Blackstone Group LP agreed to buy GE Japan Corp.’s residential-property business for more than 190 billion yen ($1.61 billion) to expand its apartment holdings in Japan.
The business being acquired owns and operates more than 200 properties with more than 10,000 residential units, mainly in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka, Blackstone said in a statement yesterday. The New York-based company, the biggest U.S. single- family rental-home landlord, said it’s making the purchase partly with its new Asia real estate fund.
International buyers have been flocking to Japan’s residential market after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2012 with a pledge to end the deflation that’s depressed real estate prices. The yen has declined 14 percent in the past four months against the dollar, making properties less expensive for overseas buyers.
“This investment is very positive for the Japanese market,” said Masahiro Mochizuki, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG in Tokyo. “The weak yen has made Japanese properties cheap. Overseas buyers can secure the return with low interest rates.”
The acquisition size is about 45 percent of the portfolio of Japan’s biggest residential REIT, Advance Residence Investment Corp., which has 423.1 billion yen of assets under management.
Blackstone, the world’s biggest private-equity property investor, is expanding acquisitions in residential real estate on the expectation that demand for rental housing will continue to exceed supply with increasing household formations. It’s spent more than $8 billion to acquire foreclosed houses in the U.S. through its Invitation Homes unit.
“We continue to believe strongly in the residential sector’s fundamentals, especially in Japan’s major cities,” Alan Miyasaki, senior managing director at Blackstone, said in the statement.
U.S. rental homes represent the biggest investment in Blackstone’s current $13.3 billion real estate fund. Blackstone also agreed to buy apartment blocks in Madrid after Spanish home prices tumbled.
Blackstone had raised about $4 billion of an Asian property fund targeted at $5 billion as of early June, according to a presentation by Jon Gray, the firm’s global head of real estate, at a June 12 investor meeting.
“Long term, Asia will grow to be a very large piece of our business,” Gray said at the meeting.
The announcement of the Japan deal was made after the close of regular U.S. trading. Blackstone shares, little changed at $32.86 in New York yesterday, have gained 33 percent, with dividends reinvested, in the past year.
Apartment rents in Tokyo’s five central wards rose 2.9 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to Savills Plc, a property broker. The average occupancy rate for residential properties owned by Japanese real estate investment trusts in the Tokyo prefecture was 96.3 percent in the second quarter, having stayed higher than 95 percent since the third quarter of 2010.
“The favorable balance between supply and demand is likely to be supported by rising construction costs and increased competition for developable sites in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympics,” to be held in Tokyo, Will Johnson, head of research for Savills’s Japan unit, wrote in a Sept. 16 report.
The sale is part of General Electric Co.’s global plan to reduce its equity investments in real estate as it builds its debt business, said Francois Trausch, chief executive officer of the Asia-Pacific region at GE Capital Real Estate, a unit that oversees assets of about $36 billion.