Real Estate

Chinese investors may be going on a big US shopping spree

Chinese investors negotiate at the US-China Real Estate summit & trade fair in Beijing. (File photo).
Zhang Peng | LightRocket | Getty Images

China may be in the middle of a growth slowdown, but its investors will find a way to keep pumping money into the United States over the next decade, according to a new report.

In fact, the deceleration of China's economy may be one of the primary factors driving up investment in countries like the U.S., according to the study from the Asia Society and Rosen Consulting Group. Released on Monday, the report projected that Chinese direct investment "across existing U.S. commercial real estate assets and residential purchases" could hit at least $218 billion from 2016 through 2020 — and that's excluding new development projects.

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Chinese foreign direct investment into the U.S. totaled about $22.3 billion in 2015, an increase from roughly $18.1 billion in the prior year, according to the report.

Within real estate, Chinese owners acquired at least $8.5 billion in commercial property and at least $28.6 billion in residential property in 2015. Looking to 2025, the report projected that commercial acquisitions could hit $20 billion that year and residential buying could reach $50 billion.

The driving forces behind those projections are myriad, according to the report. They include an increasingly wide pool of Chinese firms that could look to U.S. real estate as an investing opportunity (including insurers, developers and construction companies that have yet to really enter the market).

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There's also the theory that investment breeds understanding breeds more investment, and that could come to play for the China-U.S. relationship. The expected proliferation of joint ventures and informal relationships (interpersonal and intercompany) should increase the flow of deals, the report suggested.

And while many are predicting a period of Chinese economic uncertainty, the report suggested that this could actually spur near-term foreign investment as capital tries to flee the country before the country's currency loses value.

Beyond that, tighter capital controls (officially mandated or informal) could slow Chinese investment abroad in the next six to 24 months, but that is unlikely to hinder the long-term expansion of investment into areas like U.S. real estate, the report predicted.

One of the most high-profile recent examples of Chinese buyers shopping in the U.S. was the proposed $14 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels by a consortium led by Anbang Insurance Group. After the offer appeared likely to beat out a competing bid from Marriott, the group suddenly withdrew its tender — citing "market considerations."

But Anbang had already been a big buyer of U.S. hospitality assets, agreeing to purchase Strategic Hotels & Resorts from Blackstone for $6.5 billion earlier this year and concluding a deal last year to acquire New York's Waldorf-Astoria for $1.95 billion.