Outlook: Canary takes flight

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The Independent Online
FROM THE eerie of the Independent's City office at One, Canada Square, Canary Wharf, there's certainly no sign of trouble to come. Immediately beneath us, the twin towers of the Wharf's latest two developments, the HSBC and Citicorp buildings, are beginning to rise skywards from the depths of two disused docks. Already at 40,000, the complex's population is expected to grow to over 100,000 in the years ahead.

Any stroll through the chi-chi shops, restaurants, and coffee bars of Canary Wharf's malls in London's Docklands displays a concentration of affluence as great as any in the world. In its underground car parks, every other vehicle is V reg and every tenth a spanking new BMW, Porsche, Jag or Aston Martin. After years of delay, even the Jubilee line has opened and by the end of the next month it will be possible to travel from Westminster to Canary Wharf in 15 minutes. In summary, Canary Wharf is boom town in microcosm.

What better backdrop for selling shares in the complex? Unfortunately for the vendors, this was not the way the City saw it. Investors figured that if the Wharf's main financial backers are scrambling to sell the moment the lock-in arrangement agreed at the time of flotation comes to an end, then they must have a good reason. Rarely has a shares issue been so spectacularly bungled.

Even the triumphant stock exchange announcement of this forthcoming investment "attraction" was botched. Four of the investment banks listed as synidicate members had within an hour withdrawn their support, if indeed it had ever been offered, while the press release also managed to disclose the operation's codename, "Silver Wings". Assistent heads have presumably already rolled at CSFB, the issue's main sponsor. Senior ones never do.

Perhaps more worryingly, the vendors have succeeded in rekindling old concerns about the investment prospects of this erstwhile white elephant. With its high exposure to the boom industries of investment banking and media, might it not spectacularly bust again in the next business downturn? Should investors in any case be exposing themselves in this way to the prospects of a single office complex? Up until recently, the shares were doing pretty well. What a shame it had to be spoilt in this way.