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Newcomer SageBlan backs up its belief in Montreal tourism with heavy investment – Montreal Gazette

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The upstart hotel investment firm is betting an expected rebound in tourism in Quebec will generate big returns over the next decade.

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An upstart investment firm is plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into Quebec hotels in the belief that a tourism rebound can generate big returns.

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SageBlan Investments has spent about $160 million to buy and revamp four Quebec properties in the past 18 months, including the Vogue Montreal downtown and the former Hôtel Place Dupuis near the Berri-UQAM métro station. Although another $40 million worth of renovations are ongoing, SageBlan is already thinking about its next acquisitions, managing partner and president Gaurav Gupta said.

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“We think the future is bright here,” Gupta, 30, told the Montreal Gazette in an interview.

Whether such optimism is warranted will depend on tourism’s ability to overcome COVID-19‘s economic toll. Local assets may need up to two years to return to pre-pandemic profit levels, the Hotel Association of Greater Montreal said last week.

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Originally from the Toronto area, Gupta teamed up with adopted Torontonians Anil and Bleda Basegmez — Turkish-born, Swiss-raised cousins with a family background in real estate — to create SageBlan in early 2019. All three investors subsequently moved to Montreal and are now taking French lessons, according to Gupta.

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“Montreal is one of the best cities that we’ve ever lived in,” he said. “French is a beautiful language and I want to learn it. Within the next 12 months I’ll have a better handle.”

SageBlan made its first acquisition in mid-2019 with the purchase of Hotel Plaza Valleyfield and closed its latest transactions — the Vogue Montreal and Quebec’s City’s Delta — a year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing.

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“The deals were struck pre-COVID, they were renegotiated during COVID, and closing them at the height of the pandemic was no easy task,” Gupta said. “We are long-term investors and we believe in the resilience of the Quebec marketplace. We would make these investments again today.”

SageBlan’s hotels “are all repositioning plays,” Gupta said. “The properties are being renovated, rebranded or being made more efficient.”

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The acquisition spree means SageBlan now oversees about 1,000 rooms. It has about 500 hotel employees, in addition to about 20 executives.

Before starting SageBlan, Gupta spent several years working for his family’s Sunray Group, a hotel company that owns more than 50 properties and is run by his uncle.

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“In my previous job, I was spending two weeks a month here and I fell in love with Montreal on a couple of fronts,” he said. “On a personal front, I discovered a vibrant city with culture, dining, architecture and this European feeling that you couldn’t capture anywhere else in Canada. On the business front, I felt there was a huge runway for growth, and that Montreal was on the cusp of a real estate boom. It’s a world-class city. That’s the reason we’re focused on Montreal in terms of investment opportunities.”

SageBlan’s most advanced project is the 30-storey, 354-room Hôtel Place Dupuis, which is being converted into a Hyatt Place for about $25 million. Work is due to be completed in September, Gupta said.

“It’s a complete gut renovation,” he said. “We’re trying to bring life back to that hotel, which is located in an under-served area that’s now receiving a lot of investment. We want to make a difference and become almost an anchor for other businesses. The area is gentrifying and will be completely changing over time” with the renovation of Place Émilie-Gamelin and the coming Radio-Canada tower and Molson brewery real-estate projects, he said.

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SageBlan is also busy redeveloping the 148-room Vogue Montreal on de la Montagne St. Once work is done, probably in March, the asset will become the first hotel in Canada to operate under Hilton’s Curio Collection banner. It will include a new ground-floor café.

“This is a true five-star asset,” Gupta said.

As a young company run by thirtysomething executives, SageBlan is eager to adopt cutting-edge technologies for all its hotels. Key features will include mobile check-ins as well as “army-grade” air and water purification systems, Gupta said.

“We’ve spent a lot of time, money and energy so that we can be at the forefront of guest expectations,” he said.

Much time is also being spent canvassing acquisitions.

“As you get settled in a market, it’s good to have your ear to the ground,” Gupta said. “We have a couple of strategic assets that we’re looking at within Quebec and downtown Montreal that would be a good fit for the portfolio. Stay tuned.”

ftomesco@postmedia.com


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Goldman and DWS prepare bids for NN Investment Partners – Financial Times

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Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Germany’s DWS are preparing bids for NN Group’s investment management arm as consolidation in the industry gathers pace.

The Dutch insurer said in April it was considering a sale of NN Investment Partners, which has €300bn in assets under management.

The deadline for final binding offers is Monday. GSAM, which has more than $2tn in assets under supervision, and Frankfurt-based DWS are still in the sale process and preparing bids, said people familiar with the situation.

The deal price is in the region of €1.4bn, one of the people said. NN Group, GSAM and DWS declined to comment.

UBS Asset Management, Janus Henderson and US insurer Prudential Financial are among those to have previously registered their interest. All three declined to comment.

Investment managers globally are embarking on mergers and acquisitions designed to shield profits from rising costs and falling fees, while seeking to tap into fast-growing markets such as passive investing, private assets and ESG, and open up new distribution channels.

“The competitive environment for traditional active asset managers has intensified and a smaller group of larger players are now dominating the institutional segment,” said Vincent Bounie, senior managing director at Fenchurch Advisory, a specialist investment bank for financial services.

“It has become complicated to grow and very difficult to have a profitable business, in particular if you have undifferentiated plain vanilla products.”

Asoka Woehrmann, chief executive of DWS, which is majority owned by Deutsche Bank, told shareholders at the €820bn group’s annual meeting last month that it wanted to be “an active player” in industry consolidation. It is seeking further scale to challenge rival Amundi for supremacy in Europe.

Meanwhile for insurance companies, a prolonged period of low interest rates and higher capital requirements under Solvency II rules is prompting groups to weigh up where they allocate their capital, Bounie said. “For many of them, subscale asset management divisions are no longer core activities and there will probably be more divestments.”

NN Group, which is based in The Hague, came under pressure last year from activist hedge fund Elliott Management to improve returns and streamline its operations. It said in April it was considering options including a merger, joint venture or a partial divestment of the division.

NN Investment Partners has about 950 employees. Of its €300bn in assets under management, two-thirds is managed on behalf of its insurance parent company with the remaining third run for external investors.

The division’s range of funds covers fixed income, equity, multi-asset and alternative investment strategies. It has a strong position in ESG investing, notably in areas such as green bonds, impact equity and sustainable equity.

Additional reporting by Ian Smith in London

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Condo Smarts: Existing buildings can be good investment – Times Colonist

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Dear Tony: We are retiring this year and considering downsizing to a condo. We have started looking at both new and existing properties around Vancouver and Victoria, but we encounter challenges with both options.

New developments are often available only through presales and the time periods for completion would require us to sell, rent until the property is ready, and with few assurances of completion dates would require us to move twice with no guarantees how the properties would be managed or how fees would be structured for long term operations.

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Existing buildings are more attractive; however, we find most properties are sold within days of listing, and there appears to be more of a concern by realtors to keep strata fees low rather than looking at the age of the buildings and the long-term maintenance to protect owner investments.

Are there any standards or consumer rules we might consider following? As new buyers into a condo lifestyle we would like to avoid a sinking investment.

Karyn and Jerry W.

There are many existing buildings and communities that are an excellent investment. They are easily identified by reviewing the financial reports, investments, a depreciation report completed by a qualified consultant or reserve planner, and by reviewing the minutes of the strata corporation to identify how they address maintenance, planning and funding for the future.

While every building has different amenities, staffing and servicing requirements, an annual budget that identifies all the service contracts for maintenance and operations is a significant asset. An active use of the depreciation report to plan for future renewals and major maintenance components is a healthy indication of a well managed property.

Low strata fees are problematic for strata corporations as they often indicate a community dependent on special levies. Special levies require a 3/4 vote of owners at general meetings and many owners vote against a special levies generally due to affordability issues. The result of failed special levies is deferred repairs that will only rise in cost and damages, and the potential for court actions or CRT orders.

There is also a direct link between low strata fees, deferred maintenance and renewals, and higher risks for insurers. This results in higher insurance rates and deductibles for strata corporations.

Buyers should always request copies of depreciation reports, any engineering and environmental reports, minutes of annual meetings, the bylaws and rules of the property, copy of the strata insurance policy, and a Form B Information Certificate, which will also identify any courts actions or decisions against the strata corporation. Read all documents and discuss any issues with your realtor and lawyer. This should help separate the well managed buildings vs the buildings at risk.

New construction in some ways is easier to manage as the strata corporation is enabled to make the right decisions that will impact funding and future operations. Owners can have a direct effect on their investments by joining and supporting the newly formed strata council and making decisions that ensure a well funded and planned operations plan.

Strata fees for new properties often start low in the first year as there are service contracts included with the new construction that are included in the warranty period and some developers will entice buyers with low costs. Plan on an increase of fees once all units are occupied and the strata corporation is fully serviced for operations and maintenance.

This may be impacted by insurance costs, staffing, and consulting for warranty inspections, legal services and the management of warranty claims, the commissioning of a deprecation report, and operational requirements.

Every building, which consists of endless components, will have failures. The effective management and planning of those issues when they arise is the true test of a well managed property. Product failures and installations are often beyond anyone’s control; however, a well funded property will also be able to respond without a significant crisis for owners.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association.

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Investing inside a corporation: what you need to know – MoneySense

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FPAC responds:

Congratulations on your successful retirement! At a stage when most people are focussed on decumulation, you’re asking about establishing an approach for long-term, tax-efficient investing inside your corporation. Let’s walk through these important considerations:

Investment decisions: robo-advisor or DIY—and ETFs or bank stocks?

A robo-advisor is a great choice for automated, tax-efficient and low-cost investing. A robo-advisor will be able to set you up with a portfolio of low-cost, widely diversified ETFs. Regular rebalancing, quarterly reporting and ease of use will make this option attractive if you are looking for a hands-off approach. Most of the leading robo-advisor platforms in Canada will help you set up a corporate account. 

If you’re comfortable being a little bit more hands-on, you might consider implementing a multi-ETF model portfolio. This approach will require you to open an account at a brokerage and do some regular investment maintenance, including allocating cash, reinvesting dividends and rebalancing

Alternatively, you could also consider implementing an asset-allocation ETF solution. These “all-in-one” ETFs are available in different stock/bond allocations to suit your risk preferences, and they are globally diversified. 

You mention tax-efficiency being important to you. Broad index-based ETFs track an underlying market index. The stocks and bonds in these indices do not change often, so there isn’t a lot of buying and selling of stocks—also known as “turnover”—happening inside of your ETFs. A portfolio with low turnover will not stir up a lot of unwanted capital gains in years that you don’t want to take money out of your accounts, and less turnover means less tax payable year-to-year, leaving more of your money working for you. All in all, tax efficiency is a huge benefit of an index fund ETF approach to investing, especially if you’re investing inside of a corporation. 

You also mentioned bank stocks as an alternative. I can understand the appeal of this approach, as buying stocks of Canada’s large financial institutions has proven to be an effective strategy over the past several years. Unfortunately, the past performance of any investment strategy does not tell us much about its performance in the future. And, in the case of bank stocks, your investment will be very concentrated on a single sector, in a single country. This approach to investing carries risks that can be easily diversified away by using broad, globally diversified index-based ETFs. (In fact, Nobel Prize laureate Harry Markowitz famously called diversification “the only free lunch in investing.”)

Understanding the ins and outs of corporate investing

Investing inside of a corporation can be complicated. A corporation is taxed differently than an individual in Canada. As individuals, we are taxed based on a progressive income tax system, meaning higher amounts of income are taxed at higher rates. In your case, if you are earning (or realizing) a lower income in retirement, your last dollar of income is likely taxed at a lower rate than it was while you were working. When you combine lower tax rates with other benefits that the tax system provides to seniors—such as pension income splitting and age credits—it is possible that you will not be taxed at the high end of the marginal tax table in retirement. 

Passive investment income generated inside a corporation, on the other hand, is taxed at a single flat rate of around 50% in Ontario, or close to the highest marginal tax rate. Passive income tax rates are so high because the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) doesn’t want us to have an unfair tax advantage by investing our portfolios inside corporations.

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