A highlight from A Primer on Mortgage-Backed Securities
Welcome to Wealthy Behavior, talking money and wealth with Heritage Financial, the podcast that digs into the topics, strategies and behaviors that help busy and successful people build and protect their personal wealth. I'm your host, Sammy Azuz, the president and CEO of Heritage Financial, a Boston based wealth management firm working with high net worth families across the country for longer than 25 years. Now let's talk about the wealthy behaviors that are key to a rich life. On this episode of the Wealthy Behavior podcast, we have a special guest, Ken Shinoda, portfolio manager at Double Line Capital, where he manages and co -manages several fixed income strategies, as well as overseeing the team investing in non -agency backed mortgage securities. I can think of a few people who would be better to speak with at a moment in time like this for the market, just given the sharp moves we've had in interest rates, which have impacted bonds and stocks and mortgage rates being higher than we've seen in a long time. And be sure to stick to the end as I digest this conversation with our chief investment officer, Bob Weiss, and share his key takeaways as well. I'm excited for this conversation, so welcome to Wealthy Behavior, Ken. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Absolutely. Could you provide our listeners maybe with a brief overview of Double Line and your role with the firm? Absolutely. Double Line is a Los Angeles based asset manager. We predominantly manage fixed income, but we also have some passive smart beta equity strategies that have done quite well. We have a commodity strategy, but I would say about 90 % of our assets are fixed income based with a heavy tilt towards securitized products, which are things like mortgage backed securities, asset backed securities, collateralized loan obligations. We have about 95 billion under management. And what is your role specifically with the firm? I know I mentioned the bio, but how would you explain that to listeners? Yeah, I am a portfolio manager across a variety of our products, especially those that are more focused on mortgage backed securities. I also have the structured products committee, which oversees the asset allocation process on our securitized focused strategies. How did you get started on this career path? How did you get to this point? I wanted to get into something real estate related coming out of school. I had a couple of interviews. I actually was interning at Trust Company West TCW, which where many of the Double Line employees came from and just happened to stumble onto this role. I never didn't come out of school thinking, hey, I want to trade mortgage backed securities. It wasn't really something that was pushed on the West Coast. I think East Coast schools are more investment banking trading focused. So, luck happens. Pretty big asset management community out in the West Coast with a pretty big presence, especially in Southern California with PIMCO, WAMCO, Capital Group out here. So there's actually a pretty big fixed income focus, at least in the Southern California area. Great. And we've talked a couple of times already about mortgage backed securities. How would you explain those to listeners or maybe people who've read the big short and have some misconceptions about what they are and how risky they could be? If you go back a long, long, long time ago before we created the government sponsored entities, Fannie, Freddie and Jeannie Mae mortgages, if you went to a bank to get a mortgage, it was always going to be floating rate, a digestible rate mortgage because the banks didn't want to take on such a long duration risk. And what happened was Fannie and Freddie and Jeannie Mae were put into place to try to get the cost of debt down for Americans to buy homes and a goal to increase home ownership or help more people get into homes. And they introduced the 30 year fixed rate mortgage and then they would package up those mortgages eventually and create bonds backed by these mortgages. So you can basically buy a bond that's government guaranteed, that's whose cash flows come from these mortgage backed securities. And so instead of taking on credit risk, what you're really taking on is prepayment risk. If rates go down, borrowers have the ability to refinance without any cost really. And if rates go higher, then the refinancing activity slows down. So you have this kind of like uncertainty of how long your investment is. Is it a one year bond or is it a 10 year bond? It all depends on the prepayments through time. So instead of sitting around and worrying about credit risk and default risk, you're really sitting around and worrying about the direction of rates and what that means for refinancing activity. And so the direction of rates is a great place to go. You've been doing this for a while. How would you characterize the investment environment, the interest rate environment that we're in right now? Well, it's been the worst interest rate environment that I've seen from a sharp movement and rates higher. I mean, we've been in a bond bear market now for three years, the 10 year yield on a closing basis. The low was in August of 2020. Intraday, we were a little bit lower in March during kind of the fiasco when the shutdown started. And we've reached new highs in August across the curve really. So it's been a really tough market. Part of it's been driven by the Fed with their reaction to high inflation. And we've seen a pretty dramatic increase in short term rates and the long end has fallen. And we have a little rally as there was hopes and glimmers of a soft landing and data rolling over. But what we have now is the soft landing narrative is still there, but the data's coming in better than expected. So I think a couple of prints, the GDP print came in strong, you had services coming strong, you had some jobs that are still coming in strong. And so the whole curve has kind of shifted back up with the market now thinking the Fed may still have more to do. And if they don't have more than one hike, they're at least going to keep rates higher for longer. And if the economy is strong, then why should long term rates be so low? Maybe they should normalize up towards, let's say, four and a half, five percent on the 10 year. So that's kind of what's happened, I think over the last 30 days is the narrative has shifted from kind of this expectations of growth rolling over to, you know, perhaps growth is better than expected. And now the market's just waiting and watching for more data to come in to guide them. So you're not to put words in your mouth, but maybe you're more in the camp then that the higher rates that we've been seeing is a good sign for the economy versus a bad sign for the economy? I think in the near term, it's a good sign. It means that the data is coming in positively. The data is backwards looking, though. So I think inevitably the lags will kick in and higher rates will start hurting certain pockets of the market. You know, the what's happened is so many high quality companies locked in such low cost of debt and so many Americans locked in such low cost of mortgage rates. Right. Three, three and a half percent, you know, maybe a year or two years ago that it's just taking long for the transmission mechanism of higher rates to come to the economy. We just have way more fixed debt than than we used to. Europe is a place where the transmission mechanism is perhaps working faster because more of their lending to companies is floating rate at banks. So the places where we're going to see the pain and we're already seeing pain now are pockets that are more floating rate. So commercial real estate is a good example. A lot of floating rate debt there. You're talking about people that borrowed it like, two percent, three years ago, and now they got to roll their debt at like seven percent. Right. It's going to create issues. Bank loans, bank loans float and the cost of debt is effectively double. The average spread on the bank loan index going back 10 years is about 500. And short term rates are now 500 basis points. So these companies went from borrowing at five percent to now having to pay 10 percent. It doesn't happen overnight. It takes time. Those are those lags that everyone talks about. And I think that they'll still come through eventually. And it's probably going to happen sometime in the fourth quarter or first quarter next year. So right now, the move higher in rates, I think it's in reaction to the positive economic data that we're seeing. But I still think it's an attractive entry point. If you haven't owned long treasuries or assets that have interest rate risk, it's been a good thing for you. So congratulations. But now it's probably one of the cheapest parts of the market. I mean, you want to buy assets when people are pricing in all the bad things. There's not much downside left. When I think about treasuries, that's kind of how it feels right now. Like everything bad that could happen is happening or has happened. Right. The Fed is hiking. Inflation was high. Foreign buying is very low. Economic data surprisingly upside. So it's kind of like all the bad news seems to be in. Last week was interesting because you had that services PMI come in stronger than expected. It will jump up. I think it went from like 52 to 54 or something. If it's north of 50, it's expansionary. And the economy in the US is very service oriented. And off that news, the bond market didn't really move much. It's already kind of at these high levels. I think you would have expected another move higher in rates on that news, but it kind of just settled in. So the big headwind right now is the supply. There's just a ton of treasury supply coming. But if you get any data surprise to the downside come kind of Q4 or maybe Q1 of 2024, I think that could ignite a pretty strong rally in rates. So the thing to worry about is really, does growth stay stronger than expected? We grow our way out of this, right? Yeah, absolutely. So would you agree that the Fed is much more influential in determining short term rates and the market is much more influential in determining like 10 year yields? Yeah, I agree with that. I think that's accurate. So maybe back it up and help our listeners understand what makes the 10 year yield move in either direction? What does it mean when it's moving up or when it's moving down? Yeah, I mean, there's different ways to models that have come out from different participants to like estimate what the fair value for the 10 year should be. One of them is what is the neutral rate of interest that's neither accommodative or restrictive? The R star. And that's, I think, the first layer. So let's just throw a number out and say that's like 2%, right? Then sometimes people say, well, then you need to layer in what long run inflation will be over that 10 year horizon. So let's call that, that's another 2 % or so core CPI gets back down to that level. And then some term premium, maybe that's 50 basis points. So that would get you to like a 4 .5 % 10 year treasury yield. You're getting the neutral rate plus some premium for inflation over 10 years plus some term premium. And you could argue over the term premium, maybe it's supposed to be 50, maybe it's supposed to be a hundred. If you think it's going to be a hundred, then you should think 10 years going to 5%. Now on the flip side, there's buying from pensions and there's buying from money managers and other institutions that kind of can drive the fair value below that four and a half number we just came up with, things like QE, right? That's why we got to such low levels is that the buying outside of those that are just looking at that fair value coming in, maybe it's lack of supply, maybe it's foreign buying and so on and so forth. So part of it's driven by kind of expectations of inflation through time. And then part of it's just driven by the supply and demand of bonds that are out there. And that can be, things like QE can affect that, right? So that first 2 % that you called, I was picturing in my head is almost like the neutral rate. What determines that? What would cause that to be higher or lower? Or is that just fairly static across time in that assumption or that model? That's the big debate upon the context right now is, are we in a new world of higher inflation where the neutral rate would need to be higher? Whereas if you go back to like the last 20 years pre -COVID, let's call it when we were in this like world of secular stagnation, where there was arguments that maybe that neutral rates is much lower since we're living in a world of lower growth, lower inflation, so on and so forth. So depending on how things shake out and what the future looks like, maybe that neutral rates higher. What are some things that could make inflation and growth stay higher? There's like the three D's I call it. It's like demographics, right? We've had a smaller workforce every year going back the last 10 years because the baby boomers are retiring. We also stopped immigration pretty aggressively too. So demographics are part of it. You got defense spending, right? Governments are definitely spending more on defense and that could be inflationary, expansionary. We've got spending on decarbonization, right? There's going to be trillions of dollars spent on decarbonization. There's infrastructure spending that needs to happen in the US. There's all these sources of potential growth that are coming that in theory could keep growth higher, inflation higher. And this is not a bad thing for the economy, but it just means that rates will probably have to be higher. And so I guess the real truth will be shown is after we kind of get through the next 12 to 24 months, soft landing, no landing, hard landing, whatever, what comes next? And are these long -term forces that are potentially pushing through into the economy going to keep growth and inflation higher in the future? Got it. So pivoting to mortgage backed securities, what are you seeing in the mortgage backed securities market now? Yeah, mortgages look the most interesting they have in almost 10 years. If you look at the spread on current coupon mortgage backed securities, which are the bonds that are being manufactured today by the loans being made today. So these are like seven and a half coupon loans get packaged into six and a half coupon bonds. The spread on them somewhere call between it like 165 to 175 and relative to corporate spreads, which are almost a hundred or a hundred ish, maybe a little bit wide of that.