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Columbia Threadneedle, St James's Place reopen UK property funds

LONDON (Reuters) – Fund managers Columbia Threadneedle and St James’s Place (SJP.L) said on Wednesday they would reopen their suspended UK property funds after British surveyors said they no longer saw any “material uncertainty” in real estate valuations, which was a major barrier to reopening.

Real estate funds aimed at retail investors, totalling more than $8 billion, were suspended in March after surveyors said it was not possible to be sure about valuations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutional funds quickly followed suit in the UK property fund sector, which is worth 70 billion pounds ($91 billion) overall.

Rules governing property funds meant they should consider suspending in circumstances where surveyors issued such a warning, the Association of Real Estate Funds (AREF) told its members in March.

On Wednesday, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said its forum on the issue “recommends a general lifting of material valuation uncertainty”, pointing to the easing of many restrictions imposed on households and businesses as a result of the pandemic.

Surveyors should continue to assign the material uncertainty tag to “some leisure and hospitality assets” on a case-by-case basis, it added in a statement.

Columbia Threadneedle said it would reopen its 1-billion-pound commercial real estate fund, aimed at retail investors, on Sept. 17, after its surveyors CBRE said they had removed the material uncertainty clause from the fund’s assets.

“Volatility has been easing, and the longer-term case for property remains compelling,” fund manager Gerry Frewin said.

St James’s Place (SJP.L) said it would reopen three property funds totalling 3.2 billion pounds in assets under management from Thursday.

AREF managing director Paul Richards said it was up to individual funds to decide when to reopen.

Other funds were more cautious.

A spokesman for Aegon Asset Management said its fund would not reopen at least until after its next valuation date at end-September, and the firm would also consider liquidity levels and property-transaction volumes before making a decision.

Aberdeen Standard Investments (SLA.L) also did not expect its funds to reopen before Sept. 30 “at a minimum”, adding that it needed to look at cash levels, the real estate market and expected investor flows.

Janus Henderson (JHG.N) and M&G (MNG.L) said their funds remained suspended and they would update investors in four weeks at the latest.

Aviva (AV.L) said it was monitoring the situation and Royal London said it had not yet reached a decision.

Regulators are unhappy about funds, such as the retail property funds, which invest in illiquid assets but allow investors to take their money out every day. Many of the funds were also suspended after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016.

The Financial Conduct Authority last month proposed that investors in property funds should wait up to six months before they can get their money back, to avoid a stampede for the exit leading to widespread suspensions in rocky markets.

($1 = 0.7686 pounds)

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