How A Chinese Sneeze Could Give Australian Property A Cold


They say you should be careful what you wish for because you just might get it and that may be coming true for those who wished for less Chinese investment in the Australian property market.

Following the record fall in the Chinese stockmarket last month and a devaluation of the yuan which is threatening to turn into a freefall, a panicked Chinese Government has started to beef up its controls on capital outflows.

That will make it harder for Chinese citizens to get their money out to put into Australian property, both as developers and as passive investors.

It is not hard to imagine the potential ramifications for the property industry of a slump in Chinese investment.
According to the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), China is the largest foreign real estate investor in Australia, followed by the US.

China's Minister of Commerce Dr Gao Hucheng, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb after the signing of China Australia Free Trade Agreement.[/caption]However, the liberalisation that facilitated these investments now seems likely to go into reverse.

Already, in a bid to protect the yuan, the Chinese government has restricted currency hedging which is vital for corporates to invest overseas.

The People's Bank of China announced new regulations that will make it more expensive for investors to hedge against further drops in the Chinese yuan against the US dollar.

According to The Australian Financial Review, China's largest banks are also stepping up their checks on large foreign-exchange conversions by corporate clients.

China's financial regulators are also targeting illegal money-transfer agents who help wealthy Chinese transfer money out of the country.

Of course, some of this is not new. Chinese individuals already needed approval to transfer more than $50,000 out of the country.

Chinese investors[/caption]Corporates had a little bit more freedom, being allowed to move money offshore either to pay for imports or for approved foreign investments.

Until now, investors have been able to find a way around these regulations, either by getting friends or relatives to send foreign currencies overseas in small quantities below the reporting threshold or by inventing fake invoices that allow them to send more money offshore.

So in many cases, Chinese investors have been flouting both Chinese and Australian law when they buy local property.

Beijing has now made its most serious moves to limit these illegal outflows, with the foreign exchange regulator sending the names of people with a record of trying to evade the rules to the country's banks.

It is threatening to punish and fine banks that ignore such transactions.

And Chinese officials are also shutting down underground banks that help Chinese investors shift money out of the country.

With the uncertain investment environment in China, the desire of corporations and the well-heeled to move money to offshore safe havens will only become stronger.

So it remains to be seen if the crackdown will really achieve its goal of reducing the flow of investment funds to countries including Australia.

But the prospect that this could happen just highlights how vital Chinese investment has become to the vibrancy of the development industry.

It has never been more true that, as China's Xinhua news agency claimed last week: “When China sneezes, the world could catch a cold.”

“When China thrives, the world has much to hope for."

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