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LeFrak: Lenders Must Keep More Skin In The Game

Amid all the steps the government has taken to shore up the banking system, a recent proposal by the Obama administration to require lenders to retain a stake in securitized loans is a "tremendous game-changer," says real estate mogul Richard LeFrak.

Commercial Real Estate
Photo by: Luca Masters
Commercial Real Estate

"I think that is a really big game-changer," LeFrak tells CNBC.(To hear LeFrak's full comments on the state of the real estate industry, watch this video...)

LeFrak expects this proposal, if adopted, to become the single thing that will help to regulate "the shadow banking system and the securization system," saying it will do more "than anything else they can do, any czar they can come up with, because it forces people to pay attention."

According to LeFrak, banks' balance sheets remain "sketchy," and forcing the lenders to keep some skin in the game will make them more careful about how they invest their money.

At the moment, the proposal, which was initially pushed for by House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank calls for issuers of complex mortgage-backed securities and other similar financial products to retain at least 5 percent unhedged stake in the securities they market.

LeFrak said he thinks the stake may even need to be higher than the 5 percent mark at first.

Notably, LeFrak sounded a little less optimistic about the state of the commercial real estate industry. A weak economy and low consumer spending has depressed demand for office buildings, distribution centers and other types of commercial properties. At the same time, the credit crunch has made it hard — if not impossible — to fund deals.

  • LeFrak: Fed May Be Uncertain About Where The Economy Is Heading

LeFrak is said to be sitting on a large war chest, and has expressed interest in taking advantage of the bargains that can be scooped up in the downturn.

In the interview, however, LeFrak said the market is in a "grey period" right now.

"You always want to buy on the way up," he says, "OK, so we're not at the point that we are buying on the way up...we have to get used to the idea of the new math...and that will come, and once that comes there are going to be some amazing bargains."

LeFrak's business includes 10 million square feet of commercial real estate space as well as three hotels and 25,000 apartment rental units. LeFrak agrees with the premise that the market will be divided between the "haves" and the "have-nots," and the main difference between them is who has cash at their disposal.

"These financing costs have risen dramatically now, and will continue, and until the market stabilizes, we will have to live with it," he says.

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