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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The French Atlas is Shrugging

From the New York Times (H/t Instapundit):
With the election of the Socialist François Hollande as president this month, the wealthy in France are suddenly scrambling for places to stash their money for a while.

Well-heeled French citizens are scouring real estate opportunities in neighboring countries like Britain and Switzerland. The United States — particularly New York and Miami — is also drawing French investors looking to pick up rental properties or pieds-à-terre, brokers say.

In recent months, as Mr. Hollande’s victory appeared more possible, the French stepped up their house-hunting visits to New York, several brokers said.

These are not billionaire Russian oligarchs with blank-check budgets on the hunt for trophy properties. The French buyers most active in recent months are generally looking at properties between $500,000 and $5 million, brokers say.

What the French are so concerned about is Mr. Hollande’s campaign vow to tax income over 1 million euros at a 75 percent rate. The Socialist government, trying to put a dent in France’s $1.3 trillion euro debt, has said it will also raise the tax rate on capital gains to the same level as the tax on ordinary income.

“So there would not be any kind of advantage to invest in something in France, in the stock market or real estate,” said Mr. Pous-Bertran de Balanda, who runs Black Tulip Capital, a New York-based real estate asset management company he started last August that helps clients find properties and manages them.

To Mr. Pous-Bertran de Balanda and other wealthy French people, the news feels like a rerun of 1981, when President François Mitterrand decided to nationalize several big companies and raised taxes (though both moves were later reversed). And after the tax policy flip-flops by President Nicolas Sarkozy over the past five years — he gave the wealthy tax breaks only to raise taxes two years later — many in France see their own market is too volatile, and are searching for a safe haven.

The flagging euro and the economic struggles in Greece, Italy and Spain have only further shaken their confidence in investing at home. Last month, a Parisian couple in their 50s decided to buy a $4 million waterfront house in Miami after first considering Cannes, said Christophe Bourreau, a French broker with Barnes International who is now based in New York.

“They feel like the new president is hunting the wealthy,” Mr. Bourreau said, “and that the sooner their money is out of France the better.” The window may close soon: Mr. Hollande has said he will look to put his tax plans in place this summer, after parliamentary elections next month.
Maybe they can start local real estate bubbles and still lose their money.

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