Real estate funds rush to enter China

Updated: 2011-11-19 07:45

By Hu Yuanyuan (China Daily)

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Opportunities prompt investors to take plunge into bricks and mortar

BEIJING - International real estate funds, lured by the growing opportunities provided by a correction in the Chinese real estate market and an industry reshuffle, have quickened their pace in entering the market.

The Hong Kong-based CITIC Capital Holdings Limited announced this week that the CITIC Capital China Retail Properties Investment Fund completed its first phase of funding earlier this month, closing at $225 million.

The fund, which attracted institutional investors from the United States, Europe and Asia, aims to raise a total capital commitment of $600 million and is focused on retail property and mixed-use development with a substantial retail portion in China's second- and third-tier cities, according to the company's statement.

The billionaire investor George Soros is also planning a property fund to invest in real estate projects in China, the 21st Century Business Herald reported on Tuesday without specifying the source of the information.

"It is an appropriate time for Soros to launch such a fund, targeting those Chinese property developers with growing financing difficulties," said Richard van den Berg, Greater China country manager at CBRE Global Investors, part of CBRE Group Inc.

The company, which manages $94.8 billion in real estate assets, is also mulling its first investment in the Chinese housing market in four years, according to Van den Berg.

"From the beginning of 2012, there should be good investment opportunities," he said.

He expects the market correction to last one and a half years. But "if the market correction takes longer, say three years, we'll focus on China's second- and third-tier cities in the first one and a half years and then center on first-tier cities in the second one and a half," he said.

As the government's tightening measures continue, Chinese property developers have taken wider and deeper price cuts because their cash flow is increasingly being squeezed. Some residential projects in Beijing and Shanghai have seen prices decline by between 20 and 30 percent since their peak.

Grant Ji, director of the investment department of the real estate service provider Savills Property Services (Beijing) Co Ltd, said most of the real estate funds in the US and Europe are actively seeking opportunities in China, even though they are suffering an economic slowdown and a debt crisis.

"It is quite different from the financial period in 2008 when many funds withdrew from China overnight," said Ji.

"And more of them (the funds) will go into China via Hong Kong-listed Chinese developers, that way they can bring money in and out without any policy restrictions."

Meanwhile, the US private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co and the Chinese property company Sino-Ocean Land Holdings Ltd have jointly established a $140 million fund to invest in Chinese real estate.

According to Stephen Ip, infrastructure and real estate industry lead partner for KPMG China, commercial real estate, such as office, retail and mixed-use developments in good locations, have replaced residential projects as the primary targets of international funds because the associated risks are comparatively lower.

"But some of them (the funds) are more cautious about the pricing of the deal and are taking a wait-and-see attitude to see if the price will fall even lower as the situation worsens," said Ip.