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Thursday, September 29, 2016, 23:19

Lenders, brokers up mortgage stakes

By Luo Weiteng
Lenders, brokers up mortgage stakes
The Mid-Levels — one of Hong Kong’s upmarket residential districts. Despite strong demand, the government’s property buying curbs have deterred some first-time homes buyers from coming up with the required down payments. (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg)

As Hong Kong’s property prices show signs of picking up, with prospective buyers staging a roaring comeback, finance companies and real estate agents have joined forces to give banks a run for their money by ratcheting up the already heated homes mortgage business.

Hong Kong Credit Corporation Ltd — the money-lending unit of Hong Kong’s largest listed independent financial adviser Convoy Global Holdings — has teamed up with Centaline Property Agency, offering to lend buyers up to 90 percent for apartments valued at below HK$8 million, and 80 percent for those valued at not more than HK$12 million.

The maximum loan available is set at HK$9.6 million.

Another lender, ETC Finance Ltd — owned by a Singapore-based trust fund which is also a controlling shareholder of multi-investment conglomerate New Century Group Hong Kong Ltd — joined Midland Realty and Ricacorp Properties to offer basically similar mortgage loans with repayment periods of up to 30 years.

The interest rate charged by the finance firms could be as much as 2 percentage points below banks’ prime lending rate, which currently hovers at around 5.25 percent.

Under the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s current regime, which was revised early last year, bank loans are capped at 60 percent for apartments worth between HK$6 million and HK$10 million, and 50 percent for homes worth more than HK$10 million.

“With Hong Kong’s housing market becoming buoyant again, finance companies and real estate agencies feel the need to join forces,” said Louis Chan Wing-kit, managing director of Centaline’s residential department.

Currently, local homes prices are still 5.6 percentage points lower than the peak reached in September 2015. The US Federal Reserve is widely expected to lift interest rates before the end of this year, but if a rate increase is put off, Chan believed that Hong Kong’s housing prices could be on track to return to last year’s highs by yearend, jumping by up to 8 percent.

While the demand is strong, the government’s countercyclical measures, aimed at curbing an overheated property market and protecting banking stability, restrain first-time homes buyers from coming up with the required down payments.

In the first seven months of this year, the cumulative value of mortgage loans drawn down in Hong Kong posted a year-on-year drop of 48 percent, while the cumulative number fell by 40 percent on a yearly basis, reflecting the government’s tightening grip on property mortgages, according to mReferral Mortgage Brokerage Services — a unit of Midland Realty.

Yet, the outstanding value of mortgage loans saw its growth rate slow from 2-3 percent previously to the current 0.41 percent, indicating that banks may be awash with cash.

As finance companies and property agencies aggressively vie for a bigger slice of the mortgage business, Sharmaine Lau, chief economic analyst at mReferral Mortgage Brokerage Services, said she believed that local banks may be facing the stiffest competition for market share this year.

But, it’s noted that some finance firms typically target clients who are confined by the current loan-to-value ratio and are earning enough to afford bigger mortgage loans. Such a client base may not overlap with that of banks.
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