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Ares is vindicated if Landmark hits its $3.5bn fundraising target

A successful fundraising by the secondaries business would help to prove investors are not concerned about a conflict of interest.

That Landmark Partners was close to launching a successor to its 2018-vintage $3.3 billion Landmark Real Estate Partners VIII was undoubtedly a point of attraction for Ares Management when it pursued the acquisition of the Connecticut-based secondaries investment firm earlier this year.

Thus, here we are. Two months after the Los Angeles-headquartered asset management giant completed its $1.08 billion takeover of Landmark, affiliate title Secondaries Investor is reporting the launch of Real Estate Partners IX. Unsurprisingly, the fundraising target for the vehicle, as per documents prepared by US pension Minnesota State Board of Investment, aims to stretch Landmark’s own real estate secondaries sector fundraising record by a further $3.5 billion.

Ares executives will be looking forward to benefiting from the most golden part of its new goose laying more eggs. Leading into the transaction, Landmark’s real estate business, which accounted for 31.6 percent of its $19 billion of assets under management, was far and away its best performing. Of Landmark’s three businesses, real estate had generated 25-plus percent returns from 170 transactions, compared to 15 percent-plus returns from its private equity investments, or 10 percent-plus from its much smaller infrastructure secondaries business.

Hopeful of similarly high returns, Minnesota has committed $100 million, according to its documents. Other investors are likely to follow. Previous institutions to back the series include Ohio Public Employees Retirement System and New York State Teachers’ Retirement System.

It is also likely that Minnesota will be among the investors to have reconciled with the challenges of conflicts of interest that come when backing a real estate secondaries business owned by a manager with even bigger fish to fry in the direct marketplace. With more than $33 billion of property assets under management as of June, Ares is one of the world’s more prolific private real estate managers. It is therefore worth discussing the fact the lion’s share of secondaries investing in the sector takes the form of asset recapitalizations.

According to research by Toronto-based advisory firm Setter Capital published earlier this month, $1.17 billion, or 63 percent, of the $1.85 billion spent by secondaries investors on real estate, was done via so-called ‘direct secondaries.’ That is lower than the 88 percent of the $8.5 billion of secondaries investments Landmark itself recorded as fund or portfolio recapitalizations last year. But it is still a clear signal that institutional real estate’s primary and secondary movers move in similar circles nowadays.

Ares was keen to demonstrate how it would handle conflicts when it spoke to media after announcing the takeover back in March. Keeping Landmark as a standalone business was one measure. A completed fundraise of $3.5 billion – and new real estate secondaries record – would indicate any investors’ doubts about the deal have been removed. The next litmus test, then, comes via the managers implicated in the firm’s dealflow for the vehicle. If they are happy to transact with a business running parallel direct and indirect strategies, then Ares’s $1 billion-plus outlay becomes further vindicated.