Ginnie Mae is coming to Wall Street. The 25-year-old government- sponsored agency is on the verge of opening its first office in the heart of Manhattan's financial district.

"We want to be more in touch with the capital markets, so we're going to the mountain," said H. Jamie Schwing, executive assistant to Ginnie Mae president Kevin Chavers.

Ginnie Mae guarantees billions of dollars of mortgage securities each year, most of which are distributed and traded on the secondary market by Wall Street investment firms.

The agency has chosen offices in the U.S. Customs House, a federal building that also houses a bankruptcy court and an American Indian museum. The exterior of the imposing structure served as the "Gotham City Hotel" in one of the Batman movies.

The move to Wall Street is a natural follow-up to recent efforts to build better relationships with lenders that offer Ginnie Mae loans, Mr. Schwing said.

Ginnie Mae is in the midst of recruiting a director for the office, using the Wall Street Journal to seek an executive with mortgage securities expertise. The executive will be based in Washington but spend a lot of time in New York, Mr. Schwing said.

The office is also expected to have a full-time fixed-income analyst and an administrative assistant.

Ginnie Mae is figuring that face-to-face interaction will help its representatives get their message across. "There's still a lot of lack of knowledge about Ginnie Mae securities," even on Wall Street, Mr. Schwing said.

For instance, Ginnie Mae securities carry an explicit guarantee from the U.S. government, but are often looked at the same way as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities that carry only an implied guarantee, Mr. Schwing said.

For its part, Wall Street isn't so sure the move will make a major impact. Some securities executives called the step a nice goodwill gesture, but others said Ginnie Mae could better use its resources to improve systems in Washington.

John M. Robbins, the former chairman of a top mortgage lender, is stepping up his activities with mortgage securities. The executive, who headed American Residential Mortgage Corp. until it was acquired in 1994 by Chase Manhattan Corp., is taking his new real estate investment company public.

American Residential Investment Trust, founded in February, plans to raise $69 million by selling five million shares this summer.

The offering will give public investors a 76% stake in the Del Mar, Calif., company, which has about $225 million of mortgage assets on its books.

American Residential will use the proceeds to do more buying, its offering documents said. The company will hold mortgage securities and purchase loans directly from lenders. To earn potentially higher returns, American Residential will target loans that don't always meet the purchasing criteria of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

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