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Foreign Exchange

Awake Australia fair

With some of the largest and most liquid capital markets in Asia Pacific and yield-hungry local asset managers, Australia would seem a natural port of call for Asian companies. Yet until structural reforms are made and local perceptions about Asian risk change, the expectations gap will not be bridged. Australia will end up the loser.

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AUSTRALIA HAS LONG entertained an on-off relationship with Asia. Wander around the neat streets of downtown Sydney and it is easy to assume that you must be somewhere near the region: Asians already account for a significant proportion of laid-back Sydneysiders and evidence of their growing influence is everywhere.

Despite this apparent connection to Asia, Australia's track record in capturing opportunities thrown up by the world's fastest-growing economic region has been patchy. In its debt capital markets, success has been almost non-existent. Australian dollar issues from foreign borrowers, termed kangaroos, feature few Asian names. In the past five years there have been just six by genuine Asian issuers, raising US$1.2 billion equivalent. And four of those came from the Asian Development Bank.

Compare that with the US$85 billion raised from nearly 850 kangaroo issues by US and European issuers over the same period and the scale of the discrepancy is clear. It is an issue that National Australia Bank is keen to address. Speaking at its Asian Issuer conference in February, an attempt to get Australian investors and large Asian corporations to talk bonds, NAB CEO Australia, Ahmed Fahour, made the point clearly enough.

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