Hong Kong's red-hot housing market will cool down as pro-government Legco gets to increase land supply, says Hang Lung Properties' Ronnie Chan

return to more measured growth, sweeping electoral reforms, passed a landmark bill in May

Hong Kong’s red-hot property market is likely to return to more measured growth now that the government faces less opposition to boosting land supply in a Legislative Council dominated by pro-government lawmakers, according to one of the city’s most influential property tycoons.

Ronnie Chan Chi-chung, the outspoken chairman of Hang Lung Properties, said the passing of the contentious national security law last year and sweeping electoral reforms meant laws aimed at increasing the amount of land available for development now faced an easier path to approval, which should have the effect of reining in spiralling house prices.

Hong Kong passed a landmark bill in May to drastically reshape its electoral system and meet Beijing’s bottom line that only “patriots” should be allowed to govern the city, effectively expanding the influence of pro-establishment forces in key political bodies.

“Hong Kong will make more land supply available in the next five to 10 years to maintain reasonable home price increases as we have seen a fundamental change in the city with the national security law and the Legco electoral reforms,” said Chan at the company’s interim results briefing on Thursday.

Chan said that the city’s famous runaway home prices are not the result of any actual shortage of land. Rather, they had been caused by opposition politicians paralysing the passage of laws that would have eased the situation.

“[For example], the government has proposed the development plan for the North East New Territories, aimed at developing the country park and reclaiming land in remote areas, but all possible discussions got stuck at the Legco,” said Chan.

Hong Kong’s housing market has regained its footing after the street protests of 2019 – which led to the passing of the security law – and the coronavirus crisis of 2020 to resume its bull run, as the trillions of dollars of low-interest capital unleashed by global central banks have found their way into fixed assets.

Home prices increased 3.3 per cent in the first six months of this year, and JP Morgan expects them to rise by 5 per cent to 10 per cent for the full year.

“With the national security law and the Legco reform, the hindrance of possible plans to offer more land will be gone. Thus, home prices will only increase in a reasonable manner,” Chan said.

Chan, born in 1949, is chairman of the board of trustees of the Asia Society in Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation founded by John D. Rockefeller III, with the mission of educating the world about Asia.

He is a frequent interlocutor on China-related affairs, and does not shy away from verbal jousts with journalists on political issues including Hong Kong’s year-long anti-government protests and the national security law enacted by Beijing.

Last September, a couple of months after the security law was introduced, Hang Lung picked up the US government’s residential property assets in Hong Kong for HK$2.56 billion after Beijing approved the deal.

The developer said last year that “ the purchase is a vote of confidence in Hong Kong’s future”.

China has become an increasingly important contributor to Hang Lung’s assets and income. The company achieved HK$3.3 billion in revenue from property leasing in China, accounting for 66 per cent of the total in the first half of the year.

Hang Lung’s underlying profit, excluding changes in fair value of properties, jumped 11 per cent to HK$2.2 billion on the back of the robust recovery in mainland China.

Revenue from property leasing was up by a fifth to HK$4.98 billion, according to a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Rental revenue from mainland China increased 45 per cent while that in Hong Kong dropped 12 per cent.

The Hong Kong developer has been investing in mainland China since the 1990s, starting with its landmark Plaza 66 and Grand Gateway 66 projects in Shanghai. It has been expanding its presence in secondary cities such as Wuhan, Shenyang and Jinan under its “66” brand.

The board proposed an interim dividend of 18 Hong Kong cents per share, a whisker above the 17 Hong Kong cents per share in 2020.

“The strong performance of our luxury malls in mainland China is expected to continue. We can expect a significant recovery when international travel normalises, and social distancing rules are relaxed,” the developer said in the filing.

Hang Lung’s share price increased 4 per cent to close at HK$19.76 on Thursday.

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