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Curbs on funds transfer could hurt Chinese investment in overseas property

Property consultants split over effect of government move to tighten remittances in wake of alleged forex breaches by BOC

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2014, 11:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 5:02pm

Property consultants are divided on the central government's move to tighten remittances abroad, with some predicting a decline in offshore investment by mainlanders.

However, they said any reduction in purchases by mainlanders could only ease the tension with overseas countries that were increasingly concerned about the impact of the influx of Chinese capital.

"The tightening of remittances could have quite a big impact on outbound individual investors as many have been using this avenue to buy properties," said a property consultant who requested not to be named..

"The exact extent of the impact will depend on the form of the tightening and whether or not other avenues will open up."

Some consultants said the setback could be minor as there were other channels to send capital offshore.

The debate comes in the wake of a row over alleged breaches of strict foreign exchange controls by the Bank of China, one of the four biggest banks in the country.

The State Administration of Foreign Exchange was reported to have temporarily shut down BOC's Youhuitong remittance service last week, days after state broadcaster China Central Television accused the bank of engaging in money laundering for clients through that service.

Another property consultant, who arranges sales of overseas properties in Hong Kong, said that individual mainland buyers would have difficulty funding their purchases if BOC decided to terminate the remittance service.

"In our experience, most mainland clients have already lined up capital on the mainland when they come to buy overseas properties at exhibitions in Hong Kong," said the agent, who asked not to be named.

"Some of them pay cash, while others have arranged mortgages from mainland banks. They seldom need services from Hong Kong banks or mortgage consultancy services provided by developers.

"I believe our business will be hit."

However, the first property consultant said the change would not necessarily have a negative impact on overseas property markets.

"Chinese homebuyers who have bought a property are unlikely to sell. It will be more of a diminished buying ability rather than a withdrawal of capital," he said. "Many overseas markets were already concerned about the impact the influx of Chinese capital was having on their markets. These measures could release some of that tension."

Thomas Lam, a senior director and head of valuation and consultancy at Knight Frank, said foreign countries had raised concerns over the impact of Chinese capital flooding into their property markets.

Last month, it was reported that Jeju Island in South Korea had suspended approvals for property projects in which Chinese real estate companies had invested.

Governor Won Hee-ryong expressed concern that the influx of Chinese capital might turn Jeju into a "Chinatown".

Chinese capital reportedly accounted for more than 70 per cent of property transactions on the island.

The latest statistics from the National Association of Realtors, an industry group in the United States, show the value of Chinese purchases of US homes rose 19 per cent last year to US$22 billion.

The surge in spending made the Chinese the leading foreign buyers of US homes, accounting for 24 per cent of the value of purchases by foreigners.

China replaced Greece as one of the 10 largest sources of buyers in prime central London last year, according to Knight Frank.

But US property agent Patrick O'Neill did not expect the tightening on remittances to result in a major reduction of overseas investment by mainlanders.

"While the yuan remittance programme is in the headlines and has been suspended, there are countless other structures which facilitate the expatriation of Chinese funds globally," said O'Neill, who owns a company that specialises in international residential and commercial real estate.

"We do not expect the suspension of the yuan remittance service, the so-called Youhuitong scheme, to affect the international property purchasing power of the Chinese in any substantial measure.

"The Chinese will continue to have an impact on international property markets for the next decade."

Property consultants said there had long been a trend for Chinese buyers to acquire homes or investment properties in cities such as New York, London and Sydney as they sought safe havens for their cash and to build a base for their children to obtain an education in the West.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government's anti-corruption campaign, which is cooling spending on luxury items, is also driving some mainlanders to send more funds offshore.