Two of the world’s largest retail real estate companies, Australia’s Westfield and US developer Simon Property Group, have declared stakes in Liberty International, strengthening the prospect of a bid for the FTSE 100 retail property owner.

Westfield, an Australian shopping centre developer, said it had built a stake of just less than 3% in Liberty, which has a £3.4bn market value and owns parts of Covent Garden and Earls Court in London, as well as centres such as Lakeside in Thurrock.

That increase has come just days after Simon declared a holding of 3.5%.

Then yesterday Simon, the largest US public real estate company, raised its position to 4.2% and is expected to announce a larger stake of more than 5% before the end of the week.

Westfield bought 10.7m shares in June and July at an average price of 835p. The company said that the stake was being held for 'investment purposes' and declined to comment further.

Simon, likewise, has refused to comment on its intentions, although it is unusual for the company to build indirect stakes in rival developers. This is also its first investment in the British property market.

Financial Times