Hong Kong Housing Risks May Exceed `97 on Rising Rates, HKMA's Chan Says

Risks in Hong Kong’s property market may exceed those in 1997 if falling prices coincide with rising interest rates, Hong Kong Monetary Authority Chief Executive Norman Chan said.

The property market has been rising “quite rapidly” and may collapse if prices keep going up, the Ming Pao Daily cited Chan as saying in an interview. Chan’s comments were confirmed by HKMA spokeswoman Anissa Wong.

Chan joined the city’s Financial Secretary John Tsang in cautioning about an asset bubble. The government has raised down payment ratios and pledged to increase land supply to rein in home prices that have surged about 47 percent since the start of 2009, fueled by record-low mortgage rates and an influx of wealthy mainland Chinese buyers.

“The way home prices have been going up is definitely not healthy,” said Francis Lun, general manager at Fulbright Securities Ltd. “The question we’re all asking is whether government officials would take more drastic measures to address this issue. What they’ve done so far are merely cosmetic or plain rhetoric.”

Mortgage rates in Hong Kong have been at about a 20-year low as the city’s interest rates normally follow those in the U.S. because the currency is pegged to the dollar.

Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Norman Chan, chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA). Close

Norman Chan, chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA).

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Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Norman Chan, chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA).

Homes prices also may be vulnerable to credit tightening measures in China that can prompt investors to pull funds away from the property market, Ming Pao quoted Chan as saying.

An estimated 20 percent of buyers of new apartments in Hong Kong are from mainland China, according to Centaline Property Agency Ltd., one of the city’s biggest agencies.

Previous Bubble

The Hang Seng Property Index, which tracks the city’s seven biggest developers, rose 1.6 percent at the 4 p.m. close of trading in Hong Kong, bringing its gain this year to 1.8 percent.

By some measures, prices are now already on par with 1997, the height of a previous bubble that was followed by a six-year slump that sent values more than 50 percent lower. Hong Kong home prices rose to the highest since December 1997 in the week ended Sept. 5, according to an index compiled by Centaline.

The index has risen 1.2 percent in the three weeks since the government on Aug. 13 raised down payments for apartments costing HK$12 million ($1.54 million) or more to 40 percent from 30 percent, and Tsang said the gain in home prices was “rare.” They had risen about 13 percent since the beginning of the year before the measures were announced.

“The government will at some point introduce more radical measures,” said Steve Tse, a research manager at BEA Union Investment Management. “What’s holding them back now is that they don’t want home prices to collapse like 1997. They want them to come down gradually.”

Hong Kong property prices peaked in 1997 as the city slid into its first recession in more than a decade after the 1997- 1998 Asian financial crisis.

Transactions

Transactions of used apartments at 10 of Hong Kong’s biggest private developments fell for two straight weeks before recovering last week, Centaline said yesterday.

The government is closely monitoring the property market and may introduce further measures to contain prices if they continue to escalate, Ming Pao reported Sept. 1, citing Tsang.

A 26-year-old government-built apartment near one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping areas sold in July for a record price per square foot. The 420-square-foot (39-square-meter) home in the Sham Shui Po area of the Kowloon district was bought for HK$1.98 million, or HK$4,714 per square foot, Buggle Lau, chief analyst at property broker Midland Holdings Ltd., said last week citing Land Registry records.

Prices exceeded estimates in both land auctions held since the Aug. 13 measures to cool the property market. Kerry Properties Ltd., controlled by the family of Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok, paid 26 percent more than analysts estimated for land in the Kowloon Tong district last month. Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd., controlled by Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka- shing, paid more than estimated for a site in the nearby Ho Man Tin district four days after the government announced the curbs.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kelvin Wong in Hong Kong at kwong40@bloomberg.net

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