China Money Leaks Offshore
雖 然香港經濟只是剛剛從衰退中復蘇﹐但香港的住房價格今年已經上漲了約30%。而在珠江口的另一邊﹐澳門的博彩業官員們正在討論放慢當地博彩業增長的措施﹐ 此前澳門這一業務的收入連續三個月達到創紀錄水平﹐其中8月份和10月份的水平更是創出歷史新高。澳門10月份的博彩業收入為15.8億美元﹐大約是美國 內華達州博彩業同期收入的兩倍。
安 理國際律師事務所(Allen & Overy LLP)駐北京的律師姜穎(Jane Jiang)說﹐雖然北京會依賴銀行對離岸資金轉移進行監督﹐但卻有數不清的方式來繞開這些監督措施﹐從偽造合同到直接用手提箱將錢帶到香港﹐不一而足。 姜穎擅長辦理與中國外匯控制有關的案子。
這 部分資金很多投向了房地產。港府數據顯示﹐自從該計劃6年前實施以來﹐截至9月底﹐已有3,907名中國大陸人獲準投資移民香港﹐這給香港的房地產市場總 計帶來了13.4億美元資金。僅今年一年﹐那些成功申請到香港居民身份的中國大陸人就將4.773億美元帶入了香港房地產市場。
美聯移民 顧問有限公司(Midland Immigration Consultancy Ltd.)的行政總裁吉安(Thomas Kut)說﹐許多中國大陸人想送子女來香港上學﹐他們將這座城市看作是一扇通向外部世界的窗口。他說﹐香港與大陸很近﹐與大陸同處一個時區﹐這裡的語言容 易學習﹐移民香港的大陸人可以隨時往返香港與大陸之間。美聯移民顧問有限公司是香港最大房地產中介機構之一美聯集團的子公司。
高力國際(Colliers International)駐上海地產經紀人Hing-yin Lee說﹐雖然存在資本控制﹐但香港的投資移民政策實際上為中國大陸居民在海外購買地產提供了一條合法渠道。
其中一些資金正在進一步湧向國外。地產中介Asterisk Realty Tokyo董事總經理Yukihiko Ito說﹐過去兩年東京和橫濱公寓市場的中國大陸買家數量急劇上升﹐很多人都是通過中國大陸旅行社過來買房的。
Soaring property prices in Hong Kong and booming baccarat tables in Macau offer a telling glimpse of how money is leaking out of mainland China, in defiance of Beijing's strict capital controls, and shaking up two of the country's key offshore markets.
Housing prices in Hong Kong, a city still barely recovering from recession, have risen some 30% this year. On the opposite side of the Pearl River Delta, Macau gambling officials are discussing measures to slow growth there after a trio of record-breaking months, including all-time highs in August and then October. October's revenue of US$1.58 billion is about double that of Nevada for the same period.
It is no secret who brought the party: cash-rich mainland Chinese, eager to put their money to work.
Massive stimulus spending and easy credit in China have likely added to flow of cash through under-the-table transfers, research firm GaveKal Dragonomics wrote recently in a note to clients. 'The sheer amount of 'shady money' flowing to Hong Kong and Macau is becoming slightly embarrassing for Beijing,' the note said.
Officially, China's capital-control regime regulates the amount of money flowing in and out of mainland Chinese borders, including into the Chinese special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. But in practice, money flows liberally through offshore bank accounts and a number of other nonofficial channels, experts say.
Jane Jiang, a Beijing-based lawyer for Allen & Overy LLP who specializes in issues tied to China's foreign-exchange controls, says that while Beijing relies on banks to monitor offshore money transfers, there are countless ways to get around these measures, from falsifying contracts to carrying money in suitcases to Hong Kong.
Because mainland citizens are given an annual cap of US$50,000 a year that they are allowed to convert into foreign currencies for use for a variety of things such as vacations and online purchases from overseas Web sites, pooling money from family members is another easy way to get around restrictions.
Business owners with overseas operations or Hong Kong bank accounts have even easier access to foreign capital to play with, since these are beyond the control of Beijing's regulators. In short, Ms. Jiang says: 'The possibilities are infinite.'
To be sure, far more money is flowing into China than out, as global capital races to cash in on China's robust economic rebound and as many investors bet that its currency will strengthen. But there are also incentives driving money in the other direction.
Hong Kong partly encourages the inflow of Chinese money through a government immigration and investment program. Under the program Chinese nationals who already enjoy residency rights abroad can immigrate to Hong Kong after investing 6.5 million Hong Kong dollars, or about about US$839,000, in the territory.
A lot of that money goes into property. Since the program began six years ago, 3,907 'investment immigrants' from mainland China had won approval by the end of September, plunking down a total of US$1.34 billion in the city's property market, according to government data. This year alone, US$477.3 million went into Hong Kong's property market from mainland Chinese who successfully applied for local residency.
'Many mainland Chinese want to send their children to schools in Hong Kong, and they see the city as a window to the outside world,' says Thomas Kut, the chief executive of Midland Immigration Consultancy Ltd., an arm of one of Hong Kong's biggest real-estate brokers. 'Hong Kong is close, the time zones are the same, the language is easy to learn and they can travel back and forth whenever they feel like it.'
Over China's weeklong National Day holidays in early October, Mr. Kut led about 40 mainland Chinese to a new luxury condominium in the city's Fo Tan district, not far from Hong Kong's border with China.
'I'm not afraid to buy now,' said one buyer, a Guangzhou resident who identified herself only as Ms. Sheng. Ms. Sheng, an exporter, was eyeing a 2,000-square foot apartment overlooking one of Hong Kong's horse-racing tracks.
Hong Kong's investment immigrant policy effectively opens a legitimate way for Chinese residents to buy property outside the mainland despite the capital controls, says Hing-yin Lee, a Shanghai-based property broker for Colliers International.
The tidal wave of mainland Chinese money into both Hong Kong and Macau has posed a challenge for policymakers. Fears of overly rapid growth in Macau's gambling revenue have prompted mainland Chinese officials to tighten visa policies for mainland visitors traveling to the territory's casinos. In recent years, a local backlash against mainland Chinese bidding up property prices forced Macau's government to scrap its own 'investment immigrant' program.
Some Hong Kong people fear that Chinese money is pushing local property prices beyond their reach.
'Rich mainlanders are coming in, and it has a big effect. Hong Kong is so tiny, and China is so big,' says Emily Lau, a legislator who attended a rally last month protesting soaring property prices. When mainland Chinese buyers bid up luxury home prices, 'the high end affects the mid-end of the market, and it pulls the whole thing up,' says Ms. Lau, who has asked the government to investigate allegations of money laundering.
Cheng Lai-king, a 50-year-old social worker who attended the march, said the government should look into restricting home purchases in Hong Kong to only local residents. 'There's so much money flooding into Hong Kong from outside, and it's messing with our market.'
Some of that money is flowing further afield. Yukihiko Ito, managing director of property broker Asterisk Realty Tokyo, says he has seen a sharp rise in mainland Chinese buyers in the Tokyo and Yokohama condominium market over the past two years, many of them brought in by Chinese travel agencies.
The buyers, Mr. Ito says, sometimes pay for their US$1 million condos with suitcases full of yen, hoping to collect rent while socking their money away overseas. 'We are brokers, so we don't ask where the money comes from if they don't say,' Mr. Ito says.
Some experts think that Beijing may actually be countenancing the outward flows as a safety valve against rising pressure on its own currency, even if officially the government wants to keep money flowing through channels it can monitor.
The State Administration of Foreign Exchange, Beijing's principal regulator, has in recent years tested ways to let money flow more freely as it moves cautiously toward internationalizing its currency, creating release valves to prevent asset-price inflation amid currency inflows and expectations of the yuan's long-term appreciation.
In 2007, Beijing tinkered with letting Chinese invest directly in Hong Kong's stock market before the plan was scrapped. Late last month, Beijing expanded a program that allows ordinary Chinese to invest indirectly in overseas stocks through licensed domestic institutions, approving an additional $1.5 billion in the program's first such expansion in 17 months.