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Investing in China real estate, warehouses on the back of e-commerce boom

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The online retail boom in China is fueling demand for storage spaces — and real estate investors should start thinking about putting their money in warehouses, said the founder and CEO of Baring Private Equity Asia, Jean Eric Salata.

“If you look at the e-commerce logistics and warehouse space in China, it’s still very, very underdeveloped,” he told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” at the Singapore Summit last Friday.

Salata estimates that 98% of existing warehouses in China are “old stock,” and only around 2% are “modern warehousing.”

“It’s a question of not just adding capacity, it’s also about upgrading what’s there today, which is very outdated,” Salata said. “A rather safe way, I think, to invest in real estate in China is in the whole logistics and industrial distribution space.”

The demand for warehouses has been driven in part by the rise of e-commerce in China. A report by research firm eMarketer predicted China would be the world’s top e-commerce market in 2019, with sales expected to hit $1.935 trillion.

According to property consultancy firm JLL, Chinese mega cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are seeing “robust demand” for industrial real estate, which includes warehouse facilities and distribution centers.

JLL also wrote that the “primary drivers of market demand in these markets continue to be retail, e-commerce, manufacturing and third-party logistics firms.”

That’s part of a larger domestic consumption story in China that Baring Private Equity Asia is focused on, said Salata, adding that this trend is “hardly” affected by the trade war with America.

Beijing and Washington have been locked in a trade dispute for more than a year, with both sides imposing punitive duties on each other’s exports, and shaking up industries ranging from manufacturing to agriculture and retail.

“What is happening is that you’re seeing the supply chain kind of bifurcate, where companies now are looking for alternative ways of sourcing their product and their technology that separates them from being reliant on U.S. suppliers. And likewise, US companies are doing the same,” said Salata. “It’s been quite disruptive.”

But not all sectors have been impacted and one such exception is the tech industry, said Salata.

“What’s happening in technology in China is pretty interesting,” he said. “It’s incredible, really, the way that that’s transforming the way that businesses and their consumers (are) operating in the market.”

“That’s a story that’s going to continue regardless of what happens with the trade talks.”

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China’s Hubei reports 630 new cases, 96 additional deaths

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South Korean health officials spray disinfectant in front of the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeastern city of Daegu on February 21, 2020.

Jung Yeon-je | AFP | Getty Images

This is a live blog. Please check back for updates.

All times below are in Beijing time.

7:55 am: Hubei reports 630 new cases

China’s Hubei province reported 630 new confirmed cases, and 96 additional deaths, as of Feb. 22. 

That brings the total number of confirmed cases in the province to 64,084, and the death toll to 2,346.

All times below are in Eastern time.

3:58 pm: Virus cases surge in South Korea

The number of coronavirus cases tripled in South Korea on Saturday, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the number of confirmed cases in the country surging to 433 from 156 over a 24-hour period. The surge in cases adds to fears among health officials that the virus, which has spread to 28 countries, could turn into a global pandemic.

More than half of the cases in South Korea are connected to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, and over a thousand members have reported potential symptoms of the virus. The area surrounding the Christian sect’s church in Daegu, a major city in South Korea, has become empty as businesses there shutter.

12:20 pm: WHO fears spread of virus to countries in Africa

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met with African officials from Geneva on Saturday morning to urge them to prepare for a potential spread of the coronavirus across Africa.

Just one case has been confirmed on the continent, but health officials fear the increasing global spread of the virus, especially to countries with less developed health-care systems.

WHO says it has shipped more than 30,000 sets of personal protective equipment to six countries in Africa, and is set to ship 60,000 more sets to 19 countries in upcoming weeks. It has also provided online training courses to 11,000 African health workers, as well as advice to countries on how to conduct screening, testing and treatment.

Read CNBC’s coverage from the U.S. overnight: IMF lowers global growth forecast, as cases surge in South Korea

— CNBC’s Emma Newburger contributed to this report.

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IMF lowers global growth forecast

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Workers assemble cars at the factory of Chang’an Automobile in Dingzhou, north China’s Hebei Province, Feb. 16, 2020.

Xinhua News Agency

This is a live blog. Please check back for updates.

All times below are in U.S. Eastern time.

China’s National Health Commission said 2,345 people have died in the country from the coronavirus, and over 76,288 people are infected.

7:00 am: IMF says virus outbreak will slow global growth

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Saturday that the virus will likely cut off 0.1% from global growth, and drag down growth for China’s economy to 5.6%, which is 0.4% lower from its January outlook.

“But we are also looking at more dire scenarios where the spread of the virus continues for longer and more globally, and the growth consequences are more protracted,” said International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva at the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting.

6:30 am: Iran reports fifth death among 10 new confirmed cases

Iranian health authorities said on Saturday that five people are now dead out of the 28 infected with the virus, which may have reached most of Iran’s major cities, including Tehran.

The fifth death was among the 10 new confirmed cases of the virus in Iran. The reported cases there suggest that the virus is being transmitted much farther than previously known or acknowledged. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour, who made the announcement on state television, did not say when the fifth person died.

The rise in virus cases outside of China is threatening to turn the outbreak into a global pandemic, with more countries starting to shut down travel across borders.

2:46 am: China transportation sector to resume operations by late February or early March

China’s transportation sector is expected to start up operations again in late February or early March, a Ministry of Transport official told reporters on Saturday. Delivery service companies China Post, SF Express and jd.com have all resumed operations. The services are in high demand during the outbreak as people would prefer to order food and supplies online or have them delivered.

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Investors need to face the warning signs in the global economy

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Monticelllo | Getty Images

Global investors are being overly complacent about downside economic risks, aggravated but not limited to the growing impact of coronavirus.

They are underestimating the forces that are changing the very nature of the world economy – a growing degree of “deglobalization” in the face of U.S.-Chinese decoupling. At the same time, they are overestimating the power of monetary and fiscal stimulus to keep the global economic party going.

When G-20 finance ministers meet this weekend in Riyadh, they’ll do so at a time when all of the world’s ten major economies are slowing – and several confront recession. Next week, Beijing is likely to announce a delay in the meeting of its National People’s Congress due to the coronavirus outbreak.

This week, Apple raised fears of more global corporate troubles to come with a coronavirus-caused revenue warning. The full ripple effects of the virus, and of the economic impact of humans scared to be with other humans, will show up in first quarter results, in particular in tourism, travel and on all Chinese and global companies that depend on Chinese supply chains and markets.

Despite all that, investor complacency persists in no small part due to a fundamental misunderstanding of how rapidly the world has changed, economically and politically. We are only in the opening pages of this new era of major power competition and technological change, and there’s no model to “price in” its impact.

Within democracies, the public’s faith has been shaken in capitalism and globalization to produce results that deliver greater prosperity. Most recently, that has driven everything from the recent Irish election victory of Sinn Fein, to the UK’s departure from the European Union, to the erosion of the German political center.

Markets are wagering that the combination of fiscal and monetary measures will again prevent the worst. However, what if they’re wrong?

Most dramatic is the growing possibility that U.S. presidential elections this year could produce a showdown between two populists of different stripes but similar decibels, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both are septuagenarian insurgents who appeal to hard-core, unconventional constituencies, and that’s prompted global concern that the new U.S. normal may be abnormal.

All of that is unfolding against a backdrop of a major power test that at its heart is a systemic struggle between democratic and authoritarian capitalist models. Though traditional security analysts continue to worry about how U.S.-Chinese, U.S.-Russian or U.S.-Iranian tensions could unravel into armed conflict, the more likely outcome is a resource-sapping, continual competition that stops short of kinetics but involves information warfare, cyber assaults, and economic clashes ranging from trade wars to targeted sanctions.

But let’s get back to investors and their complacency, which is as easy to explain as it is increasingly hard to justify.

Every time the global economy approached the brink in the decade since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-2009, some intervening force pulled us back. The latest came last year when it looked as though the global economy might slow to below 2 percent GDP growth, generally considered a way to measure the onset of a global recession.

Central banks stepped up. As the International Monetary Fund has pointed out, 49 central banks cut interest rates 71 times last year. The result was a 0.5 percent global GDP boost, according to the IMF. Monetary policy saved the day.

Investors understand that coronavirus could be a major 2020 shock, but they are wagering again that something will prevent this from becoming an economic disaster. They realize the U.S. Fed and other central banks may have fewer monetary tools to deploy, so they are counting on increased fiscal stimulus from governments.

For example, Chinese lenders on Thursday cut their one-year loan prime rate, which is used across the financial system, by 0.1 percent to 4.05 percent. The result was a rallying of Chinese stocks that day of 2.2 percent of the benchmark CSI 300 index.

That followed the Chinese central bank’s cut to its medium-term lending rate this week, as well as dozens of other measures Beijing has introduced in recent days to support businesses hit by the epidemic. The Financial Times reports that China’s central bank thus far has made 300 billion RmB available to large lenders and local banks in hard-hit areas, particularly Hubei province.

Wishful thinking

Even so, the S&P Global Ratings forecast that China’s 2020 growth could fall to 4.4 percent from its 6 percent level last year, if the coronavirus hit continues through April. Most predictions of that sort probably err on the optimistic side, and it may be wishful thinking that China’s economy will make up most of what is being lost once coronavirus recedes.

At the same time, the eurozone economy barely grew in the fourth quarter of 2019, up only 0.1 percent from the previous quarter, the slowest rate since 2013. Germany had zero growth. Real GDP in the eurozone was up just 0.9 percent in 2019, the slowest rate since 2013. (With the UK now leaving the EU, its leaders failed to agree on their budget on Friday due to insoluble differences.)

Governments across the world see these storm clouds, and a Bloomberg survey of economic forecasts shows that budgets are loosening in more than half of the world’s 20 biggest economies, providing some of the fiscal stimulus that central bankers have been seeking from their government counterparts.

Markets are wagering that the combination of fiscal and monetary measures will again prevent the worst.

However, what if they’re wrong?

Other than the United States, major central banks are tapped out, some of them experimenting with negative interest rates. Some experts argue that our low interest rate environment allows greater borrowing for fiscal stimulus.

That’s risky business.

Near the end

Global debt is nearing $244 trillion, the highest level on record, and that’s not a good record to be breaking. Public debt is the highest in advanced economies since WWII. In a recent Atlantic Council report, Global Risks 2035 Update, author Mathew Burrows explores a worst-case scenario he calls “Descent into Chaos.” It starts with growing indebtedness hitting China first and then spreading to the Western world, triggering a worldwide economic meltdown.

Burrows isn’t in the business of predicting the timing of global downturns. Yet it would be unwise to take one’s eye off this ballooning debt at this moment of uncertainty.

Investors are counting on the playbook of the last decade to hold out for a little longer.

That’s a risky bet in this year of coronavirus, slowing growth, growing debt, and rising geopolitical uncertainty. We’re near the end of a bull run that’s in year ten of a seven-year cycle.

Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper’s European edition. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week’s top stories and trends.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.



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