Potential impact of Brexit in Australia: Knight Frank's Matt Whitby

Potential impact of Brexit in Australia: Knight Frank's Matt Whitby
Potential impact of Brexit in Australia: Knight Frank's Matt Whitby

There is no doubt that the vote in favour of Brexit will generate a period of renewed uncertainty, but mainly in the UK and Europe. Some demand, especially from investors and businesses (hiring and investing), will be delayed and in some cases redirected to other markets.

Demand for Australian property may actually benefit (as a safe haven) as globalinvestors pause in directing capital into Europe and our demand rests on a wide range of drivers – most of which are unaffected by the referendum decision: the scale of Australia’s business clusters, depth of skills, education, lifestyle and language etc. 

However it must be said that the world is entering a period of renewed uncertainty inthe UK and London market, and ongoing issues around EU and especially Eurozone stability, which will be highlighted in the run up to French and German elections. Uncertainty and instability is bad for financial markets and capital investment, so let’s see what impact it may have on borrowing costs and business/consumer confidence here in Australia. 

The UK has long been a destination for Asian (Chinese mainly) real estate investors, with the attraction of the strong liquidity, stable governance, transparency and clear title. With the decision to exit the European Union, for existing Asian property owners, the fall in the pound will impact the repatriation of any income returns, as well as the gains on any disposal.

Although there is likely to be more volatility in the market, ultimately most investors are looking to the long term – so will continue to hold their assets, in the hope that any short-term instability will eventually subside when more clarity of the UK’s role in Europe is determined.

The decision, however, could also present a buying opportunity for owners not already set, as the significant drop in the value of the pound, as in 2009, could lead to an uptick of interest by Asian investors, who, over the last few months have adopted a wait-and-see approach to the referendum – and will now see their buying power increase significantly.

As stated above, Chinese, Singaporean and Hong Kong investors especially, looking at both residential and commercial properties, could also start to look even harder at markets like Australia over the remainder of 2016 until the dust settles in UK/Europe.

Regarding interest rates, an interest rate cut of 25 basis points is a strong possibility at the UK Monetary Policy Committee’s July meeting, or perhaps earlier if required. We may also see a return of quantitative easing, if there are signs that investment is deteriorating. I think the RBA is now even more likely of cutting rates, either in July or more likely in August once the inflation number comes through.

Uncertainty for businesses is the biggest threat to Australia in a very global world. It is therefore inevitable that business behaviour will be stifled over the short-term and delays in occupier decision making will persist. 

Despite this, over the medium-term there are reasons to be positive. First, the pessimistic scenarios highlighted during politicised campaigns often fail to emerge. Second, as the dust settles, and the UK and global economy stabilises, businesses will reconnect with the fundamental qualities of Australia as a business location; ranging from corporate tax rates, to the large consumer market, to the highly skilled worker base, to the lifestyle.

Matt Whitby is Head of Research & Consulting, Australia, Knight Frank and can be contacted here.

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