Cancel those summer holidays, folks. Thanks to the open-ended retail funds suspending trading and dumping a raft of assets on the market, there are deals to be done.
The question is: at what price and could more have been done to avoid what is effectively a forced sale?
The seven funds involved looked far from magnificent when the realisation dawned they would have to sell billions of pounds’ worth of property. Being a forced seller is not a position they would want to be in in a strong market, let alone one still reeling from the impact of the Brexit vote.
But that is the position they find themselves in, and while no one knows how much they need, their need appears to be pretty urgent - Aberdeen Asset Management has set today as the deadline for exchanging contracts.
As Theresa May’s appointment as prime minister introduces some much-needed calm and sanity to a hitherto frighteningly chaotic political landscape, the hope will now be that a similar sense of order will return to the property market.
All eyes will be on the first clutch of deals, with most experts expecting yields to shift out by at least a quarter to a half basis point. Yet asking prices for the properties that have so far hit the market have not been slashed and sources claim some bids have been stronger than expected. In short, it is not quite the multi-vehicle pile-up portrayed by some.
The decision by Aberdeen to move more swiftly than its rivals could even prove inspired. After all, it gave it first dibs on a buying pool that could prove limited in the coming months, and enables it to get things done and dusted and resume a semblance of business as usual as quickly as possible. It is also important to remember that the funds were not completely unprepared.
Three confirmed they had increased their cash reserves to 20% as they prepared for outflows, having taken note of withdrawals reaching almost £120m in February amid fears of the market overheating.
This is not to say further regulation of open-ended retail funds is not needed, as we report. The model is undoubtedly flawed. It is a paradox to promise daily trading of an essentially illiquid asset. Why can’t a leaf be taken out of the book of the open-ended institutional funds, which trade monthly or quarterly? The downsides also need to be better explained to the public - or fund managers could face a mis-selling scandal or be hit by hefty fines.
How open the open-ended retail funds and their investors will be to change remains to be seen. But in the meantime, let’s not overstate their significance. They comprise 5% of the UK market, so cannot crash it on their own. Plus, elsewhere, far from battening down the hatches in the wake of the referendum vote, property companies are setting sail. Take the newly launched Regional Securities, which believes there will be more, rather than fewer, opportunities in the coming months.
Indeed, quote of the week has to go to co-founder Dan Dutton, who notes: “Investors dislike uncertainty, but uncertainty is often a prerequisite for outperformance.”