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PHILADELPHIA-The merger of locally based RAIT Investment Trust and Taberna Realty Finance Trust closed following a meeting of RAIT shareholders at the Crowne Plaza Hotel here on Dec. 11. The new company is named RAIT Financial Trust and will continue to trade on the NYSE under the original RAS ticker symbol.

Betsy Cohen, president and CEO of the former REIT, is chairman of the newly formed company, and Daniel Cohen, her son, who held the same top posts at Taberna, is the new company’s CEO. As GlobeSt.com previously reported, the transaction is valued at approximately $606 million.

During the shareholders’ meeting, Betsy Cohen described expertise in collateralized debt obligation as the chief benefit of the merger. Calling CDOs “a relatively unique product” in real estate, she said, “the form of unsecured lending developed by the CEO of Taberna” represented a “new way of financing our own business.” As an example, she noted that RAIT closed a $1-billion CDO transaction on Nov. 7. It reduced “a variety of lines of credit” with average interest of 160 points over Libor to 48 basis points over Libor.

Asked if RAIT had considered developing this expertise in house, she said, “We have looked at the possibility of doing this kind of issuance; should we buy it, or should we build it? It is a field of tremendous complexity,” she said, and the company concluded that the cost of acquiring this expertise would be high, “and we’re getting more than just people.”

In a November, GlobeSt.com column, titled The CDO Stands Out, William Hughes, senior vice president and managing director of Irvine, CA-based Marcus & Millichap Capital Corp., cited the CDO platform as an emerging tool in commercial real estate and said the CDO platform “offers a great deal of flexibility. Once a niche play,” he says, “We expect the commercial real estate CDO market to approach $40 billion by year-end 2006.”

Shares of RAS opened trading on Dec. 12 at $34.37 a share, unchanged from the previous day and pennies just below the 52-week high of $34.53, reached on Dec. 8. The 52-week low of $24.81 a share occurred on May 17 this year.

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