Unstructured Finance

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.

If the institutional buyers are serious about renting out homes as opposed to being fast-money flippers, becoming a source of financing for prospective buyers may be the best way to guarantee there will buyers in the future. The financing could be part of a rent-to-own strategy, or a way to lure potential homeowners who might have difficulty getting a mortgage from a more conventional lender. National home builders long have had their own mortgage operations to help enable first-time buyers to get themselves into a new home.

And if the appetite is right, any loans issued by the national home buyers could be bundled into securities–the next wave of residential mortgage backed securities.

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.

Insider trading—it’s not just hedge funds

Sometimes it seems that insider trading cases are all about hedge funds. After all, the overwhelming majority of the federal government’s multi-year crackdown on insider trading has netted dozens of traders and analysts working in the $2.25 trillion hedge fund industry.

But this week’s escapades involving a former top audit partner at KPMG and his golfing buddy are reminder that the temptation to profit from inside information exists in many industries and professions.

Still, senior hedge fund reporter Svea Herbst-Bayliss reminds us in the following post,  a recent survey found a good portion of people who labor for hedge funds harbor private doubts about the integrity of their colleagues. If the numbers expressed in this survey are anything close to accurate, law enforcement should be busy for quite a while longer.

Cash is king in housing

By Matthew Goldstein

It’s no secret that housing in the U.S. has become an investors market, especially if it’s an investor with cash to burn.

For more than a year now, we and just about everyone else in the financial media have been writing about how Wall Street-backed firms are looking to buy-up the wreckage of the housing bust on the cheap and rent out those homes until the time is right to sell them for a sweet profit. And it should come as no surprise that much of that buying is being done with cash because it’s the easiest way for an investor get a deal done quick.

Recent stats from the National Association of Realtors shows that 32 percent of all single family homes in the U.S. are being bought with that cash. But that’s not just foreclosures; it also includes homes listed by brokers. It’s a testament to how much money institutional investors like Blackstone and American Homes 4 Rent have been able to raise from high-net worth investors and others. all of whom are chasing yield in this low-yield world.

Once-obese Goldman analyst becomes fitness evangelical, gym CEO

Wall Street is shrinking, but so are some of its bankers.

Eight years ago, Goldman Sachs Group’s Kishan Shah weighed 400 pounds and couldn’t find a suit that fit his 62” waist for a job interview. Now he’s 195 pounds, and he’s quitting Goldman to spread the gospel of healthy weight loss as chief executive of a chain of gyms for obese Americans.

“I made a vow that day to focus on diet and exercise, and I lost over 200 pounds – no surgeries, no fad diets, no trainers,” Shah said in a video chat this month with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Shah, who is 26 and works as an analyst in the Special Situations Group at Goldman Sachs, may not be representative of the typical bank employee who’s leaving.

The retailization of the single family home rental play

By Matthew Goldstein

It started slowly but the push by Wall Street into the single family rental market is fast becoming a Main Street play as well.

Last year, one of the big stories on Wall Street and in the U.S. housing market was the push by institutional investors to raise billions of dollars to snap-up foreclosed homes and rent them out while waiting for the right time to sell them. It’s become the biggest “long” bet on housing for private equity giants like Blackstone, which has already spent close to $3 billion buying up more than 16,000 foreclosed homes.

And with Wall Street firms all projecting they can get an 8% return from renting out the the homes they acquire, the foreclosed home market has become a great yield play for yield-starved wealthy investors.

One more try at the Great Refi

By Matthew Goldstein

Don’t be surprised if President Obama includes a line or two in his State of Union address this evening about the need for a plan to allow millions of struggling homeowners whose mortgages are packaged into so-called private label mortgage-backed securities to get a chance to either refinance their loans or restructure them.

The Washington Post is reporting today that mortgage refinancing may be one of the laundry list of items Obama will talk about tonight. And for several months now, investors in private mortgage-securities–deals issued by Wall Street banks and financial firms and not guaranteed by Fannie or Freddie–have been quietly bracing for the Obama administration to move forward with a new refinancing effort.

Up until now, the federal government’s main attempts at trying to help homeowners take advantage of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to keep pushing interest rates to zero has been to prod banks and mortgage servicers to refinance home loans held in so-called agency debt guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie. But programs like HAMP and HARP have provided little relief to the millions of homeowners whose loans are held in private label securities.

Wall Streeters find life really is greener on the other side

Ex Wall Streeters talk about the better life working at a startup

Here’s a post from UF contributor and intrepid Wall Street reporter Lauren T. LaCapra, who is on assignment:

By Lauren Tara LaCapra

“One last question,” the moderator asked the panel of former Wall Streeters now working for fast-growing tech startups. “Would any of you go back to banking?”

One by one the five panelists, some of whom work for hot shops like FourSquare and Spotify, each shook their heads: “No…no…no.”

from MacroScope:

SEC has power to ban high-frequency trading, congressman says

Not everyone agrees that using high-speed machines to trade stocks in less time than it takes the average person to blink is a bad thing, but the people who do might be heartened by the letter a congressman sent the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has waged a decades-long struggle against computerized trading sent the SEC a hint: The power to curb high-frequency trading has been within its grasp all along.

In his letter, Markey described a law he co-sponsored in 1989 to increase the agency’s power to regulate computerized trading, a precursor to HFT that employed computer programs to make trading decisions without the participation of conscious humans. The law lets the SEC “limit practices which result in extraordinary levels of volatility,” according to Markey’s citation.

The gold rush in foreclosed homes picks up steam as mad money flows freely

By Matthew Goldstein

Institutional money keeps rushing into the market for foreclosed homes, with some big players snapping up homes at breakneck speed. But the question is whether the big buyers are throwing money around indiscriminately and Wall Street’s big housing long will come up a bit short.

The other day Bloomberg reported that Blackstone Group has already spent $2.5 billion to buy 16,000 homes to manage as rentals and eventually sell them when prices appreciate high enough. Blackstone says it’s finding that the going price for homes sold at foreclosure auctions and out of bank inventories are rising quicker than anticipated.

But Blackstone, which some believe could spend up to $5 billion on single family home space, isn’t alone in racing to snap-up foreclosed homes in states like Florida, Georgia, California, Nevada and Arizona. American Homes 4 Rent, a firm that has $600 million from the Alaska Permanent Fund, is buying up hundreds of homes a month, industry sources say. Colony Capital, the other big institutional player is no less aggressive.

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