UK property funds have already lined up disposals worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and could end up flooding the market with up to £5bn of assets – as investors race to pull their money out following the EU referendum.
This week, Henderson Global Investors, Columbia Threadneedle, Canada Life Investments, Standard Life Investments, Aviva Investors and M&G have all suspended trading in their open-ended retail funds, which hold a combined total of about £15bn of property.
The moves came after a string of managers cut the value of their property funds by 3% to 5% last week.
The fund managers said they were looking to avoid having to rush sales in order to raise the cash needed to pay investors looking to get their money out.
For example, Henderson said on Wednesday that the “pace and scale of redemptions had become abnormally high” following the Brexit vote, exacerbated by the suspension of other funds, and claimed its move would allow for “an orderly sale of some properties”.
Even managers yet to suspend trading said they were contemplating sales.
A spokeswoman for Legal & General said its UK Property Fund had “a pipeline of sales initiatives, which will increase its cash position if needed”.
Properties believed to be on the list of potential sales include M&G’s New Square Bedfont Lakes office park near Heathrow Airport, Aviva’s Omni Leisure Centre in Edinburgh and Standard Life’s Monument Mall in Newcastle. Henderson’s £200m 440 Strand, in the West End, which is the head office for upmarket bank Coutts, is also being considered for sale.
Jefferies real estate analyst Mike Prew forecast that funds would sell at similar levels to the last financial crisis, predicting disposals of between £3bn and £5bn.
“Having eaten into liquidity, the funds might have to sell buildings and it’s a buyer’s market so lower prices will be fetched,” said Prew. “These sales could have a negative effect on the value of the funds’ other assets not up for sale, which could, in turn, trigger more redemptions.”
The suspensions bring back memories of the financial crisis when forced sales from open-ended funds and highly geared investors caused capital values to slump. This time, property investors are far less indebted so most analysts are not predicting declines of the same magnitude.
Nevertheless, the Bank of England warned this week that disposals from open-ended property funds could have negative consequences for the wider UK economy. “Open-ended funds could be forced to sell illiquid assets to meet redemptions if conditions persist beyond funds’ notice periods,” its Financial Policy Committee said.
“Any such amplification of market adjustments could affect economic activity by reducing the ability of companies that use commercial real estate as collateral to access finance.”
A spokesman for Aberdeen said redemption requests had actually fallen since last week, while Kames Capital said the situation was currently being kept under review. Kames had built up an exceptionally high buffer in cash and property shares of 32% ahead of the Brexit vote.
Since open-ended funds are also invested in REITs, property shares have taken a hit following this week’s suspensions. The FTSE REIT Index fell by about 9% over the first three days of this week.