Property investment

Chinese, Hongkongers accelerate property purchases in London

London property investment originating from Hong Kong and China has risen to US$2.5bln so far this year, according to property consultants JLL

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 9:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 9:30pm

London property is attracting accelerating investment flows from Hong Kong and mainland China, encouraged by the depreciating pound and the softening market, consultants JLL said.

Over the 12 months to September, investment from these regions into the British capital jumped 45 per cent on year, JLL’s head of central London capital markets Julian Sandbach said.

The pound’s fall against the yuan and the Hong Kong dollar after the Brexit referendum decision in June, an increase in funds looking to diversify around the world and a hunt for yield in a low-interest rate world are all factors that have driven Hong Kong and mainland Chinese investors to London, he said.

“In Hong Kong, for a lot of the wealthiest individuals, a lot of their wealth has been created in real estate,” Sandbach told the Post in Hong Kong.

“So there’s a natural affinity to the sector and therefore buying London commercial buildings is second nature.” Hong Kong and mainland Chinese investors have channelled US$2.47 billion into the London property market in the first nine months of this year, more than the US$1.93 billion they spent during the whole of 2015.

The spending accounts for 29 per cent of the total transactions in London by value, compared with under 1 per cent in 2006. Hong Kong and mainland Chinese investors have spent more since Brexit than the combined outlays from 2006 to 2011, according to JLL data.

“Hong Kong capital has been investing overseas for many, many years, and has invested into London over the past 20 to 30 years, whereas mainland capital is still relatively new,” said Alistair Meadows, JLL’s head of international capital group for Asia-Pacific.

China made up 15 per cent of the market volume by price this year compared to Hong Kong’s 8 to 9 per cent, Meadows said. About 70 per cent of investment into London property is from foreign buyers.

Immediately after the Brexit vote, there had been some volatility and some retail funds had refused to let investors exit, but that has settled down now and some funds had reopened for redemptions, Sandbach said.

Meadows said this year London is expected to attract around US$16 billion in real estate investment, easing from US$23.4 billion last year.

Meadows said while it was true that the Brexit factor had deterred some investors, a cooling in the London market had been underway for some time.

Investment momentum had been slowing since reaching a peak in 2014 to 2015, owing to macroeconomic factors such as stock market volatility, oil prices and political uncertainty, he said.

“I think it’s important to put the referendum in context,” Meadows said. “We knew that [the 2014 and 2015 levels] weren’t going to be sustainable.”

But there has been no drop-off in appetite from Chinese investors, and JLL expects the trend of mainland and Hong Kong buyers getting into the London market to continue, with the possibility that investors will start to broaden their search to cities like Manchester and Birmingham.

“It’s a combination of factors here in Hong Kong. Hong Kong investors have a natural affinity to [Britain] and London,” Sandbach said, adding that London was politically stable and had a highly educated workforce.

“Also, there’s a number of possible push factors here ... If your wealth is here and there are various changes afoot, both politically and economically, then it’s a sensible strategy to diversify that wealth.”

Thomas Lam, head of valuation and consultancy at Knight Frank, said the depreciation of the yuan and concerns about the economic outlook have contributed to the outflow of capital.

“For a lot of rich individuals in China, they already have a lot of property investments in China,” he said. “They can’t put all their money in China.”

Last week, the pound fell to a 31-year low against the US dollar after French President Francois Hollande indicated he supported a so-called “hard Brexit”.

Despite the uncertainty, Sandbach said he expects Britain’s property market to hold up.

“One thing we’ll continue to see is the overseas dominance of buying London real estate,” he added.

Juwai, the world’s No 1 Chinese international property portal, said last month that it expected ongoing demand from Hong Kong-based buyers in Britain’s property market, driven by both education and investment goals.