Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Interview: Mr. Tang Jun, Chairman, YangGuang Co. Ltd.,

YangGuang Co., Ltd. is a public company listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange since 1996. In 2006, YangGuang signed an investment agreement with Reco Shine Pte Ltd., which is a subsidiary of GIC Real Estate Pte Ltd., and became the first A-share listed real estate company in China with a foreign investor being its major shareholder.
Mr. Tang Jun, Chairman, Yangguang, tells us bout his company plans and the Chinese real estate market.

Could you give us some background about your company?
YangGuang focuses on holding, investing, leasing and managing the operations of commercial real estate, while at the same time being involved with the development and management of high-end apartments, hotels, office buildings, and urban complexes. In order to establish a competitive advantage in the commercial real estate industry, our company strives to integrate commercial resources to create a model that covers investment, planning, development, and the business operations of the entire process. The company is committed to maximizing returns for investors, providing the best benefits for its tenants, and creating enjoyable shopping experience for consumers. With more than ten years of professional experience in real estate development operations, the company has set up a business scale that focuses on development around the Bohai Sea region, while at the same time emphasizing nationwide development and expansion. As of December 2010, the company owned and managed a total of 26 large-scale commercial real estate projects, covering a total floor area exceeding 1.5 million square meters. Taking into account all these accomplishments and plans, YangGuang is steadily marching towards the ultimate goal of “becoming China’s leading commercial real estate group”.Transformed from a residential housing real estate dealer to a commercial real estate dealer, YangGuang is endowed with competitive advantages that are lacking in traditional commercial real estate dealers, for instance, concept of innovative capital operation, whole value-chain operating mode, rich product development and operation, sound partnership resources, and professional real estate development team etc.As far as capital operation is concerned, YangGuang actively explores and develops new financing channel and establishes “finance + real estate” business mode, which provides commercial real estate operation with abundant fund guarantee. The company has already established long-term successful project cooperation with GIC RE, and will still expand the scale and scope for future cooperation. At the same time, the company has also established commercial real estate funds and is actively developing financing channel.With regard to business operation, YangGuang exerts itself to build the entire value-chain operating modes, covering investment, planning, development, leasing and operation. Through the entire value-chain system management and effective key aspect control and organic inter value-chain synergy, the company has formed core competitiveness. Meanwhile, YangGuang selects retail commercial real estate as its main business orientation, for among numerous commercial real estate classifications, retail commercial real estate has relatively convenient for redevelopment and improvement. If also supported by appropriate operation management, its long-term return will be quite considerable.After many years of development, YangGuang has accumulated rich product development experience; the three product brands, namely, the “Life Square” (阳光新生活广场), the “Shine City” (新业广场), and the “YangGuang Center” (阳光新业中心), which have been created through standardization process, cover the main types of commercial projects, and will be improved and upgraded continually in the process of product replication. The current successful commercial real estate development case in places, such as Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Chengdu, and Shenyang etc., enabled the enterprise to have accumulated mature product development experiences.
Moreover, YangGuang has established strategic cooperative partnership with numerous international and domestic well-known brands, such as Carrefour, Wal-Mart Stores, Watsons, Ito Yokado, Gome, and Suning etc., and the stable and quality customer resources have ensured completion of investment promotion of commercial real estate projects in advance, endowing the company therefore with a complete operation system.Like all successful enterprises, YangGuang has a powerful team of commercial real estate management. At present, YangGuang owns a management team with several hundred members, and it will continue to grow along with increase of the number of commercial projects. Relying on its own professional team of commercial real estate management, YangGuang itself controls all aspects from development and investment promotion to later stage operation management. This is also the whole value-chain representation and preparation for output of future commercial real estate management operation.
Where to invest in China? Does the biggest potential lie in second – and third-tier cities rather than in first-tier cities?As far as commercial real estate is concerned, the best region for investment in China is still concentrated on cities, and whether in the first tier cities or the second and third tier cities, they all have opportunities. As early as in 2007, YangGuang developed a Bohai rim region strategy, while at the same time paying close attention to the balanced development in the national market. After carrying out an in-depth assessment in key areas, and taking expansion from one single project to more opportunities which cover the entire area as our layout strategy, we have currently mapped out and identified 10 cities covering the four major areas of China, and developed complete strategies for steadily expanding our projects. The layout cities include: Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Shenyang, Chengdu, Xi’an, Zhengzhou, Yantai, Shijiazhuang, and Tangshan. In the future, in regions such as the Bohai rim region, North China, Central China, Northwest China, and Southwest China etc. where branch companies have already been set up with also project establishment, we will further strengthen and consolidate our basis. With respect to the Yangtze River Delta, Zhujiang River Delta, the Southwest Region and the Northeast Region of China, we will also actively search for quality resources conforming to our corporate strategy, and wait for opportunity for expansion.With respect to potentials, though the second and the third tier cities have indeed enormous opportunities for development, the first tier cities have also great space and opportunity for development. Even though the first tier cities have relatively less opportunities and a relatively higher threshold, with growth of population, they will certainly form many “emerging urban districts”, and these urban sub-centers are precisely where the potentials of the first tier cities lie, such as one of our commercial projects in Tongzhou District, Beijing (Tongzhou Life Square). In 2006 when we purchased this project, though it had advantageous geographical location and consumption potentials at that time, as a commercial real property, it had problems in architectural structure, retail format planning, brands level etc., which made it unfavorable for business operation. After purchase, the company re-planned its retail format, making it more reasonable. With these improvements, performance of this project has realized steady growth, and the sales volume of the anchor tenants and secondary anchor tenants also achieved steady increase. Within just a short period of three years after redevelopment, the rental income for the two years, namely 2008 and 2009, increased by 43% and 11% respectively on a year-on-year basis, and with impact of the 2009 financial crisis, it still achieved a steady growth.While making its layout in the suburbs of the first tier cities and in the second and the third tier cities, YangGuang hasn’t given up its steps of overall arrangement in the first tier city urban core areas. At present, the company has already been entrusted with the management of certain large-scale business project located in the Beijing core CBD area (Beijing International Center). At the same time, in the core area of Tianjin, a landmark “Tianjin YangGuang Center” is also in planning.As China’s real estate market is a typical “policy market”, one should pay attention to policy orientation. It is clear from the 12th five-year plan that, in the next 4-5 years, the second and the third tier cities will be the focus of national development. Adapting to the general background of the times, YangGuang had already started to gradually make overall arrangement in the second and the third tier cities as early as several years ago. With mega cities as support, small and medium cities as focus, the company has been vigorously developing the second and the third tier cities, helping to build some urban commercial centers with sustainable operation ability, building commercial ecological circle, and bringing harmonious local economic and social development. For instance, not long ago, YangGuang had reached an intent of cooperation with Beiguan Village of Xi’an city concerning reconstruction of the old marketplace of the urban village, and the project will be reconstructed into a local large-scale commercial complex.
What are the best market entry strategies as a foreign investor, developer, and retailer?At the early period of their market access, overseas investors, developers and retailers may consider finding a domestic cooperative partner in China and, through cooperation with local enterprise, steadily develop their business.With respect to the mode of operation, investors and developers may consider participating in cooperation with domestic enterprises by means of project cooperation or capital injection. For instance, the cooperation between YangGuang and GIC RE, in 2006, YangGuang entered into a strategic investment agreement with Reco Shine Company, a subsidiary of GIC RE, becoming the first domestic A-share market listed real estate company that has introduced international strategic investment into China. In 2007, after completion of private offering of additional shares, we conducted large-scale, extensive and in-depth cooperation with GIC RE. For instance, in 2008, we together completed large-scale overall acquisition towards 18 projects of the Home World (家世界), and both parties jointly held commercial property assets, which became a typical case of cooperation between overseas investors and domestic developers in the commercial real estate market.For access to the China market, overseas retailers may borrow lessons from the cooperation between YangGuang and Ito Yokado. YangGuang implements order-type of thought for commercial real estate development. In its very beginning of cooperation with Ito Yokado, YangGuang first defined its intention of shop setup and location requirements, and carefully examined and recommended appropriate projects. In its very beginning of design, construction and investment promotion, YangGuang “customized” the projects in strict accordance with the advanced Japanese concepts of shopping center and the spatial layout, architectural structure, public support, fire fighting arrangement, as well as traffic and people flow of commercial complex per requirements of Ito Yokado, and realized the maximum and perfect harmony and unity between the shopping environment and customers, and between customers and the architectural structure, thereby ensuring operation of the moved-in tenant in accord with their wishes and convenience and comfortable shopping of consumers. This kind of mode of commercial customization of YangGuang can ensure quick opening by overseas retailers of the China market and, at the same time, retain the local features and characteristics of overseas enterprises, it is therefore highly welcomed by various leading domestic and overseas retail enterprises and brands. At present, YangGuang has already established long-term strategic cooperative partnership with a number of large-scale domestic and overseas retailers, such as Ito Yokado, Carrefour, Vanguard, The Home Depot, and Wal-Mart Stores etc.
What are the major challenges as a foreign investor? How do you manage risk?In recent years, with continuous deepening of the opening-up of China’s business market, foreign capital business enterprises have landed in China one after another, and while bringing bout opportunities, the China’s market is also hidden with enormous challenges.Failure to adapt to the local circumstances and conditions is a major trouble for foreign capital. First of all, from the policy environment point of view, although a series of new policy measures to promote mutual investment have already been launched in recent years, for instance, the gradual lessening of restrictions on the percentage of shares of foreign investment and allowing domestic market listing of foreign enterprises etc., China nevertheless still has certain restriction policies on foreign investment and acquisition etc., and relative to local enterprises, foreign investors have certain threshold to cross. At the same time, many relevant policies and evaluation systems in China are somehow different from that of foreign countries. Moreover, with respect to market space, industrial support, and labor quality of China etc., there are still certain differences from that of foreign countries, and many overseas business models are not applicable to China at all.With respect to control of risks, overseas investors may search for reliable partners to gradually adapt to the rule of the game of the China market. For instance, GIC, the strategic investor of YangGuang and also one of the world largest fund management companies in the world, manages over USD 100 billion assets in the world, and its steady and robust investment style makes it select global-wide partners with deliberation, and at present, YangGuang is its only strategic cooperative partner in the field of retail real estate in China. As far as YangGuang is concerned, GIC is its financial investor on the one hand, and on the other hand, it also brings about the most advanced international project management and operation experience for YangGuang, and dissolved many worries in project development and operation. This multi-dimensional mode of cooperation can reduce risks of overseas investors and obtain stable investment return and, at the same time, enable fast development of local enterprises.From another point of view, as a local developer with certain basis, in the “policy market” environment of China, YangGuang is endowed with unparalleled advantages of foreign enterprises. We can, with sound government relations, maintain and get quality project resources; through control of project startup and completion schedule, ensure the time of project opening; through scientific mode of retail format planning and the accumulated investment promotion resources, ensure overall project business benefits; and through strengthening business operation ability and extent of promotion, ensure enhancement of business project operation and increase of rental income; and through whole value-chain control of the whole commercial real estate industry, minimize its own and investor’s return risks.Moreover, as far as overseas investors are concerned, if they are not interested in direct enterprise investment or worried about the withdrawing system, they may consider searching for inland powerful cooperative partners to access the domestic commercial real estate market by way of commercial real estate funds or commercial real estate trust through help in financing. For instance, YangGuang has also set up its own fund company, and it has had already some attempt in this type of business operation. The fund company is now in sound operation, and in the future it will be the focus of our business development.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Interview: Mr. Kim Young-hwan, Chairman, National Assembly's Knowledge Economy Committee

The Standing Committees of the National Assembly examine bills and petitions falling under their respective jurisdictions, and perform other duties as prescribed by other Acts. There are 16 standing committees of which the Knowledge Economy Committee is quite important. The chairman of each Standing Committee represents the Standing Committee, regulate its proceedings, maintain order, and supervise its affairs.
Mr. Kim Young-hwan, Chairman of the National Assembly's Knowledge Economy Committee was born in Goesan, North Chungcheong Province. Graduating from Yonsei School of Dentistry, he got a master’s degree in economy from the same university. In 1996, he was first elected to enter the National Assembly. He was reelected in 2000 to serve for the second term, yet failed in his third attempt in 2004. In 2009, he was elected.
Under the Kim Dae-jung administration in 2001, he was appointed as the minister for education, science and technology, which he stayed for one year. He was the youngest in the ministry’s history, and was recognized again by his book entitled, “Will fart spark the fire.”
He assumed the chairman of the National Assembly’s Knowledge Economy Committee in 2009, for which he still serves.
In an exclusive interview to Infomag, Mr. Kim speaks on various issues under his mandate.
What is the first and foremost principle of the Knowledge Economy Committee?There are three. The first is laying the foundation for sufficient discussion and communication. We try to create an environment in which committee members can hold in-depth discussions and exchange views. The second is keeping our eyes and ears open. The committee welcomes companies, including small retailers and traders, to express their opinions. We would also like to meet with European business leaders to directly hear from them on challenges and difficulties in doing business in Korea. The third is keeping up to date with the latest industry-related news and issues. For this, we encourage government officials, businessmen and experts to come together and openly discuss issues whenever they arise.
What is your view of the government’s green growth policy?The government is working on meeting the target of reducing CO2 emissions by 20%, such as increasing R&D and encouraging businesses to save energy and increase the use of renewable energy. There are efforts being made to foster green industries (e.g. renewable energy) and develop the carbon capture & storage technology (CCST) to reduce CO2 emissions.
What advice do you have for the government in regards to realizing energy independence?We need to prepare for the post-Fukushima era. However, the government maintains the same energy mix and nuclear energy policy stance as it did prior to the explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Unlike Germany and Switzerland which decided to shut down its nuclear power plants, the Korean government seems to have shifted its policy to focus more on nuclear energy. From a personal standpoint, I believe that there needs to be focus on other sources of power generation other than nuclear energy. What is needed is a roadmap for reducing nuclear energy use and concentrating on R&D and business support. Careful and meticulous planning is required as Korea is not abundant in natural resources. The government should aggressively pursue policies aimed at energy saving and renewable energy development.
Do you think the current policy is sufficient to promote small and medium-sized enterprises?In Korea, there are 304 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), accounting for 99.9% of total number of companies, with relevant workers representing 87.7% of total employment. Although SMEs are a pivotal part of the economy, there seems to be a serious imbalance between large-sized companies and SMEs. Polarization is seen amid the turbulent economic environment, in which large companies posted record-high earnings whereas small and medium businesses saw operating margins decline. Moreover, large enterprises are aggressively moving into sectors that are led by SMEs and taking away their source of income. In order for SMEs to strengthen competitiveness, they need to concentrate on five areas: 1) increasing R&D investment 2) limiting sectors to prevent large companies from taking over 3) building infrastructure to foster small and medium-sized export companies 4) recruiting additional workers to address workforce-workplace mismatch 5) supporting one-man businesses and start-ups by young people. A structural system needs to be in place for SMEs to develop into larger and successful businesses. SMEs need strong foundations in order to grow and thus contribute to Korea’s economic growth.
What would you like to tell foreign investors?Korea following the 1997 Asian financial crisis has been striving to improve the foreign investment environment. In 2010, despite the challenging economic climate at home and abroad, Korea achieved economic growth rate of 6.1% (the highest among OECD member countries), exports amounted to $470 billion (seventh largest in the world), and per capita income re-entered the $20,000 level. Foreign investment companies played a key role in Korea overcoming the financial crisis of 1997 and the global financial crisis of 2008.
I consider Korea to be an island rather than a peninsula. Surrounded by the ocean on three sides and bordered to the north by China, Korea has remained an isolated island for thousands of years. It is time to decide whether to remain isolated or move forward. Korea will continue to open its doors to foreign investors going forward. As the chair of the Knowledge Economy Committee, I will also do my best to create a foreign business-friendly environment.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Interview: Ms. Sandra A. Urie, Chairman & CEO, Cambridge Associates

Cambridge Associates is a privately held independent consulting firm that provides investment consulting and oversight services to more than 900 clients worldwide. The company strives to help global institutional investors and private clients meet or exceed their investment objectives by offering proactive, unbiased advice grounded in intensive and independent research.
In this interview, Ms. Sandra A. Urie, Cambridge Associates’ Chairman and Chief Executive Officer tells us more.
Could you give us a brief background about your organization?
Cambridge Associates was formed in 1973. The concept for our firm grew out of work done for Harvard University by our two founders, James Bailey and Hunter Lewis, who are still involved in overseeing the firm today.
Over our nearly forty years in business C|A has expanded into a global investment consultancy. Our mission has remained constant: we strive to help institutions and private investors around the world meet or exceed their investment objectives by providing proactive, unbiased advice grounded in intensive and independent research.
Cambridge Associates currently has over 1,000 employees based in London, Singapore, Sydney, Arlington, Boston, Dallas, and Menlo Park, with an office to be opened in Beijing in the summer of 2011. Our professionals are dedicated to serving over 900 clients globally including colleges and universities, charitable foundations, medical institutions, museums, Sovereign Wealth Funds and other government agencies, pension funds and families. Our clients represent aggregate assets of more than US$2.5 trillion.
Our only line of business is investment consulting and its supporting functions (i.e., research and performance measurement). One-hundred percent of our revenues are derived from providing these services to our clients, the owners of the assets we advise.
• Investment Consulting: Consulting is our core business, and we advise clients on a broad range of investment issues such as portfolio strategy and policy, asset allocation, manager selection, and performance evaluation across all asset classes, including alternatives (hedge funds, private equity and private hard assets). In addition, currency hedging has been a key issue in many countries where we have clients, including Korea. We also have significant experience in providing advice on investment operations, corporate governance, risk management, and best practices in institutional investing. These are all topics that should be of interest to Korean institutional investors as they contribute to superior investment returns.
• Research: Our high-quality, independent investment and capital markets research provides the foundation for all client recommendations. We currently have more than 190 research professionals working across four continents, bringing a global perspective to our work. Our research efforts are supported by our proprietary manager database, which currently tracks over 7,000 managers and 22,200 funds across all asset classes and geographical regions. This means our clients have access to a large and global opportunity set when considering implementation strategies for their portfolios.
• Performance Measurement and Reporting: As part of the consulting relationship with our clients, we undertake performance monitoring for both marketable (e.g. public equities, fixed income, hedge funds) and private investments (e.g. private equity, real estate, venture capital, infrastructure, energy, timber). Our reports include investment returns and regular analyses of fund performance. These reports help our clients analyze their performance results, how the results were achieved, and how they compare to customized benchmark statistics.
What is your view on the current investment strategies of Korean pension funds? Should they allocate more resources to Alternatives?
Korean institutions are certainly considering expanding their policy portfolios to include more exposure to alternatives and we would certainly support that move. Depending on the alternative classes included, they can provide the potential for higher returns and also, in the case of edge funds, lower volatility. However, implementation is critical, and requires a rigorous approach to due diligence and manager selection. Few institutions, including some in Korea, have the requisite in-house experience to effectively identify, complete the due diligence on, and gain access to the best alternative asset managers on a global basis. As a result, many investors have had less than positive experiences with hedge funds during the financial crisis and find themselves under-allocated relative to their original plans.
Fear of a potential Madoff repeat looms large and reinforces the need for disciplined and comprehensive due diligence, both before making an investment and on an ongoing basis once the investment is made. The Korean investment community was hit hard by exposure to Madoff. This has caused many investors to step back and examine their investment decision-making process. For many, around the world and not just in Korea, it was a fiduciary wake up call. One of the key oles we play at Cambridge Associates is to protect investors from mistakes by working alongside internal investment professionals to provide rigorous due diligence and a global perspective on manager selection. If Korean pensions want to build out their allocation to hedge funds, they must be prepared to invest in the process of researching, selecting, and monitoring managers.
This issue is also relevant to private investments (i.e., private equity, venture capital, real estate, energy, infrastructure, and timber). Given the significant dispersion of returns among managers and their funds, manager selection and rigorous due diligence are critical. Building a private investment portfolio can significantly enhance returns, but also requires a commitment to building the resources necessary to implement and monitor managers and the patience to build out the program over time to minimize so-called vintage year risk. Based on our observations, many Korean institutional investors are looking at a narrow subset of the universe of available private investment opportunities globally, which will likely limit their ability to generate good risk-adjusted returns.
We have also seen a tendency in Korea to focus on capital preservation in nominal terms. Protecting a portfolio against nominal losses can hide the effect of ongoing inflation and can expose the portfolio to inflation-adjusted capital losses. Such an approach requires an even more vigilant focus on due diligence and manager (or asset) selection. When perceived risk is low (i.e. because of a government guarantee) nominal returns are also generally lower. We like to think in terms of risk-adjusted returns: how much incremental upside could investors receive from an additional unit of risk, and where do asymmetries exist that investors can benefit from?
What are the real estate investment intentions of global investors?
At a very basic level, many people like investing in real estate because it is a “real” asset – something you can see and touch – it typically generates both an income return and a capital return. For people who are skeptical about securitized and less tangible assets, physical real estate can bring a sense of comfort to investors. We see this particularly in Asia. Real estate can also offer investors some inflation protection through exposure to the potential for rising rents and capital appreciation when financial assets are being hurt by inflation. Public and private real estate investments can also provide valuable diversification as well as equity-like returns over the long term. Private real estate offers greater prospects for active managers to exploit opportunities and add value. On the other hand, private real estate is illiquid and more expensive. Public portfolios provide the most immediate source of diversification, whereas private real estate requires time to build. REITs generate cash flow, are liquid, and have lower fees. However, they are subject to the supply, demand, and pricing pressures of the public equity markets. The correlation of REITs to the broad equity markets would likely increase during periods of stress within the market and historically, REITs have been highly correlated to small cap value stocks.
We advise global investors to invest in real estate through a diversified set of public and private fund opportunities and to consider relative value at the time of implementation. The other interesting trend is global investors’ portfolio mix of investments in limited partnership vehicles and direct investments in properties. Large institutional investors have typically first built a portfolio of limited partnership investments, allowing them to build relationships with the fund managers over time. This can then provide a foundation for co-investments alongside these managers, as well as eventually for a portfolio of direct investments, where a sufficient in-house resource with appropriate direct investing experience exists. In the context of a large, diversified portfolio, such direct investments may be appropriate. However, smaller institutional investors might be taking unnecessary risk with direct property investments, sized too large relative to the size of their asset pool. More often, these types of institutions build exposure to real estate through limited partnership vehicles, more appropriate to their size and diversification needs. The risk in Korea is that smaller institutions, in particular those without appropriate in-house investment resources, seek to emulate the leading investors when they do not have the internal resources to implement and replicate those strategies.
Are Asia and Korea an important part of their strategy?
Yes, Asia, including Korea, is definitely considered in the opportunity set in a global portfolio. Many of our North American clients travel regularly to the region and a few have opened up offices in Asia for the very purpose of analyzing Asian investment opportunities. They are gradually increasing their exposure to alternative assets in Asia, while paying close attention to relative value at a time when a great deal of capital is flowing into emerging markets. Investors should be careful to diversify by vintage year, strategy, geographic location, property type, and manager.
What asset classes and markets are favored by global investors?
Right now it is challenging for global investors, as we are not seeing many obvious, attractive opportunities from a valuations perspective. That means we are encouraging our clients to be defensively positioned.
What does that mean?
Within equities, overweight high-quality or mega-cap growth stocks and long/short equity hedge funds. Both strategies may under-perform in a rising market, but they should prove more defensive when market corrections occur. We are also encouraging allocations to managers with flexible mandates who can respond quickly to opportunities that arise in a rapidly shifting landscape. Of course, greater selectivity and ongoing oversight is required when hiring managers with more flexible mandates. These managers should have a depth of experience in the markets they participate in and a proven record of adding value through tactical moves. We continue to be cautious on most Western developed market sovereign bonds in light of weak fundamentals and expensive valuations. Both of these factors suggest that an allocation to sovereign bonds should not be expected to provide as much defense as it has historically, and that it should be supplemented by cash when yields are very low.
In terms of markets, we are recommending that our clients stay neutral on developed market equities. Equity valuations in developed markets are generally not excessive, although U.S. equities are currently overvalued. In emerging markets, while valuations are still somewhat stretched, maintaining exposure and building a strategic overweight are important from our perspective. For those with relatively large allocations to emerging markets, we would consider a more diversified exposure utilizing a multi-asset class approach, incorporating equity, local currency debt, hedge funds, and private investments if appropriate.