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CHICAGO-Commercial real estate firm US Equities has continued to grow its Latin American operations this year with the addition of investment management and finance capabilities. The Chicago-based firm began its presence in Latin America about 12 years ago, opening its first office in Buenos Aires in 1997 based on an assignment to represent a client in the development of two large towers and subsequent building purchase. The firm has since expanded with property and project management capabilities and brokerage services, with a focus on multinational companies, according to Anthony DiBiase, US Equities COO and director of Latin American operations.

“This year, with forming investment management and finance services, it really completes it and we’re now doing everything in Latin America that we’re doing in North America,” DiBiase tells GlobeSt.com. “We went there little by little and increased our clients and the scope of our service offerings. Because of a lack of competition, we’ve really been self-sufficient and profitable.”

US Equities now represents more than two dozen international clients in Latin America, has brokered more than $20 million in transactions in the region, and manages more than 13 million square feet of commercial, industrial, retail and mixed-use space in Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela. The firm operates office out of Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina, with nearly 200 employees there, and is looking to expand into Brazil.

Earlier this year, US Equities represented Blue Water Worldwide in its purchase of the 1.6-million-square-foot Plaza Logistica, a logistics depot in Buenos Aires – the largest Latin American brokerage deal the firm has completed to date. Also in recent months, the company has taken on facility management and maintenance of Philip Morris International’s five-building industrial and office complex in Buenos Aires, which totals nearly a million square feet. Additionally added to its property management portfolio in 2009 has been Isidora 3000, a 232,000-square-foot mixed-use development in Santiago, which offers office, residential, retail and hotel components.

Current global economic conditions have affected US Equities’ growth in Latin America, hindering it in some ways but also presenting unprecedented opportunities. “The world economic slowdown has affected everybody, and we’re seeing a reduction in land and project prices and think that there are very specific markets in specific countries that are ripe for investment opportunities,” DiBiase says. “People with cash have the opportunity to buy into projects or land at a very favorable prices.”

Some of the best deals can be found in Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia; Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires; and Santiago. DiBiase says these cities are among those in Latin America which historically have very low vacancy rates. While development opportunity is less than what it was a few years ago, DiBiase says, it is still in large supply, especially in comparison to the US, where new development opportunities are nearly nonexistent.

“We have more and more international activity and interest, especially in the investment area, and we’ve had many of our clients in Chicago and North America asking us about Latin America,” DiBiase says. “The returns became so low in the US right before the bust, and people were looking at emerging markets, which Latin America has always been and will continue to be for some time I think. Though development has slowed down in the US because of this crisis, we still see a lot of development opportunity down there in spite of the slowdown; not just buildings and projects trading hands, but new development.”

DiBiase says interest goes both ways, and that some Latin American investors are eager to get involved North American projects. “Another reason we’re so interested in growing in Latin America is that we’ve found there are a lot of investment corporations down there that are very interested in investing in the US,” he says. “Our original focus was how are we going to bring business to Latin America, but many investors down there don’t have relationships in the US and are looking at projects we’re doing up here and may participate with us.

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