Oys­ter sauce group eyes ‘Gherkin’ tower bid

Financial Times USA - - COMPANIES - J UDITH EVANS — LONDON

The Hong Kong-based sauces and condi­ments group Lee Kum Kee has ap­proached the own­ers of London’s “Gherkin” sky­scraper about a po­ten­tial pur­chase in the lat­est sign of east Asian ap­petite for tro­phy real es­tate in the UK­cap­i­tal. The group is eye­ing a bid for the Nor­man Fos­ter-de­signed tower, which is owned by Brazil’s Safra Group, said two peo­ple briefed on the sit­u­a­tion. But they cau­tioned that the build­ing was not be­ing mar­keted and there was no cer­tainty of a deal.

Lee Kum Kee, which ac­quired an­other London of­fice build­ing in the Dock­lands area in 2016, has been ex­am­in­ing a se­ries of big-ticket London build- ings through agents CBRE, with a view to fur­ther pur­chases, one per­son said.

The group is con­sid­er­ing an of­fer for the build­ing, for­mally known as 30 St Mary Axe, at a yield of less than 4 per cent, an­other per­son said.

This would re­flect a sim­i­lar pric­ing level to fel­low Chi­nese com­pany CC Land’s £1.1bn pur­chase of the “Cheeseg­rater” sky­scraper this year, which en­cour­aged other land­lords to con­sider sell­ing ma­jor prop­erty as­sets.

The Gherkin was bought by the Safra Group, con­trolled by the Brazil­ian bil­lion­aire Joseph Safra, for £726m — a yield of 3.8 per cent — in 2014, after it fell into re­ceiver­ship five years ear­lier dur­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis. One of London’s best-loved land­marks, its main ten­ant is the rein­surer Swiss Re.

J Safra Real Es­tate, a sub­sidiary of Safra Group, said: “The Gherkin is a unique real es­tate as­set and is not for sale.”

Lee Kum Kee had not re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment at the time of go­ing to press.

Chi­nese and Hong Kong com­pa­nies have emerged as lead­ing buy­ers of London prop­erty in the past 18 months, with pur­chasers from the re­gion snap­ping up £ 3bn of build­ings in 2016, ac­cord­ing to Knight Frank.

Asian ap­petite for London of­fice build­ings has helped to quell fears of price drops after the Brexit vote, with the “Cheeseg­rater” sale set­ting records for the City of London. A group of share­hold­ers in the “Walkie Talkie” at 20 Fenchurch Street is also ex­plor­ing a sale.

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