European landlords wary of competing with flood of foreign investment

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 December, 2014, 7:37am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 December, 2014, 7:37am

A record flow of investment into the European real estate market is a selling call for some players who will then buy less hotly chased assets and turn them into trophy properties.

"We have been a net seller this year," said Philippe Depoux, the chief executive of Gecina, Paris' largest publicly traded office landlord with a portfolio of €10 billion (HK$96.4 billion).

The French capital would see more than €20 billion invested in real estate this year, second in Europe only to London, Depoux said.

"Why? Because the risk premium in real estate has never been so high, nearly 300 basis points between the 10-year government bond and the minimum premium for a trophy asset," he said.

Riding on the investment frenzy, Gecina sold the Beaugrenelle shopping centre earlier this year for €700 million.

"We had a huge competition from all over the world. The right time to sell," Depoux said last week at a meeting organised by the European Public Real Estate Association and the Asia Public Real Estate Association in Hong Kong to bring together European property companies and Asian investors.

He said Gecina still had €1.1 billion of assets to dispose of, including health-care and residential properties, as it was on the way to becoming a pure office real estate investment trust.

On the other hand, the company had close to €2 billion to deploy in new projects and was trying "not to be in the 50 bidders for a trophy asset" in Paris.

"Try to find the rare pearl, where location is great, but you have some technicalities to bring into the building and you have a letting situation to improve," Depoux said.

Olivier Elamine, the chief executive of Alstria, a German office real estate investment trust, said his company had also been a net seller this year.

"What we see as an opportunity for acquisition is often the asset which basically has a problem," Elamine said.

Also staying away from fierce competition with Asian and Middle Eastern sovereign funds and US property funds, PSP Swiss Property, which owns office and business premises in prime locations in Switzerland's key cities, had not been buying assets for the past five years, chief financial officer Giacomo Balzarini told the meeting.

Instead, PSP had been busy upgrading its buildings to run them more efficiently to help drive up rents and increase the value of the assets, Balzarini said.

In London, Harry Hyman, the managing director and founder of Primary Health Properties, a real estate investment trust specialising in the rental of primary health-care facilities in Britain, said he would not regret missing out on some assets in the short term.

"Our strategy is not to overpay," Hyman said.