Australia has undoubtedly been the land of plenty for foreign investors, especially during the current resources boom given that about 80% of our major mining and energy projects are held offshore. While there aren’t any hard numbers, it is clear that more than $20 billion in dividends will be sent offshore from Australia in 2006-07.

The biggest foreign investor is clearly Rio Tinto with more than $50 billion worth of assets in Australia, but other players like Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Chevron-Texaco and Shell have investments worth more than $10 billion in Australia.

The vast majority of foreign direct investment is private and therefore hard to track but you can get a sense of the scale in the following list looking at the 12 foreign investments in our listed companies that are worth more than $1 billion.

The $1 billion-plus foreign direct investments in ASX-listed companies

Company Country Australian vehicle % of company value of stake
Shell UK Woodside Petroleum 34.3% $8.683
Axa SA France Axa Asia Pacific 51.6% $6.92
Rio Tinto UK Coal & Allied 75.7% $4.92
Hochtief Germany Leighton 53.1% $4.592
Rio Tinto UK ERA 68.4% $3.351
Chevron Texaco USA Caltex 50% $2.853
Kirin Japan Lion Nathan 46.1% $2.063
Coca Cola Company USA Coca Cola Amatil 32.2% $2.005
Canwest Canada Ten Network 56.41% $1.763
Glencore Switzerland Minara Resources 50.4% $1.536
O’Reilly family Ireland APN News & Media 42% $1.145
Singapore Govt Singapore Australand 53.6% $1.087

There have been some enormous profits for the likes of Shell, Axa SA, Hochtief, Canwest and Rio Tinto and the combined value of these 12 foreign investments is a staggering $40.91 billion, averaging $3.41 billion.

Interestingly, there are also 11 Australian families who control stakes in our listed companies worth more than $1 billion and they have a total of $32.6 billion on the line.

This will be an interesting comparison to draw over time. The Roberts family is set to disappear if Multiplex is taken private and both Canwest and the O’Reilly family are poised to depart the foreign list.

And isn’t it interesting that the only two family-controlled foreign investors are in the media sector (Aspers in Canwest and O’Reilly) and we’ve also got four homegrown billionaire media families – Murdoch, Packer, Stokes and Fairfax. Why does media the world over so attract headstrong billionaires?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey