For the first time, last week's Information Management Network Spring ABS 2007 conference was the right place for emerging market junkies to get a fix, and for those not yet hooked, to decide if this was an asset class they'd like to try.
It goes without saying that the barrel-chested countries drew the most oohs and ahhs. Russia, all pumped up with existing assets, was there, flexing the kind of growth figures that you can't find anywhere else. As if doubling volumes of residential mortgages every year weren't enough, speakers reminded us that Russia also offers tremendous pent-up demand for consumer assets. Meanwhile, commercial real estate construction is through the roof, and CMBS hasn't even made its debut.
And then there was Mexico, which has already developed a vibrant domestic market in ABS and MBS, and, judging by panel attendance, was evidently a big draw for many participants at the conference. One talk on mortgages in Mexico actually seemed to hold everyone's attention right to the end, despite bumping up against lunch (full disclosure: I moderated).
It was clear to the more seasoned players that even if some of these markets haven't exactly arrived, the distance they've traveled in just a few years was remarkable.
But what about the smaller guys? I couldn't argue against boning up on a Russia, a Mexico, or a Brazil, but I found that all this swaggering had made me long for the distant corners and ultra-esoteric assets that are an essential part of emerging markets. Where were the tiny cattle head-backed deals I used to write about, the ones from Colombia where they'd brand the insignia of the financial trust on the rump of each asset? (ASR, 10/6/03) Where were the little places that had interesting stories to tell?
So I wandered into the panel on southeastern Europe. From what I gathered, no cattle-head-backed deals were going on there, but Bulgaria - population 7.7 million - has a cottage industry in covered bonds, and a homeownership rate of an astonishing 90%. It may lack the size to get most i-bankers excited, but it is, I learned, the birthplace of Cyrillic. Now, if you could securitize an alphabet ...
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