The debt crisis faced by Chinese developers may take many more months to resolve, but the bond defaults also open a window of opportunity for investors offering structured credit and project-level investment strategies, according to a panel of experts speaking on MTD TV on Thursday.
“I believe the current liquidity crisis for Chinese developers provides tremendous investment opportunities for international investors,” said Nick Shi, managing director and global head for real estate investment at Haitong International. “Financing channels for most developers are almost shut down and the onshore bond market option is basically closed for the private developers, so there’s a huge financing gap for these developers.”
Providing alternative financing to these distressed builders can actually yield “better return and with solid underlying assets” if investors can choose the right local partner and project, Shi told Mingtiandi’s Trends in Residential Finance panel, which was sponsored by Yardi.
While the mainland China market has its appeal, other investors are waiting for the current round of disruption to ease while markets such as Australia offer attractive risk-adjusted returns, said Trent Winduss, head of structured debt investments for Asia and a partner at Phoenix Property Investors, who is also targeting opportunities in Hong Kong.
No Quick Fix
Speaking at the same panel, Joel Rothstein, chair and shareholder for Asia real estate practice at law firm Greenberg Traurig explained that China’s liquidity crunch, and the cash drought for developers, is likely to remain both a problem and an opportunity for some time, as policy makers target long-term stability over a fast fix.
“From the perspective of the Chinese regulators, they’re not really interested in the quick resolution of NPLs (nonperforming loans) or the quick resolution of distressed debt, but rather, their policy goal is to ensure financial stability in the China market,” Rothstein said. “These issues are not new issues and I don’t think this is going to be resolved very quickly, this is going to take some time because the ultimate goal is not to resolve it, but to resolve it in a way that minimizes impacts on the system.”
He said that the current situation in China offers debt investors three primary opportunities, purchasing offshore bonds or notes, buying NPLs, or lending to property-specific or asset-specific opportunities.
“At this moment in time, I think the one that could offer the greatest return is actually the last strategy, but it’s also the hardest to execute – finding that specific opportunity, that property company or project company related or asset related (opportunity),” Rothstein said. “Although it’s the hardest play, that’s where you might have the easiest return.”
Down Under on the Rise
Phoenix Property Investors’ Winduss said that high demand for rental accommodation and the rise of the multi-family segment are providing attractive lending opportunities in Australia while expressing faith that the fundamentals of Hong Kong’s residential market remain intact despite its struggles with the pandemic and the spectre of rising interest rates.
“We feel that we can see better risk and reward in more developed target markets, particularly in Australia, potentially also Hong Kong,” he said. “We think Australia is a very stable market that is undersupplied, notwithstanding some interest rate hikes, we think the conditions are generally very favorable, especially for more mass market products.”
In Japan, Rothstein said there are not many alternative financing options for developers even if the country is among the most developed rental residential markets in Asia, with bank lending still acting as the housing industry’s main source of financing, in contrast to markets like the US and the UK, where government support has spawned a range of financing options.
Lending Market Grows Up
In the North American market, government-backed lending agencies have taken the lead in fostering these lending alternatives, according to Paul Brindley, JLL’s head of debt advisory and capital markets for Asia Pacific. He pointed out that federally-backed home mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac alone lent $140 billion for real estate projects in the US last year.
Having arrived in Singapore recently to lead the expansion of JLL’s debt advisory business in Asia Pacific, Brindley said the residential sector in the region has always been an attractive investment destination for major players and will continue to be a target for both equity and debt strategies.
“The living sector is attracting capital globally – you’re seeing it in Japan, you’re seeing it in Asia, you’re seeing it in Australia. I think that trend will continue and it is pretty remarkable,” Brindley told the panel.
While only about 14 percent of global capital targeting the residential sector was making its way into Asia Pacific opportunities a decade ago, by last year that slice had more than doubled to around 30 percent of worldwide investment in residential strategies, Brindley said.
“It’s not just on the equity side, there’s debt capital also pursuing these investments. The outlook from the capital demand side for debt and equity into residential and living rental business is still super strong and it’s going to continue to grow,” he added.
More MTD TV in May
The Trends in Residential Finance panel concluded Mingtiandi’s five-part APAC Residential Forum, following earlier sessions on multi-family investment in Greater China, Japan and Australia, as well as a spotlight interview with US multi-family specialist Greystart and Dutch pension fund manager APG.
MTD TV will return in May with our APAC Logistics Forum, which will explore warehouse markets in Japan, Greater China, Korea, Southeast Asia and more.