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LONDON-The number of sale-leaseback transactions in Europe has shot up 585% since 2004 to €46 billion ($66.1 billion), according to a CB Richard Ellis report. Also during that time, these types of deals have risen from 4% of the continent’s commercial real estate investment market to 21%.

Corporations are taking part in these transactions in an unstable economic environment in order to raise capital, pay off debt and have flexible lease structures. “The wave of sale and leasebacks in the banking sector in recent years eradicated the ‘last resort’ stigma previously attached to this type of transaction, transforming it into another viable choice for corporates looking to raise capital,” says John Wilson, head of corporate strategies within CBRE’s global corporate services business.

This practice is gaining popularity around Europe. In 2005, 42% of all sale leasebacks came out of the UK. Now that number is down to 21% in the past 18 months. Germany has seen an increase, going from 18% of the total in 2005 to 34% over the last year and a half. France, Italy, Spain and Sweden have also stepped up their transactions in the space.

In the past, the report says, a majority of sale leasebacks were undertaken with office properties. But retail assets have caught up – in the first half of this year retail deals have totaled €4.2 billion, just down from €4.5 billion in the office sector. This is due, in part, to larger retail stores and more publicly traded chains.

“The strong performance of sale and leasebacks over the past few years, including the first half of 2008, suggests that they continue to be a growth opportunity in Europe and a key driver of growth in real estate investment,” Wilson says.

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