Loud cheers rang out in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Beijing on Tuesday night when Cheung Kong (Holdings) deputy managing director Kam Hing-lam toasted the 10th anniversary of the company's prime mainland property, Beijing Oriental Plaza.
The complex is the core asset of a yuan-denominated real estate investment trust (reit), for which Cheung Kong is seeking a Hong Kong listing. 'The toasting last week was a prelude to the upcoming celebrations for the listing,' said a guest at the party.
Cheung Kong is expected to raise between US$1 billion and US$1.5 billion through the initial public offering of the reit. Subject to regulatory approval, the offering is expected to start by the end of this month and the units will commence trading in April.
BOC International, Citic Securities and HSBC are leading the deal.
Analysts expect demand will be strong even though the reit offers a yield of about 3.6 per cent, slightly below returns on Hong Kong dollar-denominated reits trading in Hong Kong.
The 800,000 square metre development is on a prime 100,000 square metre site on Changan Avenue in Wangfujing district in the heart of Beijing. Its revenue-driven gross floor area is about 580,000 sq metres, comprising eight grade-A office towers, two luxury serviced apartment buildings, the five-star Grand Hyatt Beijing and a shopping complex.
Kam, who is believed to be the chair the new reit, initially called Hui Xian, refused to disclose the valuation of the property, but said the consortium had invested 16 billion yuan (HK$18.9 billion). International Financing Review, a Thomson Reuters publication, estimated its worth at about 33 billion yuan.
Oriental Plaza is 33.4 per cent owned by billionaire Li Ka-shing's flagship Cheung Kong and 18 per cent by another of his listed vehicles, Hutchison Whampoa. Orient Overseas (International), controlled by the family of former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, owns 8 per cent, and the rest is shared between the Bank of China and China Life Insurance.
Kam said the project had seen rapid development in the past decade on the back of China's economic growth. 'I am happy to see the success today. I had almost forgotten the difficulties [the company had experienced],' he said.
Beijing Oriental Plaza is one of Li's biggest but most controversial mainland projects. It was the Tung family's company that brought Li into the venture as majority stakeholder in the second half of 1993. The deal contract was signed in January 1994 but immediately hit a roadblock when McDonald's refused to move from a corner location on the site earmarked for the vast project.
The dispute was eventually solved when the city government renegotiated a contract with the US fast-food giant, granting it better concessions.
Beijing city planners also opposed the initial development plans, which they said infringed on planning rules on density and height.
There was talk at the time the objection was based on concerns that the project would offer views into Zhongnanhai, an area next to the Forbidden City that serves as the headquarters for the Communist Party and the State Council. Cheung Kong scaled down the development and it was approved. After 18 months of construction, the grand opening of the project's shell was held on October 1, 1999 - the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.
'We had built the exterior. The interior was not yet ready at the time,' Kam said.
Kam declined to comment on the float of the reit but said such vehicles were appealing because of their stability. 'Their profits will not jump or fall sharply,' he said, pointing to the plaza's strong cash flow and stable income growth. The shopping complex, comprising 130,000 sq metres, was fully leased with transacted rents above the district's average, he said.
According to property consultant DTZ, the average monthly asking rent for a shop on the first floor of retail centres in nearby Wangfujing street was 951 yuan per square metre. Rentals in the Oriental Plaza complex were 1,239 yuan per square metre.
'We have 280 tenants and there are another 250 companies on the waiting-list hoping to get in the mall,' Kam said.
The occupancy rate of its eight office towers is 99.7 per cent, with average transacted rents of 229 yuan per square metre, up from 183 yuan in the fourth quarter of last year.
The 853-room Grand Hyatt Beijing has an average occupancy rate of about 60 per cent. Kam said revenue per available room - a performance measure in the hotel industry that is calculated by multiplying a hotel's average daily room rate by its occupancy rate - ranked first among all hotels with more than 300 rooms in Beijing.
Lee Wee Liat, regional property head of research at Samsung Securities (Asia), said he expected to see strong demand for the yuan-based reit as it would be the first of its kind in Hong Kong.
Retail property was in demand on the mainland given the government's efforts to boost domestic consumption, he said. 'It is one of the most successful malls in Beijing and is a very good asset,' Lee said.