Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Morgan Stanley, Lehman, and Real Estate Investing

The day before Morgan Stanley is set to report earnings, the WSJ runs a story about the investment bank's attempts to deal with the $46 billion disaster that is MSREF, its commercial property investment funds. MSREF never met a commercial real estate investment it didn't love during the boom and is now stuck with a host of turkeys in every corner of the world. What now? Should it sell the pile of ailing (yet diversified!) real estate investments? After all, both Citi and Bank of America have sold off significant real-estate investment fund businesses in the past month, to Apollo and Blackrock respectively. Also, ING is looking to do the same and MS really does just like to do what everyone else is doing, just later, and less profitably. Should it hold on and hope for the best? After all, the fund still earns management fees even when it does stuff like lose 75% of its investors' money. Maybe leak a story to the press, see if anyone out there has any better ideas?

Here's an idea: Maybe Lehman can buy it? After all, Lehman's bankruptcy has done nothing to slow down the frantic pace of activity at the real estate arm of the now-defunct investment bank. The WSJ reports that Lehman just took over Innkeepers, a REIT that owns more than 70 hotels. Well, this was less of a traditional takeover and more of a "you're wearing it" type of deal, as the hotel operator filed for bankruptcy and Lehman was its largest creditor. Lehman's debt in Innkeepers stems from its participation in the 2007 $1.5 billion buyout performed by none other than Apollo Investment, a subsidiary of the same folks that just bought Citi's real estate portfolio (see above.) Buy low AND high. I think that's called dollar cost averaging.

What should Morgan Stanley do? Tomorrow's earnings announcement will offer some clues as to whether the firm can finally return to its former glory as a premier investment bank, rather than a GS also-ran. If so, maybe MS has a shot at reaping a solid price for its ailing commercial real estate investment funds based on the prestige factor associated with its name. Because it's not going to get top dollar based on the fund's performance.

I'm predicting a lousy quarter for MS. They might even lose money. Why? Because all its competitors have had a lousy quarter and MS does exactly the same thing, except usually worse, even though the market seems to grant them some sort of a premium. How much longer can the premium prevail? Tune in tomorrow.


5 comments:

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