AUSTIN—Bob White is bullish on foreign capital. He said so in a recent interview in the days running up to the CCIM THRIVE Conference here. And yes, as reported previously on GlobeSt.com, Asian capital is flowing into US markets, but they are not the only—or even the biggest—players. And they ain’t just playin’ in the big city streets.
But before we reveal White’s Top Five, here’s some backstory: Over the past 12 months, foreign capital has surpassed its 2007 US acquisitions peak, said the president of Manhattan-based Real Capital Analytics. “The past 12 months saw $62 billion in foreign acquisitions, versus 2007, when it was about $52 billion.”
The percentage story is the same. “While it varies by property type,” he said, “so far in 2015, 16% of the buys can be attributed to foreign investors–the highest we’ve seen since 2000.” More startling than the mere percentage is the fact that it puts foreign buyers in the number-two spot—after stateside private investors. “They’re more active buyers than REITs or institutions.”
Now for the Top Five:
“Canada remains #1 at about $20 billion over the past 12 months,” he said. “Their typical MO is to buy a 49% interest, so it involves a lot more property than that $20 billion in volume would imply.”
At $11.5 billion, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, Norges Bank Investment Management, puts that country into second place. “They’re very aggressive, and like the Canadians, they’ve been doing big joint-venture interests.”
We turn to Asia for #3, but not China, which White reported is slowing a bit. It’s Singapore, thanks in large part to its SWF, GIC Pte. Ltd., which made news earlier this month when it entered a JV with Heitman for eight Macerich malls. It comes in at $9.4 billion.
When we talk about fourth place, we can talk China, at $5.7 billion. “It’s much more difficult to track China capital,” said White. They focus “not only on trophy assets in New York City, but we’re seeing a lot of private high net-worth capital coming in and buying $5-million to $20-million apartment or hotel properties.”
Germany rounds out the White Top Five, at $4 billion. “While Chinese investors have gotten a lot of attention,” he said, “and certainly there’s capital from Asia, European capital is at an all-time high.”
Trophy deals always overshadow smaller one-offs, but it is here where foreign capital is making its presence known, in ways not seen before the Global Financial Crisis. “We’re tracking Chinese capital in 33 of the 50 states,” he said, “which is interesting because they’re not nearly as snobbish about the gateway markets.” They’re clearly doing deals in the six major gateways—Boston; Washington, DC; New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco.
But, if foreign capital accounts for 16% of total US acquisition activity; “it accounts for 19% of the volume in the six major gateway metros; 13% in secondary markets such as Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle and 10% in tertiary markets,” such as St. Louis or Austin.
In all, noted White, “We’re back to the long-term trend that was disrupted by the GFC,” with the new-found interest in secondary and tertiary markets being a major change post-recession. “It’s different now. Foreign capital has impact across all markets.”
And he doesn’t see much that can halt it, barring unforeseen surprises. Greece’s troubles are no longer a case “of the tail wagging the dog,” and the strong US dollar “doesn’t appear to have too much of an impact yet.” Even the current iteration of FIRPTA “hasn’t slowed the influx of capital.”
In short, said White: Capital is favoring developed economies. And among those developed economies, “the US just shines above the others.”