Investors and agents are readying for a rise in sale and leaseback transactions after the summer, as companies look to free up cash and prepare to move on after the coronavirus pandemic.

British American Tobacco is the latest blue-chip firm to confirm it is exploring such a deal, through a potential £250m-plus sale and leaseback of its London headquarters. EG revealed the firm was in “early stage” discussions over what it could do with the 172,019 sq ft Globe House in Temple, WC2, which it has owned since 2012 and occupied since 1998.

A spokesman for BAT did not give a reason for the potential sale but said: “We are continually striving to become a stronger, simpler and faster organisation. As part of this journey, we are always exploring ways to best leverage our assets.”

Sale and leaseback transactions in the UK tallied around £757m during H1 2020, according to preliminary estimates from CBRE. And with ultra-low interest rates bolstering property prices, it seems that more companies are spotting a window of opportunity.   

Upturn in enquiries

Christopher Mertlitz, London-based executive director at WP Carey, a REIT specialising in such deals, has seen an upturn in enquiries. He added that sale and leaseback deals are “especially attractive in the current market environment as traditional capital sources dry up and companies look to bolster their liquidity”.

Arvi Luoma, co-founder and chief executive of Blackbrook Capital and former head of Europe at WP Carey, said the UK and European market has seen “increased momentum” in recent weeks.

Luoma estimates that two-thirds of corporate real estate across Europe is occupier-owned, and so could be sold by the tenant and leased back.

“A lot of companies have had a period of having limited to no revenues [during the pandemic], and generally speaking we are in a recessionary environment and consumption trends have changed,” Luoma said.

“In times like these, when perhaps companies have exhausted other financing methods, the sale and leaseback stands out. You have the ability to undertake a fairly quick transaction, you can release the capital tied up in assets and use that to support your business. It can help to fill some temporary liquidity gaps but it can also provide funding for opportunities for growth coming out of this environment.”

M&A opportunities

Nick Compton, head of corporate capital markets for EMEA at JLL, said that although some companies will be aiming to free up more cash to invest back in to their business, others may be looking ahead to potential M&A opportunities or to plugging pension fund deficits.

“We expect a significant number of assets coming to market on a sale and leaseback basis, judging by the amount of preparation activity that has been going on for the last three or four months,” he said, adding that the automotive, aviation and oil and energy sectors are all set to be active.

This year, several retailers have sold their headquarters and leased them back, including Ted Baker, which sold its Ugly Brown Building, NW1, to British Airways Pension Trustees for £78.8m, and will use the proceeds to reduce debt.

Next completed a £107m sale and leaseback of some of its warehouses and its head office in Enderby, Leicestershire, for around £48m to provide it with enough cash to offset the impact of coronavirus on dwindling customer demand.

Matalan has also instructed Savills to market its Liverpool HQ, with a £28.6m price tag.

Two Waitrose & Partners supermarket portfolios have been sold by the John Lewis Partnership to Supermarket Income REIT and LondonMetric for a combined £136m.

According to JLL, last year owner-occupied property in Europe raised €23.1bn (£20.5bn) across more than 460 transactions, up from €17.4bn in 2018.

Around €7bn of this was in the UK, Compton said. That total included BT’s sale and short-term leaseback of its 300,000 sq ft headquarters at 81 Newgate Street, EC1, for £209.55m to a fund managed by Orion Capital Managers.

Additional reporting by Tim Burke