Dec 21, 2012

Life Insurance

The say on the street is that there is a funding gap in the European property market. The say is also that new players are coming along to fill, or benefit from this gap. These new players are called debt funds, or insurance companies. Reports are piling up announcing the raise of new funds, or the billions that this or this insurance company is planning to invest in the new yield Eldorado. Advisors are warning about banking regulation risks looming on the new sector, and offering advice… And journalist have been writing about it (for instance here, here and here )

I have been wondering how much of all of this is actually for real, and how much is there to help us sleep at night. The white knights are coming to save our industry from its own cliff.

The fact is that there are a number of high profile loans which have been put together by insurance companies (not so much by funds so far). The Deutsche Bank and the Silber Towers in Frankfurt, some prime assets in London… So there is some action going in there. But is that really new? In the syndicated facility of alstria back in 2007 we also had AXA as part of the consortium with one of its debt fund (alongside with 25 banks). Today we do have a fund from Deka as part of our banking syndicate.

We also hear that unlike in the US, insurance companies have never really be involved in the financing of real estate in Europe. This is not exactly true. The lion share of the Pfandbrief bonds (the German cover bond market which finance real estate across Europe) are actually sold to insurance companies (although we could not identify any statistic in that respect). According to the Vdp, the total amount of Pfandbrief loan outstanding in Europe at the end of 2011 was around EUR 297 billion. The pfandbrief banks granted EUR 90 billion of new real estate loan in 2011. This compares with, for instance, Allianz target of EUR 5 billion loan book by 2015 ( )or the total EUR 2 billion of new loans by insurance companies in 2011…

From my perspective, the key question in this debate is not really whether or not insurance companies will step in the lending business. But are they going to do this with new capital, or is the lending business just part of the existing real estate allocation. GE Real Estate for instance (which I appreciate is not an insurance company, see here ) is stepping out of equity, and coming back into debt. Net net, the move is neutral… No new capital.
There is clearly something going on in the field of new debt providers. It is however too early to say if this is going to be a game changer, or just a capital reallocation, which will leave us as naked as we were before. The only certainty I still have is that there is still too much leverage in the system. It will take us more than just a life insurance to secure the future of our industry

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