November 14, 2014 / 6:01 AM / in 5 years

Sovereign wealth fund acquisitions surge as confidence returns

* Worldwide announced M&A with sovereign fund involvement worth $39.9 bln for first 9 months

* Sovereign funds involved in 79 transactions in first nine months of 2014 vs 72 a year earlier

* Highest rate of acquisitions since 2007-2008

By Chris Vellacott

LONDON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Sovereign wealth funds are buying up assets this year at their fastest rate since the financial crisis as these state-run pools of assets regain the confidence lost when big punts on western banks turned sour, Thomson Reuters data shows.

Thomson Reuters data shows sovereign wealth funds, which invest windfall revenues from oil and other exports for future generations, were involved in deals worth $40 billion in the first nine months of 2014, the highest rate since 2007.

The money was spent across 79 transactions - the highest number since 2008 - with real estate and infrastructure dominating the deal flow.

Some state-owned wealth funds had come under domestic pressure after losing an estimated $80 billion at the height of the financial crisis by investing in beleaguered Western banks.

Prominent transactions this year include the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority’s participation in a consortium that bought Queensland Motorways, and Qatar Investment Authority’s involvement in buying a $1.4 billion skyscraper in London’s Canary Wharf.

“There are a couple of things going on such as a return of confidence because most of the activity in 2007 was in financial services businesses and a lot of that didn’t work out, so they were constrained in doing more investments,” said Gavin Ralston, head of official institutions at fund manager Schroders.

Ralston also said the pickup in activity can also be attributed to sovereign funds building their own expertise, hiring analysts and financiers to seek out deals.

Real estate and infrastructure can help offset poor returns from more conventional assets such as bonds.

“These funds have always had interest in real estate as an asset class. In a prolonged low interest rate environment real assets have attraction,” said Rodney Ringrow, a senior executive at State Street’s official institutions business.

Norway’s $860 sovereign fund, the world’s largest, has featured in a number of large real estate deals this year, buying Boston’s One Beacon Street tower with Metlife, Paris’s La Madeleine building and the Pollen Estate in London’s West End.

The fund currently has around 1.3 percent of its assets in real estate but has a mandate to take the allocation up to 5 percent. (Graphic by Vincent Flasseur; Editing by Peter Graff)

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