China Life to buy Clifford Chance HQ for £780m

China’s biggest life insurer China Life is set to buy Clifford Chance’s Canary Wharf headquarters in a £780m deal, according to media reports.

The state-owned Chinese investor is said to be in high-level talks with property owner Canary Wharf Group (CWG) to buy the 32-floor 10 Upper Bank Street property.

There are currently 16 vacant floors in the building marketed at an average rent of £29.50 per square foot. It is understood that if the deal with China Life goes through, the company would provide the equity for the acquisition.

The insurer has typically turned to King & Wood Mallesons in China, and Latham & Watkins is listed as its adviser for international matters. However it is not known whether the firm is advising on the Canary Wharf deal.

It is also not known how the deal would affect Clifford Chance, which has been on the hunt for tenants to fill its empty floors for over a year. Earlier this year Transport for London was understood to be taking on 220,000 sq ft of the vacant space but pulled out of the talks.

The magic circle firm has been looking for a tenant to rent six floors of empty space since the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) moved out in the months following the 2012 Olympic Games.

In the months preceding the move, the firm shifted all of its mainstream London corporate team to the same floor of the building to raise cash, with the occupied space marketed to prospective tenants.

Empty space in the office has proved problematic for Clifford Chance since it took on the space. It was unable to fill the office when it moved in 2000 and let 100,000 sq ft back to Canary Wharf. In 2002 the firm exercised an option to take on an additional 215,000 sq ft of space in the building but due to revised growth predictions it was left with two empty floors (10 March 2003).

Clifford Chance previously struck a deal with KPMG, which sub-let three and a half floors of the office. The accountant took on 93,000 sq ft on the sixteenth to nineteenth floors of the office generating almost £4m in the 2009/10 financial year.

However those floors now stand empty with only Mastercard, Infosys and FTSE renting space in the building.  

The deal by China Life would represent the most recent trophy asset purchase by a Chinese investor into UK real estate.