No easing in battle against flat speculation

THE Government is standing firm on measures introduced a year ago to discourage property speculators, says Secretary for Housing Dominic Wong Shing-wah.

Mr Wong said yesterday short-term investors were still working the market.

He told a property seminar that more than 10 per cent of property transactions completed in the first quarter of this year involved speculators - buyers who intended to resell their purchases within one to two years.

Mr Wong said the Government's responsibility was to prevent speculators from coming back into the residential market.

Asked if the Government would cancel anti-speculation policies once the remaining speculators had been driven from the market, Mr Wong said: 'The Government has not made any decision at the moment.' He said the Government did not think harsher restrictions were required as prices had dipped 12 to 13 per cent compared with the peak in April last year.

Mr Wong said developers had not withheld apartment stocks.

Vacancy rates for flats were about 4.7 per cent in the first quarter, similar to levels in the past few years.

He said one method of increasing the housing supply was by accelerating housing production.

A total of 43 projects involving 110,000 flats were being fast-tracked by the inter-departmental Housing Project Action Team chaired by Mr Wong.

He said the Government would continue to increase the supply of land for residential developments through its land sale programme.

First Pacific Davies deputy managing director Alfred Lai and RHL International executive chairman Francis Lau said it was time for the Government to reconsider the anti-speculation policy, because home prices had dropped to mid-1993 levels.

University of Hong Kong Centre of Economic Research director Richard Wong Yue-chim urged the Government to lift the ban on reselling unfinished apartments.

'Intervention in the property market will only reduce the effectiveness of the developers to respond quickly and will have long term damaging consequences,' Mr Wong said.

He said the recent property market boom was caused by both demographic and economic factors that had been in operation since the mid-1980s.

Mr Wong said 'the view that the recent property market boom is fuelling inflation is incorrect'.

The decline of property prices due to the imposed 70 per cent limit on mortgage loans had not lowered consumer price inflation, he said.

He said public concerns on whether or not property markets were functioning properly were misplaced.

Market volatility was an integral characteristic of all property markets, he said.