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INTERVIEW: Forget "Animal House" - Student Accommodation Makes Investment Sense

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , London, 12 April 2013

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Student accommodation in a big city is a way to deliver steady inflation-matching investment returns, says the manager of a closed-end vehicle about to make its debut on the stock market. The image of student residences has come a long way from the good-natured chaos of the US classic “Animal House” film.

Tom Ward, who runs theGCP Student Living vehicle, enthused to this publication about the merits of its London asset, the brand new private student accommodation and teaching building operated under the Scape Student Living brand. The building, already 97 per cent occupied, is opposite Queen Mary University of London, in London’s Mile End area in the eastern part of the city.

There is a target fund-raise of £50 million ($77 million) for GCP Student Living plc. (GCP stand for Gravis Capital Partners.)

There are a number of reasons why this is an interesting asset class, Ward told this publication in a recent interview. It has been the best-performing property asset class in the UK and US over the course of 2012 when compared to broad market benchmarks such as those provided by Investment Property Databank.

Student accommodation is, to an extent, counter-cyclical, Ward said. “It is a very low-volatility asset class in good and bad times,” he said, pointing out that there is demand for such places both when an economy was strong and when in a recession.

“It is a physical asset class as well and one that people can relate to. We have, many of us, been students at one point in time,” Ward said.

What catches the eye from a wealth protection and growth point of view is that GCP Student Living is a real estate investment trust, or REIT; this vehicle, which will be placed on the stock market in an IPO in early May (the offer closes on 10 May), is targeting returns of 5.5 per cent a year in terms of income yield. Total returns, including capital growth, are 8 to 10 per cent a year. (REITS are obliged by law to distribute at least 90 per cent of cash returns as dividends.)

The characteristics of assets lend themselves to long-term investors such as family offices and high net worth investors seeking inflation-beating, steady gains, he said.

GCP already have experience in this field. The firm focuses on income-generating defensive sectors central to the UK's social and community infrastructure, including GCP Infrastructure Investments, which is a London-listed investment company with around a £300 million market capitalisation, as at 28 February 2013. GCP oversees around £700 million of client money in total.

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