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Massive landowners

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It’s claimed that Queen Elizabeth II is the largest landowner on Earth. As head of the Commonwealth of Nations, she is technically the legal owner of 6.6 billion acres of terra firma. In reality, Her Majesty does not personally own all the land in her realms. Rather, it is owned by the millions of her subjects who hold title to a parcel of land, granted by the Crown.

Unlike Queen Elizabeth, other monarchs are huge landholders in their own right. Number one on this list is King Salman of Saudi Arabia who has absolute royal control over the 547 million acres of the oil rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Next is King Mohammed VI of Morocco who controls 175.6 million acres of land. King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand comes in third with 128 million acres under his crown.

Nation states also control huge tracts of land. The Russian state tops this list with a direct ownership holding of 2.4 billion acres. It is closely followed by the Chinese state which claims all of China’s land - about 2.3 billion acres. In third spot is the Federal Government of the United States, which owns about one-third of the land of the USA or 760 million acres.

Following nation states and monarchies, the world’s largest private landholding is right here in Australia. It’s a collection of outback properties owned (until recently) by S. Kidman & Co. It comprises 10 working cattle stations and spans a whopping 27.2 million acres (11 million hectares). This is about three-quarters the size of England or an area equivalent in size to South Korea.

Unsurprisingly, the Catholic Church - with cathedrals, churches, convents and schools scattered throughout the globe - is also a very large landholder. But getting official figures on ecclesiastical real estate is virtually impossible. Vatican City, the smallest independent city-state in the world, sits on 110 acres of land. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess how many more millions of acres the church owns.

Another ubiquitous organisation is McDonalds which has over 35,000 chain stores scattered around the world. The average McDonalds store sits on 1.15 acres, making the total about 40,000 acres. While it makes hamburgers, McDonalds has long been considered one of the world’s biggest real estate companies. The company makes most of its money from the rent paid by its franchisees on the company-owned properties they lease.

Many business tycoons are also land barons and perhaps the most famous is Amazon founder, Jeff Bozos. Bozos has invested some of his wealth into building a fabulous real estate portfolio. His largest parcel of land is his 290,000 acre ranch in Texas. The land is used by Blue Origin, the space exploration company owned by Bozos, to test fully reusable rockets.

In terms of land usage, food production (land used for both crops and livestock) takes up around 40 per cent of the Earth’s land surface. This, according to one report, makes our planet “…a gigantic farm, one occasionally broken up by cities, forests and the oceans”. Clearly, it takes a lot of farmland to keep all seven billion of us humans fed!

The composition of farmland is slowly but surely changing. Small farmers are being squeezed out as mega-farms and plantations gobble up their land. Fertile agricultural land is being concentrated in the hands of fewer owners - typically corporations - that are gearing up to feed nine billion mouths by 2050. By this time, the population will not only be larger, but also more urban and richer. Food production, therefore, will need to increase by around 70 per cent.

Land sustains life and creates wealth and is the basis for most human activities on Earth. Agriculture, forestry, transport, industry, housing and other services use land as a natural and/or an economic resource. In classical economics, land is considered one of the three factors of production along with capital and labour.

Australia’s love affair with land (real estate) is well known. More than 65 per cent of Australians own a home - one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world. The Australian housing sector is the nation’s largest and arguably most important asset class.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the total value of Australia’s 9.8 million residential dwellings as at December 2016 was $6.4 trillion. This, according to RP Data, is almost three times larger than the size of our combined superannuation at $2.3 trillion, followed by listed stocks at $1.6 trillion. Residential land and dwellings account for over 52 per cent of Australia’s total household wealth.

Historically, more fortunes have been made owning land than any other investment class. Land is a finite resource and some individuals have left a large footprint on it. The world’s biggest landholders certainly have their feet planted firmly on the ground.

 

Regards
Paul J. Thomas, CEO

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CEO Paul Thomas