Asian buyers set to unleash $1b war chest

Flush with cash, Asian investors have mandates with agents to buy more than $1 billion worth of office space, shopping malls and industrial warehouses across Australia.

Flush with cash, Asian investors have mandates with agents to buy more than $1 billion worth of office space, shopping malls and industrial warehouses across Australia.

In the past month, Bright Ruby, a Singapore-based Chinese investment group, has bought 231 Elizabeth Street for $201 million from the Morgan Stanley-backed Investa Property Group and its wholesale office fund, ICPF.

The Chinese group also paid $62.8 million recently for the office block at 10 Barrack Street, which was its first foray into Australia.

The group is said to be looking at spending up to $500 million on office towers across the country, including important sites in Melbourne.

China's HNA Group has also entered the market with the purchase of 1 York Street for $117.7 million, and is also believed to have a large amount of cash destined for the Australian office market.

One property that has been under review by Asian investors is 117 Clarence Street, Sydney, owned by AMP Capital Investors' Property Income Fund.

The property was put up for sale with a price tag about $60 million last year and is said to be back on the market.

The new wave of Asian, and in particular Chinese, investors follows in the footsteps of companies such as Ipoh, Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, China Investment Corp and the Keppel Group's K-REIT.

All these groups own big office and retail assets across the country.

At the NSW Property Council's Asian investment forum in Sydney on Friday, panellists from the commercial property sector said the amount of money coming to Australia from Asia was immense.

Duncan Calder, a KPMG partner in Western Australia, told the forum the Asian interest had "huge potential for Australia".

"For every $2 in China that's invested here, there is about $20 from Britain and America," he said.

"But sometimes Australia can be too arrogant and too confident. The lines of communication need to better to attract that Asian money."

Mr Calder said now was the time for Australian companies and investors to start talking to their Chinese clients because building relationships took time.

The president and chief executive of CBRE in Australia and New Zealand, Tom Southern, said competition for property was rising among local super funds, real estate investment trusts and new Asian investors.

"What we need from Asia is occupiers of the offices as much as the capital," Mr Southern said.

"But what the Chinese are willing to do is invest in development. Our banks have become derelict in their duty to fund our development sector. That's where the Chinese have come to provide the capital as they understand development risk."

The head of capital at DEXUS Property Group, Penny Ransom, told the forum Asian investors were also interested in indirect investment such as wholesale property funds.

She said there had been an inflow of cash into the DEXUS Wholesale Property Fund as it de-risked the investments but gave investors an exposure to the Australian office market.

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