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CHICAGO-Looking for growth markets abroad? LaSalle Investment Management suggests Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, noting China’s gross domestic product is expected to grow by 7% this year during a global economic slowdown.

“For the past 18 months, the commercial real estate markets of China’s major cities have been strong performers, even as markets in most of the other major Asian cities have faltered,” says Jones Lang LaSalle Hong Kong national director Timothy Bellman. “Now is the time for forward-looking international investors to take a closer look at real estate opportunities in China.”

Demand for class A office space has increased in the past year, according to LaSalle Investment Management’s most recent edition of Market Watch. It hasn’t hurt that Beijing has won its bid to host the 2008 Olympics and China was recently accepted in the World Trade Organization.

“As China’s capital controls become less cumbersome, increasing numbers of international investors will find rapid economic growth, improving market efficiency and greater transparency a compelling combination,” Bellman says.

There is resistance on the part of investors to jump into the Chinese market, and Bellman concedes caution is understandable. “China’sperceived lack of transparency has caused investors with higher hurdle rates and shorter investment horizons to remain more cautious,” Bellman says. “For some, doubt about being able to repatriate profits or capital in a timely manner is insurmountable.”

Another problem facing the Chinese real estate and banking industries is non-performing real estate loans, Bellman says. “As China’s asset management companies seek international capital to assist with debt workout, opportunities could arise for international investors,” he adds.

For those looking to hedge their bets on China, Bellman suggests Hong Kong.

“Sovereignty and proximity bind Hong Kong’s economic fortunes to those of China, but its separate administrative status places it among the world’s most competitive economies,” Bellman says. “Hong Kong’s real estate market is one of the most open, transparent and actively traded markets in Asia.”

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