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Dynex Capital Inc (DX) Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call Transcript — The Motley Fool

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Dynex Capital Inc  (NYSE:DX)
Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Feb. 07, 2019, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good morning. My name is Jacqueline and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Dynex Capital Inc. Fourth Quarter 2018 Earning Results and Conference Call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers’ remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions)

Thank you. Alison Griffin, Vice President of Investor Relations, you may begin your conference.

Alison G. GriffinVice President, Investor Relations

Thank you, Jacqueline. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us today. With me on the call, I have Byron Boston, President and Chief Executive Officer; Smriti Popenoe, Chief Investment Officer; and Steve Benedetti, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer. The press release associated with today’s call was issued and filed with the SEC this morning, February 7, 2019. You may view the press release on the homepage of the Dynex website at dynexcapital.com as well as on the SEC’s website at sec.gov. Before we begin, we wish to remind you that this conference call may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. The words believe, expect, forecast, anticipate, estimate, project, plan, and similar expressions identify forward-looking statements that are inherently subject to risks and uncertainties, some of which cannot be predicted or quantified.

The Company’s actual results and timing of certain events could differ considerably from those projected and/or contemplated by those forward-looking statements as a result of unforeseen external factors or risks. For additional information on these factors or risks, please refer to the Annual Report on Form 10-K for the period ending December 31, 2017 as filed with the SEC. The document may be found on the Dynex website under Investor Center as well as on the SEC’s website. This call is being broadcast live over the Internet with a streaming slide presentation, which can be found through our webcast link on the homepage of our website. The slide presentation may also be referenced under Quarterly Reports on the Investor Center page.

I would now like to turn the call over to our CEO, Byron Boston.

Byron L. BostonPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Alison. Good morning and thank you all so much for joining our call. Let me start by saying that we have made a great effort to expand our presentation to include as much information as possible to help you understand how we are thinking about the global macro environment and our current portfolio construction, our earnings, and the risks that we have chosen to take to generate income for our shareholders. Please look closely at the entire deck, including the appendix, to gain better insight on our thoughts today. Regarding our current investment thesis, it is important to note that our disciplined thought process remains valuable as it has over the past decade. In today’s presentation, we have tried to be more specific about certain details to help you better understand. However, don’t misunderstand that we have written — what we have written or what we say. We are never trying to predict the exact path of future events.

What we are trying to do is assess the probability of events and to identify the most dominant factors that may ultimately influence the future path of economic activity, interest rates, and global asset price levels. In 2014 we noted that the global markets had become more complex and that surprises were highly probable. Our response to this environment over the past few years has been to go up in credit and to increase our liquidity. We also indicated that we would increase our leverage and we would deploy more capital when the spread environment improved and future potential returns increased. In the fourth quarter of 2018 and on into the first quarter of this year, we have followed through on our strategy as we have invested more capital at higher returns than we have seen in two to three years. As you can see, we maintained our discipline in deploying capital by waiting until returns improved to grow our balance sheet.

Now please turn to Slide 3. We want you to fully understand these key points from today’s presentation. First, we continue to generate solid cash flow in today’s environment in spite of a 100 basis point rise in financing costs in 2018. We came into the fourth quarter with a strong liquidity position that allowed us to take advantage of wider spreads. We are seeing improved economic return opportunities, we raised capital to deploy at these returns, and expect these opportunities to develop more frequently. Second, we are in a low return environment characterized by interest rates that spend more time in a narrower range than in recent history. This is occurring at a time when global risks are intensifying. For example, in our view, it is probable that increasing global debt, demographic trends, technology advances, and human conflict could keep the 10-year treasury below 3.5% and within a range — a broader range of 2% to 4% for a substantial period into the future.

Furthermore, there are multiple global factors that could rapidly force interest rates to and below the low end of this narrower interest rate range. As of today, negative side effects of monetary policy tightening are already developing in the global economy and impacting global capital markets limiting the most recent rise in interest rates. Furthermore, another factor representative of this low return environment is the fact that the amount of debt globally trading at negative interest rates is trending higher again. Hence when we consider this low return environment, the investment returns that we are currently seeing offer compelling opportunities for our shareholders. Our third key takeaway that we want you to remember is something that we have reminded you of for the past few years. There are long-term factors that continue to favor our business model.

Now these factors include first, demographics which support a growing demand for cash yield as the world’s population ages. This global demand for yield supports the long-term valuation of mortgage REITs. Securitized mortgage assets supported by the US government are among the safest investments to generate yield in a globe burdened with uncertainty. Second, there is a need for private capital in the US housing finance system as the Federal Reserve Bank attempts to reduce its investments in Agency RMBS and GSE’s reform — and GSE reform creates new investment opportunities. Furthermore, demographics also support the need for more housing in the United States.

Now, we’ll turn to Steve to discuss our fourth quarter results.

Stephen J. BenedettiChief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer

Thank you, Byron. For the fourth quarter, we reported a comprehensive loss of $0.52 per common share and a net loss of $1.34 per common share. The comprehensive loss was due to declines in fair value of our hedges in excess of increases in the fair value of our investments. We also reported core net income of $0.18 per common share for the quarter. As you can see from our results, our net interest spread and adjusted net interest spread declined during the quarter as the Federal Reserve continued to increase rates, but we compensated by increasing our portfolio leverage. Book value declined to $6.02 from $6.75 at the end of the third quarter, but the story there is spread widening on assets as markets begin to seriously price in a policy mistake. Markets have somewhat recovered and our book value was an estimated $6.20 at January 31 after considering the monthly dividend for January in our recent equity issuance.

I’ll turn it back over to Byron.

Byron L. BostonPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Steve. Now please turn to Slide 5 to look at our key macro themes. A key element of our macro thesis is that the global economy is fragile because growth has been driven by enormous accumulation of global debt and extraordinary central bank intervention. This is happening at a time when global risks are intensifying. We believe the ability for interest rates to rise rapidly and remain elevated over the long term is limited. Also at Dynex, we have always believed the Fed is data dependent as they have often historically been. Continued central bank supportive economies also supports demand for risk assets. Bouts of volatility must be used to deploy capital when market dislocations create opportunity. And then finally and really very important to understand, unpredictable government policies inject considerable uncertainty and raise the probability of surprise events that impact — that impact markets.

Now on Slide 6, we try to be more specific regarding our thought process on interest rates. Our most important thought process is not that interest rates will rise or fall. More importantly, we believe there are forces that will work to keep rates in a narrower range than has been seen historically since 1980. The amount of global debt acts as a governor of how high interest rates can rise. On the other hand, new supply of debt acts as a governor of how low interest rates can go in the absence of a crisis. Now turn to the next two slides number — Slide number 7 and number 8 where we try to show the history of debt and interest rates in both the United States and Japan over long periods of time. There are common themes in both graphs. It is important to note that we’re not predicting that the US will become like Japan. We are simply showing you some facts regarding the level of debt and the trend in interest rates.

Number one, you can see that both countries have had enormous increases in debt over the past 40 years or so. Note the substantial increase in debt after the 2008 crisis. And then number two, you can see that interest rates in both countries have come down materially as debt has continually risen. It is important to note that there are multiple play — factors that play in each economy. However, the extreme increases in debt will continue to be a major factor in limiting economic growth. Note the 2% to 4% range identified on the US chart and note the rate — that rates have remained below 2% in Japan for 20 years or so. Now let’s look to Slide 9. We are identifying one of the strongest influences on global asset price levels and spreads. That is the size of the global central bank balance sheets. As you can see, these balance sheets were increased by 3 — 3 times to 4 times and are expected to remain at these levels for some time into the future.

This forms the basis of our view that government policy will drive returns. Please turn to Slide 13 and let’s discuss the return environment. Simply put, the return environment improved in the fourth quarter and we took advantage of the opportunity by deploying existing capital and raising new capital, which we also rapidly deployed. The return environment allowed us to execute on our diversified strategy as we invested in both agency commercial securities and agency residential securities. Also noted on Slide 14 is that the structure of available returns across asset classes still favors an up in credit and increased liquidity strategy. We continue to maintain sufficient cash in unencumbered assets to weather surprise volatility. Now finally, please turn to my favorite slide on Page 17. We continue to believe that in this low return environment that long-term returns over the next 5 to 10 years will be heavily driven by dividends.

We also believe that an up in credit and up in liquidity strategy is extremely important in an environment where global risks have intensified. In this range bound low rate environment, our current strategy allows us to generate high quality cash flow while giving us the flexibility to respond to a surprise global downturn or event. As we said in our last conference call, we believe we are within striking distance of the Fed ending its tightening of financial conditions. We responded in a disciplined manner to that view by holding enough capital and liquidity to be able to invest in December and early January. And based on our view, we chose to raise additional capital to take advantage of this opportunity. Over the past year, our book value has been volatile and if you look at our long-term return charts, there have been other periods when our book value was volatile.

Nonetheless, it is important that you remember that above average dividends will help to cushion book value volatility over the long term. And also note that as we look to the future, we expect to see market opportunities that will allow us to add book value over time. Finally, in 2019 we will celebrate our 31st year as a public company. Our management team brings significant experience and expertise in managing securitized real estate assets through multiple economic cycles. And also, the entire senior management team invested alongside of our shareholders in our recent capital raise in January. We continue to believe that alignment between our shareholders and management is critical to our future success.

And with that, operator, we — we’re ready to open the lines for questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from Doug Harter from Credit Suisse. Your line is open.

Douglas HarterCredit Suisse — Analyst

Thanks. I know when you raised capital, you gave us an update of book value. But can you just talk about kind of how the markets have performed since that January 25 update, kind of what types of returns you were able to deploy the capital and kind of how you — how spreads have rebounded so far this quarter?

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

Yes. Hi, Doug. So through the end of January and into February, we’ve seen some improvement in spreads. So, 30 years are tighter versus where they were in December. I would say they’ve given back about a third to a little over a third of the widening that we experienced in December. So, they are still wider relative to say where we were in September, October, and November of last year and they’ve given — they’ve taken back some of that widening, about a third or little over a third. The DUS paper is also wider relative to where we were in the fourth quarter — early fourth quarter. We’ve given back about a third of that widening as well meaning that spreads have come back in.

As we mentioned in the return environment slide, the return ROEs, and I’m talking about net interest income ROEs here, we’re seeing those in the range of 12% to 15% on the Agency CMBS; probably more toward the lower end of that range at this point. And then on the 30 years depending on the coupon, it’s really between 10% and 14% or 15% on that — on that asset class as well. So, the thing to remember is that increased book value means less return on equity on marginal investing. So while it’s nice to have a pop back in book value, I really would like to have generally wide spreads to put capital to work. So, it’s a bit of a — it’s a bit of a trade-off.

Douglas HarterCredit Suisse — Analyst

Understood. Thanks for that color, Smriti.

Operator

Your next question comes from Eric Hagen from KBW. Your line is open.

Eric HagenKeefe Bruyette & Woods Inc — Analyst

Thanks. Good morning and congrats on 31 years as a public company. That’s excellent. The pools held on balance sheet, the 30-year fixed, what percentage of those are specified pools versus generic pass-throughs? Thanks.

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

They are all spec pools, Eric. There’s going to be pools that have low WACCs, low WALA — low WACC, low WALA, low balance. We tend to stay away from a lot of the very, very high payout pools. So, they are spec pools. They have some characteristic that we’ve determined that will help us cushion any type of prepayment risk, but they are not just generic pools that we’ve just taken delivery of just off the TBA market. So, the pools on that would have some kind of convexity protection.

Eric HagenKeefe Bruyette & Woods Inc — Analyst

Got it. Thanks. That’s helpful color. And then on the expense ratio, it was nice to see that come down a little bit. Just given the capital raise at the end of January, any ability to possibly bring that down even further? I realize that there’s maybe a partial offset with the book value correction, but just some color on the expense ratio going forward would be nice. Thanks.

Byron L. BostonPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Sure, Eric. On the margin, that capital, we’re not going to need to add any G&A expense really on the margin. So by definition by expanding the capital base and as you correctly point out, there is some mark-to-market in the capital base. So as the capital base goes down for the mark-to-market, the ratio goes up. But on that, we added that capital, we’ve recovered some of the mark to market. So on balance, the ratio should go down and we expect it to go down.

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

One other point on that, Eric, is that the new capital we deployed very very quickly, the week of raising. So — and we’ve seen a pretty big recovery post the Fed. So I think our raise was on Monday, we had most of it deployed within a couple of days and the Fed came on Wednesday and was very supportive for those spreads thereafter. So, that will help as well.

Eric HagenKeefe Bruyette & Woods Inc — Analyst

Got it. That’s great. And then on the hedging side just given the relatively flat yield curve, where on the curve does it make the most sense to add hedges as existing hedges mature? Thanks.

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

Yes. I’m so glad you asked that question because this is a very unique environment where depending on what you think the duration of an asset is, it really doesn’t matter sort of where you put the hedge on and a lot of our hedges that we put on early in the horizon are now positive carry hedges because LIBOR has risen well above the pay rate on a lot of those hedges. We are carrying a bigger hedge position. We’re thinking a ton about our curve risk. If you look at our macro view, I mean our macro view really supports putting longer duration hedges on versus shorter duration hedges. So as we’re — as we’re looking to add new assets, that’s been our bias. So that’s — but it’s a very good point to make, which is that at this point, it really isn’t costing us a lot of money to have a hedge on against higher rates.

Eric HagenKeefe Bruyette & Woods Inc — Analyst

Right, great. That’s helpful color, guys. Thank you very much.

Operator

Your next question comes from David Walrod from Jones Trading. Your line is open.

David WalrodJones Trading — Analyst

Good morning, everyone.

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

Hi David.

David WalrodJones Trading — Analyst

I just wanted to — the leverage obviously was up this quarter and you described some of that, but should we expect it to remain around these levels or was some of the increase due to the anticipated capital raise ?

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

Yes. So, this is — this is also a great question. Thanks, David. So one thing that we really wanted to focus on, the leverage last quarter went from 6.7 times to 8 times and that’s driven by two things. One is a real increase in the size of our balance sheet that reflects the investments that we made in the portfolio and that’s one way you can tell whether a company has adequate liquidity or not to invest in times of distress is if their balance sheet goes up, they put money to work and they have the liquidity and capital to survive any kind of disruption. So, we were able to do that in the fourth quarter so our partial — partial increase in leverage was attributed to the higher size of the balance sheet. The second item, which is more temporary and it fluctuates around a lot, is just the level of the book value. So as the book value goes down, you will see the calculated leverage go up and that was the second piece. But really what we think about in terms of what’s driving longer-term return for our shareholders is whether or not the balance sheet size grew. So, it did grow to 8x to total capital at the end of the year. We think that’s an appropriate level of leverage and possibly could take it higher based on — on investment opportunity.

David WalrodJones Trading — Analyst

Okay. That’s great. Thank you very much.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your next question comes from Christopher Nolan from Ladenburg Thalmann. Your line is open.

Christopher NolanLadenburg Thalmann — Analyst

Hey, guys. On the incremental capital that you raised — equity capital, assuming that you leverage it just at current levels, I estimate that spreads — if spreads come in any more than they already have — investment spreads I mean between yield and cost of funds, then you’re not going to be covering the dividend for these incremental shares. Is that a fair way to look at it?

Stephen J. BenedettiChief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer

So hey Chris, it’s Steve. So you’re saying what was your assumption as to what the capital was ultimately yielding, right, on an ROE basis?

Christopher NolanLadenburg Thalmann — Analyst

Yes. I’m just using a 224 basis points investment spread, Steve, and I’m assuming the capital’s levered around 6.5 times.

Stephen J. BenedettiChief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer

Yes. I think that incremental capital will be at a higher leverage than that because we’re adding — the blended Company leverage includes lower levered things like agency as an example. So when you’re adding the DUS and the pass-throughs, those generally go on at a little higher leverage. So I think Smriti mentioned and we have in our slides that based on our current assumptions, we’re adding assets at 12% to 15% ROE in the DUS and 10% to 15% in the agency pass-throughs.

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

Yes. And we’ve said in the past that the agency RMBS, we think about in terms of a leverage area about 9 times and then the Agency CMBS is higher somewhere between 10 times and 12 times.

Christopher NolanLadenburg Thalmann — Analyst

Okay. So, it’s fair to say that the days of the lowered leverage that you guys had in recent quarters is not likely be revisited in coming quarters.

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

Yes. I mean I think we — there’s actually a slide where we talk about that in the deck. I believe it’s Slide 22 where we talk about the fact that we have a more highly liquid balance sheet. Byron mentioned that that’s one of the key tenets of navigating through this macro environment. And what we’re seeing on Slide 22 is that right now we have liquid assets, they have a lot of flexibility in our ability to respond to any type of market shock. So, that’s one reason we feel the higher leverage is appropriate. The second thing that gives us some confidence here is just the amount of regulatory infrastructure and work that’s been put into place that supports levering highly liquid assets. And when I say that, I really mean highly liquid assets such as treasuries, agency mortgage-backed securities whether commercial or residential. I’m not saying that I would recommend us taking up high leverage on illiquid assets or credit assets. So, this is really one of the core, things that we were thinking about as we built the portfolio. At the end of the year, the leverage did go up from 6.7 times to 8 times. It reflected investing in higher ROE, but yes, higher leverage more liquid assets and we would expect that to continue.

Christopher NolanLadenburg Thalmann — Analyst

Okay. And so, you guys are sort of betting on that mortgage rates are plateauing. Is that a fair way to look at?

Stephen J. BenedettiChief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer

When you say mortgage rates, are you meaning the mortgage rate to the consumer who’s actually borrowing money?

Christopher NolanLadenburg Thalmann — Analyst

Actually yields that you’re getting on the bonds ?

Byron L. BostonPresident & Chief Executive Officer

I’ll tell you what we are saying. We are saying that there are forces, and this is really important, that will limit rapid increases in interest rates and there are forces that will work to push — at the lowest level of rate push rates back up unless there is a crisis and so that rates are in a much narrower range. If you look historically when we say 2% to 4% and we really don’t really believe in 3.5% to 4%, we’re just using that range because it can be identified on the chart. That’s a much narrower range than when I started trading in ’86, ’87, ’88, ’94. You’re talking of some years 300 basis point, 400 basis point, 500 basis point type moves in interest rates and then again when I compare it to Japan. So, it’s not so much as calling where rates will be. We are saying we are in a narrow environment and we’re saying that in that type of environment, it favors a strategy such as this and we do have some negatively convexed assets on the balance sheet. We feel more comfortable with those given that overall macro view.

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

Also we’re not — we’re not really saying that we think mortgage spreads will continue to tighten or anything from here. We’re prepared for volatility in mortgage rates, that’s what we expect. We expect that mortgage spreads will be volatile. We have a liquid position. We have capital to put to work when mortgage spreads widen and we think that will persist for some time because the Fed is still — is still figuring out what they’re going to do with the balance sheet.

Byron L. BostonPresident & Chief Executive Officer

And it’s not only just the Feds, Smriti. It’s also — it’s global central banks. That chart that we’ve got where we show you the size of the global central banks, you must digest the fact that those balance sheets increase by taking securities out of the global capital markets and those balance sheets are still the same size and growing. Now the psychology in the United States has been oh no, the Fed is reducing its balance sheet. But what we’re showing you here on Slide 9 is that those large balance sheets really are supportive of the overall spread environment. So, that is a core factor. We track that closely to have some — to form our future opinion in terms of spreads. And as I said at the beginning, it’s not about predicting exact interest rates or spread, it’s about identifying the factors that will have the largest influence on how future paths will evolve in front of us.

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

And I think we feel like we can construct a — an accretive investment strategy in the agency RMBS and agency CMBS market that will navigate that environment, right. So, one interesting stat on the mortgage market right now is about 50% of the outstanding Fannie universe is currently refinanceable and if rates go up 25 basis points — mortgage rates, that number goes up to 81% doesn’t become refinanceable.

Byron L. BostonPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Not refinanceable.

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

And then you go up another 25 basis points, 91% becomes unrefinanceable. So, there’s just — there’s an interesting dynamic here I think in the mortgage market with where we are in rates, what the range of rates can be, what the Fed is doing that over the long term is going to create good opportunities for us to make some investments and that’s really the point.

Byron L. BostonPresident & Chief Executive Officer

And with all of that to our shareholders, we are saying it is still a good time to generate cash flow from these assets. And over the long term, we believe that our shareholders and ourselves, because we are shareholders in our Company, will be happy that we’ve continued to generate cash flow in this environment. And yes, you should look to the yield on these assets and you should look to the leverage. There’s not a lot of funky things you have to do to understand how is Dynex Capital making money today. It’s not that complex. I hope that answers a lot of stuff we’ve thrown at you here, Chris, but we just want you to understand.

Christopher NolanLadenburg Thalmann — Analyst

I appreciate the detail, Byron. Okay. Thanks, guys.

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

Thanks, Chris.

Operator

There are no more questions. I’ll turn the call over to Byron Boston.

Byron L. BostonPresident & Chief Executive Officer

I hope you appreciated our call. I hope you appreciated that we are trying to be as open as possible in terms of how we think. We’ve been consistent. We haven’t changed our thought process over the last few years. You can go back and you can listen, well, to our conference calls going back to 2014 and by the way, I did do that. I went back and looked at my transcripts to ensure that I am consistent. It’s very important to us that our shareholders understand the risk that we’re taking and why we’re taking that risk. So, thank you so much for joining us on this call and we look forward to speaking with you again within three months. Thank you.

Operator

This concludes today’s conference call. You may now disconnect.

Duration: 32 minutes

Call participants:

Alison G. GriffinVice President, Investor Relations

Byron L. BostonPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Stephen J. BenedettiChief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer

Douglas HarterCredit Suisse — Analyst

Smriti L. PopenoeExecutive Vice President & Co-Chief Investment Officer

Eric HagenKeefe Bruyette & Woods Inc — Analyst

David WalrodJones Trading — Analyst

Christopher NolanLadenburg Thalmann — Analyst

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This article is a transcript of this conference call produced for The Motley Fool. While we strive for our Foolish Best, there may be errors, omissions, or inaccuracies in this transcript. As with all our articles, The Motley Fool does not assume any responsibility for your use of this content, and we strongly encourage you to do your own research, including listening to the call yourself and reading the company’s SEC filings. Please see our Terms and Conditions for additional details, including our Obligatory Capitalized Disclaimers of Liability.



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