Unstructured Finance

Some Hedge Funds Throwing in Keys as “Landlords”

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

All year the big money has been talking up one of the more intriguing trades to emerge from the housing crisis: buying up foreclosed homes in large scale and rent those out for several years and then unload them when the price is right. But questions about the so-called rent-to-own trade are being raised now that an early mover in the space, hedge fund giant Och-Ziff Capital, is looking to cash in its chips now and is abandoning the idea of operating foreclosed homes as rental properties for years to come.

Now we’re not quite ready to declare the foreclosed home rent-to-own trade is dead as the tireless, prolific financial bloggers at ZeroHedge did in a good riff on our exclusive story on Och-Ziff’s decision. But Daniel Och’s concern that the income to be generated from renting out foreclosed homes may not be as high as originally anticipated bears close scrutiny because it could spell trouble for other hedge funds, private equity firms and smaller money managers counting on rental income to generate an annual 8 pct or greater return on investment.

Way back in March, when we first wrote about all the big money that was racing into the foreclosed home market, we noted that some were concerned that a lot of the newer entrants might not really up to the challenge of managing and renting single-family homes for the long haul. Historically, the business of buying, rehabbing and renting foreclosed homes has been a mom-and-pop endeavor, conducted by people with strong community roots. The skeptics wondered whether institutional players were too blinded by the potential to capture yield and overlooking the challenges that comes with bringing often vacant foreclosed homes up  to code and habitable conditions.

If the potential to rake in a consistently solid return from renting out single-family homes is disappearing, that could also spell the end of the federal government’s experiment to sell-off Fannie owned homes in bulk sales. The whole premise of the program sponsored by the Federal Housing Finance Agency was to find big money managers willing to rent single-family homes for at least three years before selling them. If rental yields are shrinking due a combination of rising operating costs and slower growth in rent prices, then the bulk sale trade looks less attractive.

That said, there doesn’t appear to be any let-up in the interest in the foreclosed home space. Every other week there is another conference about investing in foreclosed homes. Earlier this month, Americatalyst sponsored a closed-to-the media forum in Austin, Texas, attended by all the big shots in this market, where the hot topic was “Renting the Future.” And new funds managed by lesser-named money managers seem to crop up every day.

UF Weekend Reads

By Sam Forgione

This week’s Weekend Reads may drive you back to the big news of the week: The Debates.

Just as the candidates’ tone and tenor seemed to drive judgments as to who won and lost, some stories were written about sparring between politicians and bankers, billionaires on whether a bankrupt Mexican company should be let off the hook, the banks and the foreclosed-upon, and the more milder subject of volatility investing. In the case of the Foreign Policy and DealBook links, the attitudes of the parties involved seem more important than their logic. And a winner and a loser probably won’t come to you. At least here, unlike in the voting booths, you can stay undecided.

 

From Foreign Policy:

Mohamed El-Erian writes that politicians and bankers should stop putting each other down and start averting the next crisis.

UF Weekend Reads

Fall really arrives in NYC this weekend. What better time then for Sam Forgione’s weekend reads. Have a whale of a time.

From The New York Times:

Susan Dominus long read about Ina Drew, the “natural” risk manager, who oversaw JP Morgan’s $6 billion trading loss.

From Vanity Fair:

More on Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan from the writing team of William D. Cohan and Bethany McLean

Hedge funds love affair with leverage still on hiatus, for now

By Katya Wachtel

Last year was a sorry one for the $2 trillion hedge fund industry, when funds lost 5 percent on average. This year managers are doing better, up more than 5 percent for the year, according to the latest tracking data.

But those returns are a far cry from the 16.4 percent rise achieved by the S&P 500 this year, so what will hedge fund managers – who are supposed to be the smartest, savviest market players on the Street – do to juice returns?

For now at least, they’re not levering up in the hunt for yield. Certainly, they’re not ratcheting up portfolios to the levels seen pre-Lehman implosion, when returns were bountiful, and hedge fund managers reported leverage of 3.4, on average.

Former stock market ‘scalpers’ are vocal HFT critics

By Emily Flitter

REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

While the Securities and Exchange Commission maintains it does not need to do much to reign in the high frequency trading machines that have taken over Wall Street, a group of traders who understand how HFT firms make money—because it’s similar to the method they used to use themselves—have become vocal HFT critics. Yes, they may complain because they don’t make as much money as they used to, but they also think the machines are destabilizing the market.

Meet Dennis Dick, a prop trader in Detroit and a member of a league of stock market participants who have had to change their trading strategies now that they are no longer the fastest guns on the Street.

Dick is in the company of critics like Joe Saluzzi and Sal Arnuk, the co-founders of Themis Trading whose book, Broken Markets, details their concerns about the machines.

Gundlach doesn’t whine over his stolen wine

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

Who said bonds are boring? In recent days, Jeffrey Gundlach, the new king of the fixed-income world, has been dominating headlines with his lengthy CNBC interview on everything from counterparty risk to the market’s love affair with Apple stock to talk in the blogosphere about Gundlach’s pricey Santa Monica, Calif. residence being burglarized of more than $10 million in assets.

Against this backdrop, Gundlach’s firm, DoubleLine, hit a huge milestone this week as well, hitting $45 billion in assets under management.

For those who watched Gundlach’s TV interview on Wednesday they would never have guessed that the 52-year-old lost several high-end paintings and a 2010 red Porsche Carrera 4S in the burglary at his home a week earlier. The stolen goods include paintings by such artists as California Impressionist Guy Rose and landscape artist Hanson Duvall Puthuff. Also stolen were five luxury watches, wine and cash.

The new Goldman way: Less cushy compensation?

By Lauren Tara LaCapra

On a conference call to discuss Goldman Sachs’ new chief financial officer yesterday, an analyst asked departing CFO David Viniar why he was leaving when the stock is at a historic low.

Viniar avoided the question by joking that his successor, Harvey Schwartz, would trump that performance. But some investors think they have a better way to fix Goldman’s stock slump: cut back further on comp.

Goldman has brought compensation costs down, in part, by firing, nudging into retirement, or happily accepting the resignation of people who make a whole lot of money. (Viniar, whose salary clocked in at $15.8 million last year, is among that group.) Overall, the bank reduced comp costs by $3.2 billion last year and has cut 3,400 staffers from its payroll since the end of 2010.

UF Weekend Reads

So it appears Uncle Ben a/k/a Fed Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke finally gets it:  to fix the U.S. economy, you need to fix housing. The trouble is the Fed’s remedy of buying $40 billion worth of mortgage backed securities each month may  not do the trick.

Bernanke argues that buying MBS will push mortgage rates even lower–something that will spur loan refinancings and make it easier for people to buy a home. He believes a rush of new home buying will spur home construction and create job, jobs, jobs.

It sounds good. But the problem is the housing market is not suffering from high interest rates. With the 30-year mortgage rate already down to around 3.65 %, it’s not interest rates that’s keeping the housing market from taking off. Two years after the recession officially ended, far too many homeowners are still weighed down by debt–especially mortgage debt.

FHFA is not on an REO speed wagon when it comes to full disclosure

By Matthew Goldstein

The FHFA continues to reveal as little as possible about its pilot project of selling foreclosed homes to private investors in bulk sales.

With surprisingly little fanfare, the Federal Housing Agency announced this week that Pacifica Companies, a little-known San Diego investment firm, is the first company to emerge as the winner in the pilot project. Pacifica is buying 699 single-family homes that are part of Fannie Mae’s REO portfolio in Florida.

In the coming weeks, FHFA says it will announce the winning bids for bulks sales of REO homes in California, Arizona and Illinois as part of the much-hyped pilot project to sell 2,500 foreclosed homes. The agency that regulates Fannie and Freddie Mac says there will be no winning bid for some 541 homes it was planning to sell in Atlanta. The agency didn’t offer an explanation.

UF Weekend Reads

Two weeks of speechifying by the Dems and Reps has come to an end. Well not really–but the conventions are over. And for all the talk, there is one issue that got short-shrift–a solution to the nation’s still unfolding housing crisis.

Oh sure, there was talk about foreclosures and people struggling to pay the mortgages on their homes, but not a lot time for potential solutions.  And that’s unfortunate because as has been noted many times before, it’s going to be hard for the U.S. economy to take off as long as too many consumers are being crushed by mortgage debts they can barely afford.

Indeed, the disappointing August jobs report is a sober reminder of just how much work remains to get the economy humming again.  As we’ve said many times before on U,F it all still comes down to fixing housing, housing housing.

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