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Indonesia property prices may appear set to surge amid expectations of a wave of repatriated funds, but investors should temper their expectations.
The country's newly implemented tax amnesty program to encourage taxpayers to repatriate money stashed offshore by imposing only a 2-10 percent tax had spurred expectations that Indonesia's property prices were set to surge.
Based on a recent surge in the share prices of Indonesian property developers, the market appeared to expect the money funneled abroad outside the purview of tax authorities might find its way back to the sector.
Around $200 billion of Indonesian funds that weren't declared to tax authorities there could be stashed in Singapore alone, Reuters reported recently, citing banking sources.
Felicia Tandiyono, a property analyst at JPMorgan, said the country's property stocks have risen so much that they appear to be pricing in the assumption that the tax amnesty had already happened and was successful.
That may not be the best of assumptions.
Over the weekend, media in Indonesia reported that some Singapore banks were trying to convince Indonesian clients to keep their assets in the city-state. Singapore's central bank and Ministry of Finance both reportedly denied implementing policies to "thwart" the tax amnesty.
But the spat could indicate amnesty-related fund flows weren't meeting expectations. The Indonesian government expected around $76 billion to come home during the amnesty, which started this month and ends in March 2017. In the first week, around $30 million has come back, according to an International Business Times report.
Additionally, Credit Suisse noted that buried in the fine details of the amnesty plan was language that indicated that for the first three years, the repatriated assets can only be parked in certain financial instruments, such as bank time deposits, mutual funds and government and corporate bonds.
That's not to say that the amnesty would not have an impact at all.
JPMorgan's Tandiyono said the tax amnesty will spur demand for property, if only because no other sector had been under as much scrutiny from tax collectors before the amnesty.
"People really want to buy property," she said. "People who were afraid of the tax scrutiny are now more at ease going into transactions."
For the first quarter of this year, Indonesia's residential property price index rose around 1.0 percent on quarter, while on-year, growth slowed to 4.15 percent. The report from the central bank attributed the on-quarter rise primarily to increased costs for construction materials and higher wages. Sales growth cooled in the quarter, up 1.5 percent on-quarter, compared with 6.02 percent on-quarter in the previous period, the survey showed.
Credit Suisse was more optimistic. While repatriated funds may be parked in other assets, it estimated that nearly $100 billion of undocumented Indonesian wealth was already within the country. That's only a third to a quarter of the estimate from the Ministry of Finance, the bank said in a note in late June.
But those funds don't come with restrictions on where they can flow, it noted.
"Once properly documented through the tax amnesty scheme, we believe that this amount of wealth will likely to flow towards property assets due to relatively more attractive returns than some other alternatives e.g. bank deposit rate and bond yields," it said.
That doesn't mean that property prices would get bubbly any time soon.
For one, developers said they expected slower property price rises in 2016's second quarter, the central bank's property price index survey showed.
That may be because efforts to ease mortgage financing rules may actually dampen new property launches. Indonesia recently moved to lower mortgage down payments to 20 percent of the property price from 30 percent.
While that may make mortgages more affordable for potential buyers, it would likely crimp developers' ability to launch new projects, noted Tandiyono.
"It's positive for property buyers, but not developers," she said. "On a developers' perspective, they are now receiving less cash upfront for down payments. They need to fund the building first."
She noted that loans are only partially disbursed from banks as construction proceeds. She expected that more developers would focus on building houses instead of high-rise apartments to conserve working capital. Construction milestones can be reached more quickly with houses than with large buildings, she noted.
Another potential source of additional demand for Indonesian property may be overstated. Media reports indicated that foreigners would soon be allowed to purchase apartments in the country.
But Tandiyono noted that the new rules on foreign ownership didn't actually change much as foreigners still won't be able to buy freehold property. Instead, new rules extend foreigners' leasehold by five years to a total of 30 years, which still wouldn't enable access to mortgage lending, she said.
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—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter