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Inflation story in a landlord's letter

THIS year's inflation story is now beginning to take shape. After January's artificially low increase of 6.2 per cent in the Consumer Price Index (A), February saw a more realistic return to 7.8 per cent.

Some might say that if January was unusually low because the Lunar New Year fell later than last year, then February must be artificially high. However, the story is not, of course, the impact of fresh fish, crabs and shrimps.

The figures which are being looked at, and borne, are those for housing.

Those in the CPI bracket paid a shade under 10 per cent more this February than in 1993; those earning a little more, and covered by CPI(B) were caned an extra 10.4 per cent, and those who have emerged in the sandwich class, covered by the Hang Seng CPI,found themselves with an extra 13.4 per cent of the household budget disappearing in rents or mortgages.

Sandwich class, maybe, but there will not be much between the dry bread at that rate.

Although the Hang Seng measures only 10 per cent of households - those which enjoy expenditure of between $17,500 and $37,499, it is this group - which largely does not enjoy the protection of public housing - which will feel the pain of property inflation more than most.

Since 1989-90, when the Hang Seng Index kicked off, the property component has risen by 63 per cent.

This is not a figure that a lot of those who are measured every month are likely to recognise. Those who are finding renewal notices from landlords in their pigeon holes could be facing something approaching that level of increase in the rent they will face over the next two years of their leases.

Without drawing class distinction, these are valuable people to Hong Kong, the professionals and other qualified workers who make up the service sector. In their next round of pay increases, they are not going to be happy to merely keep pace with inflation.

And what of the next strata, the great un-measured? If their cost patterns were to be examined, the latest figures would be a joke.

Sure, many have their rents paid by their company, but the costs are still loaded on to Hong Kong Ltd as a business expense.

Yesterday's figure was another warning that those costs are going to be examined - and compared with other locations in the region.