Unstructured Finance

The housing proposal that won’t die

One of the biggest economic stories this year has been the recovery in U.S. home prices. But for the more than 11 million homeowners stuck with a mortgage that’s worth more than the value of their home, it has felt more like being Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day.

The housing crisis may be over for Blackstone, Colony, American Homes 4 Rent and other deep-pocketed investment firms snapping up foreclosed homes with cheap money courtesy of the Federal Reserve, but for many Americans they are still living with it some five years later.

So maybe that’s why  a controversial idea of using the government’s power of condemnation to seize and restructure distressed mortgages in order to provide debt relief to struggling homeowners  just won’t go away, even though many think it’s unconstitutional and bond investors have rallied to savage the proposal.

On Wednesday, the city of North Las Vegas, a community with one of the highest percentage of underwater mortgages in the U.S., became the latest community to move a step closer to using eminent domain to condemn troubled mortgages that are packaged into mortgage-backed bonds issued by Wall Street firms before the financial crisis. By a 4-1 vote, the City Council agreed to enter into an advisory agreement with Mortgage Resolution Partners, the San Francisco-based investment firm that has been peddling the eminent domain for more than a year and stands to make money off of each home loan that gets seized and restructured.

North Las Vegas, a community of 219,020, located less than 10 miles from the glitz and glamour of the  Vegas strip, is one of those places that was particularly hard hit by the financial crisis and the housing bust. In some neighborhoods in North Las Vegas, 70 percent of homeowners not in foreclosure were under water on their mortgages, according to RealtyTrac.

Goldman fund haggles with REIT investors over 10-cent printing fee

A Goldman fund’s REIT charges investors 10 cents per page for financial statements.

Of all the accusations made by an aggrieved group of REIT investors against Goldman Sachs, perhaps the most surprising is how stingy the bank can be.

A Goldman fund that manages the REIT, formerly known as Equity Inns Inc, requires investors to pay 10 cents per page for print copies of its financial reports. Those reports are not available online, nor are they released publicly — a fact that has led this long-running feud to spill into public view in comment letters to the SEC.

Wall Street goes to war with hackers in Quantum Dawn 2 simulation

Wall Street will have a simulated cyber war called Quantum Dawn 2 this month.

 

Quantum Dawn 2 is coming to Wall Street.

No, it’s not a video game or a bad zombie movie; it’s a simulated cyber attack to prepare banks, brokerages and exchanges for what has become an ever-bigger risk to their earnings and operations.

Organized by the trade group SIFMA, Quantum Dawn 2  will take place on July 18 – a summer Thursday that, with any luck, will be a relatively quiet day in the real markets.The drill involves not just big Wall Street firms like Citigroup and Bank of America, but the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to SIFMA officials.

“We go through a pretty rigorous scenario where we look at multiple threats being thrown out at the U.S. equity markets,” said Karl Schimmeck, vice president of financial services operations at SIFMA.

Stevie Cohen: the pop star edition

Hard to believe, there was a time when Steven A. Cohen was not all that well-known on Wall Street outside of the hedge fund industry. Some even used to confuse the then-paunchy hedge fund trader with a popular magician with the same name.

But it’s true. In fact, a decade ago,  BusinessWeek (pre-Bloomberg takeover) did a cover story about Cohen and his then-$4 billion SAC Capital Advisors, calling  the once super secretive investor, “The most powerful trader on Wall Street you’ve never heard of.”

Today, however, it’s almost a rarity when a major business publication or website (that’s you Dealbreaker) doesn’t have a story about Cohen and his currently $15 billion hedge fund (subject to change depending on how much in outside investor money gets returned at the end of this month). Whether it be the long-running inside trading investigation, his failed attempt to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, his impressive growing art collection or his sizeable charitable donations, Cohen and his firm are always making news. A few years back, we even did a story on SAC Capital’s resident golf pro and how he would line up golf outings for SAC traders with corporate executives.

NJ Governor Chris Christie spotted outside Goldman Sachs

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shakes hands with Lloyd Blankfein lookalike outside Goldman Sachs on Wednesday

Editor’s note: Updated with reason for Christie’s visit.

These days it seems New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is everywhere, from TV talk shows and radio appearances to accompanying Prince Harry on a well-publicized tour of the devastated Jersey Shore. So maybe it’s not too surprising he was spotted outside of Goldman Sachs’s Lower Manhattan office Wednesday morning. An Unstructured Finance reporter happened to see the sharp-tongued Republican governor walking into 200 West Street just before 11:30. Spokespeople for Goldman and the governor’s office said he was there for the bank’s Global Macro conference, which invites politicians, regulators, diplomats, CEOs and other power players to talk about big-picture trends.

Christie, who filed papers last year to run for re-election in 2014, recently announced that he had gastric bypass surgery to deal with his weight problem and he was looking in good spirits on Wednesday. He had a thick security detail and shook hands with a guy who, from behind, looked like Lloyd Blankfein but turned out not to be. He buttoned his jacket and waved to onlookers on his way into 200 West Street.

Spinning single-family home investments into mortgage-backed securities

It’s generally been thought the main exit strategy for Wall Street-backed firms that are buying distressed homes to rent them out, is to convert to a REIT and file for an IPO. That attempt to cash-out on the single-family home trade has obvious benefits for the big institutional buyers but risks for retail investors as the math behind the buy-to-rent model becomes increasingly suspect.

But there’s another potential exit strategy for the institutional buyers beyond converting to a REIT or flipping homes earlier than anticipated and that’s becoming a home lender.

In Las Vegas, where the institutional buyers have been quite active the past six months, there’s talk about firms like Blackstone Group eventually providing financing to prospective buyers looking to acquire one of their single family homes. Buyers like Blackstone won’t comment on speculation about their single-family home management subsidiaries becoming defacto mortgage lenders. But it makes sense, especially in the case of Blackstone, which now owns more than 25,000 homes nationwide and says it intends to hold onto the homes and rent them out for several years.

Wall Street’s trading businesses turn to survival of the least dead

Darwin theorized that peacocks’ colorful plumage was a sign of        their evolutionary strength.

Wall Street has always been known as a cutthroat kind of place, but lately it seems big investment banks are just mulling around, hoping their competitors die first.

A report on Friday by Goldman Sachs bank analysts said that the industry has entered what they called a state of “reverse Darwinism,” in which banks are betting their long-suffering trading operations can increase revenue not by stealing business from rivals on a competitive basis, but by waiting for rivals to call it quits – leaving their clients with no choice but to move business elsewhere.

The sultans of swing

Although most investors have been pleased with the steadily rising U.S stock market over the past six months, funds that profit when markets are convulsing are licking their wounds.

With market stress at multi-year lows, volatility hedge funds returned just 1.16 percent in the first quarter, compared with 3.7 percent for the broader hedge fund group.

Some of the volatility specialists are doing better than others by capitalizing on major market moves in Japan, for example. And some are doing better simply because they are ‘short’ volatility funds – they tend to perform better when markets are calmer. But those funds are now few and far between.

Cleveland Fed leads in measuring stress

By Matthew Goldstein

 When you think of Cleveland, finance isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

 If you’re old enough or a rock-and-roll historian, you might say DJ Alan Freed (and i don’t mean DJ as in electronic dance music).1 Or maybe, the old adage  “mistake by the Lake” comes to mind.

But the Cleveland Fed is breaking some new ground with its new and improved financial stress index. In time, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cleveland Financial Stress Index becomes a regular go to index for traders–especially macro and volatility types. And it probably won’t be long before someone is modeling some algo to track the CFSI performance if it hasn’t already been done.

Goldman, AIG and the government renew their friendship

Scanning Goldman Sachs’s newly published interactive annual report on Monday, Unstructured Finance had to do a double-take upon seeing American International Group highlighted as a client success story.

Yes, that’s right. AIG.

Goldman’s site features a 3-minute, 47-second video with two investment bankers, Devanshu Dhyani and Andrea Vittorelli, talking about their work on various AIG deals to help repay the U.S. government.

It also has photos of bankers around the globe who were involved with AIG stock sales, stock buybacks and assets sales, including Chris Cole, co-chairman of investment banking; Yan Liu, Ed Byun Dan Dees and Phyllis Luk, bankers based in Hong Kong; and Michael Tesser and Terence Lim, bankers based in New York.

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