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HK home prices cool for 2nd straight month

Sentiment in September hit by global stock market rout, Sino-US trade war and worsening investment conditions

Hong Kong

PRIVATE home prices in Hong Kong fell for the second straight month in September as a global stock market rout and an intensifying Sino-US trade war soured sentiment in the property market.

The fall last month followed the decline in August, the first in 29 months in one of the world's least affordable property markets.

In September, prices eased 1.4 per cent from August, government data showed, accelerating a decline from August's revised 0.08 per cent slip.

However, prices are still elevated having risen 10.2 per cent so far this year, and surging 14.1 per cent in year-on-year terms in September, according to Reuters' calculations based on an index compiled by Hong Kong's Rating and Valuation Department.

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Ultra-low interest rates, limited housing supply and large capital flows from mainland Chinese buyers have helped push housing prices up more than 200 per cent over a decade, prompting repeated warnings from authorities about the risks of an asset bubble.

The hot real estate prices have angered many residents and prompted the city's government to set aside plots of land for public housing and propose a vacancy tax on empty new homes to discourage developers from hoarding.

A flat of 60 square metres (646 square feet) on Hong Kong Island cost an average of HK$10.87 million (S$1.92 million) in September, according to official data.

An end of the ultra-low interest rate era has also pressured the property market.

Hong Kong commercial banks raised their benchmark lending rates in late September for the first time in 12 years, increasing the cost of home mortgage repayments. More hikes are expected into 2019.

The one-month Hong Kong Interbank Offered Rate, which many mortgage plans link to, also hovered around a 10-year high level in the first half of the month, though it has pulled back over the past week.

Analysts now expect a 10 to 15 per cent decline in property prices next year. Anticipating a correction ahead, more potential home buyers are staying on the sidelines.

"Uncertainties in the macro environment . . . together with continuing volatility in the stock market, have put buyers in a wait and see mood, especially in the secondary market," said Realtor Midland Hong Kong residential CEO Sammy Po.

Midland expected transactions in the secondary market in October to drop to their lowest since March 2016, with the number of new homes sold possibly exceeding the number of old homes sold for the first time since December 2015.

The new home market remained relatively stable given developers' efforts to lower selling prices, ramp up new launches and offer high-mortgage plans to boost sales and avoid paying the vacancy tax. REUTERS

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