Group set to win battle for Canary Wharf

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A Qatari-led consortium looks set to win its long-running battle to buy Songbird Estates after the owner of London’s Canary Wharf business district dropped its opposition to the $4bn (£3bn) offer.

Songbird said it still thought the price undervalued the estate. However, with no rival bid forthcoming and holders of 86 per cent of the shares backing the deal, it said its minority investors should accept. Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and its partner launched a 350 pence-a-share offer direct to Songbird shareholders in December, hoping to add a financial district rivaling the City of London to landmarks already in its portfolio such as the Shard skyscraper and Harrods department store.

Canary Wharf’s steel and glass skyscrapers, which are home to banks such as HSBC and JP Morgan, embody the change in London’s economy in the second half of the 20th century as industry dwindled and financial services grew. The redevelopment of the former West India Docks, which traded in everything from tobacco to bananas, was championed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who saw the need for more space for a financial sector booming after her “big bang” reforms. The QIA already owned 29 per cent of Songbird, which in turn owns 70 percent of Canary Wharf Group. Its partner in the deal, US investor Brookfield Property Partners, has 22 per cent of Canary Wharf Group.

The complicated structure, featuring a layer of shareholders in Songbird and another in Canary Wharf, tended to leave Songbird trading at a discount to the value of its property and helped make it a takeover target, according to analysts.

Songbird said earlier this month the 350p offer was an eight per cent discount to its net asset value of 381p at the end of November, and put no value on its growth potential.

Songbird had already said that, if one or more of the other three large shareholders - New York-based investor Simon Glick, China Investment Corp and Morgan Stanley Investment Management - were to accept, the offer would become unconditional. Combined they own just over 50 per cent.