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Banks build on sale-leaseback hopes

Banks and opportunity funds are lining up to benefit from an expected transfer of real-estate assets from cash-strapped corporates to investors. There’s one catch – some corporates aren’t in a hurry to sell.

THE REAL-ESTATE market in Europe is flourishing. Investment banks have cut back teams in many asset classes but in real estate are still hiring. For example, in September Nomura created its first real-estate finance team, with the poaching of CSFB's two heads of real-estate finance - Gary Wilder and Derek Vago. It has since hired two more bankers, and is bringing the group's first securitization to market.

Lehman Brothers has also made some recent hires to expand its real-estate team in Italy and France, and has moved bankers from other parts of its fixed-income business to focus on real estate. Three years ago Lehman had 12 people working on European real estate. Now it has around 60. "Real estate is one business that is still looking rosy," one vice-president says.

These appointments are part of a wider growth in the number of professionals working in European real estate. One of the biggest European real-estate conferences - MIPIM in Cannes - had around 7,000 delegates in 1997. Last year, in March, more than 15,000 attended. Many represented opportunity funds from the US or farther afield. One big reason for this swelling of the ranks of real-estate bankers is the expectation of what Nomura's Gary Wilder calls "a large transference of assets from corporates to investors".

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