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That Whoosh? It's the great Chinese property pullback

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 09:36

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That whoosh you just heard? It's Chinese money pulling back from property in London to New York.

[HONG KONG] That whoosh you just heard? It's Chinese money pulling back from property in London to New York.

Capital centers globally should brace for tumbling real-estate prices as Beijing manages to do what Brexit and higher interest rates haven't. Reflecting tighter regulations, China overseas direct property investment could drop 84 per cent to US$1.7 billion this year and about another 15 per cent to US$1.4 billion in 2018, according to Morgan Stanley.

Mainland money began piling into offshore commercial property in 2013. Land prices were expensive at home, and investors wanted to find a hedge against a weakening yuan.

Another draw was the prospect of higher returns in cities such as Sydney where yield spreads - the difference between rental yields and what government bonds pay - are higher. A slumping pound post June 2016's Brexit vote helped, too. While some marquee transactions are still being inked - think the purchase earlier this year of London's "Cheesegrater" tower by Chongqing-based, Hong Kong-listed CC Land Holdings Ltd - their numbers are dwindling.

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A strengthening yuan, along with China's One Belt One Road initiative that needs funding, will see many property deals dry up. Over the past few months, Beijing has made it tougher to get money out, clamped down on more fanciful transactions such as the buying of football clubs and luxury hotels, and is now going after some of the country's most prolific acquirers. Dalian Wanda Group Co, Anbang Insurance Group Co, HNA Group Co and Fosun International Ltd have all included real estate in their global buying binges.

Against that backdrop, and with increasing foreign-government scrutiny thrown into the mix, it's hard to see how Chinese offshore real estate acquisitions can continue at such a pace. Domestic developers are already finding it harder to tap international debt markets, and have been resorting to short-term securities instead.

This matters because Chinese capital accounted for one-quarter of commercial property transactions in central London last year, up from 1 per cent a decade ago. China is now the second-largest foreign investor in the US after Canada, and is responsible for between 12 and 25 per cent of all office transactions by value in Australia over the last two to three years. In Hong Kong, Chinese firms have bought about 80 per cent of the residential land sold so far in 2017, and have spent around  US$6.5 billion on office space from 2012 through 2016.

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