Record Russian real estate deal agreed by beleaguered Morgan Stanley fund

By bne IntelliNews January 17, 2012

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A record real estate deal has been agreed in Russia, with a Morgan Stanley fund agreeing to buy the flagship Galereya mall in St Petersburg for $1.1bn, according to business daily Vedomosti. It's a deal that says more about the buyer than the state of the sector, however.

Whilst the usual mode of operation in a crisis for those with ready cash is to wait for distressed assets to come your way, the boot is on the other foot in this deal, with Morgan Stanley's Real Estate Fund VII needing to spend - and spend quickly.

The fund has agreed to purchase the asset from Kazakh-run Meridian Capital, sources close to the transaction told Vedomosti, with the deal expected to be closed later this month. If completed, the transaction will be the largest on Russia's real estate market, according to analysts. It should be taking the crown from German fund KanAm's purchase of Vivaldi Plaza in Moscow for $900m, but that pre-crisis agreement fell through due to the crisis in the autumn of 2008.

VTB Capital analysts are trying to whip up some enthusiasm for the sector on the back of the news, writing in a note to clients: "We are positive on the acquisition and believe that a transaction of this size shows the attractiveness of the Russian commercial real estate market, despite the turbulence on the global financial markets."

However, others argue the picture is not quite so clear.

Galereya is Russia's second largest shopping centre after the AFI Mall in Moscow, and according to Vedomosti sources, it brings in $100m a year. That suggests the deal will go through at a yield of around 9%.

While that's not an astronomical figure for a landmark project, neither is it exactly a bargain in these straightened times. That's despite the fact that Morgan Stanley's property team has said they feel the time is right to strike deals in depressed property markets globally, according to Reuters.

Morgan Stanley raised $4.7bn for Real Estate Fund VII at the height of the boom, but was halted in its tracks by the 2008 crisis, during which little if any distressed real estate appeared on the market as the banks held fire. That left the fund - which was originally due to close in June 2012 - with only 40% or so of its funds committed. Investors agreed to a year's extension earlier this month as Morgan Stanley returned $700m of their cash, meaning the fund has over $2bn burning a hole in its pocket.

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