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As GlobeSt.com reported recently, German-based mortgage bank Hypothekenbank in Essen, AG—Essen Hyp for short—has planted itself on US shores with the creation of its first office in Manhattan. From that base of operations, the bank hopes to expand its current US activity and is in fact eyeing as much as $400 million per year in private mortgage activity and as much as a $1 billion in public work. Overseeing that initiative is Jean Barden, who is a veteran of Chemical Bank’s syndications group—which she ran until 1995—and PB Capital. At the recent press meeting unveiling the strategy, Essen Hype’s German executives outlined a specific plan for the expansion, enumerating office, retail and multifamily as their key product areas. Barden, in an exclusive interview with GlobeSt.com after the conference, wagered that she was willing to explore more areas of opportunity as long as the potential was there. How she plans to do that was part of the discussion.

GlobeSt.com: You’re focused on much the same property types as you did at Chemical. You must be comfortable knowing the marching orders are the same.

Barden: Chemical Bank had a lot of office and retail and not as much multifamily or warehouse. But the marching orders are to find good business. As the market evolves, the thinking will evolve.

GlobeSt.com: But you’ll have to get Germany’s blessing on new property types, no?

Barden: Yes, but I believe I’ll prove a good point every time I present a deal to Germany. They’re very interested in deals that make sense, and there are deals in every corner of this country. It’s just a matter of finding them.

GlobeSt.com: In the press meeting you talked about the overheated market. What’s your strategy in the face of that?

Barden: I’ve been hearing rates that are more aggressive than what I grew up with. People are stretching the comfort zones to win the business. I’m seeing deals where the cap rates are aggressive and test benchmarks are lower than what we’d expect them to be. People are trying to get deals booked and the competition for winning the bake-off is tough. Proceeds are getting more aggressive and a lot more shops are trying to do the A and the B as a one-stop shop. They’re trying to put 80% together, cram as much as they can into the cheap piece and sell that out to those lenders willing to do the low-yield component. I don’t want to find myself in that situation. I want to underwrite every deal we look at.

GlobeSt.com: That can be tough.

Barden: It’s a tough balancing act. It’s not my intention at all to become the capital source of fashion.

GlobeSt.com: So you’ll be walking away from a lot of deals?

Barden: Yeah, and it’s hard to walk away, because if it’s a nice deal you have to weigh the quality of the credit against the price. Hopefully we’ll find those deals that give us a little more yield but we’ll balance those with deals that are easy.

GlobeSt.com: What would drive a cooling down of the market?

Barden: Something is going to happen. The price compression is so dramatic and the proceeds that are being provided are so aggressive that something will happen that will spook people, some mistake such as a major default. There are a lot of big tickets that have been put on the market, and CMBS packages with their first cycle of 10-year papers are about to come off. The CMBS market has had a very happy track record and that has created a lot of confidence. Also, a lot of these deals are interest-rate sensitive and if they go too far too fast . . .

GlobeSt.com: But no one seems to think that’s about to happen.

Barden: No. No one does think that but a lot of the underwriting getting done relies on interest rates remaining low. I think of interest rates traditionally more as a 6% or 7% number. When deals underwrite at only 5%, you have to be a little nervous.

GlobeSt.com: Will Essen Hyp’s sensitivity to walking away make your strategy event-proof?Barden: I hope. I want to be around for the next 20 years. I want to grow this business.

GlobeSt.com: How’s your German?

Barden: I’m giving myself two years to master the language. I speak Japanese, French and a little Spanish. I love languages and I love being in the situation where I have to learn the language. It’s my personal goal to make the effort.

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