With the recent hiring of Jim Regan to head its U.S. ABS secondary trading desk, the ABS puzzle is just about complete for ABN Amro. Since May, the Dutch underwriter has been quietly filling senior roles in its management team, poaching experienced ABS pros from various street firms one at a time, rather than an entire group in one fell swoop.

Meanwhile, the engine is already running, as evidenced by ABN's two lead mandates last week - the first such assignments ABN has scored since hiring former JPMorgan Securities banker Bill Haley to run its term origination team in July (see ASR 7/28).

Last week, for example, ABN acted as joint leads on a pair of new issues - $1.3 billion of auto-loan ABS for Volkswagen AG and $1.03 billion of Australian MBS in a global ARMS II transaction. ABN split the books on both.

As soon as next year ABN could be seen much more frequently as a lead. Prior to last week, ABN had led just one U.S. ABS primary offering this year, for Case Credit's CNH Trust in March, although that was prior to Haley's hiring, and ABN split the books.

"We are attracting high-quality, experienced people at the senior levels of the business now to complement our existing core of experienced ABS bankers, and we will continue our investment in the ABS business," Haley said.

The team is headed by James Moore, a long-time ABS banker, who serves as North American securitization chief. The term ABS team, aside from Haley, consists of Managing Director Cyrus Mohebbi, who came to ABN earlier this year from Prudential Securities, and will head the structuring group. Mohebbi recently added Dan Costin, also from Prudential Securities, as a director. On the distribution side, managing director Caroline Morrill, formerly of Morgan Stanley, heads the syndicate operations for ABS and CMBS, as well as the aforementioned Regan, who will handle secondary ABS trading.

ABN has also staffed its banking team; in addition to ABN veterans Erik Ford, Bob Graff and Rob Poff, ABN recently hired Amy Jo Downing and Sue Lee from WestLB and Ben Merrill from Moody's Investors Service, all as associates. All that's missing is an experienced head of ABS research strategy, a post ABN Amro is expected to fill in the near term.

The list of issuers ABN Amro has pre-established lending relationships with includes some of the highest quality captive auto lenders, which will complement Haley's background in the credit card sector.

While more lead mandates are expected throughout the remainder of this quarter, ABN will more likely be seen primarily as a co-manager on primary market transactions for the time being. This is a familiar position for ABN, which has acted as co-manager on 11 new issues this year (see related chart).

"We are going to build this business the right way," Haley said. "We are gaining traction now and will continue to build momentum through 2004 with investment in our people and product capabi-lities."

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