Cheung Kong (Holdings) has introduced a 'standby loan' to cover up to a year's mortgage interest costs for Banyan Garden buyers amid the worsening unemployment situation. Analysts said the scheme would serve as insurance against unemployment to attract hesitant buyers as job losses grew. On Thursday, the Government said the unemployment rate climbed to 6.1 per cent in the final quarter last year - approaching the record high of 6.4 per cent in January 1999. The standby loan means Banyan Garden buyers can, within three years, ask Cheung Kong to pay the mortgage interest on their flats. The facility is available twice, each time for a six-month period. The emergency loans will be available at the prime lending rate plus one percentage point. However, deputy chairman Victor Li Tzar-kuoi dismissed the scheme being seen as an unemployment insurance, saying buyers could use the facility for any reason. The unemployment problem was irrelevant to the property market, because the unemployed were not knowledge-type workers as required in this knowledge-based economy. The unemployed were more those in the public rental housing segment, he said. Mr Li said property turnover had gone well in recent months, with home affordability at an historically high level. Cheung Kong was not under pressure to cut jobs. Rather, it was recruiting more staff in Hong Kong and worldwide. Yesterday the company announced it would launch the first 26 units of Banyan Garden before the Lunar New Year at an average price of HK$2,988 per square foot. The phase one development, comprising 1,074 units, had an estimated worth of HK$3 billion. Sales manager Francis Wong said the loan scheme could be useful if the buyers wanted to study, get married or even buy a new car. If buyers did not use the scheme, they had an alternative of being able to borrow a 40 per cent top-up mortgage of up to HK$1 million from the developers. The loan required no interest and principal repayments in the first two years while in the third to fifth years the interest rate was as low as prime rate minus three percentage points. Meanwhile, Swire Properties and Sun Hung Kai Properties will today re-launch eight units of Les Saisons in Sai Wan Ho at HK$4,668 per square foot. Swire senior sales manager Mabelle Ma said they were offering three new payment schemes. One provided a mortgage interest-cost subsidy and deferred principal payment, while the others included a second mortgage of up to 25 per cent or a 90 per cent mortgage insurance programme. Ms Ma said there were still about 300 units of the 864-unit project left to sell.