The Waldorf's hefty price tag

Updated: 2014-11-14 07:10

By Liu Lian(China Daily USA)

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Anbang's ranking

As of September 2014, according to the CIRC website, Anbang was ranked 17th among Chinese property insurers and 35th among life insurance companies based on this year's premium income.

In May, the CIRC approved Anbang to increase its registered capital of $2.95 billion (18 billion yuan), $1.31 billion (8 billion), and $1.64 billion (10 billion), respectively, in the parent group, life insurance unit and property insurance unit. It made the total registered capital in the three entities to $4.91 billion (30 billion), $1.93 billion (11.79 billion), and $3.11 billion (19 billion), respectively.

The registered capital of Anbang property insurance is the largest among peers, far ahead of Ping An's $2.78 billion (17 billion).

Premiums in Anbang's life insurance represented 8 percent of assets by end of 2013, compared with 16 percent at China Life. "That suggests Anbang is using equity capital, rather than premiums, to finance its purchases," the Financial Times reported.

One week after the Waldorf acquisition, Anbang reached an agreement to acquire Belgian insurer Fidea from US private equity firm J.C. Flowers & Co for an undisclosed amount. The deal must be approved by the National Bank of Belgium.

Although renovation plans for the Waldorf Astoria have not been released, many speculate that Anbang may convert part of the hotel into condos.

"While the Waldorf is positioned to be a 'luxury' facility, it is a challenge to operate in such a manner with an inventory of 1,413 guest units, price development has been so rapid in Manhattan over the last two decades," said Lesser.

"Tremendous value creation opportunities exist to significantly reduce the size of the hotel and create luxury residential as well as high-end retail on the ground floor of the property."

There is no city regulation restricting condo conversion or the percentage of a conversion, according to Jonathan H. Canter, a partner at New York-based Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, who represented El-Ad Properties in the conversion of the Plaza.

Anbang's agreement with the Hilton does not affect the number of rooms under its management, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Plaza Hotel is an example of the redevelopment opportunity that exists for the Waldorf, said Lesser. The 100-year-old, 805-room Midtown hotel was closed in 2005 and reopened in 2006 with about 150 hotel rooms, 200 condominiums and a retail section. Buyers had closed on nearly 100 of the condo conversions within weeks, according to media reports.

There are 18 apartments at the Plaza now listed for sale, according to data provided by CityRealty, at an average price of $4,126 per square foot.

"Luxurious apartments in New York are highly sought after among Chinese and wealthy Americans and foreigners from Brazil to Ukraine," said Lesser.

JLL confirmed the condo version trend as one of the three key predictions for 2015. It reported that the trend had taken hold of New York City with new condo projects selling for $2,000 per square foot in the Financial District to more than $8,000 per square foot near Central Park.

"If that's what Anbang chooses to do, that's a great idea," said Clinton.

There are also values that the Chinese investor could create, said Hanemann. "If they can generate a lot of businesses through their local Chinese connections or positions in the Chinese market, say, for example, the Waldorf is running at 60 percent capacity, and the owner is able to get it up to 95 percent capacity by bringing in a lot of wealthy Chinese guests, then the high evaluation would potentially make sense."