Saturday, December 29, 2007

Money News

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 29, 2007

THE property sector waited 10 long years for a proper recovery. This year, new all-time highs were set in so many categories, so often, that people lost count.
The year saw the sale of the most expensive apartment in Orchard Residences (both in absolute cost and per square foot terms), the priciest collective sale (Westwood Apartments in Orchard Boulevard) and the most expensive HDB flat and coffee shop (in Marine Parade and Jurong respectively).

The early boom in luxury properties filtered down to suburban condos and HDB flats. Latest figures show that nearly every single HDB flat sold these days goes at a price above market valuation.

The exuberance of the first six months has given way to a more cautious outlook since the Government stepped in to calibrate the market’s rise.
The removal of the deferred payment scheme, introduction of guidelines on transparency of transacted prices and the release of more land have all served to take the froth off what the Global Property Monitor has termed the world’s hottest property market in 2007.

Market watchers are already tipping 2008 to be a great year for mid-to-low priced homes, but the euphoria that marked most of 2007 will be hard to replicate for many years to come.

AT THE start of this year, no one really understood, or cared to understand, the obscure ’sub-prime’ mortgage market.

Now, the chiefs of some of the world’s largest banks - Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and UBS - have lost their jobs because of it.
And banks have been forced to write down a staggering US$50 billion (S$72.6 billion) in losses, with experts estimating another US$200 billion to come.
Economists have been fretting for some time now over when and how the next global financial crisis will occur, and signs of the current implosion emerged in the summer of this year.

Sub-prime lenders had been loaning billions of dollars at low rates to home buyers with dodgy credit histories in the United States and elsewhere.
Banks then repackaged these mortgages with sounder loans into complex securities called collateralised debt obligations (CDOs), selling them to other investors in the financial markets.

As property prices stopped rising and promotional low rates expired, these loans turned sour and CDOs backed by them became worthless.
No one knows how deep the troubles go, and experts warn that the world is only seeing the start of a full-fledged financial crisis.

GLOBAL consultancy McKinsey recently hailed them as one of the world’s new ‘power brokers’.

And indeed, the world’s sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) - investment companies and funds owned by governments - have in recent weeks been flexing their financial muscle on Wall Street.

Abu Dhabi Investment Company bought 4.9 per cent of Citigroup for US$7.5 billion and the China Investment Corporation has spent US$8 billion on sizeable stakes in Morgan Stanley and Blackstone Group.

The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation bought up to 9 per cent of UBS for S$14 billion and Temasek Holdings has invested up to US$5 billion in Merrill Lynch.

With Asian governments steadily running surpluses and chalking up reserves, and oil money pouring into Middle Eastern states, some estimate the total size of SWFs will reach US$12-15 trillion by the next decade.
This sort of power is making policymakers in the developed world nervous, and there have been calls for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to develop a set of guidelines for the world’s SWFs.

The outcome will be closely watched, not least by Singapore, which is home to two of the world’s ‘Super Seven’ SWFs and has been a prime beneficiary of free and open investment rules thus far.


IN A year that ought to have seen rig builder SembCorp Marine celebrate record high oil prices, the company hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
It shocked the corporate sector in October when it revealed that finance director Wee Sing Guan - a 33-year veteran of the company and described as ‘quiet and unassuming’ - was responsible for losses of $439 million following a series of disastrous foreign exchange trades.

The scandal underlined the dangers of companies dabbling in currency trading in a year that saw the US dollar tumble to record lows against major currencies like the euro.

SembCorp Marine was not alone. A week after its announcement, shipbuilder Labroy Marine said it had racked up $209 million in forex losses and was bought by Dubai Drydocks World for US$1.63 billion.

Money Pouring In

Source : The Business Times, December 29, 2007

Everything seems to have come together well for the economy in 2007, says Money editor Ignatius Low as he looks back on S’pore’s robust economic growth, booming property and stock markets, and record low unemployment levels
FOR the majority of working people under the age of 40 - myself included - 2007 is a year that will be difficult to forget.

After all, most of us had joined the workforce in the years just prior to, or immediately following, the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
And the 10 years since 1997 have been one long series of economic busts and false starts.

Every time the economy seemed to pick up, something would happen to stop it in its tracks.

In 2000, it was the bust. In 2003, it was the severe acute respiratory syndrome.

As Singapore’s policy maestros worked to set a clear course for the economy through all these difficulties, the last 10 years were largely remembered for anaemic wage growth, asset deflation and painful restructuring.
That is why 2007 is special. It is the one year in recent memory that everything seemed to have come together so well.

For starters, the economy roared to life. And it has stayed strong despite earlier warnings that growth will slow in the second half of the year.
After clocking a blistering 8.9 per cent growth in the third quarter, the economy looks to end the year at around the 8 per cent mark, prompting The Economist magazine to recently proclaim Singapore an economic anomaly - a developed country growing at developing country rates.

Unemployment dropped to just 1.7 per cent, which really means full employment. And the tight labour market has sent salaries and bonuses skywards, especially in sectors such as finance and construction, which grew almost 20 per cent in the last quarter.

On the ground, many in my generation looked on in bewilderment as a flood of foreign liquidity sent property and stock prices up, up and up.
Braver opportunists rode the upward wave and were amply rewarded. A friend of mine flipped not one, but three apartments within a very heady six months and laughed all the way to the bank.

Indeed, property was all that anyone wanted to talk about in 2007.
The year had started with upscale condominium Marina Bay Residences setting a record price of $3,450 per square foot (psf) for its penthouse apartments - a ‘crazy’ By April, the record was already $4,000 psf.
By July, $4,000 psf had become ‘common’ after developers sold 72 units in various developments at that price.

Now, the record stands at $5,600 psf - the buyer having forked out more than $28 million for a 53rd-storey penthouse in Orchard Residences above the Orchard MRT station.

The boom has now filtered down to mass-market apartments. Areas as remote as Upper East Coast and Buona Vista are now fetching prices seen in central districts such as River Valley just a couple of years ago.
No wonder a new report by Global Property Monitor ranks Singapore the hottest property market in the world in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.
Record property prices also helped drive a stock market rally in the first half of the year that saw foreign funds pour into Asia, notably the surging Chinese markets.
Dealers and remisiers - as well as the computer system they traded on - could not quite keep up at times as the benchmark Straits Times Index (STI) broke new highs in heavy volume week after week.

For them, as well as others in Singapore, the blistering pace in 2007 often seemed a little too hot to handle.

Rising property prices fuelled a re-development craze in apartments and some 5,700 homes were sold in collective or ‘en bloc’ sales in the first half of the year alone.
In most years, sellers would have been happy to make a profit on their homes. In 2007, however, they found that prices on new, replacement homes had risen even faster than those they sold - forcing them to downgrade to smaller apartments or move to less prime areas.

The ‘en bloc’ removal of so many apartments from the housing market then helped to contribute to an islandwide shortage of homes that pushed rentals up breathtakingly quickly.

As rents effectively doubled for many apartments, expats downgraded to smaller apartments or moved to the suburbs. Moving companies and rental agents reported a banner year.

Fast-paced economic growth also meant rapidly expanding businesses. But with no new office space available in Raffles Place till 2010, there was just nowhere to grow.
A couple of years ago, rents in Grade A offices were stable at about $5 psf. Now, they are pushing levels as high as $15 psf, sparking fresh fears that they are ratcheting up the cost of doing business in Singapore.
Finally, economic theory dictates that higher growth, higher wages and higher rents will all inevitably find their way into higher consumer prices.
So in 2007, Singapore’s inflation numbers burst dramatically out of their typically sedate range of between 0 per cent and 1 per cent. Latest figures for last month show prices rising 4.2 per cent year-on- year, the highest rate of increase in 25 years.

And it looks like higher prices will be here to stay in 2008, with worldwide demand pushing oil prices close to $100US ($145S) a barrel this year and everything from wheat to rice trading at record-high levels.
What goes up must come down. If not, then something has got to give, so there is no doubt the giddy excesses of 2007 will come back to haunt us in 2008.
In Singapore, the stock market has already gone through a serious correction and those who invested in China companies, in particular, have been left licking their wounds.

Policymakers are already starting to battle the ill-effects of inflation on lower-income workers, whose wages will not rise in tandem with prices.

And the Government is also watching the property market closely, and acting to keep homes affordable for the majority of Singaporeans.
In the United States and other global financial markets, the days of cheap credit and easy liquidity have come to an abrupt halt with the sub-prime mortgage crisis. There will be plenty of losses yet to account for in the months ahead.
The year was a huge party 10 years in the making. There were great spectacles to marvel at from afar, but there was also plenty of buzz and excitement on the ground. And its broad-based appeal meant that nearly everyone had a good time.
The party is still on, but as the music starts to wind down as we enter the new year, signs of excess and fatigue are clearly showing.
Will it all come crashing down in 2008? It will take some care and skill to ensure that there will not be too many broken pieces to pick up the morning after.

Meet The Anti-En Bloc Sellers

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 29, 2007
WHEN Gillman Heights in Alexandra Road was sold in February, it was the biggest collective sale to date.

But it had taken a whole year for the estate to be sold, and home prices had risen so much in the meantime that some sellers (left) were no longer happy with the sale price.

When they took their case to the authorities, so many people turned up that a bigger room was needed and security guards were brought in for ‘crowd control’.
This year, 109 estates were sold en bloc - most in the first six months - netting more than $13 billion for homeowners.

Despite the opportunity to make tidy profits, many owners, like those at Gillman Heights, felt they did not receive enough proceeds.
The property boom had chased prices up, leaving most of the sellers with no choice but to move to smaller apartments or cheaper locations.
The effects of the en bloc frenzy early this year are still being felt.

The demolition of apartments has led to a shortage of housing in the city and caused rents to spike.

With the cash from collective sales in hand, thousands of displaced families are still house-hunting, driving up prices for suburban apartments and HDB flats.

URA To Launch Industrial Site At Playfair Rd

Source : The Business Times, December 29, 2007

THE Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday said it will put up an industrial site at Playfair Road for public tender in about two weeks’ time after it received an application from a developer committed to bid at least $12 million for the site.

The price works out to about $52 per sq ft per plot ratio (psf ppr). But the site could fetch $80-90 psf ppr in the public tender, market watchers said. This works out to $18.6-20.9 million.

The 60-year leasehold site in the Paya Lebar area has a land area of 92,900 sq ft and a 2.5 plot ratio, giving it a maximum gross floor area of 232,200 sq ft. The site is zoned for ‘Business 1′ use and can be developed for a range of clean and light industrial uses and warehouses.

The site was made available for sale through the government’s reserve list system. Under this system, a site is only offered for public tender if the government receives an application from a developer who commits to bid for the site at a price deemed acceptable.

URA yesterday said it will launch the public tender for the site in about two weeks. The launch date will be announced later, it said. A tender period of about four weeks will be allowed for the site.

Demand for industrial space is expected to be strong going forward, analysts say. Rents and occupancy rates for industrial space are expected to continue growing in 2008.

酒店房价上涨 旅客逗留减短 圣诞假期旅游业没丰收

《联合早报》Dec 28, 2007











圣淘沙百富大酒店(The Sentosa Resort & Spa)招待的宾客主要来自欧美和俄罗斯。公关经理林秀钦说,佳节期间酒店房价比平时上涨20%,这两个月酒店房间客满。

费尔蒙新加坡(Fairmont Singapore)营销传播经理拿瓦诺受询时也透露,本月佳节期间,酒店住客率近100%。

瑞士史丹福酒店(Swissotel The Stamford)和新加坡乌节大酒店(Orchard Hotel)拥有不少本地客人。


亚历山大公寓地段 吸引六方进场争夺

《联合早报》Dec 28, 2007

尽管最近的新加坡市场情绪较为低沉,昨天招标截止的新加坡亚历山大路(Alexandra Road)共管公寓地段还是吸引了六方人马进场抢夺,竞争相当激烈。



昨天进场的发展商,包括永泰控股、与澳门赌王何鸿燊有关联的隆辉发展(Lafe Technology)、与香港富豪李嘉诚有有关联的Billion Rise、星狮地产、城市发展,以及马来西亚富商郭令灿所掌舵的国浩置业。





世邦魏理仕(CB Richard Ellis)研究部董事郑卫铭指出,目前,隔邻未完工的The Metro- politan共管公寓,转售价格大约是每平方英尺900元至1100元。至于对街的东陵景(Tanglin View)和东陵丽晶园(Tanglin Regency)二手单位,售价则介于每平方英尺850元至1100元。





永泰控股昨天的出手比上述投标底价,高出31%。如果跟2005年11月卖出的The Metro- politan地段比较,出手则高了83%。



至于隆辉发展的背景可以追溯到澳门赌王何鸿燊。根据商业注册局的资料,隆辉发展的唯一股东是本地上市公司——隆辉集团(Lafe Technology)。这家公司的业务主要是设计和生产电脑磁头以及其他数据储存器材,但昨天却意外现身房地产投标活动。



More Legislation Needed To Protect Condo Owners Who Do Not Wish To Join En-Bloc Sale

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 29, 2007

I HOPE there can be some preventive measures to protect owners of condominiums which have failed in an en-bloc sale, or those who have spent substantial funds on upgrading.

In my condo in Clementi Park, there is renewed dissent by residents against the forming of yet another committee to try again for another en-bloc sale. Owners recently banded together to form an anti-en-bloc group called Save Clementi Park and have launched a website to save the condo. The web site features many pictures of the condo.

The en-bloc sale attempt last year failed to receive even 50 per cent of the vote. Immediately after this failed attempt, one committee was disbanded, but another one was formed in November this year. This has unsettled many of the residents and such social upheaval is becoming all too common in Singapore.

As a resident of the condo, I am not in favour of an en-bloc sale. En-bloc processes, to say the very least, are disruptive. Moreover, our condo is in the process of upgrading at a cost of $2 million. An en-bloc attempt after a majority of us have voted to upgrade would be a sheer waste of owners' funds. Our upgrading will only complete around mid-2008.

There is no mechanism in place to deal with this. This is harmful to our societal psyche as stated by Mr Waleed Hanafi in his many website articles on en-bloc madness. Perhaps a time ban of, say, 15 years could be put in place for condos which have spent more than $500,000 for upgrading. Some balancing mechanism to reflect and honour decisions made by subsidiary proprietors should also be in place.

The en-bloc law needs to be reviewed.

Yeo Han Tiong

Owners Decide What Is Fair Compensation In En Bloc Sales

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 29, 2007

IN REPLY to Mr Alex Cheong's letter, 'En bloc sales: Find fairer way to compensate all' (ST, Dec 17) on the method of distributing sale proceeds to owners in a collective property sale, the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers (SISV) would like to clarify its guidelines on the various methods of distribution.

As guidelines, they are meant to assist owners in selecting the distribution method suitable for their development. The recommended methods (based on share value, strata area, valuation or a combination of them) have been used in many successful collective sale applications made to the Strata Titles Board. However, the institute appreciates that there could be specific situations, for example, due to some unique or peculiar aspect of the development where the strict application of the guidelines may be viewed by some to be unfair. This is why there can be no single prescribed method of distribution, and the majority owners will have to decide the best method that will be acceptable to all owners.

Mr Cheong suggested an 85 or 90 per cent strata floor area and 15 or 10 per cent share value as a fair method of distribution instead of the fixed 50 per cent for both. We would like to clarify that using 50 per cent area and 50 per cent share value is just a guide based on the various formulations used in past collective sales. Under the law, it is for the owners themselves to choose a method and proportion. In addition, anyone who is aggrieved with the proposed method of distribution may file an objection with the Strata Titles Board.

The issue of the method of distribution is now better addressed with the amendments to the Land Titles (Strata) Act, which came into operation on Oct 4. Under the amended legislation, the collective sale committee has to convene a general meeting for all owners to consider the method of distribution of the sale proceeds.

The Ministry of Law and SISV will continue to work together to further refine the guidelines where necessary.

Janet Han (Ms)
Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers

Radha S. Khoo (Ms)
Head, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Law

Let's Hear It For A Year Of Property Records

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 29, 2007


It has been a spectacular year for the property market. The boom, after a long lull and slow recovery, was fast and furious as one mind-boggling record after another was set. JOYCE TEO recounts the record-busters CapitaLand pays $1.339b for Farrer Court

CAPITALAND made history in June when it announced it was paying $1.339 billion for the former HUDC estate Farrer Court in a collective sale. This remains the biggest lump sum ever shelled out for a residential site in Singapore.

The sale is also the largest collective one ever in terms of land area and the number of units. Farrer Court has 618 units. Owners of each unit will get about $2.15 million depending on the size of their flats. The development sits on 838,500 sq ft of land near the junction of Farrer and Holland roads.

The sale propelled relatively small- sized Credo Real Estate into the big league of property firms.

The sale may have been the biggest lump sum paid, but Westwood Apartments - which was sold by Savills Singapore late last month - took the record in terms of the price per sq ft (psf) of potential gross floor area, at $2,525.

In all, about $12.5 billion worth of collective sales was done, 50 per cent more than last year's $8.2 billion and far exceeding the $1.99 billion total in 2005.

This has made millionaires out of many. Some lucky owners got more than a few million dollars. Owners of the 24 units at The Ardmore, for instance, received about $11 million each. Owners of the two penthouses at Westwood will each get a whopping $17 million.

Horizon Towers hearing that went on and on

THE acrimonious $500 million Horizon Towers collective sale went through possibly the longest Strata Titles Board (STB) hearing ever before it was approved.

What was meant to be just another collective sale descended into a drawn-out, and at times dramatic, fight between the supporters and opponents of the sale, and the developers wanting to buy the plot.

The sale was thrown out by the STB over a technicality, making it one of the few applications ever rejected. It was then taken to the High Court, which granted the owners' appeal, paving the way for the STB to approve the sale.

The Horizon Towers case involved an array of top lawyers. Majority owners knew they faced an unprecedented lawsuit for breach of contract by the developer if the sale had ultimately failed.

A group of objecting minority owners spent millions fighting the sale. But the estate was eventually sold to Hotel Properties and its partners Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority, a year after they had inked the deal.

Marine Parade unit sold for $750,888

THIS title, for mainstream flats, was claimed by a five-room unit on the 23rd floor in Marine Parade that offers an unblocked view of the sea. The 32-year-old flat in a prized 'point block' right across from the East Coast Park was sold for $750,888 last month.

That is significantly more than the median price of a five-room flat in Marine Parade - $560,000 in the third quarter, up from $485,000 in the second quarter.

Still, higher absolute prices have been paid for executive flats, which are bigger and not as common as five-room flats. One of these, a 156 sq m high floor unit in Mei Ling Street, sold for $780,000 but cost less than the Marine Parade flat on a psf basis.

Property agents say such high-priced flats need to have the 'X-factor' in terms of surrounding amenities, views and so on.

Also, buyers willing to pay such big amounts are not your typical HDB flat dwellers or buyers. They are cash-rich and include home hunters flush with the proceeds of a collective sale, as well as those who have just collected their pension payout.

Orchard Residences home went for over $5,600 psf

THIS slice of downtown luxury is a penthouse unit at The Orchard Residences, the 175-unit leasehold condominium that is being built above the Orchard MRT Station.

The 53rd floor, 5,048 sq ft unit went for $5,600 per sq ft in October, or slightly more than $28 million.

This year, condo prices crossed the $4,000 psf mark and surged past the $5,000 psf mark for the very first time.

In comparison, last year's price record - set in December by a unit in Marina Bay Residences - was only $3,450 psf.

It is not just units at The Orchard Residences that have scaled such stratospheric highs.

Other developments that have registered sales of above $4,000 psf include Hilltops, Ritz-Carlton Residences and Scotts Square.

Sentosa Cove, Nassim Road plots scale new highs

GOOD-CLASS bungalows have always been considered the creme de la creme of landed homes. That is, until the waterfront homes in Sentosa Cove came along.

Last month, two seafront bungalow plots in 99-year leasehold Sentosa Cove sold for a high of $1,696 psf.

Good-class bungalows, which need to be at least 15,070 sq ft in size and be located in gazetted areas have sold for up to about $1,300 psf.

However, even the heady heights of Sentosa Cove were topped in October when a bungalow that is smaller than a good-class bungalow in the posh precinct of Nassim Road was sold for a high of $1,899 psf, or $25.5 million in total.

Raffles Place rentals soar to $19.80 psf a month

ASKING rents at Republic Plaza in Raffles Place have reportedly hit a whopping $19.80 psf a month amid tight supply, up from just above $13 psf a year ago.

Cushman & Wakefield data showed that prime achievable office rents are now slightly above $16 psf a month on average, compared with around $8.50 psf per month a year ago.

Supply of office space was so tight that the Government came up with transitional sites to cater to demand. Sales of office units also rose.

Foreigners, PRs account for a quarter of total sales

FOREIGNERS and permanent residents went on a buying spree, sometimes scooping up nearly a whole residential project.

Knight Frank data showed that they chalked up 7,902 sales from January to November, which accounted for 24.9 per cent of total sales. These figures, said the firm's research and consultancy head Nicholas Mak, are the highest in 13 years, thanks to healthy regional economic conditions, an increase in the number of expatriates as well as other factors.

Thai tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, for instance, bought 47 out of 48 apartments at Hoi Hup's Suites @ Cairnhill for $205 million, or about $2,550 psf.

He also purchased four floors of apartments at The Orchard Residences for $135 million, or about $3,600 psf.

Institutional investors also entered the market in a big way, picking up anything from several units to whole condo blocks and even development sites. They include Macquarie Global Property Advisors, Goldman Sachs and United States-based Wachovia Development.

En Bloc Sales Result In Rewarding Year For Property Consultants

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 29, 2007

Mega deals move some smaller firms and new entrants into new league

THE collective sale euphoria this year has swept in windfalls not only for home sellers, but also for the companies that brokered the sales.

Most property consultancies in Singapore have logged their best-ever year for such deals, pocketing record sums in related fees.

The run of 'mega deals' has also catapulted smaller property firms into the same league as the big boys.

Credo Real Estate, for instance, shot to the top of the pack this year by landing the $1.34 billion sale of Farrer Court in Farrer Road.

The local firm, started in 2002, specialises in collective sales. Bigger players like DTZ Debenham Tie Leung and Knight Frank also handle areas such as investment sales and office leasing.

In all, Credo sold $2.17 billion worth of collective sale sites this year. That is 20 per cent more than the next best performer: DTZ with $1.8 billion.

But DTZ also turned in a record year, said Mr Shaun Poh, the consultancy's director of investments and auctions. 'In terms of fee income, it was a fantastic year for us, the best year so far.'

The consultancies all declined to reveal how much they had earned from collective sales this year, but Mr Poh helped shed some light.

For smaller projects that sell for less than $50 million, most firms charge 0.75 per cent to 1 per cent of the sale price, he said. Bigger projects worth at least $300 million bring in about 0.5 per cent.

Some firms impose extra charges if they find buyers willing to go well above the reserve price, Mr Poh added.

In third place was Savills Singapore, another relatively new entrant to this segment. It only 'really got into the business last year', said investment sales director Steven Ming. It more than doubled last year's sales with deals such as Tulip Gardens and Westwood Apartments.

Next came Knight Frank, which also had a 'record year', with 10 deals totalling $1.2 billion, said investment sales head Foo Suan Peng.

Heavyweight CB Richard Ellis, last year's number one, weighed in at fifth place with four deals, including the $625 million sale of Grangeford Apartments.

Knight Frank's Mr Foo said the collective sales market had never been so active. He noted: 'All kinds of records were broken: sale price per sq ft, sale price quantum, number of transactions, size of development.'

This stellar performance also prompted agencies 'not traditionally in this market' to try their luck, he added.

Newman & Goh, which started marketing collective sale sites only in October 2005, was able to gain a solid foothold. 'It was a great year,' said investment sales head Jeffrey Goh.

Even agencies better known for individual home sales, such as Dennis Wee Group and Ivy Lee Realty, jumped on the bandwagon.

Dennis Wee helped to sell Tampines Court for $405 million, while Ivy Lee brokered the $131.5 million sale of Hong Leong Gardens in the West Coast. Both deals were done in March.

But even in the midst of popping the champagne, the consultants agree next year's outlook is rather less rosy.

Continuing concerns over the United States sub-prime mortgage crisis might discourage buyers, while a new set of collective sale rules could obstruct the path for sellers.

A Secret Garden In Seletar

Source : The Business Times, December 29, 2007


The residents of Seletar Camp have recently been living with the knowledge that progress has finally caught up with their suburb

WITH its narrow country lanes, quaint English road names, simple single-storey colonial-era houses and verdant scenery with not a single high-rise in sight, Seletar Camp is the antithesis of modern Singapore - a leafy northern suburb caught in a time warp and a throwback to an age where the relaxed pace allows residents to sit back and enjoy the ordinary things in life.

Perspectives: Mr Gobinathan's house (above) as seen from up the tree in the garden.

For Singaporeans of a certain vintage, a drive through this former Royal Air Force base-turned-military camp will trigger fond childhood memories and lead to a greater understanding of why the residents who occupy over 200 houses in the estate are so passionate about protecting that way of life.

Many other properties are either empty as leases end or occupied by aerospace companies that service the adjoining Seletar Airport.

For the past year and a half, the residents of Seletar Camp - which was first built in the 1920s to house Royal Air Force personnel - have been living with the knowledge that progress has finally caught up with their part of the world, and just like the Dempsey Road and Portsdown Road camps before it, the rhythm of life as they know it will eventually be very different.

The government-owned area is due to be turned into an aerospace hub within the next several years - complete with F&B outlets, of course - and infrastructure work has already commenced, with the roads around Seletar heavy with daily lorry traffic.

The nine-hole public golf course in the estate has already been closed, its fairways slated to make way for a runway extension project.

Like a sleepy village

Residents like G Gobinathan represent the last pockets of resistance at Seletar Camp, where the residential community is akin to a sleepy village where everyone knows each other. Although he is relatively new to the estate - some residents have been there for two decades or more - he is vociferous in support of the lifestyle it represents.

Mr Gobinathan (left) likes Seletar Camp because it's quaint, friendly and green; and he is happy to live next to an airport because of his long-held fascination for flying

His tidy three-bedroom semi-detached house, complete with spacious back garden, is located on a small lane with the atypical name of Regent Street - Hay Market, Edgeware Road and yes, Oxford Street are all nearby - and the area resembles nothing so much as a quiet English suburb, with dogs in the yard and children playing in the street.

Mr Gobinathan, his wife Annie and three children - Anthony, 14; Harry, 11; and Geoffrey, 7 - moved here from his family home in Upper Thompson Road just over a year ago, and they couldn't be happier.

'I used to have cousins living around here and I always wanted to live here because it's rather quaint,' says Mr Gobinathan, a qualified accountant who spent 15 years working in Europe and who is now the chief operating officer of a Singapore-based company that manufactures shelving for supermarkets.

The patio (left) is complete with wooden beams and lamps

'Here, you can hear the birds singing. It's also a fact that my kids don't fall ill so frequently because there's so much nature and greenery around,' he says. 'The neighbours are very friendly and our front doors are always open - it's very village-like.'

Despite the proximity to the airport, the air traffic is minimal, he says, especially since the activity is restricted to small jets and single-engine private planes.

Vanishing scenery

'Within the next five years, massive change is going to happen here, with many houses slated to be demolished, while some will be converted to restaurants and bars and workshops for the aircraft industry,' says Mr Gobinathan. 'All this beautiful scenery is going to disappear - of course there will be landscaping of whatever is left, but the whole area will still be more industrialised.'

Not surprisingly, Mr Gobinathan and his fellow residents are not too happy about the impending changes.

A loose-knit residents' committee met government representatives about preserving the area - to no avail - earlier this year, and even non-residents were moved to support. A short documentary by Li Xiuqi, titled Seletar Airbase: Singapore's Secret Garden, also helped to publicise the plight of the people living there.

A detail shot of the patio. His tidy three-bedroom, semi-detached house is located on a small lane with the atypical name of Regent Street

At present, the rural atmosphere is akin to living in the countryside, notes Mr Gobinathan. 'Too much change is not good,' he feels. 'This place reminds us of the history of Singapore and gives people an opportunity for people to experience living with nature - modernising this place is not really necessary.'

This is the kind of neighbourhood where sitting on the patio and greeting people as they walk past is a daily ritual.

At one time, there were even no fences between houses. Residents include retired professionals, businessmen and expatriates keen for a reminder of the home country.

Mr Gobinathan, whose wife is from Ajaccio, a small town in Corsica, says there are hints of Europe in Seletar Camp.

'The place where she comes from is as quaint as this,' he points out. 'We both love the countryside and working in the garden.'

'Living here, there is a sense of security, even though all the doors are always open. There's a feeling of extended community, and my friends drop by unannounced for a drink because they look forward to coming here for a feel of nature and the environment. You just feel happy over here,' he says.

Mr Gobinathan's three sons enjoying their afternoon lazing around the garden with their three dogs. They are: (clockwise from top) Geoffrey, Harry and Anthony. According to Mr Gobinathan, there are hints of Europe in Seletar Camp

'It's rare that this kind of living is available to the average person - not many people can sit out on the patio and enjoy this kind of view,' he adds.

As a young boy, Mr Gobinathan had a fascination for flying, but his father refused to allow him to fly. 'Now, I tell my kids that at least daddy lives next to an airport,' he says.

The greenery, low-rise housing and being in a rural environment help to make Seletar Camp the ultimate countryside estate - a rare instance of true suburbia in Singapore. It's a place where living extends well beyond the walls of your house.

Mr Gobinathan waves an arm at the green expanse beyond his front gate. 'These old trees are the lungs of the earth - but they're all going to go.'

Latest US Data - Nov New Home Sales Plunge To 12-Year Low

Source : The Business Times, December 29, 2007

(WASHINGTON) Sales of new homes in the US plunged last month to their lowest level in more than 12 years, a grim testament to the problems plaguing the housing sector.

The Commerce Department yesterday reported that new home sales tumbled by 9 per cent in November from October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 647,000. That was the worst showing since April 1995, when the pace of sales was 621,000.

The sales pace for November was much weaker than economists were expecting. They were predicting sales in the weakest sector of the economy to drop by around 1.8 per cent, to a pace of 715,000.

The median sales price of a new home dipped to US$239,100 in November. That is 0.4 per cent lower than a year ago.

The median price is where half sell for more and half for less.

By region, sales fell in all parts of the US, except for the West, where they rose.

New home sales dropped by 19.3 per cent in the Northeast. They plunged by 27.6 per cent in the Midwest and they fell by 6.4 per cent in the South. However, sales increased by 4 per cent in the West.

Over the last 12 months, new home sales nationwide have tumbled by 34.4 per cent, the biggest annual slide since early 1991, and stark evidence of the painful collapse in the once high-flying housing market.

That market has been suffering through a severe slump following five years of record-breaking activity from 2001 through 2005. Sales turned weak as did home prices. The boom-to-bust situation has increased dangers to the economy as a whole and has been especially hard on some homeowners.

Foreclosures have soared to record highs and probably will keep rising. A drop in home prices left some people stuck with balances on their home mortgages that eclipsed the worth of their home. Other home buyers were clobbered as low introductory rates on their mortgages jumped to much higher rates which they could not afford.

With credit now harder to get to finance a home purchase, the problems in housing have grown worse. Unsold homes have piled up.

The problems are expected to persist well into next year. -- AP

Owner Of Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel Seeks SGX Listing

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 29, 2007

PROPERTY and hotel group Roxy-Pacific Holdings, which owns the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel in Marine Parade, is seeking a listing on the Singapore Exchange.

The 40-year-old developer lodged its preliminary prospectus yesterday, saying that the proposed mainboard listing would enhance its image in Singapore and allow it to expand its operations.

It plans to offer 160 million shares, comprising 152 million placement shares and eight million public shares, underwritten by Hong Leong Finance.

Nine million of the placement shares will be reserved for subscription and/or purchase by one of its executive directors, Mr Koh Seng Geok, as well as other people who have contributed to the company's growth.

Of the 160 million shares intended for the offering, 128 million are new shares.

Roxy-Pacific Holdings, formerly known as Soon Nam Company, built the 12-storey Maxwell House in Tanjong Pagar.

In recent years, it has been actively developing various projects in the east of Singapore, such as the Veranda in Telok Kurau and Martia Residence in Martia Road, as well as The TreeLine, The Nclave and St Patrick's Loft.

The cost of land for its recent and current projects ranges from $5 million to $25.5 million. The number of homes that can be built on each site ranges from 15 to 70.

The company plans to use about $15 million of its net proceeds from the invitation to expand its property development business, and another $10 million to improve Grand Mercure and maintain or upgrade its properties in Roxy Square Shopping Centre.

For the financial year ended December 2006, the company booked $48.8 million in revenue - a 58 per cent jump from the previous year - and its net profit attributable to shareholders grew by 150 per cent to hit $4.8 million.

Its basic earnings per share more than doubled to 1.02 cents in the same period, while its net asset value per share stood at 7.26 cents.

Property Group Roxy-Pacific Eyes Mainboard Listing

Source : The Business Times, December 29, 2007

Net proceeds from IPO expected to exceed $30m

HOME-GROWN property group Roxy-Pacific Holdings plans to raise capital through a listing on the Singapore Exchange mainboard.

The group lodged its preliminary prospectus with the Monetary Authority of Singapore yesterday, with plans for an initial public offering of 160 million shares, including 32 million vendor shares.

Roxy-Pacific was established in 1967. Besides being a residential property developer, it owns the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel in Marine Parade and a number of shop units in Roxy Square Shopping Centre.

The issue price is not known yet but based on the prospectus, the net proceeds are expected to exceed $30 million, with about $15 million earmarked for expansion of its property development business.

It plans to develop smaller to medium-sized land plots for 'home buyers who are HDB-flat upgraders, and the middle to upper-middle income families'.

Another $10 million will go towards enhancing the Grand Mercure hotel, while $5 million will be used to repay bank loans.

Roxy-Pacific believes the outlook for the Singapore property market is positive. It said that, based on Urban Redevelopment Authority flash estimates, prices of private residential properties rose by 8.3 per cent in 3Q07 over the preceding quarter.

The hotel industry is also expected to continue booming, with the Singapore Tourism Board looking for $13.6 billion in tourism receipts this year and $30 billion by 2015.

The company recorded a net profit of $4.84 million for FY2006, up from $1.94 million for FY2005.

Its net asset value, as at Dec 31, 2006, was $252.7 million.

Hong Leong Finance is the issue manager for the IPO.