Seismic shifts in Chinese investment in Australia, finds KPMG joint report

Seismic shifts in Chinese investment in Australia


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Dramatic structural changes have driven strong shifts in the sector, number and types of deals being made by Chinese investors in Australia. For the first time nearly half of investment was concentrated in commercial real estate transactions, with investment in infrastructure also increasing significantly. Also for the first time, Chinese private sector investment exceeded state-owned enterprise investment, both in terms of volume and value.

New South Wales attracted a staggering 72 percent of total Chinese investment, with seven of the eight largest completed deals in 2014 being NSW domiciled.

These are among the key findings of the latest Demystifying Chinese Investment in Australia report by KPMG Australia and The University of Sydney China Studies Centre, analysing Chinese outbound direct investment into Australia in 2014. The report includes a specialist contribution from Knight Frank, analysing the unprecedented increase in commercial real estate investment during the year.

In 2014 China became a global net foreign investor for the first time, with total outbound direct investment volume rising by around 11 percent to USD 120 billion. Although Australia maintained its standing as the second largest recipient country of aggregated global Chinese direct investment, behind the United States in first position, for the second consecutive year Chinese investment in Australia declined. 

Overall, Chinese investment in Australia fell 9.1 percent for the 2014 calendar year, from USD 9.19 billion to USD 8.35 billion. The major reason for the decline was a downward trend in new mining and energy sector investment.

“It is not surprising to see that Chinese companies’ investment destinations are changing, from resource rich developing countries to developed countries providing access to advanced technologies, established brands, extensive industry experience and worldwide distribution networks. While the trend away from resources has led to a decline in Chinese investment in Australia, the trend towards real estate, leisure, advanced technologies, food and services works in Australia’s favour for the longer term,” said report co-author, Doug Ferguson, Head of KPMG Australia’s Asia Business Group. 

Vaughn Barber, Head of Outbound, KPMG China, says: “With USD1.25 trillion in overseas direct investment predicted over the next decade, China seems set to enter the fast lane as a ‘global investor’. Overseas investments are helping more Chinese companies from more sectors access new markets, and acquire the experience, technology, brands and human capital necessary to become more competitive.”

The report points to a number of significant positives and opportunities in what the authors describe as a ‘new normal’ of Chinese outbound direct investment in Australia – diversification into new sectors including real estate, infrastructure, leisure and tourism and food which is being led by Chinese private sector companies.

“In our 2013 annual update report, we observed that Chinese direct investment in Australia had reached a turning point away from resources towards real estate, infrastructure, and consumer sectors. This trend has continued in 2014,” said Professor Hans Hendrischke, Professor of Chinese Business & Management, China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney Business School. 

“Under this ‘new normal’ scenario Chinese companies are expected to continue to invest over USD 90 billion into Australia in the next decade.”

He said that the key investment areas for this would be energy, infrastructure, real estate, leisure and tourism, technology, services, and food and agribusiness.


Investment by Industry

Chinese direct investment in Australia was mainly focused on commercial real estate (46 percent, up from 14 percent in 2013), infrastructure (21 percent) and for the first time, a material investment in the tourism and leisure sectors (12 percent). Mining represented 11 percent of investment (down from 24 percent the previous year), with energy at 7 percent. Manufacturing and agribusiness remained flat, attracting 2 percent and 1 percent respectively.

Commercial real estate was the standout for Chinese investment in 2014. According to the report, Chinese investment volume in commercial real estate nearly quadrupled in one year to AUD 4.37 billion.

Knight Frank Australia, who provided a special analysis on Chinese outbound direct investment in commercial real estate in the report, said there had been a huge surge in Chinese outward investment into real estate in recent years, led by the softening of Chinese market conditions and government policy encouraging overseas investment by Chinese firms. 

“In turn, this has led to increasing investment levels in gateway markets globally – particularly in Australia,” said Matt Whitby, Knight Frank’s Group Director, Head of Research & Consulting. “The total value of Chinese outward real estate investment globally skyrocketed from USD 600 million in 2009 to USD 16.9 billion in 2014 – 10 percent higher than 2013 and a substantial 205 percent increase from 2012. Already over USD 7.8 billion of commercial real estate has transacted in the first four months of 2015.”

Looking ahead, Mr Whitby said he expects 2015 will be another record year for Chinese outward investment, both internationally and into Australia, with the expectation of more than USD 20 billion worth of investments transacting globally. So far the majority of the Chinese outward investment has been focused in gateway cities of Australia, the US and the UK.

“After heavy investment in prime office buildings and subsequent yield compression in gateway cities, Chinese investors have begun to look increasingly at opportunities in other key cities and other property sectors, and importantly, in suburban locations in metropolitan Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne – not just within the CBD and fringe markets. In the commercial sector, retail and hotels will start to garner more interest following relatively subdued activity over the past few years by comparison to residential development sites,” added Mr Whitby.

Infrastructure. Many large and experienced Chinese companies have shown genuine interest in investing in Australian infrastructure. Three major infrastructure deals accounted for 20 percent of the total 2014 investment value with the largest single Chinese investment in the year being the acquisition of John Holland by CCCI for an enterprise value of approximately AUD 1.5 billion, followed by the Newcastle Port investment by China Merchants Group and Hastings Funds Management.

Leisure and Retail. Another new trend reflecting China’s domestic reorientation towards social consumption and consumer oriented services is outbound investment in the leisure sector. Twelve percent of Chinese direct investment was recorded in the leisure and retail sector during the year.

Mining, Energy, Oil and Gas. The proportion of investment in mining continued to decline from 23 percent of total value in 2013, to 11 percent in 2014. For reasons that are well known, there is little prospect for major growth in the short term.

Agribusiness. Despite ongoing community interest, there were only a handful of small-to-medium sized agribusiness sector investments during 2014, accounting for only 1 percent of the annual total. However, 2015 looks like it could be a more active and promising year for the sector.

Investment by Geography

NSW stood out as the top destination for Chinese direct investment in 2014, attracting 72 percent of Chinese investment. Western Australia attracted 12 percent, with Queensland and Victoria each with 8 percent. Seven of the eight largest completed deals were NSW domiciled.

Investment by Deal Size

During the year four mega sized transactions with values over more than AUD 500 million (totaling AUD 3.9 billion) occurred in new areas such as construction (John Holland), leisure (Hoyts), major port infrastructure (Newcastle) and mining (Aquila Resources). 

At the same time, there was a growing proportion of smaller sized deals between     AUD 25-100 million. Over half of the transactions (by number) fell into the category of AUD 25-100 million, accounting for 17 percent of the total transaction value. By comparison, only 35 percent of transactions fell into the size AUD 25-100 million in 2013.

“Mega sized deals traditionally occurred in the mining and resources sector. The fact that in 2014 such deals were also concluded in construction and leisure sectors is a sign of maturing and globalising investment from China, which bodes well for Australia as an investment destination,” added Mr Ferguson.

Investment by Ownership

The new consumer driven sectors are firing up with the private sector leading the charge. According to the report, for the first time private sector investment in Australia exceeded state owned enterprise investment in both number of deals (85 percent of total) and total value (67 percent or AUD 6.23 billion) in 2014.


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