HONG KONG (Reuters) - BlackRock Inc is ready to increase its China real estate portfolio exposure as it sees good entry points following the weakness in the nation's economy and credit environment, a senior executive of the U.S. money manager said on Monday.
John Saunders, Head of Asia-Pacific Real Estate at BlackRock, told Reuters the fund would target mass-affluent shopping malls and grade "A" and "B" offices in China's first- tier and selective second-tier cities for investments.
"We see the current malaise as a good entry point that we believe will throw up some good opportunities," Saunders said in an interview at his office in Hong Kong's central business district.
New York-based BlackRock, the world's biggest asset manager, oversees about $8 billion in property investments in Asia.
"For a period in time we didn't do a lot in China, because the pricing didn't seem conducive for us to make returns, whilst underwriting reasonable levels of growth. Now that picture has changed and China has become our key market for sure. It has been softening for the past 18 to 24 months," Saunders added.
Yields in Chinese retail real estate investment markets have compressed to around 6 percent in the first half of this year due to expensive land cost and excess supply, according to property consultancy Colliers. They were about 9 percent a decade ago.
But yields are holding up relatively well for them even as capital values have weakened, Saunders said. BlackRock said it owns a shopping mall in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Saunders, who joined from Singapore-based property investment firm MGPA when it was acquired by BlackRock in 2013, also saw opportunities in distressed residential projects in the mainland.
China, the world's second largest economy, is forecast to grow at its slowest pace in 25 years hurt by soft demand, over-capacity and falling investment. It has been further buffeted by a recent stock market slide and surprise yuan devaluation.
Currency depreciation, in fact, can make real estate investment favorable, if a firm hedges its currency exposure early, he said.
"When a currency depreciates, hard assets tend to appreciate, because people take flight from paper currency deprecation into hard asset."
Other than China, Saunders said he is also upbeat on Japan, and Australia in the near term, adding that Hong Kong appeared "pricey".
Reporting by Clare Jim and Denny Thomas; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Muralikumar Anantharaman