Billionaire targets Australia

Wall Street billionaire financier and co-founder of private equity firm Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman, has earmarked Australia and the wider Asia Pacific region as a huge investment opportunity for the company's bulging commercial property fund.

Wall Street billionaire financier and co-founder of private equity firm Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman, has earmarked Australia and the wider Asia Pacific region as a huge investment opportunity for the company's bulging commercial property fund.

Speaking at a recent investment conference, Mr Schwarzman highlighted the opportunities in Australia, although he did fret at the overvalued dollar, with his global investment firm backing that bullish view up with extra staff deployed at local offices and a recent splurge on property assets in Melbourne and Sydney.

"Australia, we've been buying a lot of stuff," said Mr Schwarzman, who according to Forbes has an estimated personal fortune of $US6.5 billion ($7.1 billion) and gained notoriety for shelling out $3 million on a 60th birthday party that included a payment of $1 million to singer Rod Stewart to croon for his guests.

Blackstone, one of the world's biggest manager of alternative assets, recently closed the largest-ever private real estate fund after taking in $US13.3 billion of offers from investors.

It means that Mr Schwarzman and his global investment team can back up their talk with action, and Blackstone has been an active bidder of late on a range of commercial property assets in Australia picking up some prime commercial and shopping centre assets in capital city CBDs.

In 2011, Valad Property Group shareholders voted through a $207 million takeover by Blackstone, handing to the private equity giant the company's V-Plus Core fund, which at the time had a 39 per cent stake in Gold Fields House office tower at Circular Quay as well as Valad's European arm, which controlled a $6 billion funds management business.

Having just digested that deal Blackstone then spent $9.2 billion on distressed shopping centre group Centro's US assets.

After a string of other property deals in Australia, Blackstone bought Sydney's Top Ryde shopping mall and an office tower on Castlereagh Street as well as paying around $650 million for a $2 billion portfolio of distressed property loans on 50 Australian properties.

The group is also rumoured to be looking at buying a $574 million-plus hotel portfolio from the Brookfield Group and a front-runner for two shopping centres in Melbourne, including the Greensborough shopping mall.

Last month Blackstone declared it had $US1.5 billion of capital commitments for its first Asian property fund, targeted at $US4 billion that will reportedly focus on property deals in China, India, Australia and Japan.

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