ARM Update

February 1, 2021



Last week, the Fed kept policy unchanged and made modest changes to its statement, acknowledging that the pace of the recovery has “moderated in recent months” and noted that the path of the economy will depend on the “progress of vaccinations” in addition to the course of the virus.  On the data front, fourth quarter GDP rose at an annualized pace of 4% quarter-over-quarter, slightly below consensus expectations.  On the week, Ginnie ARM spreads tightened 3 basis points and conventional ARM spreads tightened 2 to 4 basis points.  Fixed-rate product underperformed their adjustable-rate counterpart by tightening a mere 1 basis point.  Since the beginning of the year, conventional ARM spreads have tightened 6 to 11 basis points while 15-and 30-year MBS have widened 11 to 14 basis points.

ARM pricing spreads have tightened and are at levels seen during the first quarter of 2019.  Shorter 5/1 conventional ARMs have a 36 bp spread, almost 27 bps wider than the fourth quarter of 2018 lows.  Longer-reset 7/1 and 10/1 conventionals have a 40 and 45 bp spread, respectively, approximately 10 – 17 bps wider.  Adjustable-rate mortgage products remain an attractive place to put excess cash and liquidity without extending duration, regardless of portfolio strategy.

Factors such as diminished liquidity, lack of index sponsorship, and the small market size have slightly increased ARM spread concessions to fixed rates.  7/1s may offer better value than 15-years, but they are less liquid.  Overall, we continue to see relative value in 7/1s due to appealing yields, shorter durations, and less negative convexity than comparable-coupon 15-year fixed-rate MBS.  Investors concerned about potentially faster prepayments could focus on lower-WAC new-issue pools or moderately-seasoned paper.



Issuance levels continue to drop as new ARM issuance for January totaled 104.4mm, a multi-year low.  Supply was split amongst Fannie Mae (100.3mm), Freddie Mac (1.8mm), and Ginnie Mae (2.3mm).  Supply continues to be focused in longer-reset 7/1s and 10/1s with Fannie Mae issuing 45.5mm and 33.4mm, respectively.  Minimal 3/1s (0.6mm) were issued as this shorter product continues to be largely abandoned by lenders and the GSEs.  In recent years, the monthly net supply of ARMs has run at a negative pace, while fixed-rate products have grown at a much faster pace.  The decline closely tracks 5/1 hybrid ARM rate spread to the 30-year fixed mortgage rate, which has dropped to approximately 1 basis point.  As of January, hybrid ARM issuance represented ~ 0.30% of overall MBS issuance.



ARM LIBOR Transition Update

The LIBOR to SOFR transition has come to the agency ARM market with more specificity.  Directed by FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced that they will start to wrap SOFR based ARMs later this year although no specific date has been set.  The following table from a Vining Sparks’s publication describes the key features of the new SOFR ARM product:



For SOFR ARMs, both agencies introduced a batch of four basic types with standard 3-year to 10-year fixed-rate terms.  Each will float off of 1-month SOFR averages with a 6-month reset frequency instead of the 1-year reset that most LIBOR hybrids currently have.  Moreover, 1-month SOFR is a backward-looking index rate versus the forward-looking 1-year LIBOR.

A typical 1-year LIBOR loan margin in 225bps.  The margin on these SOFR ARMs needs to be higher to compensate for the shorter tenure of the 1-month index.  However, a higher reset frequency should also help to offset the term difference.  ARRC published a white paper in July 2019 on this topic and recommended that SOFR ARM loan margins be between 2.75% and 3% so that their fully indexed rate may be comparable to the annual reset 1-year LIBOR ARM consumer rate.  The agencies did not dictate a margin in the announcement, but it did impose a maximum margin of 300 bps.

The GSEs have recently stated that LIBOR loan applications would not be accepted past September 30, 2020, and they won’t be securitized after December 1, 2020.  Fannie Mae will start accepting SOFR ARMs on August 3, 2020, while Freddie Mac will permit them from November 16, 2020 and onward.  In their LIBOR Transition Playbook, the GSE’s provided the following timeline, which identifies key transition milestones for SOFR-indexed ARMs:



The administrator of LIBOR has announced it will cease the publication of one week and two-month LIBOR after December 31, 2021, and the remaining tenors after June 30, 2023.  Extending the publication of certain LIBOR tenors until mid-2023 would allow most legacy LIBOR contracts to mature before LIBOR experiences disruptions.

The vast majority of ARM loans are retained by banks.  The issuance of agency ARMs has been falling since the 2008.  Thus, the impact of this transition timeline may be relatively minor.  Should the current timeline for agency ARM transition stand, investors might expect lower ARM issuance as we move closer to year-end.


Recent SOFR ARM Announcements



Ricky Brillard, CPA

Senior Vice President, Investment Strategies

Vining Sparks IBG, LP

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