November 21, 2023 | Last week, as we noted earlier, the thundering herd in the equity markets decided that the Fed’s battle with inflation is won and happy days are here again. Raging bulls drove yields on the long end down sharply and generated intense speculation about when and how much the FOMC will cut short term rates.
Brokers loudly recommend the purchase of current coupon mortgage-backed securities. Some brave souls among our readers even began to ask for recommendations about which banks to buy. The chart below shows the yield on the 10-year Treasury (blue) and prime conventional loans (red). We’re back to market yields seen in early September.
First, let’s reset some benchmarks. Last week saw the 10-year Treasury around a 4.45% yield and 30-year prime 1-4 family mortgages around an average 7.2% coupon. This represents a considerable rally from the 5% plus yields seen at the end of Q3 2023. The rally in the 10-year moved the price of Ginnie Mae 3% MBS from 81 to 83 bid, a small but still significant improvement, yet not enough to matter to most bank shareholders.
Even with the rally in the Treasury market, most US banks remain insolvent on a mark-to-market basis. We say this because many banks are waiting, we think in vain, for Fed Chairman Jerome Powell & Co at the FOMC to ride to the rescue. We think that doing nothing is a fool’s trade, to be blunt, because the next Treasury refunding could pull market yields sharply higher.
More important, a normalization of the Treasury yield curve may see the “belly” of the mortgage TBA curve return to normal, meaning on-the-run contracts closer to the middle of a positively sloped curve. Despite the rally last week, the "belly" of the TBA curve is arguably a Fannie Mae 6.5-7% contract for December delivery. This implies profitable conventional loans with 7.5-8% loan coupons.
Source: US Treasury
There are a few folks out there who understand that the rally in the bond market may be fleeting, like the last roses before the frost. Earlier this week, Pacific Premier Bank (PPBI) did a significant clean up of its balance sheet of COVID-era assets. PPBI “announced the Bank completed an investment securities portfolio repositioning.” The press release continued:
“The Bank sold approximately $1.27 billion of available-for-sale securities consisting primarily of lower-yielding agency and mortgage-backed debt securities with an average yield of 1.34% for an estimated after-tax loss of approximately $182.3 million. The Company expects to deploy the net proceeds during the fourth quarter into a mix of cash and higher-yielding earning assets with an expected average yield of approximately 5.0%. The Company anticipates that the repositioning will contribute an incremental $50.4 million in net interest income on an annualized basis and will be neutral to tangible book value per share.”
PPBI has taken a proactive decision to rid its balance sheet of low-yielding QE-era securities and redeploy the net proceeds into higher yielding assets. The bank only had a mark-to-market loss on its $20 billion balance sheet equal to 10% of capital. Yet PPBI has above-peer capital and earnings, allowing the Irvine, CA, commercial lender to sell the underwater securities at a loss. Sadly, there are few other large banks in Peer Group 1 besides PPBI with the focus to take the short-term pain necessary to put COVID and QE behind them.
Bottom line is that the change will increase PPBI’s net interest income by almost 10% vs the roughly $600 plus million in annualized NII reported in Q3 2023. The key factor in this successful repositioning of the bank, of course, is that the bank’s accumulated other comprehensive income (AOCI) was never that large vs the bank’s capital in the first place.
If you own or operate a financial institution and you are sitting on a significant negative AOCI position, then you should be lightening the load before the end of the fourth quarter of 2023. The simple reason we say this is the deteriorating tactical situation facing Secretary Janet Yellen and the US Treasury in the debt markets. We think that the FOMC has effectively lost control of the long end of the curve, especially with inflation still running above target.
Since we price MBS and residential mortgages off of the 10-year Treasury note and not off SOFR or Fed funds, the weight of Treasury issuance ahead seems important. Even if the equity manager herd is correct and the FOMC plans a reduction in short-term interest rates next year, the long end of the curve may continue to rise as the Treasury is forced to pay higher rates.
We doubt that many equity managers or economists think about what the normalization of the yield curve implies for banks and other financials. In the absence of more QE, in fact, we’d argue that the normalization of the yield curve must include higher LT yields. Think about the yield that would have allowed the Treasury to issue its full planned allocation of long-dated paper in the most recent refunding.
"The swift ascent of yields is not only felt in government borrowing costs, since the 10-year Treasury yield also underpins the rates on corporate debt, consumer mortgages and many other types of debt around the world," Joe Rennisson wrote in The New York Times.
So if we eventually see Fed funds drop down to 5% or lower, but 10-year Treasury notes are trading at say a 6% yield, is that better for banks? If you are talking about a bank with no significant deficit in terms of mark-to-market losses, then the answer is yes. But if we are talking about a bank with 20% or more of negative AOCI vs tangible capital, then the answer is decidedly no. The pain for banks that hold low coupon paper goes up with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note.
Seen in this light, the actions of PPBI and other banks that have taken the pain and sold QE era securities (a/k/a “toxic waste”) may be seen in years hence as exemplary. Banks such as Bank of America (BAC), as we noted in our Premium Service profile (“Update: Bank of America"), will see NII hurt by low yielding securities buried deep in held-to-maturity portfolios for years to come.
Steven R. Gardner, Chairman, CEO, and President of Pacific Premier, commented in a press release:
“We elected to proactively reposition our securities portfolio during the fourth quarter, which we anticipate will provide significant earnings benefit as we enter 2024. We expect the repositioning will add approximately 26 basis points to our net interest margin and contribute approximately $37.1 million to annual net income in 2024. Through this securities portfolio repositioning, we have significantly improved the Company’s future earnings power, while simultaneously preserving our strong capital levels and further enhancing our liquidity.”
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