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Friday, July 31, 2020, 14:52
Outside the box
By Peter Liang
Friday, July 31, 2020, 14:52 By Peter Liang

The beleaguered property stocks have just received a word of encouragement from a major US investment bank which considered them to be oversold.

At their current depressed prices, the market has factored in up to 40 percent decline in average rental from current level, which, according to the bank, is unlikely to happen. For that reason, Hong Kong property stocks are a bargain to be picked.

Not so fast.

The bank based its forecast at least partly on a survey it did on the popularity of working from home. Results of the survey show that many office workers interviewed said they preferred to work in their offices rather than from their homes.

These findings indicate that the demand for office spaces will increase after the coronavirus pandemic is brought under control or an effective vaccine is found. They can also be taken to mean that corporations aren’t ready to abandon their offices in the prime business districts anytime soon.

But experiences in other major cities are showing a different trend. In London, for instance, it is reported that many major corporates are moving at least part of the operations to less costly districts outside the prime business and financial centers.

The coronavirus lockdown forcing many office workers to work from their homes has given employers confidence that their businesses can function without having all the people working under one roof.

Relocation out of the prime districts to save cost has started in Hong Kong long before the coronavirus outbreak. In the past, the move involved mainly backroom staff and salespeople who were always on the road. Now, they may be thinking of keeping only a token presence in Central district where office rents are among the highest in the world just to impress clients when needed.

Even for that, property stocks seem to be oversold because most of the major developers derive a large part of their income from sales rather than rental. Average home prices have held firm, falling only about 10 percent from the peak, while demand has been stoked by low interest rates and easy credit.

The developers who is getting hurt the most are the major owners of shopping malls and other retail properties. Some of them have taken a big loss on paper at least through asset revaluation. But their rental income is expected to remain depressed for sometime to come.

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