SYDNEY (Reuters) - Chinese buyer enquiries for Australian homes rose for a second quarter in a row in March, latest data from Juwai.com showed, signalling a possible revival of demand for the Pacific nation’s beleaguered property market from a key investor base.
Chinese enquiries jumped 40% in the first quarter after a 54% gain in the three months to December - the first consecutive year-on-year rise since 2016, according to Juwai.com, China’s largest international property website.
“The recent quarters of slow recovery could herald the light at the end of the tunnel for Chinese residential property investment in Australia,” Juwai.com said.
“We’re not there yet, but the trend of the past fifteen months suggests that Chinese buying will come back to more substantial levels.”
A pick-up in Australia’s property market will be welcomed by policymakers worried about further weakness in the country’s already struggling economy. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) this month cut the cash rate to a record low 1% as it looks to revive growth and inflation.
Chinese have been the biggest buyers of Australian property for several years but tighter capital controls by Beijing and higher taxes for foreigners in the two biggest markets of Sydney and Melbourne have turned off investors.
Australia’s housing prices have fallen every month since late 2017 but they showed tentative signs of stabilisation in June with Sydney and Melbourne improving slightly.
“The poor performance of Australian housing prices is a deterrent to Chinese investors,” Juwai.com said.
“Our core case is that Chinese buying will be stable this year. We have to accept, however, that if the market’s downward spiral accelerates, we may actually see levels of Chinese buying decline in 2019 compared to 2018.”
Though price falls have slowed across Australia, home values are still down about 8% and back to the levels seen in mid-2016.
Factors that could boost Chinese investments, according to Juwai.com, include an easing in China’s capital controls, a lower Aussie dollar and a stabilisation in Australian home prices.
A weaker Aussie - it is down about 11% versus the Chinese yuan since last July - has helped offset the impact from higher state taxes, Juwai.com CEO and Director Carrie Law said.
A buyer holding yuan today needs the equivalent of $88,800 less in funds compared to 2017 to purchase an $800,000 dwelling, she noted.
Melbourne is the most popular Australian city for Chinese buying enquiries.
Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Shri Navaratnam