Chinese gymnastics legend Li Ning made his name being fearless on the pommel horse and rings, and now the sportswear company that bears his name is vaulting into a Hong Kong office market where many investors fear to venture.
China’s answer to Nike has agreed to buy Harbour East, a four-year-old office tower in the North Point area, from Henderson Land for HK$2.2 billion ($282.8 million), according to an announcement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Sunday. Li Ning says it intends to set up its local headquarters in the 144,000 square foot (13,378 square metre) building.
The company founded by the six-time Olympic medalist pointed to the acquisition of the 24-storey tower both as facilitating its business in Hong Kong, and as providing a gateway to markets further afield.
“The purchase of the Property for use as Hong Kong headquarters of the group via the acquisition demonstrates the group’s confidence in its business prospects in Hong Kong and marks the implementation of its plan to strengthen its business development internationally,” the company said in its statement to the Hong Kong exchange.
Gaining Government Tenants
Li Ning is acquiring the property at 218 Electric Road for the equivalent of HK$15,333 per square foot, or around 11 percent less than mainland developer Golden Wheel Tiandi was asking when it tried unsuccessfully to market Hongkong Golden Wheel Plaza at 68 Electric Road a year ago. That 25-storey “Ginza-style” vertical retail building is now back on the market after having been seized by receivers.
The sportswear firm currently lists the BEA Tower at Millennium Tower in Kowloon East as its corporate home and is not known to be a tenant in Harbour East.
With the office portion of the building believed to be around 71 percent occupied, much of the space is taken up by government tenants and other non-commercial organisations, including the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Hong Kong’s Labour department occupies nearly two floors in the building, while the Tourism Commission takes up another three, according to information from property consultancy CHFT Advisory and Appraisal.
Henderson Land or its affiliates are believed to occupy the 18th and 19th storeys of the tower, with those floors included in the estimated 71 percent occupancy.
The tower’s two retail floors are nearly fully occupied with a Five Guys fast food restaurant taking up the whole first floor above Pacific Coffee and 7-11 on the ground level.
Harbour East received platinum certifications under both the LEED and BEAM Plus regimens for sustainable buildings and also earned pre-certification for a gold rating under the Well standard for healthy workplaces.
Harbour East occupies a 9,600 square foot site and completion on the transaction for the 2019-vintage tower is expected by 28 January. The property’s 75-year leasehold is not set to mature until 2050, although a policy change introduced by the government last week proposes to extend existing land leases by another 50 years.
Cushman & Wakefield represented both the buyer and the seller in the transaction. Henderson Land had not replied to requests for comment by the time of publication.
Office Slide Continues
“As Hong Kong is one of the world’s few global cities and with its long-established reputation as a business hub, the Group can strengthen its link with different countries and explore various international business opportunities,” Li Ning said in explaining its rationale for the investment, while adding that it intends to occupy only a portion of the tower for its own use.
Investors were less enthused about the company’s decision, driving its shares down more than 14 percent on Monday.
In a statement released last week, Cushman & Wakefield indicated that Hong Kong’s office market continues to struggle with sliding rents and high vacancy.
“After the border reopening, the recovery in office leasing momentum has been slower than the market expectation,” said John Siu, managing director and head of project and occupier services for Cushman & Wakefield in Hong Kong. “If accounting for the remaining new supply potentially to be completed before 2023 year-end, the availability rate could surpass 19 percent by then, exceeding the record high of 18.1 percent in Q1 2004.
He added that with nearly 1.2 million square feet of new office set to enter the market next year, the property consultancy expects that office rents will slide another continue 7 to 9 percent in 2024.
Adjusting the Portfolio
In its interim report for the first half of 2023 Henderson Land reported an 18 percent increase in underlying profit, however, with Hong Kong’s office market continuing a multi-year slide, the company may have seen Li Ning’s requirement as an opportunity to sell off a less desirable property.
Despite the numerous certifications Harbour East received, in 2022 Henderson booked HK$49.5 million in revenue from the asset and suffered a HK$80.3 million loss, per its annual report. The building was appraised at HK$2.46 billion in a valuation on 5 December, according to Li Ning’s statement.
“The property is located in a mixed residential and commercial area, and is not considered as a prime office location when compared with Quarry Bay, another decentralized office in eastern Hong Kong Island,” said Alex Leung, chief surveyor at CHFT Advisory and Appraisal. He added that, “It is not uncommon for a developer to dispose of non-core assets.”