Originally known as The Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf and Godown Company, Ltd, The Wharf Holdings Ltd was founded in 1886 and used to run wharfage and dockside warehousing. The company adopted its current name in 1986. Its major shareholder is Wheelock & Co. The company owns the iconic Star Ferry, two major flagship properties in the Harbour City and Times Square shopping centres in Hong Kong. Both owe their origins to Wharf’s transportation heritage, being built on the site of the company's original wharf, and on the site of the original depot of the Hong Kong Tramway, a former subsidiary. Wharf’s other holdings in Hong Kong include i-CABLE, Cable TV and Wharf T&T, and Modern Terminals.The company also holds many properties in the Tsim Sha Tsui area of Kowloon.
Wharf Holdings also owns operations and residential developments in Singapore through its Wheelock Properties subsidiary. Such properties include Wheelock Place and the former Seaview Hotel.
Wharf's Chengdu mall set to open
HK developer hopes to see 500 million yuan per year in rents from shopping centre, part of a 16 billion yuan commercial project
After years of sustained investments on the mainland, it's collection time for Wharf Holdings as its shopping centre in Chengdu opens next month.
Executive director Doreen Lee Yuk-fong said the company's mainland flagship retail centre, part of its Chengdu International Finance Square, expected an annual rental income of 500 million yuan (HK$635 million).
With a floor space of 210,000 square metres, the shopping centre set to open on January 14 has about 300 stores, mostly international and Hong Kong brands.
"Rents at the shopping centre vary. The most expensive base rent is about 1,800 yuan per square metre a month," Lee said.
Chengdu International Finance Square, which has cost the company over 16 billion yuan, is the first big mainland project by Wharf.
Spanning more than 760,000 square metres, it comprises the shopping centre, two Grade A office buildings with more than 250,000 square metres of floor space and a 230-room, five-star hotel. It also houses luxury residential units totalling 72,000 square metres.
Wharf is developing four other projects under the International Finance Square brand in Changsha, Chongqing, Suzhou and Wuxi.
"The one at Chengdu is among its flagship International Finance Square developments. More are to come. It's the beginning of its harvest in China," said Alfred Lau, a property analyst at Bocom International.
More squares were to open between 2016 or 2017, he said, but added development property, not rentable commercial space, remained the key growth driver for the group.
According to Wharf's interim results, it has investment property assets totalling HK$246.6 billion - HK$205.6 billion in Hong Kong and HK$41 billion on the mainland.
Alvin Yip Kwok-ping, co-head of real-estate adviser DTZ's investment department, said Hong Kong developers continued to invest in mainland assets as opportunities shrank here.
"But it's too early to say if it's harvesting time for Hong Kong developers. With the completion of their projects, it is now time to see if their business models are working," Yip said.
"Hong Kong developers are still fine-tuning their business models, as the markets are different in different mainland cities."
Location was very important for retail centres, Yip said, adding that the success of the new shopping centres would depend on it more than anything else.
For office properties, Yip was upbeat on first-tier cities, but said the huge supply of office space in second-tier cities was a cause for concern.
According to a DTZ report released yesterday, the robust property market on the mainland saw total investment rising 20 per cent to 86.4 billion yuan this year. The bulk of the investments came from domestic funds, which accounted for 62 per cent of all investment in the market.
Commercial properties - mainly offices and retail properties - remain the focus of property investors, especially in top-tier cities, where investment sentiment and prospects have been boosted by the Shanghai Free Trade Zone and the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Co-operation Zone in Shenzhen.
These had increased the attractiveness of commercial real-estate investment in eastern and southern China, Yip said.