Belfast Telegraph

Investors think big on retail portfolios

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland should continue to attract big-ticket commercial property investors during 2015, a law firm predicted today.

Arthur Cox said that despite a quiet start to the year so far, 2015 would see a "upsurge" in property transactions.

The firm has said it was involved in 70% by value of retail-led transactions reported in Northern Ireland in the last year.

Alastair Todd, partner and head of property at the firm, said: "2014 was an exceptional year for the property team and we expect the trend to continue this year.

"In addition to the notable retail assets which were sold, the firm also acted in some capacity on all of the property portfolio loan sales which transacted in Northern Ireland." 

Last year had seen a rush of sales by banks - mainly Ulster Bank - of property loan portfolios, with loans on landmarks such as Titanic Quarter offices and Belfast's Merchant Hotel changing hands.

Separately, retail deals on which Arthur Cox advised included the sales and buy-back by Ken Cheevers and John B McGuckian of Foyleside and Forestside shopping centres.

It had also advised on the sale of Frank Boyd's Connswater Shopping Centre, recently in the headlines after Dunnes closed its store in the east Belfast centre. Tesco is also to shut its Connswater store next month.

Richmond Centre was snapped up by London asset manager Vixcroft in another deal involving Arthur Cox.

It also advised on the refinancing by Newry property firm Parker Green International of loans relating to its Quays Shopping Centre in the city.

Mr Todd said the loan sales had been "critical to establishing a more stable banking environment in the province".

But he predicted that 2015 would witness movement from purchasers of loan portfolios as they "seek to trade their acquisitions". He also predicted that new investors would seek opportunities in Northern Ireland.

He added: "Northern Ireland remains an attractive proposition for international investors driven by the availability of excellent quality stock and asset management opportunities."

Arthur Cox claimed involvement in deals worth £244.2m in 2014 - out of a total worth of £347.34m, a figure reached in a commercial property report by Lisney Northern Ireland.

He added: "Northern Ireland remains an attractive proposition for international investors driven by the availability of excellent quality stock and asset management opportunities."

While the year had started slowly, he said activity would pick up. "We are already seeing new entrants to the market as well as existing investors at the early stages of engagement for retail-led investments and we anticipate an upsurge in transactional activity throughout the rest of the year."

He said he expected office transactions to pick up as the year progressed.

In addition, bank finance was loosening up in sectors such as agri-food, healthcare and energy, which would help drive activity.

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