Citibank posts US$41.1 million windfall from selling a Hong Kong outlet, in a sign that commercial property market is bottoming out

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Citibank sold a shop in Hong Kong’s Central business district at a profit of HK$320 million (US$41.1 million) last month, according to Land Registry records.

The shop, Unit A on the ground floor of Wheelock House, was acquired by Shiny Profit Limited for HK$710 million. Citibank (Hong Kong), which has been occupying the shop for years, bought it from a company called Yeebo Technology in December 2004 for HK$390 million.

“This transaction is a commercial decision based on our global real estate strategy to drive greater efficiency from resources. Proceeds of the sale will be reinvested to support client-led growth in Hong Kong,” a Citi spokeswoman said on Wednesday. “This sale will include Citi’s long-term leaseback of the premises to ensure continued branch services, and we remain committed to serving our clients in Hong Kong.”

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The sale is being viewed as indicating that Hong Kong’s shops market is bottoming out after a couple of years of economic shocks. The city’s anti-government protests in 2019 and the coronavirus pandemic, which broke out last year, have dragged Hong Kong’s visitor arrivals to almost zero, pummelling prime street rents and prices.

“This market price shows that prime retail – even though many people in the market say retail is not good currently – is gradually bottoming out and recovering,” said Joseph Tsang, chairman of JLL in Hong Kong, who concluded the deal. “People are very willing to pay a good price for prime locations,” he said, describing the deal as “signature” and at a “very good” price.

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The acquisition by Chang Yan Shee Miguel, Shiny Profit’s director according to Companies Registry records, comes at a time when shops are being rented at a faster pace because of the government’s HK$5,000 consumption vouchers.

“With more favourable factors in the consumer market this year, such as consumption vouchers and ‘Come2HK’ arrangements, confidence in leasing in the retail and catering industries has strengthened,” said Raiky Wong, director of retail at Centaline Commercial. “In preparation for Christmas and New Year business, the retail rental peak season could appear earlier, which could help the leasing situation in the coming few months remain strong.”

Prime street shop rents sank 77.4 per cent in the second quarter this year from a peak in the first quarter of 2013, according to Savills. The number of vacant shops and vacancy rates of Hong Kong’s shopping districts overall, and Central in particular, slid year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021 as well, according to Midland IC&I. But vacancies will fall further in the coming six months, dominated by restaurant leases, said Lieman Leung, director of Midland Shops.

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Meanwhile, Knight Frank is marketing a part of the Kwun Tong Theatre Building for an indicative price of about HK$200 million.

Separately, despite a downward trend in transaction volumes, home prices are expected to progress steadily in the fourth quarter, with room to rise by up to 3 per cent, Cushman and Wakefield said on Wednesday.

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