Asian, U.S. Buyers of Japanese Property Spur Foreign Investment

Foreign direct investment into Japan more than doubled last year as a cheaper yen made real-estate and other assets more attractive to buyers from Asia and the U.S.

Inbound investment rose 181 percent to 1 trillion yen ($8.4 billion), the highest since 2009, according to finance ministry data released Monday in Tokyo. Asia accounted for 54 percent of the inflow, and the U.S. 47 percent. There was a net outflow of investment from Europe.

The yen’s tumble on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reflation policies is breathing life into inward investment even as it boosts import and energy costs. Abe aims to double the stock of foreign direct investment in the nation by 2020, and plans to lower a tax on corporate income to make Japan more attractive for business.

“The weakening yen makes Japanese properties cheaper for overseas buyers,” said Kaori Iwasaki, an economist at the Japan Research Institute. “Real-estate investment will probably become more active as we approach the 2020 Olympics.”

Companies are setting up offices in Japan to buy real-estate and other assets, according to Iwasaki. Investment from Asia is increasing, especially Singapore, she said.

Real-estate Growth

GIC Pte, a Singaporean sovereign wealth fund, bought a building next to Tokyo Station in October in a bet that the city’s real estate values will continue to rise. GIC paid $1.7 billion for the property, according to a person familiar with the purchase who asked not be named because the information isn’t public.

Blackstone Group LP said in November it agreed to buy GE Japan Corp.’s residential-property business for more than 190 billion yen to expand its apartment holdings in Japan.

Taiwan’s CTBC Financial Holding Co. completed its acquisition of Japan’s Tokyo Star Bank Ltd. in June.

Further weakness in the yen and the lower corporate levy may lure more direct investment from abroad, said Keiji Kanda, an economist at Daiwa Institute of Research in Tokyo.

Abe’s Cabinet will cut the company income tax rate by 3.29 percentage points over the next two fiscal years, aiming for a final levy below 30 percent, on par with Germany. A 1 percentage-point cut in Japan’s effective corporate tax rate will increase inward foreign direct investment by 3.5 percentage points, according to Kanda.

The stock of foreign direct investment in Japan was 18 trillion yen at the end of 2013, near a peak of 18.5 trillion yen in 2008, according to finance ministry data. The Abe administration aims to increase the total to 35 trillion yen by 2020 as he seeks to revitalize an economy that faces headwinds from a shrinking and aging population.

Since Abe took power in December 2012, the yen has dropped 29 percent against the dollar and the Topix index of stocks has risen almost 70 percent.

Japan reaped record income last year from its investments overseas, with its surplus from direct investment and foreign securities increasing 18.07 trillion yen, the biggest in data back to 1985, according to the finance ministry.

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