Blackstone Prepares a Series of Portfolio Sales Following its 6-Year Spending Spree

27 March 2019 – El Confidencial

The US fund Blackstone, which has been so busy on the buy side in recent years, is getting ready to put the for sale sign up, over some of its assets at least. It is preparing the sale of several portfolios, including the Socimi Corona, the homes of Fidere and also some of the former assets of Popular that it acquired from Santander.

Several sources have confirmed that the US fund is currently designing portfolios for sale in order to rotate some of the €20 billion in property that it now owns in Spain. Most of the portfolios are expected to be small, between €50 million and €300 million, although the fund is reportedly also working on some larger deals that could reach €600 million. The plan is to put the portfolios on the market before the summer.

Blackstone’s target market includes pension funds and insurance companies, which operate with lower costs of capital and which, therefore, can afford to pay more. It already trialled that strategy with the sale of Hispania’s offices to Zurich, to great success. But Blackstone will also target other funds looking to grow or complement their existing investments.

Despite this vendor activity, the US giant is still committed to buying assets in Spain. It simply wants to rotate its most mature assets, given that it started making investments in the country in 2013.

Original story: El Confidencial (by R. Ugalde and J. Zuloaga)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Blackstone to Raise €8bn for its European Real Estate Fund

25 March 2019 – Idealista

The US fund Blackstone wants to raise funds to continue growing in Europe. The fund manager expects to secure up to €8 billion for its next European real estate fund, which is going to be called Blackstone Real Estate Partners Europe VI.

The new vehicle’s investments will have tickets starting from €75 million and will include portfolios of properties and corporate operations as the target assets.

Spain is very much on Blackstone’s radar following its purchase of 51% of Popular’s real estate business from Santander for €5.1 million, in one of the largest operations signed last year.

Moreover, the fund has purchased the property of CatalunyaCaixa, the shares of Hispania (including its large hotel portfolio) and the shares of Testa, the rental home company.

Original story: Idealista 

Translation/Summary: Carmel Drake

Hispania’s Profits Fell by 56% YoY in 2018 to €96.5M

28 February 2019 – Expansión

Hispania recorded a net profit of €96.5 million in 2018, down by 56% compared to a year earlier, according to the accounts filed with the CNMV by the listed real estate investment company (Socimi) controlled by Blackstone.

Revenues from rental income rose by 6.8% to amount to €151.7 million, according to the Socimi’s accounts, which were managed by Azora until August, whereas now their management is divided between HI Partners (hotels), Rivoli (offices) and Fidere (homes), all of which are linked to Blackstone. The company is expected to cease trading on the stock market on 1 April.

In September, Hispania’s new management team decided that Azora would no longer manage the three branches of the Socimi, a move that resulted in the early termination of the contract, in exchange for the payment of a penalty amounting to €224 million.

Original story: Expansión

Translation: Carmel Drake

Blackstone will be the Landlord of 25,000 Rental Homes by the End of 2019

31 January 2019 – Voz Pópuli

Blackstone, one of the largest investment companies in the world, expects to end the year with 25,000 rental homes under management in Spain.

Eduard Mendiluce (pictured above, left), the man from Blackstone who leads the US giant’s real estate emporium in Spain, has explained that the firm believes in the Spanish market, as it has done since 2014, and will end 2019 managing 10,000 more rental homes that it currently owns (15,000).

“We continue to believe in the fundamentals of the residential sector in Spain”, said Mendiluce at a conference about the real estate sector organised by Iese in Madrid. “Spain was one of the countries that suffered the most during the real estate crisis of 2008; prices are still 30% below their maximums”, he said.

The CEO of Aliseda and Anticipa explained that the US fund’s strategy in Spain in terms of real estate involves renting or buying and selling second-hand homes worth between €120,000 and €150,000. “When you have more than 200 homes under management in a given municipality, the business becomes profitable”, he explained.

Blackstone has invested almost €26 billion in the Spanish market over the last five years. In March 2014, it purchased 40,000 problem mortgages from Catalunya Caixa for €3.6 billion.

Since then, it has purchased: Banco Popular’s toxic property, together with Santander, for more than €5 billion; the Socimi Hispania for €2 billion; and 50.01% of the rental home Socimi Testa for €947 million. Last year, it bought Cirsa, a leading company in the gaming industry in Europe in a deal worth €2 billion.

In terms of the criticisms directed at the rental policies of Blackstone and other funds from certain sectors, Mendiluce has highlighted that in Spain, the funds own just 3% of the total rental housing stock, and that the rest is in the hands of individuals.

“I think that it is difficult to manipulate prices when you only account for a small percentage (of the market)”, he said. “I firmly believe that if there has been very concentrated price inflation in a handful of towns, then that has been due to a lack of supply”, and he pointed out that Spain has the lowest percentage of social housing in Europe.

Fashionable market

Juan José Brugera, President of the real estate company Colonial, was very optimistic about the real estate sector in Spain.

“We are in an expansive phase of the cycle, we are facing lower growth, but growth is growth, and it’s strong in Spain”, he said at the conference organised by Iese. “In the rental cycle, we are still in the growth phase, we have potential for rental growth that we believe ensures a strong performance over the next two or three years” he said.

“The Spanish market is fashionable at the moment, we predict expansive behaviour”, he said. “I have a positive vision, the stock market is behaving a bit strangely, but I think that is due to certain turbulences, both external and internal, that are generating uncertainty”.

Original story: Voz Pópuli (by Alberto Ortín)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Blackstone Sells an Office Portfolio to Zurich for €163.5M

31 January 2019 – Eje Prime

Blackstone is starting to divest the office portfolio that it acquired as a result of its purchase of Hispania. The US fund has sold the so-called Ilunion portfolio to the insurance company Zurich, according to explanations provided by the latter in a statement. The operation has amounted to €163.5 million.

The insurance company has completed the operation through its real estate subsidiary Rex Spain Zdhl. The portfolio includes five office buildings in Madrid leased to ONCE.

Before Blackstone’s takeover, Hispania was planning to divest its entire office portfolio for more than €500 million. The Socimi had made an agreement for the sale with Tristan Capital Partners, but the entry of the US fund into its share capital suspended that sale.

Original story: Eje Prime 

Translation: Carmel Drake

CBRE: Hotel Investment Set a New Record of €4.9bn in 2018

10 January 2019 – Expansión

The hotel segment broke a new record last year thanks to two key operations: the takeover of Hispania by the US fund Blackstone and the takeover of the chain NH by the Thai firm Minor.

The hotel segment made history again in 2018 with a record investment volume of €4.9 billion, which represented an increase of 33% with respect to the previous year, boosted by the US fund Blackstone’s takeover of the Socimi Hispania and the Thai firm Minor’s takeover of the Spanish chain NH.

According to data from the consultancy CBRE, last year, 240 hotel assets were transacted in Spain spanning 36,500 rooms in total, which represents growth of 17% and 30%, respectively. In other words, more and larger-volume operations were closed in 2018 than in 2017.

The hotel market whereby completed five extraordinary years, driven by the excellent evolution of tourism. Spain is a market leader in this activity, with 81.9 million international visitors in 2017 and 81.2 million last year (…).

The most active investors in 2018 were institutional players, which accounted for 66% of operations, followed by hotel groups (21%) and private equity and family offices (13%). In the ranking of operations, the purchase of Hispania stands out, which ended up in the hands of Blackstone after the fund acquired more than 90% of that company. The US giant purchased the Hungarian-born magnate George Soros’ 16.56% stake in Hispania in April and, subsequently, launched a takeover valuing the company at €1.992 billion. After successfully completing the takeover in September, Blackstone became the largest hotel owner in Spain, with a portfolio of 46 assets and more than 13,144 rooms.

After the purchase of Hispania, came the takeover of NH by Minor. Following that operation, the Thai group became the owner of a portfolio of 350 hotels in Europe and Latin America – 30% of which are in Spain.

Other significant operations also included the entry into the market of the Chinese group Gaw Capital, which acquired 50% of the Hospes Hotel Group, worth €125 million, teaming up with Omega Capital, the family office owned by Alicia Koplowitz, owner of the other 50% of the chain.

In terms of individual assets, the purchase of the luxury Villa Magna Hotel in Madrid stands out. The Turkish group Dogus sold it to the Mexican Socimi RLH, chaired by Allen Sanginés-Krause for €210 million.

Renovation

The National Director of CBRE Hotels España, Jorge Ruiz, explained that, as well as the vertiginous sale of hotel assets, the notable investments in asset renovations stood out once again.

“The Spanish hotel stock is better equipped today to face the challenges on the horizon, such as the recovery of competing destinations, the impact of a hard Brexit and a slowdown in the Spanish economy”, he said.

Ruiz explained that, unlike during the previous upward cycle, hoteliers have opted to invest in renovating their portfolios, which will allow them to increase their prices.

In terms of the type of assets, vacation hotels accounted for 64% of investments, following the trend established in 2017, due in large part to the purchase of Hispania, whose hotels are located primarily on the Spanish islands and along the coastline. Investment in urban assets went from 40% to 36%. In 2018, the main star asset were 4-star hotels, which accounted for 64% of operations, followed by 5-star hotels, with 21%.

Star destinations

By destination, the Canary Islands accounted for 35% of investment, followed by the Balearic Islands, with 20%. The third-ranked location was Madrid, with 12%, followed by Barcelona (8%) and Málaga (5%) (…).

Original story: Expansión (by Rebeca Arroyo)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Azora Launches a Vehicle to Invest €250M in Last Mile Logistics Hubs

9 January 2019 – Eje Prime

Azora is launching itself into the last mile logistics sector. The real estate manager has launched a vehicle to invest €250 million in premises located in the centre of cities with the aim of facilitating urban distribution and responding to the boom in e-commerce.

According to the company’s plans, the first investments will take place during the first quarter of this year. Azora will be responsible for the vehicle and will hold a minority stake in it. Meanwhile, the consultancy firm CBRE will be responsible for designing it and for supplying the real estate services, according to Expansión.

Until now, Azora and CBRE have identified almost thirty assets that fit their investment objectives until 2021. Currently, both companies are holding negotiations to purchase those properties, which include disused furniture stores, parking lots, dealerships, workshops and shopping centres inside the M-30 in Madrid and within Las Rondas in Barcelona. The properties must also have a surface area of more than 800 m2.

The assets will subsequently be leased to major logistics operators and to other transport companies, as well as to merchants and distribution companies under long-term lease contracts.

With more than €4.5 billion in assets under management, Azora is continuing to back the real estate sector after breaking its alliance with Hispania. Since then, the company has taken advantage of its experience in the sector to back the residential rental segment through the creation of a joint venture with CBRE Global Investment and Madison to achieve a portfolio of 10,000 homes within the next few years.

Original story: Eje Prime

Translation: Carmel Drake

2018: The Year that Blackstone was Crowned the King of the Spanish Real Estate Sector

17 December 2018 – Eje Prime

Blackstone wants it all and it wants it now. That is the sensation that the US investment fund, the new king of the Spanish real estate market, is transmitting throughout the real estate sector. Its portfolio is worth more than €20 billion after an accelerated period of purchases during 2018.

One of the objectives of the US fund manager has been, precisely, to expand its network in the Spanish real estate sector by entering markets such as the logistics segment. At the beginning of December, the company closed its latest operation in the country with the purchase of a logistics portfolio from Neinver for €300 million.

Nevertheless, the deal involving the giant Neinver is by no means the most significant operation that Blackstone has undertaken this year. Over the last twelve months, the group has taken control of Hispania, to grow in the hotel sector; it has acquired 80% of Testa, to manage thousands of rental homes, and in the logistics sector, it has accumulated 1 million m2 of space with the 55 assets from Neinver and the purchase of an industrial portfolio from Lar España.

Blackstone has disbursed almost €4 billion in the Spanish real estate sector this year, a figure that far exceeds the €127.5 million that it spent on its first investment in the domestic market in 2013. Moreover, that debut was not free from controversy, given that the group purchased 18 residential developments, containing 1,860 social housing units, which the Town Hall of Madrid sold the fund through the Municipal Housing and Land Company of Madrid (Emvsa).

Five years later, Blackstone is one of the largest owners of residential assets in Spain and the leader of the hotel sector. It leapt to first position in the hotel market ranking this year following its successful takeover of the Socimi Hispania. The company paid €1.99 billion for that vehicle, managed by Azora. With that operation, the fund added 46 assets and almost 13,150 rooms in Spain to a portfolio that it started to grow in 2017 with the purchase of HI Partners, the hotel arm of Banco Sabadell, for €630 million. In total, the manager owns 63 assets and almost 18,000 hotel rooms across Spain.

Hispania also provided Blackstone with residential assets worth €230 million, as well as 25 office buildings whose market value exceeds €600 million. Also in that segment, the company added the iconic Planeta office building in Barcelona to its portfolio during 2018, which it purchased from the Lara family in July for €210 million.

Spain, 20% of its global portfolio

Today, Spain accounts for 20% of Blackstone’s global investment. In total, the US firm owns property worth almost USD 120,000 million (€105,387 million) around the world. This real estate giant has become the largest unlisted real estate company in Spain (…).

The superiority of Blackstone’s portfolio in Spain with respect to those of the large domestic real estate firms is clear. The two largest players, Merlin and Colonial, are ranked within the top 15 Socimis in Europe and, yet, their portfolios are worth just half of that of the fund, at €11.785 billion and €11.19 billion, respectively.

Santander’s best friend

As well as mixing with other real estate players, Blackstone has made friends with some of the Spanish financial institutions. The banks, big losers in the previous real estate cycle, have worked hard over the last two years to place their property with the highest bidder, taking advantage of the new boom in the residential market.

In this way, in 2017, Banco Santander agreed with Blackstone the largest operation involving the sale of toxic assets from the real estate sector in the country. The fund manager purchased 51% of Popular’s property, a portfolio with €30,000 million in assets.

The relationship with the bank owned by the Botín family has been strengthened in 2018 with Project Quasar, the real estate firm created by the financial institution and the fund. The joint venture received a capital injection amounting to €300 million in May. Through this vehicle, the transfer of Popular’s assets is being carried out.

In order to place this property into circulation, as part of the operation in 2017, Blackstone also acquired the bank’s servicer, Aliseda, led by Eduard Mendiluce (…), who also manages the Socimi Albirana.

Albirana Properties is one of four residential Socimis that Blackstone currently has listed on the Alternative Investment Market (MAB). The others are Fidere Patrimonio, Corona Patrimonial and Torbel Investments.

Original story: Eje Prime (by Jabier Izquierdo)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Blackstone Negotiates Sale of the Ilunion Portfolio with Zurich for c. €100M

13 November 2018 – Cinco Días

The real estate giant Blackstone is pushing ahead with several divestments from its recently acquired Socimi Hispania. The US fund is negotiating with the insurance company Zurich regarding the sale of a portfolio of office buildings, which are occupied by Ilunion as a tenant, according to confirmation from sources in the real estate sector. The price of the operation will exceed €100 million.

Blackstone acquired Hispania through a takeover launched in the spring, which valued the Socimi at almost €2 billion. The US fund completed the operation because it was primarily interested in the company’s hotel assets, given that it owned 13,100 rooms across 46 hotels, the largest owner in the country in that segment. The US giant wants to create a hotel platform in Spain and, in fact, has already ceded the management of those establishments to its company HI Partners, the manager of other hotels purchased from Sabadell.

In total, Hispania’s portfolio has a gross asset value (GAV) of €2.811 billion. The most residual part, Hispania’s housing, is already being managed by another company owned by the fund, Fidere. And for the office component, the strategy is to divest the assets.

When Blackstone acquired Hispania, it broke off an agreement that the Socimi had with the British fund Tristan Capital Partners to divest the entire office portfolio for more than €500 million. That was the second time that the sale had been thwarted, previously Swiss Life was the buyer, in that case at the end of the summer in 2017, when the uncertainty surrounding the Catalan sovereignty process meant that the conditions of the insurance company were more demanding.

By contrast, the strategy now is to put this portfolio up for sale in a piecemeal fashion. The most advanced process relates to four properties in Madrid, which are all occupied by Ilunion, the holding company of the ONCE, as the tenant.

The largest property is the Torre 30 Building, appraised at €50 million at the end of 2017. Located next to the M-30 by the junction with the A-2, it was constructed in 1968, renovated in 2006 and has a surface area of 11,417 m2.

The sale also includes the Mizar Building, a property next to Torre 30, where in addition to Ilunion, Eysa and Paramount also have their headquarters, according to Hispania’s public documents, and which is worth €27.4 million. They are joined by the Pechuán building in Plaza Sagrado Corazón de Jesús next to Príncipe de Vergara, worth €19 million. Finally, the portfolio contains a property on Calle Comandante Azcárraga in the Pio XII area, worth €10.1 million.

Those four buildings had a combined appraisal value of €106.5 million as at 31 December 2017. Their current value is unknown but it is expected to be higher given that in May, Hispania revalued its assets upwards by 5.7% on average.

The rest of the office portfolio is not officially up for sale, but given that they are not strategic assets for Blackstone, the expectation is that it will receive offers for them, as a group or in different sub-portfolios.

Original story: Cinco Días (by Alfonso Simón Ruiz)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Hispania to Convert the Café La Granja Building in Bilbao into a Hotel

10 October 2018 – El Correo

Thanks to the significant investments carried out in recent years, the investment fund Hispania has become the largest hotel group in Spain. It has outperformed traditional companies in the sector such as Meliá, HI Hoteles and Hoteles Globales in terms of the number of establishments and rooms. At the height of its expansion phase, boosted at the end of last year by the purchase of the Alua chain – which saw it acquire seven resorts in the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands for €165 million – it has set its sights on Bilbao. Just a week after another high-profile fund, the Madrid-based Millenium Group announced its intention to convert Banco Santander’s headquarters on Gran Vía into a luxury hotel, Plaza Circular is now going to witness the transformation of one of the Bizcayan capital’s most iconic buildings: the site that formerly housed Café La Granja.

The hostelry establishment, which started life on 31 July 1926 and which was acquired by the real estate firm Navarra Fitbox two years ago, has been closed since 8 February 2017 when, unexpectedly, it pulled down its shutters for the very last time. The insurance company Helvetia sold the property for almost €7.5 million. After 90 years of uninterrupted activity, the historical café has only re-opened its doors since then on a sporadic basis to host one-off events of a cultural nature, such as book fairs. The offices and insurance companies that used to occupy the upper five floors have been evicted, starting back in 2010 (…).

Hispania is going to strengthen the hotel supply in Bilbao, which is experiencing a genuine frenzy, with the planned opening of seven new properties over the medium term. The fund has been planning its debut in the town for a while, but its intentions have always focused on this area, which will draw a new Bilbao with the arrival of the fashion giant Primark and the launch of the Regional Government’s international entrepreneurship centre in the former BBVA tower, which was sold for €100 million two weeks ago. The arrival of the AVE and the strong commercial positioning have pushed up prices considerably in this area. Like in the case of the building work to be carried out on the site of Santander’s former headquarters, the transformation of La Granja will have to be approved by the Town Hall’s Heritage Committee, which has not yet assessed the project, given that it is an artistic building. That procedure may be completed this month (…).

Original story: El Correo 

Translation: Carmel Drake