China supplanted Canada for the first time last year as the most active foreign investor in U.S. real estate. But so far this year, some Chinese institutional investors such as insurance companies have been silent, and the yuan’s appreciation against the dollar could shift Chinese buyers toward markets in Asia.
But if the big guns from China pull back from New York, there could be investors from Germany, Korea and Japan game to fill the void. Investors from those countries may be able to take advantage of arbitrage between overseas and local interest rates and make big-ticket deals, according to CBRE.
“We think the amount of Chinese investors that falls off may be enhanced by German investors and Japanese investors, in particular, as negative interest rates are driving capital out of those countries,” Spencer Levy, head of research in the Americas for CBRE, said Tuesday afternoon as the company released the results of its annual investor survey.
Bill Shanahan, co-chair of CBRE’s capital markets group in New York, said that’s exactly what he sees with Korean investors. Last year a group of South Korean insurance firms invested roughly $220 million in mezzanine debt for AXA Financial’s 787 Seventh Avenue.
“Korea has a 200-basis point negative arbitrage on currency,” he said. “One of the things they do is they borrow heavily here . . . because it’s a hedge in U.S. dollars.”
In CBRE’s survey of investors, about 40 percent said they planned to buy either the same amount or more property this year. About 30 percent of respondents said their largest motivation will be seeking yield spreads.
In September, North Carolina-based apartment REIT Bell Partners teamed up with the German firm HANSAINVEST to create a $1 billion fund focused on multifamily properties in the U.S.
And Shanahan said Germany’s Union Investment Real Estate, which entered the New York hotel market late last year with the purchase of Courtyard the New York Downtown Manhattan/World Trade Center for $206 million, is poised to invest more overseas.
“About two months ago, Union, probably for the first time in six or eight months, opened up one of their funds,” he said. “They got $800 million in a month and had to shut the gates because they can’t place the capital. They’re promising all their investors returns. So if you have all this cash laying around and it’s in a German bank – you’re basically getting no return – it’s a drag on the fund.”
“It’s also the same for Korea and it’s also the same for Japan,” Shanahan added, who said Japanese buyers are becoming more interested in New York City multifamily properties. “Rates in those home countries are either negative or they’re very, very low.”
Late last month, Japanese trading conglomerate Mitsui & Co. acquired a 20 percent stake in Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm CIM Group. Another Japanese conglomerate, ASO Group, made a splash by purchasing one of L.A.’s most notable properties, the Google-leased Spruce Goose hangar in Playa Vista.