KKR gives vote of confidence in London office market with Great Portland Estates stake purchase

Shares in the commercial property company have fallen by about 36 per cent this year

Skyscrapers stand in the City of London square mile financial district as the sun sets in London, U.K., on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Londoners are steadily increasing their use of public transport after schools reopened, freeing parents to go back to the workplace. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
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KKR has bought a stake in London developer Great Portland Estates, betting against the demise of the downtown office.

The private equity company has acquired a 5.35 per cent stake in the landlord, according to a filing, becoming the latest of several money managers to build stakes in UK real estate companies during the Covid-19 pandemic. Great Portland, which owns and develops mainly office buildings in central London, has fallen almost 36 per cent this year as restrictions to contain the virus triggered a severe recession and raised questions about the long-term outlook for urban workspace.

Spokesmen for KKR and Great Portland declined to comment.

Real estate stocks have been among those hit hardest hit by the virus fallout as tenants struggle to pay rent, retail spending shifts online and office workers do their jobs from home. That’s lured buyout firms attracted by deep discounts between the value of landlords’ assets and their market capitalisations. Brookfield Asset Management bought a stake in rival landlord British Land in June and upped its holding earlier this month.

KKR’s stake, acquired for about £74.3 million (Dh347.7m/$94.7m) based on Wednesday’s closing price, makes it the sixth-largest holder of Great Portland, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The London-based company is now valued at about £1.4 billion.

While private equity firms have raised vast real estate funds targeting distressed deals, the impact of the coronavrius has yet to translate into widespread defaults and forced sellers. That’s encouraging the managers to deploy further capital on shares and bonds in companies that have strong track records but which have been badly affected by negative sentiment due to the virus.

Great Portland has sold off completed buildings at high prices in the past five years and reduced its debt to about 15 per cent of the value of its properties, a level that’s among the lowest in the business. The company has cash and undrawn loans of about £390m.

According to a July 10 trading update, it had collected 69 per cent of the rent due in June and 82 per cent of what was owed in March, with stores and restaurants that occupy the ground floors of its mainly West End office buildings particularly hard hit.