Saturday, September 22, 2007

Open Listing Versus Exclusive Right To Sell

KSH Plans Convertible Note Issue To Raise Up To $25m

Source : The Business Times, September 22, 2007

Issue includes a greenshoe option of up to $5m to meet excess demand

'The issue is in line with our goal of expanding our capital base with institutional investors.'- Mr Choo

CONSTRUCTION and property group KSH Holdings yesterday proposed to issue up to $25 million in convertible notes to institutional investors.

The issue includes a greenshoe option of up to $5 million to meet excess demand.The net proceeds will be used to fund new capital expenditure requirements and for general working capital.

'We have secured a number of high contract-value construction projects and our existing order books stand at a new high of $405 million, and are expected to cover beyond the financial year ending March 31, 2009,' said KSH managing director Choo Chee Onn.

The issue is 'in line with our long-term goal of expanding our capital base with institutional investors to support our future growth', said Mr Choo, who expects the broader capital base to help KSH better manage capital structure going forward.

The notes will be convertible to new KSH shares at a conversion price of $1.50 per new share, which is at about 26.1 per cent premium to the group's closing share price on Sept 20, 2007.

Related link -
KSH Holdings' news release

The notes, to be denominated in Singapore dollars, will bear a coupon rate of one per cent per year, payable semi-annually. They mature in 2011.

Assuming full exercise of the option and no adjustments to the conversion price, the issue will lead to about 16.67 million new shares. This represents about 18.91 per cent of its existing share capital of over 88.12 million shares.

The notes are expected to be issued on Oct 18, 2007.

DBS Bank is the sole bookrunner and placement agent for the issue.

KSH recently won a contract to construct the prestigious Clifford Hotel, which will be part of the Waterfront 'Garden City by the Bay' development at Marina Bay.

It said its notable projects include One° 15 Marina Club, The Berth By The Cove and The Coast in Sentosa.

HSBC To Close US Sub-Prime Mortgage Unit

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 22 September 2007

HSBC Holdings, the British-based banking giant, announced Friday it will close its sub-prime mortgage subsidiary in the United States, saying it was "no longer sustainable."

HSBC Holdings's earnings have been heavily hit by its heavy exposure to the troubled US sub-prime mortgage market, where home loans are given to people with patchy credit histories.

HSBC said its closure of Decision One Mortgage will entail a goodwill charge of around 880 million dollars and a 65-million-dollar restructuring charge by the end of the year.

"This is a small part of our US business," said Michael Geoghegan, chief executive of HSBC Holdings plc.

"It's no longer sustainable and not the right place to allocate capital in the future. We said we would make tough decisions and we have done exactly that."

Decision One Mortgage, a unit of subsidiary HSBC Finance Corporation, originates non-prime mortgages through brokers. The bank said it will continue to manage Decision One's loan portfolio, which totals 349 million dollars.

HSBC was the largest provider of sub-prime loans in the US in 2006, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, a real-estate industry tracker, ahead of the US leaders in the domestic market, New Century Financial and Countrywide.

The HSBC decision comes as rising interest rates and falling house prices have triggered a spike in foreclosures by borrowers with already stretched finances.

The group said HSBC Finance will focus on originating and servicing loans through its consumer lending branch network under the HFC and Beneficial brands.

Approximately 750 Decision One employees will be affected by the closure, the group said. - AFP /ls

Renting A 4-Room Flat For $1,000 'Impossible'

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 22, 2007

I am writing to reply to the letter 'Housing still available at affordable rentals' by Madam Yeo Boon Eng (ST Online Forum, Sept 18). I am a PR married to a Singaporean and our family is currently being frozen out of the rental market. We have been told our current rent is to increase by 100 per cent and all the furniture is to be removed!

I am not on an 'expat package' and my wages have not risen in more than four years, despite reported 8.5 per cent wage rises. I have seen nothing of that at all.

We have scoured the papers on a daily basis. I think the $1,000 rent for a 4-room HDB flat that Madam Yeo mentions is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine, let alone find.

Having seen 3-room flats in poor condition in Jurong advertised at $2,500, I find it totally implausible.

Some thought should be given by the Government to the matter because it affects the entire community, not just expatriates.

Thomas Anthony Veitch

How Is Rate Of Return On CPF Calculated?

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 22, 2007

I HAVE been following the parliamentary debates on the CPF, especially the parts on the returns of the fund, with avid interest.

In response to questions about whether the Government was using CPF funds as a cheap fund base for investments, Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen said no. He also emphasised that it was not realistic to expect the CPF rates of return to mirror the returns of Temasek and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation in their investments. To illustrate, he used the example of us putting money in a bank. 'You put it there and you get 2 per cent. The bank publishes a report and says... it earned 8 per cent. You go to the bank and say, 'I want 8 per cent'. It doesn't work.'

I do not profess to know everything about the CPF. What I do know is that the CPF Board is no commercial bank. I have no choice but to put my money there. I am not informed of how my money is invested, and I cannot take the money out as and when I want to. I am not given credit facilities and anything I take out, I have to return with interest.

The CPF system works and I have no grouses about it. But what I would like to know is how the rate of return on my CPF is calculated and why is it that, with a stroke of the pen, I can now get one percentage point more than what I got before for my first $60,000.

Perhaps the Government could give a clear reply on this to lift the confusion.

Steve Tan Peng Hoe

$60,000 QUESTION

Why is it that I can now get one percentage point more than what I got before for my first $60,000?

What Constitutes A Fair Return On CPF Funds

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 22, 2007

MEMBERS of Parliament who argued for higher guaranteed CPF returns have overlooked the basic finance theory of risk-return trade-off where guaranteed returns with lower risk must come with lower yield.

Those who argued that CPF returns be linked to returns achieved by government investment vehicles such as Temasek and GIC should consider whether CPF members are prepared to suffer negative returns should these investment vehicles fail to perform in certain years.

In considering what constitutes a fair CPF return, one needs to take into account the real return, which is the return adjusted for inflation, and the risk-free guarantee offered by the Government. No amount of upward adjustment of CPF returns would be satisfactory should the real return be reduced by steadily rising inflation, and thus the responsibility for macro price stability lies squarely with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) took the bulk of liabilities from the CPF Board, obliging it under statutory requirements to buy special issues of long-term Singapore Government bonds and placing advance deposits with the Accountant-General, all through MAS as banker for the Government, with returns pegged at rates which the CPF Board promised its members.

To whichever government institution MOF allocates the pool of funds, including the liabilities it acquired from the CPF Board, presumably it would have to ensure (certainly for that portion of CPF funds) returns at least on par with what the CPF Board guarantees its members. Failing that, MOF would have to bear all risks, including political credibility, budgetary shortfalls and market volatility.

It is therefore reasonable to regularly subject the proposed CPF returns to market test, which is to entice private financial institutions to bid for the management of CPF funds by providing the equivalent guaranteed returns, measured in real terms.

The more relevant consideration would then be to constantly think of ways in which government investment vehicles could consistently enhance yields and improve corporate governance further.

Consistently good performance over time by Temasek and GIC would then allow the Government to provide more special transfers to Singaporeans who have lost the ability to compete or when the economy is hit by external shocks.

While a fair CPF return is important to meet the retirement needs of workers, the more fundamental approach must be for them to accumulate sufficient CPF savings through having decent-paying jobs and staying longer in employment, and to manage their CPF savings in balanced portfolio allocations.

Assoc Prof Tan Khee Giap

Golf Clubs Get Nod To Build Hotels On Their Premises

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 22, 2007

GOLF clubs here are set play a significant role in helping with the Republic's hotel room crunch.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has, for the first time, permitted golf clubs to build hotels on their premises.

At least two clubs - Jurong Country Club (JCC) and Laguna National Golf and Country Club - have received approval. Jurong is keen to build a 300-room hotel, while Laguna is looking at a 200-room facility.

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

Said Singapore Tourism Board (STB) director of travel and hospitality business Caroline Leong: 'They would undoubtedly add more hotel rooms into the market, easing the current room crunch.

'A number of clubs have approached the STB with their proposals, and we are assisting them where we can.'

With Singapore in the midst of a tourism boom - July's 951,000 arrivals was a record - there is concern that the current 37,000 rooms throughout the island will soon be insufficient.

Early forecasts for next year suggest even more visitors are expected, with Changi Airport's Terminal 3 opening its doors in January, and new attractions like the Formula 1 (F1) race and the Singapore Flyer.

The F1 race alone is anticipated to attract about 80,000 spectators, a significant proportion of whom are expected to be overseas visitors.

Golf clubs were only permitted to have chalets and guesthouses on their land previously, but earlier this year, a few clubs began to seek permission to build hotels.

Two months, ago, the URA gave its go-ahead.

But there are restrictions: Hotel space is restricted to 30 per cent of the club's total gross floor area or 10,000 sq m, whichever is lower.

Some country clubs are also seeking to jump on the bandwagon.

The Legends Fort Canning Park is understood to be giving the idea serious thought.

Laguna president Peter Kwee, who also owns The Pines, declined to comment on whether he had similar plans for the Stevens Road club.

But a source told The Straits Times that one option being studied is a seven-star hotel, with possible support from the Government.

JCC president and former MP Tan Cheng Bock was one of the first to push for the building of hotels on golf clubs.

'I realised JCC's greatest asset was land, and set about thinking of how to transform it into something viable,' said Dr Tan. '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.'

The URA's new guidelines also permit clubs with existing chalets or guesthouses to re-configure them to hotel rooms, again subject to the 30 per cent or 10,000 sq m cap.

Laguna and Orchid Country Club are the only other golf clubs with accommodation options currently on their land. An Orchid spokesman said the club had no plans to build a new facility or expand the existing one.

3-Room HDBs Now Going For $1,500

Source : The Straits Times, Saturday, September 22, 2007

I refer to the letter ‘Housing still available at affordable rentals’ by Madam Yeo Boon Eng (ST Online Forum, Sept 18) which stated that that you can still rent a comfortable, spacious four-room HDB apartment in an easily-accessible housing estate for about $1,000 a month. I am a Singaporean and have been looking to rent a three-room HDB apartment in the west for two months.

Owners of the current (more than 20 years old) three-room HDB flats are asking for $1,500 a month, unfurnished, without aircon and in original condition.

My brother and friends are into property, we know the situation well. All you need to do is to pick up the phone and start calling all those rental units listed on websites or in classified advertisements to find out how things are.

Not only are rental prices insane now, but HDB flats are getting too expensive for young couples to afford.

If the current situation continues, Singapore will lose the many of the ‘vocal’ expatriates and foreign talents that we worked so hard to attract.

Because of the high cost of living, foreign companies will start to invest in other parts of Asia.

I have complete trust that our Government will look into this matter urgently.

Yvonne Tan (Madam)

Shade Of Doubt

Source : The Straits Times, Saturday, September 22, 2007

Beach Road’s upcoming wave-like canopy is drawing criticism for covering historical buildings in the area.

While architect Mink Tan thinks the canopy seems to be ‘trying to hide horrible features’, it also introduces an architectural language ‘yet to be seen in Singapore’ ASITE where thousands of Singaporean males did their military training is now turning into a zone of dispute among architects.

Opinions are split over a controversial design for a new development at the old Beach Road camp.

The point of contention is a huge canopy, shaped like a wave, which straddles the development called South Beach. It will consist of two spanking-new blocks towering over three 1930s army blocks and the former Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) Club built in 1952.

The old concrete buildings were given conservation status in 2002 due to their rich historical and architectural significance - the Beach Road camp was the venue for the first National Service enlistment in 1967. The army blocks are in Art Deco style known for elegant, functional features, while the club is a hybrid of that and what came in the 1950s, called Modern.

Under a plan by the architects who landed the project - renowned British architecture firm Foster & Partners - the old and new buildings will be linked by a canopy.

The canopy also provides shade for part of the 3.5ha site.

It rises at some areas and lowers at others, resembling huge waves. Some parts of the canopy hover around one conservation block, another covers it, while yet another part appears to go into a block.

Other parts of the canopy also appear to ‘grow’ into the sky, covering part of the facades of the two new towers.

While the canopy is making a splash with some architects, it is causing ripples of concern among others.

Mr Mink Tan of Mink Tan Architects says he dislikes how a part of the canopy covers the conservation building, adding that ‘it seems a bit rude, and it is trying to hide horrible architecture’.

Forum Architects’ Tan Kok Hiang says he likes the way the canopy covers the public spaces, but hopes that the wave canopy will ‘touch or cover the old buildings ever so lightly. The canopy needs to be more thoughtful and sensitive to the conserved buildings’.

The two architects are also concerned with the way the canopy integrates with the tower blocks.

Forum’s Mr Tan says he’s come to expect elegance from the firm and ‘this scheme seems to need more work’.

Mr Mink Tan says the canopy and the towers seem like a ’strange marriage’.

‘It looks like the two schemes were forced together.’

First of its kind

STILL, architects have words of praise for the canopy as well.

Indeed, Mr Mink Tan points out that this wave-like canopy is possibly the first of its kind in Singapore.

He says: ‘It introduces an architectural language yet to be seen in Singapore on a urban and public scale.’

He hopes this will encourage developers to ‘be more adventurous’.

Architect John Ting of AIM & Associates says creating the wave-like form over the conservation buildings ‘results in an interesting and dynamic architectural engagement’.

He adds that ‘the interplay of the old and new architectural forms presents a masterly urban composition that is pleasing’.

Mr Tai Lee Siang, president of the Singapore Institute of Architects, says the design of the lower canopy will change the Singapore skyline. The design of the towers will also complete the last gap between the Beach Road stretch of office towers and Marina Centre.

Foster & Partners had earlier designed the new Supreme Court building and the Expo MRT station. The firm has also done other iconic buildings such as the gherkin-shaped Swiss Re Tower in London and the futuristic-looking Hongkong and Shanghai Bank headquarters in Hong Kong.

Mr Anthony Chia, City Developments Limited’s (CDL) deputy general manager of design and projects, says the design team gave much thought to the canopy and was ‘wary of having a heavy hand when integrating it with the old buildings’.

CDL is one of the developers for the project.

By creating the canopy over the old buildings and enclosing it in a glass facade, usable space can be created.

‘Glass will still allow the buildings’ original facade to be seen while allowing visitors to enjoy the space in front of it,’ he explains.

The canopy that rides up with the towers does serve a purpose. Mr Chia says it regulates the amount of sun that falls onto the towers’ facades by providing some shade.

South Beach will boast two new towers of 45 storeys and 42 storeys plus the four conservation buildings - the former NCO building and Blocks 1, 9 and 14 of the former Beach Road Camp.

It is expected to be completed by 2012 and will house offices, two hotels, residences and retail space. It is developed by a consortium comprising Scottsdale Properties (a subsidiary of City Developments Limited), Istithmar Beach Road Fze and Elad Group Singapore.

They won the tender site with a winning bid of $1.689 billion.

Rising Rents Beyond Reach Of Students

Source : The New Paper, September 22, 2007

Mr Lee Kwok Cheong, CEO of SIM Pte Ltd says:

SINGAPORE gets an A for reliability and safety, but a poor grade for affordable student housing.

The lack of enough reasonably-priced housing for students is a problem that must be addressed. Otherwise it may hurt Singapore's drive to be an educational hub.

That is the view of Mr Lee Kwok Cheong, CEO of SIM Pte Ltd - the global education and professional development arm of the Singapore Institute of Management group.

Rising rents are making the situation worse. Mr Lee said in an interview with The New Paper yesterday: 'We have more and more students coming here, but rents are going up because there are also more professionals (who can pay higher rents) driving up the demand.'


He had this solution to offer. 'Instead of funding a few institutions (like the public universities), the authorities can also subsidise student housing for the private universities,' he said.

A check by The New Paper with three student accommodation facilities in the Bukit Timah area found they are all running at almost-full capacity.

Mr Patrick Ang, 43, who runs a student hostel on the old Nanyang Primary School premises off Farrer Road, said: 'As more students come here, there's definitely a need for more well-located and affordable student housing.'

Mr Lee, who was a leading figure in the IT sector as chief executive of the National Computer Systems before he joined SIM two years ago, also called for more government support for the private education sector.

He suggested a 'portable' subsidy scheme, in which local students are given vouchers which they should be able to use to pay for further education in tertiary institutions here.

Local students of public-funded universities are subsidised, but Mr Lee thinks all students, even those attending private institutions, should get some help.

He also felt it is 'too easy' for people to set up education businesses in Singapore.

'All you need is to register. You don't need to go through a vetting process. And some of them, who get into trouble, end up blackening the name of other good private education providers,' he said.


He hopes the Education Ministry will move quickly to regulate the area.

'Some of the areas which involve many people, like healthcare and education, cannot be left too unregulated,' he said.

Mr Lee, who is originally from Hong Kong and is one of the faces of Singapore's new citizens, said that despite the growing number of private education providers, there is still a huge market of potential students. 'There are actually enough eaters but not enough pies.'

He noted that SIM Global Education, which partners foreign universities like the University of Sydney (see report right), RMIT and Warwick University, runs more than 50 degree programmes and has about 14,000 students.

Suntec REIT Seek Approval To Sell $450m Convertible Bonds

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 22, 2007

Suntec Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) will seek approval from unit holders to sell up to $450 million in convertible bonds and to issue new units.

Suntec Reit has issued a circular to unit holders to approve the $941.5-million purchase of a one-third stake in One Raffles Quay from Cheung Kong Holdings.

The trust seeks approval to sell units to Cheung Kong as well as a general mandate to sell units and convertible bonds representing up to 50 per cent of the total units in issue at Sept 30. Suntec Reit will hold the unit holders meeting in ingapore on Oct 8. — DOW JONES

The Sheikh Shake-Up

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 22, 2007

Mid-East nations in race to snatch world’s prized assets

FLUSH with cash from burgeoning oil revenues and a regional economic boom, Middle Eastern governments are buying overseas assets at record rates.

This week alone, several Middle East governments made big buys around the globe. Abu Dhabi paid US$1.35 billion ($2.03 billion) for 7.5 per cent of Washington-based Carlyle Group — the world’s second-biggest private equity firm.

Meanwhile, Qatar bought 20 per cent of London Stock Exchange Group in a deal worth about US$1.2 billion late Thursday, the same day neighbouring Dubai agreed to acquire a stake in the United Kingdom bourse from Nasdaq stock market.

Qatar also won approval to examine the financial records of J Sainsbury, the second-largest UK supermarket chain.

All told, the deals are worth US$25 billion, according to Bloomberg data.

The pace of international investments by Gulf states, which earn US$1.2 billion a day from oil exports, is quickening as they seek to diversify beyond energy.

The nations have already spent a record US$68 billion on overseas acquisitions this year, showed the Bloomberg data, compared with US$30.8 billion in all of last year.

Acquisitions in the United States and Britain account for slightly more than half of the total this year.

Said Dubai’s Gulf Research Centre’s chief economist Eckart Woertz: “They are not just putting their money in bank deposits and government bonds any more … They are after strategic assets.”

There is an emerging group of Arab states whose leaders are generally friendlier to the West and are eager to make a mark in global finance, noted the Wall Street Journal in its report on Friday.

“The deep pools of capital in the Middle East are increasingly affecting all aspects of global financial markets, both private and public,” financial consultant Monte Brem, who advises Middle Eastern institutions on their international investments, told the Journal.

Middle East investors are also keen on undervalued brand-name businesses, observers said. “Many assume that cash-rich Middle Eastern investors will spend money easily, but this is not the case as they are very savvy in making financial and investment decisions,” said Mr Mohd Hasnul Mohd Ismail, who manages a Malaysianbased asset investment firm.

Observers also note that the Middle East appears to have become more sophisticated in managing backlash from highprofile deals, following last year’s painful lesson in which a Dubai-controlled company sold the US port operations of a British company it had acquired.

The deal fell through after US politicians argued that selling the port was a security risk, post Sept 11 attacks.

This time round, Dubai is taking all measures to ensure that there will be no backlash from its interest in seeking a minority stake in Nasdaq.

It has asked the Bush administration to vet the deal upfront for potential national-
security issues and hired a team of Washington lobbyists and strategists to reach out to US officials a day before the proposed deal became public.

Meanwhile, the race to shop for prize deals for stock exchanges worldwide is shaping up to be a competition between Dubai and Qatar, who are both vying to be the Gulf’s financial hub.

Just 10 years ago, when Dubai was not much more than a port with a single business thoroughfare in the desert, such ambitions would have been dismissed as laughable.

This is the same for Qatar. — AGENCIES

In Touch With CPF : CPF And Other Changes For A More Secure Retirement

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 22, 2007

Inn Of A Diffferent Happiness

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 22, 2007

I'll take the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel here any day over the best hotels in the world

Elmo Jayawardena

AIRLINE pilots have a very good idea about the vast blue sky and the aeroplanes they fly. Another subject they know well are hotels.

From the ramshackle to the remarkable, renaissance to the modern, they have laid over in all and sundry, and have a collection of fairy tales to tell anyone about the hospitality trade.

For almost 40 years, I, too, strutted through the international hotel chains in a pilot's uniform and stayed in almost every star classifications that you can imagine, except those that cater to the super rich where people such as David Beckham and Elton John book suites.

Yes, I have lodged with the renowned Mandarins, Hyatts, Hiltons and Sheratons and their equivalent compatriots who rule the roost.

I have stayed with the Nathaniels, too — less flamboyant but almost matching the standard of the Novotels, Marriotts and the Movenpicks, which mushroomed around the world to cater to slightly lesser beings.

They all offer the standard comforts, a clean bed, six towels of all sizes, a telephone and a television in addition to Internet access — charging you an arm and a leg to send a single email.

Then, of course, there is the mini-bar! Touch it and you get burnt — the price for a miniature bottle of liquor, and crackers and nuts to munch would cost the moon.

The first thing I always did as I entered a hotel room was to hang the "Do not disturb" sign on the door of the mini-bar. That way, it was safe. Even someone visiting me wouldn't dare disturb this Pandora's ice box.

As for the service, it was mainly the same — from the telephone operators to the front desk, everything is geared to give the best camouflaged welcome to send the customer to an imaginary seventh heaven.

Such counterfeit compliments were common to all — no different to the en-mass breakfasts they serve, and with a cook rolling saucepans and making Spanish omelettes. Well, that is all acceptable, as long as the inn was comfortable.

Although I have stayed all over the world in my globe-trotting, I have seldom checked into a hotel in Singapore. Singapore Airlines (SIA) didn't send us anywhere but home when we landed in Changi after our long-haul flights.

My recent parting from SIA and my return to the Lion City has now pegged me in a Singapore hotel. Two weeks have passed, with two more to go — that qualifies me to say something about how and what they do, and who and how they please veteran freeloaders like me.

I am now staying at the charming Grand Mercure Roxy, which is conveniently located in Katong.

It also has the usual paraphernalia of the master hoteliers — the Caesar salads with bacon chips, the nasi goreng with prawn crackers and rock lobster cappuccino to wash down a sumptuous meal. They hold their own with anyone where these commonalities are concerned.

Yet, the Roxy is certainly an inn with a different happiness.

In the classic film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Ingrid Bergman plays a British missionary in China just before World War II.

Here, the European characters stick out in a foreign land of Mandarin-speaking people with different skin tones. My experience with the Roxy is somewhat similar but just a tad different.

Jerry is from Xiamen in eastern China and he speaks his English fluently. He knows one word "okay". I tend to think that is all he knows. He does rooms for the housekeeping department.

Every morning Jerry and I have this great lengthy conversation. He points at my bed and asks "okay"? And I reply "okay".

He then shows me the bathroom and says "okay?"; again, I faithfully return his "okay".

The same for the bin cleaning and the meticulous vacuuming he does. "Okay" from him and "okay" from me, and everything is sorted out. Then, he leaves me with a smile as wide as the East Coast Parkway. That's how my day begins — a great start.

Then, there is Ramlan of the concierge desk, Priscilla from management and Kevin, the man from Gibraltar from top management.

They have this fantastic human touch that impresses me so much, I felt I should thump my keyboard and tell the world.

"Your bicycle, no problem, we will keep it for you," so said Ramlan as if it was me who was doing him a favour.

"Your call time, captain," chirps the telephone operator Sari in the cheeriest voice at 4am.

I need not elaborate; the truth would serve the Roxy people better than any varnish I could paint. They are a great team and they make my long stay pleasant with nothing but warm hearted and genuine charm.

Certainly, the staff makes up the magic factor, not the six towels, the television, the telephone nor the king-sized bed.

I have been a vagabond a good part of my life, seen the best of hotels and lapped in the luxury offered by the mighty of the hotel trade.

But I will go with what the Grand Mercure Roxy dishes out on their daily menu — simple delights that stem from the heart and spreads with a smile that reaches the eye — any day.

"Is okay, Sir?"

"Yes, okay, Jerry."

Thank you, my friend from Xiamen — you just made my day.

The writer served SIA for 19 years as a 747 captain and instructor. He is also the founder and president of humanitarian organisation Aflac International, which helps people suffering from multiple burdens of poverty. For more information, visit

85% of MCL Land's Hillcrest Villas Sold In The Past Fortnight

Source : The Business Times, September 22, 2007

Average price for the 163-unit cluster terrace homes project is $871 psf

Hillcrest Villas: The typical unit has four bedrooms plus another in the basement that can be turned into an entertainment room. The development has shared facilities including swimming pools, a clubhouse and gym

MCL Land has sold 85 per cent of its 163-unit cluster terrace homes development Hillcrest Villas over the past fortnight.

Hillcrest Villas: The typical unit has four bedrooms plus another in the basement that can be turned into an entertainment room. The development has shared facilities including swimming pools, a clubhouse and gym

The average price for the 99-year leasehold project in the Dunearn Road area on the former SingTel Academy site is about $871 per square foot (psf) of strata area. Absolute prices range from $2.5 million to $3 million per unit. This means the listed property group, a subsidiary of Hongkong Land, has sold about 400 homes this year for slightly more than $900 million.

MCL is planning to launch two freehold condos next year with a total of about 360 units in the Holland Hill and Pasir Panjang locations, MCL Land CEO Koh Teck Chuan told BT yesterday.

Hillcrest Villas' cluster terrace houses will have two storeys plus attic and basement, with a total strata area of about 3,100 sq ft on average per unit. The typical unit has four bedrooms plus another in the basement that can be turned into an entertainment room. The development has shared facilities including swimming pools, a clubhouse and gym.

'Buyers are all Singaporeans, given the restrictions on foreigners regarding owning landed property. We've a good mix of owner occupiers and investors,' Mr Koh said.

Hillcrest Villas' location next to Raffles Girls' Primary School and near Nanyang Primary School is a draw for parents eyeing a place for their children in these schools, market watchers said.

Mr Koh noted that cluster houses at The Teneriffe at Laurel Wood Avenue nearby are fetching monthly rentals of about $14,000. 'Assuming Hillcrest Villas command the same rental, and based on our average selling price of $2.7 million, the net yield at about 5.6 per cent is pretty attractive,' he said.

Hillcrest Villas is being marketed by DTZ Debenham Tie Leung.

Earlier this year, MCL Land launched two other condominium projects - the 132-unit Waterfall Gardens at Farrer Road and 129-unit Tierra Vue at St Patrick's Road on the former Marine Parade Gardens site.

Both freehold projects are fully sold. MCL Land achieved average prices of about $1,500 psf for Waterfall Gardens and $850 psf for Tierra Vue, Mr Koh said.

The group has another two freehold condos that it plans to release next year - one with about 180 units on the Balmeg Court site off Pasir Panjang Road, and a joint venture with Ho Bee on a project with about 180-190 units on the Holland Hill Mansions site.

Meanwhile, Kallang Development yesterday began previewing 48 freehold terrace houses at Sembawang Road under the latest phase of its Springside development.

Intermediate terrace units are priced at about $1.75 million on average and have land areas ranging from 1,617 sq ft to 2,154 sq ft and floor areas of about 3,500 to 3,700 sq ft. Corner units, with plot sizes of 2,400 to 4,800 sq ft and floor areas of 3,500-5,000 sq ft, cost $2.2 million to $3 million. All units are three storeys high and will have attics but no basements.

Another landed development expected to come on the market soon is King's 8, comprising eight freehold strata bungalows along King's Road. Each strata bungalow will have its own swimming pool.

Count The Social Impact Of En Bloc Sales

Source : The Straits Times, 21st September 2007

Lydia Lim, Senior Political Correspondent

WHEN Nominated MP Kalyani Mehta rose to speak about en bloc sales yesterday, the sounds one heard were not of cash registers ringing but of hearts breaking and communities crumbling.

One of six MPs to join the debate on the Land Titles (Strata) Amendment Bill, she spoke of elderly folk forced to leave their homes of many decades, and of people separated from neighbours they counted on for companionship and support.

She raised a valid question: did these dislocations serve a larger good?

She compared the collective-sale phenomenon to the clearing of old kampung.

People could accept the sweeping away of those old social communities for the sake of progress and a better environment for all, she said.

But the current en bloc sale fever seemed largely fuelled by a small group's 'greed'.

'When communities of people who have lived in peace and harmony are destroyed, we are paying a very high price because it takes decades for such living organisms as communities to be formed,' she said.

She also pointed out the irony of having, on the one hand, community development councils to build social bonds, and on the other hand, allowing 'the fast destruction of communities without really valid reasons'.

Her fellow Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong provided a different perspective.

For now, the en bloc process seemed to be meeting its objective of urban rejuvenation, he said.

That was the conclusion he reached after looking at figures released earlier this week by Deputy Prime Minister and Law Minister S. Jayakumar, in reply to a question he had filed.

They showed that the average age of all developments which applied for collective sale between January 2005 and August 2007 was 25.9 years.

Still, Mr Siew called for the figure to be monitored.

Any dip in the average age might indicate that the collective sale process was being used, not for urban renewal, but for maximising economic gain, which might not be healthy, he said.

It was within this wider context that all six MPs welcomed the Bill, which was later passed by the House.

They said the changes it contained were long overdue and would inject much-needed transparency into the en bloc process and enhance safeguards for owners.

The Bill sets out new rules to govern the formation and proceedings of the collective sales committee.

These include a stipulation that committee members must declare their ties with any other interested party in the sale, such as a developer or marketing agent.

There are also new safeguards concerning the signing of the sales agreement, with owners now allowed to change their minds within a five-day cooling-off period.

But several of the MPs called for yet more safeguards, as well as special provisions for those forced to sell against their will.

Both Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) and Ms Ellen Lee (Sembawang GRC) asked that buyers of a site be required to offer such owners one-for-one replacement units in the new development.

In his reply, Professor Jayakumar said the law had to strike a balance between making the process more transparent and fair, and not making it unduly difficult for en bloc sales to go through.

He also assured MPs that his ministry would monitor the en bloc process to see how well the new law worked to minimise cases of harassment, unfairness and lack of transparency.

'If it's necessary to make further amendments, then we'll have no hesitation to do so,' he said.

One salient point that did not come up during yesterday's debate was the situation before the last round of amendments in 1999.

Then, en bloc sales could go through only if 100 per cent of owners agreed. It was a case of minority owners wielding excessive control over the process.

That was why the law was changed - after being referred to a Select Committee - to lower the threshold to the present 80 per cent for developments over 10 years old, and 90 per cent for those below.

In crafting these latest amendments, it seems the Law Ministry was right to strive for evenhandedness in balancing the interests of majority and minority owners, between those who want to reap the rewards of their financial investments and those who want to hold on to cherished memories and relationships.

But while the economic benefits of such sales are easily quantifiable, the intangible social costs are much less easy to measure.

Given growing public concern over the latter, the Government may want to consider investing resources in a fuller study of the social impact.

That might well have serious consequences for Singaporeans' sense of home.

The 21st Century Cubicle

Source : The Business Times, 21 Sep 2007

New office designs could boost productivity, but local companies are slow to adopt them, reports GEOFFREY EU.

IT HAS been considered an inexact art - and one that has escaped closer scrutiny in the past - but furniture systems are no longer taking a back seat in the overall office environment scheme of things.

Given the high cost of renting workspace these days in cities across the globe, companies are paying greater attention to where and how their employees work, based on the not-unreasonable assumption that a happy, healthy worker is also a more productive one.

Here in Singapore, the general consensus is that multinational companies (MNCs), guided by directives from headquarters and the need to have a consistent corporate look in all their offices, are usually much quicker than local companies when it comes to innovation in office design. Corporate decision makers have also been affected by industry leaders in the United States and Europe.

‘The more advanced countries will generally set the trends,’ says KT Ong, chief executive of Vanguard Interiors Group, a leading supplier of furniture systems, with offices around the world. ‘We are influenced both by North America and the Europeans, since we have MNCs from both these blocks.’

He adds: ‘The North American solutions are always panel-based while the Europeans usually employ more desking (open space) systems. In Singapore, we have the best of both worlds because we have more options and we can adopt what works.’

According to Mr Ong, the two most influential factors in determining office design are people and the cost of commercial real estate.

‘Companies want to attract the good workers and they also want to retain them,’ he says. ‘Also, because of the high price of office space, they want to make the most efficient usage of space. In broad terms, productivity and space efficiency are major factors.’

Five years ago, rented office space in Raffles Place cost about $3.50 psf, says Mr Ong. Today, the same space is going for $15 psf.

‘Space is a precious commodity,’ he says. ‘Beyond that, human resources are even more important. Because of increases in rental, companies are prepared to pay more to be efficient - if you can save more space, it’s worth buying the concept.’

Just a dollar a day

By his estimate, furniture that costs an average of, say, $4,000 per work station and lasts for 10 years is only costing a company roughly a dollar per day - a worthwhile investment for a worker who earns that same amount per month. ‘Can you afford not to spend that dollar?’ he says.

‘Before 1998, we were catching up well with the trends in office systems but between 1998 and 2005, companies started cutting back,’ says Mr Ong. ‘Now, people have become a precious commodity again and companies are starting to spend.’ Several years ago, the cluster system, with workers seated around work stations and facing each other, was a popular concept. These days, the bench system - typically a long table in an open space where people sit across from each other - is the space-efficient concept of choice.

Swiss-German furniture maker Vitra, a well-known manufacturer of high-end designer furniture, is one company that has placed its bets on the open office space. The company noted that removing physical and psychological barriers in the office would improve communication between employees.

‘What people seek at the office is the opportunity to interact, to benefit from the knowledge and experience of colleagues and to solve problems better and faster through collaboration,’ said the company in a recent release. ‘These things are facilitated by open office structures.’

The company has developed a system - which it has introduced in its own offices in Weil am Rhein near the Swiss-German border - that reflects this line of thinking. It is based on the ‘Net’n'Nest’ theory: providing a communal environment conducive for communicating with colleagues, while also providing a ‘nest’, an area for workers who require more privacy for work or informal discussion.

Specific products for ‘nesting’ include, for example, the Alcove sofa, which features high peripheral panels that cut out exterior distractions and creates a protective environment.

‘It’s a little like fashion - whether it lasts or not we don’t know,’ says Mr Ong of Vanguard. ‘The work environment is getting more complex and it cannot be one solution - it must be multiple solutions.’ He adds, ‘My feeling is that over time, clients will not accept any one solution for the office - it depends on the needs of the respective departments within a company.’

The most important factor is productivity and not rental cost, says Mr Ong, and furniture cost amounts to a fraction of either salaries or rent. ‘So why compromise by buying a cheap local system?’ The ability to change system configuration is also important, he adds. ‘You want to have the mobility, which will be a key feature of any future trend in the industry.’ A mobile system like Free, by New Zealand firm Formway, represents the look of the office system of the future, he says.

Cubicle-style offices are definitely giving way to desking and bench systems, says Rayner Neo, managing director of Dream Interiors, a distributor of furniture and office systems. ‘Before, it was most common to have typical panel system, enclosed in a cubicle with high partitions. Many systems are now along the wall, spine-style,’ he says.

For example, banks are going for open, clean concepts, he says. He adds that manufacturers are also encouraging changes, due in part to advancements in technology. ‘It also depends on the type of business, how much privacy and interaction is needed.’ In many instances, storage space does not have to be next to a worker’s desk, it can be movable or located in a central storage area.

‘The horizon level is coming down, storage is more collective and centralised,’ says Valerie Blaisdell, sales director for Knoll Asia Pacific, which represents American furniture systems. ‘The biggest trend is towards benching, although in Singapore only the progressive companies are moving in this direction.’

She adds: ‘The trend is starting with the financial institutions. As the business environment becomes tighter and people are trying to attract new employees, you have to be careful with what you do to your office space - it needs to be quality.’ However, she adds that furniture budgets per person are actually getting lower.

What works for whom

According to Ms Blaisdell, the ratio of open-style offices to closed-style ones in the region is now about 80:20, compared to 60:40 previously. Managers’ offices are less often clustered around windows - in some instances, mid-level managers are sitting with their people (although not so much here in Singapore), creating more of a ‘team’ environment.

Certain types of companies in Singapore have actually been keeping up with the shifting trends in office design, says Chris Devitt, group director at interior design consultancy Steven Leach + Associates.

‘You have to look at what drives the idea that people are going to work in a non-traditional way,’ says Mr Devitt. ‘The ‘driver’ comes from the organisation itself, depending on culture and company strategy.’

He adds: ‘A number of multinationals have been investing in this for a long time because they have offices all over the world. The MNCs may have the right office culture for alternative work styles, but we also have to look at the tools that allow you to implement these ideas.’

According to Mr Devitt, technology companies, consumer-based companies with regional offices here and knowledge-based companies that require an environment that stimulates creativity are the prime candidates for alternative workspaces. ‘It would never work with lawyers and back offices,’ he says.

‘The trend has been for the big MNCs to look at different ways to work. The difficulty of doing this in Singapore is an incredibly tight labour market and high office rents. Here, they don’t look at different ways of working, they look at how many people they can cram in. It’s cost-driven - people are looking at the bottom line when it comes to Singapore. If the top management doesn’t see it, it will never happen.’

Mr Devitt says that there is also a growing awareness in the workplace about sustainability. ‘It will become more of an issue and has to do with the quality of the environment, the quality of the furniture, ergonomics, the quality of materials being green, non-toxic and recyclable - this is going to be a massive thing for the future.’

He adds: ‘The lead on this trend is Europe-driven. Ten years ago, it was all US-driven. Singapore is not behind - there are people who are trying to incorporate this all the time but it’s just the local companies that still don’t see the value.

‘It takes brave companies to look beyond the initial cost. Also, how do you manage a space where you have open areas and relaxation areas? Local companies don’t see it as an important issue - it’s like you’re pulling teeth to get a nice chair. The general feeling with local companies is, whatever it costs, it can be cheaper.’

St. James Power Station Mulls Tie-Up With Integrated Resorts

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 21 September 2007

St. James Power Station is gunning to be a night entertainment powerhouse by tying up with the two upcoming integrated resorts (IR) in Singapore.

It is already in talks with the developers of Sentosa's Resorts World and Marina Bay Sands.

From an old power station to a powerhouse in the nightclubbing scene, St James also looks set to be the first pure nightclub firm listed locally.

This follows its plans for a reverse takeover of Sesdaq-listed IT firm JK Technology.

And it is already making aggressive plans to generate revenue growth. For a start, it is eyeing opportunities across the other side of the harbour.

Dennis Foo, CEO, St James, said: "We will be going into IR and we are in serious talks and we met many times with Resort World. We have the synergy, the proximity of St James with Resort World is there and definitely we can engage each other, value add to each other. So obviously, we'll have some participation within the IR."

St James is also in talks with Marina Bay Sands. It says there are synergies to be found in food and beverages.

Mr Foo said: "Cafes, restaurants, even unique bars and restaurant concepts, can be created. Today, there is no line drawn between restaurants and bars really, especially since both restaurants and bars do not allow smoking. Hospitality can come very naturally in the form of restaurants for us to invest in."

With FJ Benjamin being one of its major shareholders, St James is also exploring how it can ride on the fashion flair of the retailer. With its stable of artistes set to grow to the hundreds, artiste management is also seen as an area of growth.

The company says it expects to exceed its forecast of S$16 million in cumulative net profits for financial years 2008 and 2009.

Having transformed the power station into a mega nightclub, St James says it is not ruling out offers it received to do the same for power stations in London and Indonesia. But it first wants to focus on growing its market share in Singapore in the next three years.

Mr Foo said: "We know the intricacies of converting a power station into a night entertainment complex. And it was very challenging. But now that we know this, we'd be able to do any power station any where in the world."

St James says it is taking a cautious approach towards venturing into big cities in China, preferring to take small steps, and understand the terrain first.

It plans to retain key staff through stock options and reward its 18,000 paying members with share placement. - CNA/ch

En Bloc Sales Boosting Housing Rentals In Singapore: Analysts

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 21 September 2007

Housing rentals in Singapore have risen faster than property prices, a phenomenon that is unique in this region.

Property analysts have pointed the finger at collective, or en bloc, sales, but they say they are not expecting rents to drop sharply even when the redevelopment projects are complete.

The price of housing in Asia has risen as a whole in recent years. Over in Hong Kong, South Korea and China, property prices have increased faster than rentals but here in Singapore, it is the reverse.

Rentals for private residences in the Republic jumped 10.4 percent in the second quarter, while property prices rose by a more modest 8.3 percent.

Analysts have pointed the finger at collective sales, which quickened in pace in the last 18 months.

Donald Han, Managing Director, Cushman & Wakefield, said: "I think the phenomena of rental increase in residential is purely because of the collective sales fever that you've seen in the last two, three years.

"There has been a lot of the older stock which went under the redevelopment block of the collective sale and there was not enough replacement for the new properties."

The displacement is particularly acute in Districts 9, 10 and 11, where collective sales activities were highest.

Looking ahead, analysts say that investors should expect rents to stabilise or correct downwards once supply comes back.

Colin Tan, Head of Research and Consultancy, Chesterton, said: "I suppose the properties that are being redeveloped when they're completed... prices or rentals will stabilise. Whether they will come down or not will depend on, I suppose, the prospects for the Singapore economy.

"I think there is a lot of talk that more foreigners will be coming due to the added attractions of the F1, integrated resorts. So we have to see. If the demand is good, the correction may be just slight."

Between the second half of this year to 2010, 43,018 private housing units are expected to be completed. - CNA/ch