The Wall Street Journal
Billionaire hedge-fund manager Edward S. Lampert is placing new bets on a U.S. housing recovery, buying stakes in beaten-up home builders, mortgage lenders and a home-improvement retailer.
Mr. Lampert’s ESL Investments Inc., which owns half of department-store giant Sears Holdings Corp. and 40% of car retailer AutoNation Inc., has previously focused with mixed success on retail and bank stocks.
Recently, the Greenwich, Conn., hedge fund, which controls investments it valued at about $11.6 billion in its most recent government financial report, began picking up shares in hard-hit housing-related stocks. ESL acquired small stakes in U.S. home builders Centex Corp. and KB Home, according to its latest Securities and Exchange Commission filings. At recent prices, the stakes in the two home builders are valued at $10.4 million and $10.8 million, respectively.
ESL also is tip-toeing into mortgage origination and servicing, acquiring about four million shares of CIT Group Inc., a struggling subprime home and commercial lender, as well as 1.4 million shares of PHH Corp., a mortgage originator and mortgage-service company. The shares are valued currently at about $35.5 million and $25.2 million, respectively. ESL spokesman Steve Lipin declined to comment on the investments.
Mr. Lampert’s purchases come as some analysts think the housing market’s decline may be nearing an end.
In another bet on a housing turnaround, Mr. Lampert this spring increased his stake in Atlanta-based home-improvement retailer Home Depot Inc. ESL now holds about 22.7 million shares valued at $590 million, up from 16.7 million shares last year.