There has been more asset trading amid the giant foreign-controlled property funds in Hong Kong, with the announcement of Morgan StanleyÆs purchase of a majority stake in Shama, an upmarket boutique apartment company. The firm acquired the property from Schroder Investment Management, which manages a real-estate fund sub-advised by Macquarie.

ShamaÆs management also participated by taking a stake in the company. Shama owns five properties in Hong Kong island comprising 233 apartments and six restaurants.

ôMorgan Stanley and Shama will continue to build a regional apartment brand focusing on AsiaÆs gateway cities, especially in China,ö says Zain Fancy, Morgan StanleyÆs head of Asia-Pacific Real Estate in Hong Kong. The firmÆs next target is in Shanghai where it says it has identified two candidate properties.

Morgan Stanley has been extremely active in direct real-estate investment and recently closed its global fifth real estate fund. It has $4.2 billion of commitments and a large part of it will be spent in China and Japan. In 2005 Morgan Stanley bought $8 billion of Japanese real estate and plans to buy $3 billion of property in China this year.

Macquarie Global Property Advisors - a private equity joint venture of Macquarie - and Morgan Stanley recently shook hands and completed the sale for an estimated $300 million of Vicwood Plaza in Central Hong Kong. That was a nice little earner for Morgan Stanley on the $108 million that it and its joint venture partner, Pamfleet Asset Management, paid for the building three years ago.

According to Shama, its occupancy rates exceed 90%, with prices starting at HK$20,000 per month. Whether Morgan Stanley will encourage its bankers arriving in Hong Kong to spend their housing allowances by lodging at Shama is yet to be revealed.

Foreign banks have seen an explosion of activity in their real estate operations recently, with the likes of Macquarie, Morgan Stanley, CLSA and Citigroup at the forefront. In a similar vein, property-dedicated hedge funds have also been in vogue lately. The May edition of AsianInvestor magazine will discuss themes and news from this growth business.