Blackstone mulls sale of stake in London office complex

LONDON Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:55am GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. private equity group Blackstone may sell its half stake in a London office and retail complex, its partner British Land said, a deal that could bring Blackstone a sevenfold return on its original investment.

Blackstone bought its share of the 30-acre Broadgate site in London's financial district from property firm British Land in September 2009 for 77 million pounds ($120.9 million), a stake now valued at 520.5 million pounds after debt, according to British Land's 2012 annual report.

Reuters reported in September 2011 that Blackstone was considering a sale of its stake in Broadgate, which would be one of London's largest property transactions in recent years.

The process appears to have taken a step forward since a lock-up agreement expired late last year, allowing a sale to go ahead.

British Land publicly acknowledged that Blackstone could sell out of Broadgate on Tuesday, saying: "We intend to retain our 50 percent stake and work closely with Blackstone through any sale process".

British Land Chief Executive Chris Grigg said the original sale to Blackstone had enabled his company to rebalance its London portfolio between the City and the West End districts and press ahead with developments that will bring in large profits.

"One can always look back and say 'if I knew then what I know now', but we sold at the time to give us financial flexibility," Grigg told Reuters after a trading update on Tuesday.

Blackstone was not immediately available for comment.

"It was always strategically the right thing for British Land to cut its exposure to the City but I have always questioned the timing," said Investec analyst Alan Carter.

The Broadgate development, which is adjacent to Liverpool Street train station, was built between 1984 and 2008 and could attract interest from Oxford Properties, the property arm of Canada's Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System and Norway's sovereign wealth fund, property experts said.

Broadgate tenants include Swiss bank UBS, which is planning a 340 million pound London headquarters in Broadgate despite concerns it will struggle to fill the 700,000 building, which will include several trading floors, after deep job cuts.

"Predicting headcount in banking is something you can spend a lot of time fretting over," said British Land's Grigg. "From our point of view they have leased the whole building and my view is that it fits with their overall requirements."

British Land said a recent run of retailer failures across its portfolio including HMV and Jessops had pushed the number of units in administration to 1.2 percent from 0.8 percent at the end of 2012.

"There were a number of failures but they were principally failures we expected," said Grigg. "We have a great record of re-letting space."

(Editing by David Holmes and Tom Pfeiffer)

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