FDIC betting big money on housing recovery

July 20, 2010 04:17

FDIC keeps equity interest and loans funds to developer ‘partners’. While the strategy entails greater risk if real estate prices fall or don’t rise as much as hoped, agency officials say it offers a better chance to replenish their deposit insurance fund — which was overdrawn by almost $21 billion as of the end of the first quarter — than sales for cash. More than 260 banks have failed since 2007.

By James Sterngold and Jonathan Keehner at Bloomberg.com

Developer Norman Radow expected some thanks in April when he offered to repay a $35 million defaulted loan on a 32-story San Diego condominium project he had taken over, originally financed by failed Corus Bank. Instead, his new lender urged him to keep the money.

Even more striking to Radow was that the lender was a company majority-owned by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., an arm of the government swamped with bad debts, whose partners were private investors led by Starwood Capital Group LLC.

“They said they wanted to keep the principal outstanding longer because they had a zero-percent loan from the government, and it was worth more for them to keep our loan out,” said Radow, 52, chief executive officer of Radco Companies, an Atlanta-based distressed-property firm that has sold 85 percent of the 244 units in the Mark, overlooking San Diego’s Petco Park stadium. “The sooner you repay us, the worse it is for us.”

While Radow repaid the loan anyway, his experience shows how a new FDIC strategy for managing assets seized from failed banks has turned the agency into a long-term investor, making a multibillion-dollar bet on the recovery of some of the most distressed condominium markets in the country, from Miami to Las Vegas. Instead of selling the assets to maximize cash in hand, the agency is offering its private-sector partners zero-percent financing, management fees and new loans to complete construction of projects it can hold until markets recover.


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