Hong Kong home prices in four-month losing streak, fell at fastest pace in nine months in September as protests intensified

Home prices in Hong Kong, the world’s least affordable housing market, declined for a fourth month in September, dropping by their fastest pace in nine months.

Prices dropped by 1.8 per cent last month, their biggest decline since a 2 per cent drop in December 2018, and have lost 4.1 per cent in total during their four-month losing streak, according to the city’s Rating and Valuation Department.

Hong Kong has been rocked by five months of anti-government protests, but September witnessed an increase in vandalism, arson and street fights. Transport, particularly MTR services, were also disrupted. Police increased its use of tear gas and made more arrests as well. In this atmosphere, the decline in home prices accelerated – September’s decline was larger than the 1.4 per cent drop recorded in August.

“It was chaotic at that time. The social atmosphere was tense,” said Derek Chan, head of research at Ricacorp Properties, who attributed the decline to the US-China trade war as well. “It is the highest decline in the last nine months,” he added.

Overall sales also hit a new low for 2019 in September, shrinking 15.6 per cent month on month to 3,447 units, according to the latest Land Registry data.

Chan, however, said he expected the extent of decline to taper off in the coming months, thanks to a relaxation in mortgage requirements announced by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor this month.

“The first half of October was still bad … so October will still see a decline of more than 1. 5 per cent,” he said. “But after the Policy Address was revealed, the relaxation in mortgage requirements stimulated buying sentiment. So prices were relatively firm.”

He added that any decline in home prices in November could be lower than 1 per cent, while December could see home prices staying largely flat.

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A prolonged period of low interest rates is also expected to support home prices. Chan said the September numbers came after the “good news” that the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city’s de facto central bank, would follow in the footsteps of the US Federal Reserve and cut interest rates on Thursday. “It shows the low-interest rate environment will continue,” he said.

HSBC, one of Hong Kong’s three currency-issuing banks, too said it would cut its best lending rate to 5 per cent from 5.125 per cent, the first time it is reducing the cost of money since 2008, effective November 1.

Elsewhere, consultancy Knight Frank said home prices could still drop 3 per cent to 4 per cent between October and December, and buyers could have more choices of new flats at competitive prices as a vacancy tax looms.

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“The special rates on vacant first-hand private residential units proposed by the government have gone through the first reading in October. Supply in the leasing market is expected to increase, putting downward pressure on the rental market in the short-run,” said David Ji, director and head of research and consultancy for Greater China at Knight Frank.

Knight Frank also noted that an increase in the turnover of used small and medium-sized homes, recorded after mortgage requirements were eased, would last for just three to four months as the supply of homes and purchasing power will gradually be exhausted.

Moreover, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po have warned that Hong Kong’s economy could contract this year, following similar forecasts from banks such as Morgan Stanley, CLSA and Deutsche Bank.

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