2019 is shaping up to be a muted year for Hong Kong property.
For a change, 2019, the Year of the Pig, appears set to be a less heated, less frenzied one in Hong Kong real estate. Prices finally seem to be coming down, though after gains of 400% in 15 years, the dip could be negligible. Nonetheless, as JLL executive director Joseph Tsang succinctly puts it, “Hong Kong's almost 10-year housing market bullrun looks like it is coming to an end.”
Foremost on everyone's mind are the ongoing corrections in the stock market— right or wrong, intermingled with property markets—“plunging” property prices, rising interest rates and the lingering trade war between China and the United States. For the first time in nearly a decade, interest and HIBOR rates are set to rise and could finally crack positive rate territory. It's going to be a slow climb—no rates are jumping 2% overnight—but the prediction is finally going to bear out (and actually started in late 2018). While the luxury residential sector is more insulated against major shocks, the mass market, which is inherently more sensitive to interest rates, is going to see a slow cooling off that also started in the summer and autumn— just as the trade war was heating up and the equities market was wobbling.
Knight Frank and Cushman & Wakefield are predicting a 10% correction in 2019, with JLL forecasting 15%—as high as 25% if things on a macroeconomic level remain unchanged. According to Cushman & Wakefield, volumes have already started to slide, registering fewer than 3,000 in November on the way to the worst single quarter in the SAR since early 2016. That was a result of policy; this time the dip was rooted in global uncertainty, trade tensions and rates. That's going to be a familiar refrain in the coming months. “We expect sales to be mainly driven by the launch of primary projects and those secondary homes at major discounts, and home prices
could drop by another 10% next year, before finding support from sales of much discounted homes,” said Alva To, Cushman & Wakefield's vice president, Greater China and head of consulting, Greater China. The year is set to be muted, but not disastrous. Sentiment can turn as quickly as the stock market, and many individual and institutional investors have already factored interest rates and trade tensions into their plans. Economic fundamentals haven't really changed, and Hong Kong is still at full employment. “Sentiment is driven by the stock market, so it tends to overreact. It does give people a sense that their wealth is being squeezed, and so they'll put off their decision to not enter the market,” says David Ji, Knight Frank director, head of research and consultancy in Greater China. Some districts may get hit more severely than others (Sha Tin was off by 20% in November), creating a self-fulfilling prophecy based on just one or two transactions and other vendors following suit. “We're not saying [declines will be] 10% in the first six months; overall it will be a slow decline— something along the lines of 1% per month,” adds Ji.
Mass market values have also started to slip, though for the most part, the price dips are more of a correction than a crash. Supply is still below historic norms for demand and the market is still playing catch-up. That said, affordability is still challenging. JLL'S Tsang believes, “with housing prices starting to slide, the government needs to urgently reassess some of the cooling measures that it has introduced over the years. Failure to do so will not only exacerbate the price correction but could also have dire consequences for the local economy.” Tsang is of the mind that it's time for the Special Stamp Duty (SSD) and Double Stamp Duty (DSD) to go or be reviewed, and to lift LTV ratios. The SSD has proven a secondary market killer (where over one million units are potentially available) and a penalty for end-users who may be forced into a sales position for any number of reasons.
“At the moment, there's no requirement, no need for more protection. The market is going down, and those measures are there for when the market is hot. It's like diving. You need all this lead to pull you down, but when you want to surface all these measures will drown you. There are no speculators in the market at the moment and these measures are lethal to younger purchasers,” insists Tsang.
As an office supply crunch enters the overall property mix, Savills forecasts Central Grade A offices to gain up to 2.5% in rental rates after outperforming in 2018, and 5% overall. By the same token, the overall office market could slip by as much as 5% in pricing, with Central flat. A lack of supply will play a part in those numbers, as will, once again, interest rates, the Sino-us trade war and China's slowing economy—bigger factors in the commercial sector than in residential. JLL predicts capital values to fall as much as 10% on the back of waning PRC demand (down to 30% of tenants versus nearly 50% the year before) and economic uncertainty.
“Demand for office space will continue to soften in 2019 due to the increasing uncertainty in the city's economic outlook arising from a slowing mainland China economy and uncertainty around the Uschina trade war,” said JLL head of agency leasing, Ben Dickinson. “Weaker demand will put upward pressure on vacancy rates and translate into slower rental growth. 萊坊和戴德梁行預計2019年會有10%的調整，而仲量聯行預計為15%，但如果宏觀經濟維持不變，調整幅度可高達25%。據戴德梁行表示，成交量實際已開始下滑，11月份註冊宗數少於3,000，是本港自2016年以來最差的一季。之前的跌幅是因為政策影響，但今次是因為全球不明朗因素、緊張的貿易關係及利率。未來數月，這些仍是主要的影響因素。戴德梁行大中華區副總裁及大中華區策略發展顧問部主管陶汝鴻表示：「我們預期銷售主要由一手物業、以及大幅調低售價的二手物業所帶動，明年樓價有機會再跌10%，直至買家入市大幅折扣的二手樓才有望止跌。」
But the current extremely tight vacancy environment will support office rents to grow a further 0 to 5% next year.”
However, Savills' Simon Smith, senior director, research and consultancy, doesn't see the trade war as the hurdle it first appeared to be. Citing an improved, if not rosy, post-g20 Summit relationship, “we think the impact [of the trade war] will be muted; we think there will be some form of resolution. It might not be exactly what everybody wants, but it looks like they might be headed towards some sort of deal. If that's the case, rental markets should remain relatively buoyant until next year.”
Finally, the beleaguered retail sector will take a step back from its modest recovery in 2018. Retail sales were the best in five years, but a weak RMB and soft local consumer sentiment could dampen further rebounds, putting rents on mall and street shops on their heels again. Ironically, industrial property—both warehouses and flatted factories—could be the silver lining in 2019, with Savills forecasting up to 5% in rents and prices ahead of a supply boom in 2020. Trade war or not, Hong Kong remains a trading port. 雖然中小型市場價格已開始下滑，但只屬調整。現時樓市仍然是供不應求，市場正加快供應。然而，負擔能力仍是挑戰，仲量聯行的曾煥平相信：「樓價開始下滑，政府應立即重新審視過去數年推出的辣招，如未能及時作出反應，不單會加劇樓價修正幅度，還可能會對本地經濟產生嚴重後果。」曾煥平認為是時候取消或檢討額外印花稅及雙倍印花稅，並提高按揭成數比率，額外印花稅已證實是冷卻二手市場的元凶（二手市場現有過百萬個單位可供應），而且連累了有實際需要把物業出售的自住買家。
隨著寫字樓市場供應緊縮，第一太平戴維斯預計繼2018年的出色表現後，中環甲級寫字樓租金未來會有2.5%的升幅，整體升幅達5%。同一道理，整體寫字樓價格跌幅多達5%，但中環價格可望平穩。供不應求是部份原因，利率是另一個原因，還有中美貿易戰及中國經濟放緩等因素，對商廈市場的影響較住宅大。仲量聯行預計，由於來自中國的需求減少（租戶數量下降至30%，前一年有近50%），加上經濟前景不明朗，資本價值將大幅下降10%。 仲量聯行物業租務主管龐定勤（Ben Dickinson）表示：「2019年，由於中國經濟放緩及中美貿易戰前景未明，令本港經濟出現不明朗因素，所以寫字樓需求持續偏軟。需求少令空置率有上升壓力，亦令租金升幅放緩。不過目前空置率極低，將支持寫字樓在明年有0-5%的租金升幅。」
仲量聯行行政總裁曾煥平 JLL executive director Joseph Tsang