Having launched a global real estate securities investment platform last year, US asset manager BlackRock is expanding that capability to Asia-Pacific, starting with the hire of Alastair Gillespie.

He joins from Principal Global Investors as chief investment officer of Asia-Pacific real estate securities with immediate effect, with a mandate to build a team. A spokesman says the firm expects to announce another hire in Asia "in due course".

Gillespie will work with BlackRock’s global real estate research and investment team to identify opportunities in the property market and with the fundamental equity team in Asia to invest in real estate securities.

Based in Singapore, he reports to Mark Howard-Johnson, global head of real estate securities, and Marc Desmidt, Asia-Pacific head of alpha strategies.

BlackRock declined to give details of how much of its $3.936 trillion in AUM is invested in real estate securities either globally or in Asia-Pacific. It does not currently have any direct property investment specialists based in Asia.

As for products in this space, the firm launched the BGF World Real Estate Securities Fund in February, a Luxembourg-domiciled Sicav available to international investors. The firm declined to say how much it has raised so far.

A board member of the Asia-Pacific Real Estate Association, Gillespie was co-global portfolio manager at Principal, managing global and domestic Australian strategies out of Singapore. He joined Principal in April 2009 from UBS, where was co-head of Asian real estate research in the same city. He spent nine years with the Swiss bank, including a stint in Australia, where he also worked for ABN Amro.

Howard-Johnson says: “Investors have continued to add capital to Reits [real estate investment trusts] as they search for income in the current low-yield environment. As the fastest growing region in the world, Asia-Pacific is a key driver in the growth of invested real estate.”

Asian investors have traditionally been big investors in property, and in the past year or two there's been a rising trend for institutions in the region to raise their exposure to foreign real estate, particularly in cities such as London and New York. Larger entities, such as state funds in Korea and Malaysia, have tended to make direct investments into buildings. (See the cover story in the September issue of AsianInvestor magazine.)

Gillespie's hire is the latest in a string of appointments this year to newly created roles in Asia across both investments and sales, as BlackRock aggressively seeks to strengthen its foothold in the region. They include Scott Greenberg and Susan Chan as Asia-Pacific heads of global capital markets for BlackRock and iShares, respectively; a new retail head for Singapore, Sabrina Gan; and Patrick O'Donnell as head of consultant relations.

Among BlackRock's most notable recent moves has been to build a local operation in Hong Kong with a view to domiciling a range of funds in the city. The central aim is to sell these into mainland China under the proposed mutual-recognition scheme announced by Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission. Other asset managers are doing the same, including Amundi and Franklin Templeton, or looking at doing so.