Shanghai free-trade zone

Speculators pile into free-trade zone

As Shanghai's business hub takes off, investors lured by the potential for huge price increases are buying property in the zone's Waigaoqiao

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 October, 2013, 4:17am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 October, 2013, 6:04am

For would-be property buyers in Shanghai, the development of its free-trade zone presents a tantalising opportunity.

Just last year, Waigaoqiao - the port area where part of the free-trade zone is based - was hardly a hot property spot.

But the news that Shanghai would develop a Hong Kong-style free port catapulted the area into the international limelight, attracting hundreds of corporate and individual investors looking to secure a foothold in Waigaoqiao.

Residential property prices inside and adjacent to Waigaoqiao have jumped 20 per cent in the past few months as people envisioned a bustling investment magnet taking shape in the next three to five years.

Among them is Chen Shunrong, a middle-aged office worker. "The home prices there are still much cheaper than the prime locations downtown," he said. "But when it is fully developed, I just can't imagine how expensive the apartments there will be."

Shanghai officially put the free-trade zone into operation at the end of last month. The authorities have yet to publish concrete details on what businesses the manufacturers, shippers, traders and financial institutions could operate inside the so-called testing ground for the mainland's further economic reforms.

Commodities in the free-trade zone will be exempt from custom intervention and the yuan could be fully convertible, facilitating cross-border capital flows and cutting trade costs.

Jian Danian, a deputy director of the zone's administrative committee, told a forum that local residents, rather than foreign investors, were the most keen on the investment opportunities.

"I just don't care about whether it's a business-friendly area or a better place to live," Chen said. "It's just about the value of the property because the theme of the free-trade zone is a catalyst to hefty price rises in the future."

Retail properties inside or near the zone also proved easy sales with some of the developers holding on to the unsold space, betting on a further price surge.

"Most of our retail outlets were sold, but we still reserve the best ones because they would become more expensive," said Wen Xin, a sales manager at newly established Moonbay Centre, a shopping centre at Waigaoqiao. "This area will attract thousands of rich business people and white collars and the business potential is huge for the retailers to tap."

People have flocked to Waigaoqiao, including notorious speculators from Wenzhou, Zhejiang, the mainland's capital for private businesses.

The price tag of about 40,000 yuan (HK$50,990) per square metre of retail space at Waigaoqiao is now close to the city's sub-centre areas.

Waigaoqiao, a formerly bonded area for processing trade businesses, is about 30 kilometres from the city's heart.

"Nobody really knows the long-term plan for the free-trade zone," said Savills China research head James Macdonald. "They just don't want to miss out if there's something happening."

Savills described investments in the zone as "speculative purchases".

Wang Hongbin, the chairman of Shanghai Sunac and Greentown Holding, a joint venture between Greentown China and Sunac China, is bullish on the prospects for Waigaoqiao properties.

"It's a low-density area where quality projects will be built," Wang said. "It's not just about the free-trade zone, and potential price increases will be mainly driven by the fundamentals of the projects. The theme of the zone will be just a catalyst."