Office rents in Hong Kong's Central district - world's most expensive commercial property market - to plunge by up to 40 per cent, real estate fund says

By Cheryl Arcibal / | January 21, 2020 4:49 PM SGT
Office rents in Hong Kong's Central district, the world's most expensive commercial property market for a fourth straight year in 2019, might plunge by up to 40 per cent by 2022, according to the most pessimistic forecast yet.
"Office rents in Central and other mature decentralised areas are likely to continue falling " by around 30 per cent to 40 per cent over the near to medium term" in the next two to three years, said Harry Tan, head of research for Asia-Pacific at London-based real estate investment manager Nuveen Real Estate. "Central office rents have started to decline given the recent weak sentiment, and this will persist, especially as businesses readjust their expectations of Hong Kong's long-term outlook, and [reassess] the need to diversify away from the city."
The Nuveen forecast was the most pessimistic in an industry gripped by gloom, as seven months of unprecedented political crisis have sent Hong Kong's economy into its first technical recession in a decade. Commercial property rents and purchase prices might drop by 10 per cent on average this year, according to a survey by South China Morning Post of 10 property analysts. JLL, the world's second-largest commercial real-estate services firm, expected rent and prices to drop by 20 per cent.
The US-China trade war has added to Hong Kong's woes, as global trading companies and providers of professional services deferred their expansion plans, crimping demand for additional office space. Mainland Chinese companies, in particular, have been noticeably reticent about paying top dollar for marquee office addresses in Central, analysts said.
"Improving but ongoing political tensions will weigh on economic growth and business sentiment and spending," Tan said. "The slowdown in mainland Chinese occupier demand will also lower rents, particularly in Central. Central offices will also continue to face the decentralisation pressure of businesses relocating. Overall take-up is likely to stay soft, driving rents lower."
The phase one trade deal between Washington and Beijing, which will ease trade tensions between the world's two largest economies, will not improve the situation.
"The trade deal will bolster growth sentiment globally, and will help support business conditions in Hong Kong from further deterioration, but the overriding weakness in occupier demand will continue to drive rents lower," Tan said.
The estimated decline in rents is also likely to put pressure on the sale prices of commercial real estate in Hong Kong, although at a much limited scale of between 10 per cent and 15 per cent, according to Nuveen.
This, Tan said, should present opportunities for investors seeking to diversify their portfolio and enter the Hong Kong market, as "despite the recent unrest, Hong Kong will remain one of the most dynamic, vibrant and global real-estate markets over the long term".
In 2019, investment in the city's office and retail property slumped by 52 per cent to HK$68.9 billion (US$8.9 billion), the largest decline in a single year since 2011, according to CBRE.
"In 2020, aggregate demand is expected to remain weak, as consumers and companies remain cautious," said Tom Gaffney, regional managing director, Greater Bay Area and Hong Kong, at CBRE.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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