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Hedge fund gets into property development

HEDGE funds do not usually get into property development, but a home-grown firm is venturing into the real estate game despite signs the roaring high-end market is slowing.

Ferrell Asset Management will develop Ferrell Residence, a project consisting of luxury flats and penthouses on a 31,371 sq ft site opposite Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road), next to City Tower.

The freehold estate in Bukit Timah will have about 30 units worth at least $2,300 per sq ft.

Ms Jeanna Chan, executive director of Ferrell Asset Management, which manages more than US$700 million (S $1 billion) worth of assets, said the project would be launched around the middle of the year.

It signals a major shift for Ferrell. It has been a big investor in existing properties and counts real estate players such as Indonesia’s Lippo Group as investors, but developing has not been in its game plan.

Ms Chan, however, sees it as a logical move.

‘Development is a natural and strategic extension of our experience in managing properties,’ she explained. ‘I feel this is an opportunistic move in light of our outlook for local and regional properties.’

Ferrell’s property portfolio includes The Trillium, 100 condominium units at RiverGate and 52 per cent of strata units in 79 Anson.

Ferrell is one of the few funds that have spent big money on single residential projects.

One play involved outlaying more than $182 million to buy units at RiverGate three years ago.

While non-property firms have ventured into real estate development – publisher Eastern Holdings is one – it is unusual for hedge funds.

Most funds typically invest in properties directly or via other property funds or team up with developers to take stakes in projects.

‘When we have a property boom, it is not surprising that we have more players going into property development than the traditional developers,’ said Daiwa Institute of Research analyst David Lum.

While industry watchers do not doubt Ferrell’s ability to profit by buying and selling properties, they say developing is a different ball game altogether.

‘You have to market the building. You need coordinators with real estate experience to manage the building. It’s a case of specialising in what you do best,’ Knight Frank director of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak said.

‘Ferrell has always been deemed to be different compared to our peers in this market. Our principals are business-oriented in outlook other than being hedge fund managers,’ Ms Chan said.

Ferrell’s move may encourage other funds with the financial muscle to develop their own properties.

With assets so pricey, spotting an undervalued real estate deal becomes more difficult, so hedge funds would rather develop their own to sell.

‘Now that interest rates have gone down, liquidity will be improved, and that will be an excellent time for the likes of private equity firms and funds to come back again,’ said Jones Lang LaSalle Asia Pacific head of investments Lui Seng Fatt.

With interest rates being driven down further, sources of funding are becoming more attractive for hedge funds, he added.


Source: The Straits Times 16 Jan 08


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