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HNA Group makes move in London real estate market

By Wang Wen and Zhang Chunyan | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2015-09-06 15:11

HNA Group, the parent company of Hainan Airlines, announced on Aug 31 it had acquired No 30 South Colonnade, a landmark office building in Canary Wharf, one of London's financial districts.

The 10-story building, which covers 28,390 square meters, is the London base of global data and newswire service Thomson Reuters, now headquartered in New York. It is also adjacent to financial powerhouses Citibank, HSBC, Northern Trust and Morgan Stanley.

HNA did not disclose how much it paid, but industry sources say the asking price was 215 million pounds ($330 million; 292 million euros) when the property went on the market in May.

 HNA Group makes move in London real estate market

HNA Group, the parent of Hainan Airlines, acquires No 30 South Colonnade, a landmark office building in Canary Wharf and London base of the Thomson Reuters media company. Photos provided to China Daily

Thomson Reuters moved to No 30 South Colonnade from No 85 Fleet Street in 2004. The company pays 11.9 million pounds a year in rent. Since December 2005 the building had been owned by Germany's KanAm Grund Group, and its website states that the lease with Reuters runs until 2020. However, it was reported in January last year that Reuters was looking for a new London base.

"The acquisition of No 30 South Colonnade by HNA is an important step in building its European portfolio and will promote its international image," HNA says in a statement.

The deal, which marks the first major purchase by HNA Group in London, "reflects HNA's going global plans and lays a strong foundation for its expansion in the UK and Europe", says Jin Xu, minister counselor of the Chinese embassy's economic and commercial office.

Hainan Airlines operated two flights a week between Beijing and Birmingham from July 3 to Aug 28 this year. It was estimated the flights would carry almost 4,000 Chinese tourists to the UK on package tours and contribute an estimated 19 million pounds to the local economy.

"China-UK economic and business relations have become more mature and there are now several firms, including private enterprises, present here," Jin says. "The UK is an open market and keen to attract overseas investment."

Founded in 1993, HNA Group moved into the Fortune Global 500 this year, ranking 464th with total assets worth $128 billion. However, it is betting big on growth driven by overseas expansion.

HNA Investment Holding's businesses include project investment, asset management, fund management and trusts, and it is becoming a diversified financing and operational company.

Chairman Chen Feng says HNA Group expects to move into the Fortune top 100 in the next five years, and the top 10 within a decade.

The company, based in Haikou, Hainan province, has businesses spanning aviation, tourism, capital and logistics. The group achieved annual revenues of about $21 billion last year.

On July 31, the group bought the world's largest ground and cargo handling company - Swissport International Ltd - for $2.8 billion. HNA also has 27 subsidiary holding companies in 11 countries.

Although No 30 South Colonnade is HNA's first move into London, the city has been attractive to Chinese investors for some time.

The British capital received about $4 billion in investment from China last year, making the city the largest investment destination for Chinese capital, according to JLL, a global real estate services firm based in Chicago.

Chinese investors are trying to ensure long-term income through investments in the overseas real estate markets, at a time when the Chinese economy is slowing, analysts say. Most of these investments are concentrated in major cities like London.

"Chinese investors still have a strong passion for overseas real estate and the total investment may reach $20 billion by the end of this year," says David Green Morgan, head of global research for the international capital group at JLL.

Nick Braybrook, head of City investment at Knight Frank, a residential and commercial property consultancy in London, says Chinese investors want to diversify their investments.

"We had very few, if any, investments in London by Chinese five or six years ago," he says. "Obviously, as one of the largest markets in the world, (the city) is drawing that kind of diverse investor into the market."

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