Shimao's founder offers to sell two floors at The Center in Hong Kong as developer digs into his own pockets to pare company's debt

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the world’s priciest office tower, looming debt load, HK$40.2 billion, Shimao, so-called three red lines of debt, Tycoon Li Ka-shing, CK Asset Holdings

Shimao Group’s founder is putting two floors of the world’s priciest office tower on the market for sale, as even one of China’s more restrained real estate developers digs into his own pockets to pare a looming debt load.

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Shimao’s founder Hui Wing Mau and his daughter Hui Mei-mei are asking for HK$1.6 billion (US$205 million) for levels 31 and 32 of The Center in Hong Kong, with a combined floor plate of about 50,000 square feet (4,645 square metres), according to a sales kit seen by South China Morning Post.

Hui, also known as Xu Rongmao in mainland China, was among the nine-member consortium that bought the 73-storey tower in early 2018 for HK$40.2 billion. Hui, who paid HK$8 billion for nine of the 73 floors at Hong Kong’s fifth-tallest building, was not available for comment, and spokespeople at Shanghai-based Shimao did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Shimao is “relying on asset disposals and extending some short-term maturities to improve liquidity,” said Fitch Ratings, which cut the company’s credit rating to B- from BB last week. “Shimao’s ratings reflect decreasing margin of safety in liquidity amid deteriorating market confidence.

Shimao is seen as one of China’s more conservative borrowers, in a property industry where most developers rely on bank loans to finance their land purchases and constructions, amid a tight cap on prices and sales. The company was rated green under the Chinese central bank’s debt criteria when it announced its interim result in August 2021, a sign of compliance with the so-called three red lines of debt limits.

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Shimao, China’s eighth-largest real estate developer by sales last year, faces 20 billion yuan (US$3.2 billion) of payments this year from onshore bonds and offshore notes, Fitch said. The company also faces debt obligations such as trust financing and around 10 billion yuan of asset-backed securities, of which 5.6 billion yuan is due this year.

the world’s priciest office tower, looming debt load, HK$40.2 billion, Shimao, so-called three red lines of debt, Tycoon Li Ka-shing, CK Asset Holdings

China’s property debts as of March 2021. Sources: Northeast Securities, Tianfeng Securities. SCMP Graphics

Shanghai Shimao Construction Company, one of Shimao’s units, missed a US$101 million project loan guaranteed by the Hong Kong-listed group last week, according to a notice sent to investors by China Credit Trust (CCT), the trustee for the loans. The unit denied defaulting “on any loan in the open market,” and said that its failure to pay what was owed would not trigger demands for redemption.

That did little to prevent Shimao’s bonds and shares from plunging, as investors scrambled for sanctuary from high-yield debt. Shimao shares rose 4.1 per cent to HK$5.03 in Hong Kong on Tuesday, down by 72 per cent in six months.

Besides the two floors on the market, Hui and his daughter own levels 36, 37, 55, 56, 62, and 63 through a shell company, while the founder owns the top floor under his name. The building skipped three floors with inauspicious numbers as is customary among Hong Kong’s skyscrapers. Levels 32, 56, and 76 were pledged last October to the Hong Kong branch of DBS Bank, according to land records.

the world’s priciest office tower, looming debt load, HK$40.2 billion, Shimao, so-called three red lines of debt, Tycoon Li Ka-shing, CK Asset Holdings

The entrance nameplate of Bailian Shimao International Square/Plaza, which is partly managed by Le Royal Méridien Shanghai Hotel. Photo: Shutterstock Images

Level 31, currently serving out a lease for a monthly rent of HK$2 million, or HK$83 per square foot, is asking for HK$801.6 million. Level 32, currently vacant, is asking for HK$806.2 million, according to the sales document.

The Center, completed in 1998, is an entire steel structure without a concrete core. Its iconic lobby was featured in the 2008 Hollywood movie The Dark Knight. The last time a sale was recorded at the building was in July 2021, when the 25th floor was sold for HK$674.5 million.

Tycoon Li Ka-shing’s flagship company CK Asset Holdings developed and owned 48 floors at the building, after Malaysian developer Guoco Group bought 11 floors. Nine of the 11 floors were sold to Singapore’s DBS Group Holdings in 1998, while CK sold the 60th and 79th floors in 1999, according to The Center’s sales brochure.

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