Friday, December 5, 2014

Risk Control and my Mortgage and Housing Portfolio

I mentioned my mortgage/housing portfolio a few months ago and here’s what it looks like now:
  • Title insurance: FNF/FAF/STC
  • Asset pools: AGNC/MTGE/ HLSS
  • Origination and servicing: PFSI/WAC. A short put position in OCN that is fully hedged 
  • Builders: UCP
  • A tiny position in Freddie Preferred.

Combined, these are more than 20% of my portfolio. My housing exposure is actually more if I count Wells Fargo, Citibank…etc.

Since that last post, I have traded in and out of STC with incredible luck, and it looks like my patience in title insurers are now paying off. I’m not so lucky in OCN however. This one killed my returns this year. Analysts are bound to make wrong fundamental calls at some point, but you have to control your losses with sound portfolio management and this is where I failed. 

Getting Scalped by Gamma

Among the many lessons I learned (and paid for), a more interesting one is the negative convexity of shorting options. I got into OCN with short put positions thinking I can subsequently adjusted my net exposure up and down by going long/short stocks. That turns out to be naïve. A simplified example using fake numbers go like this.

Time 1
Stock trade at $34.
My long position: sold 100 shares of puts strike $35, this is now in the money so I’m net long.
My short position: short 100 shares of stocks.
Net exposure:  zero; I’m hedged right?  right?

Time 2
Stock spikes to $37.
My long position: now 0. That 100 shares of $35 puts is now out-of-the-money
My short position:  still short 100 shares of stocks.
Net exposure:  
all the sudden I’m net short, when stock is making a run upward! I close my short stocks to bring net exposure down to 0.

Time 3 
Stock goes back down to $33.
My long position: Those sold puts struck at $35 went In-The-Money again.
My short exposure:  0. I closed my shorts in time 2
Net exposure: long 100 shares, but stock is plummeting.

So basically, that short put positions goes in and out of the money at the worst times. What I thought was a fully hedged position could turn into a net short exposure when stock is making a run upward; and vice versa, it turns to net long when stock is tanking.

People talk about “gamma scalping” by going long call option and shorting stock. With my set up I was short gamma and got scalped instead. 

Controlling Risk with Technical Analysis

FNF, and to some extent FAF, are core positions I plan to hold through the cycles. The rest however are not what most people would consider “quality” companies and my positions in them fluctuate greatly. When the fundamentals are shaky and information dissemination is sparse, I learned to use technicals to control my risk. That means buying things near some technical support level (ideally around 52 week or all-time lows), and cut my losses when they drop below that support level. Since that doesn’t always work (some of these stocks are known for taking a big gap downward), I further control risk by diversify my sector bets into multiple names, and look for cheap valuation (low P/Es or P/B multiples) 

Blending of Risk across Sub-sectors

Some of these sub-sectors offset each other with respect to specific risk factors. 

For example, my positions in title insurers could be hurt if mortgage transactions get lower. A partial hedge to that is a position in AGNC. This agency mortgage REIT benefits in that scenario because lower MBS issuance would drive its asset valuation higher. On the other hand, the mREITs have duration risks and could be hurt when rates go higher. The mortgage servicers provide some offset here with their MSR holdings. And so on. 

This is not an exact science because it’s hard to quantify the effect of various risk factors. Nevertheless, it’s good to think through what you’re trying to bet on and the risk you’re exposed to. For now, this portfolio is a bet on household formation, higher mortgage volumes, regulatory environment stabilizing, and various company specific factors such as operating efficiency, low valuation…etc.

Finally, I just started positions in PFSI and WAC this week. Those are for a separate post.

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