Thursday, January 31, 2008

$1.73 Decent Exit Price For Ascott: CIMB

Source : Today, Wednesday, January 30, 2008

CapitaLand’s offer to buy the remaining shares of its 67-per-cent unit, The Ascott Group, at $1.73 apiece represents a decent exit price for minority owners of the luxury residences operator, according to CIMB, who said the price “is a fair valuation from a historical perspective, but attractive in the current environment of heightened risk aversion”.

Stock markets worldwide have been rocked in recent months by the fallout from the US sub-prime mortgage fiasco, and banks and property counters have bore the brunt of the volatility. The ST Index is down about 12 per cent since the beginning of the year.

In its offer document despatched to Ascott shareholders yesterday, CapitaLand’s fully-owned Somerset Capital unit said the offer was unconditional in all aspects and that payment would be disbursed 10 days after the receipt of acceptances. The offer will close on Feb 26 and the offer price will not be revised. CapitaLand intends to take Ascott private and will exercise its rights of compulsory acquisition.

CIT Distributable Income For Q4 Surges 59%

Source : The Business Times, January 30, 2008

Distributable income for full year 31.7% more than forecast

CAMBRIDGE Industrial Trust (CIT) has posted distributable income of $11.59 million - 59 per cent higher year on year - for its fourth quarter ended Dec 31, 2007.

The figure comprised $1.6 million distributed to unit holders for the period Oct 1-17, just ahead of an equity fund-raising exercise completed on Oct 18, and distributable income of almost $10 million for the rest of the quarter.

The $10 million reflects distribution per unit (DPU) of 1.258 cents, which works out to an annualised figure of 6.122 cents and a resulting distribution yield of 9.2 per cent based on CIT's closing price of 66.5 cents yesterday. The counter ended the day half a cent lower.

Net property income for Q4 rose 46.3 per cent year on year to $13.9 million on a 49.1 per cent rise in gross revenue to $16.1 million.

For the year ended Dec 31, 2007, CIT posted distributable income of $35.7 million, which was 31.7 per cent higher than forecast by the trust's manager, Cambridge Industrial Trust Management.

Net property income of $45.8 million was 28.3 per cent above forecast, while gross revenue of $53 million surpassed the forecast by 22.7 per cent.

CIT's portfolio comprised 40 properties at end-December 2007, up from 27 assets a year earlier. The 40 properties, valued at $927.8 million at end-2007, were fully occupied as of that time.

The trust's manager said it 'believes the demand for quasi-offices will spill into demand for light industrial space resulting from current rental pressure on prime office space in the Central Business District'.

The latest DPU of 1.258 cents for the period Oct 18-Dec 31, 2007 will be paid on Feb 29.

MMP REIT Reports Full-Year Net Income Of S$76.8m

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 30 January 2008

Macquarie MEAG Prime REIT (MMP REIT) has reported a full-year net income of S$76.8 million, boosted by a jump in its fourth-quarter earnings.

The trust, which owns Ngee Ann City and Wisma Atria, said this is due to higher rentals, new leases and revenue from its acquisitions in Japan and China.

Following the strong results, MMP REIT plans to distribute 6.19 cents per unit to its unit holders.

The revamp of the Wisma Atria shopping mall is paying off for MMP REIT.

Despite higher expenses from the installation of new escalators for the mall, net income for MMP REIT still grew to S$76.8 million in 2007.

In the fourth quarter, its net property income rose to S$22.2 million, up about 29 percent on-year.

Franklin Heng, CEO, Macquarie Pacific Star, said, "It's slightly above our expectations. The most surprising is actually the office sector. Towards the first half of last year, we were only doing an average of 7 to 8 dollars (psf/per month). But towards the last quarter of 2007, we've actually done an average of S$12 - slightly above S$12 dollars psf. And in fact, most recently, we've done the lease of close to about S$13.50. So going forward, we believe that (the) office (sector) will continue to underpin the strong performance."

The strong performance is clearly a boon for unit holders, who will receive 6.19 cents per unit.

MMP REIT has about S$60 million to be distributed in 2007, up 7.6 percent over the previous year.

For the fourth quarter, distributable income came in at S$16.2 million or 1.68 cents per unit.

This is 14.3 percent increase from the previous year.

Going forward, MMP REIT expects its major tenant Takashimaya at Ngee Ann City to pay 15 percent to 25 percent more rent in a new contract starting June.

On acquisitions, Macquarie said it is beginning to see good quality assets in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, and it is constantly reviewing proposals to find the right fit at the right price.

It is leaning towards retail due to its defensive qualities as office rents tend to be subject to cyclical changes.

Two other REITs also submitted their report cards on Wednesday.

Retail trust Suntec REIT reported a higher distribution income of S$33.5 million for its first quarter.

At 2.279 cents per unit, that is 16.1 percent higher than the previous year.

Fuelled by strong growth in tourism, CDL Hospitality Trust recorded a net income of some S$85.8 million for its first full-year earnings report.

That is 66 percent higher than its own projections.

The trust is distributing S$68.7 million of its income, or 8.98 cents per unit. - CNA/ms

S'pore Companies Can Benefit From Real Estate Boom In Qatar

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 30 January 2008

DOHA, Qatar : It has been dubbed the "Venice of Qatar"; a project called "The Pearl-Qatar" is an upscale Riviera-style development, and when completed in 2011, the project will be home to some 40,000 residents.

Investors from 45 countries have flocked to the project to snap up properties there, but real estate is not the only attraction for Singapore companies.

With its mix of Venetian charm and Arabic chic, the US$20 billion project is built entirely on a man-made island.

All 4 million square metres of it is reclaimed land, creating 32 kilometres of new coastline.

Related Video Link - http://tinyurl.com/257btj

The project has been launched in phases, and according to the developer, 35 percent of the units have already been taken up.

In fact, an entire residential district was sold within an hour recently.

That transaction alone amounted to over US$405 million.

These mind-boggling numbers were presented to the Singapore delegation, led by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

The progress of the development was obvious as the visitors cruised the waters of the Arabian Gulf.

However, while property is one obvious area to consider, Singapore companies may want to venture into other sectors.

Minister of State for Education Lui Tuck Yew said, "There are some possibilities on how Singapore companies can participate because we were asking them about security arrangement, we were asking them about the operation and the running of the entire complex, and they thought that that's an area where Singapore companies would be interested to look into."

This is Qatar's first international real estate venture, and it comes with all the frills of luxurious waterfront living.

Shaped like a string of pearls, the island retreat will house marinas, high-end retail shops, five-star hotels, schools and medical centres.

The development will also feature high-tech services and a fully-automated vacuum waste disposal system, amongst others.

Besides industry players, the Singapore delegation is in Qatar to touch base with the country's leaders.

During a meeting with the Amir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, both leaders discussed developments in the region and relations between the two countries.

One of the topics covered was how to strengthen the already close state of bilateral relations.

Opportunities to collaborate in various areas, including joint ventures in environmental technology, was among the ideas mooted.

The two leaders also exchanged views on recent developments in Asia and the Middle East.

SM Goh last met the Amir in June 2005, when the Amir made a state visit to Singapore.

The Amir hosted SM Goh to lunch and during their discussions, SM Goh praised the Amir for the rapid development of Doha since his last visit there in 2005.

SM Goh also met Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Heir Apparent, who led a high-level committee to Singapore for a working visit last October.

It was Sheikh Tamim who had invited Mr Goh to visit Qatar.

They last met when Sheikh Tamim visited Singapore last October.

During this meeting in Doha, Sheikh Tamim briefed SM Goh on Qatar's economic development and its future outlook.

Sheikh Tamim also expressed satisfaction with the progress of the High Level Joint Committee which is chaired by himself and Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng.

The two leaders also discussed how Qatar and Singapore could cooperate in tapping business opportunities in third countries.

Apart from meeting the members of the royal family at the Diwan Amiri, SM Goh is also expected to address the business community at the inaugural Qatar-Singapore Business Forum.

The event will see a gathering of businessmen from both sides and the signing of three agreements to spur bilateral trade.

More educational exchanges could also be on the cards, following SM Goh's visit to the Texas A&M University at the Qatar Foundation.

At the Foundation, SM Goh also held discussions with Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned, Consort of the Amir and Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation.

This was SM Goh's second meeting with Sheikha Mozah.

During their talks, SM Goh said he was impressed by the progress of the Education City, which is a flagship project of the Qatar Foundation.

SM Goh and Sheikha Mozah also discussed opportunities for cooperation between Singapore and Qatar in education as well as research and development.

The Singapore delegation also toured the ASPIRE sports academy. - CNA/ms

GuocoLand Reports 15% Rise in H1 Net Profit To S$60.6m

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 30 January 2008

Property developer GuocoLand has reported a net profit of S$60.6 million for its half year ended December 31.

That was a 15 percent increase compared to the same period a year ago. Revenue rose 114 percent to S$402 million.

However, net profit in the second quarter actually fell 26 percent to S$33 million. This was due to the absence of an exceptional gain that was booked in the year-ago period.

GuocoLand also reported losses linked to foreign exchange hedging.

Going forward, GuocoLand is looking to develop more residential properties in the prime districts of Singapore. It will build residential properties on the sites of the existing Sophia Court and Leedon Heights.

It is also expanding its footprint in China, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The developer said that although the spectre of a recession is looming over the US economy, China and India are expected to remain resilient.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, GuocoLand expects to report satisfactory results for its third quarter and full year. - CNA/ms

Citigroup revises Singapore's GDP Growth This Year To 5.6% From 6.2%

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 30 January 2008

Citigroup has revised down Singapore's economic growth forecast this year to 5.6 percent from 6.2 percent, amid market uncertainty.

However, the lender said it is confident about strong growth in emerging Asian markets for 2008.

Citigroup is also predicting that equities will be the asset class of choice.

With the volatile market, Citigroup is also advising investors to keep a close eye on telecom, banks and media stocks.

Singapore's economic growth is expected to moderate this year because of worries over the US sub-prime crisis and anticipated slowdown in the world economy.

Citigroup thinks Singapore's GDP will expand by about 5.6 percent in 2008. This is slower than the 6.2 percent that it had forecast in December.

Salman Haider, Head of Investments, Global Consumer Banking, Citibank, said: "If there is a longer recession, or protracted recession in the US, we do see an impact. I think retail investors should continue looking at equities as an asset class of choice.

"They should also be aware that there will be extended volatility which we have been advising clients on for a while now. And because of that, (it is) extremely important that they are diversified, in addition to being overweight in equities."

Citigroup analysts expect the US Federal Reserve to cut its benchmark interest rate to 2.25 percent by mid-year to stabilise global financial markets.

Given the volatile market in recent weeks, Citigroup believes that valuations are starting to look attractive in certain equity sectors. It is bullish about the telecoms, media and banking counters.

Mr Haider explained, "(With regards to) banks, (it is) from the perspective that there is fairly limited CDO exposure; the calculation is strong, the dividend yield story is a strong one.

"(For) media and telecom (stocks), primarily from a cash flow perspective - (they are) strong companies, (with) very visual cash flows. (They are) positioned very well, and again the dividend yield play comes into position for the media companies as well."

Commodities such as gold are also expected to continue to do well, as investors hedge against the dipping US dollar.

For 2008, Citigroup sees growth coming from emerging markets in Asia, such as China. However, on the flipside, slower growth is expected from the US, Japan and Europe. - CNA/ms

Govt To Spend S$14b To Improve Singapore's Road Infrastructure

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 30 January 2008

The government will spend S$14 billion to improve Singapore's road infrastructure over the coming years.

The money will go towards building the new North-South Expressway, the earlier announced Marina Coastal Expressway, widening the Central and Tampines Expressways, and improving various interchanges.

The Transport Ministry is optimistic the changes will soften the traffic gridlock.

Related Video Link - http://tinyurl.com/384dn3

The go-ahead has been given for the new North-South Expressway, which will cost some S$7 billion to S$8 billion and be ready by 2020.

The 21-kilometre expressway will link Woodlands and Yishun in the north to the East Coast Parkway.

It will run somewhat parallel to the Central Expressway, thereby relieving traffic from the heavily-used CTE.

The S$2.5 billion Marina Coastal Expressway, linking the eastern and western parts to Marina Bay, will be ready by 2013.

Then there is the widening of the Central and Tampines Expressways, which will be completed by 2011.

When completed, the CTE will have four lanes on either side.

The Ministry is confident these changes will make road travel more efficient.

But Singaporeans are mixed in their views.

One person said, "I'm actually looking forward to all the new highways, because just by coming out of the new KPE, it's improving traffic a lot. I've used it, and I'm very happy with it."

Another noted, "There will always be people wanting to buy cars. So long as the government allows that, I think this thing (congestion) will still keep on continuing."

A third added, "The government wants to have 6 million people. There's no way it can stop."

Others offered alternatives which they think will work.

One person suggested, "They have to make more roads underground."

Another commented, "If you can get from Point A to Point B very conveniently on public transport, then I think I wouldn't be driving a car."

A third added, "Staggering working hours is a good idea."

Whatever the view, it will take some time for the initiatives to settle in, and the authorities are hoping more people will switch to public transport to ensure Singapore does not end up in a gridlock. - CNA/ms

More ERP Gantries, Higher ERP Rates, But Motorists To Get Road Tax Cuts

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 30 January 2008

More ERP gantries, higher ERP rates, and halving the annual vehicle growth rate to 1.5% - these are some of the main announcements by Transport Minister Raymond Lim in the final instalment of changes under the land transport review.

But the bitter pill of more ERP was accompanied by some sweeteners, such as a permanent 15% cut in road tax for all vehicles and a multi-billion dollar improvement programme for expressways.

Related Video Link - http://tinyurl.com/36yokr

Singapore has the same problem faced by many other growing cities in the world - an insatiable appetite for cars, leading to congestion and possible gridlock. Singapore transport officials said congestion has climbed 25% since 1999.

Drawing out the future road map, the transport minister said the problems made three things certain.

"First, not everybody can drive to and from work, it's just not possible. Two, the trade-offs that we face will become sharper. The more cars that we put on the road, the higher your ERP charges will be and the more extensive the ERP coverage will have to be," said the Transport Minister.

"Three, even if we have higher ERP charges and more extensive ERP coverage, given where the car population is today and that road growth is trending down, we will still have to moderate our vehicle population growth," Mr Lim continued.

So, ERP coverage will be expanded, where 16 more gantries will be activated this year, adding to the current 55.

On April 7, the gantries at Upper Bukit Timah Road, Toa Payoh Lorong 6, Upper Boon Keng Road, Geylang Bahru and Kallang Bahru will be activated.

On July 7, there will be five new gantries on roads along the Singapore River area. These are at Eu Tong Sen Street, New Bridge Road, South Bridge Road and both sides of Fullerton Road.

On November 3, there will be six more gantries at Commonwealth Avenue, Jalan Bukit Merah, Alexandra Road, AYE (westbound) and PIE (westbound) and Serangoon Road.

While these gantries kick in this year, solid public transport improvements are still some years away, so interim measures will be implemented immediately.

The frequency of basic bus services along ERP-affected corridors will be increased from 15 minutes to 12 minutes by June, and 10 minutes by next August. The frequency of feeder services will also go up.

And for the first time, buses will be allowed to duplicate services along mature rail lines.

Premium bus services will also be expanded from the current 42 to 72 by June, with priority for areas affected by the ERP expansion. - CNA /ls

Singapore Plans $8b North-South Expressway

Source : The Business Times, January 30, 2008

Singapore will spend up to $8 billion (US$5.6 billion) to build a new expressway spanning the island state to help ease growing congestion on its roads, a government minister said on Wednesday.

The announcement of the 21-km North-South Expressway (NSE) comes days after the government said it would spend US$14 billion to double Singapore's rail network, and after saying this month that it wanted more competition in the public bus sector.

Analysts say Singapore's investments on mega construction projects, that also include two casinos with a combined price tag of over US$8 billion and a US$1.3 billion water-front sports complex, could help boost economic growth as the city-state fights slowing exports - the economy's traditional mainstay.

Transport Minister Raymond Lim told reporters on Wednesday that the NSE, to be completed by 2020, will cut travel time by 30 per cent for residents living in the island's north heading to the central business district in the south.

He also announced an expansion of the electronic road pricing system, emulated in some European cities, where motorists pay to drive into city areas.

The aim is to 'encourage motorists to switch to public transport' to help reduce road congestion, which has increased by 25 per cent since 1999, he said.

'Against our ever growing appetite for car use, we are faced with the immutable realities of Singapore's situation: a compact city state with 12 per cent of its land already used up for roads,' he said.

The number of vehicles in Singapore, one of the most expensive places in the world to own a car due to high taxes and charges, hit 850,000 on an annual growth rate of 3 per cent.

Mr Lim said starting in 2009, the government will take steps aimed at lowering the vehicle population growth rate to 1.5 per cent. -- REUTERS

STB Rejects Collective Sale Of Regent Garden

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 30, 2008

AN UNUSUAL battle over the en-bloc sale of Regent Garden intensified yesterday when the Strata Titles Board (STB) threw out the sale - ruling the $34 million sale had not been done in good faith.

The showdown over the fate of the 31-unit West Coast Road condo site is now headed for the High Court.

The case is unusual because all six dissenting minority owners had withdrawn their objections to the sale, which was inked last April.

It is now the majority owners, who signed off on the sale, who are trying to back out of the deal with buyer Allgreen Properties.

The STB said it rejected the deal as it was not done in good faith as Regent Garden's valuation - on which the final price was based - was wrong.

It said Regent Garden's $34 million sale price was well below its market value.

The deal needed STB's formal approval as there had originally been objections.

The dispute also involves alleged extra payments made to minority owners to quell those objections.

In January, majority owners filed an originating summons in the High Court trying to overturn the sale.

They argued the $34 million price was wrong partly because of a wrongly-estimated development charge of $7.2 million - a charge for redeveloping a site to enhance its value.

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

No Go For Regent Garden's En-Bloc Sale

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 30, 2008

ANOTHER collective sale has run into hiccups. The Strata Titles Board on Wednesday dismissed the sale of Regent Garden in West Coast Road after the estate's majority sellers contested its purchase by Allgreen Properties.

The majority owners, who own 25 of the condominium's 31 units, have said they want to be released from the sale agreement. They signed the agreement last April to sell the condominium to Allgreen for $34 million.

Alternatively, the majority owners want damages of between $5.7 million and $6.685 million from Allgreen. According to them, the sale price of $34 million was a 'mutual fundamental mistake', based on a wrongly assumed amount for development charges.

The owners had expected a development charge of $950,000, but the sale proceeds put the charge at $7.2 million.

In addition, the majority owners are unhappy that the minority owners appear to have been paid an extra amount by Allgreen.

Allgreen denied that a mistake was made. It has also pointed out that its bid for Regent Garden was the highest and a good $4 million above the reserve price.

The mainboard-listed developer also said these assertions are 'nothing more than belated attempts to rewrite the bargain in the hope of extracting a higher price for Regent Garden'.

Buy A Home Withing Your Means

Source : The Housing Development Board (HDB) - http://tinyurl.com/32aycf

$450m Shopping Mall To Add To Tampines Bustle

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 30, 2008

With two other malls, it will make town hub an even stronger shopping destination

THE popular suburban haunt of Tampines is set to get a fresh injection of retail buzz when a new $450 million mall, now under construction, opens for business early next year.

SETTING ITSELF APART: While its anchor tenants may be familiar brand names, Tampines 1 will strive to be different by bringing in new retail concepts to tie in with its 'young, savvy and lover of all new things' theme. -- PHOTO: TAMPINES 1

The arrival of Tampines 1 on the scene will alleviate a shortage of shopping space in the crowded town hub, where rents in two existing malls have risen over the years, industry sources say.

The new mall's manager has already signed up anchor tenants. It is now 40 per cent leased and is expected to be fully leased by May, said AsiaMalls Management (South East Asia).

Located beside the Tampines MRT station, it will complement two existing malls, CapitaMall Trust's Tampines Mall and Asian Retail Mall Fund's Century Square.

Tampines 1, due for completion later this year, sits on a 91,000 sq ft site and has shops spread over five storeys and one basement. It will have 203 carpark lots.

The mall has a net lettable area of 260,000 sq ft, which makes it smaller than Tampines Mall's 323,000 sq ft but bigger than Century Square's 210,000 sq ft.

When combined, the three malls will make Tampines an even stronger shopping destination, according to Knight Frank's deputy managing director, Mr Danny Yeo.

Popular suburban malls, such as those in Tampines, can command relatively steep rents due to their high levels of traffic.

This trend is growing now that the Housing Board has stopped building neighbourhood shops, as shoppers prefer to frequent bustling suburban malls, said Mr Yeo.

He added that ground-floor rents in Tampines suburban malls could fetch between $35 and $50 per sq ft (psf) a month.

That range is relatively high for outlying shopping centres, given that ground-floor rents in main shopping malls along the Orchard Road shopping belt go for about $45 to $70 psf on average.

While Tampines 1's anchor tenants may be familiar brand names, such as Cold Storage, the mall will strive to be different by bringing in new retail concepts to tie in with its 'young, savvy and lover of all new things' theme.

One of them is a fitness club and spa that will come complete with a swimming pool.

The BEYS fitness club and spa by the Amore Fitness group will take up about 17,500 sq ft of space on the fifth floor.

Cold Storage supermarket, which will be fitted out to the tune of $3 million, will occupy almost 14,000 sq ft of the basement.

This outlet will focus on high-quality fresh food and offer more than an ordinary heartland supermarket, said the mall manager.

For instance, it will have the largest range of smoked salmon and Alaskan seafood and will offer ready-to-eat steamed lobsters and shucked oysters.

Times The Bookshop is another key tenant, while Challenger, the information technology superstore, will take up 6,100 sq ft on level four.

Challenger used to be a tenant at DBS Tampines Centre that, together with Pavilion, have been torn down to make way for the upcoming mall.

Asian Retail Mall Fund II bought the two sites for nearly $289 million. Its total investment in the mall has reached $450 million, including land cost.

Apart from new retail concepts, Tampines 1 will also offer new architecture elements, such as a European-inspired Sunken Plaza and double-floor retail shops, said the mall's assistant general manager, Ms Stephanie Ho.

One of these duplex units - on levels four and five - will be taken up by Japanese restaurant chain Sushi Tei.


POPULAR RETAIL HAUNTS

Suburban malls will continue to command high rents, as shoppers prefer to frequent these places over neighbourhood shops.MR YEO, Knight Frank’s deputy managing director, on the new mall’s commercial potential.

NEW AND IMPROVED

Tampines 1 will offer new architectural elements, such as a European-inspired Sunken Plaza and double-floor retail shops.MS STEPHANIE HO. the mall’s assistant general manager.

S'pore Only Nation With High Growth, Job Creation

Source : The Business Times, January 30, 2008

Lim Swee Say cites Economist report; NTUC to help 8,000 unemployed workers get jobs

SINGAPORE was the only country in the world to post high economic growth and low unemployment in 2007. The labour movement here wants Singapore to at least keep up with this achievement in 2008, as it unveiled its work plan yesterday for the new year.

Despite global uncertainties and the threat of a recession in the United States in 2008, Lim Swee Say, secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), said that the strong economic gains made in the past few years have built up a healthy pipeline of jobs to provide some buffer against a global downturn and carry workers through the year.

He noted that Singapore has continued to take in foreign workers, indicating that there are more than enough jobs to go around for all.

'We are in a much better position than many countries,' Mr Lim told reporters at a press conference.

Earlier, in an address to unionists, the NTUC chief cited a study reported in The Economist, which showed that out of 56 countries, including fast-growing economies like China and India, Singapore was the only one in 2007 to have achieved high economic growth and created enough jobs for its workers.

China, which probably chalked up the world's highest economic growth of 11.5 per cent in 2007, has an unemployment rate of 9.5 per cent. Some 25 countries, among them India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and South Korea, fell into this category of high growth but insufficient jobs last year.

Another 25 countries, including the United States, Japan, Germany and Taiwan, were marked by low economic growth but high unemployment. Five countries, among them Norway, Thailand and Switzerland, while low in economic growth, were able produce plenty of jobs.

'Singapore did exceedingly well in 2007,' said Mr Lim who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

On the labour union front, he ticked off the lowest number of lay-offs since 1993; a sharp drop in worker grievances; the biggest pay rise in three years; and a 17-year-high bonus of 4.42 months' salary.

According to Mr Lim, to help keep unemployment low this year, the NTUC will work closely with the government and employers to find work for some 8,000 jobless workers, up from 7,757 in 2007.

Through various employment-help programmes like Job Re-Creation, Place and Train and Careerlink, the labour movement hopes to place some 7,000 unemployed.

It will also help another 1,000 mature professionals, managers, executives and technicians under the Professional Conversion Programme to shift to new careers in logistics, tourism and call centres.

The NTUC also wants to raise the employment rate through re-employment, re-deployment and back-to-work initiatives. Specifically, it wants to help mature Singaporeans to stay employed; workers hit by business restructuring to keep their jobs; and housewives who want to return to work.

In all, the NTUC is setting its sights on 8,000 Singaporeans in this category, up from 4,311 in 2007.

Lastly, the labour movement wants to extend its help to those who are under-employed - those working but earning low pay. It will help them boost their skills and secure better jobs and better pay.

KepLand To Delay Home Launches; Posts Sterling Gains

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 30, 2008

Developer confirms it is pushing back sales of projects by two to three weeks each

KEPPEL Land (KepLand) has confirmed it has pushed back the launch of Marina Bay Suites and will be slightly delaying other launches in Singapore this year.

This comes amid recent wild swings in stock markets as fears mount over the fallout of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and a possible United States recession.

KepLand group chief executive Kevin Wong also cast some uncertainty on how Singapore's luxury home segment - which had led the market boom until recently - will perform this year, saying it depends on the sub-prime outcome.

But he added that prices of mid-tier and mass market homes are expected to 'continue to go up steadily'.

Marina Bay Suites - which Keppel is developing together with partners Cheung Kong Holdings/Hutchinson Whampoa and Hongkong Land - falls into the high-end homes category.

The 221-unit condominium was initially scheduled for launch last Friday, but Mr Wong said the consortium came to a 'consensus' to delay the launch until after Chinese New Year, 'after bonuses' and 'when people get their hongbao'.

'There is some rationality to pushing it back,' he said yesterday. 'During the Chinese New Year break, people go away.'

KepLand has five other projects to launch this year but these will be pushed back due to the Marina Bay Suites delay, as the developer wants to 'stagger' its launches, added Mr Wong.

But he emphasised that the delays - of only 'two or three weeks' for each project - are 'not material'.

The other projects include 400 units in Reflections at Keppel Bay, which are scheduled to start being sold in 'the middle of the year', Mr Wong said.

KepLand also plans to launch 52 units in Park Infinia at Wee Nam, 15 units in The Crest @ Cairnhill, 34 units in The Tresor at Duchess Road and 56 units in Madison Residences in Bukit Timah Road.

The group yesterday posted a sterling set of results, due to good sales in projects such as The Suites at Central and Belvedere in Singapore; Villa Riviera in China; and Elita Promenade in India.

Net profit for the fourth quarter ended Dec 31 surged seven times to $572.3 million, largely due to a $388.2 million gain on revaluation of investment properties. Revenue rose 8.6 per cent to $371.4 million.

Earnings per share for the quarter soared to 79.5 cents, from 11.3 cents a year ago.

For the full year, net profit more than trebled to $779.7 million while revenue climbed 48.5 per cent to $1.4 billion.

Net asset value per share was 3.18 cents as at Dec 31, from 2.21 cents a year ago.

KepLand is declaring a total cash dividend of 20 cents for the year, consisting a final dividend of eight cents and a special dividend of 12 cents.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Changi Park Shaping Up As Financial Backroom Hub

Source : The Business Times, January 28, 2008

URA studying plans for Changi Business Park as part of 2008 Master Plan Review

OCBC could soon follow Credit Suisse, Citibank and DBS to Changi Business Park to form a growing alternative financial hub there. And with prime land going for about $60 psf and rentals at between just $4-$5 psf per month, it does seem to make sense.

In response to a query by BT, OCBC head of operations (group operations and technology division) Eugene Sng said: 'We are currently assessing the feasibility of Changi Business Park as an alternative location to house our operations units.'

A-Reit has also revealed that Credit Suisse has committed to take up about a quarter of its new 200,000 sq ft HansaPoint@CBP building, scheduled to get its TOP (temporary occupation permit) in February.

A-Reit is already developing a built-to-suit building for Citibank and Tan Ser Ping, CEO of the reit manager said: 'A-Reit continuously evaluates all potential investment opportunities, both in acquisitions and developments. The outlook for properties in the business and science parks and hi-tech industrial sector is especially strong.'

While business parks are still categorised as industrial space, where at least 60 per cent of the space must be an approved 'predominant activity' like R&D, a check with JTC's website reveals that financial backroom operations now constitutes an approved predominant activity.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority does appear to have new plans for CBP. In response to a BT query, URA said: 'We are studying the plans for the area as part of our Master Plan 2008 Review. More details will be made available later this year.'

CBP is a 66.54 ha business park which currently comprises about 61 development plots. A JTC spokesman said that about 50 per cent has already been allocated. Depending on location and plot ratio, the 30-year leasehold land is leased for about $28.50 to $57 psf.

JTC said that land rents are revised quarterly with a 5.5 per cent annual adjustment escalation cap over the preceding year's rent.

And unlike the Government Land Sales programme, there is no public tender for business park sites and prices are fixed. JTC added: 'All the land plots in CBP are prepared land which can be allocated immediately to companies that can meet our criteria.'

Not surprising then, Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) managing director Donald Han expects that between two to five more sites at CBP could be allocated this year. Already, Mr Han reveals that C&W has three clients looking for possible sites for built-to-suit buildings. Two are from the financial sector.

One of the advantages of built-to-suit premises in a business park is that the potential tenant can specify its own needs. 'As land cost is less, you could have bigger workstations or provide special amenities like a gym and childcare facilities for your staff,' he said.

And for developers, attractive yields of between 5-7 per cent are achievable, added Mr Han, although only JTC approved developers need apply.

The demand for such alternative space was brought about by the severe space crunch in the city. While this may be remedied by a new surge of supply coming onstream around 2010, Colliers International director (industrial) Tan Boon Leong believes that as long as rents remain 'competitive', business park space will remain a viable option.

He added: 'Based on a lease period of 10 years, the developer could recoup 70-80 per cent of its initial investment from its tenant. If the tenant then chooses to move out, the developer can then afford to lease the space out at a lower rent. It's a win win for both developer and tenant.'

Mr Tan does not, however, expect CBP to be a dedicated backroom for the financial sector.
Business environments change and he noted: 'CBP was originally targeted for the aerospace sector.'

Savills Singapore director of commercial services June Chua added that alternative sites in the Alexandra area are also popular. At Comtech, where Deutsche Bank, HSBC and American Express have taken space, rents are equally competitive at around $4.50 psf per month.

Competition for tenants should also increase as Ms Chua expects more industrial grade buildings to be retrofitted and made available for backroom offices as office rents rise.

On the future of the central business district (CBD), Ms Chua believes there will always be businesses who cannot afford to be out of the CBD, despite high rents. 'They may however, be more selective in the future, when more space becomes available,' she said.

Dubai Plans Singapore, China Hotel Projects

Source : The Business Times, January 28, 2008

It intends to open at least 3 non-gambling resorts with the MGM brand of its US partner

Dubai World, the state-owned investment group that agreed to invest as much as US$5.1 billion in MGM Mirage, plans to open at least three hotels in the Middle East and Asia with its United States partner.

Dubai World plans 'to take the brands of MGM for non-gaming hotels in Dubai, Singapore and China', chairman Sultan bin Sulayem said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. 'I assume we'll be investing, though they can join us if they want.'

Istithmar , an investment unit of Dubai World, agreed in September to pay US$1.1 billion with partners City Developments and Elad Group for rights to build a hotel and commercial development near Singapore's Raffles Hotel.

A five-star hotel on that site will probably be an MGM project, Mr Sultan said on Friday. A Chinese site is 'being investigated'.

He did not provide further details on the plans.

In October, Las Vegas-based MGM, the casino operator majority owned by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, said it is in talks with Dubai to collaborate on resorts in the Middle East, Singapore, Vietnam and Beijing.

MGM opened a casino last month in Macau with Pansy Ho, daughter of Chinese gambling mogul Stanley Ho. Macau is the only location in China where casinos are legal.

Elsewhere, Mr Sultan also said that real estate and banks offer good acquisition opportunities after the US sub-prime mortgage crisis made assets cheaper.

'Banks give good opportunities' and Dubai World's board is assessing potential investments, he said. Real estate assets in the US, Europe and Australia are 'very attractive', he said.

He also disclosed that the Dubai government supports the United Arab Emirates' dollar peg and will resist a currency revaluation.

Mr Sultan is also a member of the Executive Council that advises Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also vice-president and prime minister of the UAE.

Central banks in six Gulf Cooperation Council states, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are under pressure to revalue their currencies as the dollar declines, stoking inflation to record levels. Kuwait was the first to drop its peg in May, choosing a basket of currencies instead.

The dollar has dropped in five of the past six years, weakening by 8 per cent on a trade-weighted basis in 2007.

'To change is very risky,' Mr Sultan said. 'It's important to continue with the dollar despite its weakness.'

UAE. central bank governor Sultan bin Nasser al-Suwaidi said recently that the federation will not drop the 30-year-old system of pegging the dirham to the dollar and doesn't see a need to revalue the currency because rising rents are the prime cause of inflation. The central bank governors of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain have also said they have no intention of revaluing or dropping their pegs.

Qatar 'might' revalue its currency and a change in currency regime is 'under discussion' as the riyal is undervalued against the dollar by 30 per cent, Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jaber al-Thani said in an interview in Davos on Thursday.

'If we suddenly change, do you think anyone will trust our currency?' 'It's a matter of credibility for the dirham,' said Mr Sultan.

BBR Wins $95.3m Ascendas Contract

Source : The Business Times, January 29, 2008

The office tower construction deal brings BBR’s order book to $517.9m

BBR Holdings has won a $95.3 million contract from Ascendas (Tuas) to build an office tower at the International Business Park in Jurong East.

Piling works begin next month and the tower is expected to be completed by August next year.

The turnkey design-and-build contract was secured through BBR’s wholly owned subsidiary Singapore Piling & Civil Engineering, the company’s construction arm.

The deal brings BBR’s current order book to $517.9 million, the company said.

BBR’s chief executive officer Andrew Tan said having an in-house specialist engineering division meant the company could execute its own bored piling and post-tensioning work.

‘This means that we will have better control over the construction schedule and will be in a better position to manage our costs,’ he said.

The project features two 12-storey tower blocks linked by a sky bridge. The site area is 17,858 square feet. When completed, the towers will yield 41,970 square metres of gross floor area.

The building has been designed to meet the BCA Green Mark GoldPPLUS rating, said BBR. The BCA Green Mark evaluates a building for its environmental impact and performance.

Recently, BBR won a $189.6 million contract from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to construct a common services tunnel in Singapore’s downtown core.

It has also secured a $6 million contract from the Land Transport Authority to upgrade vehicular bridges at seven locations in Singapore.

BBR has also ventured into property development and is now involved in two condominium projects at Nassim Hill and Holland Hill.

BBR shares closed trading yesterday at seven cents, down half a cent.

Markets Bank On More Cuts As Fed Debates Recession Odds

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 30, 2008

WASHINGTON - AMID high expectations for another rate cut to help shore up an economy battered by housing and credit ills, the Federal Reserve was set to conclude a two-day policy meeting on Wednesday.

The Federal Open Market Committee was set to announce a decision around 1915 GMT (3.15am Thursday Singapore time). Most analysts were expecting a cut in the federal funds rate, with many predicting a half-point reduction.

The meeting was expected to see heated debate on the economic outlook in view of a global stock market swoon and heightened recession fears that prompted the Fed to slash rates by 0.75 per centage points in an emergency move last week.

Last Tuesday's rate move placed the federal funds rate at 3.5 per cent, and was the fourth cut since Sept 18, when the rate was 5.25 per cent.

The cuts in the federal funds rate, used for overnight interbank loans, can help lower a wide range of borrowing costs for consumers and businesses, and as such can help spur economic activity.

David Kotok, chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors, said the Fed has sent a signal that it would cut by another 50 basis points this week through its special auction aimed at improving financial market liquidity.

The Federal Reserve said on Tuesday its auction resulted in US$30 billion (S$42.8 billion) in bids accepted at an interest rate of 3.123 per cent. The minimum bid rate was 3.1 per cent.

Mr Kotok said the Fed would be in an awkward position if it fails to lower its federal funds rate below the rate of the auction.

'To be consistent, the Fed must cut the fed funds rate by at least 50 basis points on January 30,' he said in a note to clients.

'If it cuts less than 50, it will have created a bidding situation in which US$30 billion was potentially loaned at a subsidy rate and not a penalty rate.'

Heightened fears of recession
The meeting comes amid heightened fears of recession in the world's largest economy, which has been buffeted by the worst housing slump in decades that has spilled over to the financial sector.

The International Monetary Fund said in a report on Tuesday that the US economy will slow but stopped short of projecting a recession. It predicted growth averaging 1.5 per cent for 2008 in an update of its twice-yearly World Economic Outlook.

The latest US economic data on Tuesday was mixed, potentially complicating the task for the Fed.

One report showed orders for durable manufactured goods surged 5.2 per cent in December, suggesting the factory sector is not as weak as some had anticipated.

'How will the Fed balance this report? It might make it cut rates by less but I still expect a rate cut,' said Robert Brusca at FAO Economics.

Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg said the durable goods figures 'suggest that the business sector is holding in relatively well' but that he still expected a half-point cut.

'We still believe that a 50 basis-point cut is the most likely outcome as the Fed's main concern is the deepening housing recession,' Mr Rosenberg said.

Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors said the Fed has put itself in a box where it may be forced to cut even though some members may be opposed, and before the Fomc sees data on US payroll growth in January in a report due Friday.

'When the Fed announced the emergency move last week, I didn't think the Fed wanted to cut again this week,' Mr Naroff said.

'Instead of satisfying the market beast, it only added to the blood thirst and another 50 to 75 basis-point reduction was immediately priced in. Now the Fed is in a bind. It will not have the January employment report before the decision is made and as I have argued consistently, it is all about jobs. What happens if there is a decent jobs report?'

Meanwhile the Conference Board's survey of consumer confidence fell 2.7 points to an index reading of 87.9, suggesting upcoming weakness in consumer spending, a key driver of the economy.

Mr Naroff said the survey seems to imply 'that households may be reacting to the stories about a recession being imminent rather than seeing it in their own workplace.' -- AFP

Global Growth To Be Weakest In 5 Years: IMF

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 30, 2008

WASHINGTON - THE International Monetary Fund on Tuesday lowered its 2008 global growth outlook, citing a US slowdown and financial market turmoil that have put emerging economies at risk.

It warned that the global economy will deliver the weakest performance in five years as US-originated financial strains intensify.

The global economy is poised to grow 4.1 per cent this year, down 0.3 percentage points from a previous estimate, the IMF report said.

The US economy, the world's largest, will expand by 1.5 per cent, 0.4 points lower, the IMF said in an update of its twice-yearly World Economic Outlook.

'The financial market strains originating in the US sub-prime sector - and associated losses on bank balance sheets - have intensified, while the recent steep sell-off in global equity markets was symptomatic of rising uncertainty,' the IMF said.

'Tilted to the downside'
'The overall balance of risks to the global growth outlook is still tilted to the downside.'

The main risk is that the ongoing financial market turmoil would further reduce activity in the advanced economies and 'create more significant spillovers into emerging market and developing economies'.

The United States, where the crisis in sub-prime, or risky, mortgages rippled into the financial markets in August, is the 'epicentre' of the global slowdown, the Fund said.

To illustrate the momentum of the growth slowdown in the US economy, the Fund predicted fourth-quarter year-on-year expansion of 0.8 per cent this year compared with 2007.

That would follow an estimated 2007 fourth-quarter growth pace of 2.6 per cent from the same period in 2006.

The Fund already had lowered its 2008 global growth estimates in October from a July forecast. This latest update of the World Economic Outlook (WEO) initially had been scheduled to be published on Friday, but was delayed because of rapidly changing economic circumstances.

Slowdown in Q4 US growth
A notable slowdown in US economic growth in the fourth quarter primarily was seen in indicators showing weakening manufacturing, housing, employment and consumer spending.

Growth has slowed in western Europe and confidence generally has deteriorated. The IMF predicted growth of 1.6 per cent in the 15-nation eurozone this year, down 0.5 percentage point from the previous estimate.

In Japan, growth was seen slowing by 0.2 percentage point to 1.5 per cent as growth has been dampened by a tightening in building standards and sentiment has faltered.

China, India see strong growth
China and India continued to lead the robust expansion of the emerging market and developing economies but growth was expected to decelerate in those economies amid the overall slowdown to a 6.9 per cent pace, 0.2 per cent lower than the prior estimate.

In China, growth was forecast to ease to 10 per cent this year from an estimated 11.4 per cent to 10 per cent, 'which should help alleviate overheating concerns,' the Fund said.

The IMF warned that emerging market economies face elevated risks in the financial turmoil.

Emerging markets
'Emerging market countries that are reliant on capital inflows could be directly affected, although strong momentum from domestic demand in countries - such as China and India - provides some upside potential,' Simon Johnson, IMF research director, said at a news conference.

Central banks in the advanced economies are the 'first line of defence' in the battle against the financial disruptions, he said.

Mr Johnson deemed 'appropriate' the European Central Bank's policy of holding interest rates unchanged, challenged by certain eurozone countries, as well as the repeated rate cuts by the Federal Reserve, which is considering a monetary move on Tuesday and Wednesday. - AFP

Get Ready For Higher ERP Rates

Source : The Electric New Paper, January 30, 2008

ELECTRONIC Road Pricing rates for cars at 14 gantries will be up by 50 cents from this coming Monday.

The latest rate hike is part of the Land Transport Authority's quarterly review to achieve optimal traffic flow on expressways and roads, said a spokesman.

The expressways affected: Bukit Timah Expressway, the CTE gantry north of Braddell Road and the Pan-Island Expressway (Adam Road).

ERP rates are also up at nine gantries at Orchard, YMCA and Fort Canning Tunnel gantries.

Motorcyclists will pay 15 cents to 25 cents more.

Increases for heavy good vehicles and very heavy goods vehicles, small and big buses are between 75 cents and $1.

The rates for the other 48 gantries remain unchanged.

Time To Raise $8,000 Ceiling?

Source : The Electric New Paper, January 30, 2008

More families exceed income limit set 14 years ago. Households earning $8,000 or more a month

If your household earns more than $8,000 a month, it's...
# No new HDB flats
# No subsidised housing loans
# No maximum $40,000 grant to buy resale flats


IT'S been 14 years since the HDB last raised its income ceiling for new flats from $7,000 to $8,000.

Many things have changed since 1994 - isn't it time for the ceiling to shift too?

Data from the General Household Survey shows that the proportion of resident households earning $8,000 and above every month has nearly doubled from 10.85 per cent in 1995 to 19.9 per cent in 2005.

This means that the proportion of households qualifying to buy new flats shrank by roughly 9 percentage points.

Flat values have also jumped since then.

Consider this. Back then, a new four-room HDB flat in Woodlands would cost you about $96,000, compared to $183,000 for a new four-room unit at nearby Yishun today.

Home-buyer Seline Wee, 29, wants the ceiling to be raised.

SANDWICH CLASS

Ms Wee, a teacher, is getting married to her auditor boyfriend next year.

She said: 'Our combined income is just slightly above the $8,000 ceiling and we feel we're being penalised for it.

'Now we can't buy a new flat and we've to dig deep for either a high-priced resale place or condo, which means possibly spending beyond our means.

'The income ceiling rule has not been changed for so long but income levels and property prices have increased since then.'

A household earning above $8,000 a month also cannot get subsidised housing loans and housing grants of up to $40,000 to buy resale flats.

Knight Frank's research director Nicholas Mak thinks the policy should be reviewed regularly because of inflation, the increase in income and property prices.

He explained: 'This ceiling has to be reviewed regularly or otherwise you're cutting out a certain proportion of the population who can make use of the subsidy.

'On one hand, the Government is restricting the amount of CPF you can spend on housing. On the other hand, they're keeping the income ceiling low, and preventing some in the sandwich class who don't want to over-invest in property from buying new flats.'

Mr Sing Tien Foo, deputy head of the NUS' department of real estate, said that the income ceiling is an eligibility measure to make sure Singaporeans can afford public housing.

To lift this cap, the Government has to look at market conditions and see whether public housing has gone beyond the affordability of Singaporeans.

He said: 'A solution would be a discreet review. If income levels have gone up, is it only applicable to certain groups? And is this change in income cyclical or a permanent structural change?'

Lifting the cap may have widespread effects, he added.

'How big is this sandwich class? By lifting the ceiling, the demand for new flats may surge and their prices may be adjusted higher.

'The resale market will also be affected. Is that the best solution?' he asked.

While some may argue that executive condos (EC) fulfil this niche with its $10,000 ceiling, Mr Mak said that these sites tend to be fewer in number.

HDB announced that there would be a supply of 7,000 new flats available from last November to June this year.

And another 3,200 flats will be built under the Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) and EC schemes.

Mr Eric Cheng, executive director of HSR Property group, thinks that $8,000 is a fair gauge because those earning more than that can easily afford private property.

Based on a couple's combined income of $8,000, they can easily buy a $700,000 private property on a 35-year loan.

He calculated that the monthly instalment of around $2,300 would be quite affordable.

'If you bring the ceiling higher, there'll be increased demand for new flats and the resale market will be affected. Now, the resale market is quite balanced,' he said.

The Housing Board said it has no plans to raise the income ceiling now as the vast majority of Singaporean families qualify for subsidised public housing.

Said a HDB spokesman: 'At the current $8,000 income ceiling, about 8 in 10 Singaporean families are eligible to buy subsidised public housing.

'Given our limited public housing budget, it is important that we target our housing subsidies to those who need it most.'

HDB said that higher income households exceeding the income ceiling have other housing options, including the purchase of resale HDB flats, which are not subject to any income ceiling.

And first-timer families with household incomes of up to $10,000 can also consider buying new EC units with a housing grant of $30,000.

Condo Site Facing Reservoir Launched

Source : The Business Times, January 30, 2008

THE Housing & Development Board (HDB) has launched the tender for a 99-year-leasehold site at the corner of Yishun avenues 1 and 2 that fronts Lower Seletar Reservoir and is near Singapore Orchid Country Club/Golf Course.

The plot, which is about 10 minutes' walk from Khatib MRT Station, is expected to fetch bids in the range of $200-$300 per square foot (psf) of potential gross floor area, property consultants say.

The 2.7 hectare site has a 2.1 plot ratio, allowing a maximum gross floor area of 609,163 square feet, enough for a condo with about 500 apartments averaging 1,200 sq ft.

CB Richard Ellis executive director Li Hiaw Ho said that a condominium on this site would be able to enjoy scenic views of the reservoir and golf club.

As the suburban market is expected to strengthen this year, Mr Li expects the site to draw keen interest from developers.

'Demand is likely to come from Housing & Development Board flat upgraders and people who work in the northern part of Singapore. Units in Orchid Park Condominium nearby are being sold in the secondary market at around $550 psf, while new freehold units in the vicinity such as The Sensoria and Northwood were sold at prices ranging from $600 psf to $650 psf.

'Based on a selling price of $600 psf to $650 psf, it is expected that the tender bids for the site will range from $200 to $240 psf per plot ratio.'

Credo Real Estate managing director Karamjit Singh places the fair value of the plot even higher, at $280-$300 psf ppr, and reckons that the top bid may surpass that, given the plot's attractions. Assuming this higher price range, the breakeven cost for a new condo would be around $600-$610 psf and the project is likely to command an average price in the high-$600 psf range, he added.

The tender closes on March 25. It is part of the confirmed list, under which the government launches land parcels for tender according to a pre-stated schedule regardless of demand.

KepLand Revenue, Profit Hit Record

Source : The Business Times, January 30, 2008

FY2007: boost from residential sales and revaluation and restructuring surplus

KEPPEL Land's turnover crossed the billion-dollar mark in 2007 to hit a record $1.4 billion, a rise of 48.5 per cent from the previous year's $948 million.

The 12-month period ended Dec 31, 2007, saw profit after tax and minority interests (Patmi) more than trebled from $200.3 million to a record $779.7 million. This was bolstered by strong residential sales, a net gain on revaluation of investment properties of $343.6 million, and a rise of $100.5 million under an item which includes corporate restructuring surplus and enbloc property sales. The latter $100.5 million gain was after taking into consideration a $235.2 million surplus from the restructuring of its one-third interest in One Raffles Quay and $89 million in offsets to account for the diminution in value of the group's Myanmar hotels and the fall in the value of rupiah relating to its prior investments.

Full-year earnings per share came to 108.3 cents, up from 2006's 27.9 cents. Q4 Patmi rose from $81.2 million to $572.3 million while turnover climbed 8.6 per cent to $371.4 million.

Announcing its financial results yesterday, KepLand group CEO Kevin Wong also said that it was proposing a final one-tier dividend of 8 cents per share and a special dividend of 12 cents to 'reward shareholders for their support'. The proposed dividends amount to $144 million.

Patmi from property trading made up 35 per cent or $274.9 million of the total 2007 Patmi. Mr Wong said this was driven by profit contribution from Singapore developments including Marina Bay Residences, Reflections at Keppel Bay and Park Infinia at Wee Nam.

Contributions from overseas business made up 39.6 per cent while Singapore business contributed 60.4 per cent, up from 36.4 per cent in the previous year. For the year ahead, Mr Wong said that overseas contributions from residential properties will likely increase to about 50 per cent, in light of the weakening US economy. 'Our projects are mostly in China and Vietnam, and the subprime effect on these two countries will be less.'

He added that most of its development projects in these two countries were targeted at the mid- to high-end market which was supported by 'genuine buyers'. He also said the newly instituted capital gains tax in Vietnam should add stability to the market there. 'Demand for housing in these two countries is coming from a very low base,' he added.

In 2007, Keppel Land acquired eight residential sites in Vietnam with a total of 22,225 potential units for sale. Three developments are expected to be launched this year.

Other overseas launches for 2008 include a 1,000 unit residential development in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, while two mega developments with over 8,000 units in Shanghai and Shenyang, China, is expected to be launched in 2009.

Mr Wong said it will continue to look for potential development sites and these will likely be in China, Vietnam and the Middle-East. Highlighting Keppel Land's low gearing of 0.41 per cent, and the possibility of borrowing to fund future acquisitions, he also said: 'We can gear up.'

At the end of the trading day yesterday, Keppel Land shares closed 2 cents higher at $6.45 per share.

Market Conditions Delay Marina Bay Suites Launch

Source : The Business Times, January 30, 2008

KepLand targets after Chinese New Year, but within first quarter

The launch of Marina Bay Suites has been postponed, with 'market conditions' cited as the cause by Keppel Land group chief executive Kevin Wong.

Later date: The launch of the 221-unit Marina Bay Suites will be after the Chinese New Year, sometime within the first quarter, says Keppel Land group CEO Kevin Wong

The news comes as a surprise as the consortium developing it - Keppel Land, Cheung Kong Holdings/Hutchinson Whampoa and Hongkong Land, had earlier said that the launch would be around end-January, before the Chinese New Year.

The consortium also said then that over 600 potential buyers, half of them foreigners, had registered their interest in buying into the 221-unit luxury development, priced at around $3,000 psf.

However, at a press conference to announce the company's full-year financial results yesterday, Mr Wong said that the launch would now be after the Chinese New Year - within the first quarter of 2008. He also said that units would be 'progressively released in tandem with market conditions'.

Keppel Land's other launches, including the next phase of Reflections at Keppel Bay, The Tresor and Madison Residences, will all be staggered to follow the launch of Marina Bay Suites to ensure that they do not coincide.

For Reflections at Keppel Bay, which has 400 units remaining, Mr Wong said that its launch would be around mid-2008.

Adopting the cautiously optimistic tone already shared by other developers, he said: 'If everything picks up in the second half of the year, then we will be back in business.'

His announcement follows Wing Tai deputy chairman Edmund Cheng's comment on Monday that it would monitor global markets 'to see how things pan out before we launch anything'. Wing Tai projects that have yet to be launched include Belle Vue Residences and L'Viv.

Earlier this month, City Developments also said that depending on construction schedules, and if the opportunity arose, it could consider short-term leases for Lucky Tower, which it acquired through a collective sale in May 2006.

Keppel Land's Mr Wong does expect prices in the high-end sector to be affected if a recession takes hold of the United States economy. 'But we expect mid to mass-market prices to go up steadily,' he added.

Mr Wong, who said that Keppel Land saw a default rate of about 5 per cent on its projects during the last property slump in the mid-1990s, added: 'There will be some (if there is a recession in 2008) but the percentage will be fairly low.'

Commenting on the postponement of the Marina Bay Suites launch, Knight Frank director (research and consultancy) Nicholas Mak said that 'developers are all watching each other now, but someone has to take the plunge first to test the water'.

'Because of the thin volume at the moment, the market is looking for direction. But we must bear in mind that the volume and price increases in 2007 was out of the ordinary.'

Mr Mak also highlighted that developments with licences to sell will increase as the year progresses. 'If developers wait for prices to go up, everybody could be launching at the same time.'

New US Home Sales Drop By Record 26%

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 29, 2008

WASHINGTON - SALES of new homes in the United States plunged by a record amount last year, while prices posted their weakest showing in 16 years, demonstrating the troubles builders were facing with a huge backlog of unsold homes.

The Commerce Department reported yesterday that sales of new homes dropped 26.4 per cent last year to 774,000. That marked the worst year on record, surpassing the old mark of 23.1 per cent in 1980.

The US government reported that the median price of a new home barely budged last year, edging up a slight 0.2 per cent to $246,900, the poorest showing since prices fell 2.4 per cent during the 1991 housing downturn. The new report reinforced the view that housing was currently undergoing its worst downturn in more than two decades, with the slump threatening to surpass in some ways the severe housing recession of the early 1980s.

The housing weakness has dragged down overall growth and sent shockwaves through the rest of the US economy including the financial sector, which is dealing with billions of dollars in losses in subprime mortgages.- ASSOCIATED PRESS

Condominium Housing Site At Yishun Ave 1 And 2 Up For Sale

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 29 January 2008

A 27,000 square metre site at Yishun Avenue 1/Avenue 2 has been offered for sale under the confirmed list of the government land sales programme.

The 99-year leasehold site by the Housing and Development Board has been set aside for condominium housing.

It can yield up to 56,600 square metres in gross floor area.

The sale of the site is in line with the government's plan to offer more housing choices in Yishun.

This is part of the "Remaking Our Heartland" plans to rejuvenate communities in middle-aged towns and estates. - CNA/ms

Keppel Land Posts Full-Year Earnings Of S$779m

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 29 January 2008

Keppel Land has surpassed market expectations, with full-year earnings hitting a record S$779 million in 2007.

This is up sharply from just S$200 million the previous year - boosted by strong sales at its high-end luxury residential projects.

With money in the bank, Keppel Land is eyeing greater overseas expansion in 2008.

Reflections at Keppel Bay and Marina Bay Residence are just two of the projects that have helped Keppel Land achieve record earnings last year.

Not only was net income at a record high, turnover also hit its highest ever at S$1.4 billion.

Kevin Wong, Group Chief Executive Officer, Keppel Land Limited, said, "2007 is a record year, in terms of price increase as well as number of units taken up. Looking ahead, we see that the high-end market direction will probably be dependant on the outcome of the US sub-prime problem, but (as for) the middle and mass market segment, we expect prices to continue to go up steadily."

The numbers include gains from the sale of its one-third stake in One Raffles Quay, as well as appreciation in the value of its office portfolio.

All in, Keppel sold more than 760 residential units in Singapore last year - a new record for the company.

Keppel Land also saw an 82 percent jump in earnings from property trading.

Overseas markets such as China and Vietnam contributed to 40 percent of total earnings.

However, Keppel Land is seeking to drive this up to 50 percent this year.

Mr Wong said, "Firstly, we spend on the shareholders - 12 cents. Secondly, what we will be doing is we would go where the market is, and Vietnam is a good place to expand; China again is a good place to expand, and we have started on some projects in Middle East, but there is no hard and fast route."

Keppel Land is paying out a final dividend of 8 cents a share and a special dividend of 12 cents a share. - CNA/ms

Tans Up The Ante In Bid For Straits Trading

Source : The Business Times, January 29, 2008

Revised offer of $6.50 suggests they're ready for bidding war with Lees

The family of the late Tan Chin Tuan has upped the ante in the contest with OCBC Bank's Lee family for Straits Trading Company.

The Tans, through private vehicle Cairns Pte Ltd, yesterday announced a revised offer of $6.50 a share, up 80 cents from their original offer of $5.70.

And in remarks read by some as a dig at their bidding rival, Chew Gek Khim, granddaughter of the late Tan Chin Tuan, said: 'Our significant offer price revision of 14 per cent is a reflection of our regard for the company and management of Straits Trading.' Ms Chew is a director of Cairns.

In comparison with the 14 per cent increase, the Lees, who control OCBC, had last week countered the Tans' $5.70 bid with only a marginally higher offer of $5.76.

Cairns has also taken the unusual step of sending letters to Straits Trading's substantial shareholders OCBC and Great Eastern Holdings (GEH) and announced that, should OCBC and GEH accept the offer, Cairns and parties acting in concert with it would own 49.73 per cent of Straits Trading.

OCBC and GEH own 6.21 per cent and 19.92 per cent of Straits Trading respectively.

The bold moves have not gone unnoticed by the market, with one unnamed trader saying the tenacity reflects the nature of the two families involved.

The Lees and Tans are illustrious business households in Singapore, with ties that date back more than half a century. The late Mr Tan Chin Tuan made his fortune working for the Lee family at OCBC.

The late Lee Kong Chian, patriarch and philanthropist, managed OCBC from 1938 to 1964, then handed the reins to Mr Tan from 1964 to 1983.

The two families are now vying for control of the company from which Mr Tan retired as chairman in 1992 at the age of 84. Straits Trading has interests in property, hotels and one of the world's largest tin smelters.

Given their history, all bets are on the Lees fighting hard to keep Straits Trading in their stable of companies - and on another counter-offer being made to out-do the Tans.

The likelihood of a counter-offer also depends much on whether current bids still undervalue Straits Trading - which most analysts believe they do.

Gabriel Yap, of Phillip Securities, says: 'The original offer of $5.70 undervalued Straits Trading's assets, especially with the new Straits Trading building coming on stream at a time when its neighbour, 6 Battery Road, was already achieving rent of $16.70 psf and is now asking $18 to $22 psf. And the current scarcity in the supply of office space is going to be a theme until about 2010. Not to mention, Straits Trading also has other undervalued assets.'

He adds: 'Both the Lee and Tan families belong to the Old Rich, whose businesses are now run by very smart descendants. You'll note that these offers were made only after the market pulled back substantially after five years of a firm uptrend. If the Lees think the $6.50 offer undervalues the company's assets, in light of the current operating environment, I would not be surprised if a counter-offer is made.'

Mr Yap also thinks the Tan family will have the stomach for an all-out bidding war, with its coffers likely to be padded by the impending sale of its stake in retailer Robinson & Co.

Clearly, the shareholders of Straits Trading will benefit the most. The company's share price shot up 11 per cent or 67 cents to close at $6.56 yesterday after news of Cairns' revised offer broke. And the price is set to rise further, should a counter-offer come from the Lees.

Ms Chew referred to the rise in Straits Trading's share price since Cairns made its initial $5.70 offer: 'Since Jan 4, the date preceding the announcement of our offer, the share price has risen significantly as against the broader decline of the market,' she said. 'We have therefore enhanced shareholder value significantly through our offers.'

Sing$ At 11-Year Highs

Source : The Business Times, January 29, 2008

The Singapore dollar rose to 11-year highs against the US dollar on Tuesday while traders bet on another US interest rate cut this week to try to ward off a US recession, dealers said.

The dollar was at 1.4195 against the greenback, down slightly from 1.4187 earlier, and against 1.4244 on Monday.

'The local currency is stronger because of the falling US dollar,' said Joseph Tan, a strategist at Fortis Bank.

The greenback came under pressure after the US Commerce Department on Monday said that sales of new homes across the United States fell 4.7 per cent in December from the prior month.

Property sales across the US declined last year and banks revealed hefty losses tied to ailing mortgage investments, leading to widespread fears for the US economy.

Mr Tan said the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) - the republic's de facto central bank - also wants to tolerate a stronger Singapore dollar to hedge against rising inflation.

'We are not in any danger of intervention from the MAS at this stage,' he said.

The MAS conducts monetary policy through the local currency rather than by setting interest rates.

The Singapore dollar is traded against a basket of currencies of the city's major trading partners within an undisclosed trading band known as the nominal effective exchange rate (Neer).

Details of the trading band are not made public to prevent speculation in the Singapore dollar.

Most analysts expect the US Federal Reserve, the US central bank, to trim at least another quarter point off its key federal funds interest rate when it meets on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The rate is currently 3.50 per cent after the Fed slashed it by 0.75 percentage points in an emergency move aimed at calming global financial markets roiled by fears of a widening US recession. -- AFP

Keppel Land Q4 Profit Jumps 7 Times

Source : The Business Times, January 29, 2008

Keppel Land, Singapore's third-biggest developer by market value, posted a seven-fold rise in fourth quarter net profit on Tuesday driven by strong home sales and property divestment gains.

KepLand, which derives the bulk of its income selling apartments in Asian countries including Singapore, China, Vietnam, and India, earned $572.3 million (US$404 million) in the October-December period, up from $81.2 million reported a year ago.

The quarterly results beat the mean forecast of $302 million from a Reuters poll of four analysts, lifted by soaring home prices in Asia and the divestment of an office building to property trust K-Reit Asia which the developer spun off in 2006.

Shares of KepLand fell 12.3 per cent in the last quarter compared with a 23.1 per cent drop for CapitaLand and a 12.3 per cent fall for City Developments, underperforming a 6 per cent drop in the broader Straits Times Index. -- REUTERS

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Choa Chu Kang First Station Outside City To Get Mini Mall

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 29, 2008

CATCH an MRT train, LRT train, a bus or a good deal at Choa Chu Kang MRT station.

A mini mall has come up there, the first in a station outside the city centre.

Choa Chu Kang Xchange, officially opened by South West District mayor Amy Khor yesterday, takes after the shopping facilities found in the downtown Raffles Place and Dhoby Ghaut stations.

SMRT's chief executive Saw Phaik Hwa said Choa Chu Kang station was picked as a location for the mall because of its high passenger traffic.

She said: 'This is also the junction of the LRT, MRT and a bus exchange, so it's unique in that sense.'

The mall sits on a field that used to separate the bus interchange from the MRT station.

It houses 42 shops with offerings ranging from food and beverages to clothing and hairdressing services within its 1,000 sq m premises.

Two dozen shops opened from the middle of last year, with the rest following at the end of last year and this month.

Housewife Ee Lai Fong, 40, is enjoying new-found convenience: 'It's easy for me to pick up food on my way home, especially when I'm busy with my two children.'

SMRT said that the rentals at these shops are similar to those at the Dhoby Ghaut and Raffles Place Xchange.

Last year, it had to deal with complaints from its tenants at the Dhoby Ghaut Xchange about poor shopper traffic.

Many tenants said they were behind on their rentals because they could only make up to $200 a day - not enough to cover the $2,000 to $7,500 monthly rental.

Ms Saw, referring to the incident, said the mix of tenants may not have been ideal and that certain tenants' products or services did not fit in with the rest.

She added that Dhoby Ghaut Xchange has since turned around and is now more than 90 per cent occupied, with business growing by the month.

'Why do exchanges work? Because they are nodes of thousands and thousands of people everyday...It is because we have the customers - that is why we build exchanges.'

SMRT, which made about $20 million in rental five years ago, expects to earn more than twice that this year.

Two other stations - Tanjong Pagar and Boon Lay - are slated to have mini malls by the middle of the year.

Japan Could Be In Recession Already: Goldman

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 29, 2008

Slowdown due more to slump in domestic demand than US economic weakness

TOKYO - JAPAN has probably fallen into recession, ending the nation's longest period of growth in more than 60 years, according to Goldman Sachs Group.

Factory production will fall from a fourth-quarter peak, while consumer spending and the construction industry are slowing, Mr Tetsufumi Yamakawa, Goldman's chief Japan economist, wrote yesterday in a report.

'The recession is a product not of an anticipated recession in the US triggered by the subprime loans problem, but a slump in domestic demand,' Mr Yamakawa said.

Sluggish spending by households leaves the economy more dependent on overseas markets just as cooling United States demand threatens to spread to Asia, where Japan sells half its exports. Shipments overseas rose at the slowest pace since 2005 in the fourth quarter of last year, according to Bloomberg data.

The decline in industrial output ends six years of increases that fuelled corporate investment and hiring, Mr Yamakawa said. A slowdown in export growth, the engine that drove the economy's third-quarter expansion, is becoming more pronounced, he added.

Shipments to China, when measured by volume, grew in the fourth quarter at half the pace of the previous period, according to Goldman. Exports to the US fell in each of the last four months of last year.

Housing starts have plunged in the five months since June because of a permit logjam caused by new government regulations. The slowdown, the worst in 40 years, brought an apology from Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and prompted the central bank to cut its evaluation of the economy for the first time in three years.

The Bank of Japan may lower its key interest rate from 0.5 per cent this year, according to overnight interest-rate swaps trading. Investors see a 58 per cent chance of a cut by July, calculations by JPMorgan Chase show.

'It appears highly likely that the economic expansion that has continued for nearly 70 months since early 2002 has come to an end and the economy has entered a recession for now,' Mr Yamakawa said in the report.

Japan has had three recessions since the country's stock and property bubble burst in the early 1990s.

The first lasted 32 months from March 1991 to October 1993 and the second dragged on for 20 months from June 1997 to January 1999.

The most recent recession was in the 14 months from December 2000, when the bursting of an information technology bubble dampened exports and capital investment. -BLOOMBERG NEWS

BBR Wins S$95m Contract From Ascendas To Build Office Towers

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 January 2008

BBR Holdings has won a S$95 million contract to build two office tower blocks at the International Business Park in Jurong East.

Piling works will begin next month and the project is expected to be completed by August next year.

The latest award from Ascendas adds to BBR's current order book of nearly S$423 million.

The project will feature two 12-storey tower blocks linked by a sky-bridge at the 10th and 11th levels.

The building, which sits on a site area of 18,000 square metres, will include an eco-garden in the sky and an 18-metre high atrium.

When completed, it will yield 42,000 square metres of gross floor area. - CNA/ac

Tecity Raises Offer For Straits Trading To S$6.50 A Share

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 January 2008

Tecity has raised its general offer for Straits Trading to S$6.50 a share following a counter bid from the Lee family. The revised offer values the company at S$2.1 billion.

It is 14 per cent higher than Tecity's original offer price of S$5.70 and 31 per cent above the last traded price of Straits Trading before the general offer.

The latest offer by Tecity, controlled by the family of the late Tan Chin Tuan, is also about 13 per cent higher than the counter-bid by the Lee family.

Just last week, the Lee family that controls OCBC Bank made a bid of S$5.76 cash a share for all the shares in Straits Trading that it did not already own. The Lee offer valued Straits Trading at S$1.88 billion.

Straits Trading's businesses range from hotels and properties to the metals and mining sectors.

Tecity and the Lee family are both shareholders in Straits Trading. Tecity has a 22.5 percent stake, while the Lees hold 34 percent.

On Monday, shares of Straits Trading rallied more than 11 percent to S$6.56 when the counter resumed trading. The stock has been gaining ground since the start of this year on takeover talk.

Still, despite the sweetened bid from Tecity, some analysts say they do not expect the Lee family to come back with a higher offer.

Straits Trading is not a widely-held stock and there is speculation the Lee family entered the fray to elicit a better offer from Tecity. That will then pave the way for the Lee family to cash out.

In the first nine months of the financial year that ended in September 2007, it earned net profits of more than S$300 million, on revenues of S$727 million.
- CNA/ch/vm

ERP Rates To Go Up By S$0.50 At Certain Gantries from Feb 4

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 January 2008

Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) rates are set to go up by S$0.50 starting 4 February, according to the Land Transport Authority.

At the Bukit Timah Expressway gantry, motorists will be charged S$1.00 from 7.30am to 8am, and S$1.50 from 8am to 8.30am.

At the Central Expressway (CTE) gantry north of Braddell Road, ERP rates will go up to S$1.00 for those driving from 7.00am to 7.30am. The same charge applies to those driving along the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) at Adam Road from 8am to 8.30am.

Those going through the nine gantries at Orchard Road, the YMCA and Fort Canning gantries will have to fork out S$1.00 on weekdays from 7pm to 8pm. The same charge applies for those gantries on Saturday afternoons as well, from 5.30pm to 6.30pm. - CNA/ac

SMRT Opens First Non-Underground Retail Space In Choa Chu Kang

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 January 2008

SMRT has officially opened its first heartland, non-underground retail space - Choa Chu Kang Xchange, at the junction of a bus interchange, MRT and LRT stations.

This follows the Raffles and Dhoby Xchanges, both of which are in the city.

Covering close to 1,000 square metres, all 42 shops at Choa Chu Kang Xchange have been leased out.

SMRT Corporation president & CEO, Saw Phaik Hwa, said: "(Five years ago) when we started off for only retail, we used to... make about S$20 million in terms of rentals. Today, I think this year, we should end in excess of S$40 million. So, it's more than doubled in terms of revenue from rentals alone."

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Despite some recent problems with tenants at the Dhoby Xchange, who felt they were not getting enough exposure, SMRT said things have since turned around there, and there are now many new tenants and the occupancy rate has hit over 90 per cent.

SMRT said retail space in the heartlands does not necessarily mean lower rentals.

Mr Saw said: "It is not location. It is the passengers that you bring to the location. So we have tens of thousands, sometimes 100,000 passengers, in certain exchanges like Boon Lay, (which) is very highly used. Here (Choa Chu Kang) is very highly used."

Some shops at the Xchange have been able to balance off higher rentals with higher profits, but smaller neighbourhood shops, which do not have such high passenger volume, are feeling the heat.

"Ever since that place opened, our business has gone down by half, so we try to keep our prices low," said a neighbourhood cake shop lady.

Work is also underway at two other Xchanges in Boon Lay and Tanjong Pagar, which should be ready by the first half of this year. - CNA/ac