Property investors shift to Southeast Asia amid Hong Kong unrest

Property stocks in Hong Kong have plummeted since June, with developers being forced to offer discounts on new projects and cutting office rents. (Reuters)
Updated 14 October 2019

Property investors shift to Southeast Asia amid Hong Kong unrest

  • The summer of rage in Hong Kong has been fueled by years of simmering anger toward Beijing

KUALA LUMPUR: From luxury Singapore apartments to Malaysian seafront condos, Hong Kong investors are shifting cash into Southeast Asian property, demoralized by increasingly violent protests as well as the China-US trade war.

Millions have taken to the streets during four months of pro-democracy demonstrations in the southern Chinese city, hammering tourism while also forcing businesses to lay off staff — and the property sector is feeling the pain.

Property stocks in one of the world’s most expensive housing markets have plummeted since June, with developers being forced to offer discounts on new projects and cutting office rents.

Hong Kong businessman Peter Ng bought a condominium on the Malaysian island of Penang — which has a substantial ethnic Chinese population and is popular among Hong Kongers — after the protests erupted.

“The instability was a catalyst for me,” the 48-year-old stock market and property investor told AFP, adding he was worried about long-term damage to the Hong Kong economy if the unrest persists. “Investors will always look at things like that, political stability.”

And Derek Lee, a Hong Kong businessman who owns a Penang apartment, said he knew others in the semi-autonomous city who were considering investing in Southeast Asian property because of the unrest.

“People are thinking about how to quicken their ideas, how to make a more stable life,” the 55-year-old told AFP.

Adding to the allure of Malaysia is its relative affordability and prices much lower than Hong Kong.

The Malaysia site of Southeast Asian real estate platform Property Guru has seen a 35 percent increase in visits from Hong Kong, according to its CEO Hari Krishnan. 

While Hong Kong’s protests are primarily pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability, the summer of rage has been fueled by years of simmering anger toward Beijing and the local government over falling living standards and the high costs of living.

Hong Kong’s property market is one of least affordable in the world with sky-high prices fueled, in part, by wealthy mainlanders snapping up investments in a city which has failed for years to build enough flats to meet demand.

But now mainland Chinese, who traditionally viewed property in Hong Kong as a safe investment, are opting for rival financial hub Singapore as a result of the protests and the US-China trade war, according to observers.

There has been a jump this year in sales of luxury apartments in the city-state — which like Hong Kong is known for pricey property — driven partially by mainland Chinese buyers, according to the consultancy OrangeTee & Tie.

“The protests in Hong Kong have made some of the (mainland Chinese) based there ... (more concerned) about investing in Hong Kong real estate, so they carry that investment to Singapore,” said Alan Cheong, executive director of the research and consultancy team at Savills.

As well as hitting China’s economy, trade tensions may have discouraged some Chinese from investing in the West and pushed them toward Singapore, with its mostly ethnic Chinese population.

“I think they don’t want to go to the West,” said Cheong.

Singapore is “the closest country culturally to China other than Hong Kong, and I think they feel more comfortable with that.”

There are further signs the stable, tightly ruled city is benefiting from the Hong Kong turmoil — Goldman Sachs last week estimated as much as $4 billion flowed out of Hong Kong to Singapore this summer.

And analysts warned there was little hope of Hong Kong’s property market recovering soon.


Automakers expect Trump will delay decision on imposing EU, Japan tariffs

Updated 39 min 35 sec ago

Automakers expect Trump will delay decision on imposing EU, Japan tariffs

  • Foreign companies are eager to highlight US investments to try to dissuade US president

Major automakers think US President Donald Trump will again this week push back a self-imposed deadline on whether to put up to 25 percent tariffs on national security grounds on imported cars and parts from the EU and Japan amid an ongoing trade war with China, five auto officials told Reuters.

The anticipated delay — expected to be announced later this week — comes as foreign automakers are eager to highlight US investments to try to dissuade Trump from using tariffs that they argue could cost US jobs.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said earlier this month tariffs may not be necessary. EU officials expect Trump to announce a six-month delay when he faces a self-imposed deadline this week. Trump in May delayed a decision on tariffs by up to 180 days as he ordered US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to pursue negotiations.

Lighthizer’s office recently asked many foreign automakers to provide a tally of investments they have made in the US, several auto industry officials told Reuters.

The White House and Lighthizer’s office declined to comment.

FASTFACTS

• US is considering 25 percent tariffs on national security grounds on imported cars and parts from the EU and Japan.

• President Donald Trump in May delayed a decision on tariffs by up to 180 days as he ordered US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to pursue negotiations.

On Wednesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican ally of Trump’s, plans to attend a groundbreaking at Volkswagen AG’s Chattanooga assembly plant where they will mark the beginning of an $800 million expansion to build electric vehicles and add 1,000 jobs. The high-profile event will also include remarks from Germany’s ambassador to the US.

VW announced the plan to begin producing EVs by 2022 in Tennessee in January.

Daimler AG said in late 2017 it planned to invest $1 billion to expand its manufacturing footprint around Tuscaloosa, Alabama, creating more than 600 jobs. Tariffs on Japan seem even less likely than the EU, experts say.

Japanese automakers and suppliers have announced billions of dollars in investments, most notably a $1.6 billion joint venture plant in Alabama by Toyota Motor Corp and Mazda Motor Corp.

Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed a limited trade deal in September cutting tariffs on US farm goods, Japanese machine tools and other products.

Although the agreement does not cover trade in autos, Abe said in September he had received reassurance from Trump that the US would not impose auto tariffs on national security grounds. Lighthizer said the two countries would tackle cars in negotiations expected to start next April.

Stefan Mair, member of the executive board of the BDI German industry association, said a deal to permanently remove the threat of tariffs was needed. “The investments that are not being made are costing us the growth of tomorrow, even in sectors that are seemingly not affected,” he said.

Germany’s merchandise trade surplus with the US — $69 billion in 2018 — remains a sore point with the Trump administration as does Japan’s $67.6 billion
US trade surplus last year — with two-thirds of that in the auto sector.