Does history repeat? Many of us, no doubt, remember the crash of the doc.com bubble back in 2000, and at least one analyst sees that pattern repeating before our eyes. Will Meade, who built his reputation in stock analysis with Goldman Sachs, believes that the current rally is only temporary, and that the markets are likely to fall again in 2H20 – by as much as 40%.
Meade points that, like in 2000, we have the risk and uncertainty of a Presidential election coming up, and then adds, “The NASDAQ in 2000 did a similar bear market bounce as stocks this year — dropped 40%, then bounced 42% off the bottom retracing 61.8% of its drop. It stalled then fell 43%, making a new low four months later.” If Meade is right, then the true market bottom is due to hit us in late July or early September.
The analyst is not all doom and gloom, however. While he is predicting bad news and tough times for the stock markets, he also points out that investors can act now to buffer their personal positions. His advice: move to liquid assets and build a cash savings buffer.
Shoring up the savings account is only part of a strong defensive strategy. Investors can also shift their portfolio toward dividend stocks, relying on the steady income from the dividend payments to compensate for lower share price appreciation.
Ellington Financial, Inc. (EFC)
We’ll start in the financial sector, with a small-cap company in the mortgage finance niche. Ellington operates as an investor, putting money into consumer loans, equity investments, mortgage backed securities, and both residential and commercial mortgages. It’s a standard portfolio for a mortgage-focused real estate investment trust.
As an REIT, Ellington naturally offers a high dividend. REITs are required to a return a high percentage of profits to investors, and dividends are a sure way to comply with that regulatory provision. In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, and consequent economic damage, Ellington had to reduce its monthly payment starting with the April 29 payout. However, the company is maintaining a 54% payout ratio – returning more than half of earnings to investors. The 8-cent per share payment annualized to 96 cents, and offers investors a yield of 10%.
Right now, the Fed’s key interest rate is down to the 0 to 25 basis point range, and Treasury bonds are yielding less than 1%. Even among dividend stocks, the average yield is just 2%. So, EFC’s 10% dividend yield is a fantastic return. Looking ahead, the company is expected to show 40 cents per share in earnings for Q1, more than enough to maintain the new monthly dividend.
Maxim’s Michael Diana has tagged EFC as a ‘top pick,’ particularly noting the company’s strong management team: “Managing an mREIT even in ‘normal’ times is a difficult task, as the manager must balance leverage, prepayment protection, interest income, hedging, and diversity of financing sources to position the investment portfolio to withstand unexpected shocks without giving up too much income. When an unexpected shock does occur, crisis management skills are required to dynamically hedge and reposition the portfolio. We have followed EFC longer than any other analyst and, in our view, EFC management possesses all of these skills.”
Diana puts an $18 price target on EFC shares, implying a whooping 82% upside potential that fully supports his Buy rating. (To watch Diana’s track record, click here)
Wall Street agrees with Diana’s assessment here. The analyst consensus on this stock is a Strong Buy, and it is unanimous, based on 4 Buy reviews set in recent weeks. Shares are selling at a comfortable entry point, just $9.87, and the average price target of $14.38 suggests room for a robust 46% upside growth this year. (See Ellington stock analysis on TipRanks)
AGNC Investment (AGNC)
Based in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC, AGNC is another REIT. The company’s portfolio is centered on residential mortgage-backed securities, but with a twist. Most of AGNC’s portfolio investments are guaranteed by the US government. The company’s portfolio includes $70.7 billion in such agency-supported securities, out of a total value of $93 billion.
AGNC reported fiscal Q1 earnings at the end of April, and beat the forecast on EPS. Per-share earnings came in at 57 cents, based on $65 million in net interest income. The income interest figure is down significantly from the previous quarter, reflecting the economic troubles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. On a positive note, AGNC’s cash holdings increased 55% in the first quarter, reaching $1.29 billion by March 31.
A solid cash position and safe guarantees on the portfolio make AGNC an attractive investment, and the reliable monthly dividend adds icing to that cake. Like EFC above, AGNC lowered its monthly payment in Q1. The new payment is 12 cents per share per month, which annualized to $1.44 and gives a strong yield of 11.5%. At 63.2%, the payout ratio shows that the dividend is easily sustainable at current income levels – and has room to raised back to previous rates when conditions warrant.
Diana is bullish on this stock and upgrades his rating from Hold to Buy. The analyst noted, “While turmoil in the mortgage markets at the end of March resulted in losses and lower book values for all mREITs, AGNC was able to meet all of its margin calls and, importantly, take relatively fewer realized losses, and therefore retain more earnings power post-turmoil. This is why we believe the dividend, currently yielding 11.7% (vs. ~5% for peers) is safe.”
Along with the Buy rating, Diana gives AGNC a $15 price target, indicating a potential for 20% upside appreciation in the coming 12 months.
The analysts are somewhat cautious on AGNC, a sentiment caught by the 8 to 3 split between Buy and Hold reviews. The consensus rating on the stock remains a Moderate Buy, while the $14.53 average price target implies a 14% upside potential. (See AGNC stock analysis on TipRanks)
Manhattan Bridge Capital (LOAN)
Last on our list is a NYC-based micro-cap lending company, Manhattan Bridge Capital. The company offers short-term financing and collateralized loans. Typical collateral includes real estate and tradeable stock, and the loans are usually used as first mortgages. LOAN originates, services, and manages its loan portfolio, and most of its customers are professional real estate investors and developers.
The coronavirus epidemic has hurt real estate development and construction – exactly the type of projects that LOAN finances – in general, but that hit has been especially hard in New York City. At both the State and City levels, lockdown restrictions have been severe, and the mortgage loan environment is described by Diana as ‘challenging.’
On a positive note, LOAN has covered its quarterly dividend payment, despite lower Q1 earnings. At 11 cents per share, the quarterly dividend annualized to 44 cents and offers investors a yield of 10.8%. Again, this compares favorably to most investment return yields out there.
The high dividend yield alone makes this an attractive investment opportunity, but Diana also points out the stability of Manhattan Bridge’s portfolio, writing, “LOAN has never had to foreclose on a property and has never experienced a loan default.”
With the stable portfolio in mind, Diana goes on to say, “We believe LOAN deserves to trade at a P/E premium to [peers] because of its: 1) lower leverage; 2) higher profitability; 3) better credit quality; 4) lower earnings volatility; and 5) dividend growth (which is possible in 2021, in our view, if the environment improves and stabilizes).”
Diana’s $6 price target on the stock implies a healthy 46% one-year upside potential, and fully backs his Buy rating on the stock. Diana’s is the only recent Wall Street review of this stock – but should his thesis prove correct, expect LOAN to attract both stock analysts and investors in the near future. It offers a low cost of entry with a high potential return – an unbeatable combination. (See LOAN stock analysis on TipRanks)
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