The Hong Kong versus Singapore debate continues.
According to real estate services firm CBRE’s latest report, Hong Kong and Singapore are “evenly matched” in the bid to attract both talent and multinational corporations’ regional headquarters in Asia Pacific.
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As of 2021, Hong Kong and Singapore’s gross domestic product remained close at USD362 billion and USD374 billion, respectively.
CBRE’s report compares key factors such as financial and technology industry scale, talent availability, residential and office rents, and office availability.
Below, a glimpse into the report and where both markets stand.
Current talent pool
Given Hong Kong’s longstanding reputation as Asia’s financial centre, the special administrative region outperforms on its financial industry size and office availability.
Whereas Hong Kong enjoys a larger pool of financial talent, Singapore has more science and technology workers.
The competition for top talent is expected to intensify, with both markets having launched new admission schemes.
Key to attracting top-tier talent is the state of the housing market, and while neither Hong Kong nor Singapore are known to be particularly affordable, the latter has enjoyed the ability to offer larger housing options for less, at least until recently.
Hong Kong has long had a reputation for being the most expensive city for expats, but research shows the residential rental gap between the two is narrowing. Hong Kong rents posted the largest decline in a decade in 2022, while those in Singapore have risen sharply over the pandemic.
“With the enhanced transport connectivity within Hong Kong and in Greater Bay Area under the ‘one-hour living circle’, and more affordable residential units than Singapore, Hong Kong is appealing to high-calibre talent from overseas markets,” explained Ada Fung, executive director and head of advisory & transaction services at CBRE Hong Kong. “This is important for MNCs when deciding on the locations of their headquarters in the region.”
The two markets are at different stages of the office market cycle, according to CBRE. Singapore, which has seen office rents rise back up to pre-pandemic levels in part thanks to its earlier reopening, is currently a landlords’ market, while Hong Kong office rents are still expected to decline further before 2024.
Singapore has plans to accelerate its decentralisation over the next decade, and it is eyeing areas such as Jurong Lake District, projected to house 15 million square feet of office space in the near future, for its second largest commercial area.
Despite a reputation for expensive real estate, Hong Kong has a high office vacancy and adequate office supply in the pipeline, with more affordable areas outside the central business district.
While Grade A rents in Hong Kong’s Central remain the highest globally, about 40 percent above those in Singapore’s CBD, Hong Kong already has multiple decentralised areas where Grade A rents are up to 75 percent lower than in Central CBD, giving prospective tenants more options in the SAR.
CBRE anticipates Hong Kong will add 10 percent more office space than Singapore in the next three years, and given the expected high vacancy, rents are also more likely to fall.
Hong Kong is expected to become the largest private wealth management centre and the leading global offshore RMB business hub, owing to “its proximity and strong ties with mainland China,” said Marcos Chan, head of research at CBRE Hong Kong. The return of mainland Chinese firms will also encourage more IPOs.
And in addition to maintaining its position in the financial sector, Chan predicts Hong Kong will also become a medical and healthcare hub in Asia.
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Singapore, on the other hand, overtook Hong Kong’s GDP in 2021 following sociopolitical unrest and stringent pandemic restrictions in the latter. Its economy is also seen as more diversified, and when it comes to investment in research and development, the Lion City eclipses Hong Kong.
Overall, Singapore still offers convenience and better connectivity for businesses intent on targeting the fast-growing economies of Southeast Asia and India, while Hong Kong remains a choice hub for those looking to extend footprint into Mainland China and North Asia.