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Realty financing troubles open other opportunities

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As residential and commercial transactions dip and developers desperately search for private equity and debt to fund projects and repay loans, global property consultancies are building up their capital transactions/corporate finance teams in India.

These teams help developers source debt, private equity and structured debt, which has features of both debt and equity.

While French financial powerhouse BNP Paribas and US-based CB Richard Ellis, the world's largest property consultancy, set up their capital markets teams recently, both UK-based Knight Frank and US-based IPC Jones Lang LaSalle are augmenting their capital transaction/corporate finance teams here.

“There is a sustained fall in all asset classes, be it be residential or commercial. Big land sales are not happening. So, people (consultancies) have to cushion themselves in the current situation,” says Amit Goenka, national director, capital transactions, at Knight Frank. He has hired at least half a dozen people for his department in recent months.

According to a recent report by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, the Mumbai, Noida and Bangalore markets are seeing a sharp fall in absorption of residential apartments. While Mumbai has the highest unsold stock over the phe last nine quarters and will take at least 13 quarters to exhaust the inventory, absorption rates in Noida have fallen by half.

The report says commercial transactions could dip by 10-15 per cent in 2012 due to global uncertainty.

Due to fall in home sales and banks tightening credit to the sector, developers have to depend on private equity, non-banking finance companies and private lenders. This is an opportunity for independent property consultancies (IPCs).

“There is a demand from the market for financing. Developers are getting loans at 18-24 per cent. Nobody is trying to arrange debt after some problems cropped up last year. Equity financing is also becoming difficult, as the markets are down,” says Raja Kaushal, managing director, India, BNP Paribas Real Estate Investment Advisory, which recently hired Siddharth Killekar as national director for its capital markets group

Late last year, the Central Bureau of Investigation arrested key executives of Money Matters, which used to help companies to source loans for a fee, and of LIC Housing Finance for allegedly taking bribes to arrange debt. Adds Goenka: “If you have Rs 5,000 crore private equity put out this year, there is a fee potential of Rs 100 crore at the rate of two per cent fee and Rs 60-70 crore fee potential if you help raise Rs 6,000-7,000 crore from NBFCs.”

He says the role of capital market teams is also increasing due to the coming exits by private equity teams. “Less than $0.5 billion private equity exits have happened so far and $6.5 billion is yet to happen. In this scenario, the role of capital market teams has become crucia,” he said.

Consultancy agencies BNP Paribas and CBRE are also betting on the future. “We want to be number one in capital markets and have started ramping up this team. In the next six months, we will be a sizable number,” says Kaushal of BNP Paribas. “We have senior investment bankers with us and our ability to structure deals is better than many others.”

Two months earlier, CBRE South Asia hired Gaurav Kumar and Nikhil Bhatia from global investor Credit Suisse to head its capital markets team in India. The duo set up investment banking in CBRE during 2005-06, when most IPCs did not have such teams.

"We did a lot of brainstorming. There is a huge vacuum in the industry to manage assets of foreign funds as part of the asset management business at CBRE. CBRE has 15 years of presence of India and prudent relations with developers. We want to leverage on that," says Kumar.

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