Since the crash of the Chinese stock market, which has seen share prices tumble 20 percent since mid-June, Chinese investors have begun to refocus their attention on blue-chip tangible assets, a well-known reflex in the face of global uncertainty and volatile equity markets. This has encouraged a flight of capital toward safe haven property markets, which has been widely reported worldwide.
In Europe, Central London has been the main beneficiary due to its perceived political and economic stability and the strength of its legal system. It remains one of the most globally robust asset classes and, with more instability on the economic landscape together with plummeting oil prices, it remains the ultimate safe haven. This places it far apart from the rest of Europe, which is still suffering from the aftereffects of the credit crunch and the continuing Greek debt crisis.
Prime Central London, or PCL, also stands apart from the rest of the United Kingdom, where average prices stand no higher than pre-credit crunch levels and which is still affected by UK domestic issues such as employment, earnings and mortgage availability.
London, on the other hand, is an international financial center, a go-to destination, a pinnacle of culture and a center of educational excellence. At its heart is Prime Central London. These six square miles of real estate house some of the world's most iconic properties. It is an area that is globally recognizable to Chinese buyers, is geographically well located and where there exists an enduring belief in its longevity.
Even prior to the stock market crash, the Chinese presence had been growing in London in the past decade, influenced heavily by the growing mobility of the wealthy, who can send their children to study overseas and look for top quality accommodation to go with this top-drawer education. Eighty-two percent of affluent Chinese families had been planning to send their children to study overseas before the stock market turmoil. With an increased appetite to buy in the face of turmoil in their local markets, this may presage a new wave of international investment in the Central London market.
For Chinese investors who already own property in London, and who have not suffered catastrophic financial losses, the likelihood is that they will keep their money in residential property as a safe haven when other investments options are failing. For the wealthiest elite, with liquid cash, we also expect they will continue to plump for Central London property as they seek a stable home for their capital. On the ground, we have received no feedback from our Chinese investors expressing a desire to sell.
For wealthy Chinese investors who may have seen huge losses to their balance sheet as the stock market tumbled, however, the relentless march to Central London property may slow down. Anecdotally, we have heard of some investors who are pulling out of purchases because they no longer have the necessary capital. This will have the most marked effect on the new-build market. This is the favored investment for local Asian markets as new builds are aggressively marketed on the Chinese mainland, offer modernity that particularly appeals to these buyers and provide a quick and easy way to pack money into the London property market.
Despite typical press hype - that foreign buyers force local buyers out of the market - any movement of capital from Chinese investors should be encouraged. With 50 percent of PCL residential properties bought for rental rather than owner occupation, this sector represents a hive of business activity that stimulates economic growth. Indeed, foreign investors make up at least 60 percent of the total buying market in PCL and contribute a staggering 1.2 billion pounds ($1.8 billion) a year to the economy through rental investment purchases alone.
Going down the food chain, the international tenants who occupy these flats also support the economy in a major way. They contribute to the 10 billion pounds spent on the retail trade, education, the night-time economy and tourism, and make up the cosmopolitan population that underpins London's vibrant community.
The author, Naomi Heaton, is chief executive at London Central Portfolio Ltd.