LONDON -- It's time to go shopping for shares again, but where to start? There are loads of great stocks to choose from, and I've got my wallet out. So here's the question I'm asking right now: Should I buy British Land (LSE: BLND ) ?
I first considered buying U.K. property giant British Land several years ago, in the aftermath of the financial crisis. With its share price more than halving from 10 pounds to around 4 pounds, it looked a promising recovery stock. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't bother. Although it has clawed its way back to today's price of 5.46 pounds, the last three years have been pretty humdrum. Steady, but humdrum. Yet recent first-half results were pretty decent, prompting me to ask whether now is the time to make a land grab.
Lie of the Land
British Land is a massive real-estate investment trust (REIT) with total assets of around 16 billion pounds, including retail parks, superstores, shopping centres, and department stores, and offices in the City of London and West End. It's a high-quality blend of prime retail and office space, and many of its customers have committed to long leases. This has been a mixed year for the U.K. property market, but British Land has performed well. Its underlying profit before tax rose 3.7% from 5 million pounds to 137 million pounds in the first six months, while net income rose 1.1% to 272 million pounds. British Land hopes to add more than 200,000m of office space in London over the next couple of years, a confident move that chief executive Chris Grigg says is justified by demand. Markets were happy, and the stock is up 6% since then.
Roughly two-thirds of the group's property is retail, the remainder London office space. That leaves it exposed to a further downturn in consumer spending. If the City of London does see its talent and influence drain overseas -- due to higher tax rates, punishing EU regulation and competition from the Far East -- then British Land could also suffer. But with London residential property prices up 7% this year, the nation's capital is still a big draw for the internationally mobile and wealthy.
Grab it now
The board also announced a 1.5% dividend hike, which means that British Land now yields an attractive 4.8%. That's higher than Land Securities Group (LSE: LAND ) , the other property stock I considered three years ago, which currently yields just 3.6%. Its efforts to cut vacancies and boost rents are also paying off nicely. I don't regret failing to buy British Land back in the summer of 2009, but I like the look of it today. It has battled doggedly through the downturn and should enjoy its day in the sun when the recovery finally comes. And while we wait (and wait...), British Land's yield will reward you with a higher rate of interest than any savings account I'm aware of.
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There are risks to investing in British Land. If you think consumers are going to cut and run, swiftly followed by London bankers, you might want to look elsewhere for your yield. Happily, there are plenty more dividend heroes to choose from, and you can discover some of the best by downloading our free, in-depth report, "Eight Top Blue Chips Held By Britain's Super Investor."
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