The Billion-pound buy-up: US firm Pimco in purchase bid for Northern Ireland pubs, offices and shops on Nama's books
Up to a billion pounds worth of property around Northern Ireland including shopping centres, office blocks and even pubs could soon have a new owner.
The Republic's bad bank the National Asset Management Agency (Nama), which acquired loans on the properties over three years ago, is understood to have received an offer for its Northern Ireland loan book from US asset management company Pimco.
There was no confirmation from Pimco or Nama that the move had been made, though Nama said it received frequent approaches from investors.
"Nama constantly reviews its portfolio to assess opportunities for maximising returns from loans or assets within the portfolio," a spokesman said.
"In addition, it frequently receives approaches from investors expressing interest in acquiring loans or assets in its portfolio and reviews such approaches on an ongoing basis."
Some of the pubs under Nama control in Belfast include The Botanic, the Northern Whig and the King's Head.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said the Executive had a "positive and constructive" relationship with Nama and had a "significant interest" in any decisions the agency might make.
"The assets which are presently held by Nama could undoubtedly be used to boost the Northern Ireland economy if they were managed in a way which unleashed their potential in the short-term rather than waiting for them to realise their value in the longer term," he said.
"We will continue to work with Nama to seek to ensure that Northern Ireland's interests are protected in all circumstances.
First Minister Peter Robinson said the possible acquisition "has the potential to be good news".
Sinn Féin economy spokesman Daithí McKay said: "Whoever takes over these assets must do so in a responsible way and ensure that it does not destabilise the local economy.
"Breaking up assets for a quick profit would not be good for the economy and those in charge of this portfolio now or in the future should be mindful of that."
Stephen Deyermond, of commercial property agents TDK, said new owners were unlikely to flood the market with properties.
"If they buy, then they are buying to make profit, so they are unlikely to have a fire sale. I would have thought they will more aggressively asset manage to add value before any sales," he said.
There are hundreds of property owners around Northern Ireland whose loans with Irish banks like Bank of Ireland, First Trust and the now-defunct Anglo Irish Bank were absorbed into Nama.
In most cases Nama is now their lender and acts in place of the bank – but where developers got into financial trouble, Nama repossessed the properties and appointed receivers.
Nama has already disposed of a number of properties on its books from Northern Ireland.