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KKR buys stake in London office landlord Great Portland

London

KKR & Co has bought a stake in London developer Great Portland Estates plc, betting against the demise of the downtown office.

The private equity company has acquired a 5.35 per cent stake in the landlord, according to a filing, becoming the latest of several money managers to build stakes in UK real estate companies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Great Portland, which owns and develops mainly office buildings in central London, has fallen more than 30 per cent this year as curbs to contain the virus triggered a severe recession and raised questions about the long-term outlook for urban workspace.

Spokesmen for KKR and Great Portland declined to comment.

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Great Portland gained as much as 7 per cent in London on Monday, the most since April.

Real estate stocks have been among those hit hardest hit by the virus fallout as tenants struggle to pay rent, retail spending shifts online and office workers do their jobs from home.

That's lured buyout firms attracted by deep discounts between the value of landlords' assets and their market capitalisations.

Brookfield Asset Management bought a stake in rival landlord British Land Co in June and upped its holding earlier this month.

KKR's stake, acquired for about £74.3 million (S$131.3 million) based on last Wednesday's closing price, makes it the sixth-largest holder of Great Portland, according to Bloomberg data.

The London-based firm is now valued at £1.5 billion.

While private equity firms have raised vast real estate funds targeting distressed deals, the impact of the coronavirus has yet to translate into widespread defaults and forced sellers.

That's further encouraging the managers to deploy capital on shares and bonds in companies that have strong track records but which have been badly affected by negative sentiment due to the virus.

Great Portland has sold off completed buildings at high prices in the past five years and reduced its debt to about 15 per cent of the value of its properties, a level that's among the lowest in the business.

The company has cash and undrawn loans of about £390 million.

According to a July 10 trading update, it had collected 69 per cent of the rent due in June and 82 per cent of what was owed in March, with stores and restaurants that occupy the ground floors of its mainly West End office buildings particularly hard hit. BLOOMBERG

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