Soros to Goldman poised to win on crisis housing bet

Market Turnaround

To aid its expansion, Essent bought Triad’s mortgage insurance technology in late 2009 for about $30 million and by February 2010 received approval from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to insure loans.

“We feel like the market is starting to turn around,” Casale said in a Bloomberg interview at the time. “Our timing is actually very good.”

As housing began to rebound in 2012, driven by the Federal Reserve, which was pushing mortgage rates to record lows, Essent’s growth accelerated. It almost tripled sales in the first six months of this year compared to the same period of 2012 and expanded its share of the traditional private mortgage insurance market in the first half of this year to 12%, making it the No. 5 seller of the coverage, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.

As of June 30, the company had used $438 million of the cash, according to the regulatory filing, which identifies an entity controlled by Soros Fund Management LLC as an additional investor. Vipul Tandon, a managing director in the private equity group of Soros Fund Management, has served on Essent’s board since 2010, according to the filing. Spokesmen for the investors declined to comment on the IPO.

IPO Filing

The filing proposes a $287.5 million offering, a placeholder amount used to calculate registration fees, which may change. It doesn’t list a share price or say how much Essent’s investors will sell in the offering.

Janice Walker, a spokeswoman for Essent at JD Walker Communications LLC, said executives declined to comment ahead of the IPO.

Essent sold insurance on $10.2 billion of loans in the first six months of this year, up from $3.6 billion a year earlier. Radian, based in Philadelphia, had $24.36 billion in traditional sales and No. 1 United Guaranty, owned by American International Group Inc. sold $24.38 billion.

“New players got into this business five years ago promising they would walk over and destroy existing players,” Radian Chief Executive Officer S.A. Ibrahim said by telephone. “When we were on our backs, they couldn’t destroy us. Share gains in this much more intense competitive environment are going to be more difficult.”

Bigger Pie

The industry can grow by taking business from the government, Ibrahim said. U.S. programs, led by the Federal Housing Administration, accounted for about a quarter of the market in 2005 through 2007, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance.

As private companies retreated in the crisis, the proportion of insured loans backed by the FHA and Department of Veterans Affairs reached almost 85% in 2009. The figure fell to 63% in the three months ended June 30.

“Everybody has an opportunity to get bigger because the whole size of the pie will get bigger with the FHA pullback,” Ibrahim said.

Insurers including Genworth Financial Inc. and Milwaukee- based MGIC also have been loosening terms to bring in more business as home prices rise.

“There’s a lot more capital, there’s a lot more competition for each loan,” said Jason Stewart, an analyst at Compass Point Research & Trading LLC. “It’s going to start impacting returns.”

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