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Lucent Group Attracting Global Investment

By Expert Author: Kelly Leary

When it comes to investing in UK strategic land, it’s all about timing.

There is an acknowledged housing shortage in England and a population forecast to increase by 17.5% within 20 years. Existing housing stock needs to increase by 29% by 2031. This presents a huge opportunity in land development to which Lucent Group is uniquely well placed to respond.

Lucent is the only group in the UK able to undertake a rigorous land acquisition process backed by the proven "in-house" land skills that are necessary to bring land forward for development. This is done without bank finance given the Group's own international fund-raising capability via the Luxembourg-domiciled and -regulated Lucent Strategic Land Fund (LSLF).

An International Proposition

Given that land is obviously such a country-specific asset class, the UK has been a natural and very supportive market in terms of investor inflows. The positive and compelling fundamentals that are driving the market in UK strategic land have, however, also been recognised by international investors. Since its launch in September 2010, the LSLF, an open-ended SICAV–SIF domiciled in Luxembourg, has attracted investors from the Far East, Latin America and other countries in Europe as well as from the UK. This has not happened by chance. Lucent’s global distribution network has worked hard to bring the opportunity that the Fund presents to an international audience. Seminars have been held, and visits made, to all of the above regions in order to support the Fund's distribution. The response of these various markets has been positive without exception. In today’s global marketplace, wherever an investor is based, a sound investment proposition from anywhere in the world, is something that will be considered.

The Opportunity

Timing has of course been critical to the Fund's success. The launch of the Fund in 2010 was in response to the circumstances created by the financial crisis and its impact on the strategic land market and its participants. House builders have been forced to find ways of reducing their building costs because of constraints on their equity resources. Finding more capital-effective means of acquiring land ready for development has been critical to them, and Lucent has responded to that need. The Fund has been ideally placed to act as the leading platform in preparing and delivering land ready for construction to the national house builders. The LSLF undertakes the acquisition, design, master planning and promotion of strategic sites and then sells consented land onto the house builder market.

The Fund is undertaking an intensive acquisition and planning period in order to deliver "oven-ready" sites to the house building market as demand for development land peaks. There has been a lot of activity in the house-building sector over the past four years. House builders have undertaken rights issues to raise capital and replenish their land stocks so that they are able to deliver new housing at a time when demand is greatest. The impact of this is already apparent. Development land values are rising. strategic land land market is being driven by a very different set of fundamentals from those affecting the property market in the UK.

Market Background

Given the above, the launch of the Fund in 2010 was well timed at an industry sector level. The same is also true when considering the timing of the launch in macro-economic terms. At a macro level the market in UK strategic land is being driven by demographics, and when a market is driven by demographics, its progress is unstoppable. The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies are testament to this. Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show a significant increase in the UK population over the next 20 years. It is not the fact that England is currently the most densely populated country in Europe that is key – it is the fact that this density is set to increase markedly. There are currently 395 people per sq km. By 2031 there will be 464 people per sq km., an increase in population from 61.3 million to 71.6 million. When this map is considered in conjunction with the chronic housing shortage that exists in the UK (reference to which you see regularly in the press), the growing demand for strategic land with residential planning consent becomes obvious.

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), in a report published in November 2010, the number of households in England is projected to grow to 27.5 million by 2033, an increase of 5.8 million (27%) over 2008. All regions throughout England are in need of major urban expansion. Little wonder, then, that there is such strong cross-party political support for the need to bring more land forward through the planning system.

Trends in Financial Services

As mentioned earlier, timing is critical. For the LSLF timing has been perfect. Not only have the micro- and macroeconomic fundamentals and the political and demographic backdrops been supportive, but so too have been the recent trends that have evolved within financial services. A recurring theme, reported by Independent Financial Advisors (IFAs) in all the markets from which Lucent’s global distribution receives business, has been the demand of clients to "show me something different." In the past, UK strategic land investment was an asset class dominated by large institutions and the super-rich. The LSLF has made this asset class available, for the first time, to individual investors. It is delivering a new option at a time when clients are demanding something different as a consequence of their dissatisfaction and disappointment over the past few years with the major asset classes. The Fund has helped IFAs to meet this client demand. Predictably that enthusiasm has gained momentum with IFA’s and their clients, family offices, High Net Worth individuals and Discretionary Fund Managers as the returns available from strategic land have become apparent to them.

The LSLF has provided returns in excess of 50% since launch and has significantly outperformed the FTSE All Share Index over that period. IFAs have also been able to use the Fund as a means to address clients' increasing concerns over future inflation. History has shown that investment in a "real" asset such as land is a very effective, timely hedge against inflation. Lucent Group is the foremost land site assembly specialist in the UK. The LSLF has been launched by a group with direct land experience – not by a fund management company with no such experience. That much at least is not just about timing.

~ Chris Westerman, Lucent Group UK

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