Economic and Market Commentary

Moving Into Mortgage-Backed Securities

Are there opportunities in credit? Andrew Balls, CIO Global Fixed Income, and Joachim Fels, Global Economic Advisor, discuss the reasons why we believe mortgage-backed securities are an attractive place for investors to consider.

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Tina Adatia, Fixed Income Strategist: Joachim, what’s our view of high quality MBS in the portfolio context?

Joachim Fels, Global Economic Advisor: So, we think agency MBS are a good alternative to generic corporate credit, for example, and there are two reasons for that. One is valuation. The other one is better resiliency in adverse scenarios.

Chart: A triple line chart shows the change in valuations for agency MBS from 2012 to 2019. The model rich/cheap vs. swaps shows 3% rich/cheap vs. 3.5% rich/cheap vs. 4% rich cheap valuations move from near convergence to widening spreads to convergence at the end of the time period.

So, the chart illustrates the valuation point. Actually, we’ve seen quite a spread widening in these products in the course of this year. So, the entry point looks very attractive for us. This is the best valuation we’ve seen in the past ten years. So that’s the first point, valuation. The second point is illustrated in the right-hand chart.

Chart: A bar chart compares average 12-month excess returns vs. like-duration UST for agency MBS and corporates during two different economic environments: expansion and recession. During expansion, corporates performed better than agency MBS, during recession agency MBS outperformed corporates.

It’s the greater resiliency in adverse scenarios. So, what this chart does, it compares the excess return relative to U.S. treasuries for corporate credit in green, and for agency MBS in blue. And you can see during expansions, more excess return in corporates. But then the interesting thing is, when you hit a recession, agency MBS has been very resilient, a small excess return, and you can easily lose in corporate credit. You can easily lose three to four years of outperformance that you made earlier in that recession. So if you think we’re late cycle and bad stuff could happen in the foreseeable future, then this has been the safer part of the broader credit spectrum.

Tina: So good from a downside perspective, but actually attractive valuations today. So, moving on to another part of mortgage credit — what we’re seeing, Andrew, is that buying is cheap.

Chart: Two single side-by-side line graphs compare non-agency MBS fundamentals and technicals. One chart shows the buy-to-rent ration from 2012 to 2019 moving from a position of renting cheaper than buying to buying cheaper than renting. Another chart shows the decrease then increase in home equity from 2008 to 2019.

If you look at the fundamentals in this chart, we show that buying is cheaper than renting. You see that on the left hand chart. We’ve also seen homeowner equity increasing recently. So, what is our view on nonagency mortgages in a portfolio?

Andrew Balls, CIO Global Credit: We continue to see good opportunities here. It’s harder to buy this paper, that’s for sure. But in terms of the holdings we have, you have attractive valuation versus investment grade, or versus high-yield corporate credit, depending on the nature of the non-agency mortgages you have. You have — we think defensiveness, seniority, in the overall capital structure, in the event of a slowdown. We would expect resilience in the event of weaker macro outcomes. And then what is not the most liquid sector, that’s for sure, and it’s hard to buy as much as we would like to buy, given lower production; you don’t have the crowding, we don’t think the technical problems, the liquidity mismatch that we talked about in terms of corporate credit.

There’s other opportunities, UK RMBS we think is quite attractive. There’s Brexit risk premium built into that. There’s some other global opportunities as well, but generally housing-related assets, we think look quite attractive versus corporate credit.

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All investments contain risk and may lose value. Investing in the bond market is subject to risks, including market, interest rate, issuer, credit, inflation risk, and liquidity risk. The value of most bonds and bond strategies are impacted by changes in interest rates. Bonds and bond strategies with longer durations tend to be more sensitive and volatile than those with shorter durations; bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise, and low interest rate environments increase this risk. Reductions in bond counterparty capacity may contribute to decreased market liquidity and increased price volatility. Bond investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Mortgage- and asset-backed securities may be sensitive to changes in interest rates, subject to early repayment risk, and while generally supported by a government, government-agency or private guarantor, there is no assurance that the guarantor will meet its obligations. Securities issued by Ginnie Mae (GNMA) are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. Securities issued by Freddie Mac (FHLMC) and Fannie Mae (FNMA) provide an agency guarantee of timely repayment of principal and interest but are not backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. 

There is no guarantee that these investment strategies will work under all market conditions or are suitable for all investors and each investor should evaluate their ability to invest long-term, especially during periods of down turn in the market. Investors should consult their investment professional prior to making an investment decision.

This material contains the opinions of the manager and such opinions are subject to change without notice. This material has been distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

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Tina Adatia
Fixed Income Strategist
Olivia A. Albrecht
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Jamie Weinstein
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