June 23, 2008 / 7:26 PM / 11 years ago

Chinese renew interest in U.S. property

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chinese interest in U.S. commercial property is back, and this time Chinese investors may become significant players as the nation devises a vehicle to divert large amounts of funds for foreign investment, a Cushman & Wakefield executive said on Monday.

Scott Latham, executive vice president for Capital Markets Group of Cushman and Wakefield, speaks at the Reuters Real Estate Summit in New York June 23, 2008. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Flush with dollars from a huge trade imbalance, Chinese sovereign wealth funds are beginning to test the waters in New York real estate, said Scott Latham, executive vice president, Capital Markets group for real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield.

“They are coming. We’ve seen them in the bidding process over the past four months on a number of assets we’ve handled,” Latham said at the Reuters Global Real Estate Summit in New York.

They were recently among the throng of bidders for three of seven former Equity Office properties marketed after Harry Macklowe defaulted on loans he used to buy them last year, he said.

Latham is one of the most powerful commercial real estate brokers in Manhattan, the largest U.S. commercial real estate market. He has shepherded deals such as the $1.72 billon sale of the MetLife Building, the $1.8 billion sale of 666 Fifth Avenue and the $675 million sale of The Plaza Hotel.

“I think that unlike the Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds, they have not yet figured out an efficient way to get the money out of their country,” he said.

Back in the depths of the real estate depression in the early 1990s, private individuals from Hong Kong were big players in New York real estate. A group headed by Henry Cheng, for example, was able to buy a distressed loan and control of the property from Donald Trump for less than $100 million along the West Side and make a killing when they recently sold it for $1.8 billion.

“Almost every one of those investments was an absolute home run,” Latham said.

Because of cumbersome methods of moving capital, Chinese sovereign funds did not participate in the fast-moving boom of the past five years. However, with developing methods of moving funds and the slower pace of real estate deals in the wake of the U.S. credit crunch, Chinese investors will likely become more dominant U.S. real estate investors, Latham said.

(For summit blog: summitnotebook.reuters.com/)

Reporting by Ilaina Jonas, editing Phil Berlowitz

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