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Annual ASF Gathering Energizes Dealmakers
Asset Backed Alert, Harrison Scott Publications Inc. (January 29, 2010)
For the first time in years, the American Securitization Forum's annual conference holds promise as a dealmaking venue.
The four-day "ASF 2010" event starts Jan. 31 at the Gaylord National Hotel just outside Washington. Industry professionals who plan to be on hand are viewing the gathering as an opportunity to talk about a growing issuance pipeline, which is creating a far more upbeat mood than in years past.
When ASF held the 2008 version of the event in Las Vegas, for example, the market was collapsing under the weight of the subprime-mortgage crisis. Matters were even worse when market players reconvened in Sin City a year later - as the blowups of Lehman Brothers and AIG had caused an all-out credit freeze.
A little more than 4,000 participants are already registered for the 2010 conference, including 1,000-plus investors and some 600 issuer representatives. Among them are just about every buyer and seller in the market, along with a heavy population of underwriters, brokers and vendors. Including individuals who sign up on-site, overall attendance is expected to equal or exceed last year's headcount of 4,100.
The move to Washington after five years in Las Vegas promises to bring a stronger contingent of government officials as well. That was by design, as conference attendees hope to talk about a barrage of regulatory pressures facing the industry.
ASF executive director Tom Deutsch said he expects some 250 government policymakers to be on hand. That's double last year's tally, which was already pumped up as regulators and lawmakers sought more intervention in the market.
Many panel discussions will feature government types, with the list topped by U.S. Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Barr. He'll deliver the event's keynote address on Feb. 1.
Outside the conference sessions, this year's renewed bullishness is being reflected in a more active party scene. After cutting back in recent years, a number of shops - including investment banks and broker-dealers - are planning to host private gatherings. They include Bank of America, which has invited contacts to a Feb. 1 reception at Grace's Mandarin, a restaurant adjacent to the Gaylord National in Oxon Hill, Md.
The same day, Nariman Point Advisors will host a wine tasting at a private residence in Washington's Georgetown district. And Barclays Capital is planning a cocktail party at the Pose Ultra Lounge in the Gaylord. "It seems like all the dealers, large and small, have something going on. And a lot of marketers are having special dinners for their favorite clients," one investor said.
Both at the parties and in the hotel's hallways, meanwhile, issuers and underwriters will be touting new deals to investors. That's due in part to the timing of the conference, as it ends two days before the deadline for buyers to lock up the latest monthly round of financing offered under the Federal Reserve's Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility.
Indeed, the summit represents the biggest stage yet for issuers to pitch TALF offerings. Investors also say they have numerous sit-downs scheduled with issuers who want to talk about their plans for the rest of the year, and the buysiders say they are especially curious about how dealflow will be affected by the Jan. 1 implementation of the Financial Accounting Standards Board's FAS 166 and 167 guidelines.
American Express has created a stir on that front, as company officials have agreed to meet one-on-one with investors - something they've declined to do in the past. American Express plans to tap a mix of funding sources this year (see article on Page 1). "It will be interesting to see what Amex is willing to talk about. We want to know how they reacted to the crisis and what they're thinking of for the next 12 months," another investor said.
The new location of the conference favors such talks. Because the Gaylord is much smaller than the conference's former venue at Las Vegas' Venetian Hotel, attendees will be less dispersed. In fact, most of the rooms at the Gaylord are expected to be filled with securitization pros. The same goes for spillover hotels nearby.
"Attendees will really feel like they're all-consumed at a securitization event this year, as 95% of the people saying at the Gaylord and in the National Harbor area are conference attendees," Deutsch said, predicting that the event would represent a "more concentrated securitization presence than ever before."
The shop talk will stop for about two hours Monday afternoon, however, as the ASF hosts a luncheon debate between political adversaries Howard Dean and Newt Gingrich, moderated by CNBC personality Larry Kudlow. This marks the second straight year ASF has chosen such a format, replacing a traditional industry dinner in which conference sponsors footed the bill for such celebrity acts as Jay Leno and Blue Man Group.