Three of the U.K.’s largest real estate funds have frozen almost 9.1 billion pounds ($12 billion) of assets after Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union sparked a flurry of redemptions.
M&G Investments, Aviva Investors and Standard Life Investments halted withdrawals because they don’t have enough cash to immediately repay investors. About 24.5 billion pounds is allocated to U.K. real estate funds, according to the Investment Association.
“The dominoes are starting to fall in the U.K. commercial property market,” said Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “The problem these funds face is that it takes time to sell commercial property to meet withdrawals, and the cash buffers built up by the managers have been eroded by investors heading for the door.”
The pound fell to its weakest level in three decades against the dollar Tuesday, surpassing lows reached in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, as the freezing of the property funds spooked global markets. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney pledged to shore up financial stability on a day when a survey showed a plunge in U.K. business confidence.
The rush by private investors to withdraw money prompted M&G, which held 7.7 percent in cash before the vote, to suspend its 4.4 billion-pound Property Portfolio fund and Aviva Investors to freeze its 1.8 billion-pound Property Trust on Tuesday. Standard Life halted trading on its 2.9 billion-pound U.K. real estate fund on Monday. The cash position for Aviva and Standard Life’s funds at the end of May was 9.3 percent and 13.1 percent respectively, documents showed.
“Investor redemptions in the fund have risen markedly because of the high levels of uncertainty in the U.K. commercial property market since the outcome of the European Union referendum,” M&G said on its website. Outflows “have now reached a point where M&G believes it can best protect the interests of the funds’ shareholders by seeking a temporary suspension.”
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.