“No one trained for this,” one Danish manager admitted as he participated in the PERE Nordic roundtable last month. To him, the other participants of the roundtable, and the broader private real estate market, covid-19 has indeed brought about the black swan economic event predicted in such discussions the world over. “So, we have to go day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and handle the situation as it unfolds,” he said.
For most in the private real estate sector, this has meant speedy and forensic introspections, at the operations, assets and capital levels. Conversations with tenants are informing conversations with the money, equity and debt alike. All the while, moratoriums on new expenditures are widespread. Still just weeks into lockdowns, most business not yet contracted is being placed into stasis.
Yet life in private real estate must go on, particularly in areas already negotiated and signed. That much was clear from PERE’s best read stories over the last seven days.
Momentum closings cross the finish line: The final closing of Blackstone’s long-anticipated sixth European opportunity fund was finally announced on Wednesday. At €9.8 billion, Blackstone Real Estate Partners Europe VI leapfrogs to pole position as the biggest property vehicle raised in 2020, and the largest-ever in Europe. The safe money would be on Blackstone pausing on additional major outlays to the €4.23 billion purchase of DREAM Global REIT last September, as it did after the global financial crisis in 2008. Around the same time, Hong Kong’s PAG Real Estate wrapped up a year-long fundraising effort to raise $2.75 billion for its latest pan-Asia opportunity fund, Secured Capital Real Estate Partners VII. PERE understands some $200 million of that was raised post-pandemic breakout, adding to a target-busting raise. China is on PAG’s menu, besides the firm’s familiar Japan stomping ground.
Leadership planning remains intact: BentallGreenOak has not allowed covid-19 to interrupt its leadership transition plans, which will see long-serving Gary Whitelaw relinquish his role as chief executive to esteemed private equity real estate executive Sonny Kalsi. PERE revealed on Wednesday how Whitelaw will be retiring at the end of this year, passing his reins to now-president Kalsi on June 30. The decision to change was already communicated to clients and employees in February, just as the pandemic was spreading from Asia to western geographies. But, while covid-19 will undoubtedly preoccupy Kalsi’s opening period in the job, the pandemic has done nothing to alter the transition in the first place.
Some investors follow through with current commitments: Also well advanced by the time coronavirus spread across the world was Danish pension fund PFA’s acquisition of a 49 percent stake in a $1 billion US multifamily residential portfolio from operator Simpson Housing. PERE revealed how the Copenhagen-based investor saw through its acquisition of the portfolio, spread across cities including Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Houston and Nashville. Undisturbed by the notion of defaulting tenants, PFA was in no mood to halt an arrangement well underway by the time the virus made it stateside.
While others follow through with withdrawals: Following a request by UBS to withdraw $400 million from Invesco’s flagship open-end core fund in Asia made in November, the Swiss bank stuck to its request, which was acknowledged by the manager last month and communicated to the fund’s other LPs alongside another $200 million withdrawal request by a US investor. Allocation concerns relating to Invesco’s Australia exposure were understood to be in part behind UBS’s redemption request. So while the denominator impact on portfolios caused by covid-19 may have made such an action a predictable outcome, UBS went ahead with its request based on pre-covid assumptions.
Still others plan to stay active during the crisis: Look no further than Korea’s Public Officials Benefit Association for an institutional investor that remains intent on pursuing investments, even as covid-19 continues its rampage. Last month, POBA finalized a $100 million commitment to a US single-family housing development fund of JPMorgan Asset Management. While that was an outlay already in train in late 2019, a $200 million budget to buy now-heavily-discounted US REITs was approved last month and POBA indicated to PERE it would look at further private fund investments. For this investor, business as usual really means business as usual.
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