Property price rises drive British Land profits higher

London: high demand for office space

You would have to be living under a rock not to know that London’s residential property market has been going through the roof. And if you’ve recently bought your first home in the capital, a rock is probably just about all you’ve been able to afford.

But the commercial property market has also enjoyed something of a resurgence, thanks in part to Britain’s burgeoning economy. That’s helped swell the coffers at British Land.

The UK’s second-biggest real estate investment trust (Reit), British Land, posted full-year profits of £297m. That’s an 8.4% rise on last year.

The value of its overall UK property portfolio rose 8.3%, while the office/residential holdings, of which a large part are in London, rose 14.5%. However, the retail portfolio only rose 4.4%. That’s probably because retail chains are reluctant to expand their store estates when online shopping is growing so fast.

British Land has profited from the rise in demand for office space in the capital. Chief executive Chris Grigg remarked that “In London, we see rental growth along with the letting up of completed development space being the key drivers of our offices’ performance…”

Grigg’s last point highlights another reason for British Land’s success: it has been busy selling off older assets.

But for all its selling, British Land has also been engaged in development projects. It’s involved in the construction of the high-profile ‘Cheesegrater’ building in the City, and the 2010 development programme has generated a profit of £608 million.

And there could be more profits to come. British Land has raised £1.5bn in the last 12 months on the debt markets to finance further development projects, spurred on by rising commercial property prices.

This is all great news for investors, since British Land is obliged by its Reit status to return 90% of profits to shareholders.

Since Ed Bowsher tipped British Land in January as one way to play the rising commercial property sector, the shares have risen 15%. And Matthew Partridge looked at investing in commercial property last month.

The board is proposing a quarterly dividend of 6.92p per share, or 27.68p per share for the full year, an increase of 2.5%. The share price is up 3p today to 718p, so that puts the company on a 3.8% yield.

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