Date
10 December 2016
Mainland property developers have been buying up Hong Kong. Unlike their domestic counterparts, their top priority is profit maximization. Photo: Bloomberg
Mainland property developers have been buying up Hong Kong. Unlike their domestic counterparts, their top priority is profit maximization. Photo: Bloomberg

How mainlanders have come to dictate Hong Kong’s property game

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying may be right about property hegemony being no longer a prevailing theme in Hong Kong.

But what he did not say is why he thinks so.

Consider land sales last year. More than 25 percent involved mainland Chinese developers, according to the Hong Kong Economic Times.

Mind you, that did not include small and unknown property investors, many of whom have surprisingly won at land auctions in the past 12 months.

If top Hong Kong developers did not snap up new land, they have arguably lost their pricing power.

They have been trying to push up prices in the past 12 months with little to no success.

But mainlanders, the new investors in Hong Kong, are facing a critical problem: at what price should they exit their property investments?

They spent more than US$42.2 billion (US$5.44 billion) in the past five years to acquire land, mostly at aggressive prices.

And now these developers, such as China Overseas Land and China Resources Land, are offloading more than 10,000 units to a saturated market.

Thanks to these investors who seem to have poor overseas track records in buying everything from football clubs to natural resources, it is quite unlikely that they could command similarly aggressive prices.

To be fair, buying Hong Kong property may not be a bad investment for the Chinese in the wake of the weak yuan and a sluggish domestic market, although one can argue that fewer Chinese have been buying Hong Kong properties in the past two years, except for some eye-popping luxury flats on the Peak.

Unlike their Hong Kong counterparts, mainlanders have profit maximization as their top priority.

That should be good for the Hong Kong public and top senior officials such as Leung and Financial Secretary John Tsang, who have been complaining about high property prices.

Beijing should be happy to see a weak but stable Hong Kong property market. And now that it has more say in property prices, it has a tighter grip on Hong Kong.

There is no better way to exert influence on Hong Kong than through home prices.

And that is perhaps why Hong Kong developers have not been happy campers these days.

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BK/AC/RA

EJ Insight writer

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