US largest overseas buyers of NZ land, KPMG study finds

The KPMG study shows the US bought 40% of OIO approved land sales, China purchased 11%, while Hong Kong bought 7%.

Investors from the US were the largest overseas buyers of land in New Zealand between 2013 and 2015, analysis of Overseas Investment Office approvals shows, with China far behind.

The KPMG study, Foreign Direct Investment in New Zealand, shows the US bought 40% of OIO approved land sales. China purchased 11%, while Hong Kong bought 7%. The authors say that forestry transactions are the most significant driver of this statistic, rather than dairy or agribusiness.

The US and Canada were the most significant source of foreign direct investment over the three years, with the US providing 17%, Canada 15%, Australia 12% and China 9%. This may downplay Australia's involvement because New Zealand investment below $496 million which doesn't involve a fishing quota or sensitive land no longer requires OIO approval.

The report's authors note that Asian countries "have generally had a narrower investment focus on dairy, food and the waste management sectors. By contrast, the traditional investment markets of the US and Australia have a much broader base of investment, perhaps reflecting the maturity of their economies and their investment networks."

The majority of overseas transactions involving New Zealand assets or companies "are between an offshore vendor and an offshore investor," the authors add.

Total investment in New Zealand by overseas investors for the three years was $26.3 billion. The largest transaction was the sale of listed consumer goods company Goodman Fielder in Feb 2015, for $1.27 billion. The dominant sellers were Australian, while the new owners are based in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Investment into energy, power, and utilities made up the largest sector of investment at 18%, reflecting the government sell-off during this period. Real estate was second, at 16%, partly reflecting the $1 billion purchase of shopping centre owner St Lukes Group by Singaporean investors in March 2015. Agribusiness made up 13% of total investment.

Chinese investment into New Zealand was overwhelmingly focused on energy, power and utilities, with the sector making up 70% of all investment. By contrast, agribusiness was just 16%. However, agribusiness made up four of the top 10 transactions made by China over the period.

Breaking down the agribusiness sector, investment in dairy and milk processing made up 38% of investment, reflecting a period in which dairy prices peaked. Forestry made up 17%, wine 14%, and beef and sheep 9%.

China was the largest foreign investor in dairy at 28%, with France the second largest investor on 13%. Total investment in agri-business was $3.4 billion.

Ian Proudfoot, KPMG's Global Head of Agribusiness, said it was vital New Zealand remained open for business.

"The only way we're going to create a fairer share of the value we create is by having good quality foreign partners in offshore markets so we can build businesses of a global scale."

Proudfoot cited the deal between Silver Fern Farms and Shanghai Maling, due to take effect from next January, as an investment that would grow New Zealand's presence on the world stage.


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