Friday, December 14, 2007

Put These People on the RepoBus

by Tanta on 12/14/2007 10:50:00 AM

BusinessWeek sums it up: "Dog Days at Cerberus."

Here's one for the Things You Have To Read A Couple of Times At Least To Assure Yourself That It's Not Just You File:

Now, say sources close to Cerberus, the $26 billion firm has slowed its pace of dealmaking with the credit crunch in full force. It's also focusing more rigorously on the troubled holdings in its portfolio—some of which may have blindsided the firm. The situation has prompted concern that Cerberus' returns may suffer. This comes at a time when all players are under pressure. "Industry returns have been extraordinary, 20% to 30% a year," says Katharina Lichtner, managing director of the private equity advisory firm Capital Dynamics. "Returns will come down, revert to a more normal 16%."
And what kind of socially redeeming value will Cerberus be adding to the mortgage biz for that perfectly normal 16%?
It's unclear just how much work it will take to fix GMAC, the financing arm of General Motors (GM). A Cerberus-led group paid $14 billion for a 51% stake in September, 2006. Cerberus wasn't exactly an industry newcomer. It had a front row seat at the subprime show with Aegis Mortgage, a lender it took control of in 1996. Yet Cerberus jumped into GMAC at exactly the wrong moment. Price defends the move: "There was one time to buy GMAC. We wanted it and took action."

The short story? Aegis filed for bankruptcy in August, and GMAC's mortgage group ResCap has been bleeding red ink. Cerberus watched GMAC continue to make subprime loans in the first quarter but has since reined it in. It wasn't fast enough to prevent the pain. ResCap has lost $3.4 billion so far this year, forcing GMAC to pump $2 billion into the business to help it survive the mortgage mess. And Lehman Brothers analyst Brian Johnson forecasts an additional $1.3 billion hit this quarter and $600 million in 2008. "I don't think anyone is panicked," says one Cerberus insider. But "we sure as hell didn't expect GMAC to be what it turned out to be."

Those problems may put a kink in the firm's strategy. Cerberus, which also owns 80.1% of struggling automaker Chrysler, wants to merge the lending operations of both companies. By doing so, it could reap massive savings on back office and loan processing operations, boosting returns at both GMAC and Chrysler.
Cut back office at a mortgage servicer. Put people who can service car loans in charge of mortgage loans. That's exactly what we need right now. Dog days at Cerberus, or just doghouse for the rest of us?

Let me just observe that GMAC's mortgage servicing unit was already pretty "stripped down" in its heyday. That was its business model: cheap servicing. I can't wait to see what happens when you make it cheaper.