樓宇價格可升可跌且波幅很大（prone to volatility），一旦市民提取強積金「上車」之後遇上樓價下跌，很容易面對失去退休保障和物業價值下跌的雙輸困局，這種風險不可低估。
置業固然是廣大市民的願望，但保障安享晚年的訴求亦不容忽視。對於以強積金置業的建議，當局必須全面周詳考慮，聽取社會各界的疑慮和擔憂，切勿輕率（rash ）決定。 （標題及小標題為編輯所加） （摘錄自香港文匯報社評6-11-2017）
MPF withdrawal for home purchase should be deliberated
【譯文】The Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority (MPFA) is currently studying the feasibility of allowing early withdrawals for first time home buyers. The Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau said on 5 November that the report is expected to be compiled to the government by second quarter of next year, but there is no specific timetable as yet.
As soon as the topic of MPFA considering early withdrawals for home purchases hits the news, the public sentiment has already seem to be dubious about its approach and timing, with a lot of voices suggesting the government to think twice before implementing the idea.
Risks of "double losses"
The public's biggest concern in allowing withdrawal for home purchase, is that it would be incongruous with the original policy objective of helping people to save for their retirement. The vast majority of Hong Kong wage earners rely solely on MPF in regards to retirement protection, and retirement protection is the original and most important purpose of MPF. As home prices would fluctuate and are prone to volatility, citizens who withdraw MPF funds for their first home might be faced with a no-win situation when the housing market slumps. They would lose both their retirement protection and the value of their property. Such risks must not be underestimated.
Meanwhile, as MPF participants on average only have HK$183,000 in their accounts, how should the withdrawal ratio be determined amid an overheated property market, when the so-called "starter homes" cost HK$5 to 6 million with over HK$2 million down payment? Full withdrawals would be obviously impractical. Yet, if the limit is set at a mere 50 per cent, then the meagre amount of money would barely pay off the stamp duty, legal cost and commission of estate agents, which would not help home buyers much.
There are also suggestions to allow MPF withdrawal in buying subsidised flats of the Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Pilot Scheme (GSH) and the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS). However, buyers of these subsidised flats could already get a mortgage loan of up to 90 per cent of the property value. Taking King Tai Court, the first GSH project, as an example, buyers were offered up to 95 per cent mortgages. The cheapest flats were sold with a down payment of only HK$50,000. Apparently, there is no need to withdraw funds from MPF in such cases.
May heat up property market
In recent years, the authorities have been busy pushing cooling measures so as to control the skyrocketing home prices. If MPF withdrawal for home purchases becomes a thing anytime soon, there is a chance that investors will misinterpret the policy as the government providing a boost to the property market. The policy would then defeat its own purpose as prices are set to rise even higher, and first time buyers would have their dreams shattered. To put it into perspective, is it really a helping hand from the government to first time home buyers, or is it a subtle way to promote the interests of property developers?
Granted, Singapore's Central Provident Fund (CPF) is a successful example which allows early withdrawal for the purchase of public housing, but the employees' and employers' contribution rates for the CPF are as high as 20 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. It is also multipurpose in nature, with three sub-accounts for retirement, medical services and general purposes. The MPF pales in comparison as the combined contribution rate is only at 10 per cent of the employee's monthly salary. In this sense, the retirement protection of MPF is already questionable, therefore it would be unwise to copy the Singaporean policy and paste it into Hong Kong.
Buying a home is an understandable wish of the people of Hong Kong, yet the need for a financially secure retirement must not be ignored. The authorities must comprehensively deliberate all relevant factors, address and listen to the doubts and concerns of the public, and refrain from making any rash decisions.■Jeffrey Tse [email@example.com]
1. 逆按揭/ 安老按揭
1. reverse mortgage
2. public rental housing
3. Transport and Housing Bureau
4. "Starter Homes" scheme
5. accrued benefits