Bonds Backed by Mortgages Regain Allure

By Azam Ahmed

Some Wall Street investors made money as the mortgage market boomed, while others profited when it fell apart.

Having reaped big gains during both of those turns, Greg Lippmann, a former star trader at Deutsche Bank, is now catching the next upswing — buying the same securities built from mortgages that he bet against before the financial crisis erupted.

Mr. Lippmann is joined by other big-money investors — mutual funds like Fidelity as well as hedge funds — in riding a wave of interest in the same complex loan pools that nearly washed away the financial system.

The attraction is the price. Some mortgage bonds are so cheap that even in the worst forecasts, with home prices falling as much as 10 percent and foreclosures rising, investors say they can still make money.

“Given its significant underperformance in 2011, we believe the product is as cheap to broader markets as it has been in a long time,” Mr. Lippmann, whose portfolio is heavy with subprime mortgage securities, wrote in a recent letter to investors.

More broadly, the nascent recovery in the mortgage bond market supports a view that the housing slump may have bottomed out. Sales of existing homes are picking up. State and federal authorities have reached a $26 billion settlement with the big banks that is expected to provide some mortgage relief. And the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has been able to auction off billions of dollars of mortgage securities that it acquired as part of the financial crisis bailouts.

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