Capital controls at home and appealing prices in Bangkok are drawing high levels of real estate investment to Thailand.
The beginning of the year is a chance for people to take a deep breath and think about the long term. That’s why the most frequent question I get these days is about the full-year outlook for Chinese property buying in 2019.
The No.1 factor overlooked in Thailand is the degree to which Chinese property buying is the result of stimulants outside of Thailand. Bangkok-based market observers sometimes overrate the importance of local conditions to Chinese demand. Their frame of reference isn’t big enough.
Yes, local factors such as prices, yields, and fluctuations in the value of the baht help pull Chinese buyers to Thailand. However, for several years now these local factors have been much less important than the sheer number of Chinese families who are seeking attractive overseas real estate — now and in the years to come.
Please do not misunderstand me. Am I saying Chinese acquisitions of Bangkok condominiums will increase every single quarter? No, I am not.
What I am saying is Chinese buying is not like sunny weather that comes and goes. It is like a river that rises and falls but is always present and significant.
TWO KEY FACTORS
The first of the two key drivers for Chinese property purchases in Bangkok is the growing wealth of Chinese consumers with few appealing investment opportunities at home. The second is Beijing’s programme of capital controls.
Even though China’s economy is no longer growing at rates of 10% and higher, the growth rate is still more than 6%. That’s more than twice what is now prevalent in the US, a country China will pass in GDP size this decade. China has already surpassed the US to become the world’s largest manufacturer and biggest exporter. With about four times the US population, China has much more scope to grow.
The investment bank Credit Suisse counts 3.5 million US-dollar millionaires in mainland China. There are many more of what you might call “upper middle class” consumers. While the latter cannot generally afford to buy real estate in more expensive markets such as the US and Australia, they can do so in Bangkok — where prices start below the equivalent of US$150,000.
On a population-wide scale in China, wealth per adult has more than quadrupled over the past six years. For every one dollar the typical Chinese adult possessed in 2013, they now have four dollars.
It’s not just their growing riches that account for Chinese real estate buying. They also tend to trust real estate more than other assets.
Chinese banks offer only low-interest rates on deposits. The volatility and immaturity of Chinese equity markets made the Shanghai Composite Index the world’s worst performer in 2018. The government has enacted new rules that make it difficult to invest in Chinese real estate. And many alternative Chinese investments such as peer-to-peer lending and private equity funds have collapsed due to fraud, poor management, and government crackdowns.
Because few other appealing investment opportunities exist, the Chinese have put 53% of their wealth into real estate. In a 2018 survey, Chinese overseas investors named residential property their favorite asset class.
All of this evidence suggests the Chinese investor market is large enough, growing fast enough, and wealthy enough to generate significant demand for Bangkok condos for decades to come.
Now, let’s look at capital controls, which is a key reason that Chinese investors choose Bangkok and other Thai markets instead of cities in other countries.
Capital controls are as responsible for the growth in Chinese demand for Thai property as any other single factor. Beijing has always regulated the movement of money out of China but long overlooked violations. In December 2016, however, the authorities began much stiffer enforcement.
Capital controls reoriented many Chinese buyers from more expensive markets such as Australia to less expensive markets such as Thailand.
When it suddenly became harder to move large sums of money, Chinese buying inquiries for Thai property surged as a share of their inquiries about property worldwide, from about 5% in 2016 to more than 13% in 2017 and even higher in 2018.
Capital controls, growing Chinese wealth, and a dearth of other investment opportunities — these are the megatrends that push Chinese buyers towards Bangkok real estate.
For Thai developers and agents to take advantage of these trends, they must find effective ways to work with Chinese buyers. Those that do should be able to depend on them to pick up a significant share of their foreign buyer quota for years to come.
Carrie Law is the CEO of juwai.com, the largest Chinese international real estate portal.