Property tops mining for foreign cash

Canberra has approved more than $170 billion worth of foreign investment in Australia in 2011-12, according to the annual report released by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

The real estate sector has replaced mining as the magnet for foreign money for the first time in recent history. Treasury gave a tick to $59.1 billion worth of overseas investment into the property sector, with more than two-thirds of that going into commercial property.

There has been an influx of foreign cash into commercial property led by Asian investors and offshore pension funds. Interest in the residential sector decreased slightly from $20.9 billion in 2010-11 to $19.7 billion in 2011-12. NSW is the favourite investment destination for overseas real estate investors, followed by Victoria and Queensland.

Though interest in the mining industry declined from previous years, it still managed to attract $51.7 billion worth of investment. The oil and gas sector attracted the most investment, followed by gold/copper and iron ore.

Foreign interest in iron ore – Australia’s single-largest exporter earner – declined over the past two years. In 2010-11, there was only $3 billion worth of investment in the industry. It regained some lost ground in 2011-12 to $8 billion. In comparison, close to $50 billion worth of investment was approved between 2008-10. The US remains the single-largest source of investment, with more than $36.6 billion worth of projects, followed by Britain and China. It is the fourth consecutive year that China has been ranked in the top three investors in this country.

The sensitive agricultural, forestry and fishing sector only accounted for a fraction of total investment at 2 per cent, but there has been an significant increase of investment from $1.4 billion in 2010-11 to $3.8 billion in 2011-12.

The three largest investors in this sector are Canadian, British and American. The report says the average level of foreign investment in the sector has been just over $2.5 billion. ”Investment proposals in this sector are inherently irregular and can be skewed by large transaction with several large competing bidders.”

In 2011-12, Chinese investors made $27 million worth of investment in the sector, less than 1 per cent of the total investment in the Australian agricultural sector.

The Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, called for greater co-operation between Australia and China in the agricultural sector in a new joint report. He said the Australian government would continue to make transparency in foreign investment a high priority. He said prospective investors needed to consider the employment of suitably skilled Australian workers in new agricultural developments before they could turn to the overseas labour market.

Source: BusinessDay

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