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NEW YORK CITY-While there haven’t been many high-profile transactions lately, the lack of activity shouldn’t be seen as a sign that sovereign wealth funds have lost interest in commercial real estate, according to a Deloitte LLP report released Monday. SWFs figured in some of the largest investment sales of 2008, including the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority’s $800-million stake in the Chrysler Building and the Kuwait Investment Authority’s $3.95-billion joint venture with Boston Properties to buy the General Motors Building and three other office towers, and could be back for more.

“Notwithstanding current US and global macro economic conditions, which will likely impact SWF and other global investors’ short-term investment strategies, SWFs may present a significant source of new capital flows into US commercial real estate and the overall US economy,” Dorothy Alpert, Deloitte’s US real estate leader, says in a release. “Real estate firms that strive to understand and build relationships with SWFs may benefit from this access to capital and expanded opportunities for growth.” From the viewpoint of SWFs, US commercial real estate is “perceived to be a quality investment in a mature and sophisticated market,” according to the Deloitte report.

With regard to SWFs’ recent absence from the domestic acquisition scene, Guy Langford, who heads up Deloitte’s real estate M&A practice, tells GlobeSt.com, “SWFs are somewhat inwardly focused right now in the short term, which supports the evidence of lack of external SWF investment in US commercial real estate for the past six months. In addition, given the continuing distress in US commercial real estate with declining values, many investors, including SWFs, are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach.”

In a break with what Deloitte calls the “traditionally conservative, passive investment practices” of SWFs, some funds are pursuing interests in partnerships and joint ventures with US real estate firms and investors. “This shift to broader and more active investment relationships may require that SWFs pay greater attention to increased political, media and public scrutiny, as well as their need for greater operational transparency,” the report states.

To that end, representatives from 26 nations with SWFs released a set of voluntary guidelines last fall. Known familiarly as the Santiago Principles, after the city in which they were drafted, the guidelines are intended to promote transparency and allay fears that SWFs might use their investment clout–which some sources say could reach $9 trillion in assets under management by 2012–for political ends.

If the guidelines are widely adopted by member nations of the international working group that created them, it could help lower the remaining barriers to SWF investment in the US, according to the Deloitte report. However, Omar Fahoum, chairman and CEO of Deloitte Middle East, said in a Deloitte podcast last month that it’s “too early to tell” whether signatories to the Santiago Principles would have a competitive edge compared to member nations that don’t comply with the guidelines. According to a chart in Monday’s report, funds associated with Western-style democracies–including the Government Pension Fund of Norway and the Alaska Permanent Fund–tend to rank higher in terms of transparency.

The April 15 podcast also explored whether “the current volatility of the global financial system” could result in the impact of SWFs being diminished, especially since much of their wealth comes from trade surpluses, which are shrinking, and commodities, whose prices have plummeted. Frank Dubas, a partner in Deloitte & Touche, said he didn’t think this would be the case. As trade surpluses and commodity prices shrink, Dubas said, it will be more important for SWFs to focus on the third source of their wealth, which is investment.

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