Asians buy more than property in Australia

MRBALAJI SWAMINATHAN, head of Westpac’s international headquarters
MRBALAJI SWAMINATHAN, head of Westpac’s international headquarters

Weaker A$ and lower interest rates attract investment in sectors such as infrastructure

Asian investors are moving beyond property and natural resources in Australia and looking at companies in the service, technology, agriculture and manpower sectors.

Other than attractive prices due to a depreciating Australian dollar, funds are cheaper to borrow due to lower interest rates. The proprietary technology available in Australian companies is also a reason for the increased interest.

Australian companies tend to attract Asian investors, who look at the potential of a business in the context of a much bigger Asian market, noted Mr Balaji Swaminathan, head of Australian bank Westpac's international headquarters.

Infrastructure assets are also immensely popular with Asian investors, he added. "In the last 12 months, we have financed 11 out of the 12 infrastructure deals in Australia," he disclosed.

Mr Swaminathan said his team is spending more time talking to chief executives of Asian companies about their interest in acquisitions in Australia and New Zealand.

SPRINGBOARD TO ASIA

"Singapore is probably a lot more global than we all think it is. ''

MR BALAJI SWAMINATHAN, head of Westpac's international headquarters

He joined Westpac in 2012 with the mandate to grow the team in the Singapore office and expand into different markets. In three years, he has increased the bank's client base by threefold to around 500.

After a phase of aggressive growth, the wholesale bank now aims to grow at a more moderate pace of 12 to 15 per cent, servicing its key Asian markets of China, India, Singapore and Indonesia.

Westpac views Singapore as an "important strategic market", said Mr Swaminathan, adding that it plans to expand its operations in the next few years, possibly centralising some of its trade operations here as well as increasing the range of financial products.

Access to banking talent, favourable time zone with Australia, proximity to key Asian markets such as China and a well-regulated finance sector make Singapore an attractive location for Westpac, he said.

Many of its clients from the northern hemisphere are increasingly looking to use Singapore to access the Asian market. "Singapore is probably a lot more global than we all think it is," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'Asians buy more than property in Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe