Hongkong Land posted a first-half profit attributable to shareholders of $292 million, reversing a year-earlier loss of $865 million, but the builder remains lukewarm on the full-year outlook as anti-COVID measures roil office leasing in its home patch and sporadic lockdowns delay project completions in mainland China.
Underlying profit, which strips out non-recurring items to show a clearer ongoing trend, rose by 8 percent year-on-year to $425 million in the first six months of 2022, Hongkong Land said in a release. Profits from development properties ticked up, while earnings from investment properties, including the group’s prime office portfolio in Hong Kong’s Central district, were marginally lower.
Chairman Ben Keswick termed the performance “pleasing to see” despite weak market sentiment in China that undermined sales at mainland development properties.
“The group’s full-year underlying profits are expected to be significantly lower than the prior year,” Keswick said. “This is primarily due to the planned timing of sales completions and the impact of pandemic-related restrictions on construction activities on the Chinese mainland, which will result in some completions being deferred from the second half of 2022 into 2023.”
Office Vacancy Drifts Higher
In Hong Kong, restrictions launched in response to the fifth wave of COVID-19 reduced the number of new office leasing inquiries and led the developer to provide rental support for a select number of retail tenants.
Vacancy in Hongkong Land’s Central office portfolio, which includes Jardine House and the Exchange Square complex, edged up to 5.4 percent at the end of June from 5.2 percent at the end of 2021. On a committed basis, vacancy rose to 5.1 percent from 4.9 percent.
The average monthly office rent was HK$112 (now $14.27) per square foot in the first half of 2022, compared with HK$118 and HK$115 in the first and second halves of 2021.
In the group’s Landmark retail portfolio, the average monthly rent was HK$168 per square foot in the first half of 2022, down sharply from HK$180 and HK$190 in the first and second halves of 2021.
“Tourism has not yet returned to Hong Kong, due to a combination of travel and quarantine restrictions, adversely impacting retail sales levels,” Hongkong Land said.
In Singapore, the group’s office portfolio continued to see healthy leasing momentum, with the average monthly rent rising to S$10.50 (now $7.63) per square foot in the first half of 2022 from S$10.20 and S$10.30 in the first and second halves of 2021. On a committed basis, vacancy in the portfolio remained low at 3 percent, compared with 2.9 percent at the end of 2021.
Development’s Mixed Picture
In mainland China, a greater number of sales completions in the first half of 2022 resulted in higher profits than during the year-earlier period, but weak market sentiment hammered contracted sales despite the continued relaxation of cooling measures.
Attributable interest in mainland contracted sales reached $419 million in the first half of 2022, compared with $1.36 billion and $1.29 billion in the first and second halves of 2021. At the end of June, Hongkong Land had $2.43 billion in sold but unrecognised contracted sales, versus $2.85 billion at the end of 2021.
Development sales in Singapore ebbed as a result of lower completion progress on projects, though strong pre-sales at the 407-unit Piccadilly Grand joint residential project with City Developments Ltd were a bright spot.
Attributable interest in Singapore contracted sales totalled $270 million in the first half of 2022, compared with $172 million and $156 million in the first and second halves of 2021.
Hongkong Land’s development pipeline includes a 34 percent interest alongside mainland developer China Merchants Shekou and municipal investment firm Shanghai Huicheng Group in a primarily residential site next to the West Bund in Shanghai’s Xuhui district. The project has an attributable developable area of 201,285 square feet and will feature six high-rise apartment blocks with more than 470 premium residential units.
In Singapore, the group acquired a 49 percent interest in a residential site in the Tanjong Katong area with a developable area of 599,000 square feet, which is expected to yield 638 units.