European banks and asset managers will sell as much as €70 billion of real estate debt and repossessed assets this year as they continue to strengthen their balance sheets. More than €12 billion of property loans were sold in the first quarter, about 50 per cent less than the previous period, New York-based broker Cushman & Wakefield said in a report. Debt sales will be driven by Italian lenders and Ireland's bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency, according to the report. Dublin-based Permanent TSB Group Holdings, which has to cover capital shortfalls highlighted by the European Central Bank's asset quality review last year, was the biggest seller of property loans during the first quarter, Cushman & Wakefield said. "Although completed transaction volumes are slightly down on those recorded for [last year], there are plenty of large transactions being prepared for the market, which will boost activity in the second half of the year," said Federico Montero, the head of loan sales for Cushman & Wakefield's Europe, Middle East and Africa corporate finance group. "As predicted, we have already seen a noticeable uplift in the number of sales coming from Italy, which was the third-most active European country in the first quarter." More than €1 billion worth of transactions were closed in Italy in the first three months, more than 21/2 times the volume recorded last year, according to the report. With fewer "mega deals" completed in the three months to March, five investors accounted for 69 per cent of all transactions in the period, according to the report.