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Lehman meltdown makes realtors run for funds

By Raghavendra Kamath & Nevin John in Mumbai
September 23, 2008 03:25 IST
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Real estate companies such as Unitech, Peninsula Land, HDIL and Future Capital, the financial services arm of Future Group, are in talks with investors including some leading private equity funds for raising investments for their projects, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, whose third party fund had promised investments in these property companies' projects, according to industry sources.

Lehman's third party fund, Lehman Brothers Real Estate Partners that manages funds worth $4-billion, had committed an investment of over $ 1 billion to these realty companies, sources said.

Unitech, the country's second largest developer, was in talks with Lehman to raise $525 million for its two projects of 1 million square feet each in Santacruz and Worli in Mumbai. Lehman Brothers had invested $175 million in the initial phase of Unitech's Santacruz project in Mumbai for a 50 per cent stake.

"We are in talks with 2-3 private equity funds, which we will seal in the coming months. It all depends on market conditions now," said an official from Unitech.

Unitech was also in talks with Lehman Brothers to raise funds for its 25 million sq ft commercial property development in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida and Kolkata where it was planning to dilute stake in the specific projects. Though the company received $175 million, further talks with Lehman have come to a standstill, said the company official.

"As far as Lehman funds are concerned, it is up to Lehman and their investors to sort out the issues," he said.

Ashok Piramal group company Peninsula Land also had a Rs 700 crore joint venture with Lehman's fund. Lehman was planning to invest Rs 500 crore and hold 75 per cent stake in the JV.

"We had an understanding with Lehman's fund, wherein it was to deploy $125 million in all our future projects. As far as funding goes, we do not have any problems. We are raising funds from international markets also," said a senior Peninsula official.

Lehman was planning to pick up a 40 per cent stake in the Peninsula's upcoming IT park project in Hyderabad with an investment of Rs 50 crore as part of the tie-up. But Peninsula has not received the money from Lehman.

"We had an understanding with Lehman's fund, wherein it was to deploy $ 125 million in all our future projects. As far as funding goes, we do not have any problems. We are raising funds from international markets also," said Rajesh Jaggi, managing director, Peninsula Land.

The company's Peninsula Realty Fund has already floated two funds, Indigo, a Rs 250-crore domestic fund, and Rs 1,400-crore Paramount Offshore Fund. While the company raised the domestic fund, which is expected to be fully invested by the end of this year, it is yet to close its international fund.

Meanwhile, Future Capital, which has closed its $200 million hotel fund, is yet to receive $100 million committed by Lehman's fund, said a Future Group official. "Like any other fund, we call capital only when we identify any investment. Since we have not identified investments, we have not asked for money from Lehman. If their money does not come, we will look for new funds," said the official.

Wadhawan Group company HDIL, which had a tie-up with Lehman Brothers for the Rs 10,000 crore Dharavi Redevelopment Project, plans to move ahead with the project with or without Lehman's participation. 

Analysts feel though realty companies can still raise funds from investors for their projects, they would have to do so at much lower valuations and subject to higher scrutiny from the funds.

"If developers had a choice of 25 funds earlier, now they will have only 10 funds. Investors would need to come in at a much lower valuation," said Ambar Maheshwari, director of DTZ, a global investment advisory.

Even the private equity is equally upbeat about property investments.

Bharath Banka, chief executive of Aditya Birla group's private equity division, "The current credit crisis, which is expected to continue for a few more months, opens up avenue for private equity firms to make large investments in real estate sector. Long term returns will be higher in real estate for investments made during this point of economic cycle." 

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Raghavendra Kamath & Nevin John in Mumbai
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