Redwood Trust, Inc. isn’t one of the 30 most popular stocks among hedge funds at the end of the third quarter (see the details here).

Operator: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Redwood Trust, Inc. Fourth Quarter 2023 Financial Results Conference Call. Today’s conference is being recorded. I would now like to turn the call over to Kaitlyn Mauritz, with Investor Relations. Please go ahead, ma’am.

Kaitlyn Mauritz: Thank you, operator. Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us today for our fourth quarter 2023 earnings conference call. With me on today’s call are Chris Abate, Chief Executive Officer; Dash Robinson, President; and Brooke Carillo, Chief Financial Officer. Before we begin, I want to remind you that certain statements made during management’s presentation today with respect to future financial and business performance may constitute forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are based on current expectations, forecasts and assumptions that involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially. We encourage you to read the company’s Annual Report and Form 10-K, which provide description of some of the factors that could have a material impact on the company’s performance and cause actual results to differ from those that may be expressed in forward-looking statements.

On this call, we may also refer to both GAAP and non-GAAP financial measures. The non-GAAP financial measures provided should not be utilized in isolation or considered as a substitute for measures of financial performance prepared in accordance with GAAP. A reconciliation between GAAP and non-GAAP financial measures are provided in our fourth quarter Redwood Review, which is available on our website Also note that the content of today’s conference call contain time sensitive information that are only accurate as of today. And we do not intend and undertake no obligation to update this information to reflect subsequent events or circumstances. Finally, today’s call is being recorded and will be available on our website later today.

I’ll now turn the call over to Chris for opening remarks.

Chris Abate: Thank you, Kait, and thank you all for joining us today for our fourth quarter earnings conference call. As I often do, I’ll begin with some commentary around Redwood’s broader strategy and market positioning for Dash and Brooke cover off on our operating and financial results. In 2023, Redwood entered its 30th year as a public company. We took this milestone as an opportunity to complete a corporate renewal of sorts and to position the firm for the next big housing finance cycle. For the last mile of the outgoing cycle has been stubborn, especially given the early year sell-off in rates. Our goal has never been to perfectly time that trade. Rather, we’re working to ensure that the winds of change in housing finance are squarely at our backs, as market activity begins to pick up and regulatory changes begin to take shape.

Putting it all together, we are on the precipice of several operational and strategic milestones that will help drive our story and our earnings in the decades to come. The big part of last year’s renewal was to strengthen our capital position. This included reoptimizing capital allocated across our business lines and building a significant pool of unallocated excess liquidity to be squarely for offense, as market trends begin to shift. We accomplished this through the completion of a number of financings in the fourth quarter as well as an inaugural unsecured debt offering in the first quarter of 2020. The second facet of our renewal was to boost our operating efficiency. As Brooke will highlight, we achieved our goal of a 5% to 10% expense reduction in 2023, landing on a high end of that range.

In 2024, we have a similarly ambitious goal of further boosting efficiency through scaling our businesses and continued cost reductions. As we mentioned previously, over the course of the last year, we began deemphasizing direct portfolio investing in favor of co-investments in joint venture partnerships with leading private credit institutions. This strategic shift carries with it a number of benefits to our shareholders. First, these ventures are formed with large capital providers, who have long-term strategic allocations to our core product offerings. Second, these joint ventures create a pre-established and reliable takeout for our products that enhances our liquidity and pricing power, ultimately resulting in more predictable revenues and profitability.

This includes not only investment returns, but also recurring fee streams earned in overseeing these joint ventures. Finally, these partnerships help us organically scale our operating platforms at a much faster pace than we could achieve on our own, ultimately strengthening our franchise and supporting further earnings power from our platforms. The establishment of new and accretive joint ventures is not merely an aspiration of ours. After announcing one such arrangement in 2023, we expect to continue forging partnerships with additional light vehicles in the near-term for 2024. When it comes to sourcing the raw materials to feed our joint venture partnerships, we remain optimistic that the prospect of major bank regulatory rule changes coupled with the balance sheet pressures that many depositories already face will compel more of these institutions to partner with Redwood.

This should in turn open a vast big spigot [ph] of loans for our operating platforms that for years went straight to bank portfolios often without the underwriting rigor demanded by the capital markets. Well the proposed Basel endgame regulatory changes continue to receive an onslaught of opposition from paid lobbyists. It does not change the fact that many banks still require additional risk capital for an outside capital partner to prudently manage their asset liability exposures associated with bond duration mortgages. Furthermore, the long predicted stresses now emerging from bank CRE portfolios make the solutions we offer all the more accretive. With this in mind, we see banks looking for solutions and not waiting around for regulations to be finalized.

This is evidenced by the number of banks we are now onboarding and the volume growth we are beginning to see and expect to increase over the course of 2024. This growth is notwithstanding any additional benefit that would come with a sustained decline in mortgage rates. We ended 2023 having secured new or renewed jumbo flow relationships with almost 70 banks. Onboarding new banks can be challenging due to the work stream changes that working with an outside capital partner often requires, but as these value partners make the transition to working with us they’ve been won over by the expertise of our talented team, our speed to close and our seamless execution. As our engagement with banks ramps up, it’s important to note that our commitment to our deep base of non-bank originators has never been stronger.

The message we have is those to all our origination partners for their banks or non-banks is the same. You will operate more safely, reliably and efficiently with a trusted partner in Redwood. Complement our focus on first-lien residential loans, we’ve continued to invest in our new home equity investment platform Aspire. Today, home equity remains the largest untapped market and housing finance. Housing affordability at its lowest level in decades, homeowners continue to look for innovative ways to access the equity in their homes as opposed to moving. Since launching Aspire last year we have grown our operating footprint with plans to extend to as many as 15 states in the coming months. To further address the opportunity we see in home equity.

We also launched a traditional second lien mortgage product to our network in January. Combination of second-lien loans and HGI has resulted in a unique coordinated solution set for our origination partners. Our residential investor loan platform CoreVest is also beginning to benefit from the pullback by banks in anticipation of higher capital requirements for investor loans. As we noted last quarter, we have been advancing negotiations with several banks on partnership opportunities that would allow us to add access to our existing pipelines with an eye towards offering our broad product set and deep capital markets experience. As we think about the year ahead and observe a period of heightened stress for many commercial real estate borrowers.

It’s worth reminding our shareholders that our business remains squarely focused on residential housing finance whether single-family or multifamily focused. All of our assets are mark-to-market through our GAAP income statement offering confidence that our GAAP book value reflects prevailing market conditions. This is important to convey, as industry concerns continued amount over the adequacy and trajectory of C-suite based accounting alternatives. As we take stock of these past 30 years. We’re extremely proud of the role Redwood has played in providing liquidity to parts of the residential housing market not well served by government entities. The long-term support of our shareholders has allowed us to continue pursuing our corporate mission of making quality housing, whether rented around accessible to all American households.

Our business is built upon the belief that the best opportunities are usually found through initiatives that others won’t pursue or trends they perhaps don’t foresee. In fact, we believe that there is no one better positioned to support the changing housing finance landscape in Redwood. We’re excited to share our thoughts what we see as this unique opportunity for our business as well as our current market outlook and corporate strategy at Redwood’s upcoming Investor Day scheduled for March 19th. I’ll now turn the call over to Dash.

Dash Robinson: Thank you, Chris. I will now cover the performance of our businesses before handing it over to Brooke to cover our financial results in more detail. Residential Mortgage Banking continued its strategic momentum notwithstanding a modest quarter-over-quarter reduction in volume driven largely by seasonality. As Chris articulated, even though the timing and substance of the Basel end-game rules will inevitably evolve, bank management teams are prioritizing the ability to distribute 30-year fixed rate mortgage risks as the economics for retaining these loans have changed dramatically given the end of the era of cheap deposits. This takes commitment and time especially in aligning the standards of the capital markets with internal processes and approach.

As such, we’re pleased to be actively engaged profitably with sellers that control an estimated 60% of jumbo market share, including 70% of the largest 20 banks with active mortgage businesses. Overall for the fourth quarter, we launched $1.2 billion of loans at gross margins of 111 basis points, up from 80 basis points in the third quarter and above our historical target range of 75 basis point to 100 basis points. Approximately 25% of the quarter’s volume was bulk activity with both banks and non-banks. Over 55% of the quarter’s total lock volume came from banks, up from 38% in the third quarter. We purchased $1 billion of loans close to 15% through our unique program with depository that allows us to settle loans directly into securitizations, optimizing our capital usage.

We are complementing our bank activity with a continued focus on independent mortgage bankers or IMB’s a critical group of partners whose business models have always centered around distribution to capital partners such as Redwood. All in, we estimate our $2.8 billion of locks in the second half of 2023 to represent approximately 5% of total jumbo market share compared to our historical range of 2% to 3%. While higher interest rates continue to impact overall industry volumes we still believe our strategic progress is just beginning and deepening our partnerships with large market players. As such, we see significant opportunity to deploy further capital into this strategy because we support our banking partners and grow, including through the home equity financing products that Chris highlighted.

Brooke will speak more to this when she covers our outlook for capital deployment. Finally for this segment securitization markets continued to be favorable, and we followed our two fourth quarter Sequoia transactions with two more thus far in 2024 backed by approximately $800 million in loans. Receptivity for these deals has been strong and this execution has supported further momentum and locks, which quarter to-date total of $750 million with continued strong credit characteristics, including 772 average Fico and 72 average LTV at an average gross coupon of 6.96%. As Chris mentioned, the broader pullback by banks is also a potential tailwind for CoreVest. The last few weeks have brought refreshed dialogue around risks in commercial real estate portfolios of banks and other large portfolio lenders.

The fundamental challenges that exist in certain commercial segments have driven many traditional lenders to the sidelines, opening up a potentially attractive client funnel for our platform once lending conditions normalize. CoreVest continues to prioritize lending strategies backed by single-family and small-balance multifamily properties, the latter typically 20 units or less. Reduced demand from sponsors amid persistently high rates cause quarterly fundings to drop 17% from the third quarter to $343 million. Term loan funding volumes increased 10% however, and we continue to commit capital to our Single Asset Bridge or SAB platform and further develop other bridge product offerings. Notwithstanding the fact that rates remain elevated, we see runway to grow term production including in the potential to refinance portions of our bridge book as sponsors work towards stabilization.

We continue to see several areas of heightened interest from real estate investors. After launching our debt service coverage ratio or DSCR loan product in the third quarter, we saw a 20% increase in fundings in the fourth quarter for these loans, alongside a 30% quarter-over-quarter increase in SAB production. As was the case in Q3, CoreVest were also engaged around our renovate to rent and built around products including aggregation lines, typically the Dominion of banks that support lease-up strategies one certificates of occupancy are procured. Our investor loan products continue to attract retention from Capital Partners. We distributed $111 million of loans through whole loan sales and sales to the joint venture that we closed in mid-2023.

Our fourth quarter bridge loan securitization was also a significant achievement and that it allowed for increased capacity to finance our various loan types. Flexibility, we expect to be valuable over the next 24 months as lending conditions evolve. Turning to our investment portfolio. Our activities since the end of the third quarter reflect progress in the evolution of our capital deployment thesis, including active portfolio management to recycle valuable capital and manage risk. Over the past several quarters, we have spoken regularly of the significant value embedded in our broader investment portfolio. This includes the net discount to face value within our books and relatedly our ability to harvest additional capital given low levels of leverage and continued strong credit performance.

The fourth quarter brought meaningful progress on this front, as we completed three securitizations out of our investment portfolio. These transactions included a resecuritization of our reperforming loan book, our first rated securitizations backed by home equity investments and a $250 million revolving transaction backed by bridge loans. We have also continued to optimize our portfolio mix through the continued sale of non-strategic assets. Credit performance within our portfolio remained strong overall. As Chris emphasized, our portfolio is back squarely by residential credit. Much of it seasoned and created organically through our operating platforms with over 85% of our overall capital underpinned by single-family housing. Our RPL, jumbo and single-family rental loan portfolios all saw stability or declines in 90-day plus delinquencies since the third quarter as borrowers remain motivated to preserve the equity in their homes and protect their advantageous interest rates.

Performance in our single-family bridge portfolio, which now represents close to 60% of the overall bridge book, has remained resilient. Our SAB portfolio, an area of anticipated growth continues to pay down as expected and we are replenishing our revolving bridge securitizations predominantly with new SAP production. Additionally, sponsors continued progress with build for rent projects, many of which are now in the lease-up phase. As we highlighted in last quarter’s earnings call, the multifamily bridge portfolio remains a key focus area as borrowers grappled with the prospect of an extended period of higher rates. This portfolio largely financial sponsors seeking to do modest amounts of improvement to the property, drive rents, and either sell or refinance.

Loans were originally underwritten with average debt yields close to 9% and are underpinned by units fetching around $1,000 per month or less in length. A portion of the market less exposed to the upcoming delivery pipeline. While fundamentals behind these strategies, notably occupancy rates and equity in the properties remained strong, 90 plus day delinquencies have increased, driven largely by sponsors facing increased costs who lack the resources to bring the project to stabilization. This creates opportunity for fresh capital that we believe is supportive of ultimate recovery to our loan. The book remains actively managed and for approximately 30% of the portfolio, we have seen sponsors inject fresh equity or perform under recast terms and we estimate an incremental 20% of the multifamily bridge book qualifies for a term refinance today.

And with that, I will turn the call over to Brooke.

Brooke Carillo: Thank you, Dash. We report a GAAP net income of $19.3 million for the fourth quarter or $0.15 per common share compared to negative $32.6 million or negative $0.29 in the third quarter, resulting in a fourth quarter GAAP return on equity of 7.3%. The significant quarter-over-quarter increase in GAAP earnings was largely driven by $15 million of positive investment fair value changes compared to negative $42 million in the third quarter. This reflected the impact of declining rates and spread tightening on our investment portfolio, coupled with continued strong underlying performance of our residential consumer assets. Net interest income or NII was essentially flat this quarter as a modest improvement in bridge NII was offset by lower portfolio NII from securities sold and higher interest expense on new financing activities.

As we said in the third quarter, we still anticipate recovering a portion of the associated interest with bridge non-accrual loans. Overall NII is expected to trend higher beginning in the first quarter. While GAAP earnings improved in the fourth quarter, the net effects of the common dividend and equity issuance cost book value per share to decline 1.5% from the third quarter to $8.64. Importantly, we achieved a positive total economic return of 0.3% for the fourth quarter. Earnings available for distribution, or EAD, was $7.1 million or $0.05 per basic common share for the fourth quarter as compared to $12.6 million or $0.10 per share in the third quarter. The decrease in EAD was primarily due to lower income from mortgage banking activities on the quarter.

Income from residential consumer and mortgage banking activities decreased slightly in Q4 as the effects of seasonal factors on jumbo lock volumes were somewhat offset by a 31 basis point improvement in margins. Income from residential investor mortgage banking activities decreased from the third quarter as bridge fundings were lighter and spreads on term loans normalize compared to the third quarter were spread tightening benefited loan inventory. Note that in the fourth quarter of 2023 we evolved the calculation of EAD, removing the previously presented line item titled change in economic bases of investments. Additionally, we changed the presentation of our income statement at ATI income net, which was $11.7 million this quarter and was previously captured within investment fair value changes net line item.

Income associated with ATI is attributable both to embedded accretion from underlying options on home and periodic fluctuations in value from factors like home price appreciation and is all captured in our non-GAAP EAD measure. As previously discussed, we’ve continued to fortify our balance sheet and build our liquidity. Our unrestricted cash and cash equivalents as of December 31st were $293 million, which increased to $396 million at the end of last week. This represents a cash position that is $190 million higher since the end of the third quarter. On last quarter’s call, we pointed to the low recourse leverage we carry in the investment portfolio and the opportunities that afford us to raise organic capital. Our securitizations during the fourth quarter underscored our ability to capitalize on that dynamic.

And we ultimately generated $125 million of capital from those financings, as well as the two new BPL lines that we established in the fourth quarter, which gave us additional flexible capacity. Importantly, the term financing activities from our securitizations allowed us both to reduce our marginable securities repo and our allocation to third-party portfolio assets while preserving investments on balance sheet that represents the majority of our $2.68 of portfolio discount. As a result of all activities on the quarter, we reported total recourse leverage of 2.2x, down slightly from the third quarter. Importantly, recourse leverage in our investment portfolio decreased from the third quarter and was 0.9x at year end. At December 31st, we had excess warehouse financing capacity of $2.1 billion, which we’ve since grown to $2.6 billion to date.

We expect to increase our capacity further to support the continued growth of our operating businesses. In addition to our existing cash position, we have approximately $318 million of unencumbered assets today that remain a continued potential source of capital, which can serve both to fuel growth of our mortgage-banking businesses or continue to repurchase corporate debt across our term structure. We have delivered our capital structure through accretive convertible debt repurchases, as well as the organic capital created and common equity issued through our ATM program. From the beginning of 2023 through today, we have retired over $200 million of convertible debt, reducing our amount of convertible debt outstanding by approximately 30%.

We are also taking advantage of the opportunities that we see in front of us today in mortgage banking. As such, during the fourth quarter, we viewed the opportunity to raise common equity as a value-accretive strategy given the blended mid-teens deployment returns we see today. In light of the growing opportunity for residential consumer mortgage banking, we increased the capital allocated to this segment by $150 million since the first quarter of 2023, which we expect could grow another $50 to $75 million in the near to medium term. The decision to raise capital for this opportunity comes with a significant focus on the anticipated earnings accretion and future book value growth these earnings should create for our taxable subsidiary. We began last year by guiding the market that we would lower general and administrative or G&A expenses by 5% to 10% from 2022.

While G&A increased quarter-over-quarter, primarily as variable and long-term incentive compensation increased commensurate with the improvement in quarterly GAAP earnings, we ended 2023 with 128 million of G&A, which represents a 9% reduction year-over-year. We remain committed to controlling operating expenses to achieve further cost savings of another 5% to 10% this year and sustain profitability while balancing strategic long-term opportunities. Looking ahead, we feel confident about our strategic positioning given our excess capital. We look to continue opportunistic deployment of capital into products with attractive return profiles that are complementary to our mortgage banking businesses to support the dividends while we transition to a more capital-like model and mortgage banking returns crystallize at scale.

And with that, operator, we will now open the call for questions.

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