Saturday 3 December 2016

London post-Brexit recovery powered by Battersea deal

Ronald Quinlan and Jack Sidders

Published 20/10/2016 | 02:30

CBRE said Apple's agreement to move its UK headquarters to Battersea Power Station accounted for 33pc of the total office space take-up in the third quarter
CBRE said Apple's agreement to move its UK headquarters to Battersea Power Station accounted for 33pc of the total office space take-up in the third quarter

London's post-Brexit property market received a much-needed shot in the arm in the third quarter with the US tech giant Apple leading the way with its decision to take 467,300 sq ft of space at Battersea Power Station for its UK headquarters.

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While Apple's 1,400 UK employees won't move to Battersea until 2021 when its $8.8bn redevelopment is complete, the deal proved to be the biggest in the three-month period to the end of September, accounting for 33pc of the total take-up.

The transaction, which was welcomed by London mayor Sadiq Khan as proof that "London is open" will, however, have been bittersweet for developer Johnny Ronan and his former partner in Treasury Holdings, Richard Barrett.

Prior to the sale - at Nama's request - of debts relating to the Battersea site in 2012, Ronan had held discussions with Apple in relation to its possible relocation there.

Referring to the move in his evidence to the Banking Inquiry last year, Ronan said: "There is little doubt that if Nama had not enforced, calling in loans on Battersea Power Station in 2011, Treasury Holdings would still be operating and would have repaid all of its debts. That is the commercial reality of it.

"It is widely known and acknowledged that Battersea Power Station will be one of the most profitable property developments not only in Europe, but throughout the world," he added.

And while Nama has repeatedly defended the timing of its disposal of its interest in Battersea Power Station and other prime London assets, citing the requirement for it to meet the deadlines imposed by the ECB to repay its senior debt, the agency's more recent suggestion that Brexit also justified it decision would not appear to hold up to the same level of scrutiny.

According to the latest figures from CBRE, a total of 2.9m sq ft of office space was acquired in the London market in the last three months, an increase of 21pc compared to the second quarter of 2016, and just below the city's 3.1m sq ft 10-year average office space take-up.

Quite apart from Apple, the US bank Wells Fargo took 220,000 sq ft of space as owner-occupier at 33 Central, King William Street in the City of London in another notable post-Brexit deal.

Activity in the three months to the end of September stood in stark contrast to the 22pc drop in take-up recorded in the second quarter, when a total of 2.4m sq ft of office space was acquired.

While the availability of London office space increased in the third quarter by 3pc to 13.7m sq ft, it still remains 6pc below the 10-year average of 14.5m sq ft.

Commenting on the latest numbers, CBRE's head of London leasing Emma Crawford said: "The message to take from recent market activity at Battersea Power Station and 33 Central is that occupiers are willing to look past short-term volatility in the market.

"London remains open for business - unemployment in London is the lowest it has been for 30 years, there is a buoyant job market and it has one of the most diverse workforces in the world. The capital remains at the forefront of occupiers' strategies looking to expand, and the creative and tech industries are becoming increasingly dominant, a trend I expect to continue," Crawford added.

The news of London's dramatic post-Brexit rebound will be welcomed by the city's commercial property sector, given the turmoil that prevailed in the lead in to, and in the immediate aftermath of the poll.

According to a survey of 78 lenders conducted by De Montfort University, the results of which were published last Monday, US banks cut their share of UK commercial-property lending by half ahead of the referendum on EU membership as uncertainty about the vote and a cooling market damped demand for real estate.

US banks and Canadian lenders' market share dropped to 7pc from 14pc in the first six months, according to the survey.

UK banks and member-owned lenders advanced 44pc of all new loans, a 10 percentage point increase on the previous six months, the report by the Leicester-based university estimates.

American banks were concerned about Brexit because the increased risk meant they could find it harder to sell on the loans, Nassar Hussain, managing partner of real estate credit adviser Brookland Partners LLP, said in an interview.

Capital-market volatility sparked by fears over Chinese growth had also "killed off" the market for commercial mortgage-backed securities, used by investment banks to get loans off their balance sheets and free-up capital, during the period, he said.

Purchases of UK commercial property fell by almost half to €29.5bn ($32.5bn) in the first half as concern about the referendum and high values slowed deals, researcher Real Capital Analytics Inc. said last July.

The overall volume of new loans fell 13pc to Stg£21.4bn ($26.2bn) from a year earlier, the De Montfort survey showed.

"The reduction in new loan originations and activity reflects the general market slowdown we have seen so far this year," said Ion Fletcher, finance policy director at the British Property Federation lobby group.

(Bloomberg)

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