Grayken's Big Bet On European Real Estate?

Hui-yong Yu of Bloomberg reports, Grayken to Invest $330 Million in Lone Star Property Fund:
Lone Star Funds founder and Chairman John Grayken is investing $330 million of his own money in the company’s new $6.6 billion commercial real estate fund, a bet on strong returns for property.

The capital commitment was disclosed during a meeting yesterday of the Oregon Investment Council, which voted to invest $300 million in the new fund. Grayken’s pledge is the most the billionaire has put into one of his Dallas-based firm’s funds by both dollar and percentage.

Lone Star’s new fund is the biggest global pool being raised for real estate private equity, according to Preqin, a London-based research firm for alternative assets. The target was increased from the original $6 billion in response to investor demand. The first capital pledges are scheduled to be completed on Sept. 27, according to yesterday’s Oregon meeting.

About half of the new fund will be invested in Europe, Nick Beevers, head of investor relations for Lone Star, told the Oregon pension trustees. About 30 percent to 40 percent will be in the U.S. and the remainder in Japan, he said.

“We see the investment opportunities being extremely heavy” in Europe, he said during the meeting in Tigard, Oregon. “We expect continued substantial investment in the United States.”

Lone Star expected to close yesterday on the purchase of 265 loans backed by 313 properties, said Andre Collin, head of North American commercial real estate acquisitions for Lone Star and a member of the firm’s investment committee.

Hudson Employees

Grayken’s investment represents 5 percent of the fund, higher than normal for a general partner. The firm’s partners will make a 1 percent combined investment in addition to Grayken’s personal pledge, Beevers said. Employees of Hudson Advisors, Lone Star’s asset-management arm, are contributing 1.5 percent through a co-investment vehicle, Beevers said.

“The pipeline that we are looking at right now in Japan, in Europe, especially in Europe, and in America is very, very strong” for distressed real estate investments over the next three years, Collin said. “In Europe, the market is way bigger than America right now in terms of that pipeline.”

Excluding 2011, when Lone Star won the bidding for about half of Anglo Irish Bank Corp.’s $9.65 billion of U.S. real estate loans, the portion that was mainly subperforming or nonperforming, “it's been by far our best year in all the regions,” Collin said.

In the U.S., Lone Star is focused on distressed debt, with more than $1 trillion of commercial real estate debt maturing in the next three to four years -- or more than 30 percent of the country’s total supply of commercial-property loans, Collin said. More than half that debt is subperforming or nonperforming, he said.

Secondary Markets

In the U.S., ``our focus right now is mainly on the secondary markets,” Collin said. “We're not the primary market guys right now because that cycle, that market, has passed for us,'' with more competition and easier financing having driven up prices, he said. In secondary markets, there are fewer lenders and ``we benefit from very strong relationships with a lot of these lenders.''

In Europe, aside from Lone Star deal makers, Hudson Advisors has about 300 people competing with Blackstone Group LP (BX), Apollo Global Management LLC, Cerberus Capital Management LP, Fortress Investment Group LLC (FIG) and Kennedy Wilson for workouts of distressed-property investments. U.S. investment banks, once Lone Star’s biggest rivals, have largely exited the market, Collin said.

“What our colleagues in Europe are working on is north of $25 billion of files,” he said. “It’s very significant.”

In addition to stepping up purchases, Lone Star and other real estate private-equity managers have been paying out more proceeds to investors this year as they take advantage of a strong market to sell assets, said Anthony Breault, Oregon’s interim senior investment officer for real estate. Lone Star represents about 8 percent of Oregon’s real estate portfolio.
John Grayken is a force to be reckoned with. If he is putting $330 million of his own money in Lone Star's new $6.6 billion commercial real estate fund, representing 5 percent of the fund, you know he is extremely bullish on Europe (roughly half the assets will be invested there).

André Collin, the former head of real estate at PSP Investments who now heads Lone Star's North American operations, highlighted the strong pipeline in Japan and especially in Europe. The focus on Europe is particularly noteworthy given that many large investors, including the Caisse, expressed serious reservations on European properties.

But some of the best real estate managers are honing their attention on Europe. Bloomberg reports Blackstone raised $2 billion in the first phase of fundraising for its fourth European real estate fund:
Blackstone is targeting 5 billion euros ($6.8 billion) for the fund, called Blackstone Real Estate Partners Europe IV, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the process is private.

Peter Rose, a spokesman for New York-based Blackstone, declined to comment. The fundraising progress was reported earlier today by PEI Media’s PERE, a publication focused on private real estate investing.

Blackstone is preparing for a “growing series” of real estate sales through 2014, taking advantage of rebounding value in hotels and commercial property following the global recession, Tony James, the firm’s president, said in July. The firm is working on public offerings of Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. and Extended Stay America Inc., and last month agreed to sell its stake in London’s Broadgate office complex to Singapore’s sovereign-wealth fund for more than 1.7 billion pounds ($2.7 billion).

Blackstone’s real estate unit spent $3.5 billion of its funds’ money in Europe last year “because the distress there is creating very interesting opportunities,” Jonathan Gray, global head of real estate, said earlier this year. The firm’s third European property fund, which raised more than 3.1 billion euros in 2009, has returned 18 percent a year after fees as of June 30, according to Blackstone’s second-quarter earnings report.

Blackstone is also raising its first Asia real estate fund and held an initial close in June with $1.5 billion. That pool is targeting $4 billion, according to the firm.
When it comes to commercial real estate, I wouldn't bet against John Grayken, Tom Barrack, or Jonathan Gray, the three best real estate investors in the world. And when investors see Grayken make such a significant personal investment in his new fund, it reassures them that alignment of interests are more than adequately covered.

One thing that worries investors, however, is the lack of succession planning at Lone Star, an issue which was raised in another discussion for the state of Oregon’s pension trustees back in May:
John Grayken, founder of Lone Star Funds, has a record of generating more than 20 percent returns over two decades as the world’s biggest buyer of delinquent mortgages. What he doesn’t have is a designated successor.

That deficiency became a focus of discussion for the state of Oregon’s pension trustees as Grayken, 56, pitched his latest investment, a $5 billion fund he finished raising last week to buy soured residential loans from Europe’s banking crisis.

“I want to have a succession strategy in place,” State Treasurer Ted Wheeler said. “That’s important to me.”

While the issue didn’t impede Lone Star’s ability to raise the new fund, with Oregon voting to invest as much as $400 million, Grayken has faced the question of an heir apparent since the 2007 resignation of his longtime right-hand man, former Vice Chairman Ellis Short. Short left the firm just as the global credit crisis caused investors to shun risk, hampering Grayken when he set out to raise the predecessor fund to the $5 billion one he closed last week.

Succession issues are particularly important for pension funds, which invest with a horizon of decades. Private-equity funds, including Lone Star’s, typically contain a provision known as the key-man clause to protect investors in the event of senior-management departures that could affect the running or performance of their investments.
‘John Show’

“John has no intention -- you can ask him -- of building an institution,” said Nori Gerardo Lietz, founder of Arete Capital and an early champion of Grayken’s in her prior role as a pension-fund consultant. “Unlike some of these other organizations that are trying to really build an ongoing entity that will survive the founders, it is the John show,” Gerardo Lietz said at the May 1 meeting of Oregon’s pension trustees.

Grayken, through spokesman Jed Repko of the public relations firm Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher, declined to comment on succession.

Grayken, who turns 57 on June 1, has already committed 20 percent of the new fund to buy assets from failed Belgian lender Fortis, and is about to raise another pool for commercial assets this summer. He also has set his sights on acquiring mortgage-servicing rights from U.S. banks. The current fund was $1 billion oversubscribed.

Since Grayken founded Lone Star in 1995, the firm has bought distressed mortgage-related assets valued at more than $85 billion, helping banks in Canada, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Ireland and elsewhere rid themselves of bad loans following economic declines. Now the action is in Europe, where Boston-area native Grayken has been based since 1997, having given up his U.S. citizenship in 1999 for an Irish passport and married a British woman.
Critical Planning

The company has senior executives in each of the regions in which it operates.

“Succession planning is critical,” said Theresa Whitmarsh, executive director of the Washington State Investment Board, which oversees about $89 billion in pension and related assets. “We’re buying people and we’re buying the strategy and we have to make sure it’s sustainable.”

Whitmarsh declined to comment on Lone Star. Washington has been an investor, or limited partner, with Lone Star, a general partner, in the past. “The LP community has been pushing the issue a lot more,” she said. “I don’t think any GP can ignore the issue.”
Doubled Money

Oregon has invested about $1.87 billion in 10 prior Lone Star funds and the firm has roughly doubled the state’s money, for a net annual internal rate of return after fees of about 18 percent, according to figures cited at the May 1 meeting by Anthony Breault, acting senior investment officer for real estate at Oregon’s pension fund.

“These guys have done a great job for us, they’ve delivered outstanding returns, but no succession strategy for me is really problematic,” Wheeler said. “This is a long-term investment and it’s a pension plan.”

Whereas the previous fund invested mainly in U.S. residential debt, including whole loans and securities, “our expectation now is that the percent of the capital, of the collateral that is in Europe will grow substantially,” to more than 60 percent, Grayken told the Oregon pension overseers on May 1. The predecessor fund was $4.6 billion.

“There are still opportunities in U.S. residential,” Grayken said. “It was a very, very aggressively financed asset class prior to the crisis and despite the fact that we see appreciation in housing prices today, there’s still a lot of debt that is underwater and has to get cleaned up by the banks.”
Global Buying

The firm ran another fund at the same time, the $5.5 billion Real Estate Fund II, which bought distressed commercial mortgage debt around the world, including in Europe, the U.S. and Japan, Grayken said. That fund, Lone Star Real Estate Fund II, is approaching 70 percent invested or committed, Grayken said. “The market’s been very good for us. This part of the cycle, that is the best part for an investment strategy like ours, and we are at this time projecting that we are comfortably going to exceed return targets for those two funds.”

Grayken said the firm expects to start raising Lone Star Real Estate Fund III this summer.

Lone Star made its name buying distressed loan portfolios and lenders in Asia starting in the late 1990s. In some cases, it bought financial institutions to get at the underlying assets and work them out, reviving the lender and taking it public for a profit. In 2005, Lone Star reaped a sevenfold return on its investment in Tokyo Star Bank Ltd. That same year, the firm sold a third of Japan’s biggest golf-course operator, Pacific Golf Management KK, in the first initial public offering of such an asset.
Asian Investments

As the most senior executive after Grayken, Short helped lead the firm’s move into Asia in the late 1990s. Besides buying billions of dollars of delinquent mortgages from Japanese and South Korean banks, golf courses in Japan and consumer lenders, it bought office towers in both countries. Short oversaw the firm’s Asian operations from Tokyo and later supervised European deals as well.

Short, a native of Independence, Missouri, teamed up with Grayken at Colony Advisors, the Los Angeles-based real estate company that Texas billionaire Robert Bass started in 1991. Short then was working at GE Capital, General Electric Co. (GE)’s finance unit, which had bought bad loans with Colony.

When Grayken formed Lone Star in 1995, he brought in Short and relied on him to help run the firm.
Kildare Partners

Short recently formed a new firm called Kildare Partners and aims to raise about $1 billion to invest in distressed real estate and related debt in Europe, PERE, a publication of London-based PEI Media, reported May 13.

Short didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail and call placed after regular business hours.

In 2008, Lone Star bought $30.6 billion of collateralized debt obligations from Merrill Lynch & Co. for about 22 cents on the dollar in one of the first and largest distressed deals of the financial crisis. It also acquired San Diego-based subprime lender Accredited Home Lenders Holding Co., and a mortgage unit of Bear Stearns Cos.

Lone Star has an approximately 800-worker back office in Hudson Advisors, which takes loans that Lone Star buys and collects on each.

“I’ve asked him, over the years, ‘Why do you keep doing this?’” Gerardo Lietz said at the Oregon Investment Council meeting May 1. You have “more money than Croesus, you know. He said, ‘As long as I can get up, have that thrill, the jazz of doing it, I’m going to keep doing it,’ and I said, ‘What happens that day you don’t?’ And he said, ‘Then I shut it down,’” she said he told her.
Succession Plan

Grayken’s lack of a succession plan, and lack of interest in institutionalizing his business, veers from the path espoused by KKR & Co. and Blackstone Group LP (BX), whose founders have taken the firms public.

Lone Star Fund VIII, which closed last week (in May), was the largest of the private-equity real estate funds being marketed, according to Preqin, a London-based researcher. It’s the third-largest fund of its kind raised since the beginning of 2009.

“If he gets hit by the proverbial bus, which is sort of the worst-case scenario, the investments that have been made will go into their machine,” Gerardo Lietz said, referring to Hudson Advisors, the asset-management arm of Lone Star. “Just sort of work themselves through the investment and the asset-management process. Hudson can certainly do that.”
I wouldn't worry too much about succession planning at Lone Star because they have experienced real estate professionals backing up Grayken. However, this is an issue that needs to be addressed down the road because Grayken won't be around forever.

Below, Nouriel Roubini, chairman at Roubini Global Economics, discusses the global economic recovery with a focus on Europe and the impact of continued central bank easing. He speaks on Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg Surveillance.”

And Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta talks about the risk of a U.K. exit from the European Union and the future of the eurozone. He spoke in an interview with Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker yesterday. Angie Lau reports on Bloomberg Television's "Asia Edge."

Lastly, Bloomberg's Scarlet Fu displays the difference in overall deleveraging by the United States and Europe following the financial crisis of 2008. She speaks on Bloomberg Television's "Bloomberg Surveillance."

But for all the gloom & doom on Europe, shares are up significantly over the past year and top real estate investors like Grayken don't seem too concerned about any crisis in the region. He's betting big on a European recovery and investing a significant amount of his personal fortune in his new fund. If that doesn't reassure investors, don't know what will.