Archive for the ‘Hedge Funds’ Category
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — At least 20 times a day, Alan Hladik walks into a fixer-upper and tries to figure out if it is worth buying.
As an inspector for the Waypoint Real Estate Group, Mr. Hladik takes about 20 minutes to walk through each home, noting worn kitchen cabinets or missing roof tiles. The blistering pace is necessary to keep up with Waypoint’s appetite: the company, which has bought about 1,200 homes since 2008 — and is now buying five to seven a day — is an early entrant in a business that some deep-pocketed investors are betting is poised to explode.
With home prices down more than a third from their peak and the market swamped with foreclosures, large investors are salivating at the opportunity to buy perhaps thousands of homes at deep discounts and fill them with tenants. Nobody has ever tried this on such a large scale, and critics worry these new investors could face big challenges managing large portfolios of dispersed rental houses. Typically, landlords tend to be individuals or small firms that own just a handful of homes.
But the new investors believe the rental income can deliver returns well above those offered by Treasury securities or stock dividends. At the same time, economists say, they could help areas hardest hit by the housing crash reach a bottom of the market.
This year, Waypoint signed a $400 million deal with GI Partners, a private equity firm in Silicon Valley. Gary Beasley, Waypoint’s managing director, says the company plans to buy 10,000 to 15,000 more homes by the end of next year. Other large private equity investors — including Colony Capital, GTIS Partners and Oaktree Capital Management, in partnership with the Carrington Holding Company — have committed millions to this new market, and Lewis Ranieri, often called the inventor of the mortgage bond, is considering it, too.
In February, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the government-backed mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, announced that it would sell about 2,500 homes in a pilot program in eight metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.
And Bank of America said in late March that it would begin testing a plan to allow homeowners facing foreclosure the chance to rent back their homes and wipe out their mortgage debt. Eventually, the bank said, it could sell the houses to investors.
Waypoint executives say they can handle large volumes because they have developed computer systems that help them make quick buying decisions and manage renovations and rentals.
“We realized that there is a tremendous amount of brain damage around acquiring single-family homes, renovating them and renting them out,” said Colin Wiel, a Waypoint co-founder. “We think this is a huge opportunity and we are going to treat it like a factory and create a production line to do this.”
Mr. Hladik, who is one of seven inspectors working full time for Waypoint’s Southern California office, is one cog in that production line.
On a recent morning, he walked through a vacant three-bedroom home with a red tiled roof here about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, one of the areas flooded with foreclosures after the housing market bust. Scribbling on a clipboard, he noted the dated bathroom vanities, the tatty family room carpet and a hole in a bedroom wall. Twenty minutes later, he plugged these details into a program on his iPad, choosing from drop-down menus to indicate the house had dual pane windows and that the kitchen appliances needed replacing.
The software calculated that it would take $25,413.53 to get the home in rental shape. Mr. Hladik adjusted that estimate down to $18,400 because he deemed the landscaping in good shape. He uploaded his report to Waypoint’s database, where appraisers and executives would use the calculations to determine whether and how much to bid for the house.
With just three years of experience, Waypoint is one of the industry’s grizzled veterans. But critics say newcomers could stumble. “It’s a very inefficient way to run a rental business,” said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities USA. “You could wind up with an inexperienced group owning properties that just deteriorate.”
The big investors are wooed by what they see as a vast opportunity. There are close to 650,000 foreclosed properties sitting on the books of lenders, according to RealtyTrac, a data provider. An additional 710,000 are in the foreclosure process, and according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, about 3.25 million borrowers are delinquent on their loans and in danger of losing their homes.
With so many families displaced from their homes by foreclosure, rental demand is rising. Others who might previously have bought are now unable to qualify for loans. The homeownership rate has dropped from a peak of 69.2 percent in 2004 to 66 percent at the end of 2011, according to census data.
Economists say that these investors could help stabilize home prices. “If you have a lot of foreclosures in one community you will improve everybody’s home values if you take them off the market,” said Diane Swonk, the chief economist at Mesirow Financial. “If those homes are renovated and even rented, it is a lot better than having them stand empty.”
Until now, Waypoint, which focuses on the Bay Area and Southern California, has been buying foreclosed properties one by one in courthouse auctions or through traditional real estate agents.
The company, founded by Mr. Wiel, a former Boeing engineer and software entrepreneur, and Doug Brien, a one-time N.F.L. place-kicker who had invested in apartment buildings, evaluates each purchase using data from multiple listing services, Google maps and reports from its own inspectors and appraisers.
An algorithm calculates a maximum bid for each home, taking into account the cost of renovations, the potential rent and target investment returns — right now the company averages about 8 percent per property on rental income alone. By 5:30 on a recent morning, Joe Maehler, a regional director in Waypoint’s Southern California office, had logged onto his computer and pulled up a list of about 70 foreclosed properties that were being auctioned later that day in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
Looking at a three-bedroom bungalow in San Bernardino, he saw that Waypoint’s system had calculated a bid of $103,000. Mr. Maehler, who previously advised investors on commercial mortgage-backed securities deals, clicked on a map and saw that rents on comparable homes the company already owned could justify a higher offer. The house also had a pool, which warranted another price bump.
By the time the auctioneer opened the bidding on the lawn in front of the San Bernardino County Courthouse at $114,750, Mr. Maehler had authorized a maximum bid of just over $130,000.
As the auction proceeded, Waypoint’s bidder at the courthouse remained on the phone with Mr. Maehler in the company’s Irvine office about 50 miles away.
“Stay on it,” Mr. Maehler urged as the bidding went up in $100 increments. The bidder clinched it for $129,400.
The sting of the housing collapse, driven in part by investors who bought large bundles of securities backed by bad mortgages, makes some critics wary of the emerging market.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence that private market actors who now see another use for these houses as rentals, as opposed to owner-occupied, are necessarily going to be any more responsible financially or responsive to community needs,” said Michael Johnson, professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Waypoint executives say they plan to be long-term landlords, and usually sign two-year leases. Once the company buys a property, it typically paints the house and installs new carpets, kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures, spending an average of $20,000 to $25,000. It tries to keep existing occupants in the house — although only 10 percent have stayed so far — and offer tenants the chance to build toward a future down payment.
Waypoint’s inspectors are evaluating hundreds of properties that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are offering for sale. Because the inspectors are not allowed inside these homes, they are driving by 40 of them a day, estimating renovation costs by looking at eaves, windows and the conditions of lawns.
Rick Magnuson, executive managing director of GI Partners, Waypoint’s largest investment partner, said “the jury is still out” on whether Waypoint — or any other investor — can manage such a large portfolio. But, he said, “with the technology at Waypoint, we think they can get there.”
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Widowmaker’ Oil Trade Lives Up to Its Name
- Estimates for U.S. onshore oil production growth are continually revised up
- In Asia, Chinese oil demand continues to beat expectations
- With floating inventories of crude and products continuing to whittle away, oil fundamentals appear to be tightening. Onshore commercial inventories would be the next to draw, which should be supportive to oil spreads in general.
- Ethanol shortages in 2011 look increasingly possible, which would be supportive for gasoline, particularly in Brazil and the U.S.
- Gas is expected to remain in a competitive position versus Coal all winter long and throughout 2011.
- Germany will reach 2008 level by the end of 2011 if current growth trend is sustained.
Clive Capital On Commodity Outlook
On Tomorrow’s Secret Meeting To Plot The End Of High Frequency Trading
The SEC’s “definitive”(ly worthless) report on what happened on May 6th was a dud, and was nothing more than a distraction-based smear campaign against Waddell and Reed (an experiment in which we can only hope W&R participated involuntarily): a firm which did something that was completely in its right to do. But is this unexpected? After all had the SEC confirmed that it is indeed HFT who is responsible for a broken market structure, it would have effectively destroyed itself: if and when the SEC does indeed confirm that the entire market topology over the past 5 years has been hijacked by young and pustular math Ph.D.’s with fast computers, the implications to fair markets would be orders of magnitude worse than the fallout associated with the Madoff scandal, and could serve as grounds for the unwind of the SEC itself, which would have to explain why it has been avoiding calls against HFT impropriety for years. So in a sense Mary Schapiro’s conclusion is nothing less than a lass desperate act of self preservation. Which however means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Tomorrow, as the WSJ reported a week ago, the Investment Company Institute, better known to Zero Hedge readers as the guys who track the now permanent weekly outflows from capital markets, is holding a secret meeting in which some of the participants “are determined to push for a plan to restrict high-frequency trading” (furthermore, the ICI was rather pissed about this particular leak, implying that things are really serious). While the SEC may have declared a market structure truce, and is peddling its usual worthless solution of circuit breakers (more on this below), actual market participants have had enough of seeing their profits plunge and seeing HFT extract more capital out of the market than the much maligned ten years ago market makers and specialists ever did.
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Second Leg of Crisis Beginning: Hedge Fund Manager
“We are seeing one of the most challenging years for investors ever,” De Noronha told CNBC Tuesday. “Major investors are simply leaving the market. When it looks like markets are about to fall off the cliff they rally and vice versa.
“The regulators used 6 percent as the threshold for defining the minimum capital ratios, but that 6 percent number includes non-cash assets such as deferred tax assets and goodwill,” he said. “If you use only tangible book equity the 6 percent of the biggest offenders turns into closer to 2 percent which implies a leverage ratio of 50 times. That is hardly conservative for current the current economic reality.”
>Oh, poor “Demonized Algos” !!!
Demonised ‘algos’ push the surge in FX trading
By Jennifer Hughes, Senior Markets Correspondent
Published: September 1 2010 00:04 | Last updated: September 1 2010 00:04
So far, however, attention has focused on the role of these high-speed traders in the equity market. Outside the glare of that publicity, it is less well known that on May 7, FX trading volumes reached records, straining the plumbing of these markets.
Some participants argue these strains were partially caused by algorithmic, or algo, traders.
Exactly how much of this can be attributed to algo trading is unclear. However, there is no question that high-frequency traders are a fast-increasing force in FX markets, which is sparking a fierce debate as to their value to the market.
On Tuesday, the Bank for International Settlements reported that average daily turnover in the FX market has jumped 20 per cent in the past three years to $4,000bn a day. Its survey was taken in April, so missed the May spike, which related to the eurozone sovereign debt crisis.
The BIS-reported gains were led by a near 50 per cent leap in spot trading – deals for immediate delivery – to $1,500bn a day. This jump was powered by increased activity from “other financial institutions”, a group that includes hedge funds, pension funds, some banks, mutual funds, insurance companies and central banks. This will also include algos.
While all categories of “other” could have increased their trading, it is likely a significant proportion was driven by algo traders, who favour the deep, liquid spot markets and particularly currency pairs such as eurodollar and dollar-yen, which between them account for 42 per cent of all currency trading.
The question for the FX market is whether high-frequency dealers improve the market by adding liquidity, or whether they are instead merely price takers who contribute little.
“Algos have been demonised, but they’re an important part of the growth story,” says David Rutter chief executive of Icap Electronic Broking, which runs EBS, the main FX interbank trading platform. “What we’ve found is that they add pressure at each price point so that instead of getting big price gaps on shocking news, trade is more orderly.
“With FX, there are a lot of other flows such as global trade, so there is good underlying liquidity that the algos can enhance.”
Algos initially appeared in FX markets almost a decade ago, attracted by the deep liquidity and increasing use of electronic trading. They were generally welcomed, particularly by banks looking to build their prime brokerage businesses. However many banks soon grew disenchanted when they found the fast-moving shops were profiting from banks’ own slow systems by exploiting brief, tiny price differences between rival platforms.
Some banks went as far as ejecting offenders from their platforms but banks’ views have since become more nuanced. They have generally reached an accommodation, helped by technological improvements which make it easier to monitor client dealings and offer client-specific prices.
“The facts are that algos have made the markets more efficient and have helped ensure there’s one virtual price,” says Jeff Feig, global head of G10 FX at Citigroup. “They do cause banks to be smarter and we’ve had to work harder to be more efficient, but that’s ultimately to the advantage of the end user.
“I think that to some extent, algos have pushed banks and the result has been enhanced transparency and increased liquidity.”
Algos mean many different things in the FX market. While high-frequency traders are the best known – typified by one senior banker as “five smart guys in a room in New Jersey,” – banks are increasingly adept at developing their own algorithms to make their internal FX deals more efficient. These “internalisation” trades too will have provided a boost to the BIS numbers.
Most players say algos are now a fact of life in currency markets.
Unlike the equity market, which is split into hundreds of stocks, they believe the FX world’s focus on a relatively small number of currency pairs means it would be far harder for a single group of participants to move the market significantly, intentionally or otherwise, as some watchers fear happened during the “flash crash”.
“Also trading can happen anywhere there’s an electronic execution system and a volatile market,” says Alan Bozian a former FX banker and now chief executive of CLS Bank, the FX settlement system. “The question is, which markets adapt well and I don’t think it’s necessarily the stock market.”
FX markets have proved generally good at adapting. Systems such as CLS, introduced years before the financial crisis, have helped minimise settlement risk and since May, participants have been working again to improve their processing systems to cope with increased volume.
Significantly, for a market that is very much built around a hub of big banks, the BIS report showed that, for the first time, interaction of the main banks with “other” financial institutions overtook trading between themselves.
This could be a pointer to the market of the future, where banks are likely to remain the hub, but as much for their trade processing abilities as for their liquidity.
This would allow the winners to build profitable volume without taking on huge trading risks – suiting the current regulatory mood.
“The banks want to continue being the price providers, but they’re getting much more interested in the infrastructure and improving that,” says Mr Bozian. This evolution is likely to apply to high-frequency trading too.
Mr Rutter believes algos are only in their “late teens” in terms of development. “The early algo trading was about super-fast dealing and chasing inefficiencies. That’s largely gone,” he says.
“Now its about math and science being thrown at the market – there’s a rich pool of data and I think we’ll see algos evolve so its not just about milliseconds, but about longer-term predictive math.”