March 8, 2021
Over the past three weeks, the market has migrated from a slow nominal bear market characterized by higher long-term rates and rising inflation expectations to a rapid selloff in real rates led by weakness in the intermediate portion of the curve. Last week, Fed Chairman Powell reiterated the central banks accommodative policy stance, but U.S. yields sold off nonetheless and the 2s10s portion of the curve reached its steepest level since 2015. On the week, yield spreads on Ginnie and conventional ARMs were unchanged while 15- and 30-year fixed-rate products tightened 4 and 5 basis points, respectively. On the month, ARMs tightened 5 – 8 basis points while shorter MBS spreads experienced widening of 15 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 30 bp spread, almost 21 bps wider than the fourth quarter of 2018 lows. Longer-reset 7/1 and 10/1 conventionals have a 35 and 37 bp spread, respectively, approximately 2 – 12 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 February totaled 83.2mm, a multi-year low. Supply was split amongst Fannie Mae (55mm), Freddie Mac (24.3mm), and Ginnie Mae (3.9mm). Supply was focused in 7yr/6m and 10yr/6m indexed to the 30-day SOFR Average with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issuing a combined 30.8mm and 34.2mm, respectively. Minimal 3/1s (1mm) 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. As of March, hybrid ARM issuance represented ~ 0.06% 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
- 7/11/19 ARRC releases white paper on using an average of SOFR to build an adjustable-rate mortgage product for consumers
- 2/5/20 Fannie Mae announces SOFR ARM loans beginning Q4 2020; LIBOR ARM loans should cease by year end 2020
Ricky Brillard, CPA
Senior Vice President, Investment Strategies
Vining Sparks IBG, LP