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Robert Trigaux

'Schmuck' insurance on rise as sellers of real estate, banks seek to share in any upside



DonaldTrump-AP Wake up and good morning. Can't say that I've ever heard of "schmuck" insurance, but with growing numbers of Florida banks likely to fail this year I guess we all better get up to snuff on the term. The phrase, explored in this Bloomberg News story, is also known as "jerk" insurance or -- in one federal bank regulator's less ethnic lexicon -- "equity appreciation" instrument. Brits call it an "anti-embarrassment" clause.

Schmuck, of course, is a Yiddish expression which literally means penis but in everyday use means fool or stupid person. Hence the use of "jerk" instead of "schmuck" insurance in some business circles.

Here's how it works and why it's so in vogue now. If an asset -- real estate or a bank, for example -- is sold, the seller may insist on an insurance clause that says if the property is sold again soon at a significant gain, then the original seller gets to share in the profit. The desire for such a condition reflects the current difficulty of valuing assets and the potential volatility of property prices these days.

Bottom line? No seller wants to look like he's been taken. The Bloomberg story interviews Donald Trump (AP photo) about why he used what he calls "jerk" insurance when he sold apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Queens. Trump demanded terms that restricted the buyers from reselling within five years, explaining: "I don’t want to look like a jerk."

Premieramericanbankmiamilogo Why do we care? Aside from the colorful play in real estate circles, the Bloomberg story says the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. recently adopted a form of schmuck insurance to protect it from selling seized banks for too little money and letting buyers reap windfall profits.

Floridacommunitybanklogo In the cases of five banks that failed since December -- including two Florida banks -- and were acquired by other lenders, the FDIC demanded future cash payments to share the acquiring bank’s gains. Those five failed banks are AmTrust Bank in Cleveland; Evergreen Bank in Seattle; Premier American Bank in Miami; Florida Community Bank in Immokalee, Fla.; and the Park Avenue Bank in New York.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:27am]


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