Wednesday 13 December 2017

Revealed: The players who have made huge profits on the back of the Irish property crash

Lone Star chief John Grayken
Lone Star chief John Grayken
Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

The investment funds which have bought up loans and property in Ireland are following a formula that has proved successful around the globe.

Time and again, a crash has been followed by investors with lots of cash looking for easy profits. And in most cases the bet has paid off handsomely.

The list of the names which have spent fortunes could be replicated in any recovering economy.

The biggest fish of all is IRES Reit. The company is located here but is backed by Canada's biggest landlord CapReit. IRES has grown to control 2,056 apartments, mostly in Dublin. IRES is perhaps the least well known, but has made the biggest bet here. It has made a long-term play on the nature of home ownership in Ireland. By buying so many apartments it is betting that as a country we are moving from a society where everyone owns their house to long-term renting. It has backed this view to the tune of nearly €1bn invested here.

Of the short-term investors, US-based Blackstone has probably been the marquee name with its ownership of the former Burlington Hotel, a number of office blocks, and Cork's Elysian Tower.

Back in 2010, Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman was clear on the opportunity he saw in Ireland. "They barely know what they own," he said.

Blackstone chief Stephen Schwarzman saw an opportunity in Ireland
Blackstone chief Stephen Schwarzman saw an opportunity in Ireland

Read more: Revealed: Speculators have bought almost 9,000 homes in nearly every county for as little as €6,000 each

Blackstone started spending in 2012 and has booked profits of tens of millions of euro by selling offices it bought back then.

Others such as Cerberus Capital Management have bought up loan books from Nama including the Project Eagle portfolio of Northern Irish loans, as well as the Project Arrow book of commercial loans it took control of last year.

LoneStar Funds is a Texas-based investor. Headed by Irish-American John Grayken, it made a killing in 2008 by buying mortgages from US banks for pennies on the dollar. It has pursued a similar strategy here, buying loans tied to property at bottom dollar prices and watching them rise in value.

The likes of Cerberus, Blackstone and LoneStar are classed by some "Vulture Funds", they were the only ones with the cash to buy property when the market was in free fall. They tend to get in and get out of a market in three to five years.

Another Texas-based firm operating here is Hines. It has assets worth about $85bn around the world and has spent about €1.2bn in Ireland. Most of that has been in office and retail property but it says it will develop 3,800 homes at Cherrywood in west Dublin where it plans to build a new town centre style development.

Read more: Paul Melia: Rents and prices on the rise once firesales began

Kennedy Wilson - another US firm - didn't even have a European business until after the crash. Kennedy Wilson Europe has spent close to half a billion euro and is sitting on profits worth hundreds of millions of euro. It is building apartments at Clancy Quay near Heuston Station in Dublin and plans to have 800 apartments there by 2018. It controls another 353 units at two sites in Dublin.

It and Hines appear set for the long haul in Ireland.

Then there are the Irish specialists - Hibernia Reit, IRES Reit and Green Reit.

These were set up to invest in property in the last three years. Hibernia and Green are overwhelmingly focused on commercial buildings although Hibernia controls about 313 apartments.

Irish Independent

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