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The Least-Leveraged Mortgage REITs and Their Big Yields

By Anand Chokkavelu, CFA – Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 7:14PM

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These REITs achieve their big dividends with very little debt.

I recently listed the most highly leveraged mortgage REITs, or mREITs. I did this because there's at least some uncertainty about the industry's ability to avoid onerous regulation that "could threaten mortgage REIT returns by either restricting the massive amounts of debt used to boost returns or eliminating their tax exempt status." But even if no negative regulation surfaces, it's important to know the financing strategies being used.

Today, I want to look at the other end of the spectrum -- the mortgage REITs that get it done with low debt levels.

The highly leveraged mREITs mostly deal in agency securities, which are guaranteed by government-ish entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The lower credit risk of the agency securities allow for this debt-stacking.

Meanwhile, on the lower-leveraged end, we see mREITs that are focused on commercial mortgages and non-agency-guaranteed residential mortgages.

Below are the sizable mortgage REITs (over $200 million in market capitalization) with the lowest leverage. I've also included their focus and dividend yields.

Company Name


Dividend Yield

Leverage (assets/equity)

Colony Financial (NYSE: CLNY) Commercial 8.5% 1.1
CreXus (NYSE: CXS) Commercial 11.6% 1.1
Starwood Property Trust (NYSE: STWD) Commercial 9.9% 1.5
PennyMac Mortgage Investment Trust (NYSE: PMT) Non-agency residential 12.2% 1.7
Chimera (NYSE: CIM) Non-agency residential 18.3% 2.9
Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance (NYSE: ARI) Commercial 11.2% 3.1
NorthStar Realty Finance (NYSE: NRF) Commercial 12.0% 4.3

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Like their highly leveraged counterparts, we see the less-leveraged REITs also achieve high returns that (as required)  get paid out as high dividend yields. While the former juice their returns by taking on high amounts of debt, the latter do so by investing in riskier loans and securities (and thus earning higher interest rates). Broadly speaking, the difference is between more financing risk on the one hand, and more portfolio risk on the other.

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Anand Chokkavelu does not own shares of any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Chimera Investment. 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.

Stocks Mentioned

Chimera Investment Stock Quote
Chimera Investment
$6.66 (-1.62%) $0.11
Starwood Property Trust Stock Quote
Starwood Property Trust
$19.89 (-0.30%) $0.06
NorthStar Realty Finance Stock Quote
NorthStar Realty Finance
PennyMac Mortgage Investment Trust Stock Quote
PennyMac Mortgage Investment Trust
$14.71 (-1.14%) $0.17
Apollo Commercial Real Estate Stock Quote
Apollo Commercial Real Estate
$11.59 (-0.85%) $0.10

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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