EUROPE - Finnish pension funds Ilmarinen and Varma have mopped up shares in partly state-owned property firm Sponda following the sale by state investment firm Solidium Oy of shares worth €176m.

Varma, the €32.2bn private-sector pensions provider, almost immediately increased its shareholding from 0.70% to just under 9%.

Ilmarinen, the €25bn pensions insurer, took its holding from 4.34% to 9.75%.

Petter Söderström, Solidium investment director with responsibility for Sponda, cited as critical to the timing strong investor demand and a share price that had risen from €2 in June 2009 to €3.4.

Solidium made €79m from a sale that reduced its holding from 34% to "a more optimal" 15%.

Söderström said: "Selling part of our shareholding has increased the liquidity of the shares. It is now easier further investors to buy."

The Finnish state held on to 34% of Sponda following the company's privatisation in 1998 and invested a further €71m during a rights issue in June 2009.

Söderström added that the sale would not change Solidium's status as an activist investor whose mission statement was to retain shareholdings large enough to secure "sufficient influence".

Until last week, Sponda accounted for 3% of an equity portfolio worth €9.2bn.

"We will still be very interested in how things develop," Söderström said.

Sponda chief executive Kari Inkinen said: "I'd like to think the appetite for Sponda shares is because we're a good investment. But the Finnish real estate market as a whole is seen as a solid, low-risk investment.

"That has increased demand - and it has driven international investment."

Around 45% of Sponda shareholders are overseas investors. The company saw its highest ever level of foreign investment - at almost 55% - just before the financial crisis.

"The interest is there, but it isn't as visible because the shareholdings are smaller," said Inkinen.

Sponda's €2.8bn portfolio is largely domestic, focused on the area around Helsinki, but with additional assets in Russia.