The Investment Column: Pillar thrives on retail parks

Pillar Property Holdings made a profit of pounds 20m in just over two years when it sold the Metro Retail Park in Gateshead this week.

It bought the park in August 1995 for pounds 15.8m, spent pounds 7m on improvements and has now sold it for pounds 43m.

Pillar has also just bought a five-acre site for pounds 15m with planning permission for 75,000 square feet of retail space right next to its existing Kinnaird Park and Edinburgh Fort locations. The acquisition creates a single site with 700,000 square feet of space.

These are just the latest in a series of deals which has transformed Pillar into a retail park specialist. In the six months since the end of March it spent pounds 250m on acquisitions mostly retail parks, against pounds 60m worth of disposals, most of them offices.

It now has 20 parks representing an investment of more than pounds 400m. Chairman Raymond Mould claims retail parks are set to produce better than average growth in rents and disposal values than offices and individual stores.

Pillar's portfolio is currently yielding around 6 per cent, with plenty of scope for improvement as rents come up for review.

Its net asset value was just 188p a share at the end of September, but the brokers think it could reach 240p by the end of the current year and 280p next year.

On the back of this activity, profits more than doubled to pounds 6.9m in the six months to the end of September

The improvement was not unexpected, and analysts are not immediately revising current forecasts of around pounds 15.5m, equal to 7.8p of earnings, in the current year, and pounds 17.5m, equal to 8.5p of earnings, in 1998-99.

But the shares rose 8p to 280.5p which values them on 36 times this year's prospective earnings and 33 times next year's. High enough.