Asia’s global real-estate portfolios peaking

Uncertainty in Western markets and better yields in Asia will slow institutional allocations to global real estate, and may boost domestic markets.
Asia’s global real-estate portfolios peaking

Global real estate will no longer be a red-hot investment destination for Asian institutional capital and allocations may peak within three years, according to CBRE.

The property consultancy said uncertainty in European markets (such as the UK’s leaving the European Union in June) and better yields in Asia mean outflows from the region will decelerate, but that more money will move into Asian property.

Asian investors, led by insurance companies, grew their outbound real estate investments ten-fold to $47 billion after the global financial crisis between 2009 and 2015, according to CBRE data. Insurance companies have been the biggest drivers of this trend, particularly those from China, Taiwan and Korea, thanks to liberalising rules over asset allocation by local regulators.

Although real estate in Europe and North America will continue to attract Asian institutional capital, the pace will slow – but it won’t reverse. CBRE noted typical allocations among Asian investors remains low compared to those of Western peers, but says real estate has provided a boost to returns.

As of September 2016, Ping An, Japan Post Insurance and China Life’s allocations to real estate were below 2%, compared with Prudential UK which is about 4%, 9% for AIG nearly 16% for Metlife. Many Japanese institutions have zero exposure.

Yet those investors that have incorporated global property have done well. For example, Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund reported a loss on investment in 2015 because of poor equity performance – and no real estate or other alternative exposures. In contrast, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which also faced negative returns on equities in developed markets, reported a total portfolio return of 3.7% thanks to a generous, 13% allocation to real estate.

This story partly explains why recent allocations from Asia have been so massive. Outbound real estate investment by Chinese insurance companies increased almost nine-fold between 2013 and 2015 to $4.6 billion. And the investment in first half 2016 totaled $8 billion, higher than the last three years combined. China Life, for example, with Rmb2.4 trillion ($360 billion) of AUM, has said it will raise its 2% allocation to overseas and alternative investments to 15%, as reported.

But this rosy picture may be losing some of its beauty. Brexit and other geopolitical problems, which throw up a lot of questions about currencies, regulation, growth and other factors, may deter new investment, particularly from inexperienced investors. Those just gearing up property investment programmes may prefer to start with regional funds or deals, rather than going to the West.

Moreover, prices in London and San Francisco may have peaked, making them unattractive to new money, while yields in major Asian cities are now more attractive.

In some cases this may mean postponing new allocations to global property:

Taiwan Life, which holds NT$1.1 trillion ($35 billion) of AUM, still wants to buy UK property but not until it thinks the market has bottomed, as reported.

The most attractive property plays in the West are becoming more niche, such as student housing or moving into smaller cities. Inexperienced investors will be reluctant to dive into these areas.

Inbound investment by global investors into Asian property has also been strong, if from a lesser base, increasing from $1.4 billion in 2009 to $9.6 billion in 2015. That pace may continue, because the region, despite its small, fragmented markets, will continue to enjoy relatively high overall economic growth levels.

Many deals in Asia have been opportunistic, such as Qatar Investment Authority’s purchase of Asia Square Tower I in Singapore at 2013 prices.

Increased capacity and continuing growth in Asia will enable international investors to allocate more strategically, too, at least in areas such as prime office property – exemplified by Abu Dhabi Investment Authority’s joint venture with lend Lease in 2015 to acquire the Paya Lebar Central site in Singapore for S$1.7 billion ($1.2 billion).

Logistics is another attractive area. Earlier this year, Ivanhoe Cambridge invested in the LOGOS Asia Pacific logistics platform, and CPPIB committed JPY 50 billion ($436 million) to a 50% stake in the GLP Japan development venture II.

At some point, the level of global capital entering Asian property may return to the $21 billion invested in 2007, right before the global financial crisis. Fund houses are building teams to handle an expected increase in global investment into Asia, including Standard Life Investments, which just opened a Singapore office, and Schroder Investments, which may build a real estate team, as reported.

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