Exclusive: China's Anbang may buy $2.3 billion in Japanese property from Blackstone - sources

November 21, 2016 2:34 AM EST

The headquarters building of Anbang Insurance Group are pictured in Beijing, China, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee


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By Junko Fujita

TOKYO (Reuters) - China's Anbang Insurance Group Co [ANBANG.UL] is in talks to buy as much as $2.3 billion in Japanese residential property assets from Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX), two people involved in the discussions said, in what would be Japan's biggest property deal since the global financial crisis.

The U.S. asset manager is discussing the sale of properties it had bought from investors, including in a deal with General Electric Co (NYSE: GE) in 2014, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified.

The talks are in an advanced stage, one of the sources said.

For Anbang, seeking to diversify its assets globally, the deal would be its first foray into Japanese real estate. The Chinese firm last year lost out to a Japanese developer Hulic Co <3003.T> in bidding for property asset manager Simplex Investment.

A Blackstone official declined to comment. Anbang officials did not provide an immediate comment.

The deal could fetch about 260 billion yen, the sources said, marking the biggest Japan property transaction since a fund managed by Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) bought 13 hotels from ANA Holdings Inc <9202.T> for 281 billion yen in 2007, the height of the property investment boom.

Japan's property market has rebounded since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in late 2012 and championed ultra-easy money policies that have driven down interest rates and boosted asset prices in a bid to pull Japan out of decades of deflation.

Prices for office properties have rebounded to levels where investors find it hard to justify future returns, but some say residential prices can rise further on housing demand in the biggest cities, where growth is robust.

The assets Blackstone is planning to sell are chiefly apartment buildings aimed at middle-class residents. They include properties in Japan's largest cities - Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka - that Blackstone bought in 2014 from GE's property unit for 190 billion yen. The U.S. asset manager bought some residential assets from other investors that are also part of the deal.

It is not immediately clear how much of a return on its investment Blackstone may make through a sale to Anbang.

Privately owned Anbang has assets worth more than 800 billion yuan ($116 billion). It agreed in March to buy Strategic Hotels & Resorts also from Blackstone for $6.5 billion as it expands its U.S. hotels portfolio. In the same month the Chinese insurance group aborted a $14 billion bid for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.

It also owns New York's famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

(Reporting by Junko Fujita; Editing by William Mallard and Martin Howell)



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