Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

NAMA loan sale: Prepare for £1bn property overdrive

The proposed loan sale of NAMA's complete Northern Ireland-based portfolio is under way, but what will its eventual purchase mean for the commercial property sector and wider economy here? Declan Flynn points towards the future.

Prepare for take-off when Project Eagle finally lands. The ramifications will not only send the local commercial property sector into overdrive but will have wider implications for our economy, especially construction and its affiliated sectors.

We understand there are numerous potential bidders for Project Eagle, which reportedly was purchased by Nama for just over £1bn.

These will include private equity firms such as Pimco, Starwood, Apollo and Lone Star, the latter having purchased the majority of the IBRC UK loan book last week including some assets here in the north.

A blind bidding process will be undertaken, with loan companies and private equity firms given access to a data centre of information on the sites and buildings that make-up the portfolio.

Included in the loan sale will be numerous buildings in central Belfast, but there will also be plenty of less appealing stock included across the country.

It has also been noted that data centre information is limited, which will make the bidding process difficult, with the potential buyers scrambling for information. When we launched our third annual report, The Lisney Northern Ireland Commercial Property Report, in November, I stated that the outlook for 2014 was good, but no one could have foreseen such an upturn in events.

But what will the eventual winner of Project Eagle do with the portfolio?

One thing for sure is that it is very unlikely that there will be the fire sale so dreaded by politicians, who on the other hand, criticised Nama for the slow release of its portfolio here.

Some of the attractive assets will be sold and we've seen a high level of investment activity from institutions, pension funds and private equity firms who view Belfast as an attractive purchase given the good value it represents.

In fact, over the last year investments have doubled compared to 2012 and six-fold on 2011.

Our view is that it is likely that the majority of the portfolio will be held and asset-managed, with a view to increasing the value before a resale. This is likely to generate significant projects for the construction industry in new builds and the complete refurbishment of some Grade B and C office stock.

The importance of the sale of Project Eagle cannot be underestimated for the wider economy and although it may take time before it lands, we should already be preparing to welcome the eagle.

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