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High unemployment, a dour housing market, overleveraged consumers, and dallying legislators -- what's a Fool have to do to earn a return in this market? I see the answer in Annaly Capital
Annaly's business model is focused around the interest rate spread it earns between borrowing short-term money and buying long-term mortgage-backed securities that are guaranteed by the government and collecting the interest on them. Since Annaly is a mortgage REIT, it pays out nearly all of its earnings, and so it has that gaudy dividend you see.
The more Annaly can leverage up its balance sheet, the more it can earn and the greater its dividend. The company has a leverage ratio of about 6.3 -- or $6.30 of debt for every dollar of equity. But debt can cut both ways, and the company has been prudent about how much leverage it's taken on. The company continues to monitor its leverage closely, since a decrease in its rate spread can quickly curtail profit. During 2010, the spread consistently narrowed sequentially, down to 1.85%, but in the latest quarter it jumped to 2.17%. That will be a key metric to watch.
Because Annaly pays out virtually all its cash, the company relies on secondary offerings to raise capital for expansion.
Why I'm buying
With unemployment stalling, the Federal Reserve promising that it won't engage in Quantitative Easing 3.0, and the legislature refusing to provide any more economic stimulus, I see little impetus to the broader economy. This situation is not helped by the blockade in Congress over a balanced budget. Any attempt at fiscal austerity, as we've seen in Ireland and the U.K., will simply put the economy on a rockier road and cause unemployment to rise.
I also see Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke continuing his low interest rate policies for quite a while yet. With unemployment still close to its highs, a too-quick move to raise rates would also throw the economy back into harder times. As a student of the Depression, Bernanke realizes this, of course, but he may well be swayed to bump rates by pressures from various corners. While a rate increase would hurt Annaly initially, it would prove to be bad for the economy, ultimately improving the overall conditions for the company.
In short, I see officials as likely to make moves that ultimately benefit Annaly. Even if cooler heads prevail, it will still be years before unemployment reaches levels that cause inflation. In addition, Annaly makes a good hedge against some of my other positions, such as Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, which is at least partly a play on the return of the consumer. So tomorrow I'm adding a 6% position in the company, or $1,000, to my Special Situations portfolio. I already own shares of Annaly in my own account and have owned them for a few years.
While this is not a typical transaction-related special situation, the potential return here for idle cash is high. I don't expect this to be a long-term hold and will watch rates closely.
I see the primary risk to this company as economic improvement. But I expect that to come slowly enough, given the lack of stimulus to improve the situation, as I've described above. As with any investment, a number of things could harm results: increasing interest rates, too much leverage or a miscalculation about future rates, or a change in the government sponsorship of mortgages. But Annaly's management is sharp and has a strong track record of providing returns to investors.
Annaly offers us a good hedge against ongoing economic malaise, while providing a fat dividend for the piles of cash we have sitting yet in our account. With the economy only slowly improving, this stock should offer solid returns for the next couple of years.
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Jim Royal, Ph.D., owns shares of Annaly and Red Robin. The Motley Fool owns shares of Annaly. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.