Financial News

  • 11 June 2014, 22:47

Chinese Insurer Swoops On Canary Wharf Tower

A state-owned Chinese insurance group is in talks to acquire the headquarters of Clifford Chance, the law firm, providing further evidence of the strength of London's commercial property market.

Sky News has learnt that funds controlled by China Life, the country's biggest life insurer by market value, are in advanced discussions about a deal to buy 10 Upper Bank Street, a 30-storey building in Canary Wharf.

The talks are not yet finalised and could still fall apart, but a source said that the building's current owner, Canary Wharf Group (CWG), was confident that a sale would take place in the coming weeks.

Insiders said that a deal could value the site at around 780m, consistent with the most recent external valuation conducted earlier this year.

A price-tag in that region would make the deal one of the biggest in London's commercial property sector this year, underlining the continuing appetite among international investors for prime UK real estate.

That trend is evident despite the fact that unlike in previous property booms, the demand is not being driven by a rapid expansion of the banking industry.

Last year, Ping An, another Chinese insurer, acquired the Lloyd's of London building, a major City landmark, in a 260m deal.

It emerged last month that the insurance market is considering leaving the site because of frustrations about its design.

More generally, however, Asian and Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds have been among the most prolific investors in London commercial property, reflecting the City's status as a global financial centre.

HSBC's headquarters in Canary Wharf is also up for sale with property experts anticipating that a sale will fetch more than the 1.1bn commanded by the building when it changed hands in 2007.

Clifford Chance has in recent months been in talks about sub-letting several floors to Transport for London, a deal which was recently reported to have fallen through.

Other tenants in the building include MasterCard, Infosys, the Indian software group, the French oil giant Total and the FTSE Group.

CWG is redeveloping the Shell Centre on the South Bank in conjunction with a Qatari property investor, and is developing Newfoundland, another major site in Canary Wharf.

It also owns 20 Fenchurch Street, better known as the Walkie Talkie, as part of a joint venture with Land Securities, the FTSE-100 property group.

A CWG spokesman declined to comment on Wednesday.

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