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Hong Kong property market still faces considerable falls

They are publicly declaring that the real estate market is past the worst and that prices are set to re-bound well in 2009.

But the slashes of red market pen and newly scribbled prices in almost every estate agents windows show that prices have already dropped 20% in the last month.

While prominent developers like Lee Shau-kee, chairman of Henderson Land and nicknamed Hong Kong's Warren Buffet for his savvy investing, declared that the market is ready for a re-bound, analysts are pointing out that faced with recession, looming job cuts and rising mortgage rates, few in the city believe it.

'I think Hong Kong will probably go down much more. It's a very volatile market. It'll go down more than Singapore,' said Stephen Riady, president of Indonesia's Lippo Group, which invests in property across Asia, including in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Brokers GFI Colliers say indicative property derivative levels suggest investors are betting Hong Kong prices will reach a bottom in December 2009, falling at least 25% from now.

Chris van Beek, vice president at GFI Colliers, said landlords, with anywhere between five or six apartments to portfolios worth $65 million, were keen to switch to cash.

But they were dropping prices because buyers are scarce, partly because banks are demanding 30 to 40% downpayments rather than 10% before the financial crisis.

'Some are offloading at 30% discounts, but struggling to sell. Many buyers think they might as well wait another four or five months for prices to come down more,' he added.

Hong Kong property transactions fell to a 17 year low in November, down 87% in value from a year earlier.

Mortgage rate hikes by HSBC Holdings and Bank of China (Hong Kong) are adding to the problems.

However, analysts do not expect a repeat of the negative equity on mortgages seen in the early 2000s, because property prices have almost doubled since the beginning of 2004.