Tag Archives: Blackstone Group

Has the Credit Market Thawed? Is it Freezing Up Again? And Are You Still Out in the Cold?

We’ve written before about the failure of the Fed’s policy of cutting short-term interest rates — seven times since September 2007 — to spur liquidity in the credit market. 

The good news today is that there is “significant improvement in the credit markets since late March,” according to the Wall St. Journal.

The bad news, also reported by the Wall St. Journal, is that this recent thaw in the credit market is not expected to last:

“‘Most of us are anticipating two steps forward, one step back and carefully watching where the markets can handle deals,’ said Tyler Dickson, who oversees capital raising at Citigroup.”

“‘There’s no question the tone in the market is getting better,’ says Jim Casey, co-head of leveraged finance at J.P. Morgan Chase.  He adds, however, that ‘there is some concern that this might be a short-term window of opportunity for issuers, since investors are still very focused on default rates and the potential severity of a recession.'”

“‘Risk tolerance is still pretty low,’ says Daniel Toscano, a managing director of leveraged and acquisition finance at HSBC Securities in New York.”

“Banks and debt investors are treading carefully,” the article said. “Investment banks, which incurred big losses after selling a lot of buyout debt at heavily discounted prices, are committing only to deals they can underwrite at a profit. And investors don’t want to be caught wrong-footed if corporate defaults spike.”

We think that the report of a credit thaw is premature.  For most businesses and individuals, the credit market is still frozen solid. 

Blackstone Group LP President Tony James appears to agree with us.  James told Bloomberg News that banks are mistaken if they think credit markets have begun a sustained recovery. 

Rather than a real break in the dismal credit forecast, James said that this little patch of sunshine may be “the eye of the hurricane.”

There is clearly no de-icing of the credit market that would significantly impact the housing crisis or allow Fed Chair Ben Bernanke to sleep without getting the chills at night.

 

 

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Sam Zell Sees Little Damage, Quick Recovery, in Commercial Real Estate — with Mortgage Backed Securities Leading the Way

Billionaire real estate investor Sam Zell has never been shy about expressing his views or going against majority opinion. 

He has embraced the description of himself as a “contrarian” — and not only in regard to investment strategies.  

While just about everyone else has been publicly sympathetic to the many thousands of people who’ve been forced into or close to foreclosure, Zell told an audience last week at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles that “What this country needs is a cleansing” in the residential market. “We need to clear out all of those people who should never have been in houses in the first place and who for sure shouldn’t be getting sympathy,” Zell said.

The blame for the current housing slump, according to Zell, isn’t the financial industry’s subprime mortgage practices or overbuilding by contractors.  Rather, the blame belongs to the federal government’s policy of “encouraging homeownership at any cost.” The rise in the U.S. homeownership rate from 63% to 69% during the boom was totally unjustified, Zell said, other than by “the political impetus of, ‘Let’s put more people into homes they can’t afford.'”

Zell, of course, is perhaps the nation’s largest apartment owner. 

As Chairman of Equity Group Investments, Zell controls Equity Residential, the largest publicly traded owner, operator and developer of multifamily housing in the United States with nearly 160,000 apartments in 25 states and the District of Columbia.  And, as we’ve noted in an earlier post, the apartment industry has adamantly opposed federal aid to homeowners facing foreclosure and blamed the housing crisis on what it has called the “misguided” national policy of “home ownership at any cost.”

Zell also went against majority opinion this week when he asserted that the real estate crisis was just about ended, as least for commercial properties, and mortgage-backed securities would be leading the comeback. 

According to Zell, institutional investors are beginning to return to the market for mortgage-backed securities to finance commercial real estate deals and new construction. “I believe the overall market has already started to ease,” Zell said. “Is it in large volumes? No. Is it the first natural step in the evolution? Yes.”

In particular, Zell did not see real damage being done to office properties.  His former company, Equity Office, which he sold to The Blackstone Group in February 2007 for $39 billion, is the largest owner of office buildings in the United States. 

“I’m sure there’s going to be some casualties, particularly in what I would call ex-urban, the glass-block commodity office building,” he said. “I don’t think there is going to be any casualties in Manhattan. I don’t think there’s going to be any casualties in any of the first-class office space around the country. The commercial real estate market is going to do terrific no matter what the economy does, short of a depression.”

On this point, we think he’s probably right.

We wouldn’t want to argue with a real estate investor who has been smart enough to become number 164 on Forbes Magazine’s list of the richest people in the world.

On the other hand, Zell told an audience at the Wharton School last September that the turmoil in the financial markets was only an “emotional reaction” that would soon stabilize.

He was wrong on that one.

And he does own the Cubs.

 

 

Billions Poised to be Invested in Distressed Real Estate — But Small Buyers, Beware!

The New York Times reports today that major investors, fueled by domestic and foreign investment groups, wealthy individuals, endowments and pension funds, are prepared to spend billions of dollars buying distressed debt and real estate. 

These investors – often called “vultures” although the Times calls them “market opportunists” – believe that “some people have thrown the good out with the bad, and that the prices of some investments have simply fallen too far.”

For example, the Times reports that one Wall Street specialist in so-called distressed debt “recently spent at least $450 million for assets of Thornburg Mortgage, the battered mortgage servicing company. Others are buying beaten-down corporate bonds and looking at car and credit card loans.” 

“They are buying up mortgages of hard-pressed homeowners, the bank loans of cash-short businesses, and companies that seem to be hurtling toward bankruptcy,” said the Times, “And they are trying to buy them all on the cheap.”

A former executive of the Countrywide Financial Corporation, one of the mortgage giants that fostered subprime lending, recently helped start a company to buy mortgages.

In addition, the Blackstone Group “just raised $10.9 billion from investors to scoop up real estate.”

GlobeSt reports that “According to a company statement, this fund was the largest real estate opportunity fund ever raised.”

Blackstone senior managing director and New York City-based co-head of Blackstone’s real estate group, Jonathan Gray, stated that  “we believe there should be attractive investment opportunities for this capital given the market dislocation that exists today.”

We agree that the current distressed real estate market offers tremendous opportunities. 

The time is right for active, intelligent investors to take advantage of the multi-billion dollar distressed real estate market.  The real estate market is brimming with profit opportunities for those with leverage and expertise

But this is not an easy market for individual, smaller investors to penetrate.

The truth is that most smaller investors do not have the leverage and expertise to succeed in this volatile and extremely competetive market.

In fact, the effort that the smaller, part-time investor in foreclosures and distressed real estate would need to spend identifying properties, haggling with lenders and distressed owners, attending auctions and establishing financing is equivalent to a full-time job — and even then, success is far from likely.

Most smaller investors in this market will get caught up in the buying frenzy, spending too much time and money on so-called coaching and how-to courses from self-proclaimed foreclosure gurus, and then spending too much on property that will continue to fall in value and fail to provide an adequate income stream.

Great real estate deals do exist across the country. But to be successful, investors will need a high level of sophistication in identifying properties, acquiring them and developing the right exit strategy for each asset.

Smaller buyers, beware!

UPDATE:

For the lastest on the real estate vulture fund being formed by disgraced ex-Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer, click here.