It's that time of the year again - securitization professionals from around the world are taking a two-week excursion to the desert to attend the back-to-back ABS conferences, IMN/Fabozzi's ABS West 2002 and SRI's Asset Securitization Symposium. This year's conferences, however, are perhaps the industry's most highly anticipated ABS gatherings since the inception of the market, as structured finance professionals forewent the fall conferences due to those events' proximity to Sept. 11.

Attendance at both Arizona shindigs, therefore, is expected to be record-breaking: This week's IMN/Fabozzi conference, for instance, boasts a whopping 2,100 people registered and more than 130 sponsors/exhibitors.

But perhaps more noteworthy is the breadth of global diversity represented by the market participants making their way to Phoenix. "Bankers are focusing a lot of attention on investor and issuer dinner parties, given the record number of attendees and the quality, depth and diversity of the investor base that will be here," says Scott Brody, coordinator of the IMN/Fabozzi event. There will be a huge European, Latin American and Australian contingent at the conference, Brody adds, as well as a higher-than-usual number of ABCP buyers and SIV market participants.

Probably foremost on several market players' minds, however, is the opportunity to use the IMN event as a venue to roll out a brand new U.S.-based securitization trade group, the American Securitization Forum. As a counterpart to similar groups in Europe and Australia, the new group - which is expected to be officially formed during the next two months, after several years of development - will act as a collective voice for the securitization industry, "educating people outside our industry on certain topical issues with members such as broker/dealers, issuers, investors, surety bond providers as well as other participants," says Phil Weingord, the head of ABS at Deutsche Bank, who will be speaking on one of the opening panels.

Headed up by MBNA's Vernon Wright, SG's Greg Medcraft and Mayer, Brown and Platt's Jason Kravitt, the group will nominate an executive committee of 30 members, though anyone can join the organization. Sources say that there will be a coordinated push to sign up members at the IMN/Fabozzi event, as brochures will be handed out and the formation of the group will be mentioned on the opening panel.

"This is a great opportunity to get people involved in the industry," said Diane Wold, managing director at GMAC-RFC, who notes that this group will be separate from the Bond Market Association, which mainly represents dealers.

Aside from the kick-off of the ASF, the Arizona events will be forums for participants to exchange ideas on the most salient issues currently in the marketplace: the impact of Sept. 11 on ABS liquidity, the role of CDOs in the ABS market, and the impact of the Enron debacle on the sector. "When considering the effect of Enron, you have to wonder if this is going to influence certain issuers not to move their assets off balance sheet, or if it will persuade regulators to make disclosure requirements more onerous on securitization," notes Deutsche Bank's Weingord.

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