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Two REITs Walking a Different Path

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Instead of actually managing and holding real estate, this pair holds mortgages. While the niche is small and can be risky, these pass the test.

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Worried that Congress and the White House will actually do something about the budget for next year? It's possible, and the results would be a combination of higher taxes and some spending cuts. This, of course, is coming at a time when the US economy isn't really firing on all cylinders.

Despite the bump up in gross domestic product for the third quarter to 2.7%, versus 1.3% in the prior quarter, the economy is still sluggish. In fact, it's interesting to note the per-capita GDP rather than just the overall GDP numbers. On a per-person basis, US growth is running at only 0.97%. This might better explain why many Americans aren't feeling all that more productive or successful.

With higher tax bills, all of us will have less to spend and invest, which will put a damper on-if not work to reverse-economic gains.

Then, if we see less spending by the federal government (which is currently making up 23.9% of the domestic economy with just the straight budget and on-balance-sheet expenditures), it wouldn't take too many calculations to see a negative impact on economic growth in the near term with spending cuts.

The Federal Reserve knows this, and has been working overtime to see what it can do on the monetary policy side to offset the potential fiscal changes on top of the rest of the current economic and market challenges.

The Fed has been very busy buying bonds. As fast as the Department of the Treasury issues them, the Fed has been buying. In fact, in just one of its bond-buying sprees working under the title Operation Twist, the Fed has been buying $45 billion of longer-term Treasuries each month-almost as fast as the Treasury has been issuing them.

And while the Fed has been selling short-term bills and notes, the end result has been that the government's debt is getting longer and longer in average maturity, going from 58.1 months to more than 64.4 months in September alone.

The idea has been that if the Fed can keep buying and stacking up all of the Treasury bonds it can get its hands on, interest rates will stay lower, and there will be more easy cash for the financial markets to remain afloat without having to make real reforms in the banks' and other financials' balance sheets.

While we don't have a full accounting and balance sheet release by the Fed, it is understood that it has been spending some $2.5 trillion on this bond buying and money creation. But it gets bigger and better.

Mortgaged to the Moon

The Fed has not only been buying Treasuries, but it has also been buying mortgages and mortgage bonds. The amounts are running nearly as high as what it's been spending on Treasuries, with monthly mortgage buying by the Fed reportedly running at more than $40 billion.

While we don't get to see the whole balance sheet, the total amount spent is supposedly about $1 trillion or more, and climbing quickly each and every month.

The Fed doesn't just buy mortgages; it has and continues to require all banks (both US banks and foreign banks with offices in the United States) and financial institutions to post mortgages as collateral for reserves and loans. Again, we have no idea how big this amount truly might be. But it would safe to assume that it is a large sum.

The result of this buying and lending has been not just to prop up the mortgage market, but to drive it. The mortgage market in the United States is already getting on a better footing. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the number of 90-day (or more) delinquencies, which tends to be a good barometer of pending defaults, continues to fall. And from 2010 to now, the number of delinquencies as a percentage of the overall market is down more than 10.3%.
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