Speech by SHPL at Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors' Annual Dinner 2004


Following is a speech delivered by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen today (November 19) at the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors' Annual Dinner 2004:


Mr President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,


Good evening. It is my great pleasure to be the Guest of Honour at your 20th Anniversary dinner and to address such a distinguished group of top class surveyors in Hong Kong.


We are all proud of the fact that Hong Kong is renowned for her vigour in infrastructure and property development. This has contributed to the rapid economic growth of the territory, and has also provided an excellent opportunity to nurture a large number of high calibre surveyors in Hong Kong. The closer economic relationship which we have developed with the Mainland and the reciprocal recognition of professional qualifications between us will no doubt bring both opportunities and challenges for members of the Institute present here tonight.


Property development is the bread and butter of your profession. The local property market has seen its ups and downs in the past few years. These swings pose a serious challenge to making meaningful market forecasts. Indeed, market analysts, property developers, academics and commentators have, from time to time, made their own forecasts about the property market using different methodologies and assumptions. These forecasts cater for different target groups and are each intended for very different purposes. Some of the forecasts may well have been derived from historical data released by Government departments. However, the different sets of data released by different Government departments are, very often, intended to reflect very different phenomena. It is, therefore, difficult, and even misleading, to try to make direct comparison between them.


It was against this background that I mentioned in July last year that we were devising a common and comprehensive database within the Administration to monitor the private housing situation. We have made good progress with this database, in consultation with the relevant Government departments concerned.


Apart from the above, I have also indicated my wish to compile a set of simple government data relating to private housing supply. Our aim is to try to enhance the transparency of the supply side of the private housing market by giving the public a clearer picture of the actual number of new units under construction as well as the quantity of unsold stock in the primary market at the end of each quarter. What these figures show will be a snapshot of the actual situation at a particular moment in time, based on the best available information.


Since then, I have quoted updated snapshot figures of this nature on several public occasions. Each time, it attracted considerable media interest and coverage. It was well received by market analysts and commentators monitoring the private property market. However, the interpretation of such figures does not follow any particular pattern. I have seen them being used by various people to justify diametrically opposite points of view. A typical example is the use of them by some to suggest that Government was trying to boost the property market by under-estimating the supply situation, alongside counter claims. Similarly, when I referred to some of our latest statistics at a Legislative Council Panel meeting last month, most reported it as Government trying to allay concerns of a future shortfall in supply and to cool down an overheated market, while a small minority allude it to Government trying to gloss over the shortfall by referring to abundance of supply in the medium term. Although we have all been taught to treat any statistics with a very heavy pinch of salt, I still find all these somewhat disquieting. And I find it difficult to fight back suspicion of probable ulterior motives somewhere.


Tonight, I am happy to announce to you that we are now ready to launch Government's Quarterly Statistics on Private Housing Supply in the Primary Market. This is a simple set of factual data covering three areas. First, the number of new residential units under construction; second, the actual completion of private residential units, and third, the number of completed, but unsold, units. There is a detailed explanatory note to help users to reconcile the data compiled in this form with the source data released by various Government departments.


Our purpose is simple. We want to avoid any misunderstanding and to obviate the need for any second-guessing as to where and how our published figures are sourced and derived. We do not want to leave any gaps for contrary interpretation. Our aim is to enhance transparency and to help the public to get a better picture of the current supply situation based on the actual data available. We do believe that our data will provide that little extra reference information to members of the public. We are not interested in making supply forecast or influencing public perception of market trends. Our figures should not be interpreted as depicting a full and complete picture of the future supply situation in the years to come. They portrait only a partial picture in the form of a snapshot in the passage of time. Market circumstances do continue to evolve, and many things will happen after the snapshot is taken at the present moment. These happenings will, of course, bring about subsequent changes.


We have kept our data set simple to make it easy to understand. We want the general public to be readily able to get an overall view of the current market situation without having to go through a clutter of tables and charts. We want to put our data within the reach of a wider audience than seasoned practitioners, like the audience in front of me tonight, who are adept in handling bulky data sets. For this reason, we have avoided to provide detailed breakdowns.


The market is dynamic and will re-align its position in its own best interest. I am sure that the market will take on board the latest situation as it sees fit and make rational decisions to obtain the best results at the end of the day. These are important factors which the market will consider in determining the best strategy for specific timetables for constructing, completing and selling new flats for the future.


In this day and age, we are only too well aware of the need to provide instant access to data of this nature. We also need to be user friendly to enable the tracking of the changes in order to keep in sight a full view of the overall evolving picture. With this in mind, we have established a dedicated homepage in the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau website which will allow, before the end of this week, access by anyone interested in this information. Data for each new quarter will be made available in the month following that quarter. That is to say, we will publish four rounds of updated data every year, in January, April, July and October.


Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund has announced its latest assessment of Hong Kong's economic and financial position, making favourable comments in a number of areas, including our policies towards the property market. The IMF considers that our initiative in providing timely information about Government's plans on the supply of land would help reduce uncertainty and mitigate any associated instability in property prices. We are encouraged by such international recognition of our efforts. We will continue to maintain a clear, consistent and comprehensive housing policy, which will help facilitate the stable and healthy long-term development of the private property market.


Purchasing any property involves substantial investment and should not be a decision taken lightly. Prospective home buyers need to carefully consider their needs and financing ability before making such investment decisions. They should assess rationally and cautiously their own circumstances and all relevant market information, and should also seek professional advice if necessary.


Looking into the future, surveyors will continue to make important contributions to our well being as the Government continues to push forward infrastructural projects which will sustain our economic growth.


On my part, it goes without saying that I am duty bound to ensure that our invaluable housing and land resources are put to the best use. In the course of my work, I know that I can count on the surveying profession in order to foster synergy and work together for a better Hong Kong.


Thank you.


Ends/Friday, November 19, 2004