities and on November 1, 2012 for mortgage loans sold for cash. In September 2012, the FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are launching a new representation and warranty framework for conventional loans sold or delivered on or after January 1, 2013. This change, which is part of a broader seller-servicer contract harmonization effort, will relieve lenders of certain repurchase obligations for mortgage loans that meet specific payment requirements, and certain other conditions and requirements.
In August 2012, the U.S. Department of Treasury, or the “Treasury,” announced a set of modifications to its preferred stock agreements with the FHFA, with a goal of expediting the wind down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The revised agreements replace the 10% dividend payments made to the Treasury with a sweep of all profits from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac going forward. In addition, the modifications require an accelerated reduction of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s investment portfolios, which will be wound down at an annual rate of 15% (rather than 10% per the previous agreements). As a result of this change, the GSE’s investment portfolios must be reduced to the $250 billion target set in the previous agreements four years earlier than previously scheduled.
On March 4, 2013, in connection with these ongoing efforts to wind down the GSEs, the FHFA announced its plans for the remainder of 2013. First, the FHFA plans to establish a new business entity that will be initially owned and funded by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and operate as a replacement for some of their legacy infrastructure. The longer term goal of this new entity is to create a common securitization platform that could eventually be sold or used by policy makers as a foundational element of the mortgage market of the future. Second, for 2013 the FHFA reiterated its goal of executing risk-sharing transactions for both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was set, and could include transactions involving expanded mortgage insurance, credit-linked securities, senior/subordinated securities, and others. Third, the FHFA also expects to continue increasing guarantee fees in 2013 so as to make these fees more aligned with what might be expected to be charged by private sector providers. Fourth, plans for 2013 also include maintaining foreclosure prevention activities, such as HARP refinancings for underwater borrowers. While this was not explicitly stated, it could potentially mean an extension in the HARP program beyond its scheduled expiration of December 31, 2013.
We believe that those efforts aimed at more rationally pricing risk taken by the GSEs and aimed at reducing the GSEs’ portfolios and thereby accelerating the re-entry of private capital into the U.S. mortgage market, are potentially beneficial to our business. However, this process has been slow and will likely continue to evolve over an extended period. Notwithstanding the effective stabilization of the financial condition of the GSEs in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the GSE’s continue to support the overwhelming majority of the U.S. single-family mortgage market. Alternatives to GSEs will become more and more necessary as they are wound down, which could increase the breadth and depth of attractive investment opportunities that are available to us and may serve as a catalyst for the rebirth of the non-Agency mortgage securitization market.
Mortgage Servicing and Origination
The mortgage servicing industry continued to consolidate, as the largest and most efficient mortgage servicers continued to acquire mortgage servicing rights, or “MSRs,” in a number of high-profile transactions. Non-bank servicers in particular are gaining market share, as MSRs will carry less favorable capital treatment under the impending Basel III framework. As a result of this industry consolidation, prepayment rates have jumped significantly for mortgage pools whose servicing was transferred to more efficient servicers. In the second half of 2012, we have also seen a growing convergence in refinancing rates among these servicers for certain collateral types, such as loans that became eligible for streamlined financing as part of HARP.
As staffing by mortgage originators has remained low following the bursting of the housing bubble, an important bottleneck constraint keeping prepayment rates low is the limited capacity of mortgage originators to refinance and originate new loans. This has resulted in a more protracted refinancing process for borrowers, as well as a significant increase in the spread between primary market mortgage rates (the rates paid by borrowers) and the secondary market mortgage rates (the yields demanded by RMBS investors for the loans they buy from originators); this increased spread is driving record high profit margins for mortgage originators.
We expect these dynamics to persist well into 2013. First, it will take many months for originators to increase hiring to sufficient levels. Second, there is still a large supply of HARP-eligible loans that originators can profitably refinance. Based on refinancing rates of HARP-eligible loans in 2012, we expect prepayment rates of HARP-eligible loans to remain elevated. Because HARP refinancings tend to be more profitable for originators than other refinancings, we expect originators to exhaust the pipeline of HARP-eligible refinancings before refocusing on traditional refinancings. Third, it is likely that FHA will continue to refine the HARP program over the next year so as to “unlock” additional borrowers, and this will provide further supply to the pipeline.
We are also seeing significant changes in the way that servicers are handling delinquent loans, driven both by consolidation in the servicing industry and by the strength in the housing market. Servicers are increasingly pursuing loan modifications and short sales in lieu of foreclosure. In the case of loan modifications, servicers are pursuing principal reduction modifications much more aggressively than they were a year ago. While this trend is partially the result of political and regulatory pressures, the strength in the housing market has also contributed, as more modified borrowers have reached a positive equity position in their homes, leading to a decline in re-default rates for modified borrowers. In the case of short sales, since these generally result in higher liquidation proceeds than foreclosures, the increasing frequency of short sales have helped reduce realized losses for investors in non-Agency RMBS.
Earlier in 2012, a few municipalities, most notably in California, announced that they were exploring using the power of eminent domain to seize certain mortgages as a way to aid homeowners with underwater mortgages. Under this controversial concept, which, its proponents assert, would only be applied to mortgages held in private label securitization trusts (and, in particular, those not backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or held directly by banks), the municipality would first seize qualifying mortgages using eminent domain power, and then offer homeowners new loans with reduced principal balances that were at or even below the current property values. By law, the securitization trusts would have to receive “fair market value” as compensation for the seizure. Advocates of the idea believe that this strategy would help individual homeowners and local economies and, by reducing foreclosure volumes, accelerate the return of the housing market and the mortgage finance market to normalcy. While advocates believe that the use of eminent domain is both legally permissible and practical in this context, opponents have raised numerous objections. Opponents believe that such a forced transfer of mortgages from one set of private owners to others is unconstitutional, and violates many state laws. Opponents have also maintained that the contemplated procedures would have a severe negative impact on the mortgage markets, and would not only adversely affect RMBS investors and lenders, but also the ability of new borrowers to obtain mortgage loans on favorable terms, and ultimately housing values.
On January 24, 2013, San Bernardino County in California and two of its cities announced that they were abandoning a proposed plan to use eminent domain to assist local homeowners with underwater mortgages. The stated reason that the proposal was rejected was due to lack of public support. While the three California municipalities ultimately decided against the use of eminent domain to assist struggling borrowers, the idea continues to be presented to and discussed with other jurisdictions. It remains too early to tell whether or to what extent these other municipalities will actually attempt to use an eminent domain strategy to seize and restructure underwater mortgages. If these proposals are implemented and expanded to other jurisdictions, we believe that they could have a material adverse impact on our portfolio of non-Agency RMBS and our business. However, we continue to believe the proposals in their current form are unlikely to withstand the inevitable legal and/or political challenges they would face, as evidenced by the decision of the three California municipalities.
Consumer Finance Protection Board
The CFPB was established under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, or the “Dodd-Frank Act.” The CFPB’s mission is to make markets for consumer financial products and services operate better from the perspective of the consumer. Its activities include, among others, conduct rule-making, supervision, and enforcement of Federal consumer financial protection laws; restricting unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices, taking consumer complaints, and, promoting financial education. In connection with its mission, on January 10, 2013, the CFPB issued a final rule designed to implement laws requiring mortgage lenders to consider consumers’ ability to repay mortgage loans before extending them credit. The “ability-to-repay” rule, which is applicable to prime as well as subprime mortgages, requires the following: (i) potential borrowers must supply financial information and lenders must verify it; (ii) in order to qualify for a particular loan, a consumer must have sufficient assets or income to pay back the loan; and (iii) lenders must determine the consumer’s ability to repay both the principal and the interest of the loan over the long term. At a minimum, creditors generally must consider eight underwriting factors: (1) current or reasonably expected income or assets; (2) current employment status; (3) the monthly payment on the covered transaction; (4) the monthly payment on any simultaneous loan; (5) the monthly payment for mortgage-related obligations; (6) current debt obligations, alimony, and child support; (7) the monthly debt-to-income ratio or residual income; and (8) credit history. Creditors must generally use reasonably reliable third-party records to verify the information they use to evaluate the factors.
The Dodd-Frank Act provides that “qualified mortgages,” which are mortgage loans satisfying certain criteria, are entitled to a presumption that the creditor making the loan satisfied the ability-to-repay requirements. However, the Act did not specify whether the presumption of compliance is conclusive (i.e., creates a safe harbor) or is rebuttable. The final rule removed this ambiguity in the Act, as it provides a safe harbor for loans that satisfy the definition of a qualified mortgage and are not higher-priced (i.e. prime mortgages), and provides a rebuttable presumption for higher-priced mortgage loans. It also sets certain product-feature prerequisites and affordability underwriting requirements for qualified mortgages and vests discretion in the CFPB to decide whether additional underwriting or other requirements should apply. The final rule issued by the CFPB implements the statutory criteria, which generally prohibit loans with negative amortization, interest-only payments, balloon payments, or terms exceeding 30 years from being qualified mortgages. So-called “no-doc loans,” where the creditor does not verify income or assets, also cannot be qualified mortgages. Finally, a loan generally cannot be a qualified mortgage if the points and fees paid by the consumer exceed three percent of the total loan amount, although certain bona fide discount points are excluded for prime loans. The rule provides guidance on the calculation of points and fees, and thresholds for smaller loans. The final rule also establishes general underwriting criteria for qualified mortgages. Most importantly, the general rule requires that monthly payments be calculated based on the highest payment that will apply in the first five years of the loan and that the consumer have a total (or back-end) debt-to-income ratio that is less than or equal to 43 percent.
These rules provide protections for borrowers as well as lenders, and will clearly influence the types of mortgages that lenders are willing to issue, given the legal protections afforded to qualified mortgages but not to non-qualified mortgages. It is too early to determine the impact that these rules will have on mortgage lending and on RMBS.
Liquidity and Valuations
Throughout 2012, non-Agency MBS securities experienced a significant rally, which was driven by several factors. First, home prices increased in most areas of the country during the year. Certain areas that had been hardest hit during the financial crisis, such as Phoenix, Arizona, for example, experienced some of the highest increases. Other areas less impacted by the crisis generally experienced more moderate increases. These increases in home prices, along with expectations of further future increases, had a related positive impact on non-Agency RMBS valuations. Also supporting non-Agency MBS prices was the significantly reduced level of selling of these securities by banks, as regulatory capital rules were eased, thereby making the capital implications of holding such securities less onerous. The release of the Simplified Supervisory Formula Approach changed the method of calculating capital charges for securitization exposures. In addition, in the third quarter the Federal Reserve finally completed the sale of the non-Agency RMBS and CMBS assets held in its Maiden Lane portfolios. These large portfolios represented assets that had been acquired by the Federal Reserve during the economic crisis to prevent the collapse of a large troubled financial institution, and the overhang of the anticipated sale of these assets had depressed non-Agency MBS prices. Ultimately, the overall success of the Maiden Lane sales provided confidence to the market and set the stage for the rise in non-Agency MBS prices for the remainder of the year. Finally, the Federal Reserve’s increased accommodative monetary policies, including QE3 discussed above, have kept yields on U.S. Treasuries and Agency RMBS pools low, and in response demand increased for higher-yielding securities such as non-Agency MBS and high-yield corporate bonds.
Repo financing remains readily available for both Agency and non-Agency MBS, and within each of these asset classes our borrowing costs and haircuts have remained relatively stable. The economic situation in Europe, however, while appearing marginally better than it was a year ago, continues to be an area of concern. Since European banks have historically been a significant financing source for many U.S. investment banks that provide RMBS financing, a systemic shock to the European
financial system would severely constrain the willingness and ability of U.S. banks and investment banks to finance RMBS, especially non-Agency RMBS. Despite these concerns, we have not yet seen any material impact on our ability to finance non-Agency RMBS. As of December 31, 2012 our outstanding reverse repos were with ten different counterparties.
Outlook for 2013
We believe that the technical trends in the non-Agency MBS markets continue to be positive. While non-Agency MBS yields are at their lowest point since 2008, the scarcity of investment alternatives with attractive yields has continued to fuel demand for non-Agency MBS. As long as the Federal Reserve continues its accommodative monetary policies, we expect these trends to continue. We also expect many of the other positive developments in 2012, such as the improved regulatory capital treatment of non-Agency MBS assets for banks, to continue to support the non-Agency MBS market in 2013. These positive factors notwithstanding, negative macroeconomic events, if they were to materialize, pose potential risk to non-Agency MBS. European economies continues to struggle, and a large shock to the European financial system could depress investor appetite for non-Agency MBS assets. In addition, while the U.S. Government avoided the fiscal cliff at the beginning of 2013, most of the underlying budgetary and fiscal problems have only been deferred. Should the U.S. economy relapse into recession, all credit-sensitive assets, including non-Agency MBS, could suffer.
Nevertheless, we continue to remain generally optimistic on the longer-term fundamental prospects for non-Agency RMBS. We believe the upward trend in home prices and the downward trend in delinquencies, foreclosures, and shadow housing inventory will provide further support to non-Agency MBS prices. Since the recent rally in non-Agency MBS has reduced available yields, we believe that skillful security selection will become an even more important factor in our ability to generate returns in 2013. We believe that the recent substantial movements in non-Agency RMBS prices have created numerous pricing disparities that require sophisticated security analysis to identify. We intend to continue to take advantage of trading opportunities to sell those securities that we believe have become more fully valued or overpriced, and purchase those securities that we believe offer better relative value. We also intend to opportunistically purchase attractively priced securities in other sectors, such as asset-backed securities and whole mortgage loans. As cases in point, in the fourth quarter of 2012 we purchased our first non-performing commercial whole loan, and in the first quarter of 2013 we purchased our first CLO.
Throughout 2012, we reduced our credit hedges so as to more fully take advantage of the rally in non-Agency MBS. In particular, we reduced our short ABX position. We have instead been focusing on credit hedges that we believe will provide greater protection in the event of an economic downturn, such as short positions on CDS corporate indices, and given our outlook for MBS, we would expect this focus to continue. The flexibility of our corporate structure allows us to increase or decrease our hedges as and when we see fit. As market conditions change, and especially as the pricing of various credit hedging instruments changes in relation to our outlook on future credit performance, we continuously re-evaluate both the extent to which we hedge credit risk and the particular mix of instruments that we use to hedge credit risk.
In our Agency RMBS strategy, we continue to target pools that, taking into account their particular composition and based on our prepayment projections: (1) will generate attractive yields relative to other Agency RMBS and U.S. Treasury securities, (2) will have less prepayment sensitivity to government policy shocks and/or (3) create opportunities for trading gains once the market recognizes their value, which for newer pools may come only after several months, when actual prepayment experience can be observed. We believe that our research team, our proprietary prepayment models, and our extensive databases remain essential tools in our implementation of this strategy. However, actions by the Federal Reserve continue to dominate the Agency RMBS market, and uncertainty around Federal Reserve policy creates significant volatility. Market perception of uncertainty with respect to future Federal Reserve actions reinforces the importance of the Company’s ability to hedge its risks using a variety of tools, including TBAs, as it navigates the changing market landscape. We also believe that our active trading style, coupled with our ability to dynamically alter the mix of TBAs and interest rate derivatives that we use to hedge interest rate risk, is of great benefit to our Agency RMBS strategy. Still, prepayment risk remains elevated in our Agency RMBS pools, since assets in this sector are generally trading at record-high or close to record-high prices. Given the heightened prepayment risk and valuation risk that accompanies these prices, hedging our Agency RMBS portfolio with short TBA positions has become, as a risk management tool, as critical as ever.
In our commercial mortgage loan and CMBS strategy, we have participated actively in both the still-recovering new issue market and in the secondary market, especially in relation to the relatively small amount of our capital allocated to this strategy. At the end of 2012, we decreased our holdings of CMBS to realize net gains amid strong price appreciation in that sector. We expect that the continued growth of the commercial mortgage sector will continue to present investment opportunities in 2013. As mentioned above, we also purchased our first non-performing commercial mortgage whole loan, which is backed by multi-family housing.
Critical Accounting Policies
Our consolidated financial statements have been prepared in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States for investment companies. In June 2007, the AICPA issued Amendments to ASC 946-10 (“ASC 946”), Clarification of the Scope of the Audit and Accounting Guide Investment Companies and Accounting by Parent Companies and Equity Method Investors for Investments in Investment Companies. ASC 946 was effective for fiscal years beginning on or after December 15, 2007 with earlier application encouraged. After we adopted ASC 946, the FASB issued guidance which effectively delayed indefinitely the effective date of ASC 946. However, this additional guidance explicitly permitted entities that early adopted ASC 946 before December 31, 2007 to continue to apply the provisions of ASC 946. We have elected to continue to apply the provisions of ASC 946. ASC 946 provides guidance for determining whether an entity is within the scope of the AICPA Audit and Accounting Guide for Investment Companies, or the “Guide.” The Guide provides guidance for determining whether the specialized industry accounting principles of the Guide should be retained in the financial statements of a parent company, of an investment company or of an equity method investor in an investment company. Effective August 17, 2007, we adopted ASC 946 and follow its provisions which, among other things, requires that investments be reported at fair value in the financial statements. Although we conduct our operations so that we are not required to register as an investment company under the Investment Company Act, for financial reporting purposes, we have elected to continue to apply the provisions of ASC 946.
Certain of our critical accounting policies require management to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets and liabilities at the date of the consolidated financial statements and the reported amounts of revenues and expenses during the reporting period. Actual results could differ from those estimates. Interim results are not necessarily indicative of the results that may be expected for the entire fiscal year. We believe that all of the decisions and assessments upon which our consolidated financial statements are based were reasonable at the time made based upon information available to us at that time. We rely on the experience of our Manager and Ellington and analysis of historical and current market data in order to arrive at what we believe to be reasonable estimates. See Note 2 of the notes to the consolidated financial statements for a complete discussion of our significant accounting policies. We have identified our most critical accounting policies to be the following:
Valuation: We adopted a three-level valuation hierarchy for disclosure of fair value measurements on January 1, 2008. The valuation hierarchy is based upon the transparency of inputs to the valuation of an asset or liability as of the measurement date. Financial instruments include securities, derivatives and repurchase agreements. A financial instrument’s categorization within the valuation hierarchy is based upon the lowest level of input that is significant to the fair value measurement. The inputs or methodology used for valuing securities are not necessarily an indication of the risk associated with investing in these securities.
The following is a description of the valuation methodologies used for our financial instruments:
Level 1 valuation methodologies include the observation of quoted prices (unadjusted) for identical assets or liabilities in active markets, often received from widely recognized data providers.
Level 2 valuation methodologies include the observation of (i) quoted prices for similar assets or liabilities in active markets, (ii) inputs other than quoted prices that are observable for the asset or liability (for example, interest rates and yield curves) in active markets, and (iii) quoted prices for identical or similar assets or liabilities in markets that are not active.
Level 3 valuation methodologies include (i) the use of proprietary models that require the use of a significant amount of judgment and the application of various assumptions including, but not limited to, prepayment assumptions and default rate assumptions, (ii) the assessment of observable or reported recent trading activity, and (iii) the solicitation of valuations from third-parties (typically, broker-dealers). We utilize such information to assign a good faith fair value (the estimated price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction at the valuation date) to such financial instruments.
We seek to obtain at least one third-party indicative valuation for each instrument, and often obtain multiple indicative valuations when available. Third-party valuation providers often utilize proprietary models that are highly subjective and also require the use of a significant amount of judgment and the application of various assumptions including, but not limited to, prepayment assumptions and default rate assumptions. We have been able to obtain third-party valuations on the vast majority of our assets, and we expect to continue to solicit third-party valuations on substantially all of our assets in the future to the extent practical. Third-party valuations are not binding on us; rather, we use our judgment, based on our models, recent trading activity in the same or similar instruments, and the indicative valuations received from third parties to determine and assign fair values to our Level 3 assets. We believe that third-party valuations play an important role in ensuring that our valuation determinations are fair and reasonable. Our valuation process is overseen by a valuation committee. Because of the inherent uncertainty of valuation, these estimated values may differ significantly
from the values that would have been used had a ready market for the financial instruments existed, and the differences could be material to the consolidated financial statements.
See the notes to our consolidated financial statements for more information on valuation.
Securities Transactions and Investment Income: Securities transactions are generally recorded on trade date. Realized and unrealized gains and losses are calculated based on identified cost. Interest income, which includes accretion of discounts and amortization of premiums on MBS, commercial mortgage loans, U.S. Treasury securities, and securitized debt, is recognized over the life of the investment using the effective interest method. For purposes of determining the effective interest rate, management estimates the future expected cash flows of its investment holdings based on assumptions including, but not limited to, prepayment and default rate assumptions. These assumptions are re-evaluated not less than quarterly and require the use of a significant amount of judgment. Principal write-offs are generally treated as realized losses. For non-performing commercial mortgage loans, purchase discounts are generally not amortized.
Recent Accounting Pronouncements
Refer to the notes to our consolidated financial statements for a description of relevant recent accounting pronouncements.
The following table summarizes our investment portfolio as of December 31, 2012 and December 31, 2011. For more detailed information about the investments in our portfolio, please refer to the Consolidated Condensed Schedule of Investments as of these dates contained in our consolidated financial statements.
December 31, 2012
December 31, 2011
Average Price (1)
Average Cost (1)
Average Price (1)
Average Cost (1)
Non-Agency CMBS and Commercial Mortgage Loans
Total Non-Agency MBS and Commercial Mortgage Loans
Agency RMBS: (3)
Total Agency RMBS
Total Non-Agency and Agency MBS and Commercial Mortgage Loans
Agency Interest Only RMBS
Non-Agency Interest Only and Principal Only RMBS and Other
Net Short TBAs
U.S. Treasury Securities:
Net Short U.S. Treasury Securities
Total Net Investments
Represents the dollar amount (not shown in thousands) per $100 of current principal of the price or cost for the security.
Excludes Interest Only, Principal Only, and Other Private Label securities.
Excludes Interest Only securities and TBAs.
The following table summarizes our financial derivatives portfolio as of December 31, 2012 and December 31, 2011. For more detailed information about the investments in our portfolio, please refer to the Consolidated Condensed Schedule of Investments as of these dates contained in our consolidated financial statements.
December 31, 2012
December 31, 2011
Long Mortgage-Related Derivatives: (1)
CDS on RMBS and CMBS Indices
Total Long Mortgage-Related Derivatives
Short Mortgage-Related Derivatives: (2)
CDS on RMBS and CMBS Indices
CDS on Individual RMBS
Total Short Mortgage-Related Derivatives
Net Mortgage-Related Derivatives