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SHK results may not reflect HK property frenzy

Company holding back most project launches, analysts say

(HONG KONG) An upswing in Hong Kong home sales and prices is boosting big developers but will hardly register in earnings to be reported by Sun Hung Kai Properties this week, as the firm held back on project launches.

With rising wages and falling interest rates sparking one of the city’s legendary frenzies for property, analysts are mostly upbeat about the likes of top developer Sun Hung Kai and rival Cheung Kong (Holdings).

A correction has made stock valuations more attractive after a share price surge last year inspired by the US Federal Reserve’s aggressive rate cuts. Sun Hung Kai is trading at a 20 per cent discount to forecast end-2008 net asset value (NAV), compared to an average historical discount of about 10 per cent.

However, analyst forecasts for underlying earnings for the six months to Dec 2007 are spread widely and evenly between HK$4.7 billion (S$841 million) – which would be down 11 per cent on a year ago – and HK$6.1 billion.

‘They had no new launches except for Harbour Place,’ said Eva Lee, whose forecast for the interim half-year earnings was at the low end of the range. ‘So probably we can expect second-half sales to pick up.’

The 1,000 apartments put up for sale at the Harbour Place project, in the city’s Kowloon district, were quickly snapped up, but the profits will be booked in the second half of Sun Hung Kai’s financial year, which starts in July.

Sun Hung Kai’s earnings announcement, due on Thursday, will be the first time executives will have faced the media since the company’s chairman stepped down temporarily early this month.

Analysts have said Walter Kwok’s decision is unlikely to affect the company’s future performance.

Sun Hung Kai’s share price soared 76 per cent in the second half of calendar 2007, as Hong Kong’s currency peg led authorities to follow US interest rate cuts despite rising inflation and a local economy spurred by booming China.

But the stock has fallen 20 per cent this year and was trading at HK$133.60 at the close yesterday.

JPMorgan analyst Raymond Ngai, who expects an interim profit of HK$6.1 billion, has an overweight rating on the stock with a year-end price target of HK$159.

He expects full-year net profit to rise 35.7 per cent to HK$15.16 billion as apartment sales rise.

But Goldman Sachs analysts Anthony Wu is much more cautious, and has a neutral

recommendation, believing that apartment prices may have already peaked, having gained 10 per cent in the first two months of this year.

‘The rising risk of a prolonged global economic slowdown leads us to believe that the property market up-cycle has probably ended,’ Mr Wu wrote in a recent note.

‘Negative ripple effects will likely hurt Hong Kong’s wage growth, which is far more important than interest rates in driving property demand.’

Hong Kong apartment sales have picked up in the last few months as owning is almost as cheap as renting, and people expect tight supply to lift prices.

According to CLSA analysts, only about 14,000 new apartments will hit the market in each of the next three years, compared to an annual take-up of 20,000 when the economy was in a downturn between 1998 and 2003.

Affordability is back to 2005 levels because of interest rate cuts. So someone who rents a flat worth HK$5 million would pay on average HK$16,700, while a mortgage on 70 per cent of the value would typically mean a monthly repayment of HK$19,000.

Source: Reuters (Business Times 4 Mar 08)

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