Qatar fund buys Singapore office tower from BlackRock

Qatar Investment Authority has agreed to buy BlackRock’s Asia Square Tower 1 for S$3.4 billion in the biggest office transaction in Singapore.

Qatar will purchase the officer tower in the central business district in the largest single-tower sale in the region, according to a joint statement from Qatar Investment Authority and BlackRock on Monday. The building has been on the market since last year after bids by a consortium of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund and CapitaLand, Singapore’s largest developer, and rival bids by ARA Asset Management failed to clinch the deal.

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, had to settle for a lower price than it had originally anticipated for the 43-storey tower, whose tenants include Citigroup and KKR & Company, as rents in the city-state decline amid slowing economic growth and as more supply is in the pipeline. BlackRock said last year that it could get more than S$4bn for Asia Square Tower 1 and may also sell Asia Square Tower 2. The two towers together are worth S$7bn, the firm estimated at the time.

“There has been a lot of near-term negativity on the Singapore market,” John Saunders, head of Asia-Pacific for BlackRock Real Estate, said in a phone interview. “I think it’s a little bit overdone. There is some new stock coming on, but what tends to happen in Singapore is you get a big piece of supply that temporarily can disrupt the market, but then demand is always usually pretty strong.”

Both the Asia Square towers are 90 per cent occupied and vacancies in the area are below 4 per cent, Mr Saunders said.

Office leases are forecast to decline as much as 25 per cent in a prolonged slump that may last until the end of 2018 as demand slows, Daiwa Securities said in March. The average monthly gross rent in the central business district declined 4.4 per cent to S$9.06 a square foot per month in the quarter ended March from the previous quarter, according to Jones Lang LaSalle.

Singapore has had a couple of office building sales over the past month even as rents are under pressure and there is a large supply outstripping demand for prime space in the city-state.

CapitaLand Commercial Trust, Singapore’s largest office real estate investment trust by value, agreed to buy the remaining 60 per cent stake in CapitaGreen in the city-state’s business district for S$393 million from its partners last month. MYP Ltd., which operates an investment holding company for properties and provides warehousing and logistics services, offered S$560m for the Straits Trading Building, a Grade A office tower also in the business district, the company said last week.

Asia Square is owned by MGPA, which was acquired by BlackRock in 2013. MGPA developed the towers on two adjoining plots it won in 2007 at government land auctions. Tower 1 has an occupancy rate of 91 per cent, according to Cushman & Wakefield. Google, one of the tenants, plans to relocate to a business park outside the main business district after its lease ends this year, the broker said.

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