Chinese insurers look to Europe's property market after Ping An deal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 5:10am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 11:41am

The European Public Real Estate Association (EPRA), a non-profit association representing Europe's publicly listed property companies, hopes to attract capital from cash-rich Chinese insurers, who were permitted to invest in overseas real estate following the relaxation of investment rules last year.

Their pitch for more investment capital follows the£260 million (HK$3.21 billion) acquisition in July last year by Ping An Insurance of the Lloyd's Building in London. The deal was the first direct overseas property acquisition in Britain by a Chinese insurance company.

"Ping An made people realise something was happening," said Philip Charls, the chief executive of EPRA.

Charls said there were now various options open to Chinese insurers seeking property assets in Europe. "They can buy physical property or they can buy stocks, or form joint ventures with European listed partners. They can also be the lenders to fill in the gaps left by banks."

Charls recently visited some Chinese insurers with five members of the EPRA from France, Britain, Switzerland, and Germany. More meetings will be arranged in China next month.

The Chinese insurance sector, which has total assets of some 7.4 trillion yuan (HK$9.3 trillion), is being wooed by Britain's property sector because the liberalisation of investment rules by Beijing last year released a portion of those assets for investment in international real estate markets.

In July and October, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission issued new regulations that permitted insurance companies to invest a maximum of 15 per cent of their total assets in non-self-use real estate, either domestically or in overseas property markets.

The new rules limited the companies to investing in "mature retail and office properties with stable income, located at the central areas of the major cities in 25 developed markets", and listed 20 emerging economies where the insurance companies can invest.

Charls said the meetings between the EPRA members and Chinese insurers were looking for business opportunities, but he expected it would take some time for deals to materialise.

In September the association set up an office in Hong Kong to promote European listed real estate industry to Asian investors, including those in mainland China.