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Hong Kong sells car park to developer for record HK$23.3b

[HONG KONG] Henderson Land Development outbid eight other developers and will pay a record HK$23.3 billion (S$4.18 billion) for the first commercial land to be sold by Hong Kong's government in the Central district since 1996.

The Hong Kong company beat local rivals including units of Cheung Kong Property Holdings and Wharf Holdings, the Lands Department said on Tuesday. Henderson Land will build an office tower on the site.

The record price for the property, currently used as a car park, underscores strong demand for office space in Hong Kong's Central area.

Since MTR Corp sold a waterfront site for the landmark International Finance Centre in 1996, no new supply has come on stream. The area's vacancy rate was only about 1.5 per cent in the first quarter of this year, according to CBRE Group Inc.

Market voices on:

"The price surprises on the high side," said Alfred Lau, an analyst at Bocom International Holdings Co. "However, the market may not share such a bullish outlook," Mr Lau said, adding that Henderson Land should consider introducing a partner to share the risk.

The price per square foot is about HK$50,000, according to Bloomberg calculations based on a maximum gross floor area of 465,000 square feet. That compares with: HK$36,200 per square foot when China Evergrande Group paid a record for a commercial building in 2015 HK$39,700 per square foot in March for units in 9 Queen's Road Central that are the city's most expensive office space, according to the Apple Daily newspaper.

Only one of the nine bidders was a mainland company, indicating a cooling of interest from Chinese buyers after three recent residential land auctions where at least a third of the bids were from mainland businesses. Previously, Chinese groups such as HNA Group have snapped up Hong Kong sites.

The car park building is in the heart of Central, near the iconic Bank of China skyscraper and billionaire Li Ka-shing's Cheung Kong Centre. Last year, Colliers International estimated that the property was worth HK$15.8 billion to HK$17 billion.

Henderson Land will finance the acquisition through its internal resources and bank funding, and plans to complete an office building, with some retail facilities, by 2022, the company said in a statement.

Aggressive bidding for the commercial site echoes brisk developer demand for residential plots amid record home prices in the world's least affordable housing market.