IT WAS a good week for stake-holders in Hong Kong property. The most brisk bidding at a land auction since last summer saw the Government scoop a revenue windfall, giving the depressed market another burst of confidence. Even property hawks were impressed. Recent auction successes came with the caveat that the big developers had stayed on the sidelines. Yet on Tuesday it was the master of the auction coup de theatre who grabbed headlines. Robert Ng was back in business, as Sino Land out-bid Henderson Land and Cheung Kong to take two sites for $2.38 billion. The sight of Sino Land trumping its rivals at a government auction is a nostalgic one for property bulls. No company was as aggressive, or paid more for government land, last year. Despite warnings that Sino Land is over extended from last year's purchases at the top of the market, it has committed itself to yet more New Territories developments. So what is Mr Ng up to? Unlike the old-school developers like Henderson Land, Cheung Kong, and Sun Hung Kai Properties, his company has a relatively small land bank, normally the life blood of Hong Kong properties. Estimates put it at about four years' worth of development. It is a firm in a hurry without the inclination or time to negotiate private sales or convert agricultural land, said Franklin Lam, property analyst at Salomon Brothers. Relatively speaking, Sino Land is still the industry's new kid on the block. While today's giants assiduously bought agricultural land and collected private treaty sales during the 1970s the Singapore based Sino Land only arrived on the Hong Kong scene in the early 1980s. Since then, the firm has acquired a mixed reputation. The 1987 default on futures exchange contracts by interests associated with the Ng family companies did much to besmirch its reputation. 'Hong Kong investors do not like to see developers take on too much, and that is the way Sino Land is seen.' said one analyst. The shifting of assets between the private and public companies has caused investors to fight shy of the stock. Most of the company's land acquisitions are announced as joint venture affairs with the Ng family, which causes analysts headaches in ascribing correct values to the publicly listed assets. In fact the Ng family private companies were far larger than the listed firms which made the attention given to pursuing Hang Seng Index status laudable, said Mr Lam. Another analyst said the company was a significant punter of its own stock, which tended to make investors wary. Yet, in a business dominated by a small group of insiders, Sino Land is one of the few foreign challengers with the nerve to successfully take advantage of the phenomenal profits to be made developing mass residential housing in Hong Kong. But what about that high-cost land bank? Analysts said the only bad decisions were last year's purchases such as the Farm Road sitethat would need to generate hugely optimistic end-user prices of about $7,500 per square foot to turn a profit. Most of its land was acquired during the 1990-93 period, which was an astute move, as was the decision to re-enter the market at this depressed juncture, said Mr Lam. Others are not so optimistic. A recent Peregrine report said earnings would take a 28 per cent dive in 1995, culminating in a profit crisis during 1996 as the higher priced land acquired at the peak of the 1993 market came on stream for development. If the units were sold at current prices, the projects would face losses of more than $1 billion. Sino Land's large treasury operation is also a cause of concern, with Peregrine forecasting an end-of-year reduction in dealing profits of 89 per cent. Should this year's earnings be rescued, the drop would simply be deferred until 1996, the report said. Toss in the company's commitment to projects in Tai Po, which is an area unlikely to benefit from any price upturn, and the picture is challenging to say the least. All developers benefit from a rising property market, but for Sino Land it is a matter of life or death. The firm is almost the purest form of Hong Kong developer, buying pre-packaged land, building and collecting cash flow in a cycle that requires prices to keep rising. Despite a low gearing of around 17 per cent, it is a bull market player, ill-equipped to deal with a sustained slump in prices. Mr Ng is betting more than most that the market has reached the bottom.