Friday, October 5, 2007

F&N CEO Quits, Citing Differences Of Opinion With Board

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 05 October 2007

Diversified Fraser and Neave (F&N) said on Friday that its CEO, Han Cheng Fong, has resigned with immediate effect.

In a statement to the Singapore Exchange on Friday, F&N said that Dr Han's resignation was due to differences of opinion with the company's board of management.

But the beer-to-property conglomerate maintained that the differences had nothing to do with the financial position or performance of F&N or its subsidiaries.

When contacted, F&N's company secretary Anthony Cheong also told Channel NewsAsia that Dr Han's departure was not triggered by the impending change of F&N chairmanship, contrary to some media reports.

Former SingTel Group CEO Lee Hsien Yang is due to take over the chairmanship from Michael Fam when he retires on October 15. Mr Lee is currently a consultant with F&N.

Dr Han has been F&N's CEO since February last year.

F&N said it is looking for a successor. Meanwhile, the board's chairman will oversee the management until a successor is appointed. - CNA/ir

New Accounting Rules May Result In Property Stock Trading Volatility

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 05 October 2007

Listed property developers may experience some volatility in the trading of their shares, if a proposed change to real estate financial reporting standard is implemented.

The International Accounting Standards Board has been consulting the industry on whether developers should book profits when they sell a new property in advance or when the project is completed.

A similar consultation by the local Council on Corporate Disclosure and Governance was done last month.

Property developers in Singapore sell condominiums as they build them.

They receive progressive payments from buyers and report their revenue and profits each quarter.

But if the new real estate financial reporting standard is implemented, developers can only book their profits and revenue at the end of each project rather than progressively.

Assuming it takes 18 months to build a new property from scratch, the developer will record zero profit for this project in the first year and have a spike in revenue and profit at the end of the second quarter in the second year.

Accountants say the change was proposed because the accounting bodies believe properties should be viewed as goods and not services.

If the ownership of the goods has not been transferred to the buyer, the developer or seller cannot, theoretically, claim he has sold it.

So, even if he has received partial payment, he should not record it in his books as revenue and profit.

Channel NewsAsia understands that developers have submitted their feedback to the Council on Corporate Disclosure and Governance through the Real Estate Developers Association of Singapore (REDAS).

REDAS declined to comment on the issue.

But Dr Ernest Kan, a vice-president at the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore, said: "The feedback has been mixed. In fact most of them will feel that the current standard seems to be more reasonable, because many of these contracts straddle across the accounting period and normally it lasts more than 12 months, some 18, 24 or even 36, 48 months. So it makes the numbers very volatile, and many developers felt that it's not a logical way of accounting for something."

Some developers also argue that a property is built in parts and therefore can be sold in parts.

They also say constructing a property can also be viewed as the sale of a service rather than as a good.

Dr Ernest Kan said: "So for the retail investors, if they don't quite appreciate that, they'd be wondering: should I buy shares in this company, when every quarter when I look at the announcement, there's no revenue, no profit. Is it something that's worth buying? Whereas during the year, when they see big numbers, then they'd think, 'great, this company is doing very well', without knowing that they had just completed a contract in the quarter."

But experts say the market will eventually adjust and factor in the new accounting rules.

The changes are likely to be effected next year. - CNA/ir

Top Grade Contractors Earning Premiums Amid Property Boom

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 05 October 2007

It's not just property developers who are riding the current industry boom.

Established construction companies that struggled through the stormy late 90s are now experiencing a robust turnaround, and are commanding price tags which are up to 20 percent higher than their smaller peers.

That's because there are not enough of them to go around in a market awash with developers who want only the best for their projects.

The larger number of projects is an obvious factor, but there is another key reason for the squeeze. A number of contractors had gone bust, and for those still around, most have been down-sized.

Kunalan Sivapuniam, managing partner at Emirates Tarian, said: "Developers are very cautious about quality. We are also faced with discerning buyers who want to pay for quality. So you have to look for quality contractors. If you look at category A or grade one contractors, there are not that many now."

Industry watchers said that going forward, top grade construction firms may command premiums higher than now.

Song Seng Wun, regional economist at CIMB-GK Research, said: "At this juncture, we are at the beginning of the upturn of the construction cycle. I suspect in the coming few years, the construction firms will do quite well."

Developers say higher costs could be passed down to home buyers.

Emirates Tarian's Kunalan Sivapuniam said: "It's hard to say how much of that is going to be passed on. It's a question of whether they are in a hurry to launch the projects, in which case they have to bite the bullet.

"If you have developers that are able to hold on to their projects and launch them over a longer period of time, then they would be able to pass on a lot of this, because the market is rising."

As this demand bulge moves further down the pipe, industry players say related services like interior design and electrical fittings can also look to rosy days ahead.

According to some estimates, the value of construction contracts awarded this year will hit more than S$20 billion. - CNA/ir

New S$1b Fund Set Up To Invest In Prime Properties In Asia

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 05 October 2007

A new fund has been jointly set up by Pacific Star Group and HSH Real Estate – which is the real estate unit of HSH Nordbank – to invest in prime properties in Asia.

It has a target fund size of 500 million euros (S$1 billion).

The fund will initially target established markets, which include Singapore, Japan and South Korea. It may also tap emerging markets like China and India eventually.

HSH Real Estate will raise capital from German institutional and private investors, while Pacific Star will be responsible for acquiring and managing suitable real estate projects.

HSH Real Estate said European investors are increasingly focusing on the Asia-Pacific region.

As such, the region is expected to benefit from a larger share of global real estate investments.

Pacific Star Group is better known for launching the Macquarie MEAG Prime REIT worth US$845 million.

It is also behind three other funds – the US$580 million Eureka Office Fund, the US$1.6 billion Asia Real Estate Income Fund, and the US$600 million Baitak Asian Real Estate Fund. - CNA/so

Allco REIT Acquires 25-Storey Beach Road Building For S$370m

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 05 October 2007

Allco Commercial REIT has acquired a 25-storey commercial building located on the corner of Beach Road and Jalan Sultan for S$370 million.

KeyPoint comprises a three-storey retail podium, a 22-storey office tower and a four-storey car park block.

It was built in 1978 on a 99-year leasehold site and underwent an extensive upgrading seven years ago.

It stands on a 78,000 square feet site.

The building has a gross floor area of over 440,000 square feet. - CNA/so

Ten @ Suffolk

At Ten @ Suffolk, everything is planned, built and designed with you in mind. From its prime location to the meticulous care and attention taken to give you the best life can offer, nothing is taken for granted. A living experience that is ten out of ten. A luxury meant only for the discerning

Address : No 10 Suffolk Road Singapore 307786 (District 11)
Description : Part 13/15-Storey Luxurious Apartment with 35 Apartments
& 2 Penthouses (Every level is served by 2 lifts)
Site Area : Estimated 1,650 sqm / 17,760 sqft
TOP : Oct 2007
Tenure : Freehold (Foreigners eligible)
Total Units : 37
No. Of Carpark Lots : 39
Developer : Hong Fok Development (Newton) Pte Ltd
Past Track Record : Grangeford Apartments
Type of Units :-
2 Bedrm – 22 units (1,087-1,119sqft)
3 Bedrm – 13 units (1,184-2,228sqft)
Penthouses – 2 units (3,757sqft)

3 Bdrm #11-Abv 1206sqft Asking $1.8m (~$1500/psf)

Facilities :-
-20m X 6m Swimming pool (Depth $1.2m),
-Multi-Purpose Room,
-Children's Playground,
-BBQ Area,
-Foot Reflexology Path
-24 Hours Security
-Basement Carpark

Nearest MRT
-N21 Newton
-N20 Novena

Nearest Shopping Centre
-United Square 0.4km,
-Goldhill Centre 0.5km,
-Novena Square 0.6km,
-Balmoral Plaza 1.1km,
-Serangoon Plaza 1.2km,
-Balestier Hill Shopping Centre 1.2km,
-Tekka Mall 1.3km,
-Mustafa 1.3km

Nearest Food Centre
-Newton Food Centre 0.7km,
-Tekka Centre Food Centre 1.2km,
-Balestier Food Centre 1.3km,
-Whampoa Food Centre 1.5km,
-Rochor Original Beancurd 1.5km,
-Peranakan Place 1.6km,
-Lavender Food Centre 1.7km,
-Lanson Place 1.7km

Nearest Schools
-St Michael's 0.4km,
-St Michael's School 0.6km,
-Monk's Hill Secondary School 0.6km,
-Oxford Road 0.8km,
-Farrer Park Primary School 0.8km,
-Chao Yang Special 0.8km,
-Alliance Francse De Singapour 0.8km,
-Sanyu Adventist School 0.9km

CapitaLand In India Site Talks: Source

Source : The Business Times, October 5, 2007

CAPITALAND is in talks with an Indian company to develop a piece of land near Pune in India, a source familiar with the negotiations said yesterday.

The source's comments follow a report in India's Economic Times that the Singapore company will invest around 7 billion rupee (S$262 million) in a 50:50 joint venture with India's DS Kulkarni Developers to develop 60 acres of land.

Clarifying the Economic Times report, CapitaLand said in a statement to the Singapore Exchange: 'CapitaLand is currently sourcing for various opportunities in India.

In the course of our business dealings, we will have discussions with various interested parties.

We will make the necessary announcements at the appropriate time if there are any firm developments.' - Reuters

Funny Scenes At The Pool

Rents For Small Offices Rise

Source : TODAY, Friday, October 5, 2007

THE average rent for a small prime grade A office space of less than 10,000 sq ft rose to $14.90 per square foot (psf) per month in the third quarter ended September this year.

According to property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), this is close to the $15 psf psychological barrier mark and about 38 per cent above the $10.80 psf average rentals achieved in the CBD Core — a historic high that surpassed the previous peak of $9.90 psf in the previous quarter by 9.6 per cent for this category.

“With increasing occupancy costs, a number of banks and financial institutions have adopted a more conservative stance on their occupational plans, either expanding and restacking within their current locations or relocating part of their operations to either business parks or secondary-grade office spaces,” said Mr Chris Archibold, head of commercial leasing with JLL.

JLL said this trend of moving to fringe locations has seen the secondary-grade office space in the small-space category achieve the highest growth among all grades of office space. Rentals at high tech parks grew 22 per cent to close at an average of $3.05 psf while secondary grade offices witnessed an increase of 12.3 per cent to rise from $5.70 to $6.40 psf.

JLL said office demand spillover will be more evident in the coming months.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority will be releasing its third-quarter office rental statistics, based on official records of all rental transactions, at the end of this month.

Capitaland Develops Property In India

Source : TODAY, Friday, October 5, 2007

Real estate heavyweight CapitaLand and Indian property firm D S Kulkarni Developers are negotiating a 7-billion-rupee ($264-million) joint venture agreement for a development in India.

A person close to the deal said the joint venture will develop 60 acres of land in India’s Pune.

About 30 acres will be developed for residential use, while the rest will be used for a special economic zone.

En Bloc - Madness That Split A Community

Source : TODAY, Friday, October 5, 2007

All this en bloc angst has made me value my HDB flat

THIS probably isn’t going to win me any popularity contest but I am so glad the Government passed new laws to regulate en bloc sales. It’s about time someone cooled the fever.

Those two words are enough to send shivers down my spine. For one, it means some of the buildings I’ve loved since childhood are fast disappearing.

Every time I pass by Marine Parade, I have to shut my eyes to the ugly crane-filled sand dunes where once charming low-rise condos and pre-war bungalows used to stand.

Yes, they are only buildings and Singapore needs space — same old argument. But what about the communities living in those old places — neighbours who have looked out for each other for decades and watched each other’s children grow?

Singaporeans are always complaining about the come-home-and-shut-door condo lifestyle but don’t seem to treasure closeness when they find it. Or is the lure of money too overpowering?

I used to love peeking into this lovely ’70s estate off Orchard Road. Whatever the time of the day, it would be full of children running around and residents chatting in the leafy green spaces.

Even from the road, I could see open doors, children at the playground and neighbours popping in and out of each other’s homes. It had an air of upmarket kampung.

But not anymore. The last time I passed by this estate, there was an Everitt Roadlike chill in the air. People scurried from their cars to the lifts, avoiding each other’s eyes, and all the doors were shut.

As I was curious, I walked up to a man handing out leaflets at the main gate to find out what was going on. “En bloc sale,” he whispered. “Some want to sell, others don’t and it’s causing a lot of tension.” The leaflets he was handing out was to urge those who were still undecided to sell.

The money would come in handy, he admitted, but it also came at a cost. No one was talking to each other anymore. His neighbour has stopped coming over to play mahjong with his wife because they are now on opposite sides of the fence.

Overnight, the dreaded e-word has killed a community that took 30 years to grow. “Might as well sell now,” my new pal said sadly, “because it doesn’t feel like
home anymore.”

But at least the split was among neighbours and not within his family. A friend’s childhood home has gone en bloc and now, she and her brother are not talking to each other. Both are single and live with their parents.

She wants her parents to downgrade to a HDB flat and keep the rest of the money for their retirement but her brother wants them to splurge on a big condo so he can have his own room. As their parents don’t dare to decide either way, the family may be homeless in a month.

In Parliament a few weeks ago, Member of Parliament Irene Ng observed that the en bloc trend “seems to bring out the worst in some people”. Sad, but how true.

En bloc sales have the dubious distinction of pushing two hot buttons at once —money and property. And in kiasu, land-scarce Singapore, nothing can pit brother against brother (or, in my friend’s case, sister against brother) better than those two issues.

It is bad enough that the en bloc madness is affecting us locally, but it is also giving Singapore a bad reputation among the foreign talent we are trying to entice away from competitors such as Hong Kong and Tokyo.

An expat friend has had to move three times in six months, despite signing oneyear contracts. Every place he rented went en bloc and he was told to leave with one month’s notice.

He is so fed up he’s thinking of moving his family — and his money — back to Hong Kong. “There, I know I won’t be chased out of my home every month or so,” he said. And he is urging his friends to do the same.

All this angst, however, has taught me to treasure my HDB flat. It may not be fancy and has a resident madman. But I have been here for four years and there’s not a single sign of the place going en bloc. That’s a pretty good track record in this en bloc-crazy world.

Tabitha Wang is feeling smug that she bought a tiny studio in a conservation area. Surely that will never go en bloc?

S’poreans Do Seem A Worrying Lot

Source : TODAY, Friday, October 5, 2007

But survey shows that they prepare for retirement better than their Asian counterparts

THE proposed changes to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) are aimed at helping Singapore's ageing population to have enough for their retirement needs. But recent discussions on the subject may have cast a pall on Singaporeans' outlook on life.

According to a survey by AXA Life Insurance, the Republic ranks the lowest of eight Asian countries and territories in terms of overall life satisfaction and planning for the future.

Conducted in August, the AXA Life Outlook Index survey measured people's outlook on career, family, health and retirement. About 2,400 people between the ages of 25 and 50 were polled in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

People in India, China and the Philippines were the most optimistic, while those in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong did not share the same sentiment about their outlook on life over the next five years.

"At first glance, such a lack of confidence (in the Singapore market) seems problematic," said AXA Life Insurance Singapore chief marketing and strategy officer Annette King. "Actually, the reverse is likely to be true as lower optimism is what seems to drive people to take action early for a better future.

"In Singapore, consumers are making preparations for retirement planning earlier than everyone else in the region and that is a positive development."

Compared with an overall Life Outlook Index of 71.6 (of 100) for the region, Singapore scored 59.2 — even though Singaporeans were found to prepare for retirement better than their Asian counterparts. In fact, 6 in 10 Singaporeans started planning for retirement at the age of 34 — compared to the regional average of 39.

Of 300 Singaporeans surveyed, 59 per cent said they had started planning seriously for retirement, with 70 per cent having bought health insurance — the highest in the region. Yet, they feel they are one of the least prepared for old age.

Senior travel counsellor Madam Halijah Ibrahim is one of them.

"Of course I'm worried about rising medical costs, because it is already expensive," the 43-year-old told Today.

As for the fervent discussions about the CPF changes, Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC, Dr Lim Wee Kiak, noted that it has made people more aware of their retirement needs.

"One good thing about this debate is that it has suddenly dawned on people that they need to save for retirement," he told Today. "It used to be many people took for granted that their retirement will be taken care of and that their CPF will last forever."

Of the four Life Outlook dimensions, career held the greatest weight in terms of influence for Singaporeans — they worried about job security and their prospects for progression leading to greater financial rewards.

Despite a strong local economy, they also worried about the rising cost of living and future opportunities — hence, their concerns about retirement and long-term financial security.

Brothers Sue Each Other Over Father's Estate

Source : The Straits Times, Fri, Oct 05, 2007

(Picture: When There's A Will,There Are Fewer Nasty Legal Disputes)

PATRIARCH Leow Nee Chong must have been quite an avid collector. When he died in 1988, he left behind: some 300 US gold coins; more than 300 gold chains; five or six bags of Intan diamonds; at least 25 emerald, ruby and 15-carat diamond rings; and more than 200 gold-plated silver and steel watches.

There were also four properties, and a sum of $1.9 million.

But the businessman left behind no will.

His two sons handled the estate on behalf of the patriarch's wife and all the siblings, which includes four daughters. Their mother died in August 1993.

Now, Mr Leow Mei Loy has taken his younger brother Chia Then to court to account for the assets, and to share them among all six siblings.

Chia Then is counter-suing, claiming, among other things, that Mei Loy has not accounted for valuables from their dad's jewellery shop.

Court documents listed the properties as: two shophouses in Arab Street, another in North Bridge Road, and a bungalow in Mountbatten Road that was priced at $16 million in 1997.

Mei Loy, 59, through lawyers Henry Heng and Vicki Loh, is claiming that Chia Then, who is in his early 50s, kept the valuables after their father died.

According to Mei Loy, the items were previously in two large safes in the pawnshop in Arab Street.

He also seeks, among other things, an account of the $230,000 allegedly received as deposits for the sale of one Arab Street shophouse and the North Bridge Road shophouse in 1997.

He wants his brother removed as co-administrator and be replaced by his older sister Fie Yin.

But Chia Then is countering in court by wanting Mei Loy thrown out instead and replaced by youngest sister Mee Ying.

Through lawyers Cavinder Bull and Terence Seah, he is disputing his older brother's claims and notes that the suit comes in the wake of an earlier High Court order made in 1995 ordering the sale of all properties.

While the North Bridge Road shophouse and one in Arab Street were sold for a total of about $3.15 million in 1997, he has not been able to touch the other two properties, including the bungalow in Mountbatten Road where Mei Loy still lives in.

Chia Then also claims he has no access to the other shophouse in Arab Street.

He counters that Mei Loy, who once operated the jewellery shop with his father, had yet to account for and share the cash and stock from the shop after their dad died.

Last year, Chia Then applied to the High Court to enforce the 1995 sale order, to enable the sale of the remaining two properties.

The two suits are now fixed to be heard jointly. A High Court pre-trial conference before Senior Assistant Registrar Audrey Lim on Monday will be followed by another next month.

There were at least eight court cases of sibling spats over family wealth since April last year.

They include an 80-year-old woman who sued her daughter and son-in-law for more than $500,000 from the sale of a house. The suit was settled some time after her daughter, who was suffering from hypertension, died last year.

In July this year, a businessman sued his daughter and three siblings for three properties worth $9 million. The case is ongoing.

In another pending case reported last month, two sisters are locked in a court battle over who should inherit more than 20 properties left by their late mother.

Lawyer Amolat Singh believes such spats could arise from a number of factors, or even simply greed. 'Mediation might help settle matters sometimes,' he said.

Savings Account Inactive For Two Years, So Bank 'Freezes' It

Source : The Straits Times, Oct 5, 2007

I RECEIVED a letter from OCBC bank recently. This is a computer-generated letter which informed me that my account had been inactive for some time and that I had to reactivate my account by topping it up at any OCBC Bank branch.

This is akin to freezing my account. I was told by the customer service officer at the service hotline that my account had become inactive as there is no transaction for the past two years.

This is absurd. I thought that I can safely place my money in the bank but, alas, my savings have now been frozen. I can't even withdraw my money from the ATM. I have to personally make a trip to the bank in order to activate the account. Fortunately, I have the foresight of not depositing an enormous sum of money with the bank.

I know that the amount in my savings account is a very insignificant sum. If OCBC bank thinks that it is not worthwhile to have me as a customer, then tell me to close the account. I would be very glad to do so.

Lim Nee Eng (Ms)

Only Hotline Officers Available To Attend To Problem At This Foreign Bank, And This Is Not Good Enough

Source : The Straits Times, Oct 5, 2007

I TOOK up a housing loan with Standard Chartered Bank at the end of July. Since then, I have not been able to get any answers on any of my queries, not only from my 'Personal Financial Consultant' but also from the people handling the bank's hotline.

Since I thought my 'personal financial consultant' was too busy chasing other deals, I turned to the only other avenue available, the bank's hotline.

After talking to at least four service officers through the hotline, my problem was still unsolved. Even then, they refused to give me any direct telephone number to any officer or higher authority who could handle my problem. No names, no numbers and no one responsible! Each time I call the hotline, it is a different person answering and each time I have had to repeat my whole situation, and still nothing gets done.

It's as if after signing on the dotted line with the bank for a loan facility, I'm left dealing with a virtual bank, with only the call centre available.

This whole episode has stretched over one-and-a-half months and it was only after insisting that I would not speak to anyone other than a service manager that I was reluctantly given a direct telephone number.

This is the first time I have taken up a facility from a foreign bank. All the time that I have dealt with the local banks, I have never had such bad service.

How can anyone have confidence in a bank that only gives a hotline number? At DBS, there was always someone who was responsible for the account.

Toh Mei Lin (Mdm)

Posers Over UOB Housing Loan Rates

Source : The Straits Times, Oct 5, 2007

MY WIFE and I refinanced our housing loan in July 2005 with UOB whose Board Rate then was 5.75% (actual loan rate = BR - 2.25%).

We were shocked to learn that the current UOB Board Rate as of September 2007 is 7.5%, an increase of 1.75%.

The Sibor rate in July 2005 was about 2%. Thereafter, it rose to a high of about 3.5% in July 2006, a 1.5% increase over the period. It fell to about 2.6% since May 2007.

Why is UOB's Board Rate still at 7.5%? If UOB had adjusted accordingly during the Sibor increase around end-2005 to early-2006, shouldn't the UOB Board Rate be adjusted accordingly now that Sibor has fallen since May 2007?

Ng Kok Kheng

Conduct Poll Before Upgrading Hawker Centre

Source : The Straits Times, Oct 5, 2007

I LIVE in Bedok South and I often have my meals at the hawker centre at Block 58, Upper Changi Road.

Here, I can still relish a plate of chicken rice or a bowl of fishball noodles for $2. This price is unheard of in the new HDB estates.

The hawker centre looks new and, not too long ago, it was closed for a few months for some upgrading to its gas-pipe system.

A few days ago, I was shocked when a stallholder told me that the hawker centre would be closed in March next year. The stalls will be moved to a temporary site nearby and each stallholder has to pay $7,500 for five months' rental.

The stallholders will move back to their upgraded stalls with an increase in rental.

The stallholder who spoke to me said that he would not be able to sell fishball noodle soup at $2 anymore. It might have to be priced at $2.50 or even $3.

A sizeable number of senior citizens patronise the hawker centre. An increase of $1 a day for meals there will add to the increased cost of living, coming after the GST increase, fare hike, heath-care cost increase, etc.

The hawker centre is far from being in a dilapidated condition, so why is there a need to spend money on upgrading it and, in the process, increasing the cost of living?

I suggest that the residents in Bedok South be consulted via a poll, in line with the Government's call for residents to participate in the management of their estate.

Ooi Wooi Keat



Why is there a need to upgrade the hawker centre and, in the process, increase the cost of living?

MM Warns Of 'Dark Side' Despite Economic Boom

Source : The Straits Times, Oct 5, 2007

He cautions against complacency and ignoring warning signs that things could go wrong

THE economy may be booming and Singapore's prospects over the next decade are favourable, but Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew warned yesterday of a 'dark side'.
Concerned over what he saw as 'too much euphoria everywhere', he warned Singapore against becoming complacent and ignoring warning signs that things could go wrong.

'Setbacks could come suddenly,' he said, noting how one such warning came recently with the global meltdown of stock markets in August.

While the markets have since recovered, he believed the underlying problems, linked to the United States mortgage woes that have not been cleaned up, have not gone away.

He cited other nagging worries: inflation going up, prices of commodities rising, and concerns over a volatile region caused by the instability in Myanmar.

Mr Lee painted this backdrop at a forum with Nanyang Technological University students, as he commented for the first time on the recent Central Provident Fund (CPF) changes. He counselled caution against those who had pressed for higher CPF returns.

A thorny issue in the suite of changes to the CPF is the extra 1 percentage point being given to members for the first $60,000 in their balances.

MPs had asked for more. Some suggested tapping into the reserves and pegging CPF interest rates to the returns of Temasek Holdings' and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).

Yesterday, Mr Lee noted that amid this debate, there was one worry over a possible downturn in the US economy and resulting inflation worldwide. And that might lead to a repeat of the low growth and high inflation, or stagflation, of the late 1960s and 1970s.

It was during this period, he recounted, that Singapore's reserves suffered losses.

That was what prompted the Government to set up the GIC in 1981. It was so that there could be a dedicated team that could work at protecting the value of the reserves and investments, and especially at that time when inflation was raging.

'We never invested the CPF money in shares or bonds. We always invested the CPF money in Singapore Government bonds where the Singapore Government guarantees a fixed return and you're always going to get it,' said Mr Lee, who is the GIC chairman.

'In other words, you will never lose. And if anybody thinks he can do better, he's welcome to take his money and go to a fund manager and try and do better.

'The fact that we have done well was not because the GIC had a lot of geniuses. It's just that they learnt how to do it.'

Besides the turbulence of the global markets, Mr Lee also urged Singaporeans to remember that their country is in a 'volatile region'.

He believed that an unstable Myanmar was a time bomb that would rock South-east Asia. That was why it was in the best interest of Asean to help stabilise the country, he said.

In such a volatile region, it was all the more important for Singapore to continue to distinguish itself through better standards of governance.

The Government had already put in place the 'big pieces' of national solidarity, English as a working language, industrial harmony and an incorruptible system.

The founding leaders also had the 'basic principles' of building a clean and safe system with world-class infrastructure welcoming to investors.

This whole system evolved because of political leadership that insisted on meritocracy and incorruptibility at every level, he said.

'So our future depends on Singaporeans realising that we always have to be different, cleaner, more transparent, more efficient, always better,' he said, before an hour-long dialogue with students that touched on topics such as global warming and the Singapore media.

'Then we'll survive the competition against those with bigger girth, oil, gas, forest, rivers, whatever. And the next 40 years, if we heed those principles, we should do as well as the last 40 years, provided we change each time the world changes.'

'We never invested the CPF money in shares or bonds. We always invested the CPF money in Singapore Government bonds where the Singapore Government guarantees a fixed return and you're always going to get.
'In other words, you will never lose. And if anybody thinks he can do better, he's welcome to take his money and go to a fund manager and try and do better.'

MM LEE, counselling caution against those who had pressed for higher CPF returns

Related Video Link -
MM Lee on why CPF monies were never invested in stocks & bonds

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew today defended the new CPF interest rates and explained
why it cannot be tagged to stocks and bonds.

In Parliament recently, some MPs had questioned why the average CPF interest rate had to hover between 3 and 5 per cent when the GIC, they said, could earn interest of around 8 per cent.

Speaking at the NTU forum, Mr Lee said Singapore's reserves suffered heavy losses in the late 1960s/70s because of ballooning deficits in the US.

This led to stagflation and losses for Singapore's stocks and bonds.

Real-Estate Companies Must Regulate Agents

Source : The Straits Times, Oct 5, 2007

IT IS heartening to read that bosses of real-estate companies now see the need to regulate housing agents - and they have a pivotal role to play.
There have been cases where agents committed gross acts of impropriety and when the matter was reported to their company, the company simply said that the agents were independent contractors and that the company was not responsible for their acts.

I am not sure how many company bosses do surprise checks on their agents by responding to the agents' advertisements. Just on Tuesday, when we called an agent to enquire about a house for sale, she told us that the owner expected 'under hand cash' (cash paid under the table). When we pointed out that it was illegal to do so, she said that 'if you are not comfortable, you don't buy. I can find another buyer'.

Simply expecting the Government or HDB to regulate housing agents will not bear fruit. The companies themselves must undertake the task.

N. Nageswaran

CMT: Balancing Information Needs

Source : The Business Times, Friday, October 5, 2007

ONE of the biggest challenges that CapitaMall Trust (CMT), Singapore’s first and still its largest real estate investment trust (Reit), faces when it comes to timing the release of information is balancing the needs of sophisticated institutional investors and mom-and-pop retail investors.

And it needs to further weigh that against how the information released will impact the trust’s negotiations with the authorities on renovations to its assets, tenants, and property sellers.

‘The Singapore Reit industry is only about five years old and many local investors have still not achieved the level of sophistication of their counterparts in more mature Reit markets such as Australia and the US,’ as Pua Seck Guan puts it. He is CEO of CapitaMall Trust Management Ltd (CMTML), the manager of CMT. The trust has grown from owning just three malls here worth $930 million when it was floated in July 2002 to 13 properties in Singapore today worth over $5 billion. These include Tampines Mall, Junction 8, IMM Building, Sembawang Shopping Centre, Bugis Junction and a 40 per cent interest in Raffles City Singapore.

In addition, CMT has a 20 per cent stake in CapitaRetail China Trust (CRCT), which owns a portfolio of seven malls worth around $690 million in Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Zhengzhou, Huhehaote and Wuhu.

‘Our investment in CRCT and participation in Singapore development projects are expected to drive continuous long-term growth for unitholders. CMT targets to grow its asset size in Singapore from its current $5.7 billion to $8 billion by 2010,’ Mr Pua says.

CMT is the largest Reit in Singapore by market capitalisation (about $6 billion as at Oct 1) and asset size.

The winner of SIAS - Most Transparent Company Award 2007, under the Reits section, CMTML stresses that upholding the highest level of corporate governance and transparency standards towards good investor relations practices is tied to the fundamentals of a Reit.

A Reit provides unitholders with regular income streams, coupled with growth in unit price over time.

Reits return virtually all, if not all, of their income to unitholders, and Reit managers publicly forecast the Reit’s income in terms of distribution per unit. The price at which the Reit trades in the stock market is a function of a given yield and total return expectation by investors.

Hence, timely disclosure of information affecting a Reit’s income is important to facilitate investors’ decision-making process.

‘We believe our consistent effort on this front has been well received by the investment community, which has led to our winning this prestigious award by SIAS for the fourth consecutive year,’ Mr Pua says.

CMT has delivered a total return of about 302 per cent as at June 30, 2007 to unitholders since its listing in July 2002, with about 254 per cent comprising capital appreciation of CMT’s unit price and 48 per cent coming from distributions to unit holders.

‘The stable quarterly distributions and sustainable total returns have been achieved through CMT’s multi-pronged strategy of yield-accretive acquisitions and investments, innovative asset enhancements, and proactive leasing and asset management,’ Mr Pua says.

CMT is also ‘actively exploring opportunities’ to undertake mall development projects in Singapore, Mr Pua reveals.

Two Events For Property Investors This Weekend

Source : The Business Times, October 5, 2007

TWO property events will be heading to Singapore this weekend.

London's New Capital Quay will see its Singapore launch at the Grand Hyatt Hotel today.

And starting tomorrow, global and local experts on international property and investment strategy will gather at the SMART Investment & International Property Expo for two days at the Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

During New Capital Quay's launch over the last weekend, over 450 units - - out of a total of over 630 - were taken up by buyers.

The units sold were worth some £pounds;220 million (S$665 million) in all, and were from across the price spectrum. Prices range from under £pounds;300,000 to £pounds;1.5 million, with first completions due in 2011 - just in time for the nearby events at the 2012 Olympics.

New Capital Quay will be one of London's largest regeneration schemes, with the transformation of a derelict 3.2-hectare site on the waterfront in Greenwich into a vibrant community with cafes, restaurants and shops.

Meanwhile, at the SMART Investment & International Property Expo, more than 30 invited speakers will deliver key insights into the next wave of property hot spots and investment options. The free seminar aims to offer unbiased information fundamental to sound investment.

With the recent uncertainty in the US sub-prime housing market, and the global credit crunch, many Singaporeans are uncertain about their next investment move, said the event's organiser, Corporate Consumer Communications (3:C).

A panel of local property specialists will share their thoughts on whether the Singapore property market is still sizzling hot or whether it has reached the end of its bull run.

GuocoLand Condo Bags Top Prize For Eco-Friendly Buildings

Source : The Straits Times, Oct 4, 2007

Goodwood Residence boasts unique water management, waste recycling systems

A LUXURY condominium designed by local developer GuocoLand Group won Singapore's highest accolade for green buildings on Thursday.

The 210-unit Goodwood Residence in Bukit Timah Road clinched the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark Platinum Award for its high environmental standards.

Two innovations at the project, which is still under construction, caught the eye of the judging panel.

One is a pioneering water irrigation system that allows mass volumes of rain and underground water to be recycled.

The other is a method of recycling construction waste into internal partition walls.

Instead of disposing of construction waste, including rubble from the demolished low-rise condo Casa Rosita that was on the site, GuocoLand is using selected materials for making new walls.

The developer said it commercialised this 'zero building waste' approach, which was initially developed by Professor Wee Tiong Huan of National University of Singapore's civil engineering department.

Other striking eco-friendly features include the use of integrated sunshades which allows residents to block out the sun's heat while still allowing ventilation, and a vertical "green wall" as the building's facade to keep homes cool.

The two 12-storey block condo, located next to the lush greenery of Goodwood Hill, is surrounded by about 500 trees that serve as its own green lung.

More than $600,000 in utility bills will also be saved every year as a result of the energy efficient measures that will be put in place, such as more efficient lights, air-conditioning systems and gas water heaters.

Half of these savings will be passed on to residents in the form of lower utility bills, GuocoLand's managing director Trina Loh told The Straits Times.

'Although we had to spend 1.5 per cent more in construction costs, the long-term benefits make it worthwhile,' added Ms Loh.

The BCA Green Mark scheme was launched in 2005 and rates buildings on their environmental impact and performance.

Goodwood Residences is the second residential project to receive the platinum award.

The Oceanfront@Sentosa Cove developed by City Developments (CDL) was honoured in April.

GuocoLand's 2.5 ha project is due for completion in 2010 with its first sales launch expected at the end of this year.

Guocoland Wins BCA's Highest Green Award

Source : The Business Times, October 5, 2007

Its Goodwood Residences will be built using recycled materials

GUOCOLAND'S yet-to-be launched Goodwood Residence has won a Green Mark Platinum Award from the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) for its eco-friendly features.

Plastic, timber, exposed metal and glass will be extracted from the rubble of the existing building on the site, Casa Rosita, and recycled to make internal partition walls for the 210-unit new project.

Goodwood Residences: Incorporating green features into the yet-to-be launched project will add 1.5 per cent to the construction cost

The idea - conceived by Wee Tiong Huan, a professor at the National University of Singapore's Department of Civil Engineering - was a response to the Indonesian sand ban.

Guocoland is the first developer here to apply it.

Other eco-friendly features of Goodwood Residence include self-sustaining plant irrigation to minimise use of potable water. Tanks will collect rainwater to irrigate plants through wet and dry seasons.

There will also be extensive shading and double refuse chutes to separate recyclable from non-recyclable waste.

The extension of the Goodwood Hill green belt was also recognised by BCA. Close to 80 per cent of the grounds at Goodwood Residence have been reserved for landscaping and communal facilities.

Guocoland (Singapore) managing director Trina Loh said: 'We are honoured to be recognised for our green efforts'.

Due to our early planning, we have demonstrated that green features can complement good design at Goodwood Residence.' Guocoland reckons the green features will add 1.5 per cent to construction cost.

BCA director (technology development) Tan Tian Chong said: 'It is very important to have the public and private sectors working together to shape a sustainable built environment.'

Parkway Parade Office Space Sold For Above $1,000 PSF

Source : The Business Times, October 5, 2007

Two units in the leasehold building were sold at $1,243 psf and $1,275 psf

TWO office units at Parkway Parade have been auctioned at $1,243 per square foot and $1,275 psf of strata area, a new high in the current office cycle at the leasehold building, though still shy of the $1,665 psf achieved in 1996 in the building.

The buyer of the latest two office units, which are located on the 21st storey of Parkway Parade, is believed to the owner of the Hotel 81 chain, which also owns the adjacent space, used for its management office.

'Perhaps they bought the two latest units with a view to expanding their office at Parkway Parade,' a market watcher said.

Parkway Parade is on a site with a remaining lease of about 71 years.

The two units auctioned off last month by Colliers International are currently fetching a monthly rental of about $3,500 each. Their rental leases expire early next year.

Each of the two units has a strata area of 925 sq ft and have sea views.

The seller was M&P Investments, which a companies search showed as being a subsidiary of listed Parkway Holdings, the developer of Parkway Parade.

Office units at Parkway Parade have been changing hands this year mostly below $1,000 psf. For instance, an eighth floor unit was sold for $983 psf in July while a unit on the 10th floor went for $929 psf in May.

But the highest price ever achieved for office space in the building was the $1,665 psf in March 1996 when a 1,765 sq ft unit on the ninth level fetched almost $2.94 million.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority's price index for office space in the central region for Q2 2007 was 26.6 per cent higher than a year earlier.

MM Lee: Stagflation Can Still Make Comeback

Source : The Business Times, October 5, 2007

He cautions against too much euphoria in the current state of the economy

Stagflation - that combination of low growth and high inflation that plagued the world in the 1970s and early 1980s - can still make a comeback as the sub-prime mortgages problem unravels and inflation rears its ugly head, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew warned last night.

Noting that inflation is already up, he said: 'And because inflation is high, there is little room for the US Federal Reserve to further lower interest rates without risking higher inflation. And inflation will mean a repeat of the problems of inflation and low growth rates, the stagflation of the 1970s and early 1980s.'

Prices in stock markets around the world would plunge, which in turn would bring lower spending and declining economies, Mr Lee said at a forum hosted by the Nanyang Technological University Students' Union.

Sounding a cautionary note against 'too much euphoria' in the current state of the economy, he told students at the forum that he wanted to give 'the dark side' of the current picture of sunny growth outlook and soaring stock prices.

'Stock markets are now hitting record highs - these are excessive and not supported by fundamentals,' Mr Lee said. 'The underlying problem has not gone away. The sub-prime mortgages problem is still not cleaned up. These were high-risk loans to people who did not have the means to repay.'

He noted that other nagging worries have also surfaced: commodity prices are rising - oil, gold, corn, wheat, iron, coal, all commodities.

'If the US consumer, suffering from reduced house values, loses his appetite for consumption, there will be a downturn in the US economy,' Mr Lee said. 'That will affect the export-driven economies of China and the rest of East Asia. We all depend on exports to America.'

There are also serious political problems like Iraq and Iran with economic fallouts of a steep spike in oil prices, he pointed out.

'So remember that while the broader region looks promising, there are problems in the immediate region,' Mr Lee said.

Myanmar, which is cracking down on demonstrations led by monks, looks troublesome, he noted. Thailand has yet to recover its bounce in the economy.

Singapore, Mr Lee stressed, remains in the heart of Southeast Asia which from time to time suddenly becomes unstable.

'Asean leaders realise that if we have volatile and unstable neighbours, they will destabilise the whole region,' he said. 'Hence the common reaction from Asean leaders, foreign ministers, presidents and prime ministers of sorrow and revulsion, that Myanmar's generals had again used armed forces against monks and civilians demonstrating peacefully because they are suffering from deprivation because of their poor economic conditions.'

Indicating that Singaporeans cannot afford to be complacent, Mr Lee said they must continue to distinguish themselves by better standards of governance.

'Our future depends on Singaporeans realising that we always have to be different and must have better governance than our neighbours to survive the competition of their wealth of natural resources, their larger territories and larger populations,' he said.

Gap Between New And Resale Property Prices Hits Record High In Q3

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 05 October 2007

With strong sales of new residential units in the prime districts in the third quarter, prices have gone up in tandem.

But in its latest report, property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) also noted that the gap in prices between new units and resale ones had widened substantially.

Prices of new residential units in prime districts hit an average of S$2,500 per square foot during the third quarter.

According to JLL, this was a jump of almost 61% from the previous three months, and it was due to several high-end projects being sold.

But at S$2,500, it was at a record premium to the average price of $1,220 per square foot for resale units.

While this may encourage more homeowners to consider en bloc sales, JLL said homebuyers will find it more attractive to buy resale units. This will in turn cause the premium to narrow.

"Whether the premium is enough to encourage 'en bloc-ers' to put their projects in the market, the answer is no, unless the 'en bloc-ers' revise their expectations... But probably from now onwards, you'll look at premiums towards the 40% to 70% range," said Lui Seng Fatt, Regional Director & Head of Investments, Jones Lang LaSalle.

JLL is expecting prices of new units to grow at a slower pace, causing the en bloc market to be moderated. This is especially so, given the stricter rules surrounding collective sales.

"In terms of the number of sites that have gone through, it probably will be moderated, but the value will still remain high. So I think you can see a fair amount of en bloc activity in the market, but we probably won't be seeing what we've been witnessing in the last three quarters where the en bloc sales are almost going at about 30% to 40%," said Lui.

Analysts say that as premiums narrow and en bloc activities slow down, developers will find it increasingly less attractive to undertake new projects, especially in light of diminishing returns and changes to the Strata Titles Act. - CNA /ls

Gap Between New And Resale Homes At A High

Source : The Business Times, October 5, 2007

But the difference is expected to narrow down the road, say analysts

The gap between prices fetched by new and resale homes in the prime districts is now at a record high, an analysis of official data shows.

A preliminary analysis of caveats lodged in the third quarter of 2007 by Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) shows that for new homes there was a record premium of over 60 per cent from July to September this year.

Since 2000, the average premium has been between 20 and 42 per cent, JLL said.

But strong demand for new luxury projects in the third quarter - such as for Scotts Square, Cliveden at Grange, Helios Residences and The Lumos - means that the price gap between new apartments and homes in the resale market has widened rapidly over the past year, said Chua Yang Liang, JLL's head of research for South-east Asia.

In addition, prices of new homes could be climbing faster as buyers can use the deferred payment scheme for new projects, but not for resale units, said Knight Frank's director of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak.

Resale transactions take into account sales of homes in completed developments, while sales of new units are in projects that have been launched, but are yet to be built.

However, JLL added that gap is likely to narrow as prices of resale homes will look more attractive.

'Buyers will find it increasingly less attractive to purchase new developments when perfectly habitable resale dwellings at much more affordable price range are readily available,' Dr Chua said.

The preliminary average selling price for new sales - based on caveats lodged in the prime districts - is estimated to be around $2,500 per square foot (psf) in the third quarter, JLL said.

In comparison, amidst the continuous strong interest in new sales, prices in the resale market rose to close at an average of $1,220 psf for the same three months, albeit during a traditionally seasonal weaker period.

This puts the price gap at around 105 per cent, but JLL's Dr Chua says that once more caveats are lodged for third quarter transactions, the gap will come to 'more than 60 per cent'.

In the short term, the high premium gap seen in the third quarter is unlikely to be sustained, experts said.

JLL, for one, estimates that the price gap will stabilise to between 32 per cent and 38 per cent over the next three to five years.

But with the gap narrowing, the collective sales market can be expected to slow down, JLL said.

'The attractiveness and success of en bloc transactions depends largely on this premium gap. The wider the gap, the more attractive is the market for collective sales,' the property firm said.

Dr Chua reckons that the collective sales market is likely to slow down in the medium term, given that growth in new sales prices are likely to decline over the same period.

As the premium gap narrows, en bloc activities should slow down as developers find it increasingly less attractive to undertake such redevelopments, especially in light of diminishing returns and impending changes to the Strata Titles Act.