The sharp guys who run Minnetonka-based Pine River Capital Management dove early into the depressed mortgage-backed securities market in 2009 through their publicly traded Two Harbors investment trust. In less than four years, the trust delivered a whopping 130 percent total return to investors.

Now, Pine River is rolling the dice on a separate public real estate trust that invests directly in single-family homes in some of the nation’s still-ailing housing markets.

Two Harbors started buying houses a couple of years as it was buying nongovernment insured mortgage securities for as low as 52 cents on the dollar. They concluded the underlying properties in Phoenix, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Tampa, Fla., and elsewhere were dirt cheap.

Last December, Pine River launched Silver Bay Realty Trust, joining the growing ranks of institutional investors buying foreclosed and vacant properties as it raised $245 million in an initial public offering.

“We believe in the housing recovery story,” said Tom Siering, CEO of Two Harbors and a Pine River partner. “And we believed the market would value [Silver Bay] more as a separate vehicle” rather than having thousands of homes inside the Two Harbors mortgage bond portfolio.

But there is no guarantee that buying, renovating, renting and, ultimately, selling thousands of properties in more than a dozen markets over the next several years is going to be as easy as the big returns Two Harbors made for investors when it plunged into the mortgage securities market.

Investors have always played a role in the housing market. And it’s bigger this time after the huge housing collapse. Mortgage banks toughened their underwriting standards in the wake of the anything-goes housing boom. And the National Association of Realtors has estimated that investors, from ma-and-pa outfits to huge investment groups such as Silver Bay are acquiring up to a third of vacant properties

The Blackstone Group and Colony Capital have led efforts to raise as much as $8 billion to buy as many as 80,000 single-family homes to manage as rentals. A recent Wall Street Journal headline said: “Investors pile into housing, now as landlords.”

Silver Bay owns about 5,000 properties so far.

CEO David Miller, a veteran government and financial industry executive who joined Pine River Capital in 2011, was named CEO of Silver Bay in December.

“We estimate that home prices in our core markets remain below replacement cost and are in some cases as high as 50 percent off peak pricing,” Miller told analysts in a conference call this month.

“The dynamics in the housing and rental markets continue to be favorable … Sales of distressed properties remain robust. Second, supply of available housing remains constrained both in the for-sale and rental markets.”

In its first quarter as a public company, Silver Bay Realty Trust reported a loss of $6.4 million on revenue of $7.7 million. Silver Bay’s stock price, which has ranged from $17.75 to $22.40 per share since its inception last December, closed at $18.66 per share on Friday.

‘Part of the solution’

Miller noted that the company is still in the investment stage, acquiring and fixing up properties and finding renters.

“We expect to grow our property base and be in this for the long term,” Miller said in an interview last week. “We view ourselves as part of the solution. We’re improving properties, creating jobs and increasing property values.”

Miller, 37, had a bird’s-eye view of the housing industry implosion. A onetime investment specialist at Goldman Sachs, the Harvard MBA was called to Washington in 2008 to serve during the bailout of the financial industry in several posts, including as chief investment officer of the U.S. Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

He was hired in 2011 as a managing director of Pine River Capital.

Pine River, which manages Two Harbors and Silver Bay, was founded in 2002 by Brian Taylor, a veteran hedge fund executive who was once a partner in Minnetonka-based EBF & Associates.

There are 16 Pine River partners and 365 employees in offices in Minnetonka, New York City and Asia.

The compensation of the Two Harbors and Silver Bay executives is not disclosed due to the “external management” structure used by each. Two Harbors and Silver Bay pay 1.5 percent of their stockholders equity quarterly to Pine River Capital, which in turn pays the management teams of Silver Bay and Two Harbors.

Two Harbors paid a management fee of $33.2 million to Pine River Capital in 2012 and $14.2 million in 2011.