While the vast brick structure of Battlesea Power Station has been familiar to passing Londoners and tourists, what is less known is that the backers of the project are from Malaysia. (Photo credit: Battlesea Power Station)
By Jeremy Grant in Singapore
With its familiar four white chimneys as the backdrop, Battersea Power Station will this week take centre stage as one of London’s biggest regeneration projects of recent times.
Building starts on Thursday of phase one, involving 850 flats and penthouses, forming part of a residential and retail complex set to emerge on a 39-acre site unused since the power station was mothballed in 1983.
But while the vast brick structure has been familiar to passing Londoners and tourists, what is less known is that the backers of the project are from Malaysia, a country not usually known for making splashy investments overseas.
The site was bought 12 months ago for £400m by a three-member consortium from Malaysia, which has said it believes the whole development will be worth £8bn by the time it is completed in 2024.
Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister, is set to officiate at a ground breaking ceremony, withLondon mayor Boris Johnson, at the site on Thursday.
The two biggest investors are Sime Darby, one of the world’s largest operators of palm oil plantations, and SP Setia, a large Malaysian property developer.
But the third, providing 20 per cent of the funding, is barely a household name in southeast Asia, let alone further afield: the Employees Provident Fund, the largest Malaysian government pension fund by assets.
The EPF traces its origins to a pension fund started in 1951 by the British in what was then Malaya and is now the sixth-largest pension fund in the world, with Rm537bn ($169bn) in assets under management.
The EPF has grown to that size thanks to government pension rules that require 11 per cent of all employees’ salaries to be channelled into a state pension scheme while a further 13 per cent is paid in by the employer. This means that millions of Malaysians see the equivalent of a quarter of their salaries pumped into government pension funds every month.
Over time, such inflows have generated huge war chests for the EPF and its smaller rivals, Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) and Tabung Haji, an Islamic pension fund that helps finance Malaysian Muslims’ annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Yet with Kuala Lumpur’s relatively small stock and bond markets, the funds have been forced overseas in the hunt for returns.
That has propelled the EPF and PNB into the London commercial property market, helping turn Malaysia into the sector’s second largest investor after the US.
“These guys have some of the biggest cheque books in Asia,” said Steve Clayton, senior country officer for JPMorgan in Malaysia. “They are in the early stages of searching for and making large cross-border investments. But, as they find more and execute more, their global influence will undoubtedly increase”.
EPF said the fund aimed to have 23 per cent of its portfolio invested overseas by 2014-15, up from 18 per cent now.
British government officials said Malaysia’s renewed focus on the UK was matched by an effort the other way in seeking opportunities for British business in the fast-growing markets of southeast Asia.
During a visit to Kuala Lumpur last year, David Cameron, UK prime minister – who is due to meet Mr Najib this week – pledged with his counterpart to double the value of bilateral trade to £8bn by 2016.
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