This time last year, 20 or so pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and investment managers gathered in London to discuss the ramifications of a hypothetical British exit from the EU.
The Investor Forum, a small closed-door event forming part of the bigger MIPIM UK trade show at Olympia London, reconvened this week to discuss the same topic – although this year it had moved from the hypothetical to the inevitable.
The conclusion, in its broadest sense, was that the UK is set for months of political and economic uncertainty and investors would be forgiven for waiting before making new investments – but, equally, there could be opportunities.
“It makes sense that investors would do this,” said Peter Hayes, global head of investment research at PGIM Real Estate, pointing to concerns about whether the recent rise in property yields would continue.
Transaction volumes have dropped in recent months, but the market is not completely inactive. This week it was revealed that Dutch pension fund investor APG had agreed to invest in TH Real Estate’s planned redevelopment of the St James centre in Edinburgh.
Asked at MIPIM UK about the timing of the transaction, Martijn Vos, senior portfolio manager at APG, admitted that Brexit had been a consideration but, ultimately, the decision was made on the basis of real estate fundamentals. APG does not know what effect Brexit will ultimately have, but it will continue to invest in “fundamentally good real estate”, he said.
GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, recently made the biggest UK student housing transaction of the year when it bought a large portfolio from Oaktree. Asli Ball, senior vice president at GIC, said the short-term uncertainty made it a challenge to make decisions, “but for those who can maintain a long-term horizon, there could be some interesting opportunities”.
But investors hoping to achieve outsized returns through distressed deals could be disappointed. The window to buy from several open-ended funds hit by high levels of redemption requests had shut, said John Slade, CEO at BNP Paribas Real Estate.
During a panel session on whether “extraordinary times” could translate to “extraordinary returns”, most of the talk steered towards lower-risk strategies, such as secure income and the UK’s nascent private-rented housing sector.
Dirk Bootsma, senior investment manager at PGGM, said the Dutch pension fund investor continued to invest in the residential market in the UK, applying some of its experience in the Netherlands and the US.
Regional office markets was another area of potential opportunity, first raised by Scott O’Donnell of Resolution Property. Bootsma agreed there could be opportunities to improve outdated buildings in the regions.
Regional offices and residential markets – including student housing – was one of four areas outlined by Hayes where UK real estate might sufficiently outperform bond markets to satisfy multi-asset investors. The others were select areas of the retail market likely to be boosted by tourism and the fall in sterling, and real estate debt investments.
But, asked Paul Richards, head of European real estate at Mercer, “what are extraordinary returns today?” He said pension funds were having to look at new areas of investment they would not have considered five years ago.