On the first day of a two-day summit in Perth, the Australian Government unveiled its latest national wealth-creation strategy.
It promises to create an extra $5.8 billion over five years by 2020 to help fund infrastructure and education in remote communities.
The scheme will also include funding for the creation of an Indigenous language and culture resource.
But how much of Australia’s $9.4 trillion worth of foreign wealth is overseas?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics, which sets national wealth figures, says the total value of overseas assets is estimated to be $1.5 trillion.
And it’s likely to rise.
In a recent report, the Reserve Bank of Australia estimated that foreign investment in Australian real estate and mining will account for around 10 per cent of total Australian assets.
But what about Australia’s foreign-owned banks?
According to the Australian Bureau, the total amount of money held by Australia’s banks is estimated at $3.3 trillion, up from $2.4tn in 2008.
According a 2015 study by Credit Suisse, banks have over $1 trillion in foreign assets in Australia.
The latest Australian National University study also estimates that banks have $2 trillion of overseas investments in Australia, or $1 per person.
Why are Australian banks so large?
Foreign banks have a lot of power in Australia’s financial system.
They are the biggest banks in the world, and they control about half of the nation’s financial assets.
In return, they have access to the Reserve Banks balance sheet.
The Reserve Banks money supply is also extremely volatile.
If foreign banks have large amounts of foreign money, their accounts are likely to be heavily leveraged.
“When they want to borrow money, they can borrow a lot more,” says Michael Broughton, chief economist at consultancy AMP Capital.
This makes it difficult for foreign banks to hold onto their money.
Foreign investors have also become more interested in Australian banks.
A number of major Australian banks have seen their share prices fall over the past few years, including Commonwealth Bank, Australian National, Commonwealth Reserve Bank and Westpac.
This trend has made it harder for foreign capital to move overseas, especially in emerging markets such as China.
According to AMP’s Broughson, the result of this is that foreign banks are less attractive for Australian borrowers, who often rely on credit ratings from the Australian and international banks.
“There’s a lot that’s at stake if foreign investors don’t have the confidence to go to Australia to invest and invest there,” he says.
Foreign banks may not be able to use Australia’s sovereign wealth fund to fund overseas investments.
This means that if they want more money, foreign investors will need to get involved.
“If they want the money to come back to Australia, they need to be more willing to invest here,” Broughts says.
It is possible that foreign investors could try to enter Australian banks via the private sector, but the process would be much harder.
As part of the plan, the Government announced it would allow foreign investors to purchase Australian debt via the Government’s debt trading scheme, but only for up to $5 billion.
This has created a glut of debt that will make it hard for foreign investors, who hold about $2tn of Australian debt, to invest in the future.
“We have a finite amount of Australian currency and we can’t really use that currency to borrow from other countries,” Brawson says.
“The only way to get money out of Australia is through borrowing.”
So in some ways this is going to help the banks by providing some liquidity to them.
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