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.


Renault seeks to restructure French factories to slash costs

Updated 52 sec ago

Renault seeks to restructure French factories to slash costs

  • Company in talks with unions over plans amid fears of public backlash over jobs

PARIS: Renault said on Friday it was launching talks with unions to restructure several French car plants, potentially leading to closures, as it confirmed plans to cut around 15,000 jobs worldwide.

Faced with a slump in demand exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis, Renault is aiming to find €2 billion ($2.22 billion) in savings over the next three years as it hones in on key car models.

“We thought too big in terms of sales,” interim chief executive Clotilde Delbos told a conference call, adding the firm was “coming back to its bases” after investing too much in recent years.

The company plans to trim its global production capacity to 3.3 million vehicles in 2024 from 4 million now, focusing on areas such as small vans or electric cars as it freezing manufacturing expansion in countries such as Romania.

The company — due to bring ex-Volkswagen executive Luca de Meo on board as CEO in July — said it would also slash costs by cutting the number of subcontractors in areas such as engineering, reducing the number of components it uses and shrinking gearbox manufacturing worldwide.

It hopes to find additional savings by producing more cars jointly with its Japanese partner Nissan, which has also outlined a plan to become smaller and more efficient.

Renault said the restructuring measures, which include job cuts and employment transfers that would affect just under 10 percent of its global workforce, would cost €1.2 billion.

FASTFACT

15%

Renault is 15 percent owned by the French state.

The group, which is 15 percent owned by the French state, said some plants such as the one in Flins, close to Paris, where it makes its electric Zoe models, could cease to assemble cars and center on recycling activities, instead.

Six sites in all, including a component factory in Brittany and the Dieppe factory where the group’s Alpine cars are made, will be under review.

Unions in France have said they feared the measures could lead four sites to shut, though outright closures are likely to lead to a public backlash.

The government has said it will not sign off on a planned €5 billion state loan for Renault until management and unions conclude talks over jobs and factories in France.

Renault was already under pressure when the coronavirus pandemic hit, posting its first loss in a decade in 2019. Like its peers, it is now trying to juggle a slump in revenue with industry-wide changes such as investment needed to produce more environmentally friendly vehicles.