Brexit: Asian banks assess London property risks

London skyline Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Think twice before you buy here, some Singapore banks say

Asian banks are taking a hard look at the political and economic uncertainty in the UK - and some of them don't like what they see.

Singapore's UOB has taken urgent action: it is temporarily suspending its loans programme for London properties as a result of what it called uncertainties post the UK referendum. It is the first of the big three Singapore banks to do this.

UOB had other options - it could have raised borrowing rates on the loans, or ask for bigger deposits - or even decided to review the loans rather than suspend them all together. But it's a sign of just how concerned some Asian banks may be about the current situation in the UK.

Meanwhile DBS, Singapore's and South East Asia's largest lender, and OCBC have decided to stay in the game for now. They say they're monitoring the situation closely - telling their customers to be aware of the foreign exchange and government policy risks.

Read this as these banks telling Singapore borrowers - hold your horses chaps, you may be in for a bumpy ride.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The volatile pound is new risk factor

'Tip of the iceberg'?

Market sources tell me that UOB has the highest exposure amongst the big three banks in Singapore to London property loans. UOB doesn't disclose how much it lends out for the London portfolio but it also offers international loans for Australia and Thailand.

In 2015, Singapore was the top investor amongst Asian investors in UK, US and Australian commercial property, according to consultancy Knight Frank. Residential data is much harder to determine, according to the consultancy, but certainly since 2009 Singaporean investors have been significant buyers in many overseas markets, including London residential projects.

Meanwhile, banking analysts say it's not surprising that some Asian banks are looking to reduce their exposure to the UK.

"From a banking perspective, this [the possibility of Brexit] is just the tip of the iceberg," Sam Ahmed, Managing Director of Deriv Asia told me. "And banks will look to protect themselves from unintended consequences and adopt a more conservative approach by limiting their exposure for UK based assets."

That's despite the depreciation in the pound, which is trading at around $1.34 - a fall of about 10% from pre-UK referendum highs which is likely to make it more appealing for Asian investors wanting to buy properties in London - many of whom are likely to apply for loans from British banks instead.

That may be just as well - because as Mr Ahmed tells me, "it may be very difficult to approach an Asian bank to get financing for a UK asset in the current environment".

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