As the London-based international chief executive of Cushman & Wakefield, Carlo Sant’Albano is responsible for the strategic oversight and stewardship of the firm globally.
Between 2006 and 2009, he served as chief executive of IFIL Investment and was instrumental in arranging IFIL’s acquisition of a majority stake in Cushman & Wakefield in 2007. IFIL holds 30 per cent interest in Italian carmaker Fiat.
Since then, he has been closely involved with Cushman & Wakefield’s business expansion. Prior to becoming the international chief executive, he served as a member of the board focusing on the firm’s strategic direction and business priorities.
A native of Turin, Italy, Sant’Albano was educated in Latin America, Scotland and the United States. He started his career in the US but also has extensive work experience in Latin America, Europe and Asia.
How do the property cooling measures imposed in Hong Kong, the mainland and Singapore affect Asian capital investment activities?
The cooling measures, particularly in the residential market, have certainly dented investment appetite in this part of the world. The current trend for Asian capital is to move to the US and Europe. You have seen a number of players are looking beyond London, like Germany and southern Europe. Although they have not really deployed capital in these locations, they have certainly been trying to check out the opportunities there because of the attractive valuation.
Do you expect Chinese companies to keep pouring capital into the West as the central government continues its heavy regulation of the home market?
London is the first place for most investors to go to, primarily for residential property. Some high-net-worth individuals are also moving into that market for office and retail properties.
Recently, we have seen investors getting more aggressive in the US market, with the size of the deals there getting bigger. For instance, Chinese real estate developer Wanda acquired a majority stake in a mixed-use development in Chicago. (Wanda Commercial Properties announced it had agreed to buy a 90 per cent stake in the Chicago waterfront project that will offer high-end residential, commercial and hotel units. Wanda and its shareholders will invest up to US$226 million in the project.) Greenland and China Vanke have also acquired property projects in Manhattan.
A number of different names that you don’t really hear about are also coming into the market.
How much longer will Asian capital flow into the West?
There is a significant amount of capital flowing from East to West, and it will continue to do so in search of investment opportunities. I think the trend will continue for a year. Investors will react to every action being taken by the government, from the stock market to real estate, and relocate their capital very quickly. Investors don’t look at individual markets anymore. Many of them, including pension funds and insurance companies, will seek opportunities globally for yields and projects.
Why has Germany become so attractive for investors?
When the British pound was the only currency considered safe, US or Asian investors would want to move to London to buy real estate or try to find investment based on the pound. But when the euro gained, investors began to look for opportunities beyond London, where yields have been compressed by soaring asset value.
Germany has a very solid economy, strong relations with China and Asia and is a logical investment destination. But the only challenge is that you have to look at many cities, such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, and it is more complicated as you have to understand each one of them. But Germany provides a good legal framework and its real estate market also offers good liquidity and a significantly high transaction volume.
But this year, the markets in southern Europe like Spain and Italy are also being actively pursued. Surprisingly, last year was a difficult one for Spain but now investors see a tremendous amount of opportunities there.
Do you think countries like Portugal will be more attractive for Chinese property investors if they are offered permanent residency?
Yes, some people are buying abroad because of that. But it is not the main reason. I think primarily it is because of the yields. People are looking at Spain rather than Portugal because of the attractive yield in the former. But investors from African countries like Angola, say, might want to invest in Portugal because of residency rights.