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The Independent Online

HAMMERSON, THE property company which owns continental shopping centres in addition to office developments in London, pleased the City yesterday by posting a rise in its net asset value of 7.9 per cent to 519p. That confirmed Hammerson's status as one of the darlings of the property sector, coming as the group's shares approached a full recovery to their all-time high of 537p, following their downward re-rating last year after the disposal of Canadian assets.

The group has benefited from rising property prices and higher rental incomes, which rose 8.6 per cent in the half year on a like-for-like basis. Even so, John Richards, the new chief executive taking over from Ron Spinney next month, faces the task of wisely re-investing what remains of the pounds 325m proceeds from the Canadian deal.

He would like to add some more shopping centres to Hammerson's portfolio, but the opportunities are few and far between. Hence Hammerson's acquisitions in the first half in London's Docklands and Euston Square have helped increase the proportion of the portfolio given to offices to 42 per cent. Hammerson unveiled two further central London office purchases for pounds 33m yesterday.

The shares, at 497.5p, sit on just a 7 per cent discount to analysts' forecast NAV of 535p. That compares with double-digit discounts among its peers. Unless it can pre-let developments at handsome rates, there seems little on the agenda to move the shares forward in near term.