Xi-Obama Summit: investors watch for signs

Updated: 2013-06-07 13:09

By Michael Barris (China Daily)

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Xi-Obama Summit: investors watch for signs

A 40 percent stake in the 50-story General Motors building (center) in midtown Manhattan was sold this week for a reported $1.4 billion to a group of investors led by Chinese real-estate tycoon Zhang Xin. The office vacancy rate in Manhattan, the nation's biggest and costliest office market, dropped for the first time in three years in the second quarter as almost 7 million square feet of leases were signed, brokerage Cushman & Wakefi eld Inc said. Daniel Acker / Bloomberg

If the meetings of the leaders of the world's two biggest economies produce greater cooperation on trade and investment, it may herald bigger and more deals in the US, especially in commercial real estate, Michael Barris reports from New York.

They just can't get enough.

With Chinese investors eager for deals in the US and the country needing those investments to accelerate its economic recovery, the business world will be looking for any signs of greater economic cooperation that may come out of the two-day summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama that starts tomorrow.

And one group in particular will be watching: commercial real-estate developers and sellers.

"A potential outcome of the current meetings may lead to further business interactions and capital flows between the two countries, which could increase cross border real estate flows," said Sonny Kalsi, founder of New York-based GreenOak Real Estate and former global co-head of Morgan Stanley's real-estate investing business. "I already believe the flow of Chinese capital into US real estate will continue to increase and the meetings may lead to even more."

Chinese investors seeking prime commercial property in the US moved to center stage this week when a group led by real-estate tycoon Zhang Xin acquired a 40 percent stake in the most expensive building in the United States - the General Motors office tower in midtown Manhattan.

The announced sale on June 2 was reminiscent of Japanese investors who bought iconic US commercial properties in the 1980s and 1990s, including New York's Rockefeller Center and the Pebble Beach golf resort in California.

Comparing Chinese investors' aggressive moves in the US property market with those by Japanese investors a quarter of a century ago isn't far-fetched, according to real-estate industry observers.

"China has always had the potential to be a major source of capital for real estate globally, and in the last few years we have really seen this market gather pace," said Arthur de Haast, head of the international capital group at property-services firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

$1.4 billion deal

The GM deal, reportedly valued at $1.4 billion, came four days after Shuanghui International Holdings announced it would buy US pork producer Smithfield Foods Inc for $4.7 billion, in what would be the largest takeover of a US company by a Chinese buyer if approved by US regulators.

More than a month before Zhang's group completed its purchase of the minority stake in the GM building, executives with Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle had forecast that globally Chinese real-estate investment this year could reach $5 billion, paced by a billion-dollar first-quarter spending splurge on London office properties. The projected total would represent a 20 percent jump from 2012.

The global acquisition trend is expected to continue for the next 20 years, as China and the Asia-Pacific region chalk up more than $1 trillion in direct commercial real estate deals by 2030, Jones Lang LaSalle's De Haast told a Beijing real estate-investment forum in April.

By 2021, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to overtake the EMEA countries - Europe, the Middle East and Africa - in commercial real-estate growth.

The $4 billion that flowed out of China a year ago into foreign commercial property represented a 33 percent increase over 2011. If Chinese outbound commercial property investment does hit the projected $5 billion total this year, it will propel the country into the ranks of the sector's five biggest cross-border investors, confirming China's growing influence in the global marketplace, Jones Lang LaSalle said.

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