Link REIT

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Industry Property
Founded 2004 in Hong Kong
Founder Hong Kong Housing Authority
Key people
George Hongchoy
Products Shopping centres, car parks
Owner SEHK0823
Website linkreit.com

Link Real Estate Investment Trust (Chinese: 領展房地產投資信託基金, or 領展;SEHK0823), previously known as The Link Real Estate Investment Trust (Chinese: 領匯房地產投資信託基金, or 領匯), managed by Link Asset Management Limited, is the first real estate investment trust in Hong Kong and currently the largest in Asia in terms of market capitalisation. It is wholly owned by private and institutional investors.

Link REIT's portfolio consists of properties with an internal floor area of about 10 million square feet of retail space and approximately 72,000 car park spaces, based almost entirely on the assets formerly operated by the Hong Kong Housing Authority. Meanwhile, it has a development project in Kowloon Bay and two projects in Shanghai and Beijing respectively. [1]

Due to its history of monopoly, controversial business ethnics and unfriendly treatments to small business owners and investors. It has been widely considered a "corporate monster" in Hong Kong and partly responsible for the city's overall socioeconomic issues.

History[edit]

The REIT was created by the government, which hived off assets from the Housing Authority that included 151 shopping malls – mainly within public housing estates – and 79,000 parking spaces. The date for the listing was provisionally 16 December 2005, at a valuation of HK$22.2 billion (US$2.86 billion).[2][3] Upon privatisation, Link Reit remains tied to terms in existing tenancy agreements, but will not longer require approval from government to increase rents for new leases. However, financial analysts expected attractive dividend yields – up to 7 per cent – from the privatised company and greater commercial orientation, although some feared that the scope for increasing rental income and cutting labour costs might be limited due to most of its properties being tied to the public housing sector.[2]

Initial public offering[edit]

IPO of The Link REIT, delayed for a year until 2005 through legal action by housing tenants worried that rents would rise, was eventually 18 times oversubscribed.[4] About 510,000 Hong Kong residents, or seven percent of the city's population, placed US$36 billion of orders while institutional investors were ready to commit US$40 billion.

The IPO's joint global coordinators were Goldman Sachs, HSBC Holdings plc, and UBS AG. JPMorgan Chase & Co. was the financial adviser to the Housing Authority.

The proposed flotation of The Link REIT by the Housing Authority was delayed when a public housing tenant, Lo Siu-lan, challenged the legality of the proposed divestment of the properties.[5] Lo's lawyer submitted that the Housing Authority had "breached its duty under the Housing Ordinance to provide housing to people in need. Instead, it was selling assets to a private company, which could sublet the properties at market rates rather than benefiting the underprivileged".[6] She represented a concern among many residents of public housing that existing amenities would no longer be public and that The Link would raise rents, thereby forcing price rises in shops without due consideration of the public good.[5] Some NGOs also were concerned that the reduced income of the Housing Authority would eventually lead to rent rises for public tenants.[5] Lo's request for judicial review of the privatisation was rejected at the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal.[6]

Renovation of properties[edit]

Since the listing in 2005, Link has engaged in a process of 'asset enhancement works', seeking to raise the value of the properties through upgraded physical structure, replacing low-end utility local shops with higher-paying brands and chains, enhanced 'customer service', and promotional activities. The Link also overhauled many of the wet markets under its management. The renovations have led to higher rents, higher prices, and the loss of local shops.[7][8]

Acquisition of properties[edit]

In moves to diversify its property portfolio and mix, Link acquired the shopping mall portion of Nan Fung Plaza with parking facilities in Hang Hau, from Nan Fung Group mid 2010 for a total of $1.17 billion.[9]

In late 2010, Link acquired the shopping mall portion of Maritime Bay Shopping Mall with parking facilities in Hang Hau, from Sino Group, for a total of $588.4 million.

In mid 2014, Link acquired The Lions Rise Mall with parking facilities in Wong Tai Sin, from Kerry Properties, for a total of $1.38 billion.[10]

In 2015, The Link took its first step in purchasing by government land auction when it partnered with Nan Fung Group to buy land lot NKIL 6512 in Kwun Tong for a total of $5.86 billion in January.[11] Then, Link surprised the market by successively making its first two purchases in mainland China, when it acquired Beijing EC Mall, for a consideration of ¥2.5 billion; it acquired two commercial buildings in Shanghai for ¥6.6 billion. The company has a target where mainland properties would not exceed 12.5% of its portfolio.[12]

On 19 February 2016, a subsidiary of the Link purchased the Trade and Industry Department Tower in Mong Kok (formerly the Argyle Centre Tower II) from the government for a sum of HK$5.91 billion.[13]

Sale of properties[edit]

In mid-2014 Link REIT sold four commercial properties, to four different buyers, for a total of $1.24 billion. The properties are Hing Tin Commercial Centre (in Lam Tin), Kwai Hing Shopping Centre (Kwai Chung), the Tung Hei Court shopping centre (Shau Kei Wan), and Wah Kwai Shopping Centre (Pokfulam).[14]

In late 2015 they sold five properties, namely: Fung Wah Estate Retail and Car Park, Ka Fuk Shopping Centre, Kwong Tin Shopping Centre, Siu On Court Retail and Car Park, and Tin Wan Shopping Centre.[15]

In late 2016 they sold five properties again, namely: Sui Wo Court Commercial Centre, On Yam Shopping Centre, Sun Tin Wai Commercial Centre, Cheung Hong Commercial Centre and Shek Wai Kok Commercial Centre. [16]

Renaming[edit]

On 19 August 2015, Link officially announces the changing of its corporate names.[17]

Criticism[edit]

Economic hardship on lower classes[edit]

The Link was called a "bloodsucker" by housing estate residents after the company acquired the Housing Authority shopping centres, renovated them, and raised rents. This has led to local shops being pushed out, higher prices, and the dominance of chain stores within the estates.[18][19] This trend has reduced entrepreneurship opportunities for lower income people in Hong Kong's public housing estates and new towns, diminishing their chances to achieve social mobility, and has increased the cost of living.

A 2012 campaign by The Link to promote "nostalgic restaurants" in its shopping centres was widely derided on social media as hypocritical. Users on Golden Forum and Facebook wrote that the company "first killed the shops, then makes money from their death" and criticised the company for only allowing chain stores in their properties.[19] In 2006, The Link cut thousands of staff, a move "fiercely criticised by unionists, who said Link Management had dishonoured a pledge to protect the welfare of its frontline workers when it took over the operation from the Housing Authority". The Link replied that "the job cuts were in line with private practice".[20]

By mid 2015, NGO Link Watch (領匯監察) published a report that showed big chains made up 76 per cent of the 2,075 shops in 22 shopping centres run by the firm, but the Link's CEO claimed, "We continue to maintain roughly 60 per cent of our shops leased to smaller operators."[12]

Anti-Link REIT protests have become increasingly common in recent years.[21] Link REIT headquarters in Kwun Tong has been the site of demonstrations, scuffles, and sit-ins, leading the company to seek a court order to bar activists from entering the building.[22][23]

Market management[edit]

Cheung Fat Market, rebranded by The Link as "Cheung Fat Modern Market"

In addition to indoor shopping centres, The Link also acquired many local estate markets in 2005. Such markets are covered facilities with small stalls and shops let out to local residents, generally offering fresh meat and vegetables as well as daily necessities and home wares. As with the shopping centres, The Link has raised rents and also renovated some properties, leading to increased food prices and financial hardship on low-income households.[24]

In Tin Shui Wai, where The Link exercises a near-monopoly on commercial space, the company was criticised by local residents and Legislative Councillors in 2015–16 for planning to convert the Tin Yiu Market into a conventional shopping centre.[25] The market supplies fresh vegetables, meat, and fish to residents of the surrounding public housing estates. The next closest market is 5 to 10 minutes' walk away.

Stall operators at Cheung Fat Estate on Tsing Yi have gone on strike, in 2010 and 2016, to protest rent increases.[24] By the latter strike it was reported that rents had doubled in ten years. Some local residents stated that they visit a government-run market in Tsuen Wan instead owing to the higher prices at Cheung Fat.[24] The Cheung Fat stall owners also protested the outsourcing of the market's management to Uni-China (Market) Management Limited, which they feared will lead to untenable rent increases.[26]

Barriers set up by management at Leung King Estate against hawkers

Uni-China (Market) Management also manages the market at Leung King Estate in Tuen Mun, which is also owned by The Link.[26] In February 2016 a group of men dressed in dark jackets with "manager" (管理員) printed on the backs acted in an intimidating manner toward hawkers in the area of the shopping centre since 2 February. More than 200 showed up to protest against the men combating hawkers on the night of 8 February. Some minor clashes broke out between the self-proclaimed managers and the protesters, and required mediation by the police.[27] Two protesters were arrested and one reporter was injured during the clash.[28]

Conflicts between the management and the public reoccurred on the night of 9 February. The men were filmed beating up protesters while police stood by and prevented others from being involved. A reporter was also beaten up by the control team.[29] A 31-year-old man was arrested for causing disorder in a public place. He allegedly interfered with a worker performing his duties at Leung King Estate. The Link REIT distanced itself from the clashes and denied the hawker control team was part of its staff.[30]

Illegal wastewater discharges[edit]

In 2016 the Environmental Protection Department initiated prosecution against the Link REIT under the Water Pollution Control Ordinance because wastewater from the Mei Lam Shopping Centre, owned and managed by the Link, was being illegally discharged into the Shing Mun River.[31] The company was fined $15,000 in November 2016 and ordered to rectify the situation immediately.[32]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Asia's REIT Push, Forbes, 29 September 2006
  2. ^ a b Sito, Peggy (17 November 2004). "Property trust wins industry applause". South China Morning Post. 
  3. ^ Cheng, Albert (16 May 2016). "Link REIT: a financial monster bred by the govt". Hong Kong Economic Journal. 
  4. ^ Forbes magazine, 25 November 2005
  5. ^ a b c Cheng, Albert (13 June 2014). "Link Reit's sale of shopping centres will leave poorer residents worse off". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Hui, Polly (25 March 2005). "Legal aid granted to challenger in Link Reit case". South China Morning Post. 
  7. ^ Yau, Elaine (11 January 2016). "Winners and losers from Link Reit’s 2005 takeover of Hong Kong estate malls". South China Morning Post. 
  8. ^ Tse, Pui-man (2012). "Asset enhancement of shopping centres" (PDF). Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong. 
  9. ^ Chan, May (10 June 2011). "Link Reit buy points at new direction". South China Morning Post. 
  10. ^ Sito, Peggy (19 August 2014). "Link Reit agrees to buy Wong Tai Sin shopping mall for HK$1.38b". South China Morning Post. 
  11. ^ "Hong Kong Property Market Monitor" (PDF). Jones Lang Lasalle. February 2015. 
  12. ^ a b Fung, Fanny W.Y. (12 October 2015). "Hong Kong's Link Reit looks to brush up its image 10 years on from controversial stock listing". South China Morning Post. 
  13. ^ "Tender result for government property at Trade and Industry Department Tower in Mong Kok announced". Hong Kong Government. 19 February 2016. 
  14. ^ Sito, Peggy (22 May 2014). "Link Reit sells four malls for HK$1.24b". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  15. ^ "Link REIT Disposes of Five Properties Offers Exceeding Appraised Value by Over 30%". Link REIT. 27 October 2015. 
  16. ^ "Link REIT Disposes of Five Properties at HK$3.64 Billion Offers Exceed Appraised Value by 29%". Link REIT. 16 December 2016. 
  17. ^ "Link Unveils New Corporate Identity – Linking People to a Brighter Future". 19 August 2015. 
  18. ^ Ng, Joyce; But, Joshua (7 June 2013). "'Callous' career man Victor So takes helm of Urban Renewal Authority". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  19. ^ a b Lee, Ada (11 April 2012). "Hundreds hit out at Link Reit 'hypocrisy'". South China Morning Post. p. 3. 
  20. ^ Wu, Helen (30 May 2006). "Link Reit to shed at least 1,400 jobs. Unionists say management ignored promises to protect non-skilled workers". South China Morning Post. p. 1. 
  21. ^ Yuen, Chantal (6 May 2016). "Residents protest as Link REIT cancels meeting about rent hikes, outsourcing". Hong Kong Free Press. 
  22. ^ Lin, Gene (29 April 2016). "Link REIT seeking court order to bar activists from entering HQ after protest". Hong Kong Free Press. 
  23. ^ "Security guards bar Link Reit protesters". The Standard. 5 May 2016. 
  24. ^ a b c Yuen, Chantal (15 February 2016). "Stall owners to close up shop for 7 days in anger over outsourcing of market management". Hong Kong Free Press. 
  25. ^ "Conversion of Tin Yiu Market by Link Asset Management Limited" (PDF). Legislative Council. 7 December 2015. 
  26. ^ a b Yuen, Chantal (24 February 2016). "Feature: Paranoia and fear in the fight to save Cheung Fat Market". Hong Kong Free Press. 
  27. ^ "【新春小販】不滿領展「管理員」禁錮良景小販 市民聲援爆衝突". HK01. 8 February 2016. 
  28. ^ "良景邨夜市爆衝突 記者被推倒在地 兩男子被捕". Ming Pao. 9 February 2016. 
  29. ^ "惡煞「管理員」暴力趕良景小販 高永文避答". Apple Daily. 10 February 2016. 
  30. ^ Fung, Owen; Lee, Eddie (10 February 2016). "'I will be here until they kill us' – street vendors at Hong Kong estate defiant after simmering unrest turns violent". South China Morning Post. 
  31. ^ "Management company fined for illegal wastewater discharge into Shing Mun River". Hong Kong Government. 1 November 2016. 
  32. ^ Chung, Flora (2 November 2016). "Link fined for dumping wastewater in river". The Standard. 

External links[edit]