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Malaga, in the sights of investment funds

Malaga, in the sights of investment funds

Institutional investors from all corners of the world are becoming key players in the economy of the Costa del Sol with their growing presence in hotels, real estate developments, infrastructure and companies

Nuria Triguero

Friday, 9 June 2023

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The majority shareholding in the Malaga metro is in the hands of a French investment fund. The city port's container terminal belongs to a fund from Abu Dhabi, while another linked to the Qatari royal family aspires to build a hotel in the Levante dock and a marina in San Andrés. The savings of pensioners from Arkansas, Sydney or Quebec are invested, through pension funds, in hotels on the Costa del Sol where retirees from all over Europe come to stay. This is what globalisation was all about.

Investment funds, or more precisely institutional investors - which group together different types of investment and pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and insurance companies that pool the capital of many small and large investors - have become increasingly important players in the Malaga economy. They are present in the capital of hotels, housing developments, office buildings, logistics parks, motorways, ports, companies... and they want more.

Malaga is not only a fashionable destination for tourism and technology. Investment funds from very different backgrounds also have their sights set on the city and the Costa del Sol. Real estate and investment management consultancies know this first-hand, acting as local liaisons for these large investors: they identify opportunities, prepare reports and enter into negotiations for the acquisition of assets on their behalf.

Íñigo Molina, director in Andalucía at Colliers International, said: "This type of investor was already attracted to Malaga in 2016, especially in terms of real estate. But the real boom came after the pandemic. Malaga has positioned itself in this new post-Covid era as a dynamic, powerful, attractive city that has a plan and economic foundations. And as soon as one comes, more come. There has been a pull effect," he explained.

CBRE's Andalucía director, Rosa Madrid, is of the same opinion: "Malaga is in the sights of national and international investment. There is a very high level of interest in the city of Málaga."

José Félix Pérez Peña, executive director of Savills Andalucía, pointed out that Malaga "is already competing on a par with other cities such as Madrid and Barcelona".

"Investors are focusing on the city because it has a great capacity for real estate development due to the strong imbalance between the growth in demand for all uses (housing, hotels, offices and logistics) and the growth in supply. There is very little stock and it is necessary to match the growth in real estate supply to the growth in demand. All this means that institutional investment sees that there is scope, we are competitive in price and there is a need for new products for all uses in the city," she added.

The arrival of investment funds has changed the rules of the game in the real estate market. Since the end of the great crisis, these large institutional investors have become key players, partly making up for the disappearance of the banks from the field. Sometimes they team up with local or national developers and sometimes they operate through their own developers. The latter is the case of the German fund Aquila Capital, which through AQ Acentor is developing 17 projects in Malaga, including the Martiricos tower blocks and a development in Distrito Zeta; and through Green Logistics it is promoting the goods distribution centre on the site of the old Bacardi distillery.

The US fund Oaktree also operates its own real estate company: Culmina, a firm that has become a major player in Spanish real estate and which in Malaga controls most of the land in the area known as Morales, to the north of Limonar, where it is planning 300 homes.

Dazia, a "real estate investment and asset management company", hit the headlines when it announced in January 2022 that it was acquiring several buildings of rented properties in the Callejones del Perchel area with the idea of demolishing them and building up to 170 homes. The Madrid-based management company has come up against opposition from tenants and the project is still on hold.

Another of Spain's most active asset managers, Azora, landed in the city in 2022 with another major deal: it bought three plots of land in the Teatinos district for almost €54 million to build some 700 rental properties. Azora defines itself as "a group of companies based in Spain, centred on independent investment advice and management, focusing on the investment and management of real assets, both on behalf of third parties and on its own account". The firm currently manages €9.2 billion in assets.

Also last year, Adsolum, a spin-off of the Altamira doValue group, made its debut in Malaga, with the following message from its CEO, Ignacio Ramírez: "Malaga is becoming the Spanish [provincial] capital with the greatest attraction for real estate investment. The economic growth that the city is experiencing, its technological development and the high return offered by the assets in the area, are just some of the reasons why real estate capital is choosing Malaga to invest." The firm has invested 37 million euros in a mixed project with housing and tertiary land for rent in Los Guindos.

Originally, Altamira was founded by Banco Santander to manage the numerous real estate assets it was left with after the 2008 crisis. Today Santander retains only 15%; the other 85% belongs to doValue, the Italian group that was originally driven by funds linked to Fortress. Altamira and doValue are what are known as 'servicers': companies that grew out of the former real estate subsidiaries of banks and specialise in managing portfolios of real estate assets, from land to end-product. They are now controlled by international funds and work for funds and banks. Together with Altamira, the main servicers are Anticipa/Aliseda, Haya, Solvia, Hipoges and Servihabitat.

Socimis activity

Among the new players in the real estate market are also the 'socimis', an acronym for «sociedades cotizadas anónimas de inversión en el mercado inmobiliario» (public limited listed property investment companies), whose main activity is the acquisition, development and rehabilitation of urban assets for leasing, either directly or through shareholdings in the capital of other socimis. These entities have had an unimaginable expansion in recent years in Spain due to their accessibility, as it is not necessary to have a lot of money to invest in them. Since 2013, a total of 122 of these companies have been created and the largest of them is Merlin Properties, which specialises in offices and a few months ago announced its arrival in Malaga with a project to build an office building next to the port.

Hotels

The operation that marked the start of these funds' appetite for hotels on the Costa del Sol was Hispania's investment in the Guadalmina hotel, in 2014. This socimi, owned by tycoon George Soros, bought the property from the family that owned it for 21.5 million euros, taking on the mortgage that came with it.

"After that, Hispania did a lot of similar operations, especially in the Canary Islands. It was then that investment funds discovered that investing in holiday hotels was a good idea," said Gonzalo Gutiérrez, director of the corporate finance department of the consultancy firm Colliers. Until then, ownership and management were not usually separated in hotels. But the arrival of funds completely changed the paradigm of the hotel business and started a new phase in the industry on the Costa del Sol. "There were many possibilities: hotels were obsolete, they needed big investments. The funds took on these investments, increased the value of the hotels and looked for international brands to manage them, turning them into very profitable assets," he added. The pandemic, he said, was a catalyst for many deals, as owners were forced to seek outside capital.

Blackstone, the giant

The most active fund on the Costa del Sol is Blackstone, through its subsidiary HIP (Hotel Investment Partnerships), which not in vain boasts of being the largest hotel owner in Spain. The American giant bought Hispania in 2018, taking advantage of its already well-trodden path and boosting operations. It currently owns the AC Málaga Palacio, the Vincci Málaga, the NH Málaga, the Mett in Estepona, the Barceló Marbella, the Occidental Torremolinos Playa and the aforementioned Guadalmina.

The other two funds that make up the world's top three, Brookfield and Apollo, have also taken their place in the tourism industry in Malaga. Canada's Brookfield acquired the Hotel Don Carlos in Marbella in 2021 when it bought Selenta Group. Last year it also bought the Palladium Costa del Sol in Benalmádena. US-based Apollo took over the Sol Aloha Puerto in 2020. It now operates as Ocean House Costa del Sol, managed by ADH Hotels & Resorts and under the Affiliated by Meliá brand.

"Another fund that has been very active in the last two years is the joint venture between Stoneweg Hospitality and Bain Capital Credit. Last year it bought Los Monteros, which is currently being refurbished. It had previously done the same with the H10 Andalucía Plaza, which a few months ago was reopened as the Hard Rock Hotel Marbella," added Gutiérrez.

For Gonzalo Gutiérrez, there is no doubt about the beneficial effect the arrival of these funds has had on the Costa del Sol. "They have invigorated the destination. They have taken hotels, updated them, associated them with high-end international brands that were previously absent on the Costa and have opened the doors to travellers who didn't come here before, such as the Americans," he said.

Today there is still "a long way to go". "The Costa del Sol is a very strong destination, with a good reputation and there is a lack of luxury hotels, especially with an international brand. The appetite of investors is still very high: within the holiday industry in Spain, the Balearic Islands would be in first place and then the Costa del Sol."

Infrastructure

Transport infrastructure is a highly prized area for investment funds to invest in, as they provide recurrent and secure income. In Malaga, the port is the best example, as several institutional investors are involved in its various facilities. This is the case of Ocean Capital Partners, a firm specialising in the port sector with a strong presence in Malaga Port: it is the majority partner in the megayacht marina (where its partners include Island Global Yachting, world leader in superyacht and megayacht marinas) and it manages the passenger terminal.

José Luis Almazán, managing partner of Ocean Capital Partners, explains the reasons that have brought them to Malaga: "The city has all the conditions to become a benchmark in the megayacht sector, both for its geographical location, in the area of the Strait of Gibraltar, the maritime gateway between Europe and America, as well as for its exceptional conditions to serve the needs of these vessels."

"Malaga Port also offers guaranteed international connectivity, with a first class airport, excellent land connections and high-speed motorways and railways. In addition, it has a powerful offer of specialised technical services for the nautical sector, with an enormous seafaring tradition, as well as very suitable conditions to meet the needs of crews and their families all year round. All this, without forgetting the climate and the first class cultural and gastronomic offer," he added.

76 %

of the Malaga Metro concession company is controlled by the French fund Natixis.

Without leaving the port we find another fund, in this case of Arab origin: Noatum, which manages the container terminal in Malaga, is controlled by AD Ports Group, an investment fund from Abu Dhabi. In addition, it should be remembered that it is a Qatari fund, Al Alfia, which is behind the project for a tower hotel in the port

Malaga Metro is also controlled by foreign institutional investors: Natixis, a French fund, acquired 76% of the concession company in 2021 through its subsidiary Vauban Infrastructure Partners, which in turn is also a shareholder of Guadalcesa, the company that operates the AP-46 motorway, together with the British fund Aberdeen Infrastructure.

Companies

Malaga's entrepreneurial activity has also attracted the attention of the various investment funds specialising in this field. Among the most talked-about operations is that of the technology company Freepik with EQT, a Swedish fund that acquired its majority shareholding in 2020, in a transaction that sources in the sector valued at 300 million euros.

Medac's deal in 2021 came as a surprise due to its size: the American fund KKR bought the Malaga-based company, a leader in private vocational training courses in Spain, for 200 million euros.

200 million

euros was paid by the American fund KKR for Medac, a Malaga-based company that is a leader in private vocational training in Spain

GP Bullhound, an English investment bank specialising in the tech sector that is a shareholder in Wallapop, Glovo, Slack, Revolut and Unity, also has a Malaga-based interest, although in this case its acquisition was much more discreet than the previous ones: Ravenpack, a company in the fintech sector based in Marbella that has been a pioneer in the application of artificial intelligence to the analysis of financial markets.

Malaga and its real estate had been attractive since 2016, but the real boom came with the pandemic

It is in the field of startups that Malaga has attracted the most attention in recent years. Especially active has been Demium Capital, a fund linked to the Demium accelerator, which was launched under the management of Álvaro Villacorta from Malaga. There are several startups born in Malaga that have received financial support from this investment fund: Agrow Analytics, Booh, Froged, Grodi Tech, Growii, Kaikoo, Kronte, Logístiko, Planet, Voicit, Wains, WeVoice and Zexel.

Also specialising in startups, but in this case based on deep tech, is Bullnet Capital fund, based in Madrid but co-founded by José Antonio del Cañizo who is from Malaga. Among firms it has invested in is Bioherent, a company created by Malaga University researchers that is developing an in vitro diagnostic tool based on a photonic biosensor that will allow rapid and reliable detection.

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