How Cerberus Became Spain’s Largest RE Company

3 December 2017 – Voz Pópuli

If you are thinking about buying a home over the next few months, statistically, it is likely that Cerberus will be the vendor. The US fund is one of the players that arrived in Spain at the height of the financial crisis (between 2010 and 2012), with the objective of acquiring banks and real estate companies, just like it had done in other countries. The former did not happen, despite several attempts to take over some of the former savings banks. But the conquest of the property sector went a lot better: so much so that the fund now controls more than €50 billion in assets and has just starred in the second largest operation in the Spanish real estate sector in recent years.

Those close to Cerberus define it as a fund that is meticulous, aggressive in its negotiating style and persistent. It has proven that last quality with the patience it has shown searching for major operations in Spain over many years. Last week, it finally was in a position to purchase BBVA’s property. It is the fund’s largest acquisition to date in Spain and it is going to cost €4 billion, most of which will be financed by Morgan Stanley.

Five key people inside the fund have been instrumental to the success of this operation, namely: Frank W. Bruno, one of the main directors of the fund at the global level; Lee S. Millstein, another key director of Cerberus, who has been overseeing the business in Spain for years; Manuel González-Cid, Senior Advisor to the fund and former Finance Director at BBVA, and his team; David Teitlebaum, head of the fund in Europe; and Daniel Dejanovic, head of the real estate business in Europe.

The Aznar junior factor

Several other people have also participated, although to a lesser extent: Carlos Abad, CEO at Haya Real Estate, the real estate servicer of Cerberus in Spain; Juan Hoyos, former President at McKinsey in Spain and President of Haya; John Snow, President of Cerberus, who met with the President of BBVA, Francisco González, to propose the deal in the first place; and José Maria Aznar Botella, son of the former Spanish President. The story of this fund in Spain has been inextricably linked to the incorporation of Aznar junior in recent years, at least from the point of view of the media. The bankers who have worked with him describe him as a “strong professional” who has been key to the fund’s success in Spain.

Both Hoyos and Aznar were most certainly instrumental during Cerberus’s first operation in Spain, in 2013, when it purchased Bankia Habitat, in the so-called Project Platform. It was a purchase that revolutionised the sector and paved the way for other similar deals, such as the sale of Altamira, Servihabitat and Anticipa.

Unlike what has happened with BBVA, Cerberus’s operation with Bankia did not involve an asset purchase, but rather the management of that entity’s assets. Like in other similar operations, the fund takes control of the workforce and the administration and sale of debt and foreclosed assets, in exchange for management commissions. Bankia Habitat became Haya Real Estate and subsequently expanded its perimeter after teaming up with Sareb, Cajamar and, this year, Liberbank. Those deals involved the disbursement of around €0.5 billion by Cerberus. Added to the €4 billion paid to BBVA and the fund’s other portfolio purchases, the total figure exceeds €5 billion.

The result of this strategy is that Haya Real Estate has reached a management volume of more than €40 billion, has almost 700 employees and recorded a profit of €31 million (in 2016).

Cerberus’s networks in Spain do not end there: it owns a doubtful debt management firm, Gescobro; a securitisation firm, Haya Tutulización; a stake in another manager of bank debt, Hipoges, whose sale it is currently negotiating with KKR; and dozens of companies where it keeps its real estate assets. As if they were not enough, it will soon be able to add the property developer Inmoglacier to this list.

And that is only one of the strings to Cerberus’s bow in Spain, it also engages in large business ventures such as Renovalia, which is currently up for sale. Operations such as the one involving BBVA reflect the fact that funds like this are still very interested in Spain, despite the uncertainties being generated by Cataluña. And beyond the foreign money that they bring, they should be seen as the new influential players, capable of moving markets such as the real estate sector. And they are here to stay. For the time being at least.

Original story: Voz Pópuli (by Jorge Zuloaga)

Translation: Carmel Drake

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