Australians are too suspicious of the nationality of our new neighbours

Australians are too suspicious of the nationality of our new neighbours
Australians are too suspicious of the nationality of our new neighbours

Foreign investor interest in Australia remains strong, the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) chair David Irvine suggests.

But the latest FIRB report revealed a strong shift with the United States stepping up its investment in the 2017-18 period accompanied by declining Chinese investment easing into second place.

The United Kingdom, Singapore, Canada, the Netherlands and France make up the top seven.

The latest report on foreign investment showed the US recorded a $10 billion increase in approved investment to $36 billion in 2017-18, with significant increases in real estate and the manufacturing, electricity and gas sectors.  

China was the second largest source country with a $15 billion decrease in approved proposed investment to $23 billion.

The reduction in approved Chinese investment was due to falls across all investment sectors but especially property. Chinese proposed investment peaked at $47.3 billion in 2015–16.  

Chinese investment in real estate dropped to $12.7 billion in 2017-18 from $15.3 billion the year before, though still accounted for a quarter of foreign real estate investment.

Victoria gets the greatest share of Chinese residential investment with 46% of all approvals, with NSW in a distant second with 23% followed by Queensland's 17%.

The data doesn't track people who don't need to request approval, which means NSW might be actually getting more investment. 

But it seems Melbourne retains advantages over Sydney in terms of prices and taxes. 

Chinese buying is being impacted by several factors, local and international.

There's been the unexpected cancelling of promised mortgage loans by Australian banks, plus the higher foreign stamp duty taxes, along with Chinese government capital controls making it more difficult to move money from China, suggests Carrie Law, the boss of the Chinese property portal Juwai.

"We expect Chinese buying to be flat in 2019," Law thinks.

I don't think we ought regard the recent trend as permanent given tailwinds that will support Chinese buying including the still-strong Chinese wealth growth.

There is the desire to get a bargain while the market is soft. Plus, Law suggest there is a lack of investment opportunities in China, along with a possible shift in investment from the U.S. to Australia due to any emerging trade war.

Additionally the yuan’s weakness is not holding back investment in property as there is an advantage in currency rates in favour of Australia compared to other major countries. 

The Chinese also lack appealing alternative investments at home.

Interestingly, the Federal Government's crackdown on residential properties held by foreigners in breach of the foreign investment rules uncovered just 131 now-sold illegally held properties in 2017-2018.

No nationalities were advised in the figure which was up slightly from the 96 ordered forced sales in 2016-17.

There were other breaches that did not see any forced divestment.

More than half the breaches identified were residential property in Victoria, while 20% related to property in New South Wales after the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) completed around 1,400 residential real estate investigations during the year.

ATO data matching analysis is increasingly important in compliance investigations. 

Data matching made up 63% of the 1,700 cases investigated in 2017–18.

Although information received from the community is a source of intelligence, only a small proportion actually involved a breach of the Act.

The report noted that in most cases the owners of the properties reported by community members were found to be Australian citizens or permanent residents.

That suggests we might a little too quick to judge our new neighbours.

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of Australia's most respected property journalists, having been at the top of the game since the early 1980s. Jonathan co-founded the property industry website Property Observer and has written for national and international publications.

China Foreign Investment

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