Saturday, October 11, 2008

Old World Charm

Source : The Business Times, October 11, 2008

Decorating trends are leaning towards the stately and opulent. By Cheah Ui-Hoon

FASHION moves in cycles and it's no different when it comes to furniture and decorating style. From minimalism, we've seen eclecticism, which made way for modern baroque and now the newest style on the horizon seems to be aristocratic. Call it the democratisation of high-brow design because even the Queen of England has herself commissioned furnishings based on the Buckingham Palace, following the example of more than 30 Dukes, Earls and Lords who've given the green light for furniture companies to produce replicas of the furniture in their stately homes. Even the Russian noble houses have followed suit.

Meroni has brought in new Baroque brands lately (above and next) and the company's marketing director Cheryl Lee says Silver-leafed Baroque furniture is popular currently

If you've ever entertained notions of living like a Lord or Lady, this is certainly one way to do it - to own furniture similar to those in these stately homes or to have soft furnishings that are inspired by Buckingham Palace aesthetics. The options are wide: you could sit on a chair that the late Princess Diana used to sit on, seeing that her brother, the present Earl of Althorp has teamed up with Theodore Alexander to launch the Althorp Living Collection; or how about sleeping on a pillow with a royal crest, or lounging in a room with curtains and walls straight out of the Queen's drawing room?

A year ago, Queen Elizabeth II commissioned British designer Tricia Guild to come up with the Royal Collection Fabrics & Wallpapers inspired by the interiors and works of art of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

It's the first licensing arrangement of this kind, so the Royal Collection - comprising three catalogues of wallpaper, curtains, and upholstery - was launched about the same time here as it was in the UK, thanks to its exclusive distributor Romanez.

While the Queen invited 40 UK interior designers to Buckingham Palace for the launch, designers here were feted to a tea party at the Tanglin Club to view the gorgeous velvets on silk, embroidered silk, jacquard woven silk damasks and flock printed wallpapers in the richest of colours like deep reds and rich emeralds, gold, cream and black. The Arundale line is inspired by the state drawing room at Windsor Castle, for example, while the Tabinet is taken from the panels that upholstered the bed in the King's bedchamber also at the castle. For something more Oriental, the Augusta range is inspired by a detail from a pair of Chinese cloisonne enamel vases in Buckingham Palace.

Even though the collection is pricier than the normal Designers Guild's range, with starting prices at $100-$200 per metre, one way to sport a royal look on the cheap is with a crested pillow which costs just slightly more than $150. 'It's a bit of royalty that you can bring into your home,' says Romanez's Jennifer Hu of the collection.

A portion of the proceeds goes toward the maintenance of the Queen's residences, as you'd find for most of the cases where the gentry give permission for their furniture to be copied.

As for the target audience, Ms Hu expects there to be interest from hotels which are renovating their suites because of the luxurious exclusivity of the soft furnishings. Otherwise for the regular fan, it can well be an armchair that they'd like to re-upholster in richer fabric. The colours are richer, she says, because they're used in homes where there's a lot of windows and light. Likewise, that's something to keep in mind when decorating your home with these fabrics.

The look seems to be in line with designers' penchant for sophistication, elegance and luxury with gold and silver and dramatic fabrics.

Royal Collection Fabrics & Wallpapers by Designers Guild

In fact, it may be time to ditch beige and simple lines as designers feel style has become very individualistic with the penchant to mix and match. 'Consumers could be leaning towards more classical furniture because they're more unique and not as common as minimalistic furniture which is very easy to copy,' says Eleanor Kor, interior consultant with Designworx.

So far, the majority of the buyers of Baker's Stately Home furniture like the range for the look and details, more than the history, points out Chikita Nathasia, the showroom manager for Baker Furnishing.

Since the launch of Baker's Stately Homes collection here earlier this year, some 70 customers have walked in to order from one and two accent pieces to whole sets to furnish their entire house.

The demand isn't as high as it is for modern classics such as the Bill Sofield range, but then again, it's expected that the market for stately furniture is more niche, given its higher price points and grander forms.

'But what we also try to do is to educate the buyer in the history behind these pieces,' says Ms Nathasia. Most of the customers tend to live in landed property, and most are also refurnishing rather than buying furniture for a newly built home, she adds. There has been one customer who bought more than $1 million worth of Stately Homes furniture and the starting prices for this collection are usually four-figure sums.

Irish Mahogany Wing Arm Chair by Baker Furnishing

Baker's Stately Homes collection are replicas of pieces specially handpicked by an English Baronet, Sir Humphry Wakefield, and popular accent pieces picked up by Singapore buyers include a commode and an 18th century Queen Anne armchair from Wollaton Hall in Yorkshire, a 19th century Regency Tub Chair from Stratfield Saye House in Reading, and an early Irish Mahogany wing arm chair from Cliveden Place, Oxfordshire.

Obviously, the high-end and branded furniture started coming to Singapore a year or two ago because of the economic boom, but with the economy taking a shelling now, would the demand for them be sustained?

Ms Nathasia notes that the people who buy Baker's furniture are quite 'settled' so even though the economy slows down, they still provide regular business.

Da Vinci Holdings's managing director Raymond Phua echoes that thought, citing consumers' need to deck out their luxury condominiums in befitting style. 'The people who buy furniture from us aren't speculators; they've bought a house to live in and they want to decorate it well.

'And you'd be surprised, that furniture brands like Theodore Alexander are quite competitively priced when compared to fashion brands like Versace and Fendi,' he says.

Theodore Alexander was founded only in 1996 by furniture designer Paul Maitland-Smith, and its variety of lines include the Althorp Living Collection and the St Petersburg Palaces collection, based on furnishings in the Pavlovsk Palace and The Hermitage.

'The St Petersburg collection has been especially well received, and they're different from American classical furniture in that they are more gilded and have more inlays,' describes Mr Phua.

Indeed one other reason to buy European furniture, if the stately furniture is a bit too high-brow for your home, is that it is perceived to be classic, timeless designs. 'Customers like the European-made furniture we bring in because they hold their value, plus their prices keep rising year by year,' says Meroni's marketing director Cheryl Lee, who adds that the company has brought in new Baroque and art deco brands lately.

Silver-leafed Baroque furniture is popular now, while art deco pieces in black and white are in, she says.

Interior designer Patty Mak sees a return to furniture that has more details and fine craftsmanship. 'Such furniture can still be modern, but the details add to a richer feel. More people are now looking for furniture they can keep for years.

The minimalist design also tends to be over-copied so very few will be able to tell what's original,' she adds. Designworx's interior consultant Eleanor Kor said that there is a move towards more traditional looking furniture now as minimalist furniture tends not to have as much character. 'But people do swing between the two extremes,' she says.

The trend might be individualistic these days, but for us common folk, it's definitely a boon to know that noble living is within reach these days.


How to furnish your home with period pieces?

Patty Mak of Suying Designs

Treat these pieces as art objects. Don't try too hard to coordinate with other classical-styled furniture, but complement them with lighter tones and textures. Because this furniture has a lot of detailing and handiwork, you can give your place a contemporary look by surrounding them with refreshing or soft colours. These pieces also look good in a small apartment, if you use one or two pieces of elegant craftsmanship.

Eleanor Kor of Designworx

To mix and match classic and contemporary, pick on a unifying detail such as the timber or tone and make them compatible. There could be a detail that's echoed throughout. Look also at the scale of the furniture and the texture. Arrangement of furniture is also important, and you want to make sure the symmetry is right. Just like works of art or sculpture, when you put them together with everything else, they have to make sense. Coordinating colours also work well.

Roy Teo of Kri:eit Associates

One way to mix and match old and new is with colours. Most contemporary furniture tends to be glossy, so you can polish mahogany furniture to the same level of shine and gloss, for instance. Or put a metallic candelabra next to a period piece of furniture to balance it. You can also put some silver/metallic-toned cushions on the classic sofa; or find cushions with tassels to place on a contemporary sofa to contrast. Otherwise, stick a potted plant between the old and new and the contrast will be neutralised!

S'pore Slips Into Recession, Risks Skewed On Downside

Source : The Business Times, October 11, 2008

Official 2008 growth estimate cut to 3%, but market economists already shaving 2009 forecasts

EVEN with the market primed for recession, the Q3 flash GDP estimates still fell below expectations. And, with no quick rebound in sight, economists are looking ahead at a lean 2009 as well.

The early estimates produced yesterday by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) show a broad-based sharp slowdown, with the economy contracting not only sequentially as widely expected, but in year-on-year terms too. MTI now expects the economy to grow 'around 3 per cent' in 2008, down from its August forecast of 4-5 per cent.

Based only on July and August data, GDP fell 6.3 per cent in Q3 from Q2 in adjusted, annualised terms. Coming straight after a 5.7 per cent decline in the preceding quarter, this spells a technical recession - Singapore's first since the second half of 2002.

But, against expectations, GDP has also fallen from a year ago in Q3, by 0.5 per cent. The last time the economy went into the red in year-ago terms was in Q2 2003 when GDP fell 1.8 per cent during the Sars outbreak.

Both MTI and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) - which yesterday eased monetary policy by moving to a neutral stance, from the 'modest and gradual' currency appreciation policy it had maintained since April 2004 - yesterday described the Singapore economy's near-term prospects in plain stark terms.

The external risks remain on the downside as the ongoing financial turmoil has presented 'new uncertainties' for the Singapore economy, MAS says. A more severe global downturn cannot be discounted, and Singapore's economic growth will 'likely remain below its potential rate over the next few quarters', the central bank adds.

A slip into technical recession here had been widely flagged, following months of sluggish manufacturing output due to pharmaceutical peculiarities. But now the precision engineering and chemicals clusters have also slowed because of weaker external demand, MTI says.

The ministry also expects the global financial crisis to take its toll in the months ahead on Singapore's financial services sector, particularly 'sentiment-sensitive' activities such as stocks trading and fund management.

MAS also sees services industries such as the transport-hub and tourism being hit by the global downturn.

As for the construction sector, 'despite a strong pipeline of projects, a shortage of contractors, a tight labour market for engineers and project managers, and longer waiting times for equipment' have delayed the projects, MTI notes.

Market economists share the official concerns - just more bearishly. Most had pared their forecasts of Singapore's 2008 GDP growth well before the latest official revision, and some now cite the risks of the growth falling below 3 per cent - probably between 2.5 and 3.0 per cent, they reckon.

Indeed, OCBC Bank's economists have belatedly cut their 2008 forecast to 2 per cent, and see the economic weakness extending into the first half of 2009.

UBS Investment Bank strategist Nizam Idris said the latest data show the economy to be in 'deep recession', with all the key figures 'well below expectations'.

The Q3 flash figures - which will eventually be updated with the September data - imply that industrial production probably grew modestly by 1-2.5 per cent last month, economists estimate. Any lower and the final Q3 GDP figure could well be worse than the already weak flash figures, United Overseas Bank's economists note. And, short of a strong pharma rebound soon, the manufacturing slump could extend into Q1 2009, they add.

Nanyang Technological University economist Choy Keen Meng notes wryly that his 'worse-case scenario' forecasts issued in March - of US recession and Singapore growing 3 per cent in 2008 - are coming true.

But he expects some recovery in year-on-year GDP growth to 3-4 per cent in Q4, partly on account of a low base in Q4 2007.

'Sluggish growth of 2-3 per cent is expected in the first half of next year. If the financial turmoil can be brought under control by then, we might be lucky to see a gradual recovery beginning in the second half. All in all, the economic outlook for 2009 is not looking good. GDP growth is likely to come in at about 4 per cent or even lower, barring a protracted global economic slump.'

Others such as Standard Chartered Bank economist Alvin Liew recently halved his 2009 growth forecast for Singapore to 2 per cent.

One silver lining, perhaps, amid the gloom and doom: Inflationary pressures will ease. MAS sees Singapore's headline inflation rate falling to 2.5-3.5 per cent in 2009, from 6-7 per cent this year. Not fast enough, says Stanchart's Mr Liew, pointing out that Singapore's 'historical comfort zone' for inflation is just 1-2 per cent.

Prepare For A Rough Ride: PM Lee

Source : The Business Times, October 11, 2008

There is no escaping global impact of crisis

IN his first public comment on the global financial crisis, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday told Singaporeans to 'prepare for a rough ride at least over the next year, and quite possibly longer'.

While Asian banks have been spared the woes of their US and European peers, stock markets everywhere have been battered in the fallout. Singapore shares tumbled 7 per cent yesterday.

The crisis will curb consumption and investment in the developed countries and affect economic growth beyond their shores, Mr Lee said. 'Asian countries cannot avoid the impact of weakening US, European and Japanese economies.'

He was speaking on the first day of the two-day Global Indian Diaspora Conference, where Mauritian Prime Minister Navinchandran Ramgoolam and India's Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi were also present.

Mr Lee's comments came after Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Sunday projected 'several quarters' of slowdown for Singapore's economy. And National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) chief Lim Swee Say warned on Thursday of possible wage and job cuts.

Expressing a similar view at the conference, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said: 'This time, Asia is not as adversely affected as US and Europe because we are less sophisticated in derivatives.'

Banks have also recapitalised since the Asian financial crisis, he said. But there is no escaping the global impact of what is happening. 'The worrying part is how it affects the real economy,' Mr Goh said. 'That will affect us. The US is one of the biggest exports markets for Asia. Asia and Singapore will be impacted. The worry for next year is how long will slow growth be dragged out for all of us.'

Mr Lee said that the problems facing financial institutions in the US and Europe are complex and grave, and will not be solved overnight or even 'within a few months'.

'The fear and panic gripping financial markets everywhere will take time to subside,' he said. 'The trust and confidence between banks, which lie at the heart of finance intermediation, will take time to restore.' But the momentum from projects Singapore has secured, including the F1 race, will help see it through the financial storm, he said. Unemployment here remains low and 'we are still on a steady course'. Singapore's strategy of growing with Asia remains valid, 'because we are confident that Asia's dynamism will endure', Mr Lee said. 'Both India and China are continuing to transform their economies, and their emergence in a stable and peaceful region will benefit many other Asian countries.'

Singapore's links through the Indian disapora - the second largest, with 25 million people of Indian origin scattered around the world - has helped Singapore and India boost ties, he said.

Also, the Comprehensive Economic Agreement signed between Singapore and India in 2005 has helped increase two-way trade to $24 billion in 2007. Singapore was India's second-biggest investor last year. And Singapore was the choice investment location for Indian companies venturing overseas.

Mr Lee said that just as Singapore has built ties with India itself, it wants also to network with Indian overseas communities throughout the Asia-Pacific.

The conference is hosted by the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Facing Up To Recession

Source : The Business Times, October 11, 2008

Government should intervene to keep credit flowing to corporate sector

THIS time last year, with the stock market near its all-time high, the property market booming and the Singapore economy cantering towards a growth rate of 7.5 per cent for 2007, who would have thought we were, in fact, on the cusp of a recession?

Storms don't last forever and Singapore's recession, like so many before it, will pass

But here we are, entering our first technical recession - two consecutive quarters of negative growth - since 2001; the flash estimate for Q3 growth was a worse-than-expected minus 6.3 per cent. We're also in the first quarterly contraction on a year-on- year basis (minus 0.5 per cent) since the time of Sars, in the second quarter of 2003.

It's a sobering reminder of how vulnerable even a fundamentally sound and well-run economy like Singapore can be to global economic headwinds; except that what we're facing now is no mere headwind, but a gale-force storm.

There is nothing Singapore could have done to prevent this. There is not much that any Asian country could have done. And the financial market turbulence we are seeing is only the beginning of a long spell - at least a couple of years - of pain for any economy that depends heavily on doing business with the United States and Europe.

After the current phase of the financial storm subsides - which depends on what the G-7 finance ministers decide to do at their meetings in Washington - the theatre of action will shift to the real economy. The US, Europe and Japan will experience a marked slowdown, if not outright recession, and rising unemployment. The great American consumption machine, in particular, which accounts for more than two-thirds of US GDP, will be reduced to a shadow of its former self.

While the International Monetary Fund still resists calling a global recession - it forecasts 3 per cent global growth next year - that view could change.

But global recession or not, few Asian countries - certainly not those with export-oriented economies - will be spared from the backwash of slowing growth in the major economies. Not even China; while its growth rate will probably still be respectable at around 7-8 per cent, the economy of the coastal provinces, where hundreds of thousands of factories have to depend for their livelihoods on the American consumer, will be devastated. Thousands of SMEs in China have gone bust already this year.

India, for its part, has seen its financial markets ravaged as a result of selloffs by foreign institutional investors; but the real economy - which is still overwhelmingly domestically focused - will be relatively resilient.

But even if China and India boom, they cannot come close to compensating for a US slowdown: a mere 20 per cent reduction in consumption in the US wipes out the equivalent of all of the consumption of China and India combined. Add in a European slowdown as well and the problem is multiplied.

So in the circumstances, what are the policy options for a small open economy like Singapore? The focus would have to be on, first, ensuring that banking functions as normally as possible and businesses keep running.

Right now, banking is not functioning normally; the credit crunch and fear of counterparty risk has spread here too. Despite liquidity injections by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, interbank rates remain elevated. Banks have pulled in their credit lines to even well-run companies. If this continues, layoffs will inevitably rise.

There could well be more financial accidents, or at least strains, in the US and Europe in the months ahead, which suggests local banks will remain unusually risk averse. There is a strong case here for temporary government intervention to keep credit flowing to the corporate sector - whether through direct loans by government agencies such as SPRING (via their several loan schemes, which can be enhanced) or through credit guarantees.

There is a case, too, for an off-budget package of fiscal measures - particularly increases in public spending, as well as help to businesses and vulnerable groups - to cushion the impact of the slowdown. The last budget did not, and could not, see it coming, but it is here. And help can't wait till the next budget. A philosophy of prudent economic management practised over decades has yielded a legacy of fiscal surpluses. It's now time to put them to work.

This crisis is also an opportunity - for example, to ramp up infrastructure, to develop new capabilities through higher outlays on training and retraining, and promote new technologies.

Storms don't last forever and Singapore's recession, like so many before it, will pass. What matters now is how productively and creatively we handle it, and what shape we will be in when the global economy comes back.

S'pore In 'Recession'

Source : The Straits Times, Oct 11, 2008

SINGAPORE is in a technical recession after the economy slipped into negative territory for the second quarter in a row, dragged down by a slump in exports and a weak property market.


But the real recession, which usually portends job losses, will probably come next year when the Republic feels the full impact of the global economic slowdown, warned economists.

Many have lowered their growth forecasts and are now tipping 0 to 3 per cent growth next year.

The economy shrank in the third quarter, declining by a worse-than-expected 0.5 per cent from a year ago, according to estimates released yesterday by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). Compared with the previous quarter, the economy declined 6.3 per cent, on top of a 5.7 per cent contraction in the second quarter, the ministry said.

Aside from growth in the first quarter, the economy contracted quarter-on-quarter in three of the last four quarters. This is the first technical recession since 2002, after the bust. Lowering the official forecast for full-year growth for the third time this year, the ministry now expects the economy to grow at 'around 3 per cent' this year, down from 4 to 5 per cent. The original prediction was 4.5 to 6.5 per cent growth.

UOB Kay Hian's head of dealing (regional institutional sales) Dick Chan at the close of trading yesterday, as the STI fell 7.34% to close at 1948. Financial market trouble worldwide has led to lower export demand and caused Singapore's key manufacturing sector to shrink. -- ST PHOTO: SAMUEL HE

'External economic conditions have deteriorated more than expected and some sectors of the economy have weakened significantly,' it said.

With the deepening global financial crisis, demand for exports has dropped, hitting Singapore's key manufacturing sector, which shrank by 11.5 per cent in the third quarter amid a protracted slump in pharmaceuticals and electronic output.

Construction and services held nastier surprises. Construction, which had been powering along at double-digit growth, abruptly halved to lodge single-digit expansion for the first time since 2006.

MTI said that despite 'a strong pipeline of construction projects', a shortage of contractors, engineers and project managers had caused building delays.

Economists also pointed to the lacklustre property market, where a standstill in home sales has prompted developers to delay launching and building projects. With no relief in sight, construction growth is likely to stay at this slower pace.

But a boost could come from the Government bringing back $2 billion worth of building projects it had put off earlier this year to ease the construction squeeze, suggested OCBC economist Selena Ling.

The services sector held no bright spots either, cooling to lower growth as financial market activities slowed while the subdued property market weighed down on the real estate services industry.

'This suggests that the global slowdown has had a much greater knock-on effect on services than we had anticipated and marks the start of a more protracted decline in services growth,' said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

The key worry in this, he said, is that services employs the bulk of the labour force and lower growth may lead to job losses.

But Ms Ling noted that the unemployment rate remains at very low levels, so retrenchments may not hurt so much. She said: 'If job losses come mainly from manufacturing, most of the people hit will be foreign workers.'

To address growth concerns, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has eased monetary policy, setting a zero appreciation stance for the Singapore dollar.

But economists said more immediate measures may be needed in the form of fiscal stimuli, focusing on lower-income groups and retrenched workers.

What's a technical recession?

A TECHNICAL recession is defined as two consecutive quarters in which the economy has shrunk compared to the previous quarter.

The size of the economy is measured in terms of the total value of goods and services produced in a country, also known as its gross domestic product, or GDP.

Generally, the duration of a recession is the full period of the business cycle that economic activity is in decline.

There is no universally accepted way to measure a 'real' recession. Some suggest a full-year economic contraction or two consecutive quarters of the economy shrinking compared to the same period in the previous year.

Singapore's last 'full-scale' recession was in 2001, when the economy shrank 2.4 per cent during the year after the bursting of the bubble.


'At this point, the impact on companies is not significant yet...Big and small companies are going to face the same situation going forward: It's a liquidity problem that's not resolved yet. It started with sub-prime. Now we have gone into corporate loans.

'Companies should get prudent on cost control and manage cash carefully. They have to be very careful before making major investments. On the Government side, we have to think of how (to ensure that) liquidity does not dry up. Viable businesses may not be able to get bank loans.

'The job situation remains OK. Let's say the integrated resorts take off. Singaporeans must be prepared (to switch jobs). There's also a chance the IRs won't take off, because people lost their wealth. We may go into an unemployment situation. I want to be realistic. We should not be surprised if it comes. We must be prepared to manage it.'

Mr Inderjit Singh, MP and chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry

'We are concerned that in a slowdown, there could be retrenchment. More needy residents will come to the Community Development Council (CDC) for social and job assistance. We don't know how severe the repercussions will be. We don't know the impact on the industries.

'If people lose their jobs, families will be under stress, especially lower-income families. They have very little savings.

'At the CDC level, we are working out various schemes to see how we can help needy families. We have started a food aid fund. We ask people to pledge $100 per month to purchase food rations for needy residents. We started with donated canned food. Now we give dry rations and frozen food vouchers. We may look into providing hot meals.

'We are also doing more in terms of job matching, to help people find jobs as quickly as possible.

'Singaporeans should look into cost- cutting: do away with all those wants, be more prudent in terms of their spending. Go for skills upgrading to increase your earning capacity and your employability.'

MP and North West district mayor Teo Ho Pin

首个半年销售计划 21个组屋区683个单位待售

Source :《联合早报》October 11, 2008


今年4月推出最后一批双月组屋销售计划后,建屋局改以半年销售计划出售组屋。新计划下的待售组屋包括33个三房式优质组屋单位(3-Room Premium)、491个四房式单位、78个五房式单位,以及81个公寓式单位。三房式优质组屋是指铺好地砖和卫生设施的三房式组屋。