Hey, big spenders! How $2b buys lives of luxury

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 October, 2005, 12:00am

Cars, yachts and vintage wines - Hongkongers want it all again

Hong Kong's big spenders are bidding farewell to the economic slump and celebrating by shopping with a vengeance - spending more than $2 billion on jets, cars and yachts this year.

Rolls-Royce for starters has sold more than 10 of its Phantoms this year, totalling more than $61 million.

'Since 2003, our sales have increased fivefold. We've had lots of inquiries this year,' a company spokeswoman said. 'We sold five extended-wheel-base Phantoms that cost $6.38 million each. The others ranged from $5.49 million to $5.89 million.'

One of its competitors, Mercedes Maybach, said inquiries for its tailor-made Maybachs had also surged. The luxury models are handmade and only a thousand or so are produced each year.

'We are bound by contract and cannot release information about how many we have sold but I can tell you it's definitely higher than Rolls-Royce,' said a Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong spokesman.

'The most expensive vehicle cost about $16 million and has gold and diamond fittings. But I can't confirm the sale because we don't want reporters snooping around Maybachs in town to see who has bought it.'

On the water front, two luxury mega-yachts are preparing to sail into town this year.

According to Simpson Marine, a top Italian yacht specialist in Asia, two custom-built super-yachts worth more than $560 million were snapped up by two local tycoons a few months ago.

One is a 65-metre Benetti-built yacht worth about Euro40 million ($374 million). 'The Benetti was bought from our sister company by a tycoon who already had seven or eight yachts,' Simpson Marine Ltd (HK) sales director Robin Wyatt said.

The other floating palace is a 44-metre yacht being built in Holland and destined to be moored at Hebe Haven Yacht Club.

'Business has improved a lot. The most expensive yacht we sold this year was a 100-foot Azimut for Euro5 million,' Mr Wyatt said.

Last, but definitely not least, is the ultimate luxury toy - the turbojet.

Joseph Lau Luen-hung, owner of Lifestyle International Holdings and executive director of Chinese Estates, recently bought a 737 Boeing business jet for more than $570 million as a Mid-Autumn Festival present for his mother and ex-mother-in-law.

Spending half a billion dollars on a whim is pretty impressive, but what makes it even more amazing is the fact that Mr Lau forked out $580 million earlier this year for two other planes.

He told local media that the planes - which cost $100,000 a month to park and $200,000 per trip to fly to London - made his weekend visits to Britain more convenient.

Before Mr Lau entered this exclusive market, only two Hong Kong tycoons - Stanley Ho Hung-sun and Citic Pacific chairman Larry Yung Chi-kin - had private planes.

Managing director for Walker Hammond Safaris Clive Hammond said big spenders were now also confident about leaving their companies behind while they took holidays in remote places.

'In the past few years, people nurtured their businesses and put luxury products aside. They were less likely to take time out to go to a location where communication was not good,' he said. 'But now property and stocks are rising it's time to reward themselves.'

With all that shopping, what better way to end the day than to chill out with a nice glass of wine.

'This year we sold a bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc, a magnum, for GBP7,500 [$102,700],' said Jo Purcell, Asia representative of fine wine importer Farr Vintners.

'In the top category of wines we have seen a 10 to 20 per cent increase in prices because of the shortage of supply due to the high demand.'

For anyone interested, Ms Purcell still has a 1985 Romanee Conti for GBP3,700.