The malaise in the United Kingdom’s real estate sector is spreading following the country’s shock vote to leave the European Union, with two more property trading funds — Aviva Investors and M&G Investments — announcing temporary suspension of trading Tuesday. The move, along with a similar announcement from Standard Life Investments on Monday, takes the total of frozen U.K. property funds to over 9 billion pounds (about $12 billion) this week alone.
Asset managers say the moves are to protect their investors. If investors decided to withdraw their money from the funds, the fund managers would be forced to liquidate assets to raise the cash. A quick-fire sale would not assuredly get the best price for the properties, and the sudden increased availability of properties in the market would also drive down their prices, creating a spiral effect. That, in turn, would hurt the fund and the investors who chose to remain with it.
In its statement, Aviva cited “higher than usual volumes of requests to sell units in” its 1.8 billion pound Aviva Investors Property Trust. “Coupled with challenging market conditions in light of investor sentiment regarding the EU referendum,” it “has reduced the cash held by the trust.” The decision to suspend trading — Aviva “cannot accept instructions to buy, sell, transfer or switch units in the Trust until further notice” — came into effect at noon on Monday and was “made to safeguard the interests of existing investors.”
The company also said that “by taking a little longer we hope to sell properties at more competitive prices so that we can act in the best interests of all investors.” Additionally, it has suspended its planned conversion of the trust into a property authorized investment fund.
M&G, part of the Prudential Group, used very similar language in its statement announcing the suspension in trading of its M&G Property Portfolio. Ascribing the marked rise in investor redemptions to “the high levels of uncertainty in the U.K. commercial property market since the outcome of the European Union referendum,” the fund said “redemptions have now reached a point where M&G believes it can best protect the interests of the funds’ shareholders by seeking a temporary suspension in trading.”
This suspension also came into effect at noon on July 4, and like Standard Life, M&G will also review the suspension of trading in its 4.4 billion pound fund every 28 days.
Commenting on the spate of announcements, Laith Khalaf, an analyst at stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The dominos are starting to fall in the U.K. commercial property market, as yet another fund locks its doors on the back of outflows precipitated by the Brexit vote. … It’s probably only a matter of time before we see other funds follow suit.”