Friday Letter Asia's lonely hearts

Jones Lang LaSalle’s Asia-Pacific real estate secondaries trading platform launched this week is more the equivalent of an old-fashioned lonely hearts column than a modern Internet dating site. Nonetheless, it is a much needed step towards market sophistication in the region.

By the estimate of Nick Crockett, Jones Lang LaSalle’s head of corporate finance in Asia Pacific, there could be $500 million of private real estate fund investments in the region that, for various reasons, require offloading by their current owners over the coming 12 months. While not a giant number by today’s levels, it is nonetheless a meaningful amount to shift.

The good news is that, as of last Friday, Crockett’s firm is providing the Secondary Market Bulletin (SMB), part of a secondaries trading platform to which buyers and sellers of private real estate fund units can register their holdings along with their pricing and volume trading requirements. Brief descriptions of the fund interests will be circulated to a subscriber base – minus the pricing details – on a monthly basis. JLL hopes this will lead to some secondaries transactional matrimony in the region.

Until now, a third-party service like this has not been available for investors in Asia, says JLL, which will be pleased to have stolen a march on CBRE, its closest rival in global property services. Like JLL, Los Angeles-based CBRE has an established secondaries trading business in Europe and, while it is expected to introduce an Asia-Pacific equivalent, that has yet to materialise.

Nonetheless, when it comes to comparing JLL’s effort in Asia’s with CBRE’s in Europe, we could be comparing an old-fashioned lonely hearts column versus a modern Internet dating site. By Crockett’s own admission, JLL isn’t promoting an equivalent to CBRE’s online PropertyMatch service, where investors benefit from ‘real time’ pricing and can engage in (and conclude) transactions quickly. Indeed, there remains a certain opacity connected to a static bulletin, where keen sellers must wait up to a month before their goods can be offered in the shop window.

However, investors in Asia fund units should not expect any different right now. In the UK, where PropertyMatch is managed, fund units typically are valued at a far faster consistency than they are in Asia, are subject to well-respected IPD indices and must adhere to stringent and disciplined valuation practices. The same cannot be said about many of Asia’s markets. Even with an Asian equivalent of PropertyMatch, could its data be relied on? One suspects investors of Asia fund units would need to do significant due diligence as well, Australian property aside.

Still, let’s not take detract from JLL’s new matchmaking facility, which marks a significant step towards market sophistication for private real estate fund investors. It might resemble a lonely hearts column but, given how illiquid the region’s private real estate funds are at present, that is most welcome. Asia isn’t ready for a more modern equivalent right now, so Internet dating in those parts can wait.