$5.2B Hong Kong Tower Sale Points to China Turning the Money Tap Back On

Updated on
  • Mainland firms’ purchases of Hong Kong properties picking up
  • Chinese state firm led purchase of 73-story skyscraper

The Center, on the left, in Hong Kong. 

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

The record HK$40.2 billion ($5.2 billion) sale of a Hong Kong office tower to a consortium led by a Chinese state company is fueling optimism that more money will flow from the mainland despite the government focus on controlling outflows.

China Energy Reserve and Chemicals Group led the purchase this week of CK Asset Holdings Ltd.’s 75 percent stake in The Center, a 73-story landmark skyscraper. That contrasted with China tightening restrictions on overseas investment in August, and on Friday issuing draft rules to track firms’ investments through offshore units.

The Chinese firm yesterday emphasized government support for the purchase from billionaire Li Ka-shing’s firm and Bocom International Holdings Co. said the deal suggested a renewal of demand and funding channels among mainland enterprises after a lull. Jonathan Chau, senior director of investment at broker Savills Plc. in Hong Kong, said interest had picked up after the politically sensitive period of a twice-a-decade party congress, where President Xi Jinping entrenched power.

“It seems that after the party congress, we are seeing more activity and more questions and meetings with mainland buyers who had put things on hold for the past few months," said Chau.

‘Too Sensitive’

The party congress didn’t explicitly mention tightening capital controls, leading to speculation that scrutiny could ease.

“The controls are still there, but right after the 19th congress all these large deals seem to be surfacing,” said Antonio Wu, deputy managing director of capital markets and investment services at Colliers International Group Inc. in Hong Kong. “It looks like they wanted to wait to announce because it might have been too sensitive before the congress.”

The Center transaction bodes well for Champion REIT and Link REIT, which have properties for sale, Bocom International analyst Alfred Lau said.

“Capital controls still have some impact, and capital flows have slowed down a little bit, but demand from mainland investors is still quite strong,” said Raymond Cheng, director of Hong Kong and China property research at CIMB Securities. “I expect as time passes gradually things will become less strict.”

Mainland companies like Grade-A commercial property in Hong Kong’s Central and Admiralty districts, preferably with a sea view and naming rights, he said.

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