The retail sector continued to show signs of a slowdown with total retail sales declining by 7% y-o-y in 2Q14. The decline was led by a 31.5% y-o-y drop in the sales of jewellery and watches, albeit off a high base of comparison caused by the spike in gold related sales a year earlier. The changing profile and spending patterns of Mainland Chinese tourists also contributed to the slower sales growth, with more same-day (lower spend) tourists visiting the city.
Despite declining retail sales, leasing demand in prime shopping locations remained largely intact. Mass market retailers, supported by sustained local consumption and the changing shopping patterns of Mainland tourists, remained optimistic towards expansion. Fast fashion retailer, Esprit, pre-leased three floors (17,944 sq ft) at Wings Building in Central for around HKD 2 million per month while Korean cosmetics brand, Sulwhasoo, reportedly pre-leased a 9,400 sq ft space at Silvercord for around HKD 2.9 million per month.
No prime projects were completed in 2Q14.
Sustained leasing demand and a tight vacancy environment in the city’s best shopping locations helped retail rents edge higher. However, with vacant shops starting to appear along some High Streets and sales slowing, retailers adopted a more measured approach in leasing negotiations. As a result, prime rentals remained broadly stable, edging up by less than 0.5% q-o-q in 2Q14.
Activity in the investment market recorded a surprising pick-up with investors showing interest in larger sized premises with value-add potential in non-core locations. A portfolio of shops (15,088 sq ft) on the third floor of Diamond Square in Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan was sold to a Mainland investor for HKD 230 million. Link REIT sold four local shopping centres, including, the retail podium of Tung Hei Court (6,340 sq ft) in Shaukeiwan for HKD 72.9 million; Hing Tin Commercial Centre (28,313 sq ft) in Lam Tin for HKD 210 million; Kwai Hing Shopping Centre (24,664 sq ft) in Kwai Chung for HKD 438.839 million; and Wah Kwai Shopping Centre (41,878 sq ft) in Aberdeen for HKD 518 million.
With the decline in retail sales being mainly due to a higher base comparison brought about by higher gold prices at the start of 2013, retail sales are forecasted to return to growth in 2H14. However, headwinds remain for the sector. The possibility of the government imposing a quota on visitors from Mainland China, for example, has the potential to affect the market negatively. On the positive side, international retailers, especially mass market retailers, remain keen on using Hong Kong as a springboard to enter the Mainland markets. Against this backdrop, we retain our forecast for rentals of prime retail assets to grow in the range of 0–5% in 2014. With holding costs remaining low and investors continuing to look for undervalued properties with value-add potential, we believe that capital values of prime retail assets should remain stable in 2014.
Note: Hong Kong Retail refers to Hong Kong’s Overall Prime Shopping Centres and High Street retail markets.