Russell Street rewards early investors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 June, 2013, 6:07am

The rents are huge in Russell Street, the world's most expensive shopping street, and so are the returns for canny investors.

So it's no surprise that business is dominated by several property veterans. Emperor International, founded by tycoon Albert Yeung Sau-shing, is one of the biggest landlords, having spent about HK$2.96 billion on the street since 2004.

"Our first investment was the retail podium of 8 Russell Street. We bought it for HK$525 million in 2004," said executive director Donald Cheung Ping-keung.

The company now owns a retail complex, a redevelopment project, two retail shops and an old building in Russell Street.

Retail rents have jumped sevenfold since a scheme allowing mainland visitors into Hong Kong was launched a decade ago.

Such prices are too hot even for a global giant like McDonald's. It has been forced to move out after Emperor raised the rent from HK$500,000 a month to HK$1.58 million. Cosmetics firm Sa Sa will move in.

Emperor also owns the building at 54-56 Russell Street. And it will redevelop No 22-24, previously occupied by The Body Shop and a money exchange store, into a six-storey retail centre. Cheung said it would be leased to a luxury brand as a flagship store, with the monthly rent jacked up from HK$4 million to HK$10 million.

Soundwill Holdings is another key player and the first property investment company to be aware of the street's potential after Times Square was built in 1994. It bought up old buildings for many years.

"Landlords in Russell Street are reluctant to sell the shops as it is difficult to buy another one," said Lai Wing-to, who owns No 29-33. It's no surprise why. A shop on the corner of Russell Street was bought by investor Tjong Fon-fat for HK$3.8 million in 1989. Swatch now pays a monthly rent of HK$1.43 million.