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Aviva Joins Standard Life in Freezing Property Fund After Brexit

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Aviva Investors suspended trading in a 1.8 billion-pound ($2.4 billion) real estate investment fund, after Standard Life Investments froze its fund Monday, as investors demanded their money back in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

The money manager halted the Aviva Investors Property Trust following a “lack of immediate liquidity,” according to a statement on Tuesday. “We have acted to safeguard the interests of all our investors by suspending dealing in the fund with immediate effect.”

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.

“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.”

Land Securities Group Plc paced a sell-off in property stocks, falling 4 percent as of 1:23 p.m. in London trading. Asset managers also declined, led by Aberdeen Asset Management Plc, which was down 5.8 percent. Standard Life, whose fund had 2.9 billion pounds of assets, is among a number of firms, including Aberdeen, Henderson Group Plc, Legal & General Group Plc and M&G Investments who last week adjusted the value of assets in their property funds in the wake of Brexit.

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A spokesman for Aberdeen said the company has no plans to suspend trading in its funds, saying that redemptions have started to slow and its U.K. property fund holds about 20 percent in cash. Officials at Henderson and M&G declined to comment. L&G said its U.K. property fund is “well positioned” in terms of liquidity and asset management.

Standard Life said Monday it will review the suspension of its fund, which invests in a mix of prime commercial real estate assets, every 28 days. The company last week adjusted the value of the underlying assets by 5 percent. The fund held a cash position of more than 13 percent as of May 31.

“The potential impact of a high-profile liquid fund suspending redemptions shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly given the uncertain environment,” said Emma Bewley, head of funds at Connection Capital in London. “While asset managers will seek to avoid suspending redemptions, they may have to use additional liquidity facilities.”

– Check out: Post-Brexit: European Markets Have Rebounded, but for How Long?