New Territories on a roll for day shoppers

Saving on time and hotel bills, many mainland visitors are targeting malls just across the border and that's boosting landlords like SHKP

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 4:12am

Jane Hu, a financial adviser from Huizhou in Guangdong, travels to the outskirts of Hong Kong to shop with her friends at least once a month.

They rarely venture into the city centre or stay overnight.

"It's only a two-hour bus ride, so we're not wasting our money on hotels," said Hu, 30, hauling around a suitcase stuffed with pharmaceuticals and snacks she bought in the New Town Plaza shopping mall in Sha Tin, 26 kilometres from the border. "These are like grocery-shopping trips."

Mainlanders like Hu, taking day trips in search of basic goods, are helping boost retail rents in the New Territories, according to brokers Savills.

Firms such as Sun Hung Kai Properties and Link Real Estate Investment Trust, which run malls in areas outside the city's most expensive retail districts, are set to benefit amid a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy, BNP Paribas said.

"There's a major shift in spending patterns among Chinese travellers," said Simon Smith, senior director of Asia-Pacific research at London-based Savills. The areas closer to the border "are probably where the headroom is in terms of rental growth this year".

Rents at malls on the city's outskirts, which can be as low as a 10th of those in the city centre, are expected to grow as much as 10 per cent this year, Savills says. Rents of street-level shops in prime shopping districts in Hong Kong will probably remain flat, while those in prime-location malls will gain about 5 per cent.

A total of 18.8 million mainland tourists visited Hong Kong in the year's first half, up 20 per cent from a year earlier, according to the Tourism Board. Among them, single-day visitors rose 24 per cent to 11 million, outpacing the 16 per cent gain in those staying overnight.

Rents at malls in the New Territories average about HK$80-HK$250 per square foot a month, according to Savills. That compares with HK$1,000-HK$2,000 for prime shopping district street shops, and HK$500-HK$700 at high-end shopping malls, it said.

Wealthy Chinese tourists shopping for expensive goods, including jewellery and watches, have helped Hong Kong Island's prime street rents outpace those in the fringe areas over the past decade. Average rents gained about 45 per cent in 2011 and last year, more than double the growth in the New Territories, according to Savills. Prime refers to the most stable high-income producing properties.

That trend is starting to change, as President Xi Jinping clamps down on luxury gifting among government officials and as the mainland economy slows down.

New Town Plaza, where Hu did her shopping, was built by SHKP, the city's biggest developer by market value, in 1985. Of the 20 malls it operates in the city, 13 are in the New Territories, its website says.

"It's a good time for those with large portfolios in these fringe areas," said Patrick Wong, Hong Kong-based analyst at BNP Paribas.

The Link Reit, the city's biggest property trust, and Sino Land are also among property firms best placed to take advantage of the trend, because of their network of shopping malls on the outskirts, Wong said.

More than a third of the 51 shopping malls owned by Sino Land, which makes almost all its earnings in Hong Kong, are in the New Territories, its website says.

International fashion brands such as Inditex's Zara and Hennes & Mauritz are expanding in the north to lure shoppers from the mainland, according to Jeanette Chan, Hong Kong-based regional director for retail at property brokers Jones Lang LaSalle.