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EXCLUSIVE: Ping An eyes first direct US RE deal

The Chinese insurance company is said to be nearing an agreement with MRP to form a US industrial joint venture of at least $1 billion.

Ping An Trust, one of China’s largest insurance companies, is said to be readying its first US direct real estate deal. The Chinese insurance company is in talks with Denver-based MRP Group to create a develop-to-core joint venture that would produce at least $1 billion worth of build-to-suit US industrial real estate, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. If an agreement is reached, the venture would be the first logistics transaction made by a Chinese insurer in the US – and one of Ping An’s largest alternatives deals to date.

This summer, the insurer is said to have closed on the acquisition of a development pipeline of US industrial real estate assets from MRP and its development partner, SunCap Property Group, for $650 million. Ownership of the properties is expected to be transferred from MRP and SunCap to a long-term venture between MRP and Ping An as the assets are developed, these people said. However, the company also is understood to be in discussions to purchase an additional development pipeline of up to $1 billion from MRP and SunCap. Although both firms will have a stake in the joint venture, Ping An is expected to be the majority owner in the partnership. Both Ping An and MRP declined to comment.

Ping An’s independent development affiliate, Ping An Real Estate Company, along with China Life Insurance Company’s subsidiary, China Life Investment Holding Company, bought majority stakes in Tishman Speyer’s waterfront development project at Pier 4 in Boston’s Seaport District in April. However, PERE understands that the joint venture with MRP represents the first time the insurance company itself has invested directly in US real estate.

Ping An’s other ex-China real estate investments are said to include commitments to funds sponsored by The Blackstone Group and Angelo, Gordon & Co, as well as the purchase of an office portfolio in Sydney. The insurer’s property investments are executed by its Alternatives Investment Department, which was formed last year with George Agethen as its head. Since Agethen’s departure to Ivanhoe Cambridge in August, however, the leadership of the department is said to have been passed to senior executive director Hing-Yin Lee.

Meanwhile, sources have told PERE that the deal will launch a new initiative that will be led by MRP managing director Howard Margolis. The platform will be part of MRP, which is headed by chairman John Blumberg. The firm also is said to have platforms that invest in infrastructure and oil and gas assets.

-Jonathan Brasse contributed to this article.