* Three U.S. firms prepare bids for Santander's Altamira
* Sources name Cerberus Capital, Centerbridge Partners, Lone
* Sabadell could sell Solvia in coming months - sources
By Sarah White
MADRID, Sept 25 Foreign investors are preparing
bids for the property management units of several Spanish banks,
hoping to break decisively into a real estate market that has
brought few bargain housing deals for funds even after five
years of a price slump.
U.S. investment firms Cerberus Capital Management,
Centerbridge Partners and Lone Star are among those preparing to
join a preliminary round of bidding for Santander's
Altamira Real Estate, two sources familiar with the matter said.
The Altamira deal, which would give the successful bidder a
team of managers and a contract to handle Santander's property
sales but would not include real estate assets on the bank's
books, is the latest of several similar moves by rivals.
Most Spanish banks are contracting out the units, or selling
them, to raise cash without parting with foreclosed housing that
they own, which foreign investors want to buy but only at very
The first bids for Altamira are due on Thursday, the two
sources said. Lone Star declined to comment. Cerberus and
Centerbridge did not respond to requests for comment.
Spanish lenders were hit hard by a real estate boom which
turned to bust in 2008, landing the banks with soured loans to
developers and forcing them to foreclose on properties.
The banks were told by the government to make steep
writedowns on property exposures last year, leaving some short
of capital and forcing Spain to request a 41 billion euro ($55
billion) bailout from Europe for the weakest lenders.
The writedowns had sparked hopes among international
investors that banks would start offloading big bundles of
properties, unfreezing Spain's real estate market, but few deals
have come yet through.
"Ask and offer prices (for property portfolios) are much
closer now, .... but at the very, very cheap levels funds are
interested in banks still think "I can't, it's a loss'," said
Manuel Anguita of Aguila Capital, which brokers deals between
banks and investors.
The interest shown by foreign investors was welcomed in the
Spanish real estate sector as a sign of serious commitment.
"These types of deals are a very good sign - no-one buys a
platform to stay in a country for a year," said Fernando Acuna
of property management firm Taurus Iberica.
"These will give the funds a deep knowledge of what is going
on...and allow them to manage other assets they might buy which
don't belong to the bank."
Several banks have relinquished their property management
operations in recent weeks, which will let them refocus on their
Cerberus picked up the contract to manage properties and
developer loans for state-rescued Bankia, paying
between 40 million and 90 million euros to run the property
business over 10 years.
The Altamira deal - dubbed 'project bison' by bankers after
prehistoric paintings at the Altamira caves near Santander -
could be worth more, one source said.
Santander declined to comment.
Mid-sized lender Sabadell could look to sell its
real estate arm Solvia in the coming months, according to two
other sources familiar with that deal.
Sabadell said there was no existing mandate to sell the unit
but it did not rule out studying it in future.
International investors want to buy the businesses to reap
commissions from sales and gain platforms with which to manage
other assets they might pick up in Spain, bankers and real
estate experts said.
Real estate prices appear closer to hitting the bottom ,
Acuna at Taurus Iberica said, after a slump of some 40 percent
in five years. That could help funds finally buy more portfolios
as buyers and sellers get a clearer idea of price prospects.
A 'bad bank' created to manage real estate assets of rescued
lenders is also stepping up sales of bundles of properties.
"Ultimately these (property management) platforms will
probably be brought together and we'll end up with three
dominating this market in a few years," said one Madrid-based