Mortgage REIT Investors Don't Fear the Taper

The Federal Reserve's two-day meeting concludes today, and markets will be on pins and needles waiting for Chair Ben Bernanke's announcement later today on exactly what that body has decided needs to be done regarding economic stimulus.

Will the Fed end QE3? If so, how slowly? These are the big questions, and speculation has been rife over the past couple of weeks, leading to volatility in many sectors -- particularly mortgage REITs.

And yet, the first day of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting saw a buoyant market, with mREITs looking especially upbeat -- despite the fact that a heavy hitter in the agency field announced a dividend cut.

More mREITs stay the course, but two trim payouts
Despite suffering many tumbles and bruises, several mREITs have announced that their dividends will be unchanged from the previous quarter. Several did so last week, and yesterday saw Hatteras Financial (NYSE: HTS  ) , an agency-only trust, keeping its own $0.70 per share payout the same. Hybrid New York Mortgage Trust (NASDAQ: NYMT  ) also kept its dividend stable, at $0.27 per share, in line with its four most recent distributions.

Not surprisingly, both trusts saw their stock price rise yesterday, but so did American Capital Agency (NASDAQ: AGNC  ) and American Capital Mortgage (NASDAQ: MTGE  )  -- despite a dividend trim announcement from both companies. Both of the mREITs under CIO Gary Kain's supervision, which have been known for their high payouts, declared dividend cuts of 16% and 11%, consecutively. Still, both ended the day in the green, despite investors' knowledge that huge dividend payments might be a thing of the past.

Investors feeling less panicked
Apparently, investors weren't terribly surprised by the dividend cuts at Mr. Kain's trusts, with good reason. American Capital Agency raised approximately $2 billion in a secondary offering back in February, in an apparent misreading of the market by Kain. Hatteras, on the other hand, announced yesterday its intention to buy back up to $10 million shares.

In regard to American Capital Agency and its hybrid cousin American Capital Mortgage, investors may have reacted calmly because this was an expected outcome -- more of a correction, really, than a reason to worry.

Overall, the jitters seem to be subsiding, possibly because the endless debate over the Fed's intent has settled decisively in favor of a slow tapering of its bond and securities program. This makes sense, of course -- the Fed has no interest in disrupting the very markets it has been trying so hard to bolster. Also, for the time being, at least, things are expected to stay the same, with changes probably being put off until the next FOMC meeting.

Meanwhile, the markets wait with bated breath for Uncle Ben's press conference later today. If the markets hear what they expect, the party will doubtless last -- at least until the end of the trading week.

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