International Capital Now Involved in Nearly 20% of Total CRE U.S. Sales Volume

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“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” 
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After Surging Across Real Estate Sector, Foreign Capital Flow Even Ebbs into Presidential Campaign Speeches

By Mark Heschmeyer June 24, 2015

The gusher of foreign capital flowing into U.S.commercial real estate continues to surge. It has had such an impact on the market that even presidential hopefuls are referencing it in campaign stump speeches.

“Hey, I like China. I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?” Donald Trump rhetorically asked in response to a question at his 2016 presidential campaign kickoff last week.

“I own a big chunk of the Bank of America building at 1290 Avenue of the Americas that I got from China in a war. Very valuable,” Trump continued. “The biggest bank in the world is from China. Their headquarters are located in the building. In Trump Tower. I love China. People say, ‘Oh, you don’t like China?’ No, I love them.”

Given Mr. Trump’s real estate background, it’s not surprising that many CRE professionals share his ardor for investors from China — or those from Canada or Singapore or Germany or Norway or Australia or the United Arab Emirates or the United Kingdom for that matter. Most are more than willing to put aside any political differences when there is money to be made.

“Foreign investment in the U.S. property markets is soaring,” said Kevin Thorpe, DTZ’s chief economist. “International capital is now involved in nearly 20% of total sales volume in the U.S., more than double the (historical) norm.”

Most recently, Brookfield Property Partners sold a 49% stake in a downtown Boston office tower and a Washington DC office portfolio to AustralianSuper, an Australian superannuation fund. Net proceeds of the deals total approximately $649 million and values 75 State St. in Boston at $605 million and the eight DC-area properties totaling 2.2 million square feet at $1.32 billion.

With numerous examples of similar deals, sales of commercial property are approaching all-time highs. This year total CRE investment in North America is expected to surpass $390 billion, exceeding the $373 billion investment peak in 2007, according to DTZ.

The reasons why overseas investors find the U.S. real estate market so appealing number almost as much as the countries they hail from.

“Some of it (sales activity) is driven by capital preservation,” Thorpe said. “Some of it is driven by relative yield, which still generally favors the U.S., and some of it is driven by an economic trajectory that is a clear standout on the world stage. Barring something unforeseeable, the U.S. (real estate) capital markets will shatter records this year, both in terms of volume and pricing.”

While Canadian investors have traditionally been the biggest investors in U.S. real estate since 2013, the share of investment capital coming from Asia has continued to increase, according to new data from Morgan Stanley Research.

Chinese institutional investors have studied the market and are now seeking partnerships with U.S. owners, and some are even considering direct development opportunities, Morgan Stanley analyst Jerry Chen noted last week.

Furthermore, despite U.S. CRE prices rising above 2007 peaks, cap rates here are higher than in many other developed countries, driven primarily by higher benchmark Treasury rates.

Chen also noted that Morgan Stanley has observed increased demand from Chinese retail investors with U.S. developers targeting Chinese individuals to fund projects through the EB-5 program, which provides a method of obtaining a green card for foreign nationals who invest money in the United States.

She also said there could be more incentives for foreign investment on the horizon. U.S. House and Senate bills (H.R 2128 and S. 915) recently proposed reforms to the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA). If enacted, supporters believe the changes to the law would draw substantial new foreign capital into the U.S. real estate market by changing certain exemptions from FIRPTA and clarifying the application of other provisions to REITs and their shareholders.

Foreign Investment Expanding Its Reach
One reason for the warm welcome given to international buyers is that they have shown a willingness to pay up for top-quality real estate assets. Pricing for property purchased by international buyers in 2014 was 28% above the average price paid by domestic investors, according to recent analysis from CoStar Portfolio Strategy.

In fact, since the recession ended, the pricing gap between international and domestic buyers has never been higher. Between 2001 and 2007, average pricing paid by U.S.-based and international-based capital differed by 18%. Since 2008, the average yearly pricing premium has jumped to 41%, according to CoStar.

More recently, foreign buyers have begun to venture beyond core coastal markets in search of real estate to buy. Along with traditional safe haven markets such as New York, Boston and San Francisco, foreign capital continues to flow to nontraditional markets such as Denver and Minneapolis, where foreign investment accounted for 53% and 40%, respectively, of all major office transactions in 2014.




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