Is Australia overbought?

With the well-publicised growth of Chinese investment into Australian commercial and residential real estate; and the surge in property prices, many have been asking if Australian property is becoming ‘overbought’.  

Despite an easing in the overall amount of Chinese investment into Australia in 2014, for the first time, investment into commercial real estate and infrastructure accounted for over half of the total transactions and was dominated by investments made by high net worth individuals and private enterprises. Also in 2015, Melbourne and Sydney overtook London as the second most popular destination for Chinese investment (Manhattan in New York is currently number one). With numbers like this, it is easy to understand why so many are concerned about the sustainability of Chinese investment into Australia and are worried that it may grind to a halt. However, I believe that the wave of Chinese investment is only just beginning and we still have a long way before Australia could be regarded as ‘overbought’. 

Over the past decade, China has accumulated large reserves of foreign capital due to the disparity between its outbound FDI and inbound FDI. However, since 2008, outbound FDI has started to increase dramatically and in 2014, it was almost equal to inbound FDI for the first time. And it is expected to grow even more – by approximately 10% year on year according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM). This is driven not only by the Government’s ‘Going Out’ Strategy and the new ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative (China’s new foreign policy encouraging infrastructure investments and developments across Asia and Europe), but also by encouraging private individuals and enterprises to invest overseas through a number of well publicised initiatives, including the Qualified Domestic Individual Investor (QDII) scheme, the internationalisation of the RMB and the push for greater diversification of assets overseas. With such a large wave of outbound foreign capital and a national priority to invest overseas, this indicates to me that the wave of investment from China has only just begun, and is likely to continue well into the future.

2014 was a significant year for Chinese investment into Australia. Even though overall investment decreased slightly from 2013, it was the first year that Chinese private sector investment exceeded state-owned enterprise investment. And also the first time that investment was diversified away from the mining and resources sector into new sectors, such as commercial real estate, infrastructure projects and the tourism and leisure industry. Also, Australia represented around 6% of China’s outbound FDI in 2014 indicating that there is still plenty more room for this number to grow. As China increases its outbound FDI by 10% each year, and with the growing interest in overseas property and infrastructure, we can expect to see new Chinese private enterprises, individuals and property development companies entering the Australian property market.

Chinese investment into global commercial real estate

Chinese investment into Australian commercial real estate

According to Knight Frank, for the first time ever in 2015, Chinese outbound investment into global commercial real estate reached USD$30 billion, double that of 2014. But what was particularly notable was that Australia received nearly 15 percent of this amount. I believe this is extremely significant because it demonstrates China’s commitment and interest in Australia’s property market. From travelling around China, particularly to the second and third tier cities, and my discussions with lesser-known but comparatively large property development groups, many are developing their own ‘Going Out’ Strategies and are drawn to Australia because of the well-established bilateral relationship, our well-regulated and relatively stable market government and our ‘clean, green and safe’ credentials.

Source: Knight Frank Research

Source: Knight Frank Research

So who can we expect to invest into Australian property? Besides wealthy Chinese individuals and private companies investing into off-the-plan properties or new property developments, research from Knight Frank indicates that Chinese insurance companies are also expected to participate in the next wave of investment. Currently, only Sunshine Insurance has invested in Australia (they purchased Sydney’s Sheraton on the Park Hotel and ‘The Vintage’ resort in the Hunter Valley) but the table above indicates that more than half of the major insurance companies have expressed interest to invest offshore. Of course there is no certainty that they will invest in Australia but the growing trend is evident. Taking into account the growth trajectories, the bilateral relationship and Chinese Government policies working in our favour, it is reasonable to assume that these companies may begin to start making significant investments across Australia, only adding to the ‘demand side’ of the equation.

Interestingly, it is not only ultra-rich Chinese individuals who are investing in Australian luxury properties; ultra-rich Indians are also becoming increasingly interested in the market. According to Agent Ken Jacobs, the head of Christie’s International Real Estate in Sydney, more ultra-rich Indians are embarking on ‘due diligence’ checks. Whilst these have not yet translated into sales, he expects this to happen in the next few years. In addition, ultra-wealthy investors from other Asian countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, are also expected to follow Chinese investors and become much more active in the Australian property market (residential and commercial).

To answer the question, no, I don’t believe Australia is overbought. There is every indication that Chinese investment into Australian property will continue to grow and we can also expect new players to emerge from other parts of Asia, including India, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The bigger question is whether Australia will be able to meet this demand. With Sydney and Melbourne’s CBDs becoming increasingly overcrowded; Governments, town planners, businesses and entrepreneurs have a once in a generation opportunity to capitalise on future inbound investment to design and build new residential, commercial and infrastructure projects to contribute to the growth of the outer suburban and even regional areas across Australia. This process of “nation building”, which is now so prevalent in other Asian countries, could be transformational for Australia as we grapple with the challenges and opportunities of living in the Asian Century.