First National Financial Corporation (FN) Q4 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

First National Financial Corporation  (NYSE: FN) Q4 2021 earnings call dated Mar. 02, 2022

Corporate Participants:

Stephen Smith — Executive Chairman & Co-Founder

Robert Inglis — Chief Financial Officer

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

Analysts:

Nik Priebe — CIBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Graham Ryding — TD Securities — Analyst

Jaeme Gloyn — National Bank Financial — Analyst

Etienne Ricard — BMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Geoff Kwan — RBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Presentation:

Operator

Good morning, and welcome to First National’s Fourth Quarter Analyst Call. This call is being recorded on Wednesday, March 2, 2022 [Operator Instructions]

Now it’s my pleasure to turn the call over to Stephen Smith, Executive Chairman of the Board of First National. Please go ahead, sir.

Stephen Smith — Executive Chairman & Co-Founder

Thank you, Operator. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our call and thank you for participating.

Before we begin, I’ll remind you that our remarks and answers may contain forward-looking information about future events or the Company’s future performance. This information is subject to risks and uncertainties and should be considered in conjunction with the risk factors detailed in our MD&A.

Joining me today are Jason Ellis, our President and Chief Executive Officer and Rob Inglis, Chief Financial Officer. As you all know, Jason succeeds me in the role of CEO in January if I become the Company’s Executive Chairman. At that time, Jason also joined our Board of Directors. This time the natural succession sets us up well for the future. Jason is a proven leader whose experience with First National began in 2004, most recently served our President and Chief Operating Officer with broad operational responsibilities. Jason is well known among our business partners, well respected by his colleagues and will maintain First National’s long-term focus on providing comparative mortgage products and good service supported by enabling technology. I look forward to working with Jason closely in my new role.

Now on to annual and quarterly business. We finished the year with a record MUA of CAD123.9 billion, 4% higher than 2020. Change of CAD5.2 billion is large and represents new investments in a sizable number of single family homes, multi unit and commercial properties across Canada. We never forget that we’re lending to homeowners across the country, and our service level to brokers and borrowers alike are important to us. Like other lenders, we’ve been challenged by the furious pace of demand over the past 18 months, but our single family and commercial teams have worked very hard to convert opportunity into business and they have done just that, as First National set new annual production records in 2021. In this regard 2021 did not turn out entirely as expected.

A year ago on this call, we told you that residential originations would be at least in line with the record set in 2020 as the combination of built in advantage over traditional bank origination channels and the simulative effect of lower interest rates brings more business our way, and the originations were more than just in line. For all of 2021, single family originations grew 22% over 2020s record to land at CAD23.4 billion, while commercial origination was 7% higher at CAD9.7 billion, also setting a new record. That said, we started to see the toward pace of home buying moderate a bit in the fourth quarter after the extremes of 2020.

As you may recall, the impact of resurgence economy ignited demand for credit and effectively eliminated the normal market seasonality in Q4 of last year. We knew demand at these exporting levels would be temporary and advice of such in the last analyst call, when we offer a residential origination might be as much as 25% below Q4 2020s elevated levels. In reality 2021 Q4 single family production was lower by 10%. So a better outcome than we expected but a demonstration of the market slowing down nonetheless.

For commercial segment, fourth quarter originations of CAD3 billion were 12% higher than a year ago. We expected them to be strong but with an incredible push in the month of December, which we’re able to surpass CAD3 billion advanced in a single quarter, a new high watermark. Demand for conventional mortgages picked up in this augmented already strong insurance volumes. Markets renewal volumes in both segments were as expected.

Single Family renewals were 1.5 billion in Q4, 10% lower than a year ago, reflecting lower available renewal opportunities and decisions by borrowers to refinance rather than renew to take advantage of the low interest rate environment. Commercial renewals were CAD902 million 62% higher than a year ago. Overall, we put more business on the books in 2021 and it was solidly profitable, but not as profitable as the mortgages in 2020, when spreads were exceptionally wide, because of economic uncertainty at the time the early stages of the pandemic and also reduce competition.

Going from a year of exceptionally wide spreads to a year when strong competition meant spreads tightened to the narrowest, they’ve been in about 14 years and reduced operating profit as measured by pre fair market value income. Regardless, 2021 earnings were more than sufficient to support the common share dividend, which we increased last June to an annualized rate of CAD2.35 per share. As you know, we also paid a special dividend of CAD1.25 in December — our fifth special in the past five years. All in First National deferred CAD210.9 million in common share dividends or CAD3.52 per share inclusive of this session. That represents a growth rate of 42% from 2020.

We’re proud to note that with steady business growth year after year, First National has increased common share dividends 14 times since our IPO. Rewarding those, we purchased shares at the beginning in 2006 with a cumulative total of CAD1.6 billion of dividends and distributions of CAD29.32 per share. And people will recall that the issue price was CAD10. Inclusive of share appreciation, total cumulative return to IPO investors was 609% from 2006 to the end of 2021.

Once thinking about our dividend ratios, or typically when those gains and losses and account changes in fair value of financial instruments, these gains and losses are reflected in the current bond market and are not indicative of what we consider core earnings which are distributable to shareholders. Without these changes and the special dividend, our core payout ratio for all of 2021 was 85% compared to 50% in 2020. Our business model is sufficient. This is clearly demonstrated in the measurement of the company’s after tax, pre fair market value return on shareholders’ equity, which was a healthy 39% in 2021.

I’ll now ask Rob to give his financial report before Jason reviews our outlook. Rob?

Robert Inglis — Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Stephen and good morning, everyone.

As you just heard the final half of 2021 reflected what we consider a reset for the market extremes of 2020. This is not only effective mortgage volumes but also mortgage spreads. Together with our decision to increase securitization to drive future net interest margin, this muted the positive impact of MUA growth on revenue and profitability metrics. Looking deeper, 2021 growth MUA was 4% year-over-year while revenue was up 1% to a new record of CAD1.39 billion. This growth was achieved on higher origination in spite of accelerated single family mortgage prepayment activity, which affected both profitability of securitization and the overall MUA.

In the interest of time and because this is our quarterly call, I will now speak specifically to Q4 results. Beginning with MUA, it grew at 5% annualized in the quarter while revenue was down about 12% or CAD48 million to CAD339 million. There are a few moving parts of the story and I’ll start with the largest one. We responded to the market environment by shifting volumes to our securitization programs, which will benefit First National in future periods by really penalize 2020 results, particularly in Q4. Q4 placement fees decreased 32% or about CAD32 million. This is largely a function of slower residential origination in the quarter and the company’s decision to securitize more of its insured commercial segment volumes.

Overall residential origination volume was down comparing fourth quarters by about 12% and the portion of this sold institutions was lower by about 19%. As spreads returned to pre pandemic levels, mortgage volumes sold on a funded basis attracted lower per unit placement fees and overall residential placement fees were lower by about 30%. For our commercial segment like the previous quarters in 2021, we shifted the most profitable form of commercial origination that is the 10-year term insure mortgages from institutional placement to securitization. In the fourth quarter, the company allocated about CAD200 million more of its 10-year insured origination to securitization than they did in 2020. This shift represented about CAD8.5 million change year-over-year in placement fees for this segment. The shift was driven by a CMHC program that increased the CMB allocation for issuers who lend 10-year money to support CMHC’s affordability mandate.

First National’s volume in this area were strong, we’d like to securitize a large percentage of this product to create future margin for our securitization program at the expense of one time placement fees. While painful in the short run, this strategy creates value for First National in the form of income over the next 10 years. A good trade off for a business that has an advantage for the long-term. The company decided to use the enhanced CMB allocation to its fullest as CMH programs are always subject to change. The fourth quarter gains on deferred placement fee revenue or 65% or CAD5.7 million lower than the prior year. Again, the result of narrower spreads and our decision to directly securitize more of our multi unit mortgage origination. There were partial offsets to these declines.

Mortgage investment income was up 14% year-over-year in Q4 or by about CAD2.2 million as we held more mortgages on our balance sheet prior to securitization and earn more interest revenue. In addition, we experienced a 7% year-over-year growth in mortgage servicing income in the quarter, an increase of CAD3.4 million. This reflected administration revenue from growth in MUA and third-party underwriting. While positive the pace of growth was lower compared to earlier quarters, another sign of the market moderation after the extremes of 2020. From revenue we move now to expenses. Year-over-year broker fees decreased by 13% in Q4 reflecting lower origination for third-party investors as I noted before in discussing placement fees. On a per unit basis, broker fee expenses were marginally higher, particularly as company paid on a royalty based rewards reflect to the entire 2021 record year.

Our expense base was also higher in 2021 than in 2020 on increase in staffing. Frankly, we were understaffed in 2020, having not anticipated there’s just substantial and abrupt increase in mortgage demand. First National residential and commercial teams worked a lot of extra hours to get through the increased workload, but this was not sustainable for our people. Accordingly, in 2021, we built up the capacity to hand the higher volumes with a 30% increase in FTE, primarily within residential underwriting departments, our own and for our third-party business. With higher headcount, year-over-year salary and benefit expenses increased 21% in the quarter. This included commercial underwriting compensation, which is tied to volumes. However, these wages grew in similar fashion by about 20%. This is generally all of salaries and benefits increased by this rate across the whole company. Q4 interest expense was CAD13.3 million compared to about CAD10.3 million a year ago due to increased use of our loan facilities to fund the mortgage cumulative prioritization.

Moving on, Q4 pre fare market value income of CAD57.2 million was 40% lower year-over-year reflecting revenue expense drivers. We remain solidly profitable as we have since the year of the IPO. Q4 net income was CAD42 million, or CAD0.69 per share. For all of 2021 First National earned CAD194.6 million or about CAD3.20 per share. One final item of note and that is our capital expenditures. First National reinvest each year in our leading technology as well as our office space. Typically our annual capital expenditures are in the neighborhood of CAD7 million, but in 2021 they increased to CAD32 million as we moved our Toronto office. First National’s new Head Office consists of over 130,000 square feet at 16 York Street in Toronto. The building was designed to exceed lead platinum and well building institute guidelines for governmental and workplaces excellence, and we’ll accommodate our needs for years to come. With that expenditure behind us, you can expect capital expenditures to return to traditional levels in 2022.

Now over to Jason.

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Rob, and thank you, Steven, for your kind words of introduction earlier.

I’m honored to have the opportunity to leave First National and very grateful to Stephen for having served as a mentor. I’m glad I can still look to his counsel as First National’s Executive Chairman. Stephen and Laurie built a great team and an effective business model. I think we can continue to leverage those fundamentals and accomplish what they achieved in the past, continuous improvement and performance that rewards all stakeholders. As you heard, the last two quarters of 2021 represented a reset from the extremes we experienced in 2020.

As we look ahead to 2022 despite starting the first quarter with another COVID lockdown, there has been considerable momentum in the economy. We know that the Bank of Canada increased the overnight rate 25 basis points just as our conference call started today, with strong inflationary forces at play, market are signaling multiple rate hikes this year, which is a further signal of a return to a more normal economic condition. With new mortgages locked in at historically low rates and interest rates likely to rise over the next 12 months, it is unlikely First National will see the kind of mortgage prepayment activity we experienced last year, which was a headwind for 2021 profitability.

Turning to our immediate business outlook. We expect Q1 residential production will be lower than last year’s first quarter itself and exceptionally strong period when originations were almost CAD4.4 billion. We base this expectation on signs of slowing origination as housing inventories fall and mortgage rates rise, but also just the fact that Q1 last year was so unusually active. Based on our pipeline, we expect commercial origination to remain strong in 2022, but as always, volumes will vary by quarter. It’s important to remember that we are resetting to the norm, not to a depressed state. According to the last Bank of Canada forecast, GDP is expected to grow around 4% this year and 3.5% next year. We will also see the positive influences of immigration on the types of housing we finance. And for the long-term, the demand supply imbalance and housing stock will most definitely require more capital for construction, another activity First National finance.

Our priorities in this new normal environment begin with offering a full range of mortgage solutions for customers across both business lines. This year sets up well as we launched the CMHC MLI select product this month in our commercial division. This is a new way of financing much needed affordable housing. In residential work will continue in promoting our Excalibur product, including in Western Canada with subject of our expansion in 2021. These and other activities will feed into our priorities, which is to grow MUA, the source of most of our earnings.

To do this, we are very focused on providing great service to our mortgage broker partners and our customers as they shop the competitive markets for mortgages. It’s not possible to predict competitive intensity, but we know borrowers always have a choice, this is why service is critically important. True to past practice, we will continue to invest in our technology to enhance service on both sides of our business and wherever possible improve efficiency. This year, we’re going to automate additional aspects of residential administration, and we’re working on a new servicing portal for commercial borrowers. As always, we will maintain a conservative risk profile, investing in the most credit worthy mortgages in the country.

In summary, we believe our decisions in 2021 positions First National for long-term success. We added almost 370,000 talented people to support our business volumes and sustain our reputation for good customer service. We sacrificed immediate commercial segment placement fees but created 10 years of future securitization net interest margin by electing to securitize about CAD2 billion of 10-year multi unit residential mortgages. That’s about a billion dollars more than in 2020. Of course, by growing our mortgages under administration in 2021, we can look forward to generating income and cash flows from our now CAD33 billion portfolio of mortgages pledged under securitization and CAD88 billion servicing portfolio. I’ll conclude with a thank you to all First National employees for their hard work in 2021, our mortgage broker partners for their business during these unusual times, and our clients for their continued trust.

That concludes our formal remarks and now we will be pleased to take your questions. Operator, over to you.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you, sir. [Operator Instructions] And your first question will be from Nik Priebe at CIBC Capital Markets. Please go ahead.

Nik Priebe — CIBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Yeah. Okay, thanks. I was just trying to square the tighter mortgage spread environment with the higher net interest margin achieved on the securitization portfolio in Q4. It looks like net interest income was up something like over 10% sequentially despite securitized mortgage principle being virtually flat. Was there anything unique driving that margin expansion in the quarter?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

No, I noticed in some of the notes that you guys posted yesterday evening after our earnings announcement, that that was in fact the case sequentially, I guess as a measurement of NIM over the securitized mortgages. I would say that there’s a CAD33 billion portfolio and I guess, it just may be that there may have been some older pools running off combined with whatever was going on. I have to look at it more closely. I’d say though very clearly the trend is current margins between mortgage coupons and NHA-MBS coupons are compressed relative to both the entire book and what we would have seen historically over time. So I will look a little bit more closely at that but I would say the trend is likely to see a tightening in the overall NIM on the securitization book if the prevailing spread market prevails.

Nik Priebe — CIBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Understood. Okay. And then, on the expense side, I think you had alluded in your prepared remarks to the growth in salaries and benefits expense. Given the investment, the pretty substantial investment meeting your team over the past year, do you expect the pace of hiring to taper as we enter 2022?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

Most definitely. I’d say that over the course of the pandemic, we have definitely been chasing full employment. As I’m sure you’re aware, it’s a very tight labor market generally. And in particular, I think in the mortgage industry, as all of our competitors have been growing at quite quick paces and been hiring quite aggressively. But the answer the question, yes, I think that we definitely should see a moderation. We’ve surrendered in the near-term a little bit of operational leverage. But I think once we get settled into our new — and all of our new employees become increasingly effective, that we should be able to claw back some of that operational leverage we’ve enjoyed over the years.

Nik Priebe — CIBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay. And then just one follow-up to that. In the fourth quarter, I think the expenses close to CAD50 million. Was there anything one time in nature Q4 or is that like true ups with respect to year-end bonuses or is that a pretty good run rate for 2022?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

I’ll let Rob address that one but I think there may be a little bit of an extra bump in the fourth quarter with year-end true ups.

Robert Inglis — Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. We paid, Jason, too much money and that reflected badly on you know. There will be — probably that exceeds our accrual for sure, but not a lot like we’re pretty good at accruing those monies. So I think it’s just, typically run rates. I think we really ramped up a lot of our operations, a lot of hiring over the course of the fall. The biggest number there always is the commercial underwriting team, and they had a record quarter, they had 3 billion of origination. So they’re going to be paid a lot of commission in that quarter. So that that probably is another reason why it’s higher. So it makes a little bit higher than the typical run rate to be honest.

Nik Priebe — CIBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay, all right, thanks very much. That’s it for me.

Operator

Thank you. Next question will be from Graham Ryding at TD Securities. Please go ahead.

Graham Ryding — TD Securities — Analyst

Hi, good morning. Looking at your securitization volumes for the year, I think it was up year-over-year and partly due to that increased CMB access around the affordability like commercial real estate. So I’m just wondering, should we expect that I guess portion of your business to increase develop, like sustainable and is CAD13 billion roughly, like is that a reasonable outlook for securitization volumes in terms of capacity?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

Hey Graham, I think it’s fair to say that we are definitely mature users of CMHC’s securitization programs, and our expectation would be to leverage those programs to their fullest extent. As you indicate, the allocation protocol for the 10 years CMD program does afford preferred allocation for affordable multifamily pools, which fortunately First National is an area of expertise. We’re probably are most certainly the market leader in originating that type of product. So I expect that, yes, we would fully leverage the traditional CAD9 billion limit of total MBS allocation. And on top of that, additional affordable pools, which do not count against the CAD9 billion limit, I think somewhere in the context of CAD12 billion is a reasonable expectation in terms of total issuance.

Graham Ryding — TD Securities — Analyst

Okay. Great. And does that include any of the other securitization activity that you do outside of the CMB and the NHA MBS, a CAD12 billion?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. That will include amounts into ABCP conduits. But those balances tend to go up relatively. I mean, I guess, net or total amount sold in. Are you thinking about net or total amount?

Graham Ryding — TD Securities — Analyst

Total amount.

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

Total amount. Yes. So I would say CAD12 billion to CAD13 billion total securitization activity for the year, Rob?

Robert Inglis — Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. I think we’ve really maximized the capacity in 2021. So hopefully, the 2022 is the same thing.

Graham Ryding — TD Securities — Analyst

Got it. Okay, that’s helpful. So obviously, it sounds like you’re anticipating or you’re seeing some slowdown in single-family originations on the back of higher interest and mortgage rates what sort of decline in activity are you seeing so far in 2022 year-to-date?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

Well, we’re definitely seeing some moderation in the commitment pipeline. I wouldn’t characterize it as a material shift, but definitely seeing some slowing. But what we do — what I would say is that as prices continue to rise in terms of dollar value, I would say, less of a change year-over-year than there is in unit transactions. But I would say single-digit kind of changes year-over-year, percentage-wise.

Graham Ryding — TD Securities — Analyst

Okay. And then my last question, just on mortgage spreads. Your commentary indicates that it was obviously quite tight in Q4 2021, but we’re now obviously in an environment of higher volatility and uncertainty in the markets. Could this actually be a positive for your mortgage spreads overall?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

I guess traditionally, we’ve seen volatility in the market result in higher mortgage coupons relative to other fixed income benchmarks. We haven’t — I got what we’ve seen rates move up in the mortgage market a couple of times in the last couple of weeks, against the backdrop where we’ve seen actually a bit of a retreat in the risk-free rate in the form of 5-year government of Canada bonds. So I guess in the very, very recent past, there has been a little bit of a widening, but we also see the spread on NHA MBS pools widening over the same time. So I don’t know yet whether or not we’re going to see the kind of wide spreads we enjoyed, say, post something like the global financial crisis. The reality is, I think as we come out of COVID, there’s still a tremendous amount of liquidity and capital in the financial space, which I think will still keep lenders relatively aggressive in terms of their mortgage coupons. So I guess if it’s not too short for a short answer or too late for a short answer, I think these things are going to — if I to guess balance each other out, I don’t anticipate any significant widening on the backdrop of any volatility.

Stephen Smith — Executive Chairman & Co-Founder

I’ve never found any particular luck in trying to predict where mortgage spreads go. I mean it tends to be — I think just in general, the — when there’s a lot of liquidity around, they tend to be tight when there’s a lot of competition from the D-SIBs, which they all have big balance sheets and lots of money. They tends to be competitive. And I think that’s what we’re seeing now probably see it for a while.

Graham Ryding — TD Securities — Analyst

Okay, understood. Are you seeing the banks as they reopen their branches? Are you seeing them take back any market share within the mortgage broker channel or otherwise?

Stephen Smith — Executive Chairman & Co-Founder

Well, I think they recovered a lot more quickly at the branch level, just generally for the mortgage sales force. I wouldn’t say there’s a shift in or out of the mortgage broker channel. I mean our model typically is we just put on volume so that when we do get wider spreads, it’s very operationally efficient right to the bottom line. So in many ways, what we’re doing, we’re seeing stronger volumes, stronger MUA, stronger commercial that will start to support the income over time. Certainly doing the securitization where we take the income over time is good for the long-term health of the company.

Graham Ryding — TD Securities — Analyst

Okay. That’s it from me. Thank you.

Stephen Smith — Executive Chairman & Co-Founder

Thanks, Graham.

Operator

Next question will be from Jaeme Gloyn at National Bank Financial. Please go ahead.

Jaeme Gloyn — National Bank Financial — Analyst

Yes, thanks. So first question, similar vein is the last one from Graham. Just in terms of the Canadian national resale market, it seems like dollar value of home sales is still positive year-over-year over the last few months, which should indicate that originations remain strong. So they’re kind of flat to maybe down as the way I’m interpreting your guidance. Does that suggest there’s some market share give back? Or is there some mix impacts that we’re not seeing beneath the surface when you get this outlook for Q1 ’22?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I mean I guess the macro picture in terms of mortgage broker channel share of the overall market, it’s tough to say. There’s not a lot of really clear visibility on that, but I don’t think that I’m seeing any material change in the broker share of the overall market. In terms of first national share within the broker channel don’t anticipate any deterioration in that this year. I will concede that in 2020 for a couple of quarters, we had remarkable share, probably sort of a short peak, the highest we had seen in a long, long time, and that has returned to normal, but that has happened gradually over the last 4 quarters to 6 quarters. So I don’t anticipate any material change in our share in the channel or the broker channel in the entire market.

Jaeme Gloyn — National Bank Financial — Analyst

Okay, fair enough. Shifting to the commercial outlook. And I just want to dig into the commentary that the growth still looks robust given the pipeline. So when we think about the commercial book originations in multi-unit and commercial was just under CAD10 billion, would that outlook be more near term for like Q1, Q2, where we maybe had some softer numbers in the multiunit commercial space in Q1 ’21? Or does that sort of apply to the full year and running off this really strong Q4 print in the commercial book for originations?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

I’d say that we are probably expecting at the best of our ability to predict it a relatively comparable year in commercial originations. Obviously, like you indicated, came off a very strong fourth quarter. But as we indicated in the comments, the pipeline is robust, and there’s nothing to suggest that we would have any material change in that. Quarters can vary, though, especially with the commercial mortgages, where large deals can sort of swing principal volumes from one quarter to the next. But generally speaking, I’d say that year-over-year should not be materially different.

Jaeme Gloyn — National Bank Financial — Analyst

Okay, great, thank you. Going back to single family. Just want to get a sense as to how refinance activity has trended recently, especially as we’re starting to see mortgage rates back up. Is there — is that refinance activity still high as maybe some borrowers are pulling forward some of their decision-making to get ahead of rising rates? Or what are you seeing in terms of that trend? And how do you expect it to flow through in ’22?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. So I would say, over the last couple of weeks, we’ve probably seen the tail end of that as we’ve had a couple of announcements of fixed rates going up. We’ve seen a rush in terms of pre-approval volumes and things like that as borrowers look to get in and refinance existing properties. But I would say as we move through 2022, the incident of refinance, the advantage of refinancing to borrowers will lessen and I think that, that will have a favorable impact on First National in terms of a reduced prepayment speed on the existing portfolio. I view that generally speaking, all else being equal, is a bit of a tailwind for 2022. So as rates do go up, I do expect to see prepayment speeds lower, which means less deterioration of our principal in our securitization pools, which should be supportive for NIM and create more renewal opportunities as mortgages come up for maturity. So I would say, generally speaking, prepayment speed is lower, which is constructive for us.

Jaeme Gloyn — National Bank Financial — Analyst

Okay, great. Last theme, if I may. As I look at placement fee revenues as a percentage of mortgages originated and sold to institutional investors, but 10, 11 basis point step down quarter-over-quarter. I would assume some mix is driving that as commercial was less of a component of mortgages sold. But maybe you can frame this quarter’s performance in terms of the forward guidance or any outlook? Is this a quarter that’s reflective of what we should expect going forward? Obviously, this can move around quite a bit. But how would you characterize this quarter relative to a normal quarter?

Robert Inglis — Chief Financial Officer

Jaeme, it’s Rob. I’ll take that a little bit. So in 2020, we had a huge write-off in the first quarter on hedging because we had a pipeline that government count of bonds went down. So when we sold those mortgages that actually did close from those commitments in Q4, let’s say, there was huge placement fees on that stuff. We’ve written off sort of the bad stuff, and it was — the par was low when we sort of made extremely large gains there. In 2021, it’s almost the opposite. Spreads tightened in, those mortgages that we had to place on a capital markets basis, we’re that much tighter. So when you compare those 2 quarters, I think else what you’re seeing is that margin compression and a little bit was the commercial side, we’re securitizing everything that we do. That’s a 10-year pretty well. So less commercial at a tighter spread will place a fee will make it actually a little bit better. But basically, I think it’s that sort of capital markets change from 2020, 2021, you see.

Jaeme Gloyn — National Bank Financial — Analyst

Okay, thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] And your next question will be from Etienne Ricard at BMO Capital Markets. Please go ahead.

Etienne Ricard — BMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Thank you and good morning. On securitization margins, what benefits are you expecting relative to Q4 levels as prepayment indemnities normalize in the rising mortgage environment?

Stephen Smith — Executive Chairman & Co-Founder

I think we’re going to benefit by three ways as prepayment speeds slow in. First, as I mentioned a moment ago, obviously, principal balances will be more stable, and the amount securitized will grow along with originations and more of a lock step as we might expect. So obviously, higher principal will result in higher NIM. Secondly, through 2020 and periods of 2021, we did go through periods where the indemnity prepayment penalty payable to the MBS investor was, in fact, higher than the prepayment penalty received from the borrower on the mortgages, which created an additional drag on NIM. And finally, because of the exceptionally high prepayment speeds, the principal paying out faster than modeled, Rob was required to reverse some of the capitalized acquisition expenses associated with those securitized mortgages, which created a third drag on NIM. So while I probably will stop short of trying to put a dollar value on those things now as prepayment speeds normalize, I think that it will definitely be, all else being equal, a meaningful tailwind to NIM over the course of 2022.

Etienne Ricard — BMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay, great. On Excalibur, could you provide an update on the rollout of this program? And should we think about Excalibur in the CAD1 billion to CAD3 billion range in terms of the origination activity?

Stephen Smith — Executive Chairman & Co-Founder

Yeah. So Excalibur continues to be a tremendous success. As I mentioned in my comments, we did expand out to Vancouver this year, and we’ll continue to cautiously add other geographic locations as we can. I would say that it is definitely growing. Our Excalibur program grew. Rob, do we have a sense of sort of the growth of Excalibur year-over-year, perhaps as much as.

Robert Inglis — Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. It was sort of like maybe not 100% growth, doubling, but in that sort of magnitude, really, really great growth.

Stephen Smith — Executive Chairman & Co-Founder

Yeah. So I don’t think, at this point, we’re splitting it out in terms of our origination volumes, but it continues to be a source of growth in origination for us, but a cautious growth at that as things have generally been for First National.

Etienne Ricard — BMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Understood. On the regular dividend, the payout appears to be trending a bit above the 60% to 70% target range that we have talked previously. Are you comfortable in potentially raising this target range going forward?

Stephen Smith — Executive Chairman & Co-Founder

I think we addressed just maybe on the recent call, we had a lot of debate internally whether 60% to 70% is the appropriate number, whether 70% to 80% should be a higher number. I don’t think the Board is uncomfortable with necessarily a higher number. In some ways, we’ve done specials for the last 5 years. And I think to some extent, that certainly is reflected the cautiousness that we’ve had. I would think — I think you could certainly make the case that if you’re doing 5 years in a row, maybe the payout ratio is not inappropriate. So I don’t think we’re going to have an issue if the — or concern if the payout ratio gets up over 70%.

Etienne Ricard — BMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you. And your last question will be from Geoff Kwan at RBC Capital Markets. Please go ahead.

Geoff Kwan — RBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Hi, good morning. Just going back to the residential side, you talked about, obviously, some of the cooling activity of elevated levels. I’m curious where you’re seeing it, whether or not it’s by region, urban versus rural by housing type, by home buyer type or any other way that you analyze the market?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

No. Hi Jeff, it’s Jason. No, I would say off the top, I don’t have any — I don’t have any glaring evidence that there’s anything significant in terms of a shift in geography or borrower type. I — based on my comments earlier, if I went back and looked, I would say in terms of loan purpose, we may see a slightly elevated percentage of refinance activity relative to purchase activity, but I don’t have that in front of me. Otherwise, I’d say at the margin, anecdotally, we’ve had some favorable numbers in our Calgary office suggesting that Alberta is who’s sort of long suffered in the housing market relative to the rest of the country is how to done maybe at the margin relatively better in comparison. But no, nothing stands out as noteworthy.

Geoff Kwan — RBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay. And then on the Excalibur product, more broadly in the LTE market, I think there’s been kind of 1 to 2 rate increases from some of the players in that part of the market so far this year. I know you tend to target more like the higher end of the Alt-A part of the market. But just wondering if you’ve looked to implement some rate increases this year? And if so, what might have been the blended rate increase that you’ve put through?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

No, the Excalibur rate, the Alt-A mortgage coupons generally in the market proved to be very sticky throughout the pandemic with a slow and steady squeeze on the margin between the typical Alt-A coupon and whatever your underlying benchmark was, whether it was swaps or Canada. But we have moved rates up recently, both on the prime and on the Alt-A side. So in terms of magnitude, the mortgage coupons haven’t moved up as much as our cost of funds has. So we have not recovered the margin to where it was. But in terms of the actual blended rate, I would say, our lowest coupon in the Alt-A program through much of the pandemic was in the context of CAD2.79 plus a lender fee. I think it’s probably 25 basis points higher now. But I’d be honest with you, Geoff, I’d have to double check on that, but that sounds about the right order of magnitude.

Geoff Kwan — RBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay. And just my last question was on your positive outlook on the commercial originations for the year. How would you describe the competitive environment today? And then also within your view for the year, like what parts within commercial multi-residential, do you see that strength coming from?

Jason Ellis — President & Chief Executive Officer

Well, fortunately, we’ve developed an expertise in the CMHC multifamily side. And some of the largest developers and owners come to us for that expertise. As we see CMHC roll out its new affordable program. Fortunately, we’re well positioned to offer good advice and continue to, I think, grow our leading position on CMHC multifamily. So I do see opportunity for growth in the CMHC multifamily side. But perhaps more significantly, last year, we launched our core conventional program on the commercial side of the business with some very strong institutional investor support. I think a rediversification of our commercial business by expanding our conventional lending activity has been a real source of growth. And I think that we can continue to look forward to more of that next year. So I’d say as a split, we’ll probably see conventional grow in relative terms to CMHC multifamily, but I still think there’s room for our multifamily to grow from where it is now.

Geoff Kwan — RBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay, great. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. And at this time, I would like to turn the call back over to Mr. Smith for closing comments.

Stephen Smith — Executive Chairman & Co-Founder

Thanks, operator. As there are no further questions, we look forward to reporting our first quarter results this spring. Thanks for taking part in our call, and have a good day.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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