Chinese Billionaire Ranks Second in Owning Land in the US
Ultra-wealthy investors show increased interest in rural real estate such as farmlands
Tianqiao Chen (50), chairman of Shanda Group a Chinese investment company that made its fortune from online gaming has been identified as the foreigner who owns the most land in the United States according to a Bloomberg report on November 8th (local time).
According to a recent ranking by Land Report, Chairman Chen ranks 82nd among the wealthiest landowners in the U.S. and is the second-richest foreigner in terms of U.S. land ownership.
Chairman Chen owns a forestland spanning 198,000 acres in Oregon. He acquired this land from Fidelity National Financial Ventures in 2015 for $85 million (approximately 111.8 billion KRW).
According to its website, Shanda diversified its assets in 2018 and acquired a total of 700,000 acres of forestland, primarily located in Oregon, U.S., and Ontario Canada, to protect and manage natural resources in these countries.
The only foreigner who owns more land than Chairman Chen is the Irving family of Canada. The Irvings own over 1.2 million acres of forestland making them the sixth-richest landowners in the U.S.
Chen, originally from Jiangsu, founded the online gaming company ‘Shanda Interactive’ in 1999 and grew it into one of China’s largest internet companies in just five years even listing it on the U.S. NASDAQ. In 2012, he privatized the company and relocated the headquarters of the holding group from China to Singapore.
His wife Chrissy Luo, donated $115 million to the California Institute of Technology in 2016 to establish the ‘Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience’ to enhance understanding of the brain.
The ownership of U.S. land, particularly farmland, by foreigners has been a politically sensitive issue in recent years. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of 2021, non-Americans owned 40 million acres of U.S. farmland with Chinese corporations owning 0.3% of all U.S. farmland.
Some lawmakers have pushed for laws limiting foreign ownership of U.S. farmland. Last July, the Senate voted on a bill to prohibit individuals or companies from China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea from selling farmland of a certain size or value, but it was not ultimately enacted into law. Nearly half of U.S. states limit foreign land ownership.
Ultra-wealthy investors looking for assets to hedge against inflation have been increasingly flocking to farmland and other rural real estate in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average value of U.S. farmland increased by 8.1% last year.
This upward trend is due to food demand and high inflation, but interest in rare properties that offer both leisure and investment potential such as traditional western ranches also plays a part.
The largest landowner in the U.S. is the Emerson family of timber distribution company Sierra Pacific Industries followed by billionaires like John Malone, Ted Turner, and Stan Kroenke.
By. Jin Young Lee