After being one of the most steadfast buyers of American real estate for years, large Chinese firms continued dumping high-profile US real estate in the third quarter, the Wall Street Journal reports, selling more than $1 billion of property as Beijing forced insurers, conglomerates, and other big investors into debt-reduction programs.
Chinese investors dumped $1.05 billion worth of prime US real estate in the third quarter while purchasing only $231 million of property, according to data firm Real Capital Analytics. This marks the second consecutive quarter where investors were net sellers of US commercial real estate, and the first time investors sold more US property than they bought since the 2008 crash.
In the last decade, Chinese investors plowed tens of billions of dollars into US real estate, with a concentration in major metro areas like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. The Journal notes that Chinese buyers "never represented more than a fraction of the buying power in any U.S. market," however they made headlines for paying massive premiums.
Now, the party has unexpectedly ended.
Rising corporate debt levels and concerns over currency stability has forced the Chinese government to tighten capital outflows and clamp down on overseas acquisitions.
As we discussed last month, total Chinese Credit Creation unexpectedly collapsed, resulting in shockwaves of weakness across the domestic and global economy. Amid speculation that Beijing is engineering a "slow landing" through a significant slowdown in credit issuance, investors - hungry for liquidity - are unloading US properties at a rapid clip. In global markets, this will likely create a deflationary chill and lead to a further slowdown in 2019.
Trade tensions between Beijing and the Trump administration have not helped the situation, as more Chinese firms sold properties amid worries the trade war could deepen in the coming quarters, and potentially lead to more aggressive blowback at Chinese investors.
“This has to do more with a change in how capital is permitted to behave rather than Chinese investors saying ‘I don’t like the U.S.’,” said Jim Costello, senior vice president at Real Capital Analytics.
"Ping An Insurance Group Co. of China and partners in August sold a 13-story Boston office building for $450 million, the largest sale by a Chinese investor during the third quarter, Real Capital Analytics said. Its U.S. partner Tishman Speyer said it was the one that drove the decision to sell the building.
China’s retreat showed signs of continuing in the fourth quarter. Dalian Wanda Group sold a glitzy development site in Beverly Hills, Calif., last month for more than $420 million. The Chinese conglomerate purchased the eight-acre parcel in 2014 for $420 million and had planned to develop luxury condominiums and a boutique hotel on the site, but feuds with a local union and contractors stalled progress.
Anbang recently engaged Bank of America Corp. to help it sell a portfolio of luxury hotels that it acquired two years ago for $5.5 billion, though the Waldorf isn’t part of that sale, according to a person familiar with the matter," said the Journal.
“Anbang is reviewing the company’s U.S. real estate portfolio after seeing price recovering in local property market due to strong recovery of the U.S. economy,” said Shen Gang, a spokesman for Anbang.
Still, some strategists believe that Chinese selling may slow in the months ahead.
“I do not think it will be a tidal wave of sales,” said Jerome Sanzo, managing director and head of U.S. Real Estate Finance for Industrial & Commercial Bank of China. “Some of them are not able to move forward for various reasons and will take gains now while waiting for future changes.”
In a highly leveraged economy such as China’s, growth is a lagged result of changes in the supply of credit. And with credit creation waning in China, it is less of a mystery why local corporations are rushing to "liquify" as fast as possible: the Chinese credit squeeze is well underway. Prepare for a global slowdown in 2019, one which has already hit the US housing market hard.