Ricacorp to cut staff following property cooling measures

Cooling measures bite as major market player announces need to trim workforce by 10pc

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 5:21am

Hong Kong's cooling property market is starting to ripple through the local economy, with major real estate agency Ricacorp planning to slash a tenth of its staff amid slowing home sales.

The sharp fall in sales following the government's decision to introduce additional stamp duties last month left the real estate sector vulnerable.

Market analysts say the Ricacorp downsizing shows the cooling measures are beginning to bite.

Land Registry figures show home sales slumped by 16.6 per cent to 6,344 so far this month from October.

Including non-residential transactions, only 9,667 deals were recorded. There were 15,911 licensed agents in the city at the end of last month.

Willy Liu Wai-keung, the chief executive of Ricacorp Properties, a subsidiary of Centaline Group, sent a mobile phone message to senior management warning them of the plan and possible branch closures.

"We can reduce the staff force by 10 per cent. We could also consolidate the positions of senior staff," Liu said. "If the monthly rent of a branch is more than HK$300,000, we won't renew the lease. We should close the branches if there is a lack of performance ," he added.

The firm would also put any expansion plans on hold.

Liu told Shih Wing-ching, founder of the Centaline Group, Ricacorp would record a loss. "I think the property market will not recover by Chinese New Year [in February]. We have to consolidate our business as soon as possible," he said in the message.

Ricacorp had about 3,000 staff early this month, meaning a total of 300 would be cut over the next few months.

Liu yesterday denied there were plans to lay off staff.

"We will reduce our workforce by natural attrition. About 70 staff have left our firm already so far this month," he said.

The firm has a total of 200 branches selling residential property in Hong Kong.

However, Centaline Property, the city's biggest agency by number of branches, has no plans to lay off agents and is expected to record a profit this month.

Centaline Property managing director Louis Chan Wing-kit said the company had maintained a profit, as the business had diversified overseas and handled the sales of many mainland projects in Hong Kong.

Centaline has 382 branches.

"Ricacorp's focus is on the Hong Kong residential market only and has suffered the most from the [government's cooling] measures," he added.

Midland Holdings and its subsidiary, Hong Kong Property said the firms had no layoff plans.

The last layoffs in the industry were in 2008, when the property market was hit by the Lehman Brothers collapse.