HK property tycoon fights off creditors as coronavirus bites

A Hong Kong-based billionaire known for mixing with British royals has become one of the most prominent corporate casualties since coronavirus swept the city with creditors forcing the sale of his headquarters.

Pan Sutong, whose diverse business interests have spanned Napa valley and French wineries, horse-breeding and property developments in Hong Kong and China, once hosted British princes William and Harry at his charity polo events.

But on Tuesday, shares in Mr Pan’s Goldin Financial Holdings were suspended after a profit warning. The trading halt follows a battle with creditors, who have appointed receivers to sell the company’s Goldin Financial Global Centre, its 28-storey head office in Hong Kong’s Kowloon East district.

Hong Kong’s commercial property business has been in the doldrums since last year when the city was swept by anti-government protests that drove away mainland Chinese tourists and many investors.

This year, the city has faced repeated partial lockdowns since coronavirus first began spreading in China in January, hitting some of the Asian financial hub’s smaller developers.

While Goldin Financial has yet to release its 2019-20 financial results, the company said it expected to make a HK$6.1bn ($894m) loss for the year compared with a profit of HK$6.36bn a year earlier, when its results were audited by Ernst & Young.

Paul Hart, of real estate group Knight Frank, which has been appointed to sell Goldin’s 852,433 sq ft tower, said he expected the site to fetch more than HK$12bn compared with the HK$18.3bn the company valued the building at in December last year.

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Creditors appointed receivers for the building in July after a dispute with Goldin over senior secured notes worth HK$6.8bn that were issued by a subsidiary and secured by assets including the office tower.

The company was forced to take a write down of HK$2.78bn on the sale earlier in the year of prime real estate on the site of the former runway of Hong Kong’s decommissioned Kai Tak airport.

In September, Goldin confirmed the subsidiary that owns the Kowloon tower had received financial support from CK Asset, controlled by one of Hong Kong’s richest men, Li Ka-shing, worth HK$8.8bn.

“Coronavirus has nothing to do with it, he is over leveraged,” a person familiar with the situation said of Mr Pan’s problems. “My assessment is he is over-geared in a huge way.”

EY stated in the company’s annual report last year that it did not audit Goldin’s subsidiaries.

Mr Pan’s Goldin owns Sloan Estate winery in California as well as Château Le Bon Pasteur, Château Rolland-Maillet and Château Bertineau St-Vincent vineyards in Bordeaux, France, according to his company’s website. He also bought Goldin Farms, formerly Lindsay Park Stud, a horse-breeding centre in South Australia in 2013.

EY declined to comment. Goldin did not respond to a request for comment.

Ronald Chan, chief investment officer at fund manager Chartwell Capital, said Goldin’s problems made it an exception among the city’s property groups. Most of the larger developers were “well capitalised” despite the downturn in the commercial and retail market and would use sales such as Goldin’s as a way to further expand their holdings.

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“I don’t think local property developers are in distress, in fact I think many of them are . . . waiting for opportunities like this,” Mr Chan said. 



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