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Dalian Wanda Switcheroo Shows Chinese Big 4 Are Pulling Out Of London But Others Are Willing To Pick Up The Pieces

Nine Elms, Battersea

The U.K. property press pack was fooled this week.

In June, listed developer St. Modwen said it had exchanged contracts to sell the Nine Elms Square site in Nine Elms to Chinese firm Dalian Wanda for £470M, and that the deal would complete in the coming months.

Then on Tuesday the company put out this short statement:

“St. Modwen Properties today announces … its 50/50 joint venture with VINCI has successfully completed on the £470M sale of its interest in the 10-acre Nine Elms Square site in London, following an exchange of contracts announced on 21 June 2017.”

Those reporting on the deal presumed the buyer was Dalian Wanda.

In fact, Wanda had lined up another group to buy its interest in the site: Hong Kong-listed developers and investors R&F Properties and CC Land, which have made huge deals in London this year. Bisnow predicted last week that Wanda might not complete the deal. 

The switcheroo shows two things. Pressure from Chinese regulators will limit investment in global real estate in the short and medium term. But for trophy assets and sites, other buyers will be there to pick up the pieces.

Dalian Wanda is one of four companies under particular scrutiny from Chinese regulators about overseas investments, and reports from China last month indicated domestic banks had been told not to lend to it for foreign purchases.

The Chinese government is limiting overseas real estate investment in an effort to reduce risk in the financial sector and increase the value of the country’s currency.

The fact that Wanda pulled back from a deal on which it had already exchanged contracts shows the new regulations are having an instant effect on Chinese outbound capital flows.

“It does appear as if this could mark the peak of Chinese capital flows into London prime assets,” JP Morgan analyst Tim Leckie said.

But it is significant the deal did not collapse — R&F and CC Land stepping in to complete the deal at very short notice shows there is continued interest from foreign money in London residential development.

Of course this is a special situation. There is no visibility on the sales price, which could have been a discount to the £470M figure because of the speed and sensitivity of the deal.

But R&F and CC are both part of a group of Asian investors willing to buy prime office assets and large development sites in the capital in spite of worries about the effect of Brexit, even as Chinese money pulls away.