Amid Wall Street's exuberance over commercial mortgage-backed securitization, Credit Suisse First Boston is pitching an even larger tent in the sector, launching a CMBS research team headed by former Merrill Lynch & Co. CMBS official Gail Lee.

Lee joined CSFB as a director of CMBS research, leading a team that also includes Ken Elder, who worked in mortgage sales and research at CSFB's Boston branch. The team will report to Karen Wagner, director and head of securitized asset research at CSFB.

Before serving as co-head of CMBS research at Merrill, Lee was head of research and strategy at the O'Connor Group.

The hiring of Lee and transfer of Elder comes at a time when commercial MBS is generating a great deal of excitement in the mortgage-backed market. After a series of fits and starts over the past several years, CMBS has been showing considerable strength in recent months, with July slated to be the third-strongest month in terms of issuance, some sources predict.

What's more, things could get even hotter come August and September, when volume is expected to surpass July's levels, many CMBS experts said.

A large chunk of the strength of the CMBS sector is being attributed to the recent addition of commercial mortgage-backeds to the Lehman Index on July 1, which in the eyes of many provided at least a perceptual boost to the sector.

At CSFB, the move to establish a commercial mortgage research team is part of a broader push by the company to expand the services offered by the real estate products group, a unit established earlier this year within the fixed income and derivatives divisions.

"The research team further strengthens our group's existing businesses in corporate advisory, underwriting, securitization and secondary trading," said Stewart Dauman, co-head of CSFB's real estate products group in a statement. "It is one more value-added product that we can offer clients." - JS

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