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China Conference

Chinese buyer's appetite for US property may hit European deals

Reports claim some mainland investors making eleventh-hour pullouts from London deals

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 October, 2015, 11:18pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 October, 2015, 9:09am

With or without an interest rate rise by the United States Federal Reserve, 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's real estate in the past two years has attracted strong investment from across the world, including North America, 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, more than 1.5 times that of total annual flows in 2014, while there was a slight decline in their investment into British 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 was 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 acquisitions in London.

The UK Property Weekly, which targets Chinese-speaking investors with an interest in British property, reported last week that Shanghai-based private property conglomerate Shenglong Group had retreated from a £195 million (HK$2.31 billion) deal to buy Thames Court office tower in the City of London.

In 2012, CBRE Global Investors bought Thames Court for £165 million 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, the insurer that bought New York's iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel for US$2 billion last year, quit its plan to buy one of the tallest buildings in London's financial district, the 46-storey Heron Tower.

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 buy properties in and near London.