America's #1 landlord may be private equity giant Blackstone, but closing in rapidly is none other than America's very own arch nemesis and ascendent superpower, China. But while until recently China's grand ambitions on US multi-family housing had largely flown under the radar, the recent sale of the Waldorf Astoria to a Chinese company has finally put the US on "China is coming" alert... and reincarnated a lot of the same jokes that swept the country by storm in the mid-80s when it appeared Japan, itself nursing a massive asset bubble, would run over Manhattan (everyone knows how that ended).
As the WSJ reports, "big institutional Chinese investors who want global real-estate portfolios typically look for trophy projects in cities like New York, Los Angeles and London. Just this month, Hilton Worldwide agreed to sell its flagship Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City to a Chinese insurance company for $1.95 billion—the steepest price tag ever for a U.S. hotel, brokers say, although it isn’t the highest on a per-room basis."
However, it isn't just New York: "Chinese investors with smaller war chests want to be seen as international property players too, and they have their eyes on other cities. Over the past two years, more have sought to invest in offices and hotels in inland cities such as Chicago and Houston in the U.S., and Madrid and Frankfurt in Europe, according to a recent report by property consultancy Cushman & Wakefield."
“Chinese investors are distributing their investments across the whole country, not only focusing on selecting assets in prime locations…but also paying more attention to cities with lower prices and greater potential,” said James Shepherd, Cushman & Wakefield’s head of research for Greater China.
Too bad for China, the opportunities that are left for it by Wall Street are those that by now are virtually assured a negative IRR. But then again it was never about the profit: for Chinese institutions, US real estate, just like for Chinese retail buyers of luxury properties, is all about laundering hot money and parking it in a place that is relatively amicable towards Chinese funds. Which the US is. For now.
So which states are most likely to see an influx of Chinese landlords in the coming months?
The consultancy compiled a list of the top 10 U.S. states for Chinese investment. Though the top spots are no surprise—New York, which claims the top spot with more than $6.7 billion in investment, has a lead of more than $5 billion over runner-up California—others are less obvious. Texas, which comes in at No. 4, benefits from Houston, which has become more familiar to Chinese investors in recent years. The country’s state-owned behemoth China Petrochemical Corp., known as Sinopec, has operations there, and the city gained recognition with Chinese investors with the help of former Chinese basketball star Yao Ming, who played for the Houston Rockets.