Outbound investment in logistics, hotels to rise

Date: 2018-01-31
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Chinese investments in the logistics and hotel sectors of economies involved in the Belt and Road (or B&R) Initiative will likely double in the coming five years, said an industry expert from Cushman & Wakefield Co Ltd.

Adam Rush, the firm's regional director of the consulting department, attributed his forecast to positive investor sentiment toward the booming global logistics segment.

From the time the B&R Initiative was proposed in 2013, participating economies have received a total of $121 billion worth of Chinese real estate investment in deals worth $5 million or more each, according to Real Capital Analytics.

Volume has surged through the first 11 months of 2017 to a record $4.82 billion, up from the $1.20 billion recorded in 2016 and nearly 30 percent above the previous high in 2013.

This surge came in spite of Chinese buyers of overseas real estate turning more reserved because of regulatory tightening at home as well as in destination countries.

For instance, in Australia, there has been a huge drop in market share, from 18 percent in 2016 to 2 percent in 2017.

In June of 2017, Logicor, a Spanish logistics firm, which owned 13.6 million square meters of properties in B&R economies, was bought by Chinese sovereign wealth fund CIC for $13.8 billion.

The most recent deal was Chinese aviation major HNA's acquisition of Singapore's logistics provider CWT Ltd whose major assets are located in B&R economies.

According to data from Cushman & Wakefield, the return on investment or RoI in logistics in B&R economies ranges from 7 to 10 percent. This is higher than the RoI in other real estate segments.

The same holds true for the hotel sector. Rapid growth in overseas travel from China has created strong demand for quality hotels.

In the past two years, Chinese non-realty overseas investments have been slowing because of tighter capital controls and the depreciation of the yuan.

However, with the Chinese currency strengthening steadily against the US dollar of late, and with more clarity emerging on related policies, Chinese investors are actively seeking overseas investment opportunities again, including in real estate.

"The last six to eight weeks have seen a real increase in inquiries about overseas projects," Rush said.

Meanwhile, the nature of Chinese real estate enterprises investing abroad has also experienced a dramatic shift.

"In the first two or three years (of the B&R Initiative), 90 percent of our clients were SOEs (State-owned enterprises). Last year, more private sector firms entered the (real estate) market (abroad) and now the ratio is 50:50," Rush said.

To cope with regulatory tightening abroad, Chinese-led projects are targeting local buyers. Real estate investors like China Shipping International are beginning to increase their overseas market share by developing hotels and residential services focused on local demand.

"Projects that appeal to the local market supplemented with a bit of Chinese demand will be more sustainable," Rush said.

Nearly 15 percent of China's outbound investment through the first 11 months of 2017 was in B&R economies, up from just 3 percent in 2016. Part of this rise may be attributed to Chinese investments in real estate abroad.

But last year's overseas investments in B&R economies as a percentage of the total were less than the peak of 22 percent in 2013. The peak was spurred by the proposal of the initiative that year.

Yet, last year's investments represent a massive spike to a level that is almost six-and-a-half times the average of the previous four years.

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