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Why Chinese companies rush to buy Manhattan's commercial property?

2015-03-02 10:30 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

Chinese investors' rapidly growing appetite for high-profile U.S. commercial properties has been highlighted as China's Anbang Insurance Group Co., the buyer of luxury hotel Waldorf Astoria, has agreed to buy 21 floors of an office building on the famed Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, recently.

The coveted building is located at 717 Fifth Avenue on East 56th Street. Anbang will buy it from Blackstone Group, the leading U.S. private equity firm. The cost would be between 400 million to 500 million U.S. dollars. It is said that Anbang would only buy the office portion, which starts from floor 5 to 26. The first four floors for retail are not included.

This Chinese insurer has made headlines with the acquisition of Waldorf Astoria, the landmark hotel on Park Avenue last October. Under the agreement, Anbang purchased the iconic luxury hotel for 1.95 billion dollars from Hilton Worldwide Holdings.

Anbang Insurance Group Co. is one of China's comprehensive group companies in insurance business. According to corporate sources, Anbang has been developing stably and reached a total asset of 800 billion yuan (about 130 billion U.S. dollars).

Anbang is not alone. Other Chinese companies are also caught in the craze of buying into Manhattan commercial real estate, which is regarded as a "safe heaven."

In June 2013, the family of Zhang Xin, chief executive officer of Chinese real estate developer Soho, together with a Brazilian partner bought a 40 percent stake in General Motors Building for about 700 million dollars. Shanghai-based Fosun International Ltd. bought the One Chase Manhattan Plaza, the landmark building of lower Manhattan in December 2013 from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. for a consideration of 725 million U.S. dollars.

Also, the Bank of China reached a deal in December to buy a Manhattan office tower for nearly 600 million dollars.

Chinese companies believe that they could achieve stable returns from the U.S. commercial real estate. "Given the strong performance in the past, the group intends to realize long-term stable investment return by investing in high quality real properties in North America. Going forward it will increase the share of overseas assets in asset allocation, taking Europe and North America as priority areas," Anbang said after its Waldorf acquisition.

The recovering of U.S. economy has boosted the rents and transactions of office buildings, especially in big cities like New York. And foreign buyers are going after top-of-the-line properties in Manhattan.

The New York City property investment sales market saw 442 deals close last year, shattering the previous record of 346 deals in 2007. The year of 2014 was also the second most active year in terms of dollar volume, with 39.8 billion dollars in business volume, second only to the 48.5 billion dollars struck in 2007, according to a report of Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate consulting company.

Looking forward, "foreign capital is likely to continue to aggressively pursue opportunities, seeking long-term capital appreciation in what is viewed as the world's largest and most stable market. The dollar is also rising against major currencies. Dividends and future sale prices will be exchanged in appreciated dollars to foreign investors. With many local private market and private equity funds also actively looking for new properties, there will be no shortage of demand for Manhattan office buildings, " Commercial Real Estate service company Colliers International said in a recent report.

For many Chinese companies, overseas investment is also a kind of asset allocation diversification. Anbang said it has developed a well-structured global strategy to seize the opportunities brought by economic globalization and deliver services to customers around the world following their steps of "going global. "

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