World’s wealthy still eyeing property

They are undeterred by the market turmoil triggered by the US sub-prime crisis

(GENEVA) The wealthy have lost none of their appetite for property despite the market turmoil triggered by the sale of risky sub-prime mortgages in the US, according to some of the world’s top private bankers.

Clients of wealth managers are, however, on the lookout for the next big areas of growth and want products that will enable them to reduce their exposure to any one property or market.

‘We’re seeing heavy levels of investment in property in Hong Kong (and) throughout Asia,’ said Peter Flavel, global head of private banking at Standard Chartered. ‘You can’t get office space in Singapore, you can’t get it in Dubai.’

Speaking at the Reuters Wealth Management Summit, Mr Flavel said there was a ‘group of Asians that love real estate’ and that their ardour showed no sign of fading. ‘They’d see the situation in America as specific to America and the situation in the UK as specific to the UK,’ he added.

Samir Raslan, head of Citibank’s wealth management operations in central and eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, said his clients also remained alive to potential opportunities in world real estate markets.

‘We haven’t seen any change in our clients,’ he told the summit held at Reuters offices here.

Nicolas Cagi Nicolau, global head of structured product solutions at SG Private Banking, said demand so far in 2007 had been particularly strong.

In Ireland, where fortunes have been made on the back of the country’s decade-long property boom, a fast-cooling domestic market and recent global market turmoil may have had a short-term impact, but investors’ love of property is intact.

‘All that we may be seeing is that people are just waiting to see what may well happen either domestically or internationally, but the appetite for further investment is undoubtedly there,’ said Mark Cunningham, managing director of Bank of Ireland Private Banking.

He said his main problem was persuading Ireland’s growing ranks of self-made millionaires to diversify into assets other than real estate. ‘The first love has always been property and will continue to be property for a lot of these people.’ In Spain, which like Ireland is experiencing a rapid cooling in its property market, the wealthy remain committed to real estate, although not necessarily in their own country.

Daniel de Fernando, head of asset management and private banking at Spain’s BBVA , said a new product offering clients a chance to invest in the Mexican property market had proved particularly popular. ‘People are asking us for more ideas on that front,’ he said of a fund bought into by 60 people within two weeks of its launch at a minimum investment of 2.5 million euros (S$5.2 million) each.

In the Netherlands, property also continues to be popular, according to Bernard Coucke, deputy chief of private banking at ING Groep. ‘On the contrary, more and more programmes are being set up, not only in residential but also commercial. Why? Because, for instance in the Netherlands, demand is high . . . and I think it will continue to go up.’

For some rich investors, however, there is a growing belief that other assets can offer better returns.

‘I think that the appetite for real estate is decreasing a lot,’ Paolo Molesini, head of private banking at Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo said of a country where up until now the wealthy have held about 70 per cent of their assets in property.

‘Property costs a lot and gives you a very, very low revenue . . . There is no equilibrium from the price of the asset and the earnings that you can get out of it.’ Mr Molesini said his clients were looking to invest in foreign property, particularly in Germany, eastern Europe and Paris.


Source: Reuters (Business Times 11 Oct 07)

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