Hermes secures Eurostar ownership for pension funds after UK sell-off

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Hermes Infrastructure has secured 10% of rail company Eurostar on behalf of several pension funds.

The UK government sold off its stake in the company for £585.1m (€807m), having owned 40% of Eurostar.

Canadian pension fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), which took on 30%, joined Hermes, the asset manager wholly owned by the BT Pension Scheme (BTPS).

The pair created a shell company, Patina Rail, to secure the stake in the rail firm in a hotly contested deal that reportedly included other UK pension funds – the £41.6bn Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and the £5.5bn Lancashire County Pension Fund (LCPF).

The £40.2bn BTPS seeded Hermes’s investment fund and took a stake alongside the £10bn Santander UK Group Pension Scheme and local government pension schemes (LGPS) for Dorset (£2.1bn), Cornwall (£1.4bn) and Barking and Dagenham (£654m).

The remainder of Eurostar is owned by national rail agencies for France, Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF) (55%) and Belgium, Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Belges (SNCB) (5%).

Both agencies have the option to block the purchase and acquire the UK government’s stake at a 15% premium.

However, this is unlikely to occur, with SNCF and CDPQ already having an existing partnership in transport assets.

Hermes said it expected the sale to be completed by the end of June.

Hamish DeRun, a partner at Hermes Investment Management, said this was the fund’s first direct transportation asset, falling under its ‘value added’ strategy, giving investors exposure to GDP growth-linked assets.

“Teaming up with CDPQ made sense because they bring a lot of experience in transportation assets and also in working with SNCF,” DeRun added.

Antony Barker, director of pensions at Santander UK, said he was pleased with the investment in the Hermes fund, which came last year as Hermes announced commitments reaching more than £700m.

He said the Santander pension fund supported the purchase through the fund and a segregated mandate with Hermes, leaving it with around 4% ownership.

“It’s a good deal,” he said. “With a brand-new set of rolling stock about to be delivered and a franchise that extends through France and redevelopment of King’s Cross, we can only see demand increasing.”

Hermes Infrastructure said it was approached by UBS, the investment bank brokering the sale on behalf of the government, regarding the sale.

It then exclusively partnered with CDPQ after the Canadian investors approached the firm as a UK partner for the bid.

“This demonstrates a lot of the characteristics of the infrastructure assets we are looking for,” DeRun said.

He said Hermes expected to hold on to its stake for the long term, or at least for the life of the fund, an 18-year cycle.

CNDQ has around CAD226bn (€161.5bn) in assets, with CAD10bn in infrastructure, and manages investment for 33 public, para-public and insurance companies in Quebec.

It and SNCF have an existing relationship with a 30/70 split of transportation manager Keolis, a French firm operating globally.

Macky Tall, senior vice-president for infrastructure at CDPQ, said: “Alongside leading industry players, we are becoming partners of a highly strategic asset that will generate stable and predictable returns.

“This major investment is another opportunity for us to further build on our expertise in the transport sector.”

The sale of Eurostar forms part of the UK government’s National Infrastructure Plan, involving more than £20bn of public assets by 2020.

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