Dalian Wanda, Asia’s Richest Man Is Making REITs Obsolete In ChinaAugust 5, 2015
China has often been criticized for copycat business tactics, but after Dalian Wanda raised more than $800 million online last week, the country’s real estate developers are showing that they are among the first major property companies to adopt this web-enabled approach to finance.
Dalian Wanda, the primary holding company for Asia’s richest man, Wang Jianlin – who has a net worth of $37.8 billion, according to Forbes, said in a statement on Friday that it had raised 5 billion yuan ($805) through its first online investment product. The product, “Stable Earner No 1, was offered to individual and institutional investors via Wanda’s proprietary Internet finance platform and mobile app.
Wanda is actually the third major Chinese property developer to raise significant capital via the Internet in the last 12 months. China, which only approved its first real real estate investment trust (REIT) this month, threatens to leapfrog the era of stock exchange-listed REITs and move directly into online crowdfunding of real estate companies and projects.
Wanda began marketing “Stable Earner No 1,” on June 12th with investors being required to put in a minimum of only 1,000 yuan ($161), with the promise of an annual yield of 6%. According to a press release by the company, within three days, Wanda had garnered 4.5 billion yuan from institutional investors and another 500 million yuan from individuals, “smashing a global crowdfunding record.”
The product was offered via 99Bill, an online payment platform which Wanda acquired last year, and according to the company, the proceeds have already been put to work funding the construction of five of its new shopping malls in China.
In other statements, Wanda’s chief has promised investors the opportunity to join in the proceeds of any asset sales and the ability to trade units of the product on a secondary market.
While not all details of the product are clear yet, Wanda’s packaging of Stable Earner No 1 appears similar to the approach taken by western crowdfunding platforms such as Prosper. While there are some real estate crowdfunding sites in the U.S. already, including Fundrise, Realty Mogul and RealtyShares, no major U.S. developer has adopted the same strategy so far. However, China has already been quick to adopt online investment products in other areas, with Ant Financial, a finance firm controlled by Alibaba’s Jack Ma, establishing itself as a leading player.
Ant Financial’s Yu’e Bao online fund has succeeded by offering consumers frustrated by the low interest rates at China’s state-owned banks the opportunity to invest in higher yielding money market funds. Since it was launched in June 2013, Yu’e Bao has grown to 534.9 billion yuan ($86.3 billion) in assets under management by September of last year. While the fund’s growth has slowed since then, many other mainland companies have rushed to create similar types of investment products.
With bank financing tightening up as China’s property market slows, and shadow banking channels, such as trusts, being reined in by the authorities, the traditional funding channels for developers like Wanda are drying up, making online channels especially appealing for the finance-intensive real estate industry.
By allowing Wanda to go from launch to deployment in under a week, online investment channels could offer faster access to cash than traditional bank loans, and should be much easier to implement than real estate investment trusts in a country where securities exchanges remain antiquated and underdeveloped.
China has been struggling to implement real estate investment trusts as an alternative funding channel for its real estate industry for several years, but only approved the first REIT available to consumers earlier this month. While future approvals should come more rapidly, new REITs are already being outpaced by online investment products being offered by developers.
In addition to Wanda, Shanghai’s Greenland Group — which is among China’s biggest outbound investors in real estate – offered its own online investment product in April, and China Vanke – the country’s second-biggest developer by sales, raised 16 million yuan ($2.6 million) online in November last year. In May, the China Real Estate Crowdfunding Alliance was formed with major developers, such as Vanke, Greenland, Country Garden, Shimao Property and Greentown China, all joining the group.
For China, the trading of debt products should be relatively straightforward, and the more transparent online platforms should be easier for authorities to regulate than the famously murky trust industry. However, should Wang Jianlin want to make good on his promise of making the online products tradable, than China’s regulatory authorities will need to get involved and then things may start to slow down. Any trading of the investment product as a security would require the approval of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), an eventuality that would land Wanda in a briar patch of red tape.
However, the potential payoff of being among the first companies in China to sell tradable commercial real estate backed securities over the Internet would make this an interesting challenge for Wanda, which has previously shown itself to be among the country’s best connected companies. Even without the ability to trade on a secondary market, Wanda and other Chinese developers are showing themselves to be quicker to adopt this online funding approach than their U.S. peers, which could lead to faster and lower cost financing for real estate companies in China