What’s going on with Carlyle’s Asia real estate business?

A stalled $500 million commitment is just one reason why the firm’s longer-term real estate plans in the region appear unclear.

It has not been business as usual for The Carlyle Group’s Asia real estate platform.

Earlier this week, PERE reported the Washington, DC-based private equity firm had shelved a $500 million real estate separate account with the National Pension Service of Korea as it refocuses its efforts in Asia. The account was intended to be a follow-on commitment to an earlier, $500 million, China-focused, core-plus separate account formed in 2014 which is now fully invested.

A Carlyle spokesman said the firm had decided not to proceed with the commitment for the time being, pointing to leadership changes within Carlyle’s real estate team as the reason the separate account “hit a pause.”

Adam Metz, Carlyle’s head of international real estate, and Jason Lee, head of Asia real estate and a 22-year company veteran, left the firm in the last few weeks. Today, Carlyle no longer has a head of Asian real estate, but instead has Han Chen, a 14-year veteran of the firm, as its new head of China real estate. The message the firm is giving is it has officially repositioned its Asia real estate business as a China real estate business.

Carlyle declined to comment on if and when it would proceed with its commitment with NPS, now the Asia real estate team has restructured and essentially stabilized.

But come on now. Blue-chip investors like NPS – Korea’s biggest institutional investor with $430 billion of assets under management – are unlikely to wait for months with half a billion dollars in limbo. Indeed, sources familiar with the matter tell us they believe Carlyle in fact has cancelled the commitment.

Other questions relating to the firm’s Asia platform also remain unanswered. The Carlyle spokesman said a refocus of the Asian real estate business on China was the reason for Metz and Lee’s departures. But a focus on China real estate is nothing new for Carlyle.

Carlyle’s last pan-Asia fund, Carlyle Asia Real Estate Partners III, was closed in 2013, but had a China-heavy focus. Meanwhile, the firm has, over the past few years, eliminated its on-the-ground presence in its other Asia offices, including Tokyo and, most recently, Hong Kong. Why have Metz and Lee departed now? Carlyle declined to comment when asked.

It is worth noting the departures of Metz and Lee came soon after Glenn Youngkin and Kewsong Lee succeeded co-founders David Rubenstein and Bill Conway as co-chief executives of Carlyle in January, with the real estate team now reporting to Youngkin. Under the new leadership, Carlyle has decided to pare down its global property platform to primarily target the US and Europe, as the new senior management did not see the Asia real estate business to be growing and scalable like the other two regional platforms, PERE’s sources say.

That chimes with the perception we have: Carlyle is making Asia less of a focus within the context of its global real estate strategy.

Carlyle does have pools of real estate capital it will continue to invest in Asia in the short term. For example, the firm is expected to make logistics investments out of both its Carlyle China Realty Fund, as well as its Carlyle China Rome Logistics co-investment vehicle. Accordingly, Carlyle’s most recent real estate investments in Asia were in China logistics, including the acquisition of land parcels in Kunming, Chongqing and Jinshan during the first quarter. Additionally, it could potentially source new office investments through a separate account strategy.

And then what? The Carlyle spokesman declined to comment on what the China real estate team’s sources of capital would be once these pools were fully deployed.

Of course, if there was greater clarity around the NPS commitment, we might have a better idea of where Carlyle’s Asia real estate business is headed over the longer term. But with these unanswered questions, it is difficult to make out what that future will look like in the region for this high-profile investment house.

To contact the author, email evelyn.l@peimedia.com.