Shadow over HK property leaves S’pore developers ahead

SINGAPORE • Hong Kong’s property stocks are cheaper than Singapore’s, although not cheap enough to account for the risk that the world’s least affordable city could have a housing crash.

That’s according to analysts and money managers from Nomura Holdings Inc to Janus Henderson Group plc. In Singapore, some are seeing signs of a market bottom after years of home price declines. Hong Kong, where any let-up in government cooling measures looks unlikely in the short term, may be teetering on the edge of a slump, with Morgan Stanley among those seeing a risk of multi-year declines.

The upshot: While Hong Kong developers’ shares are cheaper across a range of measures, their Singapore peers look more attractive.

“The consensus is that Hong Kong’s housing prices may have more downside risk than upside,” said Joyce Kwock, an analyst at Nomura Holdings.

One valuation gauge shows that Hong Kong developers are trading at larger discounts to net asset value than peers in Singapore, with shares of Henderson Land Development Co at about a 54% discount compared to City Developments Ltd’s 20%, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from Nomura.

A price-to-book comparison also shows Hong Kong property companies at lower valuations than their
Singapore peers.

But the Singaporean market — especially the residential part — “looks like it’s at the start of a multi-year upside cycle,” said Xin Yan Low, a property securities analyst at Janus Henderson Investors. “We don’t think it looks expensive as of now.”

Singaporean real estate owners and developers have outperformed this year, gaining 33% in their first rally after four years of declines, compared to a 24% increase for Hong Kong peers, based on Bloomberg Intelligence indexes.

Developer CapitaLand Ltd said that property investors see Singapore as more attractive than Hong Kong, London or cities in Australia. CapitaLand and City Developments both say that Singapore’s residential market may be “bottoming out”. Hong Kong home prices have shot ever higher, bouncing back from the global financial crisis and periodic bouts of government cooling, while Singapore residential prices have declined 12% from a peak, dropping for 15 straight quarters.

A 70% divergence in home prices in Singapore and Hong Kong over the past six years is due for a reversal, according to Morgan Stanley. Singapore developers score better in terms of affordability for buyers, a tight home supply, and a potential easing of policy measures, the bank said in a note.

The bank’s analysts forecast Singapore residential property prices to rise 5% in 2018. In contrast, Hong Kong’s multi-year price decline could start with a drop of 5% this year. — Bloomberg