Good Times Ahead for China

Property Peaks in Beijing

It looks like China is set to witness a property peak in the few months. According to experts in foreign real estate funds, this sector is due to “tighten” during this time frame. Grosvenor Asia Pacific manages $16b in assets and is setting out to raise “at least $270 million for a fund that will invest in Chinese properties as part of its expansion in Asia.” According to CEO of Savills Greater China, Raymond Lee, “a good opportunity will emerge for long-term investors in the coming six to 12 months, and what foreign real estate funds are doing now is finding a legal fund vehicle that can get their money into the country.” Indeed, substantial funding is expected to get to China before 2012 as well.

Increase in Investment

News from the Commerce Ministry is the increase in “utilized foreign investment” by 27 percent, reaching $17.8b by February 2011. Of this, $4.15b was in the real estate sector. In an effort to curb this, local authorities were ordered to “halt the approval of some foreign property investments to stop speculative purchases, it said in a Nov 22 statement.” Local authorities will have to “strengthen their reviews of foreign exchange inflows for real estate transactions and documentation for land rights.” Right now there are two principal channels for foreign capital that “flow into the Chinese mainland’s property market”: participating in development with local partners and cooperating with Hong Kong-listed real estate companies.

Real Estate Firms Future

According to President of CB Richard Ellis China, small- and medium-sized real estate firms are likely to feel an additional squeeze by June that will result in more “equity investment opportunities for foreign institutional investors.” This is due to banks making it harder to borrow money and dropping property sales. Prices of residential projects will be “more competitive.” As well, for those medium- and high-end homes which witnessed “excess short-term price growth,” are being impacted by government real estate “tightening” policies. The advice by experts thus is to avoid these sectors to protect your investment. Ultimately, even though foreign investors have expressed concern about the potential risks in China, a “clear long-term picture through the 12th Five-Year Plan” is still what’s keeping confidence high and bringing investors back to China all the time.

Japanese Properties to Quake?

It was bad enough that the whole of Japan was totally shaken up in more ways than one because of the tsunami disaster, but now it seems like the same is going to happen to what remains of its real estate market. Perhaps not surprisingly, companies are now reported as being “cautious” vis-à-vis the country’s property market although they are trying not to enter into drama-panic mode. As Prudential Real Estate Investors Chief Executive J. Allen Smith put it, “we are taking a wait-and-see approach,” given that so little time has lapsed since the disaster, thus rendering it too early to look at the economy and the markets in a stable light.

Real Estate Troubles Pre-Quake

However, what many are failing to realize, is that even before the terrible disasters struck Japan, the country was reeling from real estate woes. Indeed, over the last two-and a-half years, figures showed a drop in the country’s commercial real estate markets by nearly 20 percent (to the end of the third quarter of 2010). Even at the time this was somewhat of a shock, with Japan ranking as the second biggest “commercial property market by value,” being “one of the few major real estate markets to continue to record capital depreciation.” This clearly reflects its stagnant economic growth.

No Long-Term Lull

So the question being asked then – given all this background information – is what chance does the country now stand of beefing up its real estate market? Well, things don’t have to be all that gloomy, at least not for the long-term. While it is the case that companies like Prudential Real Estate Investors are standing back somewhat from jumping on Japanese properties, they hope this will change in the not-so-distant future. Indeed, the country was described by the company as “an important real estate market,” so with that kind of language, it is unlikely to show itself as a fair-weathered friend.

As well, one of Prudential’s new funds has “earmarked about 50% of capital for Japan,” although it is still “taking a step back” vis-à-vis the country and its real estate. Still, there is funding going on in certain specific parts and markets of Japan, like Tokyo’s retail property assets. Thankfully, according to Smith, “the assets weren’t damaged in the massive quakes.”

Prudential Investing

Despite all of this, it does seem that Prudential remains serious about Japan and its real estate market. Even when things were looking particularly gruesome, the company’s financial chair and CEO John Strangfeld committed the Prudential Foundation to putting $6.1 million to “support disaster relief in Japan,” at the end of last month. Moreover, at around the same time, Prudential Real Estate Investors “co-invested with clients on two Pan-Asia funds totaling about $1.5 billion that have ‘meaningful allocations to Japan.’”

So while things definitely could be better for Japan, its economy and its real estate market, given the earthquake and tsunami disaster, as well as the problems it was experiencing prior to all of this in its markets, it seems clear that there is still confidence in the world’s second largest commercial property market, third largest economy and global financial player.

Kuwaiti Investments

Kuwait Working with Morocco

North Africa Holding Company (NorAH), a Kuwaiti investment firm has just “acquired a minority stake in a Morocco real estate developer,” with its investment and place on the board in Dar Saada Company (DSC). It looks like there will be significant opportunities for NorAh in the North African housing market that is currently on an up.

NorAH’s Investment Goals

Given NorAH’s strong, solid, stable base, it is the perfect company to make an investment. It works well with various economies in the North African region, having the capacity (with its KD 50 million capital base) to “contribute to the sustainable development” there. It is also “one of the largest pan-regional investment companies.” When it joins up with other companies, it can help them become “premier regional and global players.” Since it recognized that the housing market had huge potential, it made sense for it to move in that direction. Since there hasn’t been such a commitment by the government to respond to the lack of Moroccan affordable housing, the company’s CEO, Emad Anwar Al-Saleh said the sector is likely to undergo “major growth in the next few years.”

NorAH Gets Assistance

NorAH has been receiving significant assistance in raising the necessary $137m for the stake. Companies providing capital include: Wafa Assurances; Aabar Investments (Abu Dhabi), RMA Wataniya and Idraj Capital Development Fund. In addition, NorAH plans to “target investment opportunities arising in North African economies.”

South Korea’s KIC Coordinates Sovereign Funds For Mutual Investments.

South Korea’s $37 billion sovereign wealth fund, The Korea Investment corp. intends to make three to four strategic investments in the coming year. They will invest with other state funds in order to diversify their portfolio.

Chief Investment Officer Scott E. Kalb said that “We are in discussions with our counterparts, sovereign wealth funds all over…We have already looked at a number of transactions together and we’re looking at some that are pending — our end goal is to wind up having a diversified strategic portfolio in a variety of sectors and countries.”

According to Kalb, KIC is investing more in public and non-traditional assets such as real estate and private equity in developing countries due to growth opportunities.

KIC has invested in some infrastructure and real estate investments in China. It has purchased properties in other Asian markets, African private equity, and is considering investments in Latin America, India, and more in China, he said. The company is investigating purchasing Japanese property due to rising prices.