Mortgage REIT # 4 so far: This afternoon, March 24, MFA Financial announced that it had received “an unusually high number of margin calls from financing counterparties,” and that by the close of business on Monday, it couldn’t meet those margin calls.

Its shares (MFA) had started out the day in the positive at just under $3 and then plunged 87% during the day, to $0.36. On February 20, before the market chaos started, shares were still over $8 a share. MFA Financial blamed the repo-market where it “had experienced higher funding costs,” and the mortgage market turmoil triggered by COVID-19.

The business model of a mortgage REIT is to buy long-term residential and/or commercial mortgage-backed securities and leverage them up by borrowing short-term, including in the repo market if they can, while posting the RMBS or CMBS as collateral. A mortgage REIT makes money off the spread between the borrowing rates and the yields of the mortgage bonds, and they multiply their profits through leverage.

During the Good Times, it was like free money, and the mortgage REITs paid big-fat yields. But suddenly, the Good Times were up.

Turmoil hit the $16 trillion markets for mortgage debts, including residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities that everyone apparently was trying to unload, and their prices dropped, and therefore collateral values dropped, and financing counterparties sent out margin calls to get more cash or collateral to make up for the dropping collateral values. And then all heck broke loose.

And MFA Financial said:

On March 23, 2020, the Company notified its financing counterparties that it does not expect to be in a position to fund the anticipated volume of future margin calls under its financing arrangements in the near term as a result of market disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If MFA fails to meet the margin calls, the financing counterparties can take ownership of the securities that secured the margin loan. The company is now trying to get its financing counterparties to enter into forbearance agreements, where the counterparties would refrain from exercising their rights and remedies they have in case of default, but it could not “predict” whether these talks would succeed.

Mortgage REIT #3: This morning, it was mortgage REIT Investco Mortgage Capital that issued an announcement that it had failed to meet margin calls on Monday, blaming “the turmoil in the financial markets resulting from the global pandemic of the COVID-19 virus.”

BY WOLF RICHTER