Monday, June 25, 2007

New Short Possibilities: MBI and NCT

This is from Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales:

The stages of getting lost apply to more than just hiking in the woods. A company, such as Xerox, ignores cues from a changing world and from inside its own research facility in Palo Alto and nearly destroys itself. In 1959, Xerox introduced its 914 copier. Fortune said it was "the most successful product ever marketed in America." By 1969, Xerox passed $1 billion in sales. In 1971, flushed with success (an emotional state of high arousal), the company's officers were in a state of deep denial. The world was changing and they weren't taking in any new information... Xerox's leaders had decided to take on IBM, despite all the clear evidence that it would most likely kill them to do so. They were like snowmobilers, flushed with emotion, who went up that hill, despite the clear evidence that it would probably kill them. They were bending the map, too...

Xerox spent $1 billion to purchase a computer company... In the meantime, scientists and engineers at PARC were inventing the mouse, Ethernet, the [GUI], the flat-panel display, and the laser printer. Others got rich off of those inventions. Xerox, busy with its mental models that did not match the real world, saw none of that profit.
I was surprised by the magnitude of this decrease in land prices:

The slowdown in housing construction has led to a sharp fall in residential land prices in the [Minneapolis-St. Paul] metropolitan area, according to a midyear market study by Bloomington-based United Properties.

Values for developable residential land in the metro area are down about 35 percent from 2005, United said... some residential developers were carrying 18- to 36-month supplies of land on their books, compared with a typical four- to six-month supply.

SPF's land positions are in markets that were far more overheated than Minneapolis-St.Paul. They have a high degree of leverage, and the recent revelation that their joint ventures are subject to margin calls and recourse to the company is stunning. Only a fool would buy their stock when you are going to be able to buy lots from them and other builders at a pittance.

Another name I am paying attention to is MBI. They are an insurance company that guarantees the performance of "municipal bonds, asset-backed and mortgage-backed securities, investor-owned utility bonds, bonds backed by publicly or privately funded public-purpose projects," etc. Mish has given some great MBI coverage on his blog. See also MBI on Seeking Alpha.

The degree of leverage in bond insurers like MBI is astonishing. From their capital base of approximately $7B, they guarantee the performance of over $600 billion in debt.

The great thing about MBI in terms of blow-up potential is that because of the high leverage, you don't need to be very specific about the possible cause. Will it be a few municipal defaults? That would be enough, and every housing collapse has caused some. Or will it be from the mortgage securities?

Take a look at Newcastle (NCT), a REIT of high-yield, asset-backed bonds. It's run by Fortress Investment Group, which gives me pause. You would think they would know what they are doing, but maybe FIG is using this as a vehicle to dump sludge-quality paper on retail investors.

That seems to be what was happening with Everquest Financial, the fund that Bear Stearns was going to IPO. They were essentially forced to cancel it once people recognized the moral hazard problem.

The stock has a 10.4% dividend, which has attracted quite a few yield-hungry investors and funds. It trades at 1.5x book, and it’s levered almost 10:1. Market cap is $1.45B.

My issue is with the credit quality: the securities have a weighted average rating of BBB+.; 41% is rated BELOW BBB- or is unrated, etc.

Worrisome parts of the portfolio:
  • $77M in manufactured housing backed loans.
  • $629M in home equity loans rated BBB+.
  • $978M in unsecured REIT debt rated BBB-.
  • $300M in BB rated commercial loans.
  • $1B in subprime loans.
My final thought today is regarding the perception of a "subprime" menace.

It's wishful thinking to believe that the only problems are with low-FICO, "subprime" borrowers. Eventually, the market will realize that these problems extend to alt-a borrowers and beyond.


Anonymous said...


I've been following your blog for a couple months. Thanks for it. I've been meaning to mention IMH as something that is worth shorting. (Stock was impossible for me to borrow, but deep-in-the-money puts traded with virtually no premium.) It was an Alt-A mortgage REIT that some folks were in denial about. It had what I thought was very suspicious trading patterns and volume. Well today, less than a month after one analyst upgraded it after "reviewing its books very thoroughly" the CEO announced the dividend would be suspended owing to losses from its REO portfolio.

Again, this is an Alt-A REIT. They claimed repeatedly they did not do sub-prime lending... no contangion here, move along please, nothing to see.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, there goes another Alt-A REIT, American Home Mortgage.

I wonder how long before DSL announces similar bad news?