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SCD Balaton property projects up in the air

The sale of SCD Group’s touristic portfolio has undoubtedly been the greatest property deal of this summer: according to the online real estate newswire of Portfolio.hu, the market value of the 170-hectare building plot, complete with 9 kilometers of lakeside beach, functioning camping sites plus the 100-year operating rights of Fly Balaton international airport may be worth up to HUF 30 billion. On the other hand, according to the estimates of economic weekly Figyelő, no more than HUF 5 billion has changed hands between SCD and Turisztika Hungária, a project company of unknown investors.

The contradiction can be partially explained, Figyelő claims, by the significant amount of mortgage on the pieces of real estate in question. To begin with, SCD earlier took out an €60 million (almost HUF 16.5 billion) loan; on top of that, it assumed an obligation to invest HUF 16 billion into the development of camping sites, otherwise the company must pay HUF 2.4 billion in penalties.

According to a real estate expert interviewed by the BBJ, the gap between the actual price and the market value of SCD’s Hungarian Tourism Holding is due to the weak bargaining position of SCD Group.

“Besides the Balaton Development Project, SCD has two further large Budapest real estate projects. One of these is the construction of luxury apartments in the inner city of Pest; the other is an A+ category office complex in the elegant villa district Pasarét on the Buda side. It would take several billion forints to complete either”, the expert said.

“Further bank loans are out of the question. These pieces of Budapest real estate have already been burdened by heavy mortgages, while they have suffered a loss of value in recent years. So they are in fact overburdened with mortgages at the moment”, he added.

„As for our Balaton Development Project, I must say even now that it has been a perfectly composed real estate portfolio. The only reason why we were forced to sell it is the fact that the economic crisis undermined our financial plans”, Gellért Jászai, president and chief owner of SCD Group told Hungarian website Index.hu. As far as the first half of his statement is concerned, the expert asked by the BBJ fully agreed with it himself.

“Based on Lake Balaton, SCD aspired to a leading position at the Hungarian touristic market”, said the expert. They were, however, perfectly aware of the inherent difficulty: the less than two-months-long touristic season at Lake Balaton should be somehow prolonged.

“One should build new entertainment facilities that would attract tourists to the lake from April to October”, he suggested. Developments related to Badacsony wine tourism would have served exactly this goal, as would the gigantic theme park planned to be constructed in Balatonlelle.

As far as the second half of Jászai’s statement is concerned – namely that the abrupt divestment was the consequence of the drawn-out crisis –, our source has only partially agreed with it.

“Most of SCD’s Balaton investments were made after the outbreak of the crisis. We cannot talk about unexpected events. On the contrary: the group, in fact, followed a wise anti-cyclical policy as far as it invested exactly at the time when prices were low”, the real estate expert said.

For example, they acquired the operating rights of Fly Balaton Airport in spring 2010 at a knock-down price, as market news at the time suggested. “SCD needed the international airport in order to lure new German tourists to the lake, riding the waves of 1980s Balaton nostalgia”, he explained.

SCD’s aim may have been to become the market leader at the domestic market of tourism. In order to achieve this, they had to defeat two rivals, namely Hunguest and BSE-listed Danubius. This spring SCD in fact attempted to buy out Hunguest from Arago Group. Had the acquisition been successful, SCD’s Hungarian Tourism Holding would have indeed become a market leader. Neglected liquidity problems, however, apparently swept away the whole plan in the end. All SCD could do was to sell the buying option of Hunguest to the so far unrevealed owners of Turisztika Hungária.