Chinese company checks projects

LIZ MCDONALD
Last updated 05:00 09/08/2014

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Investors from a multibillion-dollar conglomerate controlled by the Chinese Government have made a stealthy visit to Christchurch to check out possible investments.

Delegates from the China Merchants Property Development Company met both private parties and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) during their whirlwind visit this week.

A Cera spokeswoman confirmed it was approached by the private investors hosting the company and asked to present a recovery briefing.

"Cera provided a briefing outlining the recovery of the city and potential investment opportunities," she said. For privacy reasons, Cera was "not at liberty to say" whether those opportunities included anchor projects.

Neither city Mayor Lianne Dalziel nor finance committee chair Cr Raf Manji met the group.

The company is 51 per cent owned by Chinese Government enterprise China Merchants Group, which has NZ$75 billion of its own global assets, manages another $710b for investors and posted a $5b annual profit.

Based in Guandong province, the company has 15,000 employees and a stock exchange listing. Interests include commercial and residential property development, investment and management, and its website boasts "enormous recurring profits".

A New Zealand arm of the conglomerate owns a major North Island house building business and has built the toll road north of Auckland.

Locals involved in the Christchurch visit, including property developer and demolition company owner Alan Edge, declined to give The Press any details.

Chinese land purchases are a hot election-year topic with China-based Pengxin International Group buying up farms in the central North Island.

In Christchurch, both Cera and the city council are keen to encourage overseas investment in the rebuild, and the council has not ruled out courting foreign buyers for its planned programme of asset sales.

Few of the city's commercial real estate bosses knew of the Chinese delegates' visit this week, or would reveal what they were shown.

The realtors said Christchurch has long attracted interest from Asia-based investors, and the city has more recently come onto China's radar.

Mark Macauley, head of realtor CBRE, said it was getting "an increasing number of queries" from Chinese investors for central city properties. "There has been interest in different sites, they're looking at potential developments, anything from hotels and apartments to offices."

Howard Buchanan, of NAI Harcourts, said the scale of government, council and private projects planned for Christchurch was the attraction for China.

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"It's about the money. Before the quakes, the scale of things here didn't spin their wheels . . . Now, you have 50, 100, even 200 million dollar projects that interest them. Their scale is just hard to comprehend with our minuscule population."

Chinese investors usually kept their interest quiet, often approaching realtors through a lawyer or other intermediary, Buchanan said.

Hamish Doig, of realtor Colliers, said the Christchurch Central Development Unit had to make sure all interested parties, whether Kiwi or international, were informed of market opportunities.

Recent sales in central Christchurch to Asia-based investors include a new office building on the corner of Armagh and Durham streets, and Asia-based buyers are understood to have the former Press building site at Cathedral Square under contract.

- The Press

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