Belfast Telegraph

£1.3bn Nama fire sale a 'shot in arm' for construction industry

By Lesley Houston

The purchase of Northern Ireland's portfolio of Nama loans by US firm Cerberus is the "biggest single investment" in the history of Northern Ireland, the finance minister has said.

Simon Hamilton said the deal struck by the National Asset Management Agency, selling loans on buildings and other property assets, could be the "shot in the arm" the construction industry needs.

The Nama deal was struck just days ago with Cerberus Capital Management for an undisclosed sum, involving loans originally worth £4.5bn.

It is thought Cerberus Capital Management paid just a fraction of that – around £1.3bn – making it the largest single transaction undertaken by Nama.

The sale gives Cerberus control of about 850 properties including assets like Lanyon Plaza and the Soloist buildings in Belfast, both developed by William Ewart Properties.

In a statement yesterday, the finance minister said: "A deal of this magnitude is, in itself, a massive vote of confidence in the Northern Ireland economy.

"Whilst we do not know what Cerberus paid for the portfolio, we can be certain that this is the biggest single investment in our history."

It was a sign that things were "beginning to get better" and would free up the property market, he said.

"The real opportunity though lies in the fact that this deal can free up assets which, because they were caught up in Nama their development potential was – in most cases – put on hold," he said.

"A firm like Cerberus, which takes a long term view and has the scale to invest in its newly purchased assets to realise their value, is exactly what Northern Ireland needs.

"This deal could be the shot in the arm for our construction sector that we so badly need."

Believing Nama's Northern Ireland portfolio contains assets with considerable development potential, he said opportunities existed "everywhere" in areas like housing, office space and retail.

"This deal can unlock those opportunities and allow Northern Ireland to develop and grow and, in the process, provide a much needed stimulus for the local construction industry."

However, the minister admitted it would take some time yet before Northern Ireland's building fortunes would return to previous stable levels.

"The construction sector in Northern Ireland suffered like no other during the downturn and even though we have entered economic recovery, we understand that the sector will be slower to get back on its feet than others," he said." But the industry was showing signs of improvement, the minister added.

Belfast Telegraph