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Commercial Property

E-commerce boom makes warehousing the focus of Blackstone investment

 

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Kathleen McCarthy
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Kathleen McCarthy

Nothing - not a trade war with China, not the prospect of a slowing global economy, not a run-up in asset prices - can curb Blackstone Group's appetite for property. And as one of the world's largest real estate investors looks for more to buy, the sky is the limit on size.

"Anything is really possible," Kathleen McCarthy, Blackstone's co-head of real estate, said. "There's just less competition."

Blackstone chief executive Steve Schwarzman has long preached the virtues of scale. In a market where real estate assets "feel fairly fully valued in a lot of places," that's an added advantage, McCarthy said. The New York-based firm can deploy more capital faster and with greater certainty.

Including two deals since June for a total of almost $25bn (€22.7bn), Blackstone has acquired a billion square feet of warehouse space in the past decade.

McCarthy said logistics remains her highest-conviction bet, followed by offices and rental housing in so-called innovation centres such as Seattle and Stockholm, and "high-quality" travel destinations in coastal markets.

Blackstone's focus on e-commerce has shifted from large regional warehouses to smaller spaces in densely populated cities, as that's what customers such as Amazon need to guarantee next-day or even day-of deliveries. By buying up multiple locations in the same areas, Blackstone gains control over supply.

"We see technology totally transforming the way goods move from businesses to people," said McCarthy. "Our clients want to be as close as they can get to the ultimate consumer."

There is at least one serious competitor, Prologis, which owns even more warehouse space in the US, and has announced $14bn of logistics deals in the past four months.

E-commerce isn't the only hot spot in real estate. Low interest rates have spurred demand for everything from nursing homes to apartment buildings.

One consequence of all that competition for assets is ever-rising prices and, in residential areas, the soaring cost of housing. It's such a problem on the US west coast, including in technology centres where Blackstone has been buying up rental properties, that Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple have committed a total of $5bn to alleviate the shortage of affordable space.

While local governments in cities such as San Francisco have focused on price as the main barrier to affordability, McCarthy said the real issue is lack of supply and barriers to construction.

"We can be a much bigger part of the solution," she said. "We're evaluating a number of opportunities that would help us really add supply."

As of September 30, Blackstone had $157bn of investor capital in its real estate business. Its two classes of real estate funds, Opportunistic and Core+, generated gross returns of 13.6pc and 8.7pc respectively over the previous 12 months.

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