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Property News Weekly Digest
〈Asian Post, March 6, 2021〉Hong Kong's financial chief has hit out at a Washington-based think tank for removing the city from an annual league table ranking the world's freest economies, saying the decision was "clouded by … political bias".

The city drops off the Heritage Foundation list published yesterday, a year after losing the No 1 position it held for decades to Singapore.

Hong Kong and Macau were quietly removed from appearing under their own names and instead listed with China. The compilers said classifying the economy under China was a reflection of Beijing's "ultimate control" over the city.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said the move was unjustified during the latest webinar in the Redefining Hong Kong series organised by the South China Morning Post.

"I do not agree our economic policy has been taken over by the central government," Chan said. "It seems to me when they arrived at that decision, it must have been clouded by their ideological inclination and political bias."

He insisted the city still enjoyed its economic competitiveness with the free flow of capital continuing under "one country, two systems", the governing principle for Hong Kong. The rule of law was respected in the city, Chan added.

Earlier, the think tank wrote: "The index this year measures economic freedom only in independent countries where governments exercise sovereign control of economic policies."

〈The Standard, March 5, 2021〉Lantau Tomorrow dispute continues

The way to create land for housing in Hong Kong is reclamation, according to Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun.

Other options can only bring about changes in land use, he argued at a forum held by the Our Hong Kong Foundation yesterday, although he faced opposition.

In an effort to promote the HK$624-billion Lantau Tomorrow mega-development plan, Wong said reclamation is closely related to Hong Kong's development, and the administration considers it "the only way of creating new land."

He added: "I understand people might have different views regarding reclamation, but other ways of making land, including land rezoning, new development areas and reclaiming brownfield sites, are actually only changing land use instead of creating new land.

"Although only 6 percent of Hong Kong's land was created through reclamation, it comprises 70 percent of Hong Kong's commercial land and 30 percent of its population. I think reclamation can solve multiple social problems in terms of housing, education and social welfare."

〈The Standard, March 4, 2021〉Wharf Real Estate Investment (1997), owner of the Harbour City and Times Square malls, saw underlying net profit drop 24 percent to HK$7.48 billion last year, as chairman Stephen Ng Tin-hoi said it's too early to say the retail industry has hit bottom.

The retail landlord recorded a net loss of HK$7.85 billion, compared with a net profit of HK$3.93 billion in 2019. Total revenue declined by 3 percent to HK$15.52 billion.

The investment property segment, including retail, office and serviced apartments here and in Singapore, was hit hard by the pandemic, with revenue for the segment falling 17 percent to HK$11.83 billion.

And the hotel segment's revenue slumped by 58 percent to HK$630 million.

In Hong Kong, retail sales fell 24 percent. Net operating cash flow dropped 36 percent for malls due to falling rental income, rent relief for shops and a tripling of marketing expenses.

Overall revenue for Harbour City fell 25 percent, with operating profit down by 29 percent, as leasing activity slowed Revenue for Times Square fell 18 percent, while operating profits declined 24 percent amid increased competition.

〈China Daily, March 3, 2021〉Wheelock Properties expects to release at least 105 units in the first price list of Grand Victoria in West Kowloon today and will open show flats on Saturday.

The project offers 524 units measuring between 256 sq ft and 2,189 sq ft.

Meanwhile, China Evergrande (3333) has agreed to pay HK$4.15 billion as land premium for its Wo Shang Wai project in Yuen Long, the highest in three years, local media reported.

The plot has a site area of 2.23 million sq ft and a gross floor area of 893,032 sq ft. It is expected to offer 268 luxury houses. China Evergrande acquired the plot from Henderson Land Development (0012) in 2019 for HK$4.7 billion.

In another transaction, Chan Wing-on, chairman of Tai Hing Group (6811), sold a 1,000-sq-ft street shop at Wellington Street in Central for HK$43.8 million, and he will suffer a capital loss of about HK$6.2 million after holding the property for three-and-a-half years.

〈Asian Post, March 2, 2021〉Mainland property developer China Evergrande has paid HK$4.2 billion to convert a plot of farmland in the New Territories into a ultra luxury project, sources said yesterday. It will build a 240,000 sq ft palace-like villa, among others, on the land.

The company converted a 2.4 million sq ft plot in Yuen Long, according to people familiar with the matter. It bought the farmland, near the Mai Po Wetlands, from developer Henderson Land Development for HK$4.7 billion in 2019.

There was no rush to convert the farmland and Evergrande could have made the switch later too, according to Vincent Cheung, managing director of Vincorn Consulting and Appraisal.

"Its bold decision shows that it is highly positive about the market," he said.

Evergrande did not respond to inquires made by the Post.

Sales in the city's luxury residential market have picked up of late. Some 10 residential transactions worth more than HK$100 million each have been recorded recently, according to Centaline Property Agency, which said investors that had reaped huge gains from the stock market were diversifying into luxury property.