Soho China profits increase by 33pc

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 1:38am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 1:38am

Mainland commercial property developer Soho China yesterday posted better-than-expected record earnings for last year, but analysts were sceptical if its growth can be sustained.

Core net profit rose 33 per cent year on year to 4.44 billion yuan (HK$5.6 billion), beating the estimate of 3.79 billion yuan in a Bloomberg survey.

Cash holdings and bank credit lines totalling 22.3 billion yuan and low net gearing of 17 per cent should prepare the company for any possible market correction, said chief executive Zhang Xin and chairman Pan Shiyi, the high-profile couple running the firm.

"The only thing that matters is to hold plenty of cash. That's why we decided to sell Soho Hailun Plaza and Soho Jing'an Plaza," Zhang said. "That does not mean that we are not committed to the strategy of build-and-hold."

Last week, investors were confused by the disposal of two office projects in Shanghai at a combined price of 5.2 billion yuan. Soho started its strategic shift in 2012 to hold projects it builds instead of selling them.

"I'm concerned how rental income will sustainably drive earnings growth," said a property analyst at a bank in Hong Kong. "It's pretty narrow-minded for the company to focus only in Shanghai and Beijing, where the room for growth in the office market is getting squeezed."

The analyst added though that "the new model has a high requirement on cash holdings" and their "cash cycle is long".

Zhang said the move would enable the company to "make quick and significant acquisitions" when the market corrected itself, a strategy it used in its first foray into Shanghai in 2009. "Our targets are still Beijing and Shanghai's most prime assets," she said.

Pan struck a worried note about risks in the property market, singling out record-high land prices, a low yield of 1 per cent in residential property investments in Shanghai and Beijing, and the poor quality of assets backing products issued by banks and trust firms. "These are all risks and they can explode any time," he said.

The company's share price yesterday closed 1.34 per cent higher at HK$6.05. It will pay a final dividend of 13 fen per share.