Ellington Financial LLC. Co-Chief Investment Officer, 10% Owner Michael W Vranos bought 500,000 shares on 14-11-2013 at $ 23.28
Ellington Financial LLC is a specialty finance company formed in August 2007 that specializes in acquiring and managing mortgage-related assets. Our primary objective is to generate attractive, risk-adjusted total returns for our shareholders by making investments that we believe compensate us appropriately for the risks associated with them. We seek to attain this objective by utilizing an opportunistic strategy. Our targeted assets currently include:
residential mortgage-backed securities, or â€śRMBS,â€ť backed by prime jumbo, Alternative A-paper, or â€śAlt-A,â€ť manufactured housing and subprime residential mortgage loans, or â€śnon-Agency RMBSâ€ť;
RMBS for which the principal and interest payments are guaranteed by a U.S. Government agency or a U.S. Government-sponsored entity, or â€śAgency RMBSâ€ť;
commercial mortgage-backed securities, or â€śCMBS,â€ť commercial mortgage loans and other commercial real estate debt;
Asset-backed securities, or â€śABS,â€ť backed by consumer and commercial assets;
corporate debt and equity securities and derivatives.
We also may opportunistically acquire and manage other types of mortgage-related assets and financial assets, such as residential whole mortgage loans, non-mortgage-related derivatives, and real property.
We believe that we have been organized and have operated so that we have qualified, and will continue to qualify, to be treated for U.S. federal income tax purposes as a partnership and not as an association or a publicly traded partnership taxable as a corporation.
Effective January 1, 2013, we conduct all of our operations and business activities through Ellington Financial Operating Partnership LLC, our operating partnership subsidiary (the â€śOperating Partnershipâ€ť). See Note 13 of the notes to our consolidated financial statements.
Our Manager and Ellington
We are externally managed and advised by our Manager, an affiliate of Ellington, pursuant to a management agreement. Our Manager was formed solely to serve as our manager and does not have any other clients. In addition, our Manager currently does not have any employees and instead relies on the employees of Ellington to perform its obligations to us. Ellington is an investment management firm and registered investment advisor with an 18-year history of investing in a broad spectrum of mortgage-backed securities, or â€śMBS,â€ť and related derivatives.
The members of our management team include Michael Vranos, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ellington, who serves as our Co-Chief Investment Officer and a member of our Board of Directors; Laurence Penn, Vice Chairman of Ellington, who serves as our Chief Executive Officer and President and a member of our Board of Directors; Mark Tecotzky, a Managing Director of Ellington, who serves as our Co-Chief Investment Officer; Lisa Mumford, who serves as our dedicated Chief Financial Officer; and Daniel Margolis, General Counsel of Ellington, who serves as our Secretary. Each of these individuals is an officer of our Manager. We currently do not have any employees.
Our Manager is responsible for administering our business activities and day-to-day operations and, pursuant to a services agreement between our Manager and Ellington, relies on the resources of Ellington to support our operations. Ellington has established portfolio management resources for each of our targeted asset classes and an established infrastructure supporting those resources. Through our relationship with our Manager, we benefit from Ellingtonâ€™s highly analytical investment processes, broad-based deal flow, extensive relationships in the financial community, financial and capital structuring skills, investment surveillance database, and operational expertise. Ellingtonâ€™s analytic approach to the investment process involves collection of substantial amounts of data regarding historical performance of MBS collateral and MBS market transactions. Ellington analyzes this data to identify possible trends and develops financial models used to support the investment and risk management process. In addition, throughout Ellingtonâ€™s 18-year history of investing in MBS and related derivatives, it has developed strong relationships with a wide range of dealers and other market participants that provide Ellington access to a broad range of trading opportunities and market information. In addition, our Manager provides us with access to a wide variety of asset acquisition and disposition opportunities and information that assist us in making asset management decisions across our targeted asset classes, which we believe provides us with a significant competitive advantage. We also benefit from Ellingtonâ€™s finance, accounting, operational, legal, compliance, and administrative functions.
As of December 31, 2012 , Ellington employed over 100 employees and had assets under management of approximately $4.9 billion, of which approximately $3.9 billion comprised our company and various alternative investment vehicles, including hedge funds and various private accounts, and of which approximately $1.1 billion comprised accounts with more traditional mandates.
We utilize an opportunistic strategy to seek to provide investors with attractive, risk-adjusted total returns by:
taking advantage of opportunities in the residential mortgage market by purchasing investment grade and non-investment grade non-Agency RMBS, including senior and subordinated securities;
acquiring Agency RMBS on a more leveraged basis in order to take advantage of opportunities in that market sector and assist us in maintaining our exclusion from regulation as an investment company under the Investment Company Act;
acquiring CMBS, commercial mortgage loans, and other commercial real estate debt instruments;
opportunistically entering into and managing a portfolio of mortgage-related derivatives;
opportunistically acquiring and managing other mortgage-related and financial assets, such as residential whole mortgage loans, ABS backed by consumer or commercial assets, and non-mortgage-related derivatives;
opportunistically acquiring real estate such as single and multi-family residential properties; and
opportunistically mitigating our credit and interest rate risk by using a variety of hedging instruments.
Our strategy is adaptable to changing market environments, subject to compliance with the income and other tests that will allow us to continue to be treated as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes and to maintain our exclusion from regulation as an investment company under the Investment Company Act. As a result, although we focus on the assets described above, our acquisition and management decisions depend on prevailing market conditions and our targeted asset classes may vary over time in response to market conditions. We may engage in a high degree of trading volume as we implement our strategy. Our Manager is authorized to follow very broad investment guidelines and, as a result, we cannot predict our portfolio composition. We may change our strategy and policies without a vote of our shareholders. Moreover, although our independent directors periodically review our investment guidelines and our portfolio, they generally do not review our proposed asset acquisitions or asset management decisions.
Ellingtonâ€™s investment philosophy revolves around the pursuit of value across various types of MBS and related assets. Ellington seeks investments across a wide range of MBS sectors without any restriction as to ratings, structure, or position in the capital structure. Over time and through market cycles, opportunities will present themselves in varying sectors and in varying forms. By rotating between and allocating among various sectors of the MBS markets and adjusting the extent to which it hedges, Ellington believes that it is able to capitalize on the disparities between these sectors as well as on overall trends in the marketplace, and therefore provide better and more consistent returns for its investors. Disparities between MBS sectors vary from time to time and are driven by a combination of factors. For example, as various MBS sectors fall in and out of favor, the relative yields that the market demands for those sectors may vary. In addition, Ellingtonâ€™s performance projections for certain sectors may differ from those of other market participants and such disparities will naturally cause us, from time to time, to gravitate towards certain sectors and away from others. Disparities between MBS sectors may also be driven by differences in collateral performance (for example, subprime loans originated before 2005 have generally performed better than subprime loans originated between 2005 and 2007) and in the structure of particular investments (for example, in the timing of cash flow or the level of credit enhancement), and our Manager may believe that other market participants are overestimating or underestimating the value of these differences. Furthermore, we believe that risk management, including opportunistic portfolio hedging and prudent financing and liquidity management, is essential for consistent generation of attractive, risk-adjusted total returns across market cycles.
Ellingtonâ€™s continued emphasis on and development of proprietary MBS credit, interest rate, and prepayment models, as well as other proprietary research and analytics, underscores the importance it places on a disciplined and analytical approach to fixed income investing, especially in MBS. Our Manager uses Ellingtonâ€™s proprietary models to identify attractive assets, value these assets, monitor, and forecast the performance of these assets, and opportunistically hedge our credit and interest rate risk. We leverage these skills and resources to seek to meet our objectives.
We believe that our Manager is uniquely qualified to implement our strategy. Our strategy is consistent with Ellingtonâ€™s investment approach, which is based on its distinctive strengths in sourcing, analyzing, trading, and hedging complex MBS. Furthermore, we believe that Ellingtonâ€™s extensive experience in buying, selling, analyzing and structuring fixed income securities, coupled with its broad access to market information and trading flows, provides us with a steady flow of opportunities to acquire assets with favorable trade executions.
Identifying and Evaluating Nominees for Director
Our Board is pleased to present five nominees for election to the Board at our Annual Meeting, all of whom currently serve as directors on our Board and three of whom are considered independent in accordance with the requirements of the NYSE and our Corporate Governance Guidelines. Each director elected will serve until our next annual meeting or until such time as his respective successor is elected and qualified. If any nominee is unable to stand for election for any reason, the persons appointed to vote your proxy may vote at our Annual Meeting for another candidate proposed by the Board, or the Board may choose to reduce the size of the Board. For additional information about how we identify and evaluate nominees for director, see â€śCorporate Governanceâ€”Information Regarding Our Board and Its Committeesâ€”Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee.â€ť
Information Regarding the Nominees
To assist you in assessing our Boardâ€™s nominees, we have set forth below biographical descriptions and certain other information with respect to each nominee for election as a director at the Annual Meeting, including the experience, qualifications, attributes or skills of each nominee that led us to conclude that such person should serve as a director.
Our Board recommends a vote â€śFORâ€ť all of the nominees listed below for election as directors (Proposal 1 on the proxy card).
Thomas F. Robards,66
Chairman of the Board
Mr. Robards has served as a member of our Board since August 2007 and as our Chairman since October 2009. Mr. Robards has been a principal in Robards & Co, LLC, a private investment and advisory company since July 2005. He currently serves as a Trustee and is Audit Committee Chair for the HSBC Investor Funds, a mutual fund complex. He is a Director and is Audit Committee Chair of Overseas Shipholding Group, Inc., and until December of 2006 was a Director and on the Audit Committee of Financial Federal Corporation, both NYSE-listed companies. From 2003 to 2004, he was the Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, New York. He was the Chief Financial Officer for Datek Online Holding Corporation from 2000 until its acquisition by Ameritrade in 2002. Prior to that, Mr. Robards was employed at Republic New York Corporation for 24 years, including as Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President, and from 1997 to 1999 served on its board of directors. During his tenure his responsibilities at Republic included leading its Asset/Liability and Finance Committees as well as managing Republic National Bank treasury and investment portfolio activities. Mr. Robards earned his B.A. from Brown University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.
Our Board believes that Mr. Robardsâ€™ expertise in finance and accounting, including knowledge of financial institutions, public accounting, internal controls, audit committee performance and governance matters, and experience amassed from past and current service on the audit committees of NYSE-listed companies give him the qualifications and skills to serve as a director of our Company.
Michael W. Vranos,51
Co-Chief Investment Officer & Director
Mr. Vranos has been our Co-Chief Investment Officer since June 2009 and a director since our inception in 2007. From our inception in 2007 until October 2009, Mr. Vranos served as our Chairman and is also the Chief Executive Officer and President of Ellington Financial Management LLC, our external manager (hereinafter referred to as our â€śManagerâ€ť). Mr. Vranos is also the founder and Chief Executive Officer of EMG, which he founded in December of 1994 to capitalize on distressed conditions in the MBS derivatives market. Until December 1994, he was the Senior Managing Director of Kidder Peabody, in charge of RMBS trading. Mr. Vranos graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in Mathematics from Harvard University.
Our Board believes that Mr. Vranosâ€™ operational experience as Co-Chief Investment Officer of our Company, trading and market expertise and, in particular, his extensive experience in the mortgage securities business, give him the qualifications and skills to serve as a director of our Company.
Chief Executive Officer, President & Director
Mr. Penn has been our Chief Executive Officer and President and has served as a member of our board of directors since our inception in 2007. Mr. Penn is also a Vice Chairman of EMG, where he helps oversee many functions of the firm. Mr. Penn is also the Executive Vice President of our Manager and serves on our Managerâ€™s investment and risk management committee. In EMG's earlier years, Mr. Penn was the senior portfolio manager primarily responsible for investments in Agency RMBS. Prior to joining EMG in 1995 shortly after its inception, Mr. Penn was at Lehman Brothers where he was a Managing Director and co-head of CMO origination and trading. Mr. Penn began his career at Lehman Brothers in 1984, after receiving a Master of Advanced Study in Mathematics from Cambridge University, where he studied as both a National Science Foundation and Winston Churchill Fellow. Mr. Penn graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in Mathematics from Harvard University in 1983. He was one of five winners nationwide in the 1980 Putnam collegiate mathematics problem solving competition, and represented the United States in the 21st International Mathematics Olympiad held in London, England.
Our Board believes that Mr. Pennâ€™s operational experience as President and Chief Executive Officer of our Company, risk management and trading expertise and, in particular, his extensive experience in the mortgage securities business, give him the qualifications and skills to serve as a director.
Ronald I. Simon, Ph.D.,74
Dr. Simon has served as a member of our Board since August 2007. Dr. Simon is a private investor and financial consultant to businesses. From March 2003 through February 2006, when it was acquired by Wachovia Corp., Dr. Simon was a Director of WFS Financial, Inc., a publicly-traded financial services company specializing in automobile finance. He was a director of Collateral Therapeutics from 1998 until its acquisition by Schering A.G. in 2002. From January 2006 to January 2009, he was a director of Cardium Therapeutics, a company formed to acquire and carry on the research and development of gene therapy to treat heart disease, which was originally developed by Collateral Therapeutics and then continued by Schering. From 1995 through 2002, Dr. Simon was a director of SoftNet Systems, Inc., and since 2002, has been a director of its successor company, American Independence Corp., a holding company engaged principally in the health insurance and reinsurance business. Dr. Simon is currently the Chairman of the Audit Committee of American Independence Corp. He was a director of BDI Investment Corporation, a closely held regulated investment company, from February 2003 until its liquidation in early 2005, and served as Chief Financial Officer for Wingcast, LLC, a developer of automotive telematics from 2001 to 2002. During 2001, Dr. Simon served as Acting Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer for SoftNet Systems, Inc. He also served as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Western Water Company from 1997 to 2000, and a director of Western Water Company from 1999 through 2001. Dr. Simon earned a B.A. from Harvard University, an M.A. from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. from Columbia University Graduate School of Business.
Our Board believes that Dr. Simonâ€™s expertise in finance and his extensive service in senior officer positions and directorships of public companies in a variety of industries give him the qualifications and skills to serve as a director of our Company.
Mr. Resendez has served as a member of our Board since August 2007. From 2007 to September 2009, Mr. Resendez was Senior Vice President-Chief Lending Officer of Kinecta Federal Credit Union and President of Kinecta Alternative Financial Solutions, Inc. From 2002 to 2007, Mr. Resendez was Chief Executive Officer, Board Member and Co-Founder of ResMAE Financial Corporation and its wholly-owned subsidiary ResMAE Mortgage Corporation, or â€śResMAE.â€ť In February 2007, ResMAE filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware. From 1995 through 2000, Mr. Resendez was the President of Long Beach Mortgage Company. During that timeframe he was also appointed as President and a Management Member of the board of directors for both Long Beach Financial Corporation, when that company went public in 1997 (formerly NASDAQ symbol: LBFC), and its wholly-owned operating subsidiary, Long Beach Mortgage Company, a subprime mortgage company, or, collectively with Long Beach Financial Corporation, â€śLong Beach.â€ť Long Beach was an originator, purchaser, seller and servicer of subprime mortgages. From 1987 to 1995, Mr. Resendez held various management positions at Long Beach, including Executive Vice Presidentâ€”Loan Administration, First Vice Presidentâ€”Risk Management, Vice Presidentâ€”REO Loan Servicing, and Vice Presidentâ€”Retail Origination. Prior to joining Long Beach in 1987, Mr. Resendez held several managerial positions with Transamerica Financial Services from 1977 to 1987. Mr. Resendez earned a B.B.A. from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in 1978, and is a licensed real estate broker in California.
Our Board believes that Mr. Resendezâ€™s extensive operational experience in and knowledge of the mortgage lending business give him the qualifications and skills to serve as a director of our Company.
MANAGEMENT DISCUSSION FROM LATEST 10K
We are a specialty finance company that acquires and manages mortgage-related assets, including RMBS backed by prime jumbo, Alt-A, manufactured housing, and subprime residential mortgage loans, RMBS for which the principal and interest payments are guaranteed by a U.S. government agency or a U.S. government-sponsored enterprise, mortgage-related derivatives, CMBS, commercial mortgage loans and other commercial real estate debt, as well as corporate debt and equity securities, and derivatives. We also may opportunistically acquire and manage other types of mortgage-related and financial asset classes, such as residential whole mortgage loans, ABS backed by consumer and commercial assets, non-mortgage-related derivatives, and real property. We are externally managed and advised by our Manager, an affiliate of Ellington. Ellington is a registered investment advisor with an 18-year history of investing in a broad spectrum of MBS and related derivatives.
Our primary objective is to generate attractive, risk-adjusted total returns for our shareholders. We seek to attain this objective by utilizing an opportunistic strategy to make investments, without restriction as to ratings, structure or position in the capital structure, that we believe compensate us appropriately for the risks associated with them rather than targeting a specific yield. Our evaluation of the potential risk-adjusted return of any potential investment typically involves weighing the potential returns of such investment under a variety of economic scenarios against the perceived likelihood of the various scenarios. Potential investments subject to greater risk (such as those with lower credit ratings and/or those with a lower position in the capital structure) will generally require a higher potential return to be attractive in comparison to investment alternatives with lower potential return and a lower degree of risk. However, at any particular point in time, depending on how we perceive the marketâ€™s pricing of risk both generally and across sectors, we may favor higher-risk assets or we may favor lower-risk assets, or a combination of the two in the interests of portfolio diversification or other considerations.
Through December 31, 2012 , our non-Agency RMBS strategy has been the primary driver of our risk and return, and we expect that it will continue to be over the near term. We continue to maintain a highly leveraged portfolio of Agency RMBS to take advantage of opportunities in that market sector and to maintain our exclusion from regulation as an investment company under the Investment Company Act. Unless we acquire very substantial amounts of whole mortgage loans or there are changes to the rules and regulations applicable to us under the Investment Company Act, we expect that we will always maintain some core amount of Agency RMBS. We also expect that we will continue to allocate some of our capital to CMBS and commercial mortgage loan strategy.
We also use leverage in our non-Agency MBS strategies, albeit significantly less leverage than that used in our Agency RMBS strategy. Through December 31, 2012 , we financed our purchases of Agency RMBS and non-Agency MBS almost exclusively through reverse repo agreements, which we account for as collateralized borrowings. In January 2012, we completed a small resecuritization transaction using one of our non-Agency RMBS assets; this transaction is accounted for as a collateralized borrowing and is classified on our Consolidated Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Shareholdersâ€™ Equity as â€śSecuritized debt.â€ť This securitized debt represents long-term financing for the related asset, in contrast to our reverse repos collateralized by non-Agency MBS which typically have 30 to 180 day terms. However, we expect to continue to obtain the vast majority of our financing through the use of reverse repos.
The strategies that we are currently employing are intended to capitalize on opportunities in the current market environment. We intend to adjust our strategies to changing market conditions by shifting our asset allocations across various asset classes as credit and liquidity trends evolve over time. We believe that this flexibility, combined with Ellingtonâ€™s experience, will help us generate more consistent returns on our capital throughout changing market cycles.
As of December 31, 2012 , outstanding borrowings under reverse repos and securitized debt were $907.1 million and our debt-to-equity ratio was 1.79 to 1. Our debt-to-equity ratio does not account for liabilities other than debt financings. Of our total borrowings outstanding, approximately 77.8% or $704.9 million relates to our Agency RMBS holdings.
We opportunistically hedge our credit risk and interest rate risk; however, at any point in time we may choose not to hedge all or a portion of these risks, and we will generally not hedge those risks that we believe are appropriate for us to take at such time, or that we believe would be impractical or prohibitively expensive to hedge.
We believe that we have been organized and have operated so that we have qualified, and will continue to qualify, to be treated for U.S. federal income tax purposes as a partnership and not as an association or a publicly traded partnership taxable as a corporation.
Government Homeowner Assistance Programsâ€” Changes made to the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or â€śHARP,â€ť in 2011 led to a much higher level of refinancings under the program in 2012 as compared to 2011, and there is speculation that the program may be extended beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of 2013;
REO to Rentalâ€” A number of large institutional investors have been purchasing significant numbers of single family properties in select regions of the country, removing foreclosure inventory from the market and supporting home prices; in late 2012 one such institution completed its initial public offering;
GSE Developmentsâ€” Government-sponsored enterprise, or â€śGSE,â€ť related developments include Federal Housing Finance Agency, or â€śFHFA,â€ť directing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to begin to more rationally price their risk, and the U.S. Treasury Departmentâ€™s focus on accelerating the wind down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac;
Mortgage Servicing and Originationâ€” Consolidation continued to drive the mortgage servicing industry toward larger, more efficient servicers, leading to higher prepayment speeds and more liberal use of short sales and principal reduction modifications instead of foreclosures;
Eminent Domainâ€” On January 24, 2013, San Bernardino County announced that, contrary to its previous proposals, it would not use eminent domain to acquire â€śunderwaterâ€ť mortgages (i.e., mortgages for which the amount owed exceeds the property value);
Consumer Finance Protection Boardâ€” On January 10, 2013, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, or â€śCFPB,â€ť issued its â€śAbility-to-Repayâ€ť rule, designed to ensure that lenders offer mortgages that borrowers can afford to pay back and also proposed to establish the final requirements for â€śQualified Mortgagesâ€ť; and
Liquidity and Valuationsâ€” Non-Agency MBS experienced a significant rally in 2012 in response to a number of positive developments, including widespread home-price improvements, a declining shadow inventory, a generally more optimistic economic outlook of market participants and decreased selling of non-Agency MBS by banks.
Federal Reserve and Monetary Policy
In order to continue to provide support to the recovery of the U.S. economy, on December 12, 2012, the Federal Reserve announced its ongoing plans with respect to its accommodative monetary policies. The Federal Reserve announced that it would continue purchasing Agency RMBS at a pace of $40 billion per month, a program also referred to as â€śQE3,â€ť that was originally announced in September 2012. The Federal Reserve also announced an expansion of its asset buying program commencing in January 2013 pursuant to which it would make monthly purchases of U.S. Treasury securities, initially at a pace of $45 billion per month. This program replaces â€śOperation Twist,â€ť a program designed to extend the average maturity of the Federal Reserveâ€™s holdings of U.S. Treasury securities. The Federal Reserve further announced that it would be maintaining its existing policies of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of Agency debt and Agency RMBS into Agency RMBS and of rolling over maturing U.S. Treasury securities at auction. The Federal Reserve also reiterated its stated goals of â€śmaintaining downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, supporting mortgage markets and helping to make broader financial conditions more accommodative.â€ť Similar to its September 2012 announcement, the Federal Reserve did not state a projected end date for these activities. Rather, its activities will be tied to â€śsubstantialâ€ť improvement in the labor market. The Federal Reserve also stated that it would continue to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0% to 0.25% as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5%. In its September announcement, the Federal Reserve stated an expectation that the target federal funds rate would need to remain at this level at least through mid-2015. The Federal Reserve plans to closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments and adjust its actions accordingly.
The Federal Reserveâ€™s policy initiatives are designed to lower yields on Agency RMBS and thereby drive mortgage rates lower in order to spur financing activity and support a stronger economic recovery. Upon the release of the minutes of the December 12, 2012 meeting, however, it became clear to market participants that there was discussion among Federal Reserve members suggesting that the Federal Reserve may slow or stop its asset purchase programs well before the end of 2013, in order to limit the growth of its record-large balance sheet. At its January 2013 meeting, the Federal Reserve reiterated its intention to continue its asset purchase and other programs until the outlook for the labor market improves substantially.
However, market perception of uncertainty with respect to future Federal Reserve actions has added significant volatility to the market for Agency RMBS. While the actions of the Federal Reserve have been successful in causing investors to sell lower-yielding assets, such as Agency RMBS and U.S. Treasury securities, and buy higher-yielding assets such as non-Agency MBS and high-yield corporate bonds, more recently, these actions have been somewhat less successful in lowering yields on Agency RMBS and U.S. Treasury securities. Market volatility notwithstanding, Agency RMBS prices remain at high levels and prepayment risk remains elevated. As a result, prepayments on our Agency RMBS may increase, which would reduce the yields on these securities. In light of these risks, we continue to seek Agency RMBS investments with prepayment protection characteristics. or â€śprepayment protected pools.â€ť Examples of prepayment protected pools are those comprised of low loan balance mortgages, mortgages backing investor properties, those containing mortgages originated through the government-sponsored â€śMaking Homes Affordableâ€ť refinancing programs, and those containing mortgages with various other prepayment protection characteristics. The increased volatility, as a result of market perception of uncertainty with respect to future Federal Reserve actions, reinforces the importance of the Companyâ€™s ability to hedge its risks using a variety of tools, including TBAs, as it navigates the changing market landscape.
Mortgage Market Statistics
The improving trend in delinquency and foreclosure statistics is at least in part due to the improvement in home prices that has occurred over the past year. As homeowners re-establish equity in their homes through recovering real estate prices, they are less likely to become delinquent on their mortgages. Data released by S&P Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices for November 2012 showed that, on average, home prices increased 4.5% for its 10-City Composite and by 5.5% for the 20-City Composite as compared to November 2011. According to the report, home prices remain below the peak levels of 2006, but on average, are back to their autumn 2003 levels for both the 10-City and 20-City Composites. In addition to home prices rising, new and existing home sales have increased. Existing home sales in November 2012 were the highest since November 2009 and new home sales were the highest since 2010. The slow pace of the recovery of the U.S. economy, including the still elevated level of unemployment, continues to create potential risk to the recovering housing market. However, recent trends continue to indicate a recovery has taken hold in the housing market.
On March 8, 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that, as of February 2013, the U.S. unemployment rate was 7.7%. This compares to 8.3% as of February 2012. While it is difficult to quantify the relationship between the unemployment rate and the housing and mortgage markets, we believe that continued unemployment at such levels could impede the positive trends that have occurred in the housing market and could contribute to further increases in mortgage delinquencies and decreases in home prices. As a mitigating factor, however, the Federal Reserveâ€™s accommodative monetary policies continue to support the housing market, and furthermore the Federal Reserve has announced that it will maintain these accommodative policies as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5% and as long as inflation seems to remain contained.
Government Homeowner Assistance Programs
According to the FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refinanced approximately one million loans in the eleven month period ended November 30, 2012 under HARP, more than twice the HARP refinancing activity for all of 2011. The increase in HARP refinancings is attributable to record-low mortgage rates and enhancements to the program made in late 2011, including
removal of the loan-to-value ceiling for borrowers who refinance into fixed-rate loans and the elimination or lowering of fees for certain borrowers. Given the low level of mortgage rates, it is likely that HARP refinancing volume will remain elevated. Currently, the program is due to expire at the end of 2013; however, there is some market speculation that the program could be extended.
In November 2012, the FHFA announced the results of pilot transactions completed by Fannie Mae under the REO Pilot Program. Under this program, single-family foreclosed properties owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are sold to institutional investors in bulk and converted to rental properties, with seller financing available under certain conditions. Since the July 2012 launch of this program, almost 1,800 properties have been sold.
REO to Rental
In addition to the FHFAâ€™s pilot program, a number of large institutional investors have been purchasing significant numbers of single family properties in select regions of the country with the objective of generating rental income and, potentially, long-term gains. Certain banks are also providing financing for these â€śREO to rentalâ€ť purchases, in some cases with the goal of ultimately replacing such borrowings with long term debt through securitization of rental cashflows. Meanwhile, in late 2012 one newly formed real estate investment trust focused solely on REO to rental strategies successfully completed an initial public offering. In those regions where REO to rental activity is most concentrated, this activity is having two primary effects on the housing market. First, it is removing some of the foreclosure property inventory from the market, and second, the robust purchasing activity is supporting, and in many cases lifting, home prices.
In the third quarter of 2012, the FHFA implemented several changes designed to more rationally price their risk, to broaden homeowner access to mortgage financing, and to increase the participation of private capital in the mortgage market. In August 2012, the FHFA directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to raise guarantee fees on single-family mortgages by an average of 10 basis points. The increase became effective with mortgage settlements starting on December 1, 2012 for mortgage loans exchanged for mortgage-backed securities and on November 1, 2012 for mortgage loans sold for cash. In September 2012, the FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are launching a new representation and warranty framework for conventional loans sold or delivered on or after January 1, 2013. This change, which is part of a broader seller-servicer contract harmonization effort, will relieve lenders of certain repurchase obligations for mortgage loans that meet specific payment requirements, and certain other conditions and requirements.
In August 2012, the U.S. Department of Treasury, or the â€śTreasury,â€ť announced a set of modifications to its preferred stock agreements with the FHFA, with a goal of expediting the wind down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The revised agreements replace the 10% dividend payments made to the Treasury with a sweep of all profits from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac going forward. In addition, the modifications require an accelerated reduction of Fannie Mae and Freddie Macâ€™s investment portfolios, which will be wound down at an annual rate of 15% (rather than 10% per the previous agreements). As a result of this change, the GSEâ€™s investment portfolios must be reduced to the $250 billion target set in the previous agreements four years earlier than previously scheduled.
On March 4, 2013, in connection with these ongoing efforts to wind down the GSEs, the FHFA announced its plans for the remainder of 2013. First, the FHFA plans to establish a new business entity that will be initially owned and funded by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and operate as a replacement for some of their legacy infrastructure. The longer term goal of this new entity is to create a common securitization platform that could eventually be sold or used by policy makers as a foundational element of the mortgage market of the future. Second, for 2013 the FHFA reiterated its goal of executing risk-sharing transactions for both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was set, and could include transactions involving expanded mortgage insurance, credit-linked securities, senior/subordinated securities, and others. Third, the FHFA also expects to continue increasing guarantee fees in 2013 so as to make these fees more aligned with what might be expected to be charged by private sector providers. Fourth, plans for 2013 also include maintaining foreclosure prevention activities, such as HARP refinancings for underwater borrowers. While this was not explicitly stated, it could potentially mean an extension in the HARP program beyond its scheduled expiration of December 31, 2013.
We believe that those efforts aimed at more rationally pricing risk taken by the GSEs and aimed at reducing the GSEsâ€™ portfolios and thereby accelerating the re-entry of private capital into the U.S. mortgage market, are potentially beneficial to our business. However, this process has been slow and will likely continue to evolve over an extended period. Notwithstanding the effective stabilization of the financial condition of the GSEs in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the GSEâ€™s continue to support the overwhelming majority of the U.S. single-family mortgage market. Alternatives to GSEs will become more and more necessary as they are wound down, which could increase the breadth and depth of attractive investment opportunities that are available to us and may serve as a catalyst for the rebirth of the non-Agency mortgage securitization market.
Mortgage Servicing and Origination
The mortgage servicing industry continued to consolidate, as the largest and most efficient mortgage servicers continued to acquire mortgage servicing rights, or â€śMSRs,â€ť in a number of high-profile transactions. Non-bank servicers in particular are gaining market share, as MSRs will carry less favorable capital treatment under the impending Basel III framework. As a result of this industry consolidation, prepayment rates have jumped significantly for mortgage pools whose servicing was transferred to more efficient servicers. In the second half of 2012, we have also seen a growing convergence in refinancing rates among these servicers for certain collateral types, such as loans that became eligible for streamlined financing as part of HARP.
As staffing by mortgage originators has remained low following the bursting of the housing bubble, an important bottleneck constraint keeping prepayment rates low is the limited capacity of mortgage originators to refinance and originate new loans. This has resulted in a more protracted refinancing process for borrowers, as well as a significant increase in the spread between primary market mortgage rates (the rates paid by borrowers) and the secondary market mortgage rates (the yields demanded by RMBS investors for the loans they buy from originators); this increased spread is driving record high profit margins for mortgage originators.
We expect these dynamics to persist well into 2013. First, it will take many months for originators to increase hiring to sufficient levels. Second, there is still a large supply of HARP-eligible loans that originators can profitably refinance. Based on refinancing rates of HARP-eligible loans in 2012, we expect prepayment rates of HARP-eligible loans to remain elevated. Because HARP refinancings tend to be more profitable for originators than other refinancings, we expect originators to exhaust the pipeline of HARP-eligible refinancings before refocusing on traditional refinancings. Third, it is likely that FHA will continue to refine the HARP program over the next year so as to â€śunlockâ€ť additional borrowers, and this will provide further supply to the pipeline.
MANAGEMENT DISCUSSION FOR LATEST QUARTER
We are a specialty finance company that acquires and manages mortgage-related assets, including residential mortgage-backed securities, or "RMBS," backed by prime jumbo, Alt-A, manufactured housing, and subprime residential mortgage loans, RMBS for which the principal and interest payments are guaranteed by a U.S. government agency or a U.S. government-sponsored enterprise, mortgage-related derivatives, commercial mortgage-backed securities, or "CMBS," commercial mortgage loans and other commercial real estate debt, as well as corporate debt and equity securities, and derivatives. We also may opportunistically acquire and manage other types of mortgage-related and financial asset classes, such as residential whole mortgage loans, securities backed by consumer and commercial assets, or "ABS," non-mortgage-related derivatives, and real property. We are externally managed and advised by our Manager, an affiliate of Ellington. Ellington is a registered investment adviser with an 18-year history of investing in a broad spectrum of mortgage-backed securities, or "MBS," and related derivatives.
Effective January 1, 2013, we conduct all of our operations and business activities through Ellington Financial Operating Partnership LLC, our consolidated operating partnership subsidiary (the "Operating Partnership"). As of September 30, 2013, we have an ownership interest of approximately 99.2% in the Operating Partnership. The interest of approximately 0.8% not owned by us represents the interest in the Operating Partnership that is owned by an affiliate of our Manager and certain related parties, and is reflected in our financial statements as non-controlling interest.
Our primary objective is to generate attractive, risk-adjusted total returns for our shareholders. We seek to attain this objective by utilizing an opportunistic strategy to make investments, without restriction as to ratings, structure or position in the capital structure, that we believe compensate us appropriately for the risks associated with them rather than targeting a specific yield. Our evaluation of the potential risk-adjusted return of any potential investment typically involves weighing the potential returns of such investment under a variety of economic scenarios against the perceived likelihood of the various scenarios. Potential investments subject to greater risk (such as those with lower credit ratings and/or those with a lower position in the capital structure) will generally require a higher potential return to be attractive in comparison to investment alternatives with lower potential return and a lower degree of risk. However, at any particular point in time, depending on how we perceive the market's pricing of risk both generally and across sectors, we may favor higher-risk assets or we may favor lower-risk assets, or a combination of the two in the interests of portfolio diversification or other considerations.
Through September 30, 2013 , our non-Agency RMBS strategy has been the primary driver of our risk and return, and we expect that this will continue. We continue to maintain a highly leveraged portfolio of Agency RMBS to take advantage of opportunities in that market sector and to maintain our exclusion from regulation as an investment company under the Investment Company Act. Unless we acquire very substantial amounts of whole mortgage loans or there are changes to the rules and regulations applicable to us under the Investment Company Act, we expect that we will always maintain some core amount of Agency RMBS. We also expect that we will continue to allocate some of our capital to our CMBS and commercial mortgage loan strategy.
We also use leverage in our non-Agency MBS strategies, albeit significantly less leverage than that used in our Agency RMBS strategy. Through September 30, 2013 , we financed our purchases of Agency RMBS and non-Agency MBS almost exclusively through reverse repurchase agreements, which we account for as collateralized borrowings. In January 2012, we completed a small resecuritization transaction using one of our non-Agency RMBS assets; this transaction is accounted for as a collateralized borrowing and is classified on our Consolidated Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Equity as "Securitized debt." This securitized debt represents long-term financing for the related asset, in contrast to our reverse repos collateralized by non-Agency MBS, which typically have 30 to 180 day terms. However, we expect to continue to obtain the vast majority of our financing through the use of reverse repos.
The strategies that we employ are intended to capitalize on opportunities in the current market environment. We intend to adjust our strategies to changing market conditions by shifting our asset allocations across various asset classes as credit and liquidity trends evolve over time. We believe that this flexibility, combined with Ellington's experience, will help us generate more consistent returns on our capital throughout changing market cycles.
In May 2013, we completed a follow-on common share offering which resulted in net proceeds of $125.3 million, after offering costs. Proceeds from the offering were fully deployed during the second quarter into our target assets.
In the latter part of the second quarter of 2013, we increased our level of cash holdings, both as a buffer against increased market volatility and so as to be able to take advantage of potential investment opportunities. For similar reasons, we maintained a higher level of cash holdings through the third quarter of 2013.
As of September 30, 2013 , outstanding borrowings under reverse repos and securitized debt were $1.3 billion and our debt-to-equity ratio was 2.14 to 1. Our debt-to-equity ratio does not account for liabilities other than debt financings. Of our total borrowings outstanding as of September 30, 2013, approximately 66.3% or $893.2 million relates to our Agency RMBS holdings. The remaining outstanding borrowings relate to our non-Agency portfolio.
We opportunistically hedge our credit risk and interest rate risk; however, at any point in time we may choose not to hedge all or a portion of these risks, and we will generally not hedge those risks that we believe are appropriate for us to take at such time, or that we believe would be impractical or prohibitively expensive to hedge.
We believe that we have been organized and have operated so that we have qualified, and will continue to qualify, to be treated for U.S. federal income tax purposes as a partnership and not as an association or a publicly traded partnership taxable as a corporation.
As of September 30, 2013, our diluted book value per share was $24.19 as compared to $24.51 as of June 30, 2013 and $24.38 as of December 31, 2012.
Trends and Recent Market Developments
Key trends and recent market developments for the MBS market include the following:
Federal Reserve and Monetary Policyâ€” On September 18, 2013, the U.S. Federal Reserve, or the "Federal Reserve," reiterated its intention to continue its accommodative monetary policies; this surprised the financial markets, which had been expecting the Federal Reserve to begin tapering its bond purchases;
Housing and Mortgage Market Statisticsâ€” As of September 2013, the national inventory of foreclosed homes dropped under one million to approximately 902,000, representing the twenty-third consecutive month with a year-over-year decline, and a 33% decline from September 2012;
Servicing Transfers - In recent months two large independent mortgage servicers continued to purchase Mortgage Servicing Rights, or "MSRs"; they have been able to significantly grow their portfolios as large banks have been unloading MSRs in order to comply with regulatory changes in capital treatment;
Mortgage Ratesâ€” During the third quarter of 2013, U.S. mortgage rates reached their highest levels in two years, but ended up unchanged on the quarter after the surprise decision by the Federal Reserve to postpone tapering;
Government Sponsored Enterprise, or "GSE," Developmentsâ€” Recent developments include modest progress towards the establishment of a common securitization platform; the sale of non-Agency MBS and other illiquid assets from the GSEs' held portfolios; and as part of the risk sharing goals of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, or the "FHFA," the sale by Freddie Mac of securities that effectively transfer to the private sector a substantial amount of Freddie Macâ€™s credit risk on a large pool of loans;
Qualified Mortgage, or "QM," Ruleâ€” Both GSEs and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or "HUD," released their versions of a QM rule over the course of the quarter. Both versions largely conform to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's guidelines released in early 2013;
Bank Regulatory Capitalâ€” Recent proposed changes, if finalized, will increase regulatory capital requirements for the largest, most systemically significant U.S. banks and their holdings companies; this could potentially alter these institutions' appetite for various risk-taking activities, and could ultimately affect the terms and availability of our reverse repurchase financing; and
Liquidity and Valuationsâ€” Non-Agency and Agency MBS recovered some of the losses of the late second and early third quarters of 2013; however, market uncertainty around future actions that may be taken by the Federal Reserve remains, including with respect to the timing of the unwinding of the asset purchase program and other accommodative monetary policies.
Federal Reserve and Monetary Policy
The Federal Reserve has indicated that it intends to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0% to 0.25% as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5% and as long as the inflation rate over the next one to two years is projected to be no more than a half a percentage point above the Federal Open Market Committee's, or "FOMC," 2% longer-run goal. In addition, in an effort to maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets and help make broader financial conditions more accommodative, the Federal Reserve has been purchasing Agency RMBS at a pace of $40 billion per month and long-dated U.S. Treasuries at a pace of $45 billion per month. However, minutes of some of the more recent meetings of the FOMC show that a fair amount of debate has developed among committee members about the merits of continuing this purchasing program, which is known as "QE3."
In a speech in May 2013, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested the possibility of tapering asset purchases to the extent that the health of the economy supported such action. The ensuing uncertainty with respect to how long these accommodative monetary policies would continue, coupled with the release of strong employment and home price reports in the late spring and the early summer of 2013, fueled intense market speculation that the Federal Reserve would actually begin tapering by the end of 2013 and contributed to significant volatility in the fixed-income markets. For example, on May 1, 2013, the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rate was 1.63% and subsequently surged to as high as 3.00% on September 5, 2013. All major fixed income sectors experienced substantial price declines during this period, including not only U.S. Treasury securities and Agency RMBS, but also credit-sensitive sectors such as high-yield corporate bonds and non-Agency RMBS. Agency RMBS were especially hard-hit, as heavy selling by mutual bond funds, exchange-traded funds, and mortgage REITs exacerbated the price declines.
Following the FOMC meeting on September 18, 2013, the Federal Reserve surprised the financial markets by announcing that it would maintain its asset purchase program at current levels and await further evidence of improvement in the economy before tapering its bond purchases. In its statement, the FOMC noted that while downside risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market had diminished since the fall of 2012, the tightening of financial conditions observed in recent months could slow the pace of improvement in the economy and labor market. In particular, the FOMC noted the recent spike in mortgage rates, inflation below 2% and U.S. fiscal policy as posing risks to the economic recovery. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement by the FOMC, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield declined approximately 16 basis points, and has declined substantially more since then. Mortgage rates also declined following the announcement while volatility in the fixed-income markets has eased somewhat.
However, the prospects of QE3 remain unclear, and the ongoing uncertainty with respect to the federal budget and the debt ceiling, fueled by the division among the political parties in Washington D.C., further complicates matters. The risk that interest rates could begin to rise again remains substantial, thus reinforcing the importance of our ability to hedge interest rate risk in both our Agency RMBS and non-Agency MBS portfolios using a variety of tools, including TBAs, interest rate swaps, and other instruments.
Housing and Mortgage Market Statistics
Roll rates represent the rates at which mortgages move from one category to another toward foreclosure. For the past few months, mortgages have been rolling from current to ninety days delinquent at a consistent monthly rate of 0.3%, which we believe is indicative of a healthy mortgage environment. The rise in transition speeds from 90+ days delinquent to foreclosure is partly attributable to the declining supply of delinquent mortgages, rather than the ability of courts and servicers to initiate a greater number of foreclosure proceedings. The increase in cure rates for mortgages in foreclosure is in large part the result of increased loan modification rates that have accompanied large-scale servicing transfers in recent months from less efficient to more efficient servicers.
Data released by S&P Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices for July 2013 showed that, on average, home prices increased 12.3% for its 10-City Composite and by 12.4% for the 20-City Composite, as compared to July 2012. On a monthly basis, the respective increases were 1.9% and 1.8%. According to the report, home prices remain below the peak levels of 2006, but, on average, are back to their mid-2004 levels for both the 10- and 20-City Composites. As additional evidence of an improving housing market, single family housing starts have increased 16.9% as compared to one year ago, up from 537,000 starts in August 2012 to 628,000 starts in August 2013. Finally, as indicated in the table above, as of September 2013 the national inventory of foreclosed homes dropped to 902,000, representing the twenty-third consecutive month with a year-over-year decline, a 33% decline from September 2012, and the lowest level in almost five years. This decline has the impact of reducing the overhang effect of these unsold foreclosed homes on the housing market. While the recent increase in interest rates and the slow and uneven pace of the recovery of the U.S. economy continue to create potential risks to the recovering housing market, mortgage rates remain near historical lows and, recent trends continue to indicate, on balance, that the recovery in the housing market continues on a strong footing.
Unemployment data released on October 22, 2013 by the U.S. Department of Labor reported that, as of September 2013, the U.S. unemployment rate was 7.2%. This compares to 7.8% as of September 2012 and 7.6% as of June 2013. The unemployment rate has been steadily declining in recent months, and consensus is generally mildly positive as the U.S. economy continues to add jobs. However, recent declines in unemployment are also partially attributable to a reduction in the labor force participation rate. While it is difficult to quantify the relationship between the unemployment rate and the housing and mortgage markets, we believe that current levels of unemployment do not represent a significant impediment to a continuing housing recovery. However, we do believe that the recent increase in mortgage rates will probably slow the pace of home price appreciation, and significant further increases in mortgage rates could potentially even reverse the trend.
The combination of rising servicing costs and changes in capital treatment for MSRs under Basel III has led several large banks to sell portions of their servicing rights to non-bank servicers who are not constrained by the new regulatory rules. Two large non-bank servicers have been the primary purchasers of these rights over the past few years, with one institution growing its MSR portfolio from $40 billion at the end of 2008 to $436 billion at the end of the second quarter of 2013, and the other institution growing its MSR portfolio from $21 billion to $318 billion over the same period. These large transfers have affected the market in a few different ways. First, these two institutions tend to be more aggressive in offering loan modifications, so there has been an increase in loan modification rates post-transfer. Second, servicer â€śstop advance ratesâ€ť have increased, as these more efficiently-run servicers tend to relax the criteria for determining that additional servicing advances on a given delinquent loan would be unrecoverable, and therefore need not be made. Finally, FHFA guidelines require mortgage servicers to report principal forbearance as losses to the related trusts, but many servicers have been failing to do so. Servicers who have recently been acquiring MSRs have been reporting forbearances as losses as required by FHFA. This has resulted in a spike in reported losses on certain non-Agency RMBS since May 2013 (when some very large servicing transfers occurred), bringing a small shock to the non-Agency RMBS market as many investors had not priced in these reported losses. All in all, the transfer of mortgage servicing from banks to non-banks may impact bondholders negatively in the short-term, but in the longer term we believe it will lead to increased market efficiencies.
The Freddie Mac survey 30-year mortgage rate began the third quarter at 4.29%, rose to 4.58% by mid-August (a two-year high), and then dropped in sympathy with overall interest rates following the Federal Reserve's surprise decision to postpone tapering, ending the quarter at 4.32%. Nevertheless, throughout the entire third quarter, mortgage rates were much higher than they had been in the first half of 2013. As a result, the Refinance Index published by the Mortgage Bankers Association, or "MBA," dropped approximately 24% during the quarter and the Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage application volume, declined approximately 19% as well. According to the MBA, over 60% of mortgage originations during the quarter were refinancings as opposed to purchase loans, but it is likely that this was the result of higher "pull-through" rates: borrowers who were able to apply and lock in low refinancing rates before the May/June increases in interest rates made certain to follow through with their applications. While we believe that the recent increase in mortgage rates will probably slow the pace of home price appreciation, any such negative effects have been limited so far, as year-over-year home price increases were in the positive double digits through August 2013. However, the recent increase in mortgage rates has definitely lowered market expectations of prepayment speeds on existing Agency RMBS, thus introducing significant extension risk to a market that had only recently been focused almost exclusively on the risk of accelerated prepayments.
On October 7, 2013, the FHFA announced progress on the establishment of a Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac joint venture that is ultimately intended to serve as a common securitization platform. The joint venture, named Common Securitization Solutions, was officially formed as a Delaware limited liability company, has already leased office space in Bethesda, Maryland, and has already retained an executive recruitment firm to identify candidates for the positions of CEO and Chairman of the Board. The goal of this platform, which will be equally owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is to help create a more sustainable U.S. housing finance system with increased private capital participation and decreased taxpayer risk, and its formation represents one of the goals FHFA expected to achieve in 2013.
With the FHFA having mandated that the GSEs sell 5% of the illiquid portion of their retained portfolios by the end of the year, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have auctioned off $22 billion of non-Agency MBS since just this past May. It is expected that both GSEs will continue these auctions, which could result in their selling an additional $17 billion of non-Agency MBS in the aggregate before the end of 2013. As of June 30, 2013, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collectively held approximately $160 billion of non-Agency MBS (including CMBS).
In furtherance of the FHFA's stated goal of executing risk-sharing transactions, in late July, Freddie Mac completed its first such MBS transaction, called Structured Agency Credit Risk, or "STACR," securities. The STACR securities were designed to transfer to private investors a significant portion of the credit risk on a large portfolio of loans recently purchased by Freddie Mac. The first such transaction was a $500 million offering of mezzanine debt, and referenced a portfolio of over $22 billion of residential mortgage loans. The offering was purchased by a handful of banks along with about fifty other private investors including hedge funds, REITs, and pension funds. Only a few insurance companies participated in the deal because of the absence of credit ratings. In October, Fannie Mae finalized and completed its own risk-sharing transaction, called Connecticut Avenue Securities, and obtained ratings from Fitch Ratings on the mezzanine debt. This transaction reduced Fannie Mae's exposure on approximately $28 billion in residential mortgage loans. Freddie Mac is expected to bring one more STACR transaction to market before year end, and expects to obtain ratings from Fitch Ratings on this second transaction. The FHFA has directed both GSEs to complete various risk-sharing transactions in the amount of $30 billion in 2013.
On September 23, 2013, the FHFA launched a nationwide education campaign to familiarize homeowners with the benefits of the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or "HARP." The aim of the program is to reach out to homeowners who are current on their mortgages but remain underwater, and qualify for HARP under its recently expanded eligibility requirements. These homeowners may be able to reduce their monthly payments or modify their mortgages to a shorter term. If successful, this campaign could increase the number of refinancings under the HARP program, thereby increasing prepayment speeds on MBS holding HARP-eligible loans.
We believe that those efforts aimed at more rationally pricing risk taken by the GSEs and aimed at reducing the GSEs' portfolios, and thereby accelerating the re-entry of private capital into the U.S. mortgage market, are potentially beneficial to our business. However, as it currently stands, the GSEs continue to support the overwhelming majority of the U.S. single-family mortgage origination market. However, in the event policymakers successfully reduce the GSEs presence in the U.S. mortgage market in the future, we believe that many new investment opportunities will become available to us.
Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule
Earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or "CFPB," finalized its Qualified Mortgage (QM) rule, which goes into effect on January 10, 2014. The QM rule will largely determine the underwriting standards to be used by the majority of mortgage originators. Mortgages that qualify under QM will provide certain consumer protections and will fall under a "safe harbor" for originators â€” making it substantially more difficult for borrowers to sue their lenders. Since the CFPB finalized its QM rule, the FHFA requested that the GSEs finalize their guidelines and make them effective for January 10, 2014 as well. On August 20, 2013, each of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac released their guidelines, which substantially align with those of the CFPB. Following the GSEs' releases, HUD proposed its own rule for a QM. The three sets of guidelines differ in their debt-to-income (DTI) limits and interest rate caps. While QM has been designed to protect borrowers from predatory lending, around 85% of new loans already meet the new QM standards, while the majority of the remaining 15% are comprised of loans to jumbo borrowers, who have historically not been the primary targets of predatory lending. In addition, we believe that the proposed caps on fees and points will only affect a small sliver of the market. The downside of the QM rules is that it is costly for originators to conform to QM rules, which not only makes it more difficult for smaller originators to compete, but also impacts all borrowers as these higher origination costs are passed on to the consumer.
Bank Regulatory Capital Changes
In late June 2013, the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision, or "BCBS," issued proposed changes to the Basel III accord that, if finalized, would increase the amount of regulatory capital that banks must hold. Basel III was originally issued in 2010 and represents the third installment of the Basel Accords, which were developed in response to deficiencies in financial regulation exposed by the financial crisis. Basel III introduced a minimum "leverage ratio" of at least 3% for banks. A bank's leverage ratio is calculated by dividing Tier 1 capital (i.e., common shares and retained earnings plus certain qualifying minority interests) by average total consolidated assets. On June 26, 2013, the BCBS issued proposed changes that would expand the definition of assets, thereby increasing the denominator (which is often referred to as the exposure measure), but would maintain the minimum leverage ratio of 3%. Among the proposed changes is a requirement that securities financing transactions (such as repo transactions) be included in consolidated assets on a "gross" basis (i.e., without recognition of accounting netting) when the bank acts as a principal in the transaction. Further, in July 2013, the Federal Reserve announced that the minimum Basel III leverage ratio would be 5% for systemically important bank holding companies and 6% for their insured bank subsidiaries. Under each rule as proposed, beginning on January 1, 2015, banks would publicly disclose their leverage ratios and would need to be in compliance with the final rule by January 1, 2018. These new rules, if finalized, would make it less attractive for banks â€“ especially the largest U.S. banks â€“ to offer certain kinds of repo financing. While our access to repo financing has not been adversely affected to date, it is possible that certain of our lending institutions could, in the future, decide to curtail their repo lending activities in response to these developments, particularly in connection with repo on Agency MBS, which typically provides lower profit margins. However, it is also possible that these changes will create opportunities for smaller banks and/or non-bank institutions to enter the repo market, and in fact, we have already seen smaller broker-dealers becoming more active in the Agency pool repo market.
Liquidity and Valuations
Over the course of the third quarter, non-Agency MBS rebounded modestly from their late second quarter pullback. In July and August, many market participants were still reluctant to add substantially to their non-Agency MBS positions, with the Federal Reserve seemingly poised to begin tapering its bond purchases under QE3. The second quarter sale by Lloyds Bank of an MBS portfolio also continued to weigh on the market, as certain dealers continued to work off their inventory from that sale. There was also additional supply during the quarter due to sales by European financial institutions, liquidating CDOs, and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. However, the Federal Reserveâ€™s surprise decision on September 18 th to postpone tapering led to further recovery in non-Agency MBS towards the end of the quarter, albeit a weaker recovery than that seen in the corporate bond sector, whereby some measures, yield spreads reached their tightest levels of the year.
Because home prices serve as one of the most important determinants of future cashflows in distressed non-Agency RMBS, the ongoing positive momentum in home prices should continue to provide support for non-Agency RMBS. Also continuing to provide support to this market is the continued participation of insurance companies, whose regulatory capital rules for investing in non-Agency MBS are much more advantageous than those for banks.
During the course of the third quarter, we actively traded our non-Agency portfolio, and in so doing rotated out of higher-priced securities and into others that had declined significantly in price. Based on sales as a percentage of average investments held, we turned over approximately 20% of our non-Agency portfolio in the third quarter generating net realized gains in this portfolio during the third quarter.
In the non-Agency CMBS sector new issuance of CMBS in the U.S. almost doubled year-over-year. For the nine months ended September 30, 2013, new issuance of CMBS was $60.5 billion, as compared to $30.9 billion for the comparable period last year. In the third quarter, we continued to actively trade our CMBS portfolio in order to monetize gains and to replace bonds at attractive levels. We are also continuing to see attractive opportunities with respect to non-performing commercial whole loans. We believe that the environment for investing in CMBS and commercial loans remains attractive. We also continue to see investment opportunities in collateralized loan obligations, or "CLOs," and slightly increased our holdings of this asset class in our bond porfolio as of September 30, 2013 as compared to the prior quarter end.
Agency RMBS have been marked by an extreme level of volatility over the past few months. While TBAs recovered a fair amount in the third quarter from their recent lows, non-generic or specified pools noticeably lagged. The lag in specified pool performance was the result of several factors. First, the Federal Reserveâ€™s purchases of TBAs continued unabated; this ongoing purchase activity not only supports TBA prices, but the resulting settlement activity creates short-term scarcity for TBA-eligible securities, enabling TBA investors to benefit from the supplemental income provided by the TBA roll market. Second, with interest rates still higher than they were earlier in the year, the market remains reluctant to assign value to the prepayment protection associated with specified pools. Third, Agency mortgage REITs, which until May of this year had strong demand for specified pools as they grew their capital base with a record volume of follow-on equity offerings, have had to step back from incremental purchases, as they have lowered their leverage in response to recent interest rate volatility, and are effectively unable to raise additional equity capital. Finally, with interest rates higher, specified pools now have a longer duration (and therefore greater price fluctuation) than they have had in the recent past; as a result, they may become less attractive assets for large U.S. banks to hold in light of recent changes to regulatory capital rules, which will essentially force these banks to charge unrealized losses on available-for-sale assets against their regulatory capital.
The third quarter provided us an excellent opportunity to enhance our Agency RMBS portfolio by purchasing higher coupon specified pools with much stronger prepayment protection. These securities are currently priced significantly lower than they were prior to the recent sell-off and, in our view, offer excellent relative value. We have also become more active in purchasing Agency ARMs, which have also increased in supply, likely as a function of the deleveraging activities of many REITs in the two most recent fiscal quarters. As of September 30, 2013, we increased our holdings of Agency ARMs to approximately 4% of our Agency RMBS portfolio from approximately 1% at the end of the second quarter. In the near term, we expect to see continued opportunities in this sector of the Agency RMBS market.
Following the very volatile conditions of late spring and early-to-mid-summer 2013, the technical environment for non-Agency MBS improved somewhat during the latter portion of the third quarter. We believe the near-term supply of non-Agency MBS from European sellers has diminished, as one large bank appears to have completed its sales, while another has reportedly delayed a possible sale until 2014. While the GSEs remain sellers of a significant volume of non-Agency MBS, we believe that in the near term the GSEs will likely focus their sales on higher-priced, less distressed non-Agency MBS. Finally, proposed changes to bank capital requirements may actually make repo financing of non-Agency MBS more attractive for repo lenders, rather than less, since the proposed changes limit total leverage as opposed to risk-weighted leverage, and thus lenders may seek simply to maximize the spread on the repo loans they make.
Notwithstanding the recent significant volatility in the fixed income market, repo financing has remained readily available for both Agency and non-Agency MBS, and within each of these asset classes our borrowing costs and haircuts have also remained relatively stable. Additionally, short-term rates (on which interest rates for our repo are based) have remained relatively stable since the end of the first quarter. However, certain proposed changes in regulatory capital requirement for banks, discussed above in "Bank Regulatory Capital Changes," could impact affected banking institutions' appetite for risk-taking activities, including issuance of repo financing, in the future. As of September 30, 2013, our outstanding reverse repos were with 13 different counterparties.
Ongoing market uncertainty around QE3 and its unwinding could create additional volatility in the near term, although expectations of an early taper may have been somewhat tempered, at least in part, by the budget and debt ceiling battles that have recently consumed the U.S. Government. We continue to remain generally optimistic on the fundamental prospects for non-Agency RMBS. We believe that the upward trend in home prices, and the downward trend in delinquencies, foreclosures, and shadow housing inventory will enhance the yields of, and provide further price support to, non-Agency RMBS. The pullback in prices of the late second and early third quarters of 2013 created excellent buying opportunities. We expect to see additional volatility in the near term, and we believe that this volatility will continue to create numerous trading opportunities for us both to sell securities that we feel have become more fully valued or overpriced, and to purchase securities that we feel offer better relative value. We also expect to continue to opportunistically purchase attractively priced securities in other sectors, such as CLOs and non-performing commercial whole loans. As of September 30, 2013, our total investments in CLOs and non-performing commercial whole loans were $55.2 million, or 7.4% of our non-Agency portfolio.
With credit default swaps on ABX indices becoming increasingly illiquid, credit default swaps on corporate indices and short total return swaps on certain publicly traded REITs have become significant components of our credit hedging portfolio. As market conditions change, and especially as the pricing of various credit hedging instruments changes in relation to our outlook on future credit performance, we continuously re-evaluate both the extent to which we hedge credit risk and the particular mix of instruments that we use to hedge credit risk. In our commercial mortgage loan and CMBS strategy, we expect to continue to participate in both the active new issue market as well as in the secondary market. During the third quarter we modestly increased our holdings of CMBS, and we expect this trend to continue.
In Agency RMBS, we expect that continued uncertainty around Federal Reserve policy will continue to generate opportunities for us to acquire specified pools at attractive prices. While the recent increase in rates has made prepayment protection less important in lower-coupon pools, higher-coupon pools with prepayment protection have become more attractive. We continue to target pools that, taking into account their particular composition and based on our prepayment projections: (1) should generate attractive yields relative to other Agency RMBS and U.S. Treasury securities, (2) should have less prepayment sensitivity to government policy shocks and/or (3) create opportunities for trading gains once the market recognizes their value, which for newer pools may come only after several months when actual prepayment experience can be observed. We believe that our research team, our proprietary prepayment models, and our extensive databases remain essential tools in our implementation of this strategy. Notwithstanding the opportunities that volatility may create to buy and sell assets, the presence of volatility also underscores the importance of our flexibility in hedging our risks using a variety of tools, including TBAs, as we adapt to changing market conditions. We also believe that our active trading style, coupled with our ability to dynamically alter the mix of TBAs and interest rate derivatives that we use to hedge interest rate risk, is of great benefit to our Agency RMBS strategy.
Critical Accounting Policies
Our unaudited interim consolidated financial statements have been prepared in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States for investment companies. In June 2007, the AICPA issued Amendments to ASC 946-10 ("ASC 946-10"), Clarification of the Scope of the Audit and Accounting Guide Investment Companies and Accounting by Parent Companies and Equity Method Investors for Investments in Investment Companies . ASC 946-10 was effective for fiscal years beginning on or after December 15, 2007 with earlier application encouraged. After we adopted ASC 946-10, the FASB issued guidance which effectively delayed indefinitely the effective date of ASC 946-10. However, this additional guidance explicitly permitted entities that early adopted ASC 946-10 before December 31, 2007 to continue to apply the provisions of ASC 946-10. We have elected to continue to apply the provisions of ASC 946-10. ASC 946-10 provides guidance for determining whether an entity is within the scope of the AICPA Audit and Accounting Guide for Investment Companies, or the "Guide." The Guide provides guidance for determining whether the specialized industry accounting principles of the Guide should be retained in the financial statements of a parent company, of an investment company or of an equity method investor in an investment company. Effective August 17, 2007, we adopted ASC 946-10 and follow its provisions which, among other things, requires that investments be reported at fair value in the financial statements. Although we conduct our operations so that we are not required to register as an investment company under the Investment Company Act, for financial reporting purposes, we have elected to continue to apply the provisions of ASC 946-10.
In June 2013, the FASB issued ASU 2013-08, Financial Services-Investment Companies ("ASC 946"). This update modifies the guidance for ASC 946 for determining whether an entity is an investment company for U.S. GAAP purposes. It requires entities that adopted Statement of Position 07-1 prior to its deferral to reassess whether they continue to meet the definition of an investment company for U.S. GAAP purposes. The guidance is effective for interim and annual reporting periods in fiscal years that begin after December 15, 2013, with retrospective application. Earlier application is prohibited. We believe that we still meet the definition of an investment company under ASC 946 and we do not anticipate the presentation of our financial statements will change as a result of this ASU.
Certain of our critical accounting policies require us to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets and liabilities at the date of the consolidated financial statements and the reported amounts of revenues and expenses during the reporting period. Actual results could differ from those estimates. Interim results are not necessarily indicative of the results that may be expected for the entire fiscal year. We believe that all of the decisions and assessments upon which our consolidated financial statements are based were reasonable at the time made based upon information available to us at that time. We rely on the experience of our Manager and Ellington and analysis of historical and current market data in order to arrive at what we believe to be reasonable estimates. See Note 2 of the notes to the consolidated financial statements for a complete discussion of our significant accounting policies. We have identified our most critical accounting policies to be the following:
Valuation : We adopted a three-level valuation hierarchy for disclosure of fair value measurements on January 1, 2008. The valuation hierarchy is based upon the transparency of inputs to the valuation of an asset or liability as of the measurement date. Financial instruments include securities, derivatives, and repurchase agreements. A financial instrument's categorization within the valuation hierarchy is based upon the lowest level of input that is significant to the fair value measurement. The inputs or methodology used for valuing securities are not necessarily an indication of the risk associated with investing in these securities.
The following is a description of the valuation methodologies used for our financial instruments:
Level 1 valuation methodologies include the observation of quoted prices (unadjusted) for identical assets or liabilities in active markets, often received from widely recognized data providers.
Level 2 valuation methodologies include the observation of (i) quoted prices for similar assets or liabilities in active markets, (ii) inputs other than quoted prices that are observable for the asset or liability (for example, interest rates and yield curves) in active markets and (iii) quoted prices for identical or similar assets or liabilities in markets that are not active.
Level 3 valuation methodologies include (i) the solicitation of valuations from third parties (typically, broker-dealers), (ii)the use of proprietary models that require the use of a significant amount of judgment and the application of various assumptions including, but not limited to, prepayment assumptions and default rate assumptions, and (iii) the assessment of observable or reported recent trading activity. We utilize such information to assign a good faith fair value (the estimated price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction at the valuation date) to each such financial instrument.
We seek to obtain at least one third-party indicative valuation for each instrument, and often obtain multiple indicative valuations when available. Third-party valuation providers often utilize proprietary models that are highly subjective and also require the use of a significant amount of judgment and the application of various assumptions including, but not limited to, prepayment assumptions and default rate assumptions. We have been able to obtain third-party valuations on the vast majority of our assets and expect to continue to solicit third-party valuations on substantially all assets in the future to the extent practical. Generally, we value each financial instrument at the average of all third-party valuations received and not rejected as described below. Third-party valuations are not binding on us, and while we generally do not adjust such valuations, we may challenge or reject a valuation when, based on validation criteria, we determine that such valuation is unreasonable or erroneous. Furthermore, we may determine, based on our validation criteria, that for a given instrument the average of the third-party valuations received does not result in what we believe to be fair value, and in such circumstances we may override this average with our own good faith valuation. Our validation criteria include the use of our own models, recent trading activity in the same or similar instruments, and valuations received from third parties. Our valuation process, including the application of validation criteria, is overseen by the Manager's valuation committee. Because of the inherent uncertainty of valuation, these estimated values may differ significantly from the values that would have been used had a ready market for the financial instruments existed, and the differences could be material to the consolidated financial statements.
Sylvia Hechema - Investor Relations
Before we start Iâ€™d like to remind everyone that certain statements made during this conference call including statements concerning future strategies, intentions and plans may constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements are not historical in nature and can be identified by words such as belief, expect, anticipate, estimate, project, plan, continue, intend, should, would, could, goal, objective, will, may, seek, or similar expressions or by reference to strategies plans, or intentions.
Forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties including among other things those described under item 1 A of the companyâ€™s annual report on Form 10-K filed on March 15, 2013. That could cause the companyâ€™s actual results to differ from its believes, expectations, estimates and projections. Other risks, uncertainties and factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those projected maybe described from time-to-time in reports we filed with the SEC. Consequently you should rely on these forward looking statements as predictions of future events. Statements made during this conference call are made as of the date of this call and the company undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.
Okay. I have on the call with me today on the call, Larry Penn, Chief Executive Officer of Ellington Financial; Mark Tecotzky, our Co-Chief Investment Officer; and Lisa Mumford our Chief Financial Officer.
With that I will turn it over to Larry.
Larry Penn - Chief Executive Officer
Thanks Silvia. Once again it is our pleasure to speak with our shareholders this morning as we release our third quarter results. As always we appreciate you are taking the time to participate on the call today.
We will follow the same format as we have on previous calls. First, Lisa will run through our financial results. Then Mark will discuss how the MBS market performed over the course of the quarter, how we positioned our portfolio, and what our market outlook is. I will follow with some closing remarks before openings the floor to questions.
As a remainder we have posted a third quarter earnings conference call presentation to our website www.ellingtonfinancial.com. Youâ€™ll find it right on our Shareholders page or alternatively on the Presentations page of the website. Lisa and Markâ€™s prepared will track the presentation. So if you have this presentation in front of you please turn to page three to follow on.
Iâ€™m going to turn it over to Lisa now.
Lisa Mumford - Chief Financial Officer
Thank you, Larry. And good morning everyone. On page three of the presentation you can see that for the quarter ended September 30, 2013 we earned $11.7 million or $0.45 per share. On a sequential quarter-over-quarter basis income was essentially flat although in the current quarter we had approximately 2.4 million more shares outstanding as a result of our second quarter follow on equity offering. Those shares were outstanding for the entirety of the third quarter. Our nine months return on equity was 11.1%. Within our non-agency strategy we had growth income of $15.1 million or $0.58 per share compared to $17.7 million in the second quarter or $0.74 per share.