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[HONG KONG] Hong Kong's richest man signalled that the property rebound that's been pushing up prices in the world's most expensive housing market could persist for as long as two years as growing demand outweighs government curbs.
"I cannot see how property prices would fall in the coming one to two years," Li Ka-Shing, the 88-year-old head of Cheung Kong Property Holdings Ltd and CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd, said during his annual earnings press conference on Wednesday.
"The force from buyers is very strong."
The resurgent home market has posed a headache for Hong Kong's leaders and stoked rising discontent among the city's residents. After a short-lived dip, home prices have soared in the past year to hit records. Existing home prices have advanced 17 per cent from a low point about a year ago, according to the Centaline Property Centa-City Leading Index.
The government in November imposed higher stamp duties targeted at all but first-time local buyers in an effort to rein in prices. The curbs have done little to cool demand, with buyers flocking to newly built units amid rebates and discounts from developers.
Housing costs have dogged Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying over the course of his five years in power. As the city's election draws near, the two leading candidates to replace Mr Leung have both singled out unaffordable housing as an issue, signalling that new measures may be rolled out to address rising prices.
A committee of about 1,200 business and political elites will be voting later this month on who will become the next chief executive.
Among those voting will be Mr Li and his sons, but the tycoon dodged various questions on Wednesday as to who he'll cast his ballot for, saying that Hong Kong's next leader should be able to communicate and work well with China.
Mr Li's fortune has stayed resilient as Hong Kong's robust property market boosted stocks of listed developers. His wealth has advanced by US$2.1 billion this year to US$30.7 billion, ranking him third in Asia, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The tycoon was less optimistic about the state of the Hong Kong economy, which he's described as being in its worst shape in two decades. At one point, he appeared to be holding back tears while talking about the city's economy.
He pointed out that tourism-related industries in Hong Kong have deteriorated in the past year and that within his retail operations worldwide, Hong Kong's performance was among the worst.
Separately, Mr Li's two main companies raised their dividend payments as he followed through on a pledge to shareholders after completing the biggest-ever reorganisation of his business empire. Mr Li said there is a high chance he'll continue to raise dividend payments.
Helping the companies make payouts were earnings as CK Hutchison's profit climbed almost 6 per cent last year, while CK Property's underlying earnings climbed 16 per cent.