Dubai’s all powerful property arm and Kuwait’s IFA Hotels & Resorts take big stakes in Thai firm
Itthi C Tan NAK LUA, PATTAYA The New Year was especially upbeat for Raimon Land chief executive Nigel Cornick as he celebrated the festivities with customers at his latest resort property here - Northpoint. Only a few days ago, the company secured two strong backers from the Gulf states of Dubai and Kuwait, namely Istithmar Hotels FZE and IFA Hetels & Resorts respectively. Each now owns 24 per cent of Rai mon Land’s shares. The purchase – worth Bt1 billion from each party – marks a new era from Raimon,saids Cornick. What makes the transaction so important is that it illustrates a major push by global investors to shift capital to non-dollar-based assets. With the US dollar continuing its downward path, as predicted by the US federal Reserve more than a year ago under Alan Greenspan, countries with large dollar reserves have been diligently hunting for new places to park their cash. Petro-dollar oil-rich Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have since 2005 begun purchasing Thai assets, as part of this gradual move to diversify reserves. They have been quietly investing in highly attractive opportunities in Asia. The Raimon Land deal was only sealed after a laborious due diligence effort to ensure that land contracts and corporate paperwork were in good order. Earlier last year, Kingdom Hotel Investments, which is chaired by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, signed a deal to acquire land to build a Bt4-billion property called Raffles Phang Nga Resort & Residences, comprising 150 rooms and 25 luxury villas. The purchase of the Raimon Stakes went to show that petro-dollars were hungry to tap into Thailand’s resilient tourism and property sectors. “Istithmar has looked very closely at Thailand and we feel Raimon Land is an excellently managed, well-positioned developer with high potential for outstanding growth, Offering an excellent investment opportunity,” said Joe Sita, CEO of Istithmar Hotels. Sita also endorsed Cornick’s team to further lead the company to literally scale new heights. Northpoint will be Pattaya’s tallest structure when it is completed in three years. It will have two towers, one of which will top 50 floors. “The new shareholders bring not only capital but also professional teams, which can only help Raimon to complete the new projects in the best possible manner,” said Cornick, referring to the immense wealth of both Istithmar and IFA and the company’s reliance on global top guns to run operations. By buying into Raimon, Cornick deduced, “we have the backing of two strong governments”. “Dubai and Kuwait, like many Gulf kingdoms, maintain a strict and clear policy of only buying the very best and hiring only topmost professionals in the field to manage their concerns,” he said. The new partners do not mind paying a premium for Raimon’s shares at Bt1.70apiece, or about 25 per cent on top of last week’s close. Their man concern is what they were buying, which is a prized portfolio of prime land plots in central Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. Northpoint is but one of three new spectacular sites to be built by the company. The other two are The Heights, a luxury hilltop condominium overlooking the sea in Phuket’s Kata Beach, and The River, a waterfront residential-hotel and retail property on the Chao Phya Rive overlooking The Oriental and Shangri-La hotels. Even with the recent softening of real estate transactions in Pattaya, with many punters exiting with considerable losses, Raimon has ridden the downturn fairly well, having earned a reputation for honouring promises and delivering quality apartments. Cornick said Northpoint was just the tip of the iceberg for Raimon Land. Apart from The Pattaya site, The River and The Heights, the company will embark on a top-end villa project on a three-rai plot near Amanpuri resort in Phuket’s Surin Bay. For the moment, however, all eyes will be on The River, which will be launched next month. The 13-rai land on Charoenakorn Road and flanking the Peninsula Hotel was bought last year for Bt900 million. Raimon paid about an average of Bt175,000 a square wah for the freehold land, said Cornick. On reflection, the purchase is quite a bargain as it is always very difficult to secure large plots in prime sites, said CB Richard Ellis Thailand managing director Aliwassa Pathnadabutr, a key player in the transaction. “To develop The River, the investor must have adequate capital,” she said. “A plot of that size and location demands a very capable and financially strong builder.” With Istithmar and IFA aboard, Cornick is confident Raimon should have no problem erecting another landmark for Bangkok’s main waterway.