In another example of the negative economic impact of the United Kingdom’s surprise vote to leave the European Union, Standard Life Investments said Monday it was suspending trading of its U.K. real estate fund. Citing “exceptional market circumstances” in the wake of the June 23 referendum, the company said the number of people seeking to withdraw their money from the market had risen since the vote.
The 2.9 billion pound ($3.84 billion) U.K. real estate fund invests in commercial properties — including offices, warehoused and shopping centers — suspended trading at midday Monday. The suspension would be reviewed at least once every 28 days, and would stay in effect till such time as the company deemed practical, it said.
“The suspension was requested to protect the interests of all investors in the fund and to avoid compromising investment returns from the range, mix and quality of assets within the portfolio. … The selling process for real estate can be lengthy as the fund manager needs to offer assets for sale, find prospective buyers, secure the best price and complete the legal transaction. Unless this selling process is controlled, there is a risk that the fund manager will not achieve the best deal for investors in the fund, including those who intend to remain invested over the medium to long term,” the statement from the company said.
Property prices in the U.K., and in London specifically, have come under pressure in the runup to the EU referendum, as well as following it. According to data from the fund manager trade body Investment Association cited by the BBC, “private investors withdrew a net 342 million pounds from U.K. funds in May, compared to a 1.1 billion pounds investment in the same month last year.”
And last week, Singapore’s third-largest lender, United Overseas Bank, announced a temporary halt on housing loans for buying property in London.
“Commercial property has been one of the worst-hit sectors, and investors remain negative on property at the moment. … However, the fall in the pound makes commercial property more attractive to international investors and the income it generates will also be appealing in a low-growth, low-yield world,” Adrian Lowcock of Axa Wealth told the Telegraph.
In the past week, Standard Life, as well as property funds operated by Henderson Global Investors, M&G Investments and Aberdeen Asset Management, cut the value of the properties they own by 4 percent to 5 percent.
Not all funds are taking the trading suspension route. Aberdeen Asset Management told the Wall Street Journal that it has no plans to halt trading. “We have seen a slowdown in redemptions since the referendum vote and the fund has significant cash holdings,” it said.
Around the time of the financial crisis in 2007, real estate funds were facing similar pressures as investors demanded cash. If funds are forced to return cash to their investors, they are often compelled to sell the properties they own at a discount to raise the money, driving down property prices and creating a downward spiral of negative market sentiment.
Shares of Standard Life closed with a loss of 3.55 percent on the London Stock Exchange on Monday, while the broader FTSE 100 index was down 0.84 percent. Most investment fund stocks performed worse than the broader market.