For the past two years, the industry's two winter conference events, Information Management Network's ABS West, and the American Securitization Forum's annual ABS conference have gone toe to toe, with IMN proving the significantly larger draw. The two events have been held as close as one week apart, and many firms, issuers and investors are now choosing to only attend one. For the past two years, the ASF's conference has played second fiddle, luring roughly one-third the audience. This year, however, there appears to be a growing swell of support for ASF 2006.

According to the latest numbers, there are 420 investors, 188 issuers and 66 corporate sponsors scheduled to attend ABS West, to be held at J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Ariz. from Feb. 7 - 10. According to the ASF, 500 investors, 150 issuers and 70 sponsors were registered as of Thursday, with the total number of registrants at 1,366, when all representatives from the issuers and sponsors were factored in.

ASF Executive Director George Miller said he expects well over 2,000 total attendees at the conference. That would add possibly 1,000 to ASF's attendance numbers over the past two years. Last year's ASF conference saw 1,193 attendees and just over 1,000 in 2004.

In an email circulated earlier this month, IMN claimed its ABS West 2005 conference was "the largest ever, with 2500 delegates and 125 corporate sponsors," and by some counts the number was as high as 2,660. ABS West, and IMN's ABS East conference in the fall, have regularly drawn attendance approaching 3,000 in recent years.

IMN conference producer Jade Friedensohn said a number of banks have actually increased their support for the conference this year, and the registration numbers so far indicate ABS West 2006's attendance will likely surpass 2005. "We still expect to have another record-setting event," she said.

The Perennial Favorite

"Every important contact that we need to see will be there," said Lawrence Angelilli, senior vice president with Centex Corp., in comments obtained from IMN. Anatoly Burman, managing director with Aladdin Capital Management, and regular moderator on IMN conference panels, also praised IMN. "I've been attending IMN ABS conference events for nearly eight years as both a speaker and a participant. The sessions are well thought out and panels are very well put together. With an average of 2000 participants at each conference, it is easy to see why this is the best place to gather market intelligence and share ideas with other members of the market," said Burman.

Location, location, location

One vast difference in this year's two-conference showdown is that ASF deviated from its initial plan and switched the location of the conference from Orlando, Fla. to Las Vegas. "It was a member-driven decision," said the ASF's Miller of the venue change. Miller said the ASF received feedback from the industry that Las Vegas would be a preferable location for its destination appeal, and because of the specific opportunity to hold the conference at new Wynn Las Vegas Resort.

Members of IMN's Structured Finance Team also voiced confidence in ABS West's reputation and ability to attract industry participants. "We have increased levels of support from our top investment banks and law firms, and strong investor and issuer numbers which grow by the day. Hosting the event at the J.W. Marriott ensures a resort-like atmosphere, with plenty of opportunities for purposeful networking, without big city distractions. Expect new sessions and new speakers, in addition to the core coverage our delegates have come to expect over the past decade," said one team member.

"Once the ASF had developed high quality content, we also needed to appeal to those people who don't necessarily attend the sessions but go for the networking," said Joe Donovan, chairman of ABS and debt financing at Credit Suisse First Boston and ASF director. Donovan added that the entire ABS team at CSFB would once again only be attending ASF 2006.

As of last week, Friedensohn said all of the rooms in the J.W. Marriott hotel were booked with conference attendees, adding to the appeal of the event. "When you walk down the hall you know that everyone there is a potential business partner," she said. Having an entire resort dedicated to one event fosters "a very intimate feeling. It shows that this is our time and this is our space," Friedensohn added.

"[The] Wynn is a great venue," said Tom Marano, senior managing director at Bear Stearns. "We canvassed the traders, canvassed the customers and got feedback that more people were interested in the [Las] Vegas venue," added Marano, who was involved in planning the conference.

While Bear Stearns sponsors both conferences, Marano said his firm would have a greater presence at ASF 2005 this year, but said that since clients will be attending ABS West, it is necessary to send a team there as well.

(c) 2005 Asset Securitization Report and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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