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UK Office Market - If You Don't Want to Freeze Stay Flexible

Peter Hemple looks at frozen commercial property funds and the rise of flexible office space

In the aftermath of Brexit, open-ended property funds offered by the likes of Canada Life, Standard Life, Aviva, M&G, and Henderson Global Investors all suspended trading, stopping their investors from taking out money from the fund after a surge in withdrawal requests.

Property funds had already been experiencing high outflows, both in the run-up to and in the wake of the EU referendum, with the Investment Association reporting that during May UK property funds experienced a net retail outflow of £340m, compared with
an inflow of £1.7bn in May 2015.

Many of these funds still remain closed or are charging investors hefty exit penalties due to their inability to unload their assets quickly enough to pay back investors. However, according to Henderson Global, commercial property funds could end up benefitting from Britain's exit from the EU, as foreign buyers take advantage of the weak pound to snap up British assets. The group runs one of the biggest property funds in the UK, which is still suspended to give it time to sell off a swathe of properties to finance withdrawal demands from investors.

But chief executive Andrew Formica says that the UK commercial property market is actually showing signs of strength. Speaking as Henderson reported a 14% fall in profits for the first half of this year, Formica stated: "To seek fire sale prices just to get some liquidity doesn't feel right. We've started to transact on a number of properties and a number of others are close to transacting, and they are pretty much in line with the net asset value at the time of Brexit.

"That may sound surprising - clearly one of the reasons clients wanted to get out is they thought prices would fall - but because of the fall in sterling it has become a much more attractive market for non-sterling based buyers. They've just had a 10-15% windfall."

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