Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mah Sees Softening Of Property Prices

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 27, 2008

Future movements will depend on how industry adjusts to conditions

PROPERTY prices will inevitably soften and demand will weaken amid slower economic growth, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said yesterday.

Private housing prices fell 2.4 per cent in the third quarter, and further price movements will 'depend on the severity of the economic slowdown'.

Mr Mah was speaking at the 49th anniversary dinner of the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (Redas) at the Shangri-La Hotel.

He said future price movements will also depend on the 'ability of the industry to make adjustments in response to the changes in economic conditions'.

Meanwhile, Mr Simon Cheong, Redas president and chief executive of upscale residential developer SC Global Developments, said he expects construction prices to ease off with the trend of falling oil prices and easing inflation.

'Current pressure on construction services (will) begin to moderate once the lag in demand kicks in with a slowdown in new commitments by developers,' he said.

Mr Mah also addressed recent moves by Redas to present market analysts with other sources of market data after they had drawn bearish conclusions about the industry recently.

Redas had said the analysts' findings were based on official numbers from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which they felt are too general. Reports said the industry body met property analysts from local and foreign research firms two weeks ago to advise them that URA data may not give an accurate picture of specific sections of the market.

Mr Mah said the Government has a vital role in guarding against 'irrational market behaviour, such as excessive speculation, that is not in sync with economic fundamentals', to ensure the long-term stability and smooth functioning of the property market.

Mr Cheong agreed: 'The market is at best currently fragile and nervous. Market stability is important to prevent a widespread decimation of asset values...Redas will do its best to work closely with the Government to provide timely market feedback to facilitate a timely and effective response that the property market needs.'

But there are limits to what the Government can and should do, said Mr Mah. For one thing, it cannot work against market forces and try to prop up property prices artificially.

Mr Mah explained: 'Such efforts are not sustainable and will not be beneficial to the health of the property market in the long run. Any measure seen to be knee-jerk or excessive might even weigh market sentiment down further...It is in our interest to ensure that the property prices move in line with economic fundamentals as it affects home ownership, asset values, retirement savings and other sectors of the economy.'

But Mr Cheong said: 'Only with confidence will demand return to the market.' He advised Redas members to 'take this opportunity to do our house cleaning, improve our product and get ready for the next upturn'.

'Pricing alone does not lead to sales volume. Sentiment and confidence lead to sales volume.'

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