April 13, 2024
Finance

Hong Kong’s Paul Chan dismisses concerns bond issuance plan may hurt credit ratings, says global firms have welcomed policy


Hong Kong’s finance chief has dismissed concerns that credit ratings might be affected by the government’s proposed bond issuances, insisting global firms have welcomed the policy to fund infrastructure projects and stressing the city will not fall into a cycle of structural fiscal deficits.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po on Monday issued a rejoinder targeting a previous administration and said it had failed to boost land supply and left residents wrestling with sky-high property prices, a day after his predecessor, John Tsang Chun-wah, said the new budget’s deficit-relief measures could create long-term issues.

Former finance chief Tsang wrote on social media a day earlier that government bonds might be unattractive to buyers amid the high-interest rate environment, fearing the city’s credit ratings would be affected when it needed to pay the debt’s interest.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan has proposed a raft of measures in his latest budget to tackle the city’s ballooning deficit. Photo: Elson Li

But Chan brushed aside such concerns and argued the government’s proposed bond issuances had been welcomed by financial institutions.

“The credit rating agencies, financial institutions, as well as professional investors and market participants I have engaged with have all agreed the government should issue more bonds to utilise market funds to ensure timely implementation of various infrastructure investment projects that are necessary for our development,” he told a radio programme.

The minister added that an assessment conducted by the International Monetary Fund in Hong Kong also suggested that the government’s finances were highly robust and had a sufficient buffer zone.

The main reason behind the proposed bond issuances was to drive crucial infrastructure projects, such as the North Metropolis mega project and the Hung Shui Kiu new development area, to ensure sustainable land and housing supplies, he said.

Hong Kong must look beyond bond issuances to cover public spending: ex-minister

Chan also said the local property market had skyrocketed from 2007 to 2016, attributing the shift to the failure of the administration at the time to develop land, as well as a lack of investment for infrastructure to boost the land supply for housing.

He did not name Tsang, who served as financial secretary at the time, in his remarks.

“We will maintain control over land supply and closely monitor the property market to ensure an ample supply of residential housing to avoid the kind of hardships we experienced in the past when property prices soared,” Chan said.

The finance chief also indirectly addressed Tsang’s warning against the use of borrowed money to cover government expenditure, with Chan saying the funds raised from bonds would “definitely” not go towards such operating costs.

The government was not in a rush to issue bonds and would exercise control over its timing, the minister added, pointing to the possibility of falling interest rates later this year.

Hong Kong treasury chief champions HK$600 billion bond issuance plan

In his budget speech last week, Chan said authorities planned to issue HK$120 billion in silver, green and infrastructure bonds for the 2024-25 financial year. The amount is then expected to range from HK$95 billion to HK$135 billion annually over the following four years.

The proposal aims to address a shortfall in public finances, with a projected surplus not expected until 2027-28.

The deficit will be HK$101.6 billion for this financial year, far higher than the previous estimate of HK$54 billion, amid a substantial reduction in land premiums and income from stamp duty.

Chan on Monday also stressed there was no need to worry about the government experiencing structural fiscal deficits as the operating and consolidated accounts were expected to respectively regain balanced budgets in two and three years.



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