American Express Co. has introduced a cobranded credit card with Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd., one of the largest real estate developers in Hong Kong.
Holders of the American Express Cheung Kong card will be able to accumulate points toward discounts on mortgage-related expenses.
American Express is the fifth-largest credit card company in Hong Kong. It hopes to capitalize on the marketing connection to the Chinese territory's consistently hot real estate market.
"Real estate is what makes people sing in Hong Kong," said American Express spokeswoman Sally Sussman.
American Express has set a goal of increasing net income by 25% to 30% a year in 25 key international markets, including Hong Kong. In the past year, the travel and entertainment leader has doubled the number of card products it offers in Hong Kong, to six.
The four larger card organizations in Hong Kong are HSBC Holdings, with $3.1 billion in annual card volume; Hang Seng Bank and Citibank, each with $1.4 billion; and Manhattan Card Co., a Chase Manhattan Bank subsidiary, with $1.2 billion, according to The Nilson Report.
The Cheung Kong card is distinguished by a high credit line-up to the equivalent of about $40,000-and its 21% interest rate. Competitors' rates are typically 30% or more, Ms. Sussman said.
Cardholders would earn points toward reductions in a variety of expenses, including down payments and closing costs. Eight Hong Kong dollars-equivalent to one U.S. dollar-earn a point.
Double points are earned for purchases made at Cheung Kong's affiliate companies in telecommunications, hospitality, and retailing.
There have been few card loyalty products aimed at the mortgage market. Wells Fargo & Co. discontinued one it offered several years ago that gave discounts on mortgage points.
Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Moshe Orenbuch said American Express' U.S. card business could use such a shot of creativity.
"Their basic problem is that they haven't done anything new and different" domestically, Mr. Orenbuch said.
"Increasingly, innovation resides outside of the United States," Ms. Sussman said. "We are trying to give our international portfolio greater diversity."
Cheung Kong is known for its dominance in residential and commercial real estate and for the wealth of its chairman, Li Ka-shing, one of the richest men in the world. Mr. Li has a "Midas touch" business reputation, and Hong Kong residents are said to like his properties because they believe living in them will make them rich.
David Robertson, president of The Nilson Report, the Oxnard, Calif.- based newsletter publisher, said the deal with Cheung Kong should help American Express build its merchant base in Hong Kong.