Which Institutions Are Buying Up Spain?

With high unemployment and a down real-estate market, Spain is attracting its fair share of contrarian investors.

Jul 4, 2014 at 7:11AM

In two other parts of this series, I discuss the contrarian investors buying up assets in Ireland and Greece. In this part I will discuss who's buying and who's selling Spanish assets following the nation's economic downturn.

Economic troubles
At the worst points of the recession, some analysts were expecting Spain to need a massive bailout from the European Central Bank or otherwise default on its debt. With a real-estate collapse, financial collapse, and unemployment over 20%, Spain was one of the countries most hurt but the worldwide recession.

With unemployment still around 26%, Spain still has a long way to go but some major investors are hoping to profit from the nation's recovery while others are looking to get out to reduce risk.

Real-estate loans
With unemployment up and real-estate prices down, Spanish real-estate loans are becoming a risky asset to hold leading Commerzbank (NASDAQOTH:CRZBY), Germany's second largest bank, to sell off some of its Spanish holdings.

As European stress tests approach, Commerzbank wants to decrease risk to avoid the need to raise further capital. In its latest move, the German bank is selling a 4.4 billion euros of loans in Spain and Portugal to Lone Star and JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM). This move comes as part of a broader effort from Commerzbank to reduce noncore assets to raise capital and restructure operations. At the same time, JP Morgan Chase and Lone Star are looking to benefit from a Spanish recovery seeing real-estate loans themselves as the best option.

Cerberus Capital Management has also been actively participating in Spanish real-estate loans through its subsidiary Haya Real Estate. According to Bloomberg, Haya manages around a net 35 billion euros of Spanish assets and regularly sells properties while also acquiring real-estate-servicing rights.

Physical property
But it's not just real-estate loans for sale in Spain. Physical real estate is also for sale after the crash slashed market values and caused unemployment to skyrocket.

Fortress Investment Group (NYSE:FIG) is among those investing in Spanish real estate. After Spain's bad bank acquired 50 billion euros of real-estate assets, it has been looking to sell off pieces to repay taxpayers. Together with Grupo Lavar, Fortress took a controlling stake in a portfolio of 1,000 homes.

According to Bloomberg, Paulson & Co. is joining the Spanish real-estate-investment crowd along with Blackstone Group (NYSE:BX) and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), which have been buying Spanish real estate since the market collapsed. Unlike Commerzbank, which is trying to prepare for European stress tests that may force it to raise additional capital, these tests are not an issue for investment funds, which are using this opportunity to buy up distressed assets.

The takeaway
The collapse of Spanish real estate prices has led to opportunistic buying by Fortress Investment Group, Blackstone Group, Goldman Sachs, and several other major investors. At the same time, Commerzbank's top priority is to pass the European stress tests and restructure operations.

Although the Spanish recovery will take some time, these companies stand to recognize significant returns if Spain returns to its precrisis condition.

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Alexander MacLennan owns shares of Commerzbank (German listed). This article is not an endorsement to buy or sell any security and does not constitute professional investment advice. Always do your own due diligence before buying or selling any security. The Motley Fool recommends Goldman Sachs. The Motley Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase and The Blackstone Group L.P.. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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