Wharf Holdings Ltd

Wharf delivers 25pc rise in annual core earnings

Owner of Hong Kong’s largest shopping mall Harbour City, considering spinning off its investment property assets. But mainland office leasing unit struggles

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 March, 2017, 9:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 July, 2017, 8:25am

Wharf (Holdings), the Hong Kong conglomerate whose interests are spread across property, telecommunications and infrastructure, enjoyed a 25 per cent rise in core annual earnings last year, helped by rising property income from both Hong Kong and the mainland.

Excluding a revaluation gain on investment properties, underlying profit was HK$13.8 billion (US$1.78 billion), or HK$4.54 per share, in line with the analyst expectations.

Total revenue rose 14 per cent to HK$46.6 billion, while revenue exclusively from rental rose 6 per cent to HK$15 billion.

But property sales soared 29 per cent during the period, to HK$23 billion, largely attributable to the sales of the super-deluxe Mount Nicholson development on the Peak, the completion of Peninsula East in Kowloon and increased projects in the mainland, the company said in the statement.

Wharf’s core asset, however – Hong Kong’s largest shopping mall Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui – faced challenges in the softening retail market.

Although retail revenue increased 4 per cent last year, occupancy rate eased to 96 per cent.

Hong Kong retail sales in January were down 0.9 per cent, making it the 23rd consecutive monthly contraction.

Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, Wharf’s chairman, warned potential interest rate rises, global economic conditions and political uncertainties will continue to put pressure on the retail sector.

He added the company is now considering spinning off “its investment property assets”, including shopping malls and office buildings, but the plan was at a “very early stage”.

The board doesn’t want to reduce its stake in the portfolio, but look at ways of how to solve the problem, he said.

Wharf’s office leasing in China’s second- and third-tier cities also encountered difficulties, with its Chengdu IFS office leasing just 40 per cent of its total available space.

“There’s too much supply, we need some time to find tenants,” said Wharf vice chairman Doreen Lee Yuk-fong.

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Edwin Leong Siu-hung, the founder of Tai Hung Fai Enterprise and Hong Kong’s 17th-wealthiest businessman of 2016, paid a total of HK$1.22 billion in November for three units of the Mount Nicholson apartments, making it Asia’s most expensive apartment sale.

The conglomerate’s results were also boosted by the sale of Wharf T&T, its telecommunications services provider subsidiary, for HK$9.5 billion, the proceeds of which will provide additional cash flow for its future business development and investment opportunities, the statement said

Alfred Lau, an analyst at Bocom International, said the company’s property development sales in the mainland and Hong Kong had helped the company “offset the softening retail leasing market”.

Wharf on Thursday decided to exit the pay-television and broadband internet market and said it would not extend any further financial support to its i-Cable Communications unit.

Wharf shares closed 0.5 per cent lower to HK$62.25 before the company announced the result and exit.