Blackstone’s Next Big Bet: Small Industrial Units
In less than a year, Blackstone has built up a €2.2B portfolio of light industrial estates in the U.K. and Europe made up of small units let to hundreds of tenants.
It is the latest major thematic bet from the real estate private equity firm that made an early push into the logistics sector and this year sold its Logicor logistics business for €12B to China Investment Corp.
Onyx, as Blackstone’s European light industrial business is called, is unlikely to reach the same size as Logicor. But it is highly acquisitive —last week it agreed to buy £559M of U.K. assets from private equity firm Brockton Capital, according to EG.
The platform is managed by specialist light-industrial investor M7, run by Richard Croft. It has also bought significant portfolios in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Denmark.
The strategy is an extension of that undertaken with Logicor, only at the smaller end of the industrial market — Logicor bought big-box logistics units, Onyx smaller industrial estates. Blackstone said it only sold Logicor because the funds that owned it were coming to the end of their lives, and is still a big believer in the industrial sector.
As with Logicor, the appeal of Onyx is partly down to the growth of e-commerce. Smaller industrial units on the edge of towns and cities are increasingly being leased by retailers and parcel delivery companies to fulfill the last-mile element of the e-commerce delivery chain.
But beyond this, the financial metrics of the sector are appealing. This kind of property is typically bought for yields of between 6% and 8% but can be financed using debt borrowed at a margin of 2% to 3%, providing a high return on day one, even if values do not rise or vacancy rates or rents do not improve.
In M7, Blackstone has partnered with a firm with a good record of raising rents and reducing vacancies in its portfolios. It has worked with myriad U.S. opportunity funds in the sector, including Starwood and Oaktree, and is in the process of floating another portfolio of U.K. assets in a £300M initial public offering.
The test of whether the big directional bet placed by Blackstone has been a success will be whether, as with Logicor, a big institutional investor with a lower cost of capital is willing to buy the portfolio in a few years.