Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mortgage Insurance Part 4: The Dangers of Number Blindness

Since I already purchased both RDN and MTG based on some of the analysis I've written about in previous posts on mortgage insurance, I'm soon going to turn my attention to other opportunities.  Before I do, however, I wanted to write a final piece on mortgage insurance because it illustrates the divide between two approaches to investing.  Namely, the tension between a numbers-based approach and an approach based on a realpolitick assessment of the state of the world and a particular industry.

Oliver Davies has done some nice analysis on Seeking Alpha, which concludes that RDN is at risk of insolvency and is certainly a much riskier investment than MTG, due to slow-paying claims and inadequate reserving (among other factors).  See here for Mr. Davies' summary of his thoughtful research:

A comment to this article illustrates the divide of perspectives that I mentioned, however:

"So right. Radian has made it through the housing crisis and out the other side. Now that real estate and all tangential markets are improving, the Fed will definitely question their reserve assumptions and try to close them down. What better way to usher in the housing recovery everyone is waiting for than taking down one of the premier MI issuers. Sheer genius.

P.S. I'm sure Fannie Mae almost hired S.A. Ibrahim a couple of months ago because they detested his MI practice. You are definitely onto something here. Have you proposed this to Fox News yet?"

This comment's tone is unfortunately typical of  many comments on Seeking Alpha but, I must say, despite its tone and lack of deep numerical analysis, I side with the commenter and not Mr. Davies.  The federal government wants to keep private mortgage insurers in business and the fact that Radian has survived this long suggests to me that they are going to survive longer.  Mr. Ibrahim's apparently cordial relationship with the Fed is just icing here.

Thus, an investor must be careful about being blinded by the numbers, particularly in certain industries.  Let me put it another way:  if you've lived through the last 4 years in this country, do you still believe that a company's reported numbers can reliably determine that company's chances of survival -- particularly when that company is a financial institution or insurer?    

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