Commercial Magazine

International Investments: Spain

By Jeff Bond

In the past year as international interest in U.S. commercial real estate waned, Spanish investors were bucking the trend and spending lavishly. Top investment companies from the western European country made head-spinning forays into the U.S. property market during 2022 and 2023.

Known as a top tourist destination because of its warm climate, sandy beaches, historic sites and enchanting cities, Spain is a nation of nearly 47.5 million people. Beyond tourism, Spain’s top industries include auto manufacturing, agribusiness and energy.

During the year ending in second-quarter 2023, Spanish investors proved to be quite interested in U.S. commercial real estate. During this period, some of Spain’s top companies acquired 17 U.S. properties totaling more than $2.2 billion, according to MSCI Real Assets. This amount alone is impressive enough. But the shocker is that the figure is 5,000% more than what Spanish investors spent from mid-2021 through mid-2022.

The increased activity vaulted Spain to fourth place on MSCI’s ranking of the top 25 sources of capital into U.S. commercial real estate. Spain trailed only Japan, Singapore and Canada on this list. Spain’s ascent has been meteoric as it ranked No. 7 in calendar year 2022 and No. 25 in 2021.

One of the main reasons for this considerable growth in activity was the real estate expansion of Pontegadea, a multinational investment company owned by Spanish billionaire Amancio Ortega. He made his fortune by founding the fashion retailer Inditex, the largest fast-fashion group in the world and the owner of the multinational clothing chain Zara.

Pontegadea, which is developing a large real estate portfolio, has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire a variety of U.S. properties. These range from Amazon-leased office space in Seattle to warehouse and distribution centers in California, Florida and Pennsylvania.

According to MSCI, Pontegadea acquired 12 industrial properties and one apartment complex in 2023. The main seller of the industrial assets was Blackstone, one of the largest landlords in the U.S. Pontegadea appeared to be capitalizing on Blackstone’s need for cash amid the commercial real estate downturn. Blackstone was known to be selling parts of its portfolio, including casino assets and various industrial properties that were performing well.

In 2022, Pontegadea acquired five logistics centers located in Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas. The largest single U.S. deal by Pontegadea in 2023, according to MSCI, was the August acquisition of a 45-story apartment complex in Chicago for $231.5 million.

Pontegadea isn’t the only Spanish company that has recently expanded its real estate empire. The Mallorca-based travel conglomerate RIU Hotels & Resorts acquired a six-story office building in Manhattan for $173 million. The October 2023 purchase was an intriguing move for RIU, which owns 96 hotels in 20 countries. The building was slated to be demolished to make way for a hotel tower, but the previous owner was unable to secure permits from the city. It will now be up to RIU to convince officials to back a new plan.

Only time will tell if Spain’s major investors continue to find U.S. apartment complexes, offices and industrial space enticing. But it seems like a safe bet that the wave of acquisitions by Spanish investors has yet to end. ●


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