China property

Some Chinese buyers quitting London property deals amid rising interest for US assets

London still a destination for Chinese, but recent cancellations sting

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 October, 2015, 8:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 October, 2015, 5:23pm

With or without a US Fed rate rise, Chinese love for US real estate is only going to grow. But will that come at the cost of a retreat in their appetite for European properties?

Europe in the past two years has attracted strong investment from across the world, including North America, in its real estate market, due to the quantitative easing monetary policy and a weaker currency.

But data from global property consultancy CBRE showed Chinese investment into US commercial real estate totalled US$3.7 billion in the first half, over 1.5 times that of total annual flows in 2014, while there was a slight decline in their investment into UK commercial real estate over the period, although London continued to be among the most preferred destinations for Chinese investors.

During the first half, Chinese investment in overseas commercial properties grew 46 per cent to US$6.6 billion, accounting for more than a third of total Asian-sourced capital flows over the period, CBRE said.

A sudden government-induced depreciation in domestic yuan currency in August and the mainland stock market tumble that rippled across the world since mid-June have quickened outbound investment, despite Chinese authorities efforts to tighten capital controls.

David Blumenfeld, a partner at global law firm Paul Hastings, said while he saw more and more active investment from Hong Kong and mainland China into the US real estate market, he is not seeing investors liquidating their investment in Europe.

But there are some worrying signs in the latest reports about some mainland investors withdrawing at the last minute from their acquisitions in London properties.

The UK Property Weekly, which targets Chinese-speaking investors with an interest in buying UK properties, reported last week that Shanghai-based private property conglomerate Shenglong Group has retreated from a £195 million deal to buy the Thames Court office tower in the City of London.

In 2012, CBRE Global Investors bought Thames Court for 165 million pound on behalf of a Korean client, Public Officials Benefit Association, from Apollo Real Estate.

In another case, the weekly magazine also reported that the mainland’s Anbang Insurance Group Co, the insurer that bought New York’s iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel for US$2 billion last year, quit its plan to buy the 46-storey Heron Tower, one of the tallest in London's financial district.

Neither Shenglong nor Anbang were available for comment.

Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post reported on Saturday that China Minsheng Investment, the mainland’s largest private investment fund, had not proceeded with a £1.7 billion integrated development in east London, seven months after it signed a letter of intent with the project’s owner in Shanghai.

The chairman of ABP (Global), a private Chinese developer, said he would announce a new strategic investor in London this week to transform Royal Albert Dock into what was described as the city’s third financial centre.

“To be honest, I don’t really think there is a big trend here worth commenting on,” said Fred Richardson, a director at Hanover Private Office, which helps Chinese and other investors to buy properties in and near London.

He said there was still strong interest from global investors including Chinese to buy properties in London, although the UK’s relatively more difficult visa policy is a drawback and some buyers are seeking opportunities in countries like Spain and Portugal that offer special visa programmes to attract foreign property investors.