Atrium Mortgage Investment Corporation (AMIVF) CEO Robert Goodall on Q4 2021 Results – Earnings Call Transcript

Atrium Mortgage Investment Corporation (OTC:AMIVF) Q4 2021 Earnings Conference Call February 16, 2022 4:00 PM ET

Company Participants

Robert Goodall – President, Chief Executive Officer & Founder

Jennifer Scoffield – Chief Financial Officer

Conference Call Participants

Rasib Bhanji – TD Securities

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, please standby. Your conference is about to begin. Welcome to the Atrium Mortgage Investment Corporation Fourth Quarter Conference Call. At this time, all lines are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, this conference is being recorded Wednesday, February 16th, 2022. Certain statements will be made during this phone call that may be forward-looking statements. Although Atrium believes that such statements are based upon reasonable assumptions, actual results may differ materially.

Forward-looking statements are based on the beliefs, estimates, and opinions of Atrium’s management on the date the statements are made. Atrium undertakes no obligation to update these forward-looking statements in the event that management’s beliefs, estimates, or opinions, or other factors change. I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Mr. Goodall, President. Please go ahead.

Robert Goodall

Good afternoon and thank you for calling in today. Our CFO, Jennifer Scoffield, will start by talking about our financial results, and then I will speak about our performance from an operational and Portfolio perspective. Jennifer.

Jennifer Scoffield

Atrium just completed a strong fourth quarter, with record quarterly net income of $10.7 million and net income for the year ended December 31st, 2021 was also a record at $41.8 million, up 6.7% from the prior year. For the year ended December 31, 2021, we had revenue of $64.2 million, down slightly of 1.2% from the prior year. Our earnings per share for 2021 was $0.98 per share. Also a record for Atrium as compared to earnings per share of $0.93 last year.

During 2021, we declared $41.3 million in dividends or $0.97 per share. This is the highest annual dividend per share Atrium has declared since going public in 2012. A special dividend of $0.07 per share will be paid on February 28. Shareholders of record, on December 31 2021. In 2022, as previously announced, our board has set the regular dividend rate at $0.90 per annum paid monthly, which is consistent with the prior year’s regular dividend.

Mortgage interest in fee revenues for the year ended December 31st, 2021 was $63.5 million compared to $64.4 million for 2020. Interest in fee revenues fell slightly as a result of a lower weighted average interest rate in 2021. The weighted average interest rate decreased as a result of a higher proportion of first mortgages in the portfolio at the end of 2021 compared to the prior year. These tend to have lower yields.

A significant reduction in high ratio loans, as well as increased competition in the markets where we operate, which led to some interest rate compression. In 2021, we’re net rental income of $699,000, compared to $657,000 for 2020. Operating expenses, excluding the provision for mortgage losses for the year ended December 31, 2021, were $8.6 million compared to $8.4 million in 2020. Our operating expenses, including management fees, remained consistent with prior years at 1.1% of assets.

We took the provision for mortgage losses in Q4 up $20,000, resulting in a total provision for 2021 at $1.29 million for a year of total allowance for mortgage losses at December 31st to $10.4 million or 1.36% of our gross portfolio. Our allowance for mortgage losses on performing loans, which are the loans classified as stages 1 and 2 that are not considered impaired, totaled $7.6 million or 1% of the gross balance of performing loans. Our interest expense for the year was $12.5 million, a decrease of 8% in 2020.

This drop was a result of the repayment of our 5.5% convertible debentures on June 30th, as well as lower cost of borrowing on our credit facility in 2021. The annualized weighted average interest rate on our credit facility was 2.86% this year compared to 3.04% in 2020. Our mortgages receivable loans at December 31st, 2021 were $759 million, an increase of 2.7 from December 30th, 2020 in the highest mortgage receivable balance in our history. During the year, $470 million of mortgages were advanced and $437 million of mortgages were repaid, both a record.

This resulted in a mortgage turnover rate of 58% for 2021, considerably higher than our average annual turnover of 40%. At December 31st, 2021, the portfolio has a weighted average loan-to-value of 60.9%. It had a weighted average interest rate of 8.26% and 91.4% of the mortgage portfolio were first mortgages. 60% of the total portfolio was priced on our prime plus floating rate basis, the majority which have floor rates. In November 2021, we completed a successful public offering of 5% convertible debentures for gross proceeds of $34.5 million, including the full amount of the overallotment option.

We closed the year with a debt-to-total-asset ratio of 39.4%. To conclude, we’re very pleased with our performance in 2021. We had record net income and earnings per share and were able to grow the portfolio even with record repayments and loan turnover, all while continuing to lower the risk profile of our portfolio. I’ll now pass you over to Rob Goodall, our CEO.

Robert Goodall

Thank you. As Jennifer mentioned, Atrium MIC generated strong earnings per share of $0.25 in Q4. And for the year as a whole, earnings per share were $0.98, the strongest result in our nine year history as a public company on the TSX. This result occurred, as Jennifer mentioned, despite a pandemic and despite a record $437 million of loan repayments in 2021. We had a record level of $165 million of loan advances in Q4. Any quarter where we surpassed the $100 million mark for mortgage advances is a very good quarter for us.

For the year as a whole, we originated and funded $470 million of new loans, a record for Atrium and a 73% gain from last year when we originated $271 million. As I’ve mentioned in previous calls, this record level of originations is a reflection of the expansion of our debt team, which now numbers 12 underwriters across Canada and is expected to expand by another two people in 2022. For the year, the mortgage portfolio increased by $22 million from $745 million to $767 million.

We experienced a 58% portfolio turnover for the year as a whole, versus 35% to 40% in a normal year. While the BC portfolio experienced normal turnover, the Ontario portfolio at 73% loan turnover for the year. I cannot tell if this elevated turnover rate was an aberration or if it’s a reflection of a very competitive lending market. But either way, we’ve shown that we’re capable of originating enough business to deal with whatever turnover level occurs in 2022. If pressed for a forecast, I do believe that Atrium’s loan portfolio will grow by a larger amount in 2022, barring a material slowdown in the real estate markets.

The reason is that the underwriting team will have another year of experience under their belt, and that most of our new loans funded in 2021 have terms of approximately two years. The loan quality of the portfolio actually improved in Q4 and for the year as a whole. 99% of our mortgages are located in our two preferred markets, Ontario and BC. These are the two markets where we have active offices and where we have experienced virtually no loan losses over our 20-year history. Loan loss provisions remain at a very healthy 136 basis points, which provides insurance against the slowdown in the market.

It’s also worth noting that most of our problem loans are scheduled to be repaid in the next 90 days. The average loan-to-value of the portfolio remains steady in Q4 at 60.9% and continues to remain well below our target of 65%. Turning to our operations, approximately 82% of the funded loans in Q4 were from Ontario and 18% from BC. For the year as a whole, 76% of new funded loans were in Ontario and 24% in BC. The geographic composition of the portfolio is now 66% in Ontario, 33% in BC, and less than 1% in Alberta.

We’re very comfortable with this geographic allocation. By sector, 96% of the new loans funded in Q4 were residential or multi-residential loans with the balance being commercial loans. The single-family mortgage division had another strong quarter with $17.7 million of funded loans, up from $15 million last quarter. While single-family mortgages have a lower average mortgage rate, it also has a lower risk profile. The single-family mortgage Portfolio is entirely located in the GTA, Ottawa, Hamilton, and the Kitchener area.

And all of the mortgages are under 75% loan to appraised value. In Q4, our average mortgage rate was 8.26%, down from 8.42% last quarter. This was partly due to increased competition in the market, but also due to other factors; namely, the repayment of high ratio loans, which are loans over 75% loan to value, which have attractive coupons. Secondly, a slightly higher portfolio of lower yielding single-family loans as I mentioned earlier. And thirdly, a higher percentage of first mortgages.

In fact, Atrium’s percentage of first mortgages increased from 81.7% at the beginning of the year to 91.4% by year-end. This is the highest percentage that we’ve had in many years. Each of the three provinces where we operate has more than 88% of its Portfolio in first mortgages. Perhaps the risk metric that best exemplifies our defensive lending philosophy is that 99.3% of the Portfolio is less than or equal to 75% loan to value. This is a percentage that is significantly higher than our peers and reflects a very defensively positioned Portfolio.

So our record earnings per share were achieved even as we lowered the risk profile of the portfolio. Turning to defaults. Defaults in our commercial and multi-residential business, which represent 93% of the portfolio, was limited to three borrowers. These are the same three borrowers from last quarter, but there was significant progress made during the quarter, the first our three mortgages in Vancouver totaling $37.25 million. Last quarter there was one additional loan totaling $8 million plus interest arrears, which was repaid in Q4 from the sale of the asset.

The three remaining loans are secured by well-located development sites near a major SkyTrain station and are cross – collateralized. One of the properties with a loan exposure of $12.1 million has been sold firm and is scheduled to close on March 1st of 2022. Another property with a loan exposure of $14.1 million is also firmed up and is scheduled to close on March 30th of 2022. If both of these sales close as expected, then Atrium will be fully repaid on all three loans. The second property in default is a $5.7 million first mortgage on an estate subdivision in Southwest Calgary.

This loan has been in arrears for over a year. Phase 2 and 3 of the property were sold for $5.2 million in early 2021, thereby reducing the outstanding loan amount from $10 million to its current balance. The only remaining security is phase 4, and we decided to pull the listing for phase 4 from the market in the spring of 2021 as the Calgary market was finally showing signs of strength for the first time in many years. Turns out that market prices for detached loans increased by more than 10% in 2021, so our decision to delay the listing was correct.

In January 2022, we decided to relist the property for sale with a new realtor and we have already received one conditional offer, which is in line with our expectations and has been adequately reserved for and we hope to conclude a sale shortly after the end of the first quarter. Please note this is the only loan in the entire portfolio where we expect to incur a loss. And our last loan is a $6.15 million first mortgage in Sutton, Ontario. This loan has been in and out of default over the last couple of years due to the excessive amount of debt subordinate to Atrium and an uncooperative and unscrupulous borrower who has been removed from operations in favor of another home-builder.

Atrium is funding the senior tranche of the first mortgage and has an estimated loan-to-value of 64%. So we do not foresee a loss. Atrium’s remaining collateral consists of Phases 2 to 5, which is draft-plan approved for 138 building lots, as well as a 6 acre school site and a small commercial block. A private receiver was engaged in order to prevent the borrower from stalling the completion of the development. Defaults in the single-family portfolio were — which represents the other 7% of the total mortgage portfolio consists of two loans totaling $1.56 million.

Since the end of Q4, the largest of the two loans, totaling $937 million, has been brought current. Overall, we feel very comfortable with the quality of the portfolio. Please note that we analyze and risk-rate each loan every quarter to make sure we keep on top of any new issue. Turning to foreclosures, we continue to have two foreclosed properties totaling $16.1 million. The first is a fourplex in Leduc and the second is a 90-unit rental project in Regina. The Leduc cost base is $1.1 million and the cost base in Regina is $15 million. The fourplex in Leduc was 100% leased throughout 2021.

The Regina apartment currently has an 80% occupancy rate. In order to improve the occupancy rate, we’ve recently increased the level of online marketing and the property manager is now reporting increased traffic at the property, although the winter is generally a period of fewer tenant inquiries. We’re also making some modest capital expenditures on the Regina building in order to increase occupancy. These properties generate significant distributions through Atrium each quarter. Our economic commentaries is as follows.

Despite lockdowns in parts of the country toward the end of Q4, the economy was still expected to grow at 6.3% in Q4 and 4.9% for 2021 as a whole. RBC is forecasting 4% GDP growth in 2022, so the economic outlook is relatively bright. Unfortunately, inflation reached 5.1% in January and the Bank of Canada intends to start increasing its overnight rate in March of 2022. On February 11th, the U.S. announced that their inflation rate rose to 7.5% last month, higher than expected. So most economists expect three to five rate increases of a core point or possibly 0.5 point in Canada and the U.S. over the next 12 months.

If the rate increases are implemented gradually, the consensus is that the Canadian housing market will slow down from its frantic 2021 pace, but still remain relatively strong. If rate increases are overly aggressive, there could be a dampening effect on both resale housing and the new home market. And I’ll turn to the real estate markets now. In the fourth quarter, the resale and new home markets remained very strong. First looking at resales, 2021 was one of the strongest housing markets ever in Canada. The resale market in the GTA at a 28% gain in sales, a 24% gain in average prices, a 31% gain in the home price index, and a 12% drop in new listings, all leading to very tight market conditions.

The average price of a detached home in the GTA increased almost 29% on a year-over-year basis, while semi-detached homes and townhouses increased by 25% and 29%, respectively. Condo apartment resale prices were up 18.5% on a year-over-year basis. There was a resurgence in demand for homes within the city of Toronto. Year-over-year unit sales growth was strongest within the 416 area code bolstering 36.8% sales growth compared to the surrounding GTA suburbs, which showed a combined growth of 23.6%. In the Vancouver area, the market was also very tight.

Metro Vancouver home sales increased by 42% year-over-year. 2021 sales are 4% above the previous all-time record in 2015, and are 33% above the 10-year average. The MLS composite benchmark price for all residential properties in Greater Vancouver had a 17% increase year-over-year, and a 1.6% increase compared to the previous month. New listings for all property types were down 19% year-over-year and down almost 51% from last month. The benchmark price for single-family homes was up 22%, for townhouses, up 22%, and for condominiums, up just under 13%.

Calgary also performed well with a 45% increase in sales and an 8% rise in prices, over 10% when one looks at the single-family detached homes. The new home markets in Toronto and Vancouver are also very healthy. The GTA’s positive story about the resale markets is also evident in the new home market. New home sales increased by almost 24% year-over-year. The number of high-rise sales were up 60.7%, while low-rise sales actually saw a decline of 20.3% largely due to a lack of inventory.

On a year-over-year basis, high-rise inventory decreased 25%, while low-rise inventory decreased 67.5% for an overall inventory reduction of almost 33%. The benchmark price of $1.83 million for new low-rise product represents a staggering 38.5% increase on a year-over-year basis. The benchmark price through a new high-rise product increased by 13.5% on a year-over-year basis to $1.16 million. In 2021, we saw the price gap between low-rise and high-rise continue to widen as it has since the pandemic started.

In Vancouver, the most recent new home stats are from Q3. Sales in Metro Vancouver were down 16% from the previous quarter, but it was mostly due to fewer new project launches. And despite this headwind, sales were still the highest Q3 sales recorded in the past decade. The upward pressure of new family home prices in Metro Vancouver continues. Concrete and wood frame condominium prices increased by 1% on a quarterly basis, whereas town homes rose by 10% due to limited supply throughout the region. Total inventory for the end of Q3 2021 was down 12% from the previous quarter.

Further, 88% of all concrete condominium units, which are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021, were already pre-sold. To summarize, the strength of the resale markets, coupled with a lack of new listings, bodes well for another good year in 2022 for the new home market. However, new home construction for both low-rise and high-rise buildings; that states significant cost inflation, as well as supply chain issues. I suspect that these issues will be most severe for the smaller developers who do not have long-term relationships with the trades.

So far, cost inflation in the building industry has been offset by increases in end-unit pricing, but we will keep monitoring the situation. So to summarize, Atrium generated record earnings per share in 2021 and has performed at a high level throughout the pandemic. CMTC, the manager of Atrium, originated a record number of loans, which is a testament to the growth and development of the team — of the company’s underwriting team. The earnings per share result was all the more impressive when one considers the unprecedented level of loan repayments, particularly in the Ontario region.

The loan quality is also very high, as evidenced by the following risk metrics. Our loan-to-value ratio on a portfolio basis has remained steady at approximately 61% loan-to-value throughout the pandemic. We’ve targeted our portfolio geographically toward the two most liquid centers in the country: Toronto and Vancouver, where we’ve had virtually no losses over our 20-year history as both a private and then a public company. Over 99% of our portfolio is now composed of low ratio loans, described as loans below 75% loan-to-value.

We have a very healthy loan loss provision in place equal to 1.3% — 1.36% of the mortgage portfolio and over 91% of the portfolio of our first mortgage. Lastly, I’m really pleased to announce the appointment of Richard Monroe as Chief Operating Officer effective February 15th, 2022. Richard joined Atrium in September of 2006 and most recently held the title of Managing Director for Ontario. Richard has over 15 years of experience underwriting commercial and residential mortgages on behalf of Atrium and has been gradually taking on a greater number of management roles.

So this is not a sudden elevation of responsibility, but rather a recognition of how his world has evolved over the last few years. With the quality of our team at the MCC and the portfolio in very good shape, we are defensively positioned to withstand a change in economic conditions. As importantly, we’re well-positioned to have another very good year in 2022. Thank you and we’d be pleased to take any questions you might have.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Your first question comes from the line of Rasib Bhanji from TD Securities. Your line is open.

Rasib Bhanji

Hey, thank you. Good afternoon. If I could just start on the mortgage portfolio mix. So appreciate that the credit quality has increased significantly higher. First mortgages on lower high ratio loans. I guess the offset is the lower weighted average mortgage rates. So going forward do you see Atrium maintaining a similar portfolio mix and, in turn, what would the impact be on the mortgage rate? Should it be stable or – I’ll let you take that.

Robert Goodall

So what we’ve seen is — from our peers is that everybody felt a little bit more competition. And that — for us, that competition isn’t just non-bank lenders, that competition is the big 5; credit yens, trust companies. Because a lot of our loans that are repaid — in fact, almost all of our loans are repaid by institutional lenders, not by other non-bank lenders. So as long as the market is this high and it stays really competitive, you’re going to have pressure on rates. Having said that, as we mentioned, we had a couple of pretty good high ratio loans that we’re always comfortable with that had really nice coupon rates and those were repaid.

So now we — the good news is we now virtually have no high ratio loans. The bad news is when you get paid off a loan like that, you’ll automatically have some drop in your overall industry. So if I was to guess going forward, I think if we were to drop, it would be at a smaller rate. This was an exceptional quarter. But it’s difficult to know with competition whether our rates will drop or whether they’ll basically be stable from this point forward. I think they’re more likely to be stable, but depending on the competition, they could drop a bit more. I don’t know.

Rasib Bhanji

Okay. That’s makes sense. On the — and shifting towards your foreclosed properties, the 90-unit rental property in Regina, correct me if I’m wrong, but has Atrium, [Indiscernible] for sale or? Remind me this one.

Robert Goodall

Atrium had it for sale, yeah. We’ve — because of the vacancies now, the occupancy rate is about 80%, we’ll wait till the vacancy rate is higher before actively trying to sell it.

Rasib Bhanji

Okay.

Robert Goodall

And in a place like Regina, which is pretty cold, if you enter the winter with a lower occupancy rate, you’re likely to have to carry that lower occupancy rate until it warms up because there just aren’t as many tenant inquiries. Having said that, we’re hopeful that when we report back to you at the end of Q1, it will be higher than — the occupancy will be higher than it is today. Notwithstanding that, because we have no debt against the property, it actually generates really good income. But still, it’s still a very profitable project.

Rasib Bhanji

It makes sense. And just my last question –

Robert Goodall

Yeah.

Rasib Bhanji

I’m sorry. You were saying? My last question was just on – so CMAT is prioritizing increasing access towards affordable housing. Just wondering, would that have any direct or more like an indirect impact on your business?

Robert Goodall

I don’t think so. Most of that new rental development; it’s at extremely favorable rates. I don’t know exactly what the rates are, but they’d probably be 2% or something like that to allow them to make economic sense to developers. So I don’t see us participating in that type of development because it’s so low margin. It’s only viable because it’s the type of financing that CMAT’s providing.

Rasib Bhanji

Okay. Makes sense. And those are all my questions. Thanks for your time.

Robert Goodall

Okay.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] There are no further questions. Speakers, please proceed.

Robert Goodall

Okay. Thank you for attending the conference call. And for those of you who are shareholders, we thank you for your continuing interest in our company. Have a good day.

Operator

And this concludes today’s conference call. Thank you all for participating. You may now disconnect.

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