Singapore still world’s priciest city, but HK at its heels

Top 5 expensive cities
Top 5 expensive cities

If you're looking for an affordable place to live...scratch Singapore off your list.

The Asian city remained the most expensive city globally for the third year in a row, a new survey found, but Hong Kong leapfrogged higher to nip at its heels while Paris got cheaper.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) annual survey found that Singapore's dubious honor of leading other cities on prices is facing a squeeze, with Hong Kong climbing seven places to tie for second place with Zurich.

Paris was the only euro-zone city this year to stay in the top-ten, but it slipped three places to rank as the world's fifth most expensive city, the survey found, citing weak confidence in the euro.

"The stronger U.S. dollar and weaker euro has pushed euro zone cities further down the ranking, especially as weak consumer sentiment and depressed commodity prices have undermined inflation in terms of both supply and demand," the EIU said.

But it noted that even with a weaker euro, "Paris remains structurally extremely expensive to live in, with only alcohol and tobacco offering value for money compared with other European cities."

To be sure, it's not entirely clear whether the EIU's basket of prices has much relevance to the average resident. For one, its average price for a ready-to-wear, mid-priced daytime women's dress is a whopping $552.80 for Singapore, well above the $244.40 in Paris, but still below the more than $1,000 in London. That's likely out of the price range of most residents in each of those cities.

Some items certainly are far more expensive in Singapore, however. For example, the survey found the cost of a family car in Singapore was about $153,000, well above the $22,000 rough cost in New York or about $37,800 in Paris. But not many residents of Singapore buy cars, preferring to use the well-developed mass-transit system or relatively plentiful taxis.

Geneva came in at No.3, rising by three places in the rankings, to land just behind fellow Swiss city Zurich, due to the Swiss central bank's decision to unpeg the franc from the euro, which caused the local currency to strengthen.

The stronger dollar may also be a driver of Hong Kong's climb -- the Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar, meaning the currency hasn't weakened in line with other currencies in the region.

That's what pushed Australian cities Sydney and Melbourne out of the top ten: The Australian dollar has lost more than 7 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar since the beginning of 2015.

The survey compares prices, converted into U.S. dollars, across 160 products and services in various countries, taking into consideration the costs of food, clothing, personal care items, rents, transportation, private schools, domestic help and recreation.

London also joined the top-ten this year, climbing five places to rank No.6, as non-euro-zone European cities became more expensive relative to euro-using peers.

U.S. cities saw some of the biggest moves, with New York climbing 15 places to No.7 -- after falling as low as No.49 in 2011 -- and Los Angeles rising 19 slots to No.10.

"New York and Los Angeles move up the ranking because of currency headwinds rather than significant local price rises," the EIU said. "In fact, the opposite may be true. With the falling cost of oil and a strong U.S. dollar pushing down prices, local inflation has been relatively low across the U.S."

Below is a chart from the EIU with the top-10 most expensive cities globally:


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—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1