Buffett seen raising bet on housing
Warren Buffett is in talks to buy GMAC’s mortgage lender Residential Capital, the New York Post reports. Teamed up with Appaloosa Management and Avenue Capital, Buffett has large debt positions in the gut-shot company, according to the Post. In September, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and Leucadia National agreed to buy Capmark Financial Group’s mortgage loan and servicing business for up to $490 million.
If the residential property market hasn’t begun a solid recovery, it certainly established a solid bottom over the past six months. New home sales figures out yesterday were shockingly weak, but keep in mind that November and December are not particularly hot months for residential real estate, and new home sales are a much smaller chunk of the market than the existing portion. Lots of analysts were expecting the housing recovery to face a test as we get closer to the extended deadline in March for the $8,000 homebuyer tax credit.
But it’s a rare investor who gets rich betting against Warren Buffett. And if he’s looking to buy low, he could hardly have done better than ResCap. The lender has been flirting with dangerously low capital levels, with the Post reporting it is bouncing around the minimum required net worth of $250 million. It had a tangible net worth of $409 million at the end of the third quarter. The mortgage company has lost over $10 billion in the last three years. The number of loans delinquent rose to 13.40 percent at the end of June from 11.50 percent at the end of 2008.
ResCap has been kept on life support by parent GMAC, which itself been a primary beneficiary of government assistance, after being caught out with loans to weak borrowers. Perhaps one of the events in its tumultuous recent past that caught the oracle of Omaha’s eye was GMAC’s reinvention as a bank in order to qualify it for more government aid under TARP. As the auto and commercial lending arm of GM, becoming a bank made almost enough sense to seem inevitable during the nadir of the crisis. Having been kept warm through the worst of times, bailed out businesses like ResCap are naturally hot targets when recovery is at hand.