Chinese Money Triggers a Dizzying Rally in Manila Property

May 4, 2018 / Bloomberg News

In Manila’s main financial district and its fringes, signs of the new inhabitants are everywhere: the restaurants serving steaming Chinese hotpots and dumplings, the Mandarin broadcasts at the Mall of Asia, and the soaring property prices.

An estimated 100,000 migrants, mostly Chinese, have flooded into pockets of the Philippines capital since September 2016, and the deluge is rippling through the city’s real estate market in ways that are unique among the world’s urban centers. While Chinese investors have been snapping up big swathes of high-end housing in Hong Kong, London and New York for years to move their money offshore, this new rush is motivated by something different: Manila’s booming gaming industry.

More than 50 offshore gambling companies that cater to overseas Chinese punters have received permits to operate in the city since President Rodrigo Duterte’s government began awarding licenses 19 months ago. While bets are placed remotely, the operators need Chinese speakers in Manila to handle everything from marketing and customer queries to payment processing for overseas clients.

The resulting migration, while only a fraction of the metropolitan area’s 12.9 million population, is propelling home prices to record levels in neighborhoods favored by Chinese workers. It’s reinvigorating Manila’s commercial property market as owners convert offices and shops into gaming centers with card tables and webcams. And it’s boosting the bottom lines of local developers including Ayala Land Inc. and SM Prime Holdings Inc.

While no official numbers are publicly available showing the number of Chinese arrivals in Manila, people familiar with the matter said that offshore gaming operators in the Philippines employ about 200,000 workers, predominantly Chinese, and more than half of them have arrived in the capital region since late 2016. The Bureau of Immigration said it couldn’t immediately provide the data.

The influx promises to boost the nation’s economy and is helping to strengthen ties with China — a priority for Duterte. Yet it leaves the property market vulnerable in the event of an abrupt shift in online gaming or immigration policies from either country. Read more…

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