Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Buyer of Nama’s NI loan book Cerberus is bidding for Ulster Bank's portfolio

Arc's covenants: Loans on Arc apartments at Titanic Quarter are included in Project Achill

Private investment fund Cerberus, which recently snapped up Nama's loan portfolio in Northern Ireland, is among the bidders shortlisted for the disposal of Ulster Bank debts in the €1.2bn (£1bn) Project Achill portfolio.

Rival funds Lone Star and Oaktree Capital Management and investeent bank Deutsche Bank have also been selected by Ulster Bank parent Royal Bank of Scotland to progress to the final bidding process, which will close on Friday, September 19.

The package is made up of loans on assets including The Arc Apartments in Titantic Quarter, Ards Shopping Centre in Newtownards and the Waterfront Plaza in Belfast.

Ards Shopping Centre and Waterfront Plaza are held by Belfast Office Properties, headed up by Paddy McKillen.

A spokeswoman for Ulster Bank refused to comment on the progress of the debt sale, revealed by property information website CoStar.

Other properties include Belfast's Gateway Offices, which is 90% leased to Citigroup until 2024, Mallusk Industrial Estate in Newtonabbey and Exchange House in Belfast.

According to property advisory partnership GDP, the process could prompt fear among businesses with loans contained in the portfolio that the sale of their debts could eventually result in the loss of some control over their firms, based on the track-record of Blackstone, a US fund now operating in the Republic.

Conor Devine, principal at property advisory partnership GDP, said: "It's interesting that Cerberus are eager to go ahead for more and that their appetite for Northern Ireland continues."

He said borrowers could have cause for concern as US fund Blackstone had put the property business O'Flynn Group in Cork into receivership.

"They acquired the loans from Nana and are in the process of taking full control of the companies, a very sobering thought," he said.

"We are currently working with borrowers on proposals across the country which would enable local business owners to remain in control of their businesses.

"It's imperative that local people whose loans have been sold find a funding partner, one that will allow them to continue on with their business and orchestrate an exit form the loan company.

"Failure to find an appropriate partner and get a proposal accepted could be fatal."

Cerberus Capital Management struck a deal in April for 'bad bank' Nama's Northern Ireland portfolio of loans, known as Project Eagle, scooping up assets like Belfast's Soloist building and Lanyon Plaza, developed by William Ewart properties.

Cerberus's Nama deal marked the largest single transaction by Nama since it was set up to clear development loans from Ireland's main banks.

The four finalists' bids are for the majority of Project Achill, which consists of 31 separate asset borrowers, over six categories, from 3.53m sq ft of commercial property and 1,565 residential units. Project Achill also features 817 acres of land and 918 hotel rooms and is also understood to be progressing bids by underlying borrowers seeking to repurchase their debt.

Nearly half of the portfolio is located in Dublin, with just over a quarter of it based in Northern Ireland.

The remainder is found in the rest of the Republic, and in England and Scotland.

Progress on Project Achill comes after details emerged last week of Project Nadal, a portfolio of Ulster Bank loans on leisure sector assets north and south.

The portfolio includes loans taken out by Beannchor Ltd on the five-star Merchant Hotel in Belfast and 15 pubs belonging to the group.

Commercial property lawyer Ross Davidson said the sale of Project Achill could take time to reach its conclusion.

"Essentially it is a whole lot of unrelated deals bundled together in one bid deal so there is a lot for the bidders to work through. There is then the added complication that some of the bank's customers, whose debt has been parcelled up within Project Achill, have been given the opportunity to bid themselves to repurchase that debt."

But he said he foresaw Project Nadal would be completed more quickly.

"Project Nadal has much fewer complicating factors and should come to completion relatively quickly," he said.

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