Mention China and real estate and the first thing that pops into your head could very well be bubble. After all, legendary short-seller Jim Chanos has become famous for betting against the sector for nearly four years, pointing to empty “ghost cities” as evidence of a problem. But for Brookfield Property Partners, Chinese real estate means opportunity. The company, formed in 2012 after Brookfield Asset Management spun off its commercial property assets and best known for its office properties in New York, London, Sydney and Toronto, has now set its sights on China. In October, it bought a 22% stake in China Xintiandi for $500 million (U.S.), giving it access to one of Shanghai’s top shopping, dining and entertainment complexes.
The move taps into China at an interesting time: The government is doing everything it can to cool the real estate market, but the broader trend remains supportive. Urbanization will bring an estimated 240 million people into China’s cities over the next 20 years, and Shanghai in particular is rising as a world-class city as China’s economy and consumer culture gain traction. Investing in China has a contrarian ring as well. Brian Kingston, president and chief investment officer at Brookfield Property Partners, notes that many foreign investors are now bypassing emerging markets, leaving developers hungry for capital. “We are not concerned about a real estate bubble in China,” he says. “While there are always ups and downs in the property cycle, we think Shanghai is destined to become a major world financial centre, which will be very positive for real estate values.”