The first major rationalisation in the struggling property trust sector is about to be played out with Stockland revealing it has raised the ailing GPT share register and secured a 12.7% stake.

The news saw GPT securities soar in price, rising by 33% and more to $1.44, giving Stockland an immediate profit on its move into the share register of the country’s second largest retail mall owner and largest owner of premium CBD office space and tourism assets.

GPT’s securities however retreated after 11.30am as investors realised this was a “play” not a precursor to a takeover from Stockland. They eased back to around $1.14, up 9 cents or 8.5% on yesterday’s close.

Even after GPT’s recent issue, Stockland is a bigger company with a market value of more than $6.7 billion to GPT’s 4.2 billion-plus, depending on where the shares settle today.

There might be a whiff of deal or bid, but that would require more cash than Stockland has at the moment, or could rise from banks and investors, even in the current climate of confidence among big fund managers.

Stockland, which raised $300 million a month ago to fund deals, has already made two small plays in the retirement living sector, but this is the big one. It revealed late this morning that it had snapped up a large stake in GPT at $1.07 per security.

“Stockland has acquired a 12.7% strategic stake in GPT Group at a volume weighted average price (vwap) of $1.07, ” the statement said to the ASX.

“The interest in GPT includes the acquisition of the majority of holdings managed by Perennial Investments via cash and the issue of Stockland securities. Stockland also has an interest in GPT securities through an equity swap facility. In total, Stockland has an interest in 507.3 million GPT securities.”

It said it had made a cash payment of $224.3 million to Perennial for 195 million GPT securities, to be funded from existing debt facilities;

GPT has just completed raising upwards of $1.6 billion to recapitalise its battered finances after ill-advised and ill-timed adventures in European housing with Babcock and Brown and a loss-making involvement in US property as well.

GPT has been struggling to convince the market that it had a handle on its problems: part of the funding raising will see the Singapore Government’s GIC Real Estate emerge with a shareholding of at least 10% and possibly a bit more.

Stockland looks like it will not be the major investor.

GPT doesn’t have a CEO at the moment after Nic Lyons walked the plank when the fund raising and earnings downgrade were announced last month, while chairman, Peter Joseph will step down at the 2009 annual meeting.

Peter Fray

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