Great Eagle airs track record of market timing

The mid-sized developer's purchase of a Tai Po homes site last month, its first in HK in 25 years, reflects knack for sniffing out a bargain

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 12:39am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 12:39am

Market watchers say Great Eagle Holdings' first purchase of land in the city in 25 years last month was more a case of grabbing a cut-price opportunity than a sign the market is looking up.

With major developers showing little interest in the 208,822 sqft Pak Shek Kok site in Tai Po, Great Eagle was one of only four bidders and snapped it up for HK$2.412 billion or HK$3,300 a square foot in terms of gross floor area, nearly half the price fetched by nearby sites in 2007.

"They'll be able to achieve a profit margin of 35 per cent based on current flat prices," one analyst said. "Even if the prices drop 15 per cent in future, they could still generate a reasonable profit of 20 per cent.

"They have good track record in terms of timing the market."

Vincent Cheung Kiu-cho, the national director for Greater China at property consultancy Cushman & Wakefield, said Great Eagle and other medium-sized developers were returning to the scene because large developers had become more cautious about acquiring land.

"Big developers used to be aggressive in land bidding and outbid mid-sized developers when the property market was booming [before the government's introduction of cooling measures in February last year]," he said. "But now, property sales have slowed and they have accumulated plenty of land bank. They are no longer aggressive in land bidding and it's given an opportunity to the other developers."

A source familiar with Great Eagle said: "The firm likes to step in when the market is low."

In July 1989, when large developers were adopting a conservative approach to buying sites in the wake of the June 4 crackdown, Great Eagle outbid the big guns and bought a Central commercial site for HK$2.7 billion - or HK$1,700 per square foot of gross floor area. It has been developed into Citibank Tower, which is now worth more than HK$30,000 per square foot.

"They did not buy any new site in Hong Kong in the 1990s because they had to focus on the development of Citibank Tower in Central and Langham Place in Mong Kok," the source said. "The investment cost of Langham Place reached HK$11 billion. They had to manage the risk."

Great Eagle's appetite for acquiring land returned after the Langham Place redevelopment was completed in 2004 but it targeted sites overseas and on the mainland because land prices in Hong Kong were high.

It began bidding for Hong Kong sites again in 2011 after prices started to fall but had not won a bid before last month.

Insiders say Great Eagle chairman Lo Ka-shui has learned how to cope with the city's "boom-and-burst" cycle. The company - founded by Lo's father Lo Ying-shek in 1963 - was an aggressive developer in the 1970s, becoming the city's sixth-largest in 1981.

Lo Ka-shui returned to Hong Kong from the United States at his father's request in 1980 to help revive the firm's fortunes amid a downturn fuelled by concerns about the city's post-colonial future. Under his leadership, its gearing ratio improved from 87 per cent in 2002 to net cash last year.