Confessions of a China banker: 'it was all a bit dodgy'

Angus Grigg Australian Financial Review Friday, 13 May 2016

By mid-2013 all the focus was on China, but credit and compliance officers within Australia's big four banks were never comfortable with their new clients.

According to one insider, the lending boom to Chinese nationals for residential and commercial property in Australia was always a little fraught.

Yes, there was plenty of money to be made it just required a different appetite for risk than most traditional bankers were accustomed to.

"We never knew where the money was coming from," says the insider, who asked not to be named.

"Anyone who said they did was just pretending. It was all a bit dodgy."

That lending boom to Chinese nationals for residential property came to an abrupt halt this week when National Australia Bank followed its peers in tightening lending restrictions for foreign buyers.


Jason Anderson, the chief economist at property consulting firm MacroPlan, believes there has already been a marked slow-down in the number of Chinese buyers inspecting off the plan apartments in Australia.

"Previously developers were selling out a new project on the opening day, but that's not happening now," he says.

"Now they might sell a third [of the project] and this involves lots of haggling."

Mr Anderson said the feedback from agents was that prices are holding steady.

That may change as new apartment settlements reach a peak in the middle of next year, but he believes there are two very big macro-economic factors working in Australia's favour.

Mr Anderson has identified a clear correlation between a downturn in Chinese property prices and big flows of money into Australia.

That trend began in mid-2012, but reversed in the first three months of this year as the Chinese property market roared back to life – prices in Shanghai are up 20 per cent so far this year.

"Maybe we've seen a bit of a portfolio shift back to China," he says.

But he believes this trend could swing back Australia's way once prices in China begin to flatten out.

The other factor is the Australian dollar, which is set to resume its downward movement if the Reserve Bank of Australia cuts interest rates once or twice more.

"The fall in the dollar could be equal to the value of a deposit on an apartment," he says.

This suggests it's too early to call the end of the Chinese property boom, even if the banks have had enough for the moment.



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