Normally, it would be an exaggeration to say a conference took place amid dramatic scenes, but somehow it is not too much of a stretch to say that about this year’s PERE Summit: Europe, which took place on June 7 and 8. Indeed, as delegates filed in, newspapers in the lobby of the Royal Garden Hotel were full of stories of economic chaos throughout the Eurozone.
“What’s happening in the markets is ugly,” said Mark Newman, chairman of the two-day event, in summarising the current macroeconomic scene on the Continent. “Europe is fighting for its very life, trying to achieve a fiscal union to match the monetary union that it entered into over a decade ago with so much fanfare.”
The former Lehman Brothers global co-head of real estate, who now runs Broadcliff Capital Partners, summed up his opening address by asking what Europe’s private equity real estate firms were going to do and what signals should they seek for answers. He admitted (while others pretend to have predicted it) that he had underestimated “the almost scary confluence of economic and political factors we all face today.”
That said, Newman’s opening address gave way to a keynote speaker who refused to be downcast. Irvine Sellar, whose Sellar Property Group is developing Europe’s tallest tower at London Bridge, countered that things are not all that dire – at least, not from his perspective.
“It’s not all bad,” Sellar told delegates. “It is quite different to 1991, when there was massive over-development. Today, it has been the exact opposite. There are lease events taking place all the time.”
Referring specifically to healthy growth among high-tech companies, Sellar added: “There is life out there. We are meeting and talking with a number of prospective tenants and are in discussions now for some quite substantial space in offices.”
Sellar, who likes to think of himself as being at the “coal face” of property, also delighted delegates with some gruff responses to questions from the floor. Indeed, even his complaints met with appreciative indulgence, especially when he berated PERE for failing to provide water. “Do you know, I’ve been speaking for 30 minutes up here and not one person has given me anything to drink!” he said. “What have you got to do to get a drink round here?”
Sellar went down a storm, frankly. He was so non-private equity real estate that delegates forget what was happening in Europe, if only for a moment.