Friday, September 21, 2007

S’pore Banks Renew Confidence In CDOs

Source : TODAY, Friday, September 21, 2007

But all risks for such investments would be borne by the clients

















SINGAPORE banks are making new bets in collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) as they sense opportunities in a market that has fallen out of grace.

DBS Group Holdings is selling new CDOs to buyers hungry for risk and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp said its insurance unit launched a fund investing in CDOs.

CDOs are pools of debt instruments, such as bonds or loans, that are repackaged into different slices carrying various levels of risk. These slices, or tranches, are then sold to investors.

The CDOs have been hard-hit by the United States sub-prime mortgage crisis, as some are mortgagebacked, underpinned by sub-prime loans. With few willing to buy CDOs, the market for those instruments has virtually come to a standstill.

But most of Singapore’s well capitalised banks — considered Asia’s, excluding Japan, specialists in CDOs — seem to think that now is the time to return to the market as issuers.

“(We are) conscious of the current uncertainties surrounding the CDO and sub-prime mortgage securities markets, but (believe) that, fundamentally, CDO remains a sound investment instrument if it is properly structured to achieve the desired returns and risk profile,” said OCBC’s insurance unit, Great Eastern Holdings.

The fund won’t have any direct exposure to sub-prime mortgage securities and “aims to take advantage of current market conditions to offer high credit ratings, reasonably attractive returns and good insurance cover to policyholders,” Great Eastern said.

The target fund size is about $100 million.

OCBC shares have fallen more than 6 per cent since mid-July, when the credit markets were rattled from the sub-prime woes.

The bank has said it holds US$430 million ($646 million) worth of CDOs, including US$181 million in asset-backed securities with various degrees of sub-prime exposure. Its majority-owned Lion Capital Management holds about $5.7 billion in CDOs, including $1.5 billion in assets linked to US sub-prime mortgages in its customer accounts.

OCBC said all risks are borne by the clients.

“To be honest, I was surprised that Great Eastern was pursuing this fund” given the current market conditions, a Wall Street investment bank analyst said. “But this shows the company thinks there is a market out there. Potentially, this is a good move, depending on the nature and quality of the CDOs.”

DBS recently sold two synthetic CDOs with principal values of US$17.19 million and US$13.64 million through a special purpose vehicle.

In each transaction, it packaged insurance on corporate debt into the securitised instruments and passed the default risk on to investors. The bank makes money by receiving a premium for the insurance policies and passing the risk on to investors, who receive a lower premium.

Rating agency Fitch has assigned a triple A rating to both CDOs. Last year, Singaporebased CDO asset managers launched $6.7 billion in CDOs.— DOW JONES

Las Vegas Sands Ropes In S’pore Banks For A $5b Loan

Source : TODAY, Friday, September 21, 2007

LAS Vegas Sands, the world’s largest casino operator by market value, is seeking a record loan in Singapore currency to fund construction of the nation’s first gambling house, people familiar with the deal said.

The gaming firm hired eight banks, including Goldman Sachs Group, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Co, Lehman Brothers Holdings, Citigroup and locals DBS Group Holdings, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp and United Overseas Bank to arrange the borrowing.

Mr Ron Reese, Las Vegas Sands spokesman, did not reply. Spokesmen at the banks either declined to comment or could not be immediately reached.

The $5-billion casinobacked loan is likely to be syndicated and have a maturity of seven to eight years. Part of the money will be used to repay a US$1.4-billion ($2.1-billion) 12-month borrowing a year ago.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, regulated gambling, including casinos in the Asia-Pacific market, will expand 15.7 per cent a year to about US$30.3 billion in 2011.

Singapore will compete for Asian punters with Macau, the Chinese city that reaped 55.9 billion patacas ($10.5 billion) gaming revenue last year, surpassing the Las Vegas Strip as the world’s biggest casino market. — BLOOMBERG

Entrepreneurs At 55: How CPF ‘Loans’ Can Help

Source : TODAY, Friday, September 21, 2007

Letter from ONG LIP HUA

THE proposal to delay the CPF withdrawal age is a rational decision taken on the assumption that Singaporeans are job-seekers.

Some Singaporeans do indeed squander away their “newly-found” riches after withdrawing their CPF monies.

However, there is also a group of Singaporeans who start a business using their CPF funds.

With Singapore rapidly becoming a global city, together with the advances in learning technologies, the next generation of Singaporeans is more likely and more well-placed — with their social networks — to become entrepreneurs at 55.

We should conduct studies on Singaporeans who have started businesses after withdrawing their CPF and encourage more to do the same.

Generating income through entrepreneurship will reduce the stress on the Government to provide social assistance to our greying population, while helping to contribute to our economic growth.

Income earned from these businesses will help finance our longer life expectancy.

In addition, the rigours of business management will keep us active throughout our “retirement” years.

Admittedly, not all of us are entrepreneurial.

However, that should not stop the CPF board from considering schemes like interest-free “loans” from our own CPF funds if we are keen on undertaking such entrepreneurial endeavours, when we hit the age of 55.

Successful businessmen can contribute the “borrowed” amount towards their CPF after reporting profit, if CPF wishes to be more conservative.

S$2b Bid For Marina View Site Seen To Set Benchmark For Second Plot

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 20 September 2007

Market watchers say they expect equally aggressive or possibly stronger bids for the second land parcel at Marina View.

Their optimism comes after the first white site in the area fetched a top bid of S$2.02 billion.

Macquarie Global Property Advisers, a fund management firm partly owned by Australia's Macquarie Bank Group, put in the highest bid of S$2.02 billion, or more than S$1,400 per square foot, for the site.

With that strong bid, the 1.02-hectare white site - just behind One Shenton Way - looks poised to set a new record for the price of state land.

The result of the tender has yet to be announced, but analysts are now re-looking the numbers for the adjoining site.

They expect the slightly smaller Land Parcel B to garner bids that are equal to, if not higher than, that for the first site.

Colin Tan, Chesterton's head of research and consultancy, said: "I expect the current tender bid to be the benchmark and I suppose that to win, the bidder would have to bid somewhat higher, because it has set the benchmark for the market. How high? It will depend on how they see the potential of this site."

Market watchers say those who have placed bids for the first site may put their hats in the ring again. These include CapitaLand, Mapletree and Malaysia's IOI.

Donald Han, Cushman & Wakefield's managing director, said: "I think the bids were definitely very aggressive. We would probably expect all three to feature quite prominently in the next adjoining URA sales of sites."

Other potential bidders are said to include City Developments, Keppel Land, Hong Kong Land and Cheung Kong Holdings.

Analysts say one key reason for the aggressive bids for the Marina View area is that it is slated not just purely for office use, unlike the main Raffles Place area. There is going to be plenty of residential living space and land parcel B will set aside 25% of its space for hotel rooms.

All these will add to the buzz of activity once the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort is up and running. - CNA/ir

National Longevity Insurance Committee To Recommend Scheme Design

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 20 September 2007

The Ministry of Manpower has released more details on the newly-formed National Longevity Insurance Committee, which will make recommendations on the compulsory annuity scheme, known as the National Longevity Insurance Scheme.

According to the ministry, the committee needs to recommend the design of the annuity scheme, which should be able to provide basic and affordable plans for CPF members.

The scheme, which applies to CPF members who are now 50 and below, must be flexible as well, so that members can choose from a range of plans to meet their various needs. But it must also allow others to opt-in.

Another requirement is that the scheme must leverage on the CPF system to keep basic premiums affordable, and allow members to use a small part of their Retirement Account to buy the longevity insurance when they turn 55.

The 18-member committee is made up of unionists, academics, grassroots leaders and representatives from both private and public sectors.

The committee's report is expected to be ready within six months.

Manpower Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen said some are concerned that if they do not live till 85 to enjoy the payout from the insurance, they may not get their money back. One suggestion is to pay an extra premium on the longevity insurance, so if a person dies, the money goes to his or her dependants.

Dr Ng also stressed that the scheme must be flexible.

"Different Singaporeans have different needs. Some have no dependants. And they actually want their longevity insurance to start earlier, maybe 75. I say why not? Let's see whether it can be done.

"Some don't want so much dependence on longevity insurance because they have other streams of income, and they say 'I don't want to pay a lot to buy the longevity insurance, I want it to start at 95'. I say again, why not? The committee should consider this.

"So as long as we give options for Singaporeans, I think that this is easier to implement."

Dr Ng added, "I hope Singaporeans understand that if we can put this in place it would mean a lot because future generations would benefit and all of us would have a little more confidence in our future." - CNA/ac

Committee Looking At Annuity Recognises Need To Be Flexible

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 21 September 2007

The committee formed to look at the compulsory annuity will study various avenues of designing the insurance scheme.

This is according to NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Seng Han Thong, who's a member of the newly-formed National Longevity Insurance Committee.

Mr Seng added that the 18-member panel also recognises the need for the insurance scheme to be flexible.

"We must ensure there is work for them to carry on their work life beyond 62. We also have to make this longevity insurance scheme simple and easy to understand so the buy in will be easier."

Mr Seng was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an event at ITE College East. He said he's speaking as one of the committee members and not as a spokesman for the committee. Mr Seng added that there are many good ideas and the committee will participate in focus groups discussions and consult experts.

The Committee's Report is expected to be ready within six months. The Manpower Ministry said the committee needs to look at a scheme that can provide basic and affordable plans for CPF members. The scheme must also be flexible for members so that they can choose from a range of plans to meet their needs.

The scheme also needs to apply to CPF members who are currently 50 and below but it must allow others to opt-in.

Another requirement is that the scheme must leverage on the CPF system to keep basic premiums affordable. This is also to allow members to use a small part of their Retirement Account to buy the longevity insurance when they turn 55.

The 18-member committee is made up of unionists, academics, grassroots leaders and representatives from the private and public sectors. CNA/vm

US Federal Reserve Acted In Face Of 'Market Stress': Bernanke

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 20 September 2007

WASHINGTON : The US Federal Reserve moved to cut rates and add liquidity to the financial system in recent weeks in the face of "significant market stress," Federal Reserve Chairman, Mr Bernanke told Congress on Thursday.

Bernanke said the economy and markets reacted to surprisingly large losses in the area of sub-prime mortgages that "have far exceeded even the most pessimistic estimates."

Appearing before the House of Representatives' Committee on Financial Services, Bernanke said the worst of the mortgage maelstrom is not yet over, as more homeowners face difficulties making payments on adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).

"With house prices still soft and many borrowers of recent-vintage sub-prime ARMs still facing their first interest-rate resets, delinquencies and foreclosure initiations in this class of mortgages are likely to rise further," he said.

Bernanke said about 15 percent of ARMs to sub-prime lenders with weak credit were in delinquency or foreclosure in July, and that about 320,000 foreclosures were initiated in each of the first two quarters of the year, up from a previous average of 225,000.

"It is difficult to be precise about the number of foreclosure initiations ... Historically, about half of homeowners who get a foreclosure notice are ultimately displaced from their homes, but that ratio may turn out to be higher in coming quarters because the proportion of sub-prime borrowers, who have weaker financial conditions than prime borrowers, is higher."

Bernanke spoke two days after the Fed cut its base federal funds rate by half a point to 4.75 percent "to help forestall some of the adverse effects on the broader economy that might arise from the disruptions in financial markets."

The Fed also cut its discount rate for direct loans from the central bank by 50 basis points, after reducing that rate by the same amount in August in an effort to ease access to credit for lenders amid tighter conditions.

Bernanke said that the wide losses prompted a retrenchment by lenders, affecting the broader financial system.

"In this episode, the shift in risk attitudes combined with greater credit risk and uncertainty about how to value those risks has created significant market stress," he said.

"On the positive side of the ledger, past efforts to strengthen capital positions and financial market infrastructure places the global financial system in a relatively strong position to work through this process."

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told the same hearing the US and global economies are strong enough to weather the crisis stemming from sub-prime loan failures with only a "modest" penalty.

"US economic fundamentals are healthy: unemployment is low, wages are rising and core inflation is contained," Paulson said.

"Although the recent reappraisal of risk, coupled with weakness in the housing sector, may well result in a penalty, the fundamentals point to continued US economic growth."

Paulson has said previously that the August credit turmoil would act as a penalty on growth, but that the US is not headed toward recession.

"The global economy also remains strong, with annual growth at around five percent and with many emerging market economies growing even more rapidly than the global average," he said.

President George W. Bush said separately he was "optimistic" about the prospects for the US economy, despite acknowledging "unsettling" times in the housing market.

"I'm optimistic about our economy," Bush said when asked in a White House news conference about predictions from some analysts for a recession.

But he added: "There is no question" that Americans were experiencing "unsettling times in the housing market." - AFP/de

President Bush Optimistic About US Economy

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 21 September 2007

WASHINGTON : President George W. Bush said on Thursday he was "optimistic" about the prospects for the US economy, while acknowledging the "unsettling" times in the housing market.

"I'm optimistic about our economy," Bush said when asked in a White House news conference about predictions from some analysts for a recession.

"I say that the fundamentals of our nation's economy are strong. Inflation is down. Job markets are steady and strong. The national unemployment rate is 4.6 percent. Corporate profits appear to be strong. Exports are up," he said.

But he added, "There is no question that there are some unsettling times in the housing market and credits associated with the housing market."

He called on legislators to set new rules that will ease the refinancing process for homeowners with mortgage problems, and to improve the tax rules on refinancing.

"I'm optimistic about our economy. I would be pessimistic, however, if the Congress has its way and raises taxes," he added.

"I believe the worst thing that could happen now is to allow the Congress to do that which they have said they want to do, which is to raise the taxes on people ... because I think taking money out the hands of investors and consumers and small-business owners would weaken the economy."

Bush refused to comment on the half-percentage point interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve on Tuesday, to ease financial difficulties stemming from the housing market downturn.

But he praised Fed chief Ben Bernanke.

"I think he's doing a fine job," Bush said. - AFP/de

HSBC Plans Up To 35 Branches In Japan

Source: Channel NewsAsia, 20 September 2007

TOKYO : British-based bank HSBC plans to open up to 35 branches in Japan targeting wealthy individuals but has no plans for acquisitions there as part of its expansion, chairman Stephen Green said on Thursday.

HSBC plans to make its long-awaited entry into Japan's retail banking sector early next year with a nationwide network of branches, aiming to tap growing demand for tailor-made financial services from an ageing population.

"We think that there's room over the mid to longer term for something like 25 to 35 branches," Green told a press conference, describing the entry into Japan as "a journey rather than a sprint".

HSBC is aiming to lure high income customers away from the Japanese banks and vie with US financial giant Citigroup which is expanding its Citibank network in the world's second-largest economy.

HSBC will open branches in Tokyo, the western city of Osaka and other major metropolises targeting some of the estimated 6.3 million "mass affluent" in Japan with liquid financial assets of at least 10 million yen (US$86,700).

Green said that the British banking group planned to focus on building its own branch network and was not planning any acquisitions in Japan.

"Our expansion strategy in Japan is focused essentially on organic growth. There's no need to contemplate acquisitions as part of developing our business," he said.

HSBC already has a presence in Japan mainly focusing on corporate financial services. - AFP/de

Annuities : You Say Miser, I Say Wiser

Source : The New Paper, September 21, 2007

MY neighbour Belanja King has invited me to his retirement party.

Free food, free beer, of course I said yes.

But if I were him, I wouldn't splurge it all or retire so early.

Yes, he can enjoy life now. Yes, he's been working hard and I don't blame him for wanting to enjoy his CPF.

But what if he lives to a ripe old age and doesn't have enough money to live on?

His CPF savings may look like a windfall now but in 20 years, he won't have enough for old age.

I plan for the longer term. I plan in case I live beyond 85.

As the Chinese adage goes, 'xian ku hou tian' (work hard first before enjoying the rewards).

So, when I turn 62, I'm telling my boss I want to keep on working - until I'm 65 or 67. Until I can't work any more.

Never mind, give me a lighter job and less pay. I want a slower pace, but I want to keep my mind active and save more for retirement.

BONUS

No need to touch my CPF minimum sum yet. Got bonus from Government, too, for delaying draw-down age.

I'm 90 per cent sure my boss will re-hire me. In five years, there will be a re-employment law.

The Manpower Ministry, Tripartite committee and the unions are already working hard to educate employers.

But I can't rely on the law alone. What's more important is that I stay healthy and productive, so my boss knows I'm worth keeping.

From next year, I also enjoy higher CPF interest - an extra 1 per cent on the first $60,000 in my CPF accounts, and 4 per cent on my Special, Medisave and Retirement accounts.

Some people ask: 'Why the Government so kiam (stingy)?'

But it will be paying $700 million more in interest each year under the new system.

Trust me, if I, the Kiam Siap King, say the Government is generous enough, you can take my word for it.

Some want higher interest rates, but higher returns come with higher risks.

My philosophy has always been: Better safe than sorry.

And better to have more money in case I live longer. That's why I'll buy an annuity when I turn 55.

Some things I can't be too kiam about.

I know I may not live until 85 to enjoy the payouts, which will last me until I die. But what if?

Maybe once upon a time, we could depend on our CPF savings to last us for life. But now that people are living longer, we need more than just CPF.

So the annuity is a good back-up.

But some ask: 'Why can't the Government support me after my CPF savings run out? Why not fund a national pension from our reserves?'

BURDEN

I don't want to live in a welfare state. It's also a burden on the already-shrinking younger population - and that includes my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I may be kiam, but I don't want to ask the Government for money. I still believe in self-reliance.

But the Government must help the poor who can't cope even with the new system.

Some grumble about the CPF system. Yes, it needs to be strengthened, but it has helped a lot of Singaporeans.

If not for CPF, I would not have a roof over my head. Even many poor people own homes.

Under the new system, a projected 84 per cent of new workers will meet their minimum-sum requirement, even for low-wage workers and even after they buy their first home.

Only one-third of CPF members who turned 62 last year managed that when they turned 55 in 1999.

With the new system, I'm not afraid to live longer in Singapore any more.

Belanja King can enjoy himself and belanja all he wants now.

I just hope when he runs out of money, he won't borrow from me.

(They don't call me kiam siap for nothing!)

* Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen's reply to concerns raised by MPs during the CPF debate were weaved in to this article.

Annuities : Trust This Sotong (blur) Queen With Her Own Money

Source : The New Paper, September 21, 2007

I AM already a sotong queen, what more at 85?

A sotong that would have long lost all suction and ink!

My father died at 64, my mother, 71. He had his wits about him till the very end, but she went hand-in-hand with Alzheimer's.

So if you don't mind, don't tell me how many more blur years I have (to prepare for) ahead of me. My business, okay.

And I am going to make it a business, all my marbles about me being equal.

So roll up, roll up, my soon-to-be fellow annuitants, and gimme your $300.

Don't worry, I move like a slow loris anyway, so I won't be running away - we'll be lucky to be crawling at 85 - with your pocket money.

Isn't life a crock? Just when you thought you were in sight of the crock(pot) of gold at one end of the rainbow (working life) it turns out crocks (old, decrepit persons) are not to be trusted - with their own money.

All right, we are an ageing population, and you do care that we don't run out of gas when the winter of our discontent sets in. But at least can give us a choice in how we want to tank up?

That's why I'm encouraging those on $10-a-day when you hit the 80s to join forces.

In fact, I see us buying a double-decker bus suitably outfitted for the elderly, and on our combined resources, live in it, free to roam where we want.

Yes, but how do we shower on board the bus?

You know what, I have always wanted to end up a dirty old woman...

CPF Debate : I Enjoy When It's Time To Enjoy

Source : The New Paper, September 21, 2007

Why can't we leave it up to individuals to decide how to use their CPF money? In Parliament yesterday, Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen said it's because it's human nature to spend. Splurge or save? It's an internal battle starring...

I'VE been waiting for this day for a long, long time.

Today is my 62nd birthday. Today is the day I finally get my hands on my CPF.

What will I do? Save it? Crazy.

I've been saving for an entire lifetime already and you want me to save some more?

Tonight, I want to buy my kopitiam kakis (coffee shop buddies) as many rounds of beer as they want, maybe upgrade to pub, and enjoy air-con. I have a little kindness to repay.

I also want to buy some baby clothes. I'm becoming a granddad for the first time soon.

NO FLINGS

No Batam mistress for me, unlike some 'chee ko peks' (dirty old men) I know.

I've promised my wife to take her out for a nice, romantic dinner. Maybe even a short trip.

No rice and gravy for lunch, or working two jobs any more. My kids are now grown up. To quote a cliche, there was a time, I thought we wouldn't make it...

I'm going to retire. Take care of my songbirds. Do some taiji. Enjoy, finally.

Am I silly? Am I being short-sighted?

This is my motto: When it's time to work, work. When it's time to enjoy, enjoy.

As people like to say, 'hua hee tio ho' - as long as you're happy.

Yes, yes - we all have to save for rainy days.

But I've eaten more salt in my lifetime than you have eaten rice. I think I know how to get through a rainy day better than you do.

DYING YOUNG

Plus, if healthy young people running in marathons are dying suddenly, I figure I don't stand much of a chance at longevity.

I can't remember the last time I exercised. So I'll probably die of a heart attack at 70 - just nice, if you ask me.

I want to finish this life on a high note. Not be remembered as a miser.

One MP said in Parliament that 'got money no life' is better than 'got life no money'.

How can? Yes, money is important. But more important than life?

Is this the world my grandchildren will grow up in?

I've always told my children when they were little: Money isn't everything. Family and friends are more important.

That's why I want to leave my CPF money to them when I go, not in some annuity, even though I'm told it makes sense.

That's why I don't worry about outliving my CPF. I know my children will be there for me.

All my life, I've never depended on the Government, never on charity. Always on my own two hands.

Will I go begging for help when I'm old and helpless? Over my dead body.

I don't know why people can't think the same way. All we do nowadays is plan, plan, plan - for others, for emergencies, for a tomorrow we can't see.

Plan so much today, 'langgar' (get in an accident) and die tomorrow - how? Who 'rugi' (loses out)?

People talk about the 5Cs. Everyone talks about something called 'on-block' (en bloc).

I don't even have a credit card after all these years. For me, the only 'C' I was waiting for was the CPF.

It's the day when, after a lifetime of buying 4-D, I know I can sure-sure 'tiok beh pioh' (strike lottery).

That was my Singapore Dream.

The Government means well, I know. But I'm a 62-year-old soon-to-be-granddad.

I figure I know how to take care of myself.

* MPs' concerns over the three days of debate were weaved in to this article.

Golf Clubs Given Okay To Build Hotel On Premise

Source : The Straits Times, Fri, Sep 21, 2007

WAKING up to the tranquil surroundings of a golf course, heading for an 18-hole round right at your doorstep, and cooling off with a refreshing swim straight after.

All this will become reality for Singaporeans and tourists by 2010 - thanks to the persistence of former Member of Parliament Dr Tan Cheng Bock.

At least two golf and country clubs - Jurong Country Club (JCC) and Laguna National Golf & Country Club - have received regulatory approval to build hotels on their premises.

JCC are keen to build a 300-room hotel, while Laguna is looking at a 200-room facility.

"I hope the hotel will set the tone for Jurong's redevelopment in the years to come, and the neighbourhood won't be viewed as a sleepy hollow any longer," said Dr Tan.

The clubs' 2010 target opening dates will also leave them well-placed to cash in on the tourism boom that the Integrated Resorts are expected to herald.

One more country club - The Legends Fort Canning Park - is understood to be giving the idea serious thought

The slew of developments comes two months after the Urban Redevelopment Authority relaxed guidelines to allow hotels in golf clubs.

Previously, only chalets and guesthouses were allowed.

Read the full story in Saturday's edition of The Straits Times.

S'pore-Listed Reits Could Hit 30 Next Year: CBRE

Source : The Business Times, September 21, 2007

Asian Reits' market cap doubles in six months to over US$80b at end-June

Robust: Singapore's 16 listed Reits at end-June accounted for US$19.2 billion in market cap, including Ascendas Reit which leased out this Infineon building

THE number of Singapore-listed property trusts could reach 30 next year if market conditions remain favourable, says CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) in a report.

But competition in the Asian real estate investment trust or Reit market is likely to intensify as more cross-border Reits are listed here and in Hong Kong, says CBRE.

The new listings will probably include Reits focused on serviced apartments, healthcare facilities and hotels, it says.

Related Link - http://tinyurl.com/22fwkn
CB Richard Ellis' press release


The market capitalisation of listed Reits in Asia grew to more than US$80 billion at end-June, about double the value at the end of 2005, according to CBRE.

Singapore's 16 listed Reits accounted for US$19.2 billion of this, based on their combined market cap at end-June.

Since then, another two Reits have listed here - Ascendas India Trust, which owns technology business parks in India; and Parkway Life Reit, which holds three hospitals here. Both were listed last month.

Buoyant market conditions and 11 new Reit listings in Asia during the first half - including Macarthurcook Industrial Reit here in April - were behind the surge in total market cap.

In Singapore, 11 Reits saw their share price rise more than 10 per cent in the first half. CapitaRetail China Trust, which listed here last December, saw its price rocket 50 per cent in the six months to end-June.

Since mid-July, however, Reit share prices here and elsewhere in Asia have fallen considerably from their first-half peaks, amid turmoil in the broader financial markets.

Japan is still by far the largest market for listed Reits in Asia. Its 41 Reits accounted for US$49.1 billion of the total market cap of listed Reits in Asia at end-June.

CBRE's report also says established Reit markets will face increasing competition from newcomers.

Danny Mohr, CBRE's executive director for Asian Reits, says: 'While Singapore and Hong Kong are striving to be regional Reit centres, the Thailand and Malaysia Reit markets saw significant growth through the listing of domestic Reits.'

Despite the recent troubles in the financial markets, CBRE says, 'there has been no sign of a slowdown in portfolio building via acquisitions by major Reit sponsors, who are taking a long-term view in developing Reits in the region'.

In Singapore, 'the outlook for the S-Reit market remains positive', it says. 'If market conditions remain favourable, the number of listed S-Reits could reach 30 by the end of 2008.'

Bernanke offers markets fresh assurances

Source : The Business Times, September 21, 2007

Congress told Fed will act against bad lending practices

(WASHINGTON) Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress yesterday that the credit crisis has created 'significant market stress' and offered fresh assurances that regulators would take steps to curb fallout related to the mortgage mess.

Mr Bernanke made the statement in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. He spoke at the hearing with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, as lawmakers review efforts to keep people in their homes and curtail abusive lending practices. The Fed chief repeated language from the central bank's statement that policy makers are committed to safeguard the economy from recession.

The hearing came just two days after the Federal Reserve sliced a key interest rate by a bold half-percentage point to prevent the weight of housing and credit problems from sinking the economy. It was the first time in more than four years that the Fed has cut this rate.

'Global financial losses have far exceeded even the most pessimistic estimates of the credit losses on these loans,' the Fed chairman said. The situation, he acknowledged, 'has created significant market stress'. The meltdown in the housing and mortgage markets has shaken Wall Street and small investors alike.

Mr Bernanke promised lawmakers that the Fed will take steps to crack down on abusive or bad lending practices.

'The Federal Reserve takes responsible lending and consumer protection very seriously. Along with other federal and state agencies, we are responding to the sub-prime problems on a number of fronts,' he said. 'We are committed to preventing problems from recurring, while still preserving responsible sub-prime lending.' The Fed has already taken a number of steps and other proposals are being considered.

In his prepared testimony, Mr Bernanke did not offer new clues about the Fed's next move on interest rates.

The Fed chief, repeating the rationale offered on Tuesday for cutting rates, acknowledged that the financial turmoil stemming from the troubled housing and credit markets have 'increased the uncertainty to the outlook'. That was the same language he and his Fed colleagues used on Tuesday.

Some economists believe the Fed will probably reduce rates again at its next meeting in late October.

Housing markets are now in the worst recession since 1991. Home building slowed to a 1.331 million annual rate in August, a 12-year low. Residential investment subtracted 0.6 per cent from gross domestic product in the second quarter on an annual rate.

Foreclosures are at record highs and late payments are spiking.

Mr Bernanke said that the market for sub-prime loans has 'adjusted sharply', with investors now demanding tougher lending standards and some lenders ending use of mortgage brokers, who are not overseen by federal regulators. That makes a repeat of the sub-prime crisis unlikely, the chairman said.

'Markets do tend to self-correct,' Mr Bernanke said. 'The reassessment and resulting increase in the attention to loan quality should help prevent a recurrence of the recent sub-prime problems.'

Sub-prime-mortgage borrowers facing foreclosure may lose their homes at a rate above 50 per cent, higher than the historical average, Mr Bernanke said.

'That ratio may turn out to be higher in coming quarters because the proportion of sub-prime borrowers, who have weaker financial conditions than prime borrowers, is higher,' the chairman said. -- AP, Bloomberg

Fed Sees More Mortgage Woes

Source : The Business Times, September 21, 2007

Mr Bernanke said the Fed was committed to preventing new lending problems and had cut rates to cushion the economy amid current market turbulence

NEW YORK/LONDON - A second wave of investment bank earnings reports hit Wall Street on Thursday, revealing dramatically different degrees of success weathering turmoil triggered by the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.

Meanwhile, Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke testified to Congress that the central bank cut interest rates this week to brace the US economy against market turmoil, but he warned there could be more defaults on US mortgages to come.

Bear Stearns Cos, one of the Wall Street firms hit hardest by exposure to risky mortgages, reported a huge hit to earnings on bad bets on the loans, but said the worst was over.

The bank said its quarterly profit plunged 61 per cent to its lowest level in five years, hurt by challenges to fixed-income trading as well as by the sub-prime mortgage market.

Goldman Sachs, on the other hand, said betting against mortgage bonds helped it report its second-highest revenue ever in the third quarter.

Bernanke
Mr Bernanke, discussing the high-risk sub-prime mortgage debt, said the Fed was committed to preventing new lending problems and had cut rates to cushion the economy amid current market turbulence.

'With house prices still soft and many borrowers ... still facing their first interest rate resets, delinquencies and foreclosure initiations in (sub-prime) mortgages are likely to rise further,' he told a Congressional committee.

Mr Bernanke also told the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee he was open to letting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy home loans being shunned by private investors provided they submit to tougher oversight.

He was echoed by US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who told the committee he could support letting the two government-sponsored enterprises invest temporarily in home loans that are above their current US$417,000 limit as part of a broader regulatory overhaul.

Investors were able to take comfort on Thursday from signs that credit was starting to flow again, at least for high-quality borrowers.

Federal Reserve data on Thursday showed the US market in commercial paper, widely used by businesses to raise short-term funds, shrank for a sixth straight week.

But market participants said there have been signs of improvement, with more investors willing to buy paper with maturities beyond 24 hours.

Investors showed more enthusiasm for US corporate debt on Thursday but borrowers are still having to offer hefty interest rates to get financing done.

BOE defends its actions
Bank of England Governor Mervyn King defended the bank's decision not to pour billions into money markets when banks became reluctant to lend. Central banks should not save investors from bad decisions, he said.

'Taking the easy option, giving in in the short run without looking to the long-run consequences of those actions is damaging,' he told parliament's Treasury committee.

However, the UK central bank has already changed tack to offer the market more funds, including longer-term loans, after public confidence was hit when customers rushed to withdraw their savings from troubled lender Northern Rock.

The central bank's moves helped to bring the London interbank rate for overnight lending down to 5.82375 per cent on Thursday, closer to the BoE's 5.75 per cent benchmark rate, while the three-month sterling rate was fixed at its lowest in over a month. -- REUTERS

IMF's de Rato Sees Turbulent Global Economic Growth

Source : The Business Times, September 21, 2007

In comments to economic leaders in Lima, Peru, Mr de Rato said China and India will grow above average but the turbulence will be felt in some Latin American countries in the fourth quarter and cut economic expansion by up to 0.5 per cent through 2008

LIMA - The global economy is in 'times of great uncertainty' because of turbulent credit markets that will cut economic growth rates in 2008, IMF chief Rodrigo de Rato said on Thursday.

In comments to economic leaders in Lima, Peru, Mr de Rato said China and India will grow above average but the turbulence will be felt in some Latin American countries in the fourth quarter and cut economic expansion by up to 0.5 per cent through 2008.

Mr de Rato's speech was prepared for a closed-door session to policy makers from several countries at an event of Cepal, the United Nation's economic unit for Latin America and the Caribbean.

'We are living today in times of great uncertainty,' he said. 'We know that turbulent credit markets will affect global growth, mainly in 2008, when they will fully impact (economic) indicators.' -- REUTERS

Stiffer Rules To Improve Worksites, Buildings To Go Green

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 21, 2007

The Government is raising the bar on construction quality and safety standards following the Nicoll Highway tragedy in 2004.

The new laws introduced to the Building Control Bill will provide for stiffer penalties and tougher inspections.

Changes to the bill will also require building developers to go green - new buildings and existing ones undergoing major retrofitting will be mandated by law to meet minimum environmental sustainability standards.

Related Video Link - http://tinyurl.com/2ccstb
Stiffer Rules To Improve Worksites, Buildings To Go Green

The Sum Total Of Ageing

Source : The Straits Times, Fri, Sep 21, 2007

Tan Kin Lian, For The Straits Times

THE Government has announced its plan to introduce an annuity scheme - dubbed longevity insurance - in five years' time.

On reaching age 55, a Central Provident Fund member will be required to use a part of the Minimum Sum to buy a longevity annuity that will pay him $300 a month after he reaches 85.

Many people think their chances of reaching 85 are slim. But they are mistaken. I estimate more than 50 per cent of the population will live to age 85 and beyond.

You do not believe me?

The Department of Statistics' publication Population Trends has data for the death rates of each age group over a period of 25 years from 1980 to 2005. Death rates have been falling over this period by about 3 per cent yearly.

I did some projections based on that data, assuming the decline will continue. This is likely to be the case, at least for the next 10 to 20 years. It has been falling at this rate for the past 25 years. Why should it stop now?

Based on my projections, a male at age 55 today has a 57 per cent chance of surviving to age 85, and 32 per cent chance of hitting 95. The probability for a female is higher, at 70 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively.

If you still do not believe me, remember I am referring to people who are 55 years and less today. This group will have a longer life expectancy compared to that of the older people living today.

What will be the cost of the longevity annuity?

I assume the annuity provider (i.e. the CPF Board or an insurance company) is able to earn an investment yield of 4 per cent and there is no loading to cover operating expenses or profit margin.

I calculated the cost of the annuity to be $6,818 for a male and $8,759 for a female. This is to be paid at age 55, for a monthly payout of $300, from the age of 85 onwards till death.

The cost to females is higher, as they have a longer life expectancy and thus likely to receive the monthly payouts for more years than males.

If the annuitant lives for 10 years, from 85 to 95, the total payout will be $36,000 (i.e $300 x 12 x 10 years) - several times the original sum paid to buy the annuity.

The annuity can pay out much more for these reasons:

* Some annuitants will not live to age 85. Their money will be used to pay out to the annuitants who live longer.

* The provider is able to invest the money for the next 30 years.
Many people dislike the idea of losing their money, in case they do not live to 85.

It is possible to design a 'full refund' annuity that will return the original sum on the death of the annuitant. But the cost will be higher. My estimate is $9,824 for a male and $11,594 for a female.

Under this annuity, a male pays $9,824 at age 55. On the death of the annuitant, whether before or after age 85, the original sum of $9,824 will be refunded, without any interest. If the annuitant dies at 95, he would have received $300 a month for 10 years and his estate would still get the refund of $9,824.

Compared with the 'no refund' annuity, the cost of this 'full refund' annuity is 44 per cent more for a male and 32 per cent more for a female.

Another criticism pertains to the monthly payout of $300. This, it is argued, is not only inadequate, but will also be further eroded by inflation: $300 a month in 30 years' time will be worth much less than $300 today.

This criticism can be addressed by designing an 'increasing payout' annuity. The payout will be revised upwards by 2 per cent yearly to cover inflation. In 30 years' time, the payout will be $543 a month, instead of $300 (i.e. $300 increased by 2 per cent yearly for 30 years). The payout will continue to rise by 2 per cent each year.

To be sure, a 2 per cent rise yearly may not match actual inflation over the years. But it does offer some protection, against a 'flat' annuity.

What is the cost of an 'increasing payout' annuity that also provides a 'full refund' on death?

I estimate it to be $15,137 for a male and $19,548 for a female. Obviously it can get quite costly, if you wish to have a full refund and also a monthly payout that keeps up with inflation.

What do I recommend?

Go for the 'increasing payout, no refund' annuity if you are in fairly good health and unaware of any serious medical problem. Stay healthy and live a long life. Enjoy your golden years to 95 or longer.

If you are in poor health, you can buy the 'increasing payout, full refund' annuity.

What should the Government do?

Encourage people to buy a life annuity that pays from age 65 - yes, age 65, not 85 - and for a lifetime. The life annuity will give them a steady income payable for a lifetime.

Then they do not have to worry about managing their retirement account for 20 years and be subject to a fluctuating interest rate that is pegged to the yield on Government bonds. They will also not suffer a drop in their income when they reach 85.

If the life annuity scheme is administered by the CPF and the annuity payout is calculated using an interest rate of 4 per cent, the payout can be quite attractive. These life annuitants should then be exempted from the longevity insurance scheme.

The writer is a qualified actuary and was CEO of NTUC Income for 30 years until his retirement in February. His blog is at www.tankinlian.blogspot.com.

The above calculations are for educational purposes and do not reflect commercial terms that may be offered by any specific annuity provider.

Fund Annuity With Interest From Extra Payout

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 21, 2007

I READ with concern about Singaporeans' unhappiness over the proposed compulsory annuity to guard against the elderly running out of money after they have spent their Minimum Sum.

I have a simple solution for this complex problem and that is to create a compulsory longevity-insurance scheme to be paid from the interest gained on the additional one-point CPF interest to be paid by the Government for the first $60,000 in the CPF account.

Certainly, the aim of self-reliance is not compromised as the money belongs to the CPF account-holders although contributed by the Government. At the same time, not many people will mind having this additional gain taken away to insure them against a long, penniless life later on.

And for fairness, the amount a person can draw from the longevity insurance should depend on the amount of premium that is contributed by the CPF account-holder.

If this amount is found to be insufficient, it could be topped up. One proposal is to increase the employer's CPF contribution by one point to be put into the longevity insurance account to make up for the shortfall. Now is the right time to do so as the economy is in good shape.

Lim Yao Ho

Later Retirement Should Not Dilute Filial Piety

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 21, 2007

THE debate on CPF changes has brought about a mood of gloom and despondency among older folk.

After all the hard work putting their children through school, feeding and supporting them, struggling to make ends meet, now they are told to continue working hard because they might not be able to depend on anybody else but themselves for support.

Instead of focusing on the elderly being the problem, more should be done to instil filial piety in the young.

They must not be given the impression that they can now shirk the responsibility of supporting their elderly parents since the Government has encouraged people to work longer.

The young are enjoying a better quality of life today because of the sacrifices made by their parents. It is difficult to understand how they can enjoy luxuries such as mobile phones, the Internet, cable TV and cars, but when it comes to supporting their parents, they just don't have enough.

As long as the young demand such a high standard of living, the high cost of living will continue to rise and they will never have enough to support themselves, what more their parents.

They should try to live within their means so that they can fulfil their obligation to take care of the people who had taken care of them.

It pains me to see old people having to continue toiling and fending for themselves despite rattling bones and disintegrating body parts, at a time when they should be enjoying the fruits of their labour.

Please spare a thought for the elderly and let them live their life to the fullest.

Ahmad Salik Ahmad Ishak

------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DUTY TO PARENTS

More should be done to instil filial piety. The young must not think that they can now shirk their responsibility to their elderly parents.

CPF Interest Rates And Longer Employment : Are Floating Rates Better Than Fixed Interest Rate?

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 21, 2007

SINCE the Prime Minister's National Day Rally speech, the message I have been getting is that 'the Government wants to adjust the status quo to assist citizens, CPF members to deal with old-age employment and health issues'.

Thus, I am not comfortable about the announced 'one extra percentage point policy' with respect to the Special, Medisave and Retirement Accounts (SMRA) which, after two years, will be floated at 10-year Singapore Government Securities (SGS) rates.

As stated in the article, 'How higher interest rates will benefit members' (ST, Sept 18), the SGS was launched only in 1998 which, to me, seems like making a decision based on one data point.

That does not give me the confidence that I will not be worse off compared to the current fixed-interest-rate policy.

While government bonds are much more stable and secure compared to equities, they are still a financial tool and, as often quoted in fine print, 'Past performance and any forecast are not necessarily indicative of the future or likely performance'.

Is there any guarantee that the rosy picture painted of a $17,900 gain in 20 years will come true?

How do we ensure that government policies that can affect SGS do not cause CPF members to feel like they are making Hobson's choice?

Loh Hwui Theng (Ms)

Fed Acted In Face Of 'Market Stress'

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 21, 2007

Recent cuts in the US central bank rates were due to the larger than expected losses in the subprime mortgages market. Homeowners in the US receiving foreclosure notices (above) has also hit a record high this spring. -- PHOTO: AP

WASHINGTON - FED chairman Ben Bernanke said on Thursday the US central bank cut rates and added liquidity to the financial system amid 'significant market stress' and unexpectedly large losses in the housing sector.

Mr Bernanke said the economy and markets reacted to losses in the area of subprime mortgages that 'have far exceeded even the most pessimistic estimates'.

Appearing in the House of Representatives's Committee on Financial Services, Mr Bernanke said the worst of the mortgage maelstrom is not yet over, as more homeowners face difficulties making payments on adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) that are being reset with higher interest rates.

'With house prices still soft and many borrowers of recent-vintage subprime ARMs still facing their first interest-rate resets, delinquencies and foreclosure initiations in this class of mortgages are likely to rise further,' he said.

Mr Bernanke said about 15 per cent of ARMs to subprime lenders with weak credit were in delinquency or foreclosure in July, and that about 320,000 foreclosures were initiated in each of the first two quarters of the year, up from a previous average of 225,000.

'It is difficult to be precise about the number of foreclosure initiations,' he said.

Mr Bernanke spoke two days after the Fed cut its base federal funds rate by half a point to 4.75 per cent 'to help forestall some of the adverse effects on the broader economy that might arise from the disruptions in financial markets'.

The Fed also cut its discount rate for direct loans from the central bank by 50 basis points, after reducing that rate by the same amount in Aug in an effort to ease access to credit for lenders amid tighter conditions.

Mr Bernanke said that the wide losses prompted a retrenchment by lenders, affecting the broader financial system.

'In this episode, the shift in risk attitudes combined with greater credit risk and uncertainty about how to value those risks has created significant market stress,' he said.

'On the positive side of the ledger, past efforts to strengthen capital positions and financial market infrastructure places the global financial system in a relatively strong position to work through this process.'

He added however that the Fed remains concerned about inflation despite its move.

'We will continue to pay very close attention to the inflation rate. I agree with you that an economy cannot grow in a healthy, stable way when inflation is out of control, and we will certainly make sure that that doesn't happen.' -- AFP

Debt Crisis Could Hurt Private Banking Industry: Top Exec

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 21, 2007

FALLOUT: If the credit crunch fallout worsens, wealthy clients might decide to play it safe with their investments, says Mr Gerber of LGT Bank.

A TOP private banker based in Singapore has warned that the global debt market mess could spill over and hurt private banking, perhaps as early as in the middle of next year.

The chief executive of LGT Bank in Liechtenstein (Singapore), Mr Rolf Gerber, said that if the credit crunch fallout worsens, wealthy clients of private banks might decide to play it safe with their investments.

The bank is a relatively small player and caters to a niche market.

'Relationship managers, you always need, regardless of how the market is. But then you have investment professionals who specialise in certain areas for the private banks, whom you might have slightly less demand for, as clients become slightly more cautious in their approach,' Mr Gerber told The Straits Times yesterday.

Still, he remains optimistic about the long-term health of the wealth industry and is sticking to an 'aggressive' hiring strategy of doubling the bank's number of relationship managers based in Asia to about 200 by 2010.

LGT Bank's approach to tackling the markets of Asia is not new, as it started with an Asian presence in 1986 with a representative office in Hong Kong, and has since expanded to make Singapore its Asian booking centre - because of the attractive tax regime in the Republic.

Tiny Liechtenstein, bordered by Switzerland to its west and by Austria to its east, has a population of slightly more than 34,000.

The boutique bank owned by the royal family of Liechtenstein plans to expand further in the region, and will make countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and India a focal point of its strategy.

Clients of LGT Bank typically need to have about US$1 million (S$1.51 million) in investible assets. But clients in Singapore on the average have about US$7 million in investible assets.

Mr Gerber said the objective was for the bank to raise the percentage of Asian assets it manages as a proportion of its total holdings to 20 per cent by 2010 from 12 per cent now.

LGT Bank's global assets under management amount to 96 billion Swiss francs (S$122.4 billion) currently.

'You can't really compare us to UBS or HSBC. I don't claim to be able to do everything, so I specialise,' said Mr Gerber, the former head of UBS' Singapore branch.

LGT differentiates itself from the big names in the private banking industry by playing on its strengths in tax advice, succession planning and estate planning, that is, services that stem from its expertise as a 'family office', he said.

'We started off as a family office to the princely family, and we've then ventured out into other things,' he added.

Longevity Insurance Scheme Should Be Flexible: Eng Hen

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 21, 2007

Committee that will design the scheme tasked with giving Singaporeans a range of options

THE new committee designing the longevity insurance scheme has been asked to come up with a flexible framework that offers Singaporeans a range of options.
For instance, Central Provident Fund (CPF) members in their 60s do not have to take up the insurance, but some may want to opt in to receive lifelong payouts.

Others in their 40s may also want to take it up before they hit 55 - the age when they must buy the annuity - as premiums will be cheaper.

Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday that he wants the 18-member committee to consider such opt-ins when recommending the design of the insurance plan to the Government, and to offer simple choices.

'They cannot be too complicated because then everybody will be confused,' he said after a function at a new health training centre.

'But they must be basic, affordable and flexible because different Singaporeans have different needs.'

Related Video Link - http://tinyurl.com/25vmcm
MOM: Let's offer choice, flexibility & affordability in annuity scheme

Simple choices and flexibility will be key in the smooth implementation of the CPF compulsory annuity scheme.

Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen elaborated on the proposed longevity insurance at a healthcare event today.

He said the Government will consider offering excluded Singaporeans the choice to opt into the scheme, and for those who are automatically covered, to buy into the scheme earlier.


The committee's terms of reference were spelt out later in a ministry statement:

* The scheme must be one which ensures CPF members make adequate financial provision in case they live longer than expected.

* It should give basic and affordable protection for a long life, and flexibility for members to choose from a range of plans to meet their needs.

* It should apply to members aged 50 and below now, but allow others to opt in.

* It should leverage on the CPF system to keep basic premiums affordable - by using a small part of their Retirement Account to buy the insurance when they are 55.

* The committee should consult widely and have channels to get input from Singaporeans. It should engage and consult industry experts to determine fair and cost-effective ways to provide protection.
Its report is expected to be ready within six months.

The ministry also named members of the committee, which will be chaired by Professor Lim Pin, who also leads the National Wages Council. They include representatives from unions, grassroots groups, academia, government, and the private sector.

Dr Ng said he wanted a fairly large committee to represent different views.

For instance, National University of Singapore professor Chia Ngee Choon, 47, has studied the economics of ageing - including how much more women will need to finance their retirement as they tend to live longer than men.

Another member, Mr Johari Mohamed Rais, 60, wants to listen to views from the ground, including reservations and apprehensions that people have about the scheme.

Said the vice-chairman of the Punggol Community Club management committee:

'Some feel it's good because this will make them prepare for old age, but others feel that after working so hard, they may need the money for other things.'

The opt-in idea appeals to technician Loo Say Tuang, 54: 'I've planned for myself up to age 95. But anything can happen and maybe I'll need to use up the money first for medical expenses.'

Ms Noraini Haron, 44, who is training to be a health care assistant, is keen to opt in earlier if she can afford it.

'If I have to sign up later, I might as well do so earlier when it's cheaper.'

All New Buildings To Go Green From Next Year

Sep 21, 2007

IN A major push to make developers go green, the Government will require all new buildings to meet minimum environmental standards from next year.

Developers will be required to be more efficient in using water and energy than under current industry practice.

The Building Control (Amendment) Bill was passed in Parliament yesterday to give the Minister of National Development the power to impose the rules.

This latest change is perhaps the most significant extension of regulations so far to make buildings environmentally friendly.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) estimates the requirements would raise construction costs by just about 1 per cent.

But experts say the final figure would be even less - negligible in fact - if green features were factored into a building's design from the start.

These could take the form of more efficient air-conditioning and lighting systems, water fittings or better insulation. More details of the rules will be released later.

Going green was optional for developers in the past. In December last year, the Government launched a $20 million incentive fund which private developers could use to make their buildings more environmentally sustainable.

In April, the Government required all new public buildings to meet green standards as set out by the BCA.

Under its two-year-old Green Mark certification programme, buildings are rated on how efficient they are in the use of water and energy, and their effect on their users' health and the environment.

So far, 66 out of about 120,000 buildings in Singapore have received the Green Mark certificate, while another 25 are in the pipeline for this stamp of approval.

The BCA estimates that getting this minimum Green Mark standard would eventually shave 10 to 15 per cent off a building owner's utilities bill.

Major developer City Developments, which has Green Mark certifications for 16 of its buildings, said the Government's previous green initiatives had made the impending requirements easier to accept.

General manager for its projects division Eddie Wong told The Straits Times: 'We believe that with early and efficient planning, green buildings can be both environmentally sustainable and financially successful.'

Meanwhile, another part of the Bill passed yesterday requires building owners to maintain facilities for the disabled. They will not be allowed to change, remove or block any features designed especially for these users. This would mean, for example, that they risk being penalised if they lock up a toilet built for the disabled.

TAN HUI YEE

Laws Amended To Enhance Safety, Professionalism In Construction

Source : Channel NewsAsia, Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Building Control Amendment Bill was passed in Parliament on Thursday. Laws will be amended to enhance the professionalism, quality and safety standards in the construction industry.

There will be more stringent checks, licensing of builders and heavier penalties on those who flout the rules.

The collapse of Nicole Highway in 2004 prompted a review of the construction process

After a two-year consultation with key stakeholders, more rigorous measures will be introduced to set things right.

Besides averting potential damage to properties and loss of lives, the new measures will upkeep the professionalism of the construction sector. This is important as demand is projected to reach between S$19 billion and S$22 billion this year.

One key amendment is to tighten checks related to underground building and tunnelling works.

Related Video Link - http://tinyurl.com/2swgmz
Laws amended to enhance safety, professionalism in construction


In particular, temporary earth-retaining structures will be treated as permanent works, and they have to be designed by a registered professional engineer and reviewed by an accredited checker.

Temporary earth-retaining structures help support the earth while permanent structures are being constructed onsite.

In addition, for deeper excavation works and foundations for high-rise buildings that have 30 floors or more, specialists in geotechical engineering will have to assess the soil conditions.

Currently, these practices are only done on a voluntary basis.

A new licensing scheme will also be introduced for general builders and for specialist builders who carry out works like piling and site investigation. The licence will be valid for three years and is renewable.

To qualify, the firms must be financially sound, have good safety records and qualified key personnel to supervise projects.

A six-month grace period will be granted for builders to apply for a licence after the Bill comes into force.

The Minister of State for National Development, Grace Fu, said: “The Bill also sets out the circumstances under which the Commissioner of Building Control can revoke a builder’s licence. Nonetheless, the Commissioner must give the builder an opportunity to be heard before revoking the licence.

“The Bill will also allow the Commissioner to consider less severe actions such as a suspension or a fine, in place of revocation. In addition, there will be a provision for appeal to the minister.”

The penalties for offences under the Building Control Act will be aligned with those under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

There will also be stronger enforcement. Ms Fu said: “It makes clear that where it is an offence if any act or thing is not done by a particular time, the obligation to do so will continue, even after the stipulated time has passed.

“In this regard, the person shall be guilty of a separate offence for each day that he continues to refuse or fail to do that act or thing after the stipulated time.”
Separately, building owners and tenants will be required to ensure barrier-free facilities are not altered, removed or blocked.

In a push to have more green buildings, provision will also be made to set regulations on minimum standards of environmental sustainability, and this will apply to all new buildings and existing buildings that are undergoing major retrofitting works.

According to the Building and Construction Authority, over 66 buildings have been certified under its Green Mark Award scheme for being environmentally friendly and efficient, and another 25 buildings are ready to be certified.

The amendments are set to come into force next January and will apply to all new projects. - CNA/ac

Industry Players Support Move To Strengthen Building Control Rules

Source : Channel NewsAsia, Thursday, September 20, 2007

Construction industry players have expressed support for the government’s move to strengthen the building control regulatory framework, but they hope it will not stifle the buoyancy of the construction sector which has picked up in recent years.

While the licensing scheme will weed out fly-by-night companies and raise standards in the construction sector, contractors said the stringent criteria might make it difficult for smaller firms.

They are also concerned about the possible grounds for disciplinary action, which they hope will be more clearly defined.

Desmond Hill, president of Singapore Contractors Association, said: “The issue of revocation of licence or suspension should be more clearly defined and it should not be too wide and all-embracing that for anything and everything, you can be suspended. And I would like the connections to MOM’s (Ministry of Manpower’s) debarment scheme to be de-linked.”

“To me suspension of licence is a serious threat to the company’s operations because it means basically it can’t operate, it can’t construct. When it can’t construct, it can’t bid for jobs,” he added.

Engineers also backed the review on construction practices, and welcomed the involvement of geotechnical experts in the process.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said there are some 55 geotechnical engineers in Singapore, which should be enough to meet local demand.

Industry players said the changes will have an impact on construction cost and duration, even though the increase may be marginal.

However, one of their major concerns is the stiffer punishment that will be meted out for non-compliance.

The BCA said the penalties, which include fines and jail terms, will be doubled under the new legislation.

Chong Kee San, honorary secretary of Singapore’s Institution of Engineers, said: “Additional measures like increasing fines and jail term would not serve its purpose, because this would only deter talented individual from coming into the construction industry and making a career out of it.”

He added that the changes to the building regulations should be sufficient as most construction failures in Singapore arise out of mistakes in judgement rather than gross negligence. - CNA/ac

The Tangled Tales Of En Bloc Sales

Source : TODAY, Friday, September 21, 2007

MPs call for more measures to reduce acrimony, protect elderly as new law passed

ONE described it as a “tangled tale of greed, fear, love and betrayal”. Another likened it to a soap opera with a combustible mix of “squabbling neighbours, legal suits, money — and sometimes lots of it”.

Yesterday, as Parliament passed new laws to regulate en bloc sales which were threatening to get out of hand, Members of Parliament (MPs) expressed concerns over the social repercussion of such deals: How they were breaking up communities and wreaking havoc on the lives of not just Singaporeans but expatriates as well.

Observing that the en bloc trend “seems to bring out the worst in some people”, Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng said she knew of “at least one case where a middle-aged couple divorced as a result of the en bloc sale of their estate”.

Nominated MP Kalyani Mehta cited “heartbroken” older residents forced to cut ties to their homes. “Is it a case of economic gain but social destruction? Whole communities that have been built over decades are literally destroyed overnight,” she said.

The new laws were finalised after a month-long public consultation that threw up over 400 suggestions.

Among others things, the new regime allows a five-day cooling-off period during which an owner can change his mind after signing the collective sale agreement (CSA). The members of the sale committee must also be elected at a general meeting, not just convened freely.

While MPs applauded the legislation — aimed at injecting “transparency and order”, in the words of Law Minister S Jayakumar — the MPs urged the Government to put in place more measures to reduce the acrimony and give more protection to elderly owners living on their own.

Noting the greying population, Ang Mo Kio GRC’s Ellen Lee said: There will be many more elderly Singaporeans living alone without trusted or sound counsel at such critical time when the loss of their homes is imminent.”

While the new laws would require lawyers to explain the CSA terms to every resident, Ms Lee suggested the Government go further by requiring developers to offer a one-for-one exchange — a unit in the new development — to elderly owners.

This would allow such owners to “stay in the same locality … and minimise the trauma of uprooting”, Ms Lee added.

Recognising the many concerns, Prof Jayakumar took on board a handful of MPs’ suggestions while assuring the rest that their feedback could be incorporated in future.

For instance, Ms Kalyani noted, the impasse of blockbuster deals such as Horizon Towers and Gillman Heights has caught many families in a liquidity squeeze possibly running “into millions”.

Hong Kah GRC MP Alvin Yeo’s law firm is representing one of the consortium members which is suing the Horizon Towers majority owners for failing to make a proper sale application. Mr Yeo, a senior counsel, felt that for future en bloc sales, the duties and liabilities of the sale committee should be clearly spelt out.

“Does the committee act an agent, or is its role more akin to a board of directors? Do they owe fiduciary duties and can they be sued?” asked Mr Yeo. Even with the new laws, too much latitude is given to the sale committee, the property agents and the lawyers, he added.

Practices within the property industry must also be better policed, said NMP Siew Kum Hong. He noted that some property agents approach their “regular” surveyors who would blindly approve the methods of apportioning the proceeds, without an independent and critical evaluation.

The en bloc story has turned out to be a tangled tale of greed, fear, love and betrayal, with poignant twists and turns, as some people become rich and elated while others homeless and somewhat depressed. — Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng

Prof Jayakumar said the Law Ministry would look into this. It would also take up the MPs’ suggestions of coming up with a best practices guide and more standardised forms to “assist the practitioners”. This will be discussed with the Strata Titles Board and the Law Society, he added.

But he rejected Ms Kalyani’s suggestion — aimed at deterring fly-by-night investors — of imposing a minimum period of residence of two years before an owner can stand for election to a sale committee.

Doing so, Prof Jayakumar said, would “taint” the intention of anyone who wished to participate in an en bloc sale within two years of residence.

He added that the Government did consider making it mandatory for developers to offer a one-for-one exchange. But there were many practical constraints that could “complicate matters” and bring down the purchase price.

Nevertheless, Prof Jayakumar assured the House that the Law Ministry was not going to “close shop and forget about the en bloc process” after the laws come into effect.

Stressing that the review was an ongoing process, he said the ministry and the relevant agencies would “monitor very closely the operations of these new provisions”.

Said Prof Jayakumar: “It is my hope that they will eradicate, or if not, significantly minimise complaints of harassment, unfairness and lack of transparency. But if it’s necessary to make further amendments, then we have no hesitation to do so.”

Three Years On, New Safety Laws

Source : TODAY, Friday, September 21, 2007

Stiffer building rules, penalties doubled























THREE years after the Nicoll Highway collapse, laws to tighten safety standards at work sites have been approved by Parliament.

Many of the changes to the amended Building Control Act were based on recommendations by the Joint Review Committee on Construction Safety, set up in the aftermath of the April 2004 disaster.

The accident, which occurred during tunnelling work on the Circle Line MRT, killed four men. Calling it a “wake-up call for the industry”, Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu said yesterday: “The observation that the incident could have been avoided was most regretful.”

Key amendments included new regulations for temporary earth-retaining structures, the licensing of builders and the mandatory appointment of site supervision teams. Ms Fu said such measures are aimed at “(strengthening) the building control regulatory framework to uplift the professionalism, standards of safety and quality” in construction.

Temporary earth-retaining structures — the type that failed in the Nicoll Highway incident, noted Ms Fu — will be treated like permanent works, and specialist engineers must be roped in to design, construct and review them.

Specialist engineers will also be required for underground building works. These included all excavations deeper than 6m, tunnelling works of more than 2m in diameter, and prescribed foundation works for buildings taller than 30 storeys.

Penalties for contravening the Act were also doubled. For example, a person may now be jailed for two years and/or fined $200,000 for conducting construction work without a permit.

But Ms Lee Bee Wah, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, urged the Government to do the opposite and “abolish the jail term totally”.

Ms Lee, a qualified Professional Engineer, said many people have concerns about working in the construction industry.

“Enhancing jail terms will send a wrong and negative signal to those who may harbour any ambitions to be an engineer,” she argued.

Ms Fu said the authorities had to ensure the severity of offences and penalties were “consummate with one another”.

Hong Kong, California and New York have similar jail sentences for building safety offences.

Rather than dissuading people from joining the industry, she said such deterrent penalties would help “weed out the black sheep” and “increase the trust society has in the profession”.

The construction industry contributes to 4 per cent of Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product, and is expected to “expand strongly” with demand projected to reach up to $22 billion this year.

Ms Fu said the Building and Construction Authority would continue to work closely with stakeholders, adding: “The proposed amendments will not only enhance building and control safety, but also develop the industry to greater heights.”

Peace On The Horizon?

Source : TODAY, Friday, September 21, 2007

Residents act to end en bloc spat with consortium
















AFTER weeks of uncertainty — and a heated two-hour meeting last night — embattled residents of condominium Horizon Towers have decided to extend the deadline of their collective sale to Dec 11.

The move could finally resolve a long-drawn en bloc spat between the majority owners in the condominium and a consortium led by Hotel Properties Limited (HPL).

A seven-member sale committee — with two from the previous committee — was formed last night, ending weeks of disarray after the $500-million sale fell through last month.

“It was a very good meeting … all the votes were unanimous,” said Mr Lim Seng Hoo, chairman of the newly formed committee. “All of us want to honour the contract with HPPL (Horizon Partners Pte Ltd) in good faith.”

The meeting at Raffles Town Club, saw owners of 135 units or their representatives gather in the clubhouse’s auditorium and had been called after a gathering two weeks ago ended in a stalemate.

The residents’ troubles began after the Strata Titles Board refused to grant a collective sale order on the basis of a defective application.

The buyers then sued 17 owners — all of whom were members of the sale committee at one point — for failing to file a proper application. A court hearing was set for Sept 28.

On Sept 8, the remaining sale committee members resigned during a meeting that had been called in order to respond to the lawsuit.

Although there now seems to be a consensus among residents, many of them came to last night’s meeting with different agendas.

Today understands it had been called by majority owners who wanted to change the terms under the collective sale agreement.

Meanwhile, another group made up of about 80 owners was pressing for a resolution to appoint a sales committee as well as a resolution to extent the sale deadline.

Claps and boos rang out during the meeting. But it ended with many happy faces leaving the auditorium.

“At least we got a sales committee going the right way in some direction,” said resident Lawrence Eu. “Nobody likes to be sued. Hopefully everything will be back on track.”

The estate, located in Leonie Hill, comprises two apartment blocks of 173 units in total.

Following the lawsuit initiated by HPL, Morgan Stanley Real Estate and the Qatar Investment Authority, groups of residents reportedly approached the firm and expressed willingness to extend the deadline to avoid a court battle.

In a letter dated Sept 19 from HPL’s lawyers to lawyers for some of the residents, the company said it was willing to adjourn the suit if the deadline was extended.

HDB Launches Coral Spring

Source : TODAY, Friday, September 21, 2007


















The Housing and Development Board (HDB) has launched a new development in Sengkang, called Coral Spring (artist’s impression, above), under the Build-To-Order System.

Up for sale are 698 units of four-room premium flats, which come with full floor finishes and colour-coordinated sanitary fittings. Buyers can also opt for internal timber doors at an additional cost. The indicated price range for the flats is $188,000 to $252,000. Applications close on Oct 9.

Those keen on applying for a flat must have a household income of less than $8,000 a month and satisfy the usual eligibility criteria. Eligible first-timers can apply for the Additional CPF Housing Grant.

Applications can be submitted at the HDB Hub or at any branch office, or online at www.hdb.gov.sg. Those shortlisted will be informed by the end of November, and the selection exercise commences in December. The HDB will assess the take-up rate before deciding to call the building tender. If the project meets the desired take-up rate and proceeds for tender, the HDB will arrange for the applicants to sign the Agreement for Lease.

Interested buyers can view details of the project online or at the HDB Hub. For enquiries, email hdbsales@hdb.gov.sg or call 1800-866 3066 during weekday office hours.

Horizon Towers Sellers Vote To Extend Sale Deadline

Source : The Straits Times, Friday, September 21, 2007

New sale committee formed and they hope to avert potential lawsuit.













A LARGE group of Horizon Towers sellers voted last night to extend a deadline for the sale of the condominium, in a bid to head off a lawsuit over an earlier $500 million sale that fell through.

The sellers last night voted to do everything ‘reasonably necessary’ to effect the collective sale of their estate, which has been mired in uncertainty for months.

The sellers hope to avert a lawsuit filed by a Hotel Properties-led (HPL-led) consortium, which is trying to buy the condo. The case is due in court next week.

At a meeting on Wednesday between HPL chief Ong Beng Seng and about 50 sellers, it was made clear that the buyers would adjourn the court hearing if there was an extension of the sale deadline.

Yesterday, HPL spokesman Christopher Lim reiterated this position. ‘If the Horizon Towers transaction goes through, we will drop the lawsuit as well as claims for damages,’ he said.

The buyers are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for an alleged breach of contract by the condo majority owners.

Last night, the sellers also elected seven members to form a new sale committee - their third so far in the drawn-out saga.

The new committee is to be headed by Mr Lim Seng Hoo. The team includes one person from the old sale committee.

‘The meeting was very well organised and amicable,’ said an owner who attended the meeting.

Sellers of 135 units - out of 177 units - gathered at Raffles Town Club yesterday to attempt to resolve its botched collective sale after their previous sale committee quit.

Only one unit did not vote in favour of the resolutions passed yesterday. Horizon Towers has 199 apartment units and 11 penthouse units.

The 7.30pm meeting ended after 10pm, even though owners were still streaming in from 8pm to 8.30pm. Many owners at the meeting refused to speak to the media.

HPL and its two partners, Morgan Stanley Real Estate-managed funds and Qatar Investment Authority, want to buy Horizon Towers at the $500 million price it inked in February. But the collective sale application was thrown out by the Strata Titles Board (STB) early last month because of a technical error.

The agreement then lapsed because the sellers did not extend an Aug 11 deadline that was written into their contract. Meetings followed and the sale committee eventually quit.

Sellers from 21 units had then called for yesterday’s meeting to pass a few resolutions such as forming a new sale committee and to vote on an extension of the sale deadline to seek an STB order for the sale to go through.

This is ahead of a High Court hearing next Thursday and a High Court appeal to quash the STB order next Friday.

Also yesterday, a group of more than 80 owners represented by lawyers from Wong & Leow engaged a public relations consultant to help them with media relations.

Tighter Building Controls, Heavier Penalties

Sep 21, 2007

New rules passed include making licensing a must for contractors

A COMPREHENSIVE set of changes to building controls, passed in Parliament yesterday, aims to keep the construction industry on its toes.

This comes three years after the Nicoll Highway collapse exposed systemic flaws.

Builders will now be required to get themselves licensed, while underground work will be subject to tighter controls. Heavier penalties will also be imposed on those who flout the rules.

Outlining the changes yesterday, Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu stressed the need to raise standards at a time when the building industry faces a hike in construction demand.

The industry has an estimated $19billion to $22 billion of work this year compared to about $16.1 billion last year.

The changes have drawn mixed reactions from the industry, which acknowledged the need for greater professionalism and safety standards, but also questioned the heavier penalties.

There were also concerns that over-regulation might stifle the growth of certain firms.

Those who flout the rules would generally face stiffer penalties.

Someone who carries out building work without a permit, for example, would face a maximum penalty of a $200,000 fine and/or two years' jail, as opposed to half of each before.

This drew fire from Ms Lee Bee Wah (Ang Mo Kio GRC) yesterday, who felt the jail sentence should be scrapped altogether as the tighter rules would raise standards. Having jail sentences would deter newcomers from joining the industry, she said.

Ms Fu argued, however, that the penalties would serve to weed out bad hats. Similar legislation exists in Hong Kong, California and New York City, she pointed out.

Meanwhile, the licensing requirements for building contractors are expected to kick in by July next year.

Currently, only contractors working on government projects need to register with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

Under the new regime, builders will be issued licences based on their track record, financial health, as well as the qualifications and experience of key personnel.

Sole proprietorships, partnerships and limited liability partnerships, however, would be limited to jobs of up to $3 million.

Based on the BCA's records, more than 90per cent of its existing 2,500 general builders could qualify under the licensing scheme.

Temporary earth-retaining structures used during excavations will also need to be designed and reviewed by qualified experts, while specialists in geotechnical work will need to be involved for major underground building work.

The changes are expected to raise construction costs by just 0.06 to 0.1 per cent, estimated the BCA.

In Parliament yesterday, Ms Lee asked for the $3 million project value cap on smaller contractors to be raised, as many projects such as bungalows or upgrading work cost more than that these days.

When contacted, the president of the Singapore Contractors Association, Mr Desmond Hill, expressed similar concerns, adding that the cap may stifle the growth of these small firms.

But Ms Fu said the cap was reasonable, as it was adjusted to fit the capability of firms in that category. Raising the cap may make it harder for the builders to be licensed.

But Ms Fu agreed with a suggestion by Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (Marine Parade GRC) yesterday for the Government to work to improve the image of builders to attract more talent into this field.

Key features of changes to the Building Control Act

# General builders will need to be licensed. This is likely to be mandatory from July next year. Sole proprietorships, partnerships and limited liability partnerships, however, will be limited to jobs of up to $3 million.

# Specialist contractors, including those doing piling, earth-retaining work and structural steelwork, will also need to be licensed.

# A set minimum number of registered tradesmen must be deployed for large projects.

# Temporary earth-retaining structures used during excavations will be subject to the same checks as permanent structures.

# Site supervisors will have to be accredited and undergo continuous vocational training.

# Specialists in geotechnical work need to be involved for major underground building work.