EUROPE NEWS: Axa turns to Lopez

Axa Real Estate Investment Managers has appointed a new global head of fund management and chief investment officer with an eye towards eventual growth in the US.

Dennis Lopez, an American who began his career as a real estate investment banker at JP Morgan in the 1990s will be based in London for Axa. He will initially oversee all of Axa’s real estate fund management activities in Europe, but his role will spread to Asia, and in time, the US. 

The appointment was made necessary when Christian Delaire left earlier this year to join AEW Europe as chief executive. Axa REIM’s chief executive Pierre Vaquier said: “Dennis is going to supervise all our activities.”

Lopez worked in New York for JP Morgan raising capital for real estate companies up until 1997 when he moved to Europe as JP Morgan’s head of European real estate investment banking.

In 2004, he moved to global alternative asset manager, Cambridge Place Investment Management, to focus on the firm’s vehicles investing in asset-backed securities and collateralised debt obligations, among other strategies.

He left the business to join the Indian Khemka family office as chief executive of real estate where he worked in emerging markets in Asia and in Russia.

“We thought the best reaction when Christian Delaire left was to bring somebody with different skills,” said Vaquier. “We thought it was very important to broaden the expertise and to have somebody joining us not only with European experience but someone with experience in the US, and in Asia and the emerging markets.”

In relation to the US, Vaquier said: “The current thinking is that the situation has speeded up our desire to be a player there. We are currently looking at opportunities, which might include creating a team or buying a business as an entry.”

As well as plans for Asia, such as a dedicated China residential property fund, the firm is expanding its debt investments platform. It already operates separate accounts focused on the sector, however Axa is also working on two further investment funds. These funds are likely to be European commingled funds, one to help Axa become a local player in real estate debt finance and the other to invest in junior pieces in the capital stack.

“We see huge need in the industry to have long term lenders and see room in local investors playing a role,” Vaquier added. The vehicles are likely to be in the €500 million to €1 billion range.

On top of that, Axa is considering launching a European opportunistic vehicle. Although the firm sees current opportunities to invest in core real estate, the firm does not see deals in the opportunistic space – yet.

“We have not launched the opportunistic fund because there is not yet the deal flow, but it is coming,” said Vaquier. Lopez will be a key part in all these plans.