Monday, February 10, 2020

UK Port and Property Company Sells Major Stake as Growth of Online Shopping Causes Problems

High Street Woes Come Home to Roost for Investors with Sale to Pension Managers
Shipping News Feature

UK – AUSTRALIA – Since the Robert Maxwell affair, the matters surrounding the large pension funds, which so many companies manage on behalf of staff, are always subject to scrutiny. Now according to a Sunday Telegraph article Peel Ports, the second largest such UK company, is apparently to divest itself of 25% of the group to Australia's biggest pension fund manager, AustralianSuper.

There is no mention of the possible deal on the Peel Ports website but, according to the report, the sale of shares by Peel Ports, which is partially owned by John Whittaker, the billionaire real estate tycoon behind Manchester’s Trafford Centre, and Deutsche Bank investment arm DWS, also attracted interest from a number of other international funds as part of a process which was run collaboratively by Rothschild and Linklaters.

The silence on the deal from all sides is deafening but the Melbourne headquartered fund manager is said to hold retirement investments for one in every ten Aussie workers. The sale is part of a flurry of activity by Whittaker who it is claimed is not only selling off the Peel Ports portfolio, a company which has interests in property and infrastructure as well as its holdings in Medway, Clyde and Liverpool ports facilities.

Whittaker’s problems have evolved after the change in the high street rental climate where his Intu group has been suffering a cash shortage following body blows such as the difficulties at Debenhams and Arcadia, which are in turn struggling with the falling footfall in their stores, a problem linked to burgeoning online shopping habits. Intu shares are down 88% from a year ago and Whittaker has also recently sold off a 35% share in Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport to another fund manager, Ancala Partners.

Peel Ports reported revenues of £760 million in 2019, growth of 6% from 2018’s figures with pre-tax earnings of £257 million.

Photo: The Trafford Centre is one of Whittaker’s best known projects.