By Jocelyne ZABLIT
Los Angeles (AFP) Sept 25, 2016
From real estate, to high-tech firms to entertainment giants, Chinese investments in the United States, notably California, are moving at a dizzying pace and are on course to smash records again this year.
Chinese companies shelled out a record $15 billion last year in the US and that figure could more than double in 2016, according to research firm Rhodium Group and the National Committee on US-China Relations.
California, especially the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, has been at the forefront of China's appetite to invest overseas, with billions of dollars going into the technology, renewable energy and entertainment sectors, and increasingly into real estate.
China has pumped $8 billion into California businesses since 2000, more than in any other state, a recent Rhodium Group study said.
It added that there were 452 Chinese-owned businesses that employed more than 9,500 people in the Golden State as of the end of last year, among them the online commerce giant Alibaba Group and the Internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd.
- Buying spree -
Cash is also flowing into Hollywood, with the Beijing-based Wanda Group paying $3.5 billion earlier this year to acquire the film studio Legendary Pictures, the largest-ever cultural takeover by China.
The buying spree is showing no signs of abating for the foreseeable future, experts say, despite tumult in China's economy and mounting rhetoric during the US presidential campaign.
"Chinese investment in the US -- and California in particular -- will almost certainly multiply in the coming years," said Matt Sheehan, who consults and writes about Chinese investment in the Golden State and whose forthcoming book is entitled "Chinafornia."
While the political climate isn't helping, cities across America are welcoming Chinese investments with open arms, drowning out the campaign rhetoric and anti-China sentiment in Congress.
"If the domestic Chinese economy continues to boom, firms will have the loose cash to make strategic investments and vanity purchases abroad," said Sheehan.
"If the Chinese economy and RMB currency go into a nosedive, you'll likely see a large capital flight disguised as overseas investment."
One sector increasingly on the Chinese shopping list in the US is real estate, with buyers snapping up expensive homes and high-end commercial properties at a record pace.
Chinese investors pumped nearly $11 billion into US real estate in the first five months of 2016, outpacing last year's total of $4.37 billion, according to a report by real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.
- Changing skyline -
The West Coast has proven a major draw with Chinese investments literally changing the skylines of downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Of the four mega development projects currently underway in Los Angeles, three are by Chinese firms, including a $1 billion condominium and hotel development by Beijing-based Oceanwide Holdings and a similar project -- Metropolis -- by Shanghai-based Greenland Holding Group.
Once completed in 2018, Metropolis will be the largest mixed-use complex on the West Coast.
In San Francisco, Oceanwide has acquired land that will house the city's second-tallest tower and several other Chinese-backed developments are on the books.
Residential property is also part of the real estate buying frenzy, with sales more than doubling in the last three years.
"In 2016, we had $27.3 billion in volume of sales to Chinese buyers compared to $7 to $13 billion up until 2013," said Danielle Hale, an analyst with the National Association of Realtors.
She said roughly one third of those buyers found their way to California, more than to any other US state.
Increasingly, however, buyers are no longer purchasing homes purely as investments but rather as primary residences.
"We have seen a shift from people buying vacation or investment type property to people buying more primary residence type properties," Hale said.
She said Chinese buyers purchased $27.3 billion in US residential property in 2016, with roughly one third of those buyers finding their way to California.
"The momentum is clearly in place for there to be a substantial number of Chinese buyers in the market going forward," Hale said.
"And their average purchase prices -- $936,000 -- are much higher than typical average purchase prices ($266,000) of domestic buyers."
Sheehan predicted the US agriculture and food sectors will be next on the shopping list for Chinese investors.
"Years of food scandals in China have really frightened Chinese parents... and Chinese firms know they can charge much higher prices for American imports," he said.
"And this is another area where California is in a prime position."
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