'Panic' withdrawals halt four more UK property funds

Construction cranes operate on a building site in London, UK, on July 6.
Construction cranes operate on a building site in London, UK, on July 6.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Four more UK property funds froze withdrawals as investors sought to dump real estate holdings in the aftermath of Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

Henderson Global Investors, Columbia Threadneedle Investments and Canada Life suspended trading in at least £5.7 billion (S$9.95 billion) of funds. Aberdeen Fund Managers Ltd cut the value of a property fund by 17 per cent and briefly halted redemptions so that investors who asked for their money back have time to reconsider.

Wednesday's moves brings the number of UK firms curbing redemptions to seven since the June 23 vote.

"The problem with open-ended funds is you do start to have panic selling, so you really have no choice but to suspend the fund," said Jason Hollands, managing director at investment firm Tilney Bestinvest. "There's an inevitability to this now."


Investors are pulling money from UK property funds as analysts warn that London office values could fall by as much as 20 per cent within three years of the country leaving the EU. During the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, real-estate funds were similarly hit by redemptions and forced to halt withdrawals, contributing to a slump in property prices that saw values drop more than 40 per cent from their peak in Britain.

With the real estate tremors echoing the last financial crisis, the growing fear is that failure to control aftershocks from the Brexit vote will propel the economy into recession. The pound sank to a fresh 31-year low as the fallout continued to reverberate through financial markets.

Henderson said Wednesday it had temporarily halted its £3.9 billion UK Property PAIF fund along with feeder funds due to "exceptional liquidity pressures" and the recent suspension of other funds. Columbia Threadneedle halted its £1.39 billion PAIF and feeder funds and Canada Life froze four funds totaling £450 million.

Aberdeen marked down the value of its £580 million real estate fund and related feeder fund, resulting in a share price decline of 17 per cent. The firm said it was halting withdrawals for 24 hours as of noon Wednesday so clients who asked for their money back have time to reconsider their orders.

Investors pulled money from real estate funds in the lead up to the vote, depleting cash levels. Standard Life Investments was the first money manager to halt withdrawals on Monday, followed by Aviva Investors and M&G Investments.

Wednesday's suspensions take the total amount of real estate assets frozen by money managers since Monday to more than £15 billion, according to the most recent data. About £24.5 billion is allocated to US real estate funds, according to the Investment Association.

There's "a loss of confidence in the valuations being used" by fund managers, said John Forbes, an independent real estate consultant and former tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP who specializes in property funds. "The retail funds had and balances in liquid shares" to manage normal levels of outflows, he said.

Aberdeen said its funds had invested in 79 UK properties across sectors including retail and industrial.

"The portfolio was positioned defensively prior to the referendum with one of the highest levels of liquidity of all similar funds and having sold all its quoted property companies investments in the week prior to the referendum and holding this as cash," the firm said.