Qatar beats Chinese rivals in $1.8bn deal for London’s largest office tower

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund looks set to conclude one of the biggest property deals in UK history: the purchase of HSBC’s headquarters in London’s Docklands (pictured) for $1.8bn. 

The Qatari Investment Authority (QIA) has been in competition with two Chinese insurance companies, Ping An and China Life, to buy the 656ft tower, which is London’s largest office building, from South Korea’s National Pension Service (NPS).

The tower has made – and lost – considerable sums for its owners in recent years.

In 2009 NPS bought it from HSBC for $1.3bn, which means that, on paper at least, the Korean firm has realised a profit of $500m in only five years.

HSBC took the building over in 2008 after its owner, the Spanish property company Metrovacesa was hit by the financial crash. Metrovacesa bought it for $1.76bn in 2006.

HSBC has a 13-year lease on the building and an agreement that links rent increases to the UK retail prices index.

The deal is the third largest in the UK in recent years, behind Blackstone’s sale of 50% of the City of London’s Broadgate complex to Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund for $2.7bn, and Armenian billionaire Dikran Izmirlian’s sale of More London to St Martin, a state-owned Kuwaiti property company, for about the same amount. 

The QIA already owns a number of London landmarks, including Harrods department store, the London Stock Exchange and the Shard tower at London Bridge. 

The fate of the HSBC tower, which was designed by Foster + Partners and completed in 2002, contrasts sharply with the Gherkin tower in the City of London, which was designed by the same firm and built in 2004. 

The owners of the Gherkin (its proper name is 30 St Mary Axe), IVG Immobilien, called in the receivers in April after it defaulted on bank loans. 

The German company had bought the tower at the height of the property boom using a loan denominated in Swiss francs that appreciated by 60%. 

The success of the HSBC sale is being seen as a sign that investors have regained their appetite for commercial property risk in London.

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