I couldn’t agree more with John Strachan, the chairman of Intu, who described the proposed £3.4bn acquisition of the shopping centre company by Hammerson as “the most significant transaction in British real estate in a generation”.
It is, but not just for the huge size of the company that it will create; it is also for the fact that the deal size might finally make the City sit up and take notice of retail property as a serious contender within the investment sector.
Hot on the heels of Hammerson’s Intu bid has come Unibail-Rodamco’s £18.5bn purchase of Westfield Corporation. The importance of these mega-deals cannot be overstated. For far too long the investment community either hasn’t ‘understood’ retail property or has taken a downbeat view of it.
Admittedly, it’s not easy for the fast‑paced City types. Property is a long-term business and most financial investment managers seemingly prefer short- and medium-term strategies. ‘Widgets’ seem so much more enticing than bricks, which require asset management.
Furthermore, a negativity around retail property has come into their sector assessment in recent years. The UK and other countries seem to have been tarred with the same ‘take to the hills’ attitude that has dominated Wall Street’s recent downbeat view of the US shopping centre industry.
Different investment animals
We in the property industry know that UK/Europe and the US are two very different investment animals, but we are failing to get that message through to the investment community. We have to show why our sector merits more attention.
The Hammerson-Intu and Unibail-Westfield deals should give a serious injection of impetus to the retail property industry and provide an opportunity for all of us to stress the longevity and investment potential of real bricks and mortar to investors.
As a result of these deals, other large property deals may well follow. No doubt there will continue to be sector negativity from City analysts and investors, which means we must shout and tout. We need a proper cross-industry ‘sales deck’ and accompanying ‘industry roadshow’ with leading figures at the helm to get the message out there.
Sector organisations working with the likes of Investment Property Databank and with the leaders and public affairs/corporate relations officers of plc development companies/property agencies need to collectively use this acquisition to build awareness of the investment case for our sector.