* Hopes to enter U.S. property market next year
* Sees continued pick-up in real estate purchases
* Will take years to reach 5 pct investment cap
OSLO, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Norway’s $660 billion oil fund purchased its first property in Switzerland and hopes to conclude its first U.S. real estate deal next year as its ramps up investment, it said on Thursday.
The sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest, bought the Uetlihof office complex in Zurich for 1 billion Swiss francs ($1.07 billion) from Credit Suisse and also agreed on a 25-year lease with the building’s former owner.
“We expect a continued pickup in activity,” Karsten Kallevig, the fund’s chief investment officer for real estate, said.
“We’re hoping to make our first investment in the U.S.. That would give us another leg to stand on and improve our ability to invest in good assets,” he told Reuters in a brief telephone interview.
The fund held less than 1 percent of its assets in real estate at the end of the third quarter but has stepped up buys recently as its eventual goal is to hold 5 percent of its assets in properties.
“It will take a number of years,” Kallevig said. “There’s clearly an intention to get to the 5 percent but there is not a rush. It will certainly not happen in 2013.”
The fund, which holds over $130,000 for each of Norway’s 5 million residents, will swell to $1.1 trillion by 2020, meaning the fund could have $55 billion in real estate by then.
The fund has focused its purchases on European “gateway” cities, picking up office space and specialty retail assets, such as the Crown Estate on London’s Regent Street, along with properties in Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris.
“A little over 2 years ago we had 3-4 people (working on real estate) and now it’s 19-20. So just by having more people we can look at more transactions,” Kallevig said.
He added that the fund would continue to look for partners in real estate deals and most transactions required some sort of operational involvement.
However, the Zurich deal was different as Credit Suisse agreed on a long-term deal and also agreed to operate the property.