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Qatar revamps investment strategy after Kushner building bailout

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LONDON/NEW YORK/DUBAI (Reuters) – When news emerged that Qatar may have unwittingly helped bail out a New York skyscraper owned by the family of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, eyebrows were raised in Doha.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, meets with Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Kushner, a senior White House adviser, was a close ally of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – a key architect of a regional boycott against Qatar, which Riyadh accuses of sponsoring terrorism. Doha denies the charge.

Brookfield, a global property investor in which the Qatari government has placed investments, struck a deal last year that rescued the Kushner Companies’ 666 Fifth Avenue tower in Manhattan from financial straits.

The bailout, in which Doha played no part and first learned about in the media, has prompted a rethink of how the gas-rich kingdom invests money abroad via its giant sovereign wealth fund, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The country has decided that the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) will aim to avoid putting money in funds or other investment vehicles it does not have full control over, according to the sources, who are familiar with the QIA’s strategy.

“Qatar started looking into how its name got involved into the deal and found out it was because of a fund it co-owned,” said one of the sources. “So QIA ultimately triggered a strategy revamp.”

The QIA declined to comment.

Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management Inc bailed out 666 Fifth Avenue via its real estate unit Brookfield Property Partners, in which the QIA acquired a 9 percent stake five years ago. Both parent and unit declined to comment.

The QIA’s strategic shift was made late last year, according to the sources. It offers a rare insight into the thinking of one of the world’s most secretive sovereign wealth funds.

The revamp could have significant implications for the global investment scene because the QIA is one of the world’s largest state investors, with more than $320 billion under management.

The wealth fund has poured money into the West over the past decade, including rescuing British and Swiss banks during the 2008 financial crisis and investing in landmarks like New York’s Plaza Hotel and the Savoy Hotel and Harrods store in London.

QATARI BOYCOTT

Kushner was chief executive of Kushner Companies when it acquired 666 Fifth Avenue in 2007 for $1.8 billion, a record at the time for a Manhattan office building. It has been a drag on his family’s real estate company ever since.

The debt-laden skyscraper was bailed out by Brookfield last August, when it took a 99-year lease on the property, paying the rent for 99 years upfront. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The QIA bought a 9 percent stake in Brookfield Property Partners, which is known as BPY and is listed in Toronto and New York, for $1.8 billion in 2014.

BPY has about $87 billion in assets, part of more than $330 billion managed by its parent Brookfield. The stake purchase by QIA was in line with its strategy to boost investments in prime U.S. property. The investment gave QIA no seat on the board of BPY.

The Qatari wealth fund was not involved in the 666 Fifth Avenue deal, a source close to Brookfield Asset Management told Reuters. There was no requirement for Brookfield to inform the QIA beforehand.

The rescue rankled with Doha, according to the two sources familiar with the QIA’s strategy, because Kushner – married to U.S. President Trump’s daughter Ivanka – had long been one of the key supporters in Washington of the Saudi crown prince, who is the king’s favorite son and heir to the throne.

Prince Mohammed was a prime mover in leading regional states to severing links with its neighbor Qatar and embargoing the small nation since mid-2017. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain accuse Qatar of sponsoring terrorism. Doha denies the allegation and says the other countries simply want to strip it of its sovereignty.

“There is no upside in investing through funds for someone like QIA. Qatar wants full visibility into where its money goes,” said the second source familiar with the QIA’s strategy.

The QIA will not wind down existing investments with Brookfield or others, but will rather no longer invest in similar deals, according to the two sources.

The source close to Brookfield said relations with QIA were still strong.

STILL GOING BIG

The QIA’s strategic revamp also followed a reshuffle at the top of the fund last November when its long-serving chief, Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohamed bin Saud al-Thani, was replaced by its former head of risk management, Mansour Ibrahim al-Mahmoud. Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani was named QIA chairman.

Qatar, whose wealth comes from the world’s largest exports of liquefied gas, does not provide data on how much money it places with external fund managers.

“What we have seen lately is that it has have not been placing much,” said a Western fund manager who regularly sources money from wealth funds. “Either they are investing themselves or they are just sitting on a lot of cash.”

The Qatar shift in its approach reflects a wider trend among sovereign wealth funds to reduce reliance on external investment managers, in an attempt to keep tighter control over their money.

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, for example, said last year that 55 percent of its assets were managed by external managers in 2017, down from 60 percent the year before.

Yet, even if the QIA is being more cautious in its choice of investment vehicles, there is little indication that its appetite for big international acquisitions has diminished.

In December, new QIA chief Mahmoud told Reuters the fund was focusing on “classic” investments in the West such as real estate and financial institutions, and would also accelerate investment in technology and healthcare.

“The instructions from the top are to go out and do big deals,” said a Western banker who has held talks with Qatari officials.

He said QIA’s dealmaking had not stopped even during the height of the Gulf embargo, which initially forced the fund to put in about half of the $43 billion injected by public-sector firms into Qatari banks to mitigate the impact of outflows.

FILE PHOTO: A building at 666 Fifth Avenue, owned by Kushner Companies, rises above the street in New York, U.S., March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

With oil and gas prices growing over the past two years, Qatar has not departed from what it is best known for – snapping up big-names properties.

In 2017, QIA pledged to ramp up its investments in Britain to 35 billion pounds ($45 billion) from 30 billion. Since then, it has spent about 1.7 billion pounds on real estate and another 1.1 billion on infrastructure in the country.

In recent months, Qatar has bought New York’s Plaza and London’s Grosvenor House hotels.

Additional reporting by Eric Knecht; Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Pravin Char

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Hong Kong protests create potential problems for Ottawa, says academic

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There are four or five flights a day from Vancouver to Hong Kong during the summer season. When they land this weekend, passengers will be met by a sea of protesters staging a three-day occupation of the Hong Kong airport’s arrivals hall.

The protesters are seeking international attention as the city enters its tenth straight weekend of political demonstrations that have, at times, been chaotic and violent.

Airport authorities are taking extra security measures and the Canadian government has raised its travel advisory.

Aside from monitoring local media and avoiding areas where large protests are unfolding, there are several issues for Canadians and Ottawa to consider.

“It’s a perfect storm of domestic tensions playing into international views on Beijing’s intentions and policies,” said Paul Evans, a global affairs professor at the University of B.C. “The dissatisfaction fuelling the protests is, in part, about feelings about freedom, democracy and Hong Kong’s autonomy. But it is also about material concerns related to housing, social services and career prospects.”

The oft-quoted number of Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong is about 300,000. This is an estimate made in 2011 by the Asia Pacific Foundation, which, at the time, said it was based on “conservative assumptions” and that a higher estimate would be over half a million.

There are concerns that, should the situation spiral out of control, there would be protection issues for the federal government to manage. After the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in June 1989, several thousand Canadians were airlifted out of China. But the large number of Canadians in Hong Kong would make evacuation and consular protection much more challenging.

A more immediate issue is Ottawa’s response to the prospect of protesters fleeing arrest by Hong Kong authorities and seeking refuge in Canada.

“Vancouver is already in the global spotlight as a result of the (Huawei executive) Meng Wanzhou arrest and hearings,” said Evans. “Considering the huge number of connections between the two cities, managing requests for political asylum has the potential to put Vancouver in the spotlight in an even bigger way.”

Despite the advisory, many in Hong Kong report a sense of order now that they have adjusted and life is continuing around the protests.

“Local social media is providing good updates regarding the locations and times of the protests,” said Eric Li, a professor of marketing at the University of B.C. Okanagan who is visiting family in Hong Kong and doing some research.

He added that some visitors might be getting limited information if they are only relying on official announcements from government channels.

Li said he feels safe, but “there has been more tension and conflict between the government and police and citizens as well as businesses. The pro-(Beijing) camp and protesters are criticizing each other and there are also (arguments) within families and between friends and colleagues.”

Li has been trying to be “neutral” as a “personal choice. As a person who calls Canada ‘home,’ and Hong Kong ‘my hometown,’ I should say the young protesters are very well-organized and disciplined. The government should actively engage youth in their planning rather than excluding them in the process or putting them in an opposition position.”

“It’s crucial for the Hong Kong government to take a few steps to resolve conflicts through providing open conversation with key stakeholders and young leaders. And protesters should remind themselves the purpose of the (protests) as well as the consequences of their (actions).

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PROREIT buying office, industrial buildings in Ottawa, Halifax

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(PROREIT) will use some of the proceeds from its latest, and largest, share offering to help it purchase two office and industrial properties in Ottawa, and five industrial properties in Halifax for $97.8 million.

(PROREIT) will use some of the proceeds from its latest, and largest, share offering to help it purchase two office and industrial properties in Ottawa, and five industrial properties in Halifax for $97.8 million.

“These acquisitions provide meaningful increases in our industrial sectors and expand our presence in Ontario and the strengthening Halifax market,” president and chief executive officer James Beckerleg told RENX.

PROREIT (PRV-UN-T) is acquiring a fully occupied boutique office building in Ottawa’s central business district. It’s surrounded by tourist sites, multiple restaurants and retail offerings.

PROREIT is also purchasing a class-A mixed-use, multi-tenant flex industrial property in the west-end Ottawa suburb of Kanata. It includes an office and a research and lab facility with what the trust calls exceptional power, air handling and cooling specifications.

The building is fully leased and its tenants are in the material sciences, defence, communications and medical technology fields.

The two Ottawa properties have a combined gross leasable area of 338,000 square feet and a weighted average lease term of 6.6 years. Many of the leases include contracted rent steps.

While the property addresses and additional details are confidential until the deals close, which is expected this quarter, Beckerleg said they’re both institutionally owned and have been maintained to high standards.

The addition of the Ottawa properties will increase PROREIT’s portfolio exposure to the Ontario market to 29.1 per cent by gross leasable area and 29.3 per cent by base rent, making it the REIT’s largest provincial market. It increases the Ottawa portfolio to approximately 620,000 square feet.

“We entered the Ottawa market with our $52-million portfolio acquisition of five office properties last year,” said Beckerleg. “This fits our strategy of investing in strong markets where we can increase our exposure to both of these industry sectors.

“Ottawa is seeing significant growth in office and industrial properties.”


PROREIT’s new Halifax acquisitions

PROREIT has a contract to acquire five light industrial buildings with clear heights of between 18 and 24 feet in Halifax’s Burnside Industrial Park. The portfolio represents 358,000 square feet of gross leasable area.

The buildings are 93 per cent occupied with a weighted average lease term of 4.1 years. Many of the leases include contractual rent steps.

While more details won’t be made available until the deals close, which is expected this quarter, Beckerleg said the condition of the buildings is similar to its Ottawa office purchases. The five buildings have been institutionally owned and maintained at a high level.

“The Halifax industrial market has enjoyed declining vacancies in line with the expanding Halifax economy,” said Beckerleg. “There has been a marked increase in institutional interest in the Halifax industrial sector.

“We like this market. Again, it fits our strategy of focusing on mid-size cities with strong investment metrics.”

PROREIT’s $50-million offering

As part of its funding for the purchases, PROREIT will issue 7.15 million shares on a bought-deal basis at a price of seven dollars per unit, for gross proceeds of approximately $50 million, to a syndicate of underwriters.

PROREIT has also granted the underwriters an over-allotment option to purchase up to an additional 1,072,500 units on the same terms and conditions, exercisable at any time, in whole or in part, up to 30 days after the closing of the offering. It’s expected to close on or about Aug. 16.

“This capital raise, our first since graduating to the TSX, is the largest in PROREIT’s six-year history,” said Beckerleg. “We believe listing on the TSX and consolidating our units to trade in the seven-dollar range has substantially broadened our potential investor base. We believe the success of this capital raise confirms that.”

The Ottawa and Halifax acquisitions will be funded with approximately $30.8 million in cash from the offering and approximately $67 million in new mortgage financing at a weighted average interest rate of 3.4 per cent.

PROREIT intends to use $13 million from the offering to repay debt.

Impact of acquisitions on PROREIT’s portfolio

Upon completion of the acquisitions, PROREIT will own 91 income-producing commercial properties representing approximately 4.4 million square feet of gross leasable area and $625 million of gross book value, with a weighted average lease term of 5.7 years.

The acquisitions will also increase PROREIT’s industrial and mixed-use exposure by another 636,726 square feet to more than 2.8 million square feet. That represents 64 per cent of its total gross leasable area and 46 per cent of its total base rent.

While PROREIT has no other immediate acquisition plans, Beckerleg said opportunities are always being reviewed.

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Moncton Airport Receives $8.34-Million From Ottawa To Boost Cargo Export Capacity

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MONCTON – The federal government is investing $8.34-million and creating 140 temporary construction jobs to expand the cargo operational infrastructure at the Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport.

The airport’s cargo business has been quickly expanding in recent years, mostly because of the demand for live and fresh seafood products in China. In 2018, it posted a record for the shipment of cargo abroad, with 16 flights carrying over 1,000 tonnes of live seafood to Asia and Europe. It was the first time the airport saw a steady flow of local products being exported to international markets on large, dedicated cargo flights.

Airport CEO Bernard LeBlanc says the rapid growth makes new investments necessary. Passenger and cargo planes share runway space, he says, which restricted flights in and out of the airport for both types of traffic. The new investments will “eliminate bottlenecks” for cargo and passenger travel.

“We’ll be able handle cargo traffic 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said LeBlanc in a phone interview with Huddle. “It opens up possibilities for more growth.”

The federally funded project includes the following upgrades:

  • Expanding Apron 8 to accommodate more cargo flights without affecting passenger aircraft traffic.
  • Expanding the de-icing pad to allow for de-icing of cargo aircraft and passenger aircraft.
  • A new de-icing fluid management system to comply with environmental regulations.
  • Overhauling and reconstructing the road connecting the airport apron to cold storage and cargo staging facilities.

The new investments will help grow the live and fresh seafood exports with more regularly scheduled flights to places like China. But LeBlanc says it will also open up opportunities for other products too. For example, the airport recently received a call from Malley Industries about shipping an ambulance to Israel.

Accommodating these kinds of requests is harder when the airport has mostly chartered flights that have to work around passenger travel services, he says.

“Once you get more regularly scheduled cargo flight services, it makes it easier to ship other products as well,” said Leblanc.

LeBlanc says work could begin next spring and be completed by October of the next year.

The federal government is making these types of investments in airports that are seeing increased economic activity from cargo exports. Last November, the Halifax Stanfield International Airport received $23-million in government funding to expand its cargo facilities to reduce congestion, among other things. As in Moncton, the investment was driven by strong demand for fresh seafood in China and Europe.

Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health and Member of Parliament for Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, sayS the airport drives export growth by opening up new opportunities for local businesses.

“The Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport is a key factor in the growth of the Moncton economy,” said Petitpas Taylor in a release. “The improvements will create more options for cargo aircraft and help businesses get more products to market.”

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