Tuesday, November 27, 2007

India property in takeoff mode

A decade ago, Gurgaon on the outskirts of the Indian capital was little more than scrubland and a few isolated housing developments.

Today it is a sprawling concrete jungle home to a slew of multinational companies and a symbol of India's real estate boom which is drawing a flood of foreign and domestic money.

While the west is in the grip of a sub-prime credit crisis, investors are still flocking to India which experts say is one of the last few nations where there is primary demand for real estate rather than individuals trading up.

"In the west, the world is fully built up," Ashwin Ramesh, partner at Mumbai's Primary Real Estate Advisors which tracks domestic property price movements, told AFP.

"In India, demand still has to be met," he said.

Last week, Donald Trump Junior, son of the flamboyant US real estate billionaire, turned up on a scouting mission for his father, declaring: "Now is the time to come to India."

Trump followed in the footsteps of other investors including private equity giant Blackstone, brokerage Goldman Sachs, US-based General Electric and New York real estate investment fund Trinity Capital LLC which have announced plans totalling billions of dollars to invest in Indian property.

The announcements have come since India allowed foreign capital into the real estate sector two years ago.

"The genuine demand factors are very strong, you have nine percent GDP growth, 350 malls are coming up, you have new office space, income levels are growing substantially," said Pranay Vakil, Indian chairman of global property consultancy company Knight Frank.

One four-bedroom apartment in the financial capital Mumbai sold for a hefty 8.62 million dollars last week.

That was the equivalent of 97,842 rupees (2,488 dollars) per square foot, the Times of India reported, calling it the country's "largest ever" price per foot. In the early 1990s, apartments in the same building were selling for 7,000 rupees per square foot.

Commercial and private rents have also soared. The price of office space has climbed by 55 percent in Mumbai in the past year, making it the second costliest office market in the world after London, according to a report by realty consultant C.B. Richard Ellis.

The Kuwait Investment Co, a powerful investor in the oil-rich sheikhdom, expects India's real estate sector to grow by 700 per cent in the next decade.

-- Infrastructure demand is surging --

There is also surging demand for infrastructure -- housing, schools, hospitals -- along with retail, hospitality, commercial property and special economic zones aimed at spurring rapid industrial growth.

"The world is coming here because there is business," said Primary Real Estate's Ramesh.

Among the biggest investors are those from the Gulf.

Emaar Properties, the world's largest listed real estate developer, has announced a more than 12 billion dollar investment with India's MGF Developments. Nakheel Group has signed a 20 billion dollar deal to develop townships and DAMAC Holdings plans to invest three to five billion dollars.

"The number of upper middle class and rich populations are growing in India and with it the demand for quality housing," DAMAC chairman Hussain Sajwani told India's Business Standard. "We will tap this potential."

According to the Indian government's habitat policy, about 800 billion to 900 billion dollars in investment is required to overcome the country's housing shortage and achieve the target of everybody having a home of their own.

But it is not only foreigners who are pumping in money into the country of 1.1 billion people.

Top of the list of Indian property magnates is developer K.P. Singh who made a far-sighted bet decades ago that real estate would eventually soar. In the 1970s, he bought 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) on the far reaches of New Delhi that spawned Gurgaon, host to such corporate heavyweights as Motorola and Dell.

The 76-year-old Singh now is worth 35 billion dollars and his real estate development company DLF is India's largest, raising two billion dollars in June in the country's biggest-ever IPO.

During the last 18 months a score of Indian real estate firms have raised about three billion dollars on London's Alternative Investment Market.

India, meanwhile, is seen escaping major fallout from the US credit crisis thanks to its largely insulated economy.

"The direct and indirect exposure of the Indian banking sector to the subprime woes is limited and does not pose a threat to either the local banking system or to the economy," said JP Morgan economist Rajeev Malik in Singapore.


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