CEOs at top Hong Kong builders, landlords share optimism on outlook, see sustainability as key issue amid market stress

CEOs at top Hong Kong builders, landlords share optimism on outlook, see sustainability as key issue amid market stress

CEOs at top Hong Kong builders, landlords share optimism on outlook, see sustainability as key issue amid market stress

The CEOs of major landlords and developers in Hong Kong have made building on the normalisation that began last year a top priority for 2024, with a focus on strengthening balance sheets, evolving tenant portfolios and exploring new business opportunities.

These priorities also come with an emphasis on sustainability by offering green services to customers, they said. High interest rates, a slowing economy, a lack of talent and Hong Kong’s ageing population are among key challenges as the industry seeks to overcome a slide in property prices.

Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, chairman and managing director of The Wharf Group, which owns a large portfolio of properties in Hong Kong and mainland China, acknowledged these concerns, in addition to geopolitical tensions between the US and China. However, he said he anticipates new investment opportunities this year.
Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, chairman and managing director of The Wharf (Holdings), photographed in Tsim Sha Tsui. on September 26, 2023. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

While placing emphasis on serving the community, tenants, customers, staff, and shareholders, Wharf “will also prioritise maintaining a healthy balance sheet to take advantage of investment opportunities as they arise”, he said.

The government in November lowered its full-year forecast for Hong Kong’s economic growth to 3.2 per cent, warning that a worsening external environment, rising geopolitical tensions and high interest rates will continue to pose challenges.
Robert Wong, CEO of Hongkong Land, the largest commercial landlord in the city’s main business district of Central, said ongoing economic uncertainties in both Hong Kong and the mainland have affected the office market.

He also expresses confidence in the city’s future, though, and the property market as a whole. He highlighted Hong Kong’s unique advantages as a financial centre.

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Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives are another top priority for the company, noting that sustainabiity is the most important issue in its industry.

“At Hongkong Land. we are guided by the group’s sustainability framework 2030 and science-based targets throughout all our properties,” Wong said. “We are moving the ESG agenda forward through technology, social programmes and constant innovation and reinvestment into our existing assets as we play our part in Hong Kong’s journey towards net zero [emissions].”

The company plans to make visible changes in its Central portfolio and attract new tenants in retail and lifestyle spaces.

“We will continue to evolve our Central portfolio as a world class luxury, lifestyle and office destination in the heart of Central to meet the changing needs of our tenants and customers,” he said. “In addition, we are speaking to several existing and prospective retail tenants about ways in which we can help them grow, innovate and optimise both permanent and temporary space within Landmark. We will have exciting plans to share in the first quarter of 2024.”

Auction house Sotheby’s is also set to open a state-of-the-art immersive exhibition and retail space in Chater House in the first quarter, Wong added.

Tim Blackburn, chief executive of Swire Properties, attends Operation Santa Claus White Christmas Street Fair Lighting Ceremony at Taikoo Place in Quarry Bay on November 30, 2023. Photo: SCMP / Edmond So

Swire Properties, known for its sustainability measures, will continue focusing on pioneering work in this area and building vibrant, sustainable communities, said CEO Tim Blackburn.

Swire Properties ranked second globally in the 2023 Dow Jones Sustainability Index, a family of best-in-class benchmarks for investors who wish to evaluate the sustainability performance of companies that are traded publicly.

“Our top priorities in 2024 include the successful development of our exciting pipeline of mixed-use and residential projects in our three core markets,” Blackburn said. In 2022, the company announced plans to invest HK$100 billion (US$12.8 billion) in Hong Kong, mainland China and Southeast Asia over the next decade.

“We’ve been making good progress, with 30 per cent allocated to our home city of Hong Kong, 50 per cent to China and 20 per cent for new residential trading opportunities in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia,” he said. “We remain optimistic about the long-term growth potential for these markets, and I’m pleased to say that over 50 per cent has already been committed.”

For privately-held Chinachem Group, Hong Kong’s ageing population is an urgent concern that also needs the attention of the private sector. Its acquisition of a controlling stake in Pine Care Group in 2022 paves the way for its foray into non-traditional property segments.

Donald Choi, Chinachem’s executive director and CEO, said the company is prioritising business diversification this year.

“We have transformed a lot in the past few years,” he said. “Firstly, in the elderly care service industry, we hope to provide more resources to expand the business in our Pine Care Group. Hong Kong’s ageing population is actually a problem that needs to be solved and to put more resources together. So we are heading our way to develop more in senior housing.”

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