Thursday, November 8, 2007

Raffles Place Retailers Face Space Crunch, Soaring Rents

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 8, 2007

Rent may double for some, with near full occupancy and no fresh supply of space in the short term.

SOARING rents for retail office space at Raffles Place have stunned Ms Yeap Cheng Guat, the executive director of Cedele By Bakery Depot, which has two outlets in the major office hub.

‘Rents have gone up by 100 per cent. It’s that crazy,’ she said.

The bakery cafe chain has operated at Republic Plaza for about eight years now and has a newer outlet at One Raffles Quay.

Singapore’s office space crunch is spilling over to tenants like Cedele in office districts such as Raffles Place.

‘When they told me about the increase, I nearly fell off my chair,’ Ms Yeap said.

‘If my rentals rise by 100 per cent, can my food price increase by the same?

‘Then the tenant can sell only bird’s nest and abalone,’ she said, referring to expensive delicacies.

Occupancy levels for retail space such as cafes and fashion outlets in Raffles Place are close to 100 per cent.

A recent study by property consultant Cushman & Wakefield found rent rises of up to 24 per cent over the past two years in the area.

Supply of shop space is tight with no major new retail space expected for the financial district in the short term.

That means retail rents there will keep rising by another 10 to 15 per cent in the year ahead, the firm’s managing director here, Mr Donald Han, told The Straits Times. This is up from about 14 per cent in the last 12 months, he said.

The rise is relatively high, considering that rentals in the traditional shopping belt of Orchard Road have experienced single- digit rises in recent years.

Overall, rentals for prime retail space are expected to climb by 15 to 20 per cent year on year, with capital values up by 10 to 15 per cent, according to Knight Frank.

Ms Maye Kwok, 32, who sells bags and shoes from a ground-level shop at The Arcade, is convinced she will soon be paying higher rent.

‘Across the board, rents have gone up. My neighbours here have paid higher rents. I am 100 per cent sure they will raise the rent when my lease is up for revision.’
Mr Han said the office space crunch was affecting nearby retail space.

‘Most developers within the financial district prefer to maximise office use rather than retail,’ he said.

‘The irony is that when more offices are built, retail demand from the office population will grow in tandem.’

Most retail centres in Raffles Place such as OUB Centre, Raffles Xchange, One Fullerton and Republic Plaza are enjoying full occupancy.

Average gross rent for Raffles Place ground-level shops is between $18 and $35 per sq ft (psf) a month - well up from $13 to $25 psf two years ago.

Basement level space is between $12 and $25 psf a month, again well up from $9 to $18 psf two years back.

On the upper floors, which have less pedestrian traffic, rents hover between $8 and $14 psf a month, up from $6 to $9 psf a month two years ago.

As Raffles Place’s retail rents rise, several landlords have already started to either reposition their retail developments or add new retail supply, said Cushman & Wakefield.

Sino Land, the Hong Kong-based sister firm of property developer Far East Organization, recently announced plans to revamp a 26,000 sq ft retail and entertainment complex at Clifford Pier, a site that it had obtained late last year.
At OUB Centre, an additional 32,000 sq ft of retail space will be added, said Cushman & Wakefield.

It noted that newly retrofitted projects like the Market Street carpark have done well, with space nearly fully leased out at $10 to $25 psf a month.

‘The retail market situation in Raffles Place is coming to a level where nothing is available. This sub-market is being ignored when there is demand,’ said Mr Han.

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Banks Don't Rule Out Further CDO Losses

Source : The Business Times, November 8, 2007

Analysts applaud OCBC's move, say future write-backs a possibility

Local banks are sticking to their positions for now, but concede that more charges could stem from losses arising from collateralised debt obligations (CDOs). This comes on the heels of OCBC's move to write down $221 million of its CDO holdings on Tuesday.

DBS Bank told BT yesterday that currently, there will be no changes to its positions. But a spokesperson added: 'As with any financial institution, it is certainly possible that further market changes may result in charges or write-backs to our positions.' She said that the bank had been conservative in how it derives market valuations and ascertains provisions for its CDOs.

United Overseas Bank also said that the necessary provisions for its CDO portfolio had already been taken in its third quarter results. 'In any case, we constantly review our investment portfolio on our own and will make any necessary adjustment when required,' a bank spokesperson told BT.

On Tuesday, OCBC announced that it had to write down $221 million of its CDO holdings, slashing the value of its portfolio of CDOs, which comprise pools of asset-backed securities (ABS), from $270 million to just $48 million.

OCBC's aggressive write-downs are the largest of the three local banks. Late last month, DBS Group made $70 million in allowances for its $275 million in CDOs that were exposed to US sub-prime assets, while UOB's total provision stands at $55 million so far.

Investors, probably spooked by the prospect of more writedowns, sent all bank stocks lower yesterday. Shares of DBS were the worst-hit of all three banks, shedding 50 cents or 2.3 per cent to $21, while UOB ended 10 cents or 0.5 per cent lower at $20.50. OCBC closed 10 cents or 1.1 per cent down to $8.80.

Analysts, on the other hand, see an upside to OCBC's move. 'We view these CDO provisioning rates to be extremely conservative ... as such, we believe that there is a significant possibility of write-backs or recoveries from this source in future years,' Deutsche Bank said in a research report.

The much larger allowance also means that future earnings might not be hit by further write-downs. 'This reflected management's conservative stance and should limit future downside risks,' said a BNP research report. A Merril Lynch report also noted that 'even if the US mortgage market were to deteriorate significantly further, OCBC would not likely face any further losses'.

Despite worries about the local banks' CDO exposure, ratings services Standard & Poor's Ratings maintained their ratings on Singapore banks, stating that they have negligible exposure to the sub-prime woes in the US.

US$ Slumps As China Looks To Park Reserves Elsewhere

Source : The Business Times, November 8, 2007

Greenback is losing status as world currency, says China central bank official

THE US dollar slumped to a record low against the euro after Chinese officials signalled plans to diversify the nation's US$1.43 trillion of foreign exchange reserves in response to a falling US currency.

'We will favour stronger currencies over weaker ones, and will readjust accordingly,' Cheng Siwei, vice-chairman of China's National People's Congress, told a conference in Beijing.

The US dollar is 'losing its status as the world currency', Xu Jian, a central bank vice-director, said at the same meeting.

The US dollar fell against all 16 of the most active currencies, declining to the weakest versus the Canadian dollar since the end of a fixed exchange rate in 1950, a 26-year low against the pound and a 23-year low versus the Australian dollar.

'We're likely to see further pressure on the dollar,' said Thomas Harr, senior foreign exchange strategist in Singapore at Standard Chartered. 'The potential for diversification is quite big.'

The US currency slumped to US$1.4666 per euro, the lowest since the 13-nation currency made its debut in January 1999. The US dollar traded as low as 113.69 yen, the lowest since Oct 22. The euro was little changed at 166.87 yen.

In Singapore, the US dollar ended half a per cent lower at S$1.4412 yesterday.

Chinese investors have reduced their holdings of US Treasuries by 5 per cent to US$400 billion in the five months to August. China Investment Corp, which manages the nation's US$200 billion sovereign wealth fund, said last month that it may get more of the nation's reserves to invest to improve returns.

'The world's currency structure has changed; the dollar is losing its status as the world currency,' Mr Xu from the People's Bank of China said at the conference.

Mr Cheng, speaking to reporters after his speech, said that his comments do not mean that China will buy more euros.

Gains in the euro may be limited by speculation that European economic growth may slow, reducing the need for higher interest rates. Europe's single currency will trade at US$1.43 versus the US dollar by year-end, according to the median forecast of 42 analysts and brokerages surveyed by Bloomberg News.

The US dollar's decline helped to drive the price of crude oil to a record and gold to a 27-year high, encouraging investors to buy assets in commodity- producing nations. The US dollar's 9.8 per cent drop against the euro this year boosted the competitiveness of US exports, helping to shrink the nation's trade deficit to US$57.6 billion in August, the smallest since January.

Against the pound, the US dollar declined to US$2.0955, the lowest since May 1981. It fell to US$1.1010 per Canadian dollar. The currency slid against the Australian dollar to 93.89 US cents, the lowest since April 1984, from 92.87 US cents.

'This is an asset story and shows sentiment for the dollar continues to be quite negative,' said David Forrester, currency economist at Barclays Capital in Singapore.

The US dollar also fell as losses from sub-prime mortgage defaults added to pressure on the Federal Reserve to lower its target for the overnight lending rate between banks to 4.25 per cent next month.

'The interest-rate outlook is dragging down the dollar against major currencies such as the euro and the Australian dollar,' said Seiichiro Muta, director of foreign exchange in Tokyo at UBS AG, the world's second largest currency trader. 'I cannot see the bottom of the dollar depreciation yet.' - Bloomberg

Strata Board Not Obliged To Rule On Horizon Towers Sale By Dec 11

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 8, 2007

THE Strata Titles Board (STB) hearing the Horizon Towers sale application said yesterday that it was under no obligation to deliver its ruling before Dec 11.

That is the deadline for the estate's $500 million collective sale to Hotel Properties (HPL) and its partners.

The majority owners want approval for the sale, after it was thrown out on a technicality in August. The minority owners want it stopped.

The STB came to its decision after it took submissions from lawyers for both the majority and minority owners. The owners were asked if they considered that the STB had a legal duty to rule before Dec 11.

Both camps, after morning deliberations, said no.

But that did not sit well with the buyers. HPL group executive director Christopher Lim said it was 'surprising' the tribunal took that view as it may 'potentially scuttle' the transaction.

'We are also very disappointed that the majority sellers did not take the position that the matter be dealt with expeditiously and before Dec 11.'

Mr Lim said the buyers had made it clear during earlier hearings that the majority sellers would be in breach of contract if they did not deal with the sale expeditiously.

'As a result of these developments, we are currently reviewing our position.'

The STB did try to move the proceedings along yesterday, by rejecting a request by lawyers representing the minorities that they be allowed to cross-examine expert witnesses such as valuers. It also rejected an application from the lawyers that Mr Arjun Samtani, chairman of the first sale committee, take the stand as a witness.

The hearing continued with the cross-examination of Mr Wee Hian Siew, the former sale committee secretary, that began on Tuesday.

He was again asked why he did not notify owners of the $500 million offer and if he recalled the talks with Mr Bharat Mandloi.

The latter resigned from the first sale committee because he regarded the $500 million sale price as too low.

Mr Mandloi had told the committee that the owners might as well sell their units in the Leonie Hill estate on the open market at the same price.

Horizon Towers Sale Could Be Timed Out By Tribunal Decision

Source : The Business Times, November 8, 2007

STB says it is not bound to rule by sale completion date; lawsuit looms

The Strata Titles Board (STB) tribunal has delivered a startling decision that could spell the end of the en bloc sale of Horizon Towers. The ruling could in turn resurrect the $1 billion lawsuit filed by the buyers against the sellers.

Tribunal chairman Philip Chan announced yesterday that the board was under no legal obligation to rule on whether to approve the collective sale on or before Dec 11, the sale completion date.

This means, if the tribunal chooses to make a decision only after Dec 11, the sale agreement between the buyers and the sellers will lapse - and the en bloc sale will collapse.

The decision took many observers by surprise since a ruling after the sale completion deadline would effectively render the role of the tribunal pointless.

Mr Chan said yesterday the board made its decision after considering the submissions made by all the parties involved: the majority owners who have applied for a collective sale order, and the minority owners who are opposing the sale.

The would-be buyers - Hotel Properties (HPL) and its partners - were not permitted to be parties to this hearing, and could not make any submissions on the matter.

The tribunal on Tuesday asked the relevant parties to submit their arguments on whether the board had a legal obligation to make a decision on the collective sale order on or before Dec 11.

Mr Chan announced yesterday that, as all parties were in agreement that the board was under no such obligation, the tribunal would not be bound to make a decision by Dec 11.

The position seemingly runs counter to the one taken by the tribunal at an earlier Horizon Towers hearing in June, when Mr Chan agreed to bring forward the hearing dates - so as to allow the tribunal to make its decision before the earlier sale completion deadline of Aug 11.

Mr Chan said then, as grounds for doing so, that 'courts do not sit for futility', adding: 'Courts are here to make sure that if we do give an order, that order must stick. The order must be put into operation; otherwise it would be unproductive. It may even be silly for a court to sit.'

The tribunal's decision yesterday has not gone down well with HPL and its partners.

HPL group executive director Christopher Lim told BT: 'We are very concerned about this development. It is surprising that the tribunal took the view that it had no duty to make a ruling before Dec 11, as that may potentially scuttle the transaction.'

He added: 'We are also very disappointed that the majority sellers did not take the position that the matter be dealt with expeditiously and before Dec 11. During the earlier hearings, we had made it clear that such conduct by the majority sellers is in breach of contract.

'As a result of these developments, we are currently reviewing our position.'

HPL and its partners have already sued the majority owners for breach of contract - claiming damages of up to $1 billion - but that suit has been stayed, pending the outcome of this STB hearing.

But HPL and its partners earlier also made it clear that they will consider resurrecting the legal claim against the majority owners if the en bloc sale ultimately falls through.

The dramatic reaction sparked by this one announcement was in marked contrast to the humdrum proceedings of the rest of the day. Former sales committee member Wee Hian Siew spent a second day on the stand, being grilled on whether he did his utmost to act in the owners' best interests in the en bloc sale.

The session also saw a few laughs, as Mr Chan quipped that he would refrain from making any more jokes during the hearing - 'in case I get reported', he said. BT reported Mr Chan's wisecrack about Mr Wee being a secretary 'without a skirt' yesterday.

The mood among the owners was generally upbeat, with some even distributing Deepavali sweets to those present.

Tiong Bahru Sers Flats To Be Rented For Up To $4,500

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 8, 2007

Winning bidder in HDB pilot scheme aims to target foreign students, expatriates

A COMPANY that has just won an HDB tender in a pilot scheme plans to rent out 120 flats at Tiong Bahru for up to $4,500 a month to foreign students and expatriates.

UNIQUE FLATS: Katong Hostel will preserve the buildings' heritage, as they are among the early batches of flats. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

It is the first step to boost the supply of flats in the rental market amid growing demand. It aims to put flats vacated under the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme to better use.

Former residents of the 120 flats have moved to new and better flats nearby.

The HDB said the flats that had been vacated were identified for its rental scheme, pending long-term development plans.

The Tiong Bahru flats will get a $3 million facelift and be ready for tenants by the year's end.

The winning tenderer, Katong Hostel, which provides international student housing, will be the managing agent for the 60 three-room and 60 four-room walk-up flats.

The firm, part of the privately-held Vita Group of hostels, plans to rent out at least two blocks to students and possibly the rest as service apartments to expatriates.

Katong Hostel won the tender with the highest bid of $230,280 a month, 22 per cent above the next bid of $188,000 a month.

That price is the sum the firm will pay HDB to lease the flats for three years, with an option for three more years.

Katong Hostel aims to rent out these flats - Blocks 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Tiong Bahru Road - at a relatively high price of between $3,500 and $4,500 a month.

While rents in the Tiong Bahru area have risen significantly, the HDB flats there have so far achieved only up to $2,500 a month in rent, said HSR property group's executive director Eric Cheng.

But the Tiong Bahru flats are different in that they will be managed and aimed at a specific clientele, said Ms Joyce Sim, 25, a Vita group director.

She said the student housing - to be charged on a per person basis with two to a flat - is aimed at those looking for quality housing.

These could be doctorate students, for instance, who could be paying their own fees or sponsored by firms.

'These Tiong Bahru flats are among the early batches of flats,' Ms Sim said. 'We will preserve the heritage of the buildings, which have a unique design.'

$3m facelift for old flats

# The 120 Tiong Bahru flats comprise 60 three-room and 60 four-room walk-up flats.

# They are located in Blocks 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Tiong Bahru Road.

# Katong Hostel plans to rent out at least two blocks to students and possibly the rest as service apartments to expatriates.

# Monthly rentals will probably be between $3,500 and $4,500.

Katong Hostel Wins Master Lease Tender For Tiong Bahru Flats

Source : The Business Times, November 8, 2007

THE Housing & Development Board (HDB) yesterday awarded the tender for the master lease of 120 three- and four-room vacated flats in Tiong Bahru to Katong Hostel at a tender price of $230,280 per month. The company was the highest of 15 bidders at the tender which closed on Oct 9.

Katong Hostel will be given a master lease on the flats on a 3+3-year tenancy. The flats were vacated under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) and the tender to seek a master tenant was a pilot project by HDB to boost the supply of flats for rental housing.

'This will put these flats to better use in the interim period, pending their redevelopment,' HDB said. 'HDB will assess the response to this pilot project before deciding whether to expand the scheme in future. If needed, HDB has a potential supply of about 4,000 to 5,000 units that can be introduced to bolster rental supply in the HDB market over the next three years.'

Katong Hostel To Lease Tiong Bahru Flats At Up To $4,500

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 7, 2007

A COMPANY that has just won an HDB tender in a pilot scheme plans to rent out 120 flats at Tiong Bahru for up to $4,500 a month to foreign students and possibly

General Manager of Katong Hostel, Joyce Sim stands in front of a Tiong Bahru vacated flat. Her company has won a HDB pilot tender to lease them out for up to $4,500 a month to foreign students and possibly expats. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

The flats - said to be the first built in Singapore after independence - will get a $3 million face-lift and be ready for tenants by year-end.

Katong Hostels won the tender in a pilot scheme to lease out flats vacated under a redevelopment scheme.

The original tenants are getting new flats elsewhere. The firm, part of the privately-held Vita Group of hostels, provides international student housing.

It will be managing agent for the 60 three-room and 60 four-room walk-up flats.

The firm plans to rent out at least two blocks to students and possibly the rest as service apartments to expats.

Katong Hostel won the tender with the highest bid of $230,280 a month, 22 per cent above the next bid of $188,000 a month.

That price is the sum the firm will pay HDB to lease the flats for three years with an option for three more years. It will rent them to tenants.

Katong Hostel aims to rent these unusual flats, in Blocks 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Tiong Bahru Road, at a relatively high price of between $3,500 and $4,500 a month.

Read the full report in Thursday's edition of The Straits Times.

En Bloc Sale: Who Gets Rest Of Reserve Fund?

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 7, 2007

MY ESTATE was sold en bloc last year and there are two main issues which I would like to raise.

Firstly, there was a sum of a few million dollars which was to be used to pay compensation to the few minority owners who had bought their units for more than the final sale price or for some other reason.

The actual amount paid was never disclosed. If there is a balance in this reserve fund, would it be distributed to the majority owners?

Secondly, the legal firm involved promised to share the interest earned on the initial deposit paid by the buyer. As many of the residents have already moved out, how is the legal firm to make payment?

All residents have to move out by the end of this month, so time is running out.

Patrick Tan Boh Liang

JPMorgan Warns Of More Write-Downs For Local Banks

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 7, 2007

'IT AIN'T over yet,' JPMorgan's banking analysts have warned.

In a research note bearing this gloomy title, Mr Harsh Modi and Mr Sunil Garg anticipate that Singapore's three local banks will have to make further provisions for the plummeting value of their debt instruments in the coming months.

These instruments - collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) - are packaged from sub-prime mortgages in the United States.

Mr Modi and Mr Garg said prices of asset-backed securities linked to CDOs have slumped by about 50 per cent since Sept 30.

More gains by the Singdollar may add to losses by local banks from US dollar-denominated CDOs. That means more losses in the fourth quarter and beyond, they said.

'Among the three banks, we expect maximum impact for DBS, as its size of exposure is the largest at $2.36 billion.'

They expect DBS, which has made provisions of $85 million as at Sept 30, to make further mark-to-market losses of $116 million in the fourth quarter.

United Overseas Bank is expected to be least affected. It may take a further $10 million provision on top of $55 million it already reported.

But OCBC Bank, which yesterday announced an allowance worth $221 million against its CDO exposure of $270 million, far surpassed JPMorgan's expectations.

The analysts calculated that OCBC's total provisions would be about $166 million - $67 million in the fourth quarter.

OCBC's aggressive write-downs are prudent, given recent downgrades by rating agencies on the quality of CDOs, said Mr George Koh, a Cazenove analyst, in a note yesterday.

Singapore Ranked No. 1 Logistics Hub By World Bank

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 7, 2007

Its edge lies in a highly efficient and reliable supply chain combined with competitive costs

SINGAPORE has emerged as the top country in terms of logistics - the process of handling and shipping goods.

The Netherlands, home to Europe's biggest and busiest port, was second and Germany came in third, according to a World Bank survey.

Singapore's trump card is its highly efficient and reliable supply chain combined with competitive costs.

Part of that integration and efficiency can be attributed to Portnet, a network portal that helps the logistics industry - from shipping lines and hauliers to freight forwarders and government agencies - manage information better.

Portnet uses infocommunication technology to simplify, synchronise and integrate complex processes such as the moving and tracking of cargo.

It also makes the transfer of information more efficient. Partners overseas can make plans regarding the cargo in Singapore and the information is then distributed to all parties involved.

The portal has helped to 'transform the shipping and logistic industry into a proactive and connected hub driven by the intelligent management of information, making Singapore the world's busiest container port', said a spokesman for port operator PSA.

A spokesman for Neptune Orient Lines, a Singapore-based shipping and logistics company, said: 'The World Bank ranking is confirmation of Singapore's emergence as a true centre of excellence on the world stage in many areas of logistics.'

Two other Asian economies made the top 10 - Japan at sixth and Hong Kong at eighth. Mainland China surprised by making only the 30th spot, despite its booming global trade.

The survey polled 800 operators in the international freight sector and compiled the Logistics Performance Index (LPI) to gauge each country's effectiveness.

The LPI ranked performance in seven areas, including traditional benchmarks such as Customs procedures, logistics costs and infrastructure quality. It also introduced new areas like the ability to track and trace shipments, timeliness in cargo reaching a destination and competence of the domestic logistics industry.

Expertise in logistics, as the survey noted, indicates that a country is also likely to do well in areas such as growth and competitiveness, export diversification and trade expansion.

It noted that reliability and predictability of shipments are becoming far more crucial than domestic costs or the time taken to reach a destination.

'Being able to connect to global markets is fast becoming a key aspect of a country's capacity to compete, grow, attract investment, create jobs and reduce poverty,' said World Bank's vice-president for poverty reduction and economic management, Mr Danny Leipziger.

'But for those unable to connect, the costs of exclusion are large and growing.'

He was referring to low-income, landlocked and geographically isolated countries, especially those in Africa and Central Asia, which were the most logistically constrained.

Myanmar was fourth from the bottom, while Afghanistan came in last out of the 150 countries surveyed.

Highly ranked nations were typically hubs in the global logistics industry, such as the Netherlands and its port of Rotterdam.

While all developed countries emerged as top performers, the report found that there were significant differences among developing countries with similar levels of incomes.

Developing countries where trade was central to their economies outshone their peers. The survey cited China as an example - as a middle-income state, it ranked far higher than countries with greater levels of income, such as oil-exporting nations, which tend to underperform logistically.

The report also noted that high logistics costs and low levels of service were a barrier to trade and foreign direct investment, which in turn affected economic growth.

Coordinating border procedures between Customs and other agencies was also a key concern.

'You can have very good Customs, but poor performance in only one or two areas of the supply chain has serious repercussions in the country's economic performance, creating a perception of unreliability,' said World Bank trade director Uri Dadush.

This is the second time this year that Singapore has come out tops in a World Bank country survey. In September, it was ranked the best country in which to do business.