It is uncommon for an asset manager to acquire a real estate firm with more than double its assets under management. But such was the case when the €3 billion Luxembourg-based Sienna Investment Managers purchased the €7 billion L’Etoile Properties in August.
Sienna Investment Managers
AUM (€7 billion in real estate)
Market differentiator: A vertically integrated platform with a 30-year track record and strategies with a twist
The acquisition marked Sienna’s expansion into third-party asset management, two years after announcing its entry into the asset management industry. Sienna, launched in 2013, is the alternative assets platform of listed investment holding company Groupe Bruxelles Lambert.
“Real estate is definitely an asset class that has attracted a lot of attention for years and continues to do so,” Sienna chief executive Pedro-Antonio Arias tells PERE. “Covid has accelerated that appetite from investors to enter the real estate market, and so we thought internally that might be a good time to make a bolt-on acquisition.”
For Didier Unglik, CEO of L’Etoile Properties, the fact the manager did not already have a real estate platform appealed to him. “We were approached by all the big boys, but most of them wanted to buy us and integrate us,” Unglik recalls. “Then the company disappears as part of the bigger group, and this is not what I wanted.” Under Sienna’s ownership, “we are still ourselves and with the same partners, the same staff.”
The close of the transaction was quickly followed by L’Etoile’s expansion into the fund management business. In November, the business launched its first fund, the EP Sienna IM European Broken Core Office Fund, an open-end vehicle focusing on office properties in Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands. The concept of ‘broken core’ refers to investment in buildings with core characteristics but with minor challenges that need fixing, such as low vacancy rates or short weighted average lease terms. “We are trying to find some twists where we make it a little different because we will tackle new segments of investment with a special angle,” Unglik explains.
He considers L’Etoile’s other major selling points to be its 30-year history and its vertically integrated platform, covering all services from acquisition to asset and property management.
Sienna and L’Etoile also have other products in the works that would be targeted at the residential and logistics sectors. “It will be an important element for expansion in the coming years,” Unglik says.
He acknowledges the challenges Sienna faces in expanding into real estate at the present time: “The market is really hot and probably a bit too tight at the moment.” However, he also points out the benefits: “It’s a more mature market, more transparent, easier to manage and easier to understand.”
Meanwhile, Arias believes the appeal of real estate to investors is cycle-proof: “Real estate today is really seen as a diversification tool that any investor must have. As such, I think investors are going to continue to grow in that asset class, whatever the cycle is.”