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Manager Targets Rapid Rise In U.S. Assets

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Fortis Investments is plotting to grow markedly its U.S. assets under management and plans to become a regular buyer of structured finance assets as soon as this month.

Will Braman

Fortis Investments is plotting to grow markedly its U.S. assets under management and plans to become a regular buyer of structured finance assets as soon as this month. The manager runs $2 billion in fixed income in the U.S., mostly in core and core-plus accounts, but wants to bring in an extra $5 billion in new assets over the next three years. "We want to expand significantly in fixed and the fastest way to build critical mass is through structured products," said Will Braman, North American CEO in Boston. "This is the growth spot." Fortis, which is a huge player in the European market, wants to bulk up U.S. assets under management now and believes structured finance is the fixed-income sweet spot. Plans have been in the works for months, including what Braman called a recently completed consultant tour, and it is now gearing up to begin participating in the market.

Fortis is currently in discussions with investment banks about two CDOs: a $750 million and a $400 million transaction. Both would be backed by structured finance assets, with a concentration in mortgage assets. The larger deal, of course, would hold higher-quality assets while the smaller one would pool triple-Bs. Once Fortis signs deals with the banks--whom Braman declined to name--it will begin participating in the ABS market.

Although Fortis, which has U.S. portfolio management offices in Boston and New York, does not have a track record in managing these bonds, it is bringing in a host of outsiders with experience. This summer, Maryam Muessel, formerly of American Capital Access (BW, 5/9), joined as cio for U.S. fixed income. And last week Fortis announced it has hired an ABS portfolio management team, including Karim Berichi, head of a $2 billion asset-backed portfolio at Banca Intesa, and Terry Campbell, head of structured finance underwriting at ACE Guaranty. Braman said Fortis also plans to hire roughly 10 professionals for a new corporate credit/CLO management program in the second quarter.

Braman's team is separate from Fortis' proprietary account, which was set up last year to pump $1 billion into high-quality ABS under Blake Murphy (BW, 10/6/2003).

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