Commercial-property companies slumped after Standard Life Investments suspended trading in its 2.9 billion-pound ($3.9 billion) U.K. Real Estate fund on Monday as redemptions surged in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
The fund, which invests in a mix of prime commercial real estate assets, was halted at midday and the decision will be reviewed every 28 days, the Edinburgh, Scotland-based fund manager said in a statement. Standard Life adjusted the value of the underlying assets by 5 percent last week.
“The potential impact of a high profile liquid fund suspending redemptions shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly given the uncertain environment following the EU referendum,” said Emma Bewley, head of funds at Connection Capital in London, which oversees 170 million pounds. “Lower than expected liquidity in their real estate holdings could have broader implications for other liquid vehicles. While asset managers will seek to avoid suspending redemptions, they may have to use additional liquidity facilities.”
Investors are pulling money as industry commentators warn that London office values could fall by as much as 20 percent within three years of the country leaving the EU. During the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, real-estate funds were forced to freeze operations after withdrawals surged, contributing to a property-market slump that saw values drop more than 40 percent from their peak in the U.K.
Land Securities Group Plc fell as much as 5.8 percent and the FTSE 350 Real Estate Investment Trust Index declined as much as 3.8 percent, adding to a 4.2 percent drop on Monday.
Asset managers also declined in London trading. Schroders Plc lost 5 percent, Aberdeen Asset Management Plc slid 6.6 percent and Henderson Group Plc which has also made a market value adjustment on its real estate funds, was down 3.9 percent. Standard Life shed more than 5 percent on Tuesday.
This year “is shaping up to be a rerun of 2007,” before the property market collapsed, said Mike Prew, an analyst at Jefferies LLC in a note to clients. Despite falling share prices, “it’s still not safe to go back into the water, even with these dividend yields.”
Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown, estimated that about 25 billion pounds is invested in property funds by U.K. investors, including those that invest in stocks. Individual investors in Britain withdrew a net 360 million pounds from property funds in May, according to Investment Association data.
“The risk is that it’s the thin end of the wedge and we have more property funds doing this sort of thing in the weeks and months to come,” said Khalaf. “If Standard Life is experiencing outflows, other managers will be suffering a similar fate and may have to take similar action.”
The halting of withdrawals prevents fund managers from being forced to sell too rapidly and helps them achieve a better outcome for all their clients, the Investment Association said in a statement Monday.
“The decision was taken following an increase in redemption requests as a result of uncertainty for the U.K. commercial real estate market,” Standard Life said in a statement Monday. “The suspension was requested to protect the interests of all investors in the fund and to avoid compromising investment returns.”
Standard Life said the property fund still offers a stable and secure income return, with a distribution yield of about 3.86 percent, and that the selling process had to be controlled to protect investors. The fund held a cash position of more than 13 percent as of May 31.
Standard Life was among a number of asset managers, including Aberdeen and M&G Investments, that last week adjusted the value of the underlying property assets in some of their funds in the wake of Brexit.
A spokesman for Aberdeen said the company had no plans to suspend trading in its funds, saying that redemptions had started to slow and its U.K. property fund held about 20 percent in cash.
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