Canary Wharf tipped for pounds 2bn flotation this spring

THE OWNERS of Canary Wharf, the 86-acre development in London's Docklands, are considering an initial public offering (IPO) this spring which would allow an exit for some of their biggest investors and provide finance for building the last two-thirds of the project.

Despite over a month's rumours in the City that a float before Easter is in the offing, Canary Wharf insisted yesterday that "no decision about an IPO has been taken".

Analysts expect a float to value the existing business atpounds 1.5bn to pounds 2bn, although the completed project will be worth far more than that.

Around 4.7 million sq ft of office, restaurant and retail space has been built, with over 99 per cent of it let. Another 2.4 million sq ft of offices and shops is under construction, including a pounds 500m head office for HSBC, which will house all the bank's 7,000 head office staff. This still leaves space and planning permission for another 6.5m sq ft, which could take Canary Wharf's market value up topounds 10bn, according to analysts' estimates.

Canary Wharf is, however, continuing the tradition of its founder and current manager, Paul Reichmann, of utmost secrecy. The development was repossessed by its bankers in the early 1990s and then bought by a new group of investors put together by Mr Reichmann for around pounds 800m. Mr Reichmann is understood to hold less than 10 per cent of the equity.

Those investors include Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, CNA Financial Corporation, Franklin Mutual Series Fund and businesses associated with Republic New York Corporation.

Any float would be aimed at enabling these investors to exit if they wanted, rather than at raising new funds for the development. Canary Wharf is advised by Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Credit Suisse First Boston and Cazenove. The company retains two property advisers, Richard Ellis and Knight Frank.

Any plans to float Canary Wharf face a big hurdle: the commercial property market is already in recession, and this has hammered share prices in the sector.