Chinese are pouring money into 'super cities'

CNBC.com
Chinese are pouring money into 'super cities'
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The top five "super cities" experiencing an explosion of Chinese commercial real estate investment are, clockwise from top left, New York, Hong Kong, London, Singapore and Sydney. (All photos from Thinkstock)

Chinese investors can't seem to get enough of commercial real estate abroad - having already spent $1 billion in the first quarter on buying property, they are now on track to spend a whopping $5 billion for the whole year, according property services firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

If Chinese outbound investment in commercial property does hit $5 billion, as forecast, it will catapult the group to among the five biggest cross-border investors in this sector globally, according to Jones Lang LaSalle.

"It makes them an increasingly important player on the global scale," David Green-Morgan, research director, global capital markets at Jones Lang LaSalle told CNBC. "The last two years they've made more of a mark and that's when we've seen more of the outflow of capital from China coming."

Money flowing out of China into buying commercial real estate overseas reached $4 billion in 2012, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, which is 33 percent higher than in 2011.

The firm says Chinese investments have been growing in the top five "super cities" of Hong Kong, New York, London, Singapore and Sydney. The first three cities have seen investments of almost $2 billion to $3 billion between 2003 and 2012.

Green-Morgan said Chinese individual investors are mainly interested in the industrial and hotel space in these cities, while he's also seeing a lot of demand from companies.

"The Chinese government has a policy of globalizing Chinese companies, so we see a lot of demand from corporates who like to own their own buildings when they go overseas," Green-Morgan said. "They may rent some office space for a year or two and then look around for a building they can buy themselves."

Another reason for the huge Chinese interest in commercial property is because it's become easier for investors to take money out of China now, according to Green-Morgan.

"Institutional investors and high net worth individuals are able to transfer money out of China more easily now. That has been a big hurdle taken out of the way," he said.

According to Reuters, last month a group of Chinese investors including Zhang Xin, the chief executive of commercial real estate developer Soho China, was in talks to buy a 40 percent stake in the iconic General Motors building in Manhattan, New York, in a $3.4 billion deal – making it the most valuable office building in the U.S.

Global growth

There's been a shift in the past few years globally of rebalancing towards real estate as an investment class, Green-Morgan said.

Fears of a global economic slowdown this year so far has not dented global appetite for commercial property investment, Green- Morgan added.

"Our first quarter figures [of commercial property transactions] were up 20 percent on this time last year – we don't see a slowdown at the moment. People like the Chinese investors as well as lots of other investors from emerging markets are helping to push those volumes ever higher," said Green-Morgan, adding that the commercial property investment market could reach $1 trillion in value by 2030.

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