Category Archives: stocks

New Article On Seeking Alpha

I’ve written my second article for financial mega-site Seeking Alpha, which details why I think shorting the stock RWT is a good way to profit off of the bear market in housing.


Update on failing mortgage stocks #1: FMAR

Since I first posted on FMAR on March 17th, the stock has fallen about 34% from $6.45 on 3/17 to $4.26 today, setting many record lows along the way. I had an interesting discussion about the company with an investor who told me that a smaller hedge fund was short FMAR.

I continue to think the fair value of the company’s stock is zero, which is to say I do not think the company, which has unwisely lent hundreds of millions of dollars secured by questionable collateral (including used boat loans!), will be able to survive the bursting of the housing and credit bubble

FMAR reported a 1st quarter loss of 52 cents per share, which was even worse than the $0.40/share loss that analysts were expecting.

FMAR’s situation is even more dire than the large loss the company actually reported. Specifically, its provision for loan losses seems way to small. REO’s are only being written down by 42%, while its loss reserves for its non-performing Alt-A loans is 18% of their collateral’s appraised value. That’s rather amazing considering that investors these days won’t touch performing Alt-A loans without a very significant discount.

The most fishy item in FMAR’s earnings report is that its loan loss reserves only increased by $1 million, from $12.8 to $13.8 million, despite the fact that FMAR has a loan portfolio of well over $800 million, and that REO and nonperforming assets are going through the roof, and the US economy is now in recession.

If a WAMU or a Countrywide were trying to get away with such unrealistic loan loss reserves, financial reporters and short sellers would be all over them. Instead the big banks are taking big charge-offs as they increase loan loss reserves. FMAR is clearly trying to hide the degree of its future loan losses by understating reserves, but it can only do this for so long.

The bottom line is that the company’s numbers are not an honest reflection of its financial situation. So while the company has fallen quite a bit on its very negative earnings reports, much bigger losses are coming when FMAR finally comes clean and takes a big write-off for future loan losses. From the looks of its balance sheet, such a write off would eliminate well over half of the company’s book value.

Will First Mariner Bancorp (FMAR) be the next small bank to go bankrupt?

My bet is yes, this small Maryland bank will in the near-future go bankrupt.

Weak Balance Sheet  

The bank has equity of $72.7M (all figures as of 12/31/07). That thin bit of equity is supporting $1.244 billion in assets and $1.171 billion in debts. Thus the bank is leveraged 1,711%, that is to say assets are more than 17 times equity. This in turn means a decline in the value of its assets as of 12/31/07 of 5.88% would wipe out all of the bank’s equity and likely leave the bank’s stock worthless. A decline of less than 5.88% could still render the bank in violation of regulatory minimum capital ratios.

I wonder if such a decline hasn’t already happened so far this year.

The bank has $134.5 million in residential construction loans to businesses and $91.4 million in residential construction loans to individuals at average interest rates of 7.9 and 8.3% respectively. These high interest rates indicate the loans were fairly risk when they were taken out. I would expect a very high percentage of these loans will fall into default as the residential real estate market in Maryland is very weak right now.

The bank has $292.6 million in commercial mortgages. As consumers cut bank on spending, retailers curb expansions and close down underperforming stores I think this aspect of their portfolio will also perform poorly. The average interest rate on these loans is 7.4%, again indicating that these are less than stellar borrowers.

Used Boat Loans

The bank also has $188.4 million in consumer loans at an average rate of 13.5%. Again this very high interest rate indicates these are less than stellar borrowers. According to the company, some of these loans are “originated though direct mail solicitation,” “unsecured” or secured by “new and used” cars and boats(!!!).


Would you say that soliciting loans via junk mail, and then extending loans to people with bad credit (@13.5% APR) with the only security being a used boat or a used car is a sound banking practice? Do you think that high-interest used car and used boat loans will perform well during a recession?

I don’t, but FMAR thinks these loans will perform stupendiously. While it has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of these junk loans, it has only set aside $12.8 million in allowances for loan losses, or 1.50% of its loan portfolio. Non-performing assets meanwhile rocketed up from 0.52% of assets at the end of 2006 to 3.48% at the end of 2007. Non-performing loans are 5.01% of all loans at the end of last quarter compared to 4.27% at the end of Q3. Additionally it is the bank’s practice to count loans as “performing” if the borrower is currently making payments but is 90 days or more behind in payments. Since I doubt these past-due amounts are written off, this would seem to indicate that past-due payments by such borrowers are counted as performing assets (as interest receivable).

The bank also owns $55 million in mortgage-backed securities. Some portion of these are GSE securities, but it is not possible to tell from the company’s financial statements what portion of these are increasingly worthless private label securities and what portion are GSE MBS, which have also suffered in value but much less so. If you assume a 60/40 split in favor of GSE then the company will probably report suffering a loss of $5 to $15 million on its MBS portfolio.

Shaky short-term financing?

FMAR discloses several short-term sources of capital. Given the current liquidity crisis FMAR’s lenders may ask it to repay these loans rather than allow it to roll them over, potentially forcing the company into default and/or bankruptcy. FMAR’s short-term debt include loans includes commercial paper and “a mortgage warehouse line of credit secured by certain loans held for sale.” Such an event might cause the bank to go out in a bang, like Bear Stearns or Thornberg Mortgage. More likely in my opinion is the bank goes out in a whimper over the few quarters as losses from bad loans mount.

Either way, I like FMAR as a short play.