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New London Office REIT Could Gauge Whether Investors Still Back The Sector

HSBC's HQ in Canary Wharf was one of the first overseas assets bought by a Korean investor.

Two international investors are planning to test the appetite for London offices by setting up a new REIT focused on the sector. 

Singaporean property company City Developments and sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority are examining whether to team up and create a new London office REIT that would own at least three properties and be valued at about £1.8B, Bloomberg reported.

City Developments has been working on plans to sell a stake in its two London properties, Aldgate House and 125 Old Broad Street, since last year. The two buildings are valued at about £600M, the company said at a press conference last spring. 

Now there may be a new strategy for that sale. This week Bloomberg reported that QIA could put HSBC’s 1.1M SF HQ at 8 Canada Square in Canary Wharf into a proposed REIT with those two assets. The building is valued at about £1.2B, taking the total portfolio to £1.8B. City Developments said last year that it was looking to buy more assets for the REIT. 

It is working with banks DBS and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. on an initial public offering of the portfolio in Singapore, and could raise as much as £500M through selling a stake in the portfolio, Bloomberg reported. The appetite for shares in the new company would be an indicator of how global investors feel about the prospect for London offices.

HSBC’s 45-storey office tower has been something of a bellwether for London offices over the past 15 years. It was bought by Spanish property company Metrovacesa in April 2007 from HSBC in a sale and leaseback for £1.1B in what at the time was the largest-ever U.K. real estate deal. It represented a peak for that cycle.

The problem was, Metrovacesa used an £810M bridge loan from HSBC to buy the building. The credit crunch descended, Metrovacesa was unable to refinance the loan when it came due 18 months later, and HSBC bought the building back for £838M in autumn 2008. HSBC resold the building to Korea’s National Pension Service for more than £1B in November 2009 in a deal that marked the start of London real estate’s recovery.

QIA bought the building in 2014 for about £1.2B following a sustained recovery in the market.