Mon, Jun 04, 2012 - Page 11 News List

INTERVIEW: Kindom’s Ma says real-estate tax should not be rushed

Timothy Ma, chairman of Kindom Construction Corp (冠德建設) and owner of Global Mall (環球購物中心), warns that the government could face tough resistance from the public if it attempts to impose higher taxes on gains from real-estate investment, as 85 percent of Taiwanese own their own home and would pay higher taxes if they moved home. He spelled out his views during an interview with ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporter Crystal Hsu last Monday.

Traffic passes by the Shinkong Mitsukoshi department store at New Zuoying Railway Station in Greater Kaohsiung on Feb. 22. Kindom Construction Corp plans to open a Global Mall department store at the station before the Lunar New Year holiday next year.

Photo: Chang Chung-yi, Taipei Times

Taipei Times: Would you comment on the company’s business outlook for the second half of the year?

Timothy Ma (馬玉山): We are cautiously optimistic about the market ahead, providing there is no major bad news on the domestic economic front. More and more economists have been voicing concern over a soft patch in the economy. The housing sector cannot thrive on its own when all other sectors are shrinking during an economic downturn.

This year, Kindom aims to launch NT$12 billion [US$405 million] worth of presale and newly completed housing projects, mainly in Sinjhuang (新莊) and Sanchong (三重) Districts of New Taipei City. They fall in the medium to upper-medium end of the pricing spectrum.

I have no data to comment on the performance of the housing sector overall. The company, whose businesses encompass land development as well as housing construction and sales, has seen its revenue pick up 20 percent so far this quarter, compared with the first quarter. Last quarter, Taiwan’s housing transactions slumped to a decade-low, partly because of domestic political uncertainty.

Kindom’s revenue improvement may also have to do with expectations of consumer goods price hikes, as real estate has proved a good hedge against inflation. There is no empirical proof to substantiate a tie between housing prices and inflationary pressure, though.

TT: Will Kindom adjust prices amid growing downside risks and plans by the central bank to tighten credit control on luxury housing?

Ma: I do not see a need to lower prices for Kindom projects. The company has no plans to develop luxury housing projects, but I have reservations about discrepant financing terms.

To begin with, there are only a few luxury housing units nationwide. The Taipei City Government put the number at more than 23,000 last year, but recently revised it down to 2,900. The central bank should not allow them to affect its policymaking. The central bank should give more leeway for the market to regulate on its own accord.

Europe’s debt crisis has been around for quite a while. While it is shaking the global economy and financial markets, the impact on the domestic real estate market is limited.

Their fiscal woes have prompted European nations to cut spending and their central banks to keep interest rates low to stimulate economic growth. For similar reasons, the US Federal Reserve may introduce a new wave of quantitative easing, indirectly releasing more funds available for real-estate investment and thereby boosting prices. This scenario [and the effect it brings] is worth thinking about for economists and industry experts.

TT: What are your views on the proposal to tax capital gains on real-estate transactions?

Ma: It is harmless to discuss the issue, but its implementation would be a different matter, given the high percentage of home ownership — estimated at 85 percent. It would cause a far greater stir than the proposed levy on securities investments. Policymakers should reconsider the proposal as a levy could stall the economy.

Technically, such a tax would be impractical because of a lack of data to judge the real value of the nation’s more than 8 million housing units. It will take several years to build the database once the registration requirement for housing transactions takes effect later this year. The transparency rule will only impact homes that change ownership, leaving the prices for the rest still unknown.

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