7 November 2016 – El País
The property sector still suffers from its soiled reputation as the cause of the bubble that led to the ruin of so many real estate companies, savings banks and families, ultimately bringing down the Spanish economy. But in a very discrete way, the sector is recovering its strength and real estate companies are becoming involved in major corporate operations once again, from purchases to mergers to stock exchange IPOs. The large corporations have also turned their business models on their heads. Whilst previously they undertook all kinds of activity (from property development to rental), we are now seeing specialist companies, many of whom are controlled by overseas investment funds.
The kings of property have also lost the glamour that those self-made businessman, such as Enrique Bañuelos (Astroc), Luis Portillo (Colonial) and Fernando Martín (Martinsa) enjoyed as their fortunes shined on the Forbes rich list (…). Nowadays, the new real estate companies do not have a visible face but rather are professional undertakings, and in many cases the managers are anonymous. The Socimis have taken up their place alongside the private equity funds and the large international investors such as the US businessman George Soros; Wang Jianlin, the richest man in China; and the Mexican magnate Carlos Slim.
Real estate stalwarts, such as Martinsa-Fadesa, Metrovacesa and Astroc, whose names used to feature on property developments, were left for dust, devoured by the black whole of gigantic debt. Their place has been occupied by the Socimis Merlin, Hispania, Lar and Axiare, whose names are barely known by the majority of the general public; by property developers such as Vía Célere and Neinor Homes, some of which have been created by overseas capital either investing directly in their capital or through partnerships for specific projects; and even by the former real estate arms of the banks, most of which are now owned by international funds.
One of the few exceptions to the empires from the last decade that has managed to survive is Colonial, which has cleaned up and transformed into a company that specialises in rental properties, and which is back with new investment plans. Last month, the company chaired by Juan José Brugera acquired 15.1% of the Socimi Axiare for €135 million. “Most of the companies that are left are a selection of the most professional enterprises”, said the Professor of Applied Economics at the Pompeu Fabra University, José García Montalvo. (…).
“The new managers of the real estate companies are more professional”, argues García Montalvo. In addition, the companies are more specialised and some even focus only on specific segments. One example is Lar España, a Socimi that specialises in shopping centre management (although it does also own a few office buildings), which has launched a €240 million investment plan for next year, supported by the major funds that comprise its shareholders, such as Franklin Templeton, Blackrock and Pimco.
Another example is Hispania, in which the US multimillionaires and fund managers George Soros and John Paulson hold stakes. It has also grown rapidly since it debuted on the stock market in 2014 and now manages assets amounting to almost €1,500 million. Its strategy is clear: to grow in size. Although it failed in its purchase of Realia, the company led by Concha Osácar and Fernando Gumuzio has absorbed the hotel Socimi Bay and all of the experts in the sector have tipped it to play an important role in upcoming operations. (…).
Original story: El País (by Ramón Muñoz and Lluís Pellicer)
Translation: Carmel Drake