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LONDON-In a transaction that dramatically ramps up its presence in Europe’s debt market, GE Real Estate has acquired a major swath of performing commercial property loans. Backed by a diverse mix of assets located throughout the United Kingdom, the package purchased from UK-based Bradford & Bingley plc is valued in excess of $4.1 billion.

“We are very pleased to have had the opportunity to work with Bradford & Bingley’s professional management team and to have been given the opportunity to acquire this high-quality portfolio,” Michael Rowan, managing director of GE Real Estate UK, says in announcing the agreement. While the company has “a long history of debt transactions,” Rowan accedes that the latest purchase is a super-sized offering by any measure, putting GE’s total investment in European real estate at more than $20 billion. Despite such heft, Rowan insists GE is equipped to handle the added volume.

“The successful execution of this significant acquisition at the right price and on the right terms is a strong endorsement of our ability to complete large and complex transactions where we have identified an opportunity,” Rowan says. As in the United States, Europe is suffering from the impacts of the global credit crisis, he acknowledges, but maintains the firm’s expertise in the financial real estate arena and the stability of the portfolio will enable the Norwalk, CT-based GE to enhance results no matter what the climate.

According to industry reports, GE secured the loans at a slight discount to book value. The portfolio includes more than 100 borrowers, many of whom are well-known in the UK property industry. Rowan declined to identify any among that capital constituency, but did say the credit quality of the borrowers and the properties themselves steeled GE’s decision to pursue the portfolio. “We are confident we can add significant value to our UK business in these more challenging times,” he says.

The deal represents the latest sell-off of commercial loans by Bradford & Bingley, detailed in one analysis as being part of a campaign to refocus on residential mortgage lending. The British firm now has only about $1.6 billion of commercial property assets on its books, company officials said in confirming the latest divestiture.

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