Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Reflections At Keppel Bay Units To Set New Price Benchmarks

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 08 January 2008

Remaining units at upmarket waterfront residence, Reflections at Keppel Bay, are expected to set new price benchmarks for condos in the harbourfront area.

This bullish view came from its joint developer Keppel Land.

The units released under phase one of the project last year had already set benchmark prices for the west coast.

Mirroring the buoyant property market, Reflections at Keppel Bay set new record prices for high-end luxury properties in the west last year.

620 units released under phase one were sold for an average of nearly S$2,000 per square foot.

They were snapped up within eight months of the launch last April.

Keppel Land says they expects even higher prices for the remaining 509 units as some of the more expensive blocks have been reserved for phase two.

He believes the super penthouse, which has an area of more than 12,000 square feet, will set a brand new price benchmark.

Augustine Tan, Chief Executive - Singapore Residential, Keppel Land, says: "I think the highest price is above S$2,700 psf. We've got the super penthouse we've yet to release and that would probably set the new benchmark."

The developer expects higher prices on average also because more expensive units with sea facing views and on higher floors have been reserved for phase two.

It's confident demand for high-end projects will hold up this year, despite the quieter property front.

Mr Tan says: "I do share the view by consultants that demand for high-end (properties) should hold up. I think the pace of increase in prices will be fairly regulated but from the enquiry levels that we have for the Reflections in particular, we think that the demand is still fairly strong for good quality housing, so especially waterfront. So, we do foresee the demand will hold up."

The dates have not been set for the launch of the second phase, but it'll be after the launch of Keppel's Marina Bay Residences in the first quarter.

Keppel Group awarded the main contract for Reflections to construction firm Woh Hup for a record S$1 billion.

Mr Tan says it's the largest construction contract for a condominium in Singapore to date.

Construction began on Tuesday and is expected to completed by 2013.

Reflections at Keppel Bay is jointly developed by Keppel Corporation and Keppel Land. - CNA/ch

CapitaLand Shares Dip To 9-Month Low On Offer For Ascott

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 08 January 2008

Shares of CapitaLand took a hit on Tuesday – giving up 5 percent following news it was making a move to gain total control of the Ascott Group.

The developer is offering S$1.73 a share for all the remaining shares of the serviced residence operator that it did not already own.

That is 43 percent higher than Ascott's last closing price, leading some analysts to suggest that the offer might have been overpriced.

As it is, CapitaLand already holds a 66.5 percent stake in the Ascott Group. Taking it under total control will allow Ascott to leverage fully on its capital base, resources and opportunities.

Some analysts said CapitaLand may be on to something.

Khoo Chen Hsung, Vice-President of Research, CIMB-GK Research, said: "Ascott clearly has a lot of value within that company, which clearly financial markets may not fully realise, especially with the strategy of it recycling assets into Ascott REIT. This is an interesting way for CapitaLand to extract the value, bring it in and do the necessary.

"Bringing it in suggests that CapitaLand probably has lots of other assets it wants to inject into Ascott REIT, without having to go through the hassle of getting approval."

The offer works out to about S$990 million.

CapitaLand said it is a good opportunity for Ascott shareholders to realise their investment, and some market-watchers agree.

"The valuation they got is in the mid range of five-year average valuation band for Ascott. So it's a fair deal, especially in this current market environment. Most stocks won't be expected to perform too well this year. This has definitely given them a windfall return, especially for shorter term investors," said Mr Khoo.

Ascott Group is the largest serviced residence operator in Europe and Asia, with about 600 units for rent in Singapore. Its shares jumped 41 percent in Tuesday's trade, closing at S$1.71.

Going forward, analysts are not ruling out the possibility of a re-listing.

Mr Khoo said: "I see the potential for CapitaLand to re-list Ascott Group again in the future but probably as an asset light player that will operate more through management contracts. It's the kind of model that most luxury hotel operators in the US pursue, like the Mariott Group." - CNA/so

“选择性整体重建计划” 购同层替代组屋 可多达6户家庭

《联合早报》Jan 8, 2008

为了让受“选择性整体重建计划”(Selective EnBloc Redevelopment Scheme)影响的居民对替代组屋区有更强的归属感,建屋发展局会征询居民的意见,让他们对组屋邻里名称、设计和硬体设施等发表看法。

建屋局昨天发表文告说,金殿路替代组屋的邻里名称、标志及硬体设施都是由居民决定。在接受调查的超过500户家庭中,“Kim Tian Green”脱颖而出,成为居民最喜欢的名称。街道与建筑名称局已批准了这个名称。

居民:征询意见 加强认同感与凝聚力













Rosy Outlook For S’pore

Source : TODAY, Tuesday, January 8, 2008

MM Lee predicts another 10 years of prosperity

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, gazing into the future, sees continued prosperity in Singapore over the next five to 10 years, even if there is a slowdown in the United States and Europe.

Predicting that China and Europe will grow between 8 to 10 per cent, Singapore will - with the integrated resorts and Formula One coming on stream - be at a new level after five years to take off to new heights in growth, with a robust inflow of tourists, capital and talent into the Republic.

“At the end of the five years, I think we should be on a new platform. The old Singapore we are leaving behind.

“And if that continues for another five years, we will be like, say, Italy or Austria, which isn’t bad, considering that we started off with zero reserves after independence in 1965,” he said, speaking at a dinner to mark the 40th anniversary of the Institute of South East Asian Studies (Iseas).

He might well be around to see that happen - “if we take care of our growing pile of chips, remember we will be then playing at a bigger table and so, we must be practical, don’t rush, move cautiously,” he said, reminding his audience that Singapore did take its chances well in the ’60s, when nobody gave the Republic much chance of survival.

But as to whether Singapore would grow into a gracious society where, for example, motorists give way to one another, he was not that confident. It would take a long time, he said. “Maybe not even in 50 years and I will not be around to see that happen.”

But Singaporeans had come some way. Forty-five years ago, “we were living in shanties, a hole in the ground for a toilet and some took their chickens with them when they moved into high-rise apartments”.

Mr Lee, who took a variety of questions from the audience, which included business leaders, academics and diplomats, had this to say about Myanmar: “Thailand, China and India can have an influence on Myanmar. The rest of Asean, we are background mosaic.

“Because you are dealing with leaders with fixated minds, quite convinced that they got the natural resources to weather any sanctions, they can dispense with the world. They got China, they got India and the Thais wanting to trade with them.

“I personally have given up trying to solve this problem. I leave it to the Singapore Foreign Ministry to sort things out.”

A Costly Commitment

Source : TODAY, Tuesday, January 8, 2008

High price of DBSS flats mean buyers may have to spend a significant portion of their lives paying off loans

THE recent launch of City View @ Boon Keng and the identification by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) of three more sites in Simei, Toa Payoh and Bedok for such developments has taken the price of public housing to a new level.

When compared to other private properties in the area, it seems the prices offered are cheaper. However, one of the points that needs to be answered is whether this is public or private housing?

All reports about this latest development have labelled it as HDB flats, but are these HDB prices?

As part of its Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS), the HDB has allowed private developers to buy and then build on the sites and sell the flats.

Benefits of this scheme have been widely published in the print media as well as HDB’s website.

On paper, it seems a wonderful situation for both the public and the HDB - the public gets to have flats with better quality finishes, while the HDB does not have to run the construction itself.

One of the criteria set by the HDB is that the combined family income of the applicants must be below $8,000. Thus, if a couple buys the most expensive flat at City View @ Boon Keng at just over $700,000, they face the prospect of paying more than $2,000 in monthly instalments based on a 90-per-cent loan over 30 years. They would also have to fork out cash on top of their CPF contributions.

The rationale is the same even if they had bought the average-priced ones at about $500,000.

It seems that unless the applicants have healthy savings, they will be spending a significant portion of their lives paying off their loans.

I believe the HDB might need to review the criteria that it has set for DBSS. If the HDB decides that DBSS is the way to go for Singapore’s future housing development, it should take a serious look at the prices that private developers would be setting.

Affordable housing might no longer be realistic if we leave these potential issues unaddressed.

S’pore Office Costs Escalate

Source : TODAY, Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A dearth of supply and high demand from businesses expanding in the region drove up prices so much that Singapore recorded the second highest annual growth in office occupancy costs in the world last year.

Annual office occupancy costs here rose 93 per cent to US$16,220 ($23,275) per workstation, just behind Moscow’s 95-per-cent growth, according to real estate consultancy DTZ Debenham Tie Leung’s Global Office Occupancy Costs survey.

The survey tracks total occupancy costs across 137 business districts in 49 countries and ranking is focused on a workstation basis to better reflect the costs of accommodation, DTZ said.

“With no significant new supply till 2010 and the depletion of office stock in the Central Business District as several office buildings undergo redevelopment or upgrading, the office occupancy cost is expected to rise further” said Ms Angela Tan, DTZ South-east Asia’s executive director.

Singapore is now the 13th most costly place in the world to occupy an office, up from 55th a year ago. Worldwide, London’s West End remained the most expensive.

In the Asia-Pacific, Singapore moved to fourth place from ninth a year ago and is now behind only Hong Kong, Tokyo and Mumbai. Property consultants expect office occupancy costs to continue to rise in the region this year, although uncertainty arising from the US sub-prime crisis will keep price hikes in check.

“We see a huge demand from the financial sector and multinationals, and the accountancy and legal sides are expanding rapidly,” said Mr Chris Archibold, regional director and head of markets at property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.

CapitaLand To Buy All Of Ascott

Source : TODAY, Tuesday, January 8, 2008

It offers 43% premium for remaining unowned shares

CapitaLand, South-east Asia’s largest property firm by market value, is offering to buy the shares it doesn’t already own in its unit, The Ascott Group, in a deal that values the luxury serviced residences operator at $2.8 billion.

CapitaLand, through its subsidiary Somerset Capital, is making the unconditional cash offer of $1.73 per Ascott share, which is a premium of 43 per cent to the last traded price of $1.21 on Friday and 41.8 per cent to the one-month weighted average price of the shares. CapitaLand, which already owns 66.5 per cent of Ascott, will fund the buyout of the remaining shares through internal resources and bank loans specifically taken for the purpose.

Trading in the shares of CapitaLand, the Ascott Group and Ascott Residence Trust was halted yesterday ahead of the announcement early this morning.

Ascott, the biggest operator of serviced apartments in Asia and Europe, is turning to emerging markets in the two regions for its next stage of growth.

The company, which has over 20,200 serviced residence units in Asia, Europe and the Persian Gulf region under its Ascott, Somerset and Citadines brands, aims to boost revenue by expanding the number of units to 25,000 by 2010.

CapitaLand’s offer comes at a time when competition in the global serviced apartment market is intensifying. Ascott recorded a turnover of $318.8 million in the year to Sept 30, 2007 - a 5-per-cent improvement from the year-earlier period. While net profit from operating assets grew 21 per cent to $40.2 million, overall net profit fell 12 per cent to $131.9 million because of lower portfolio gains and expenses incurred for project development.

CapitaLand said that by taking Ascott private, it will allow the serviced residences operator to have the full flexibility of leveraging on the parent company’s capital base as well as its project development opportunities, without being unduly encumbered by compliance requirements expected of a listed entity.

Apart from strengthening Ascott’s leadership position in the market, privatising Ascott will also maximise CapitaLand’s competitive advantage and increase cost savings, CapitaLand said in its statement.

“Privatising Ascott will also enable CapitaLand to deploy capital and human resources seamlessly within the CapitaLand group. This is to better enable CapitaLand and its various strategic business units to combine their resources and expertise to exploit the business opportunities in the global real estate landscape,” chief executive Liew Mun Leong said.

CapitaLand Makes $990m Offer To Take Ascott Private

Source : The Business Times, January 8, 2008

Company sees value in subsidiary that has not been recognised by market, analysts say.

Property giant CapitaLand yesterday made a general offer for its listed subsidiary Ascott Group in a deal that values the serviced residence unit at $2.8 billion.

CapitaLand, South-east Asia’s largest property firm by market value, owns 66.5 per cent of Ascott.

Under the unconditional general offer, CapitaLand aims to buy all Ascott shares it does not own at $1.73 a share. CapitaLand said that it could invest up to $989.5 million to acquire the remaining 33.5 per cent of Ascott as well as any outstanding options and awards that could be exercised.

Ascott, which last traded at $1.21 a share on Jan 4, has a market capitalisation of $1.94 billion. CapitaLand’s offer price is 43 per cent higher than the last traded price and represents a premium of 41.8 per cent to the one-month volume-weighted average price of Ascott shares.

The offer price is also a premium of about 145 per cent to Ascott’s unaudited net asset value per share as at Sept 30, 2007.

Analysts said that CapitaLand wants to take Ascott private because the latter’s value has not been fully reflected in its share price performance. The offer is also timely as Ascott’s shares are nowhere close to their peak.

The shares have fallen from their one-year high of $2.06 in May last year. And over the past one year, the company’s stock has fallen 17.7 per cent.

‘CapitaLand sees a lot of value in Ascott, but that has not been recognised by the market,’ said a property analyst.

Interest in the stock has typically been low, the analyst said, as many investors who want a stake in Ascott just buy shares of CapitaLand instead. ‘Ascott has never been that well followed,’ echoed David Lum, an analyst at the Daiwa Institute of Research. ‘It is followed, but not as followed as CapitaLand. It is not a liquid stock.’

Shares of both CapitaLand and Ascott as well as Ascott’s listed trust Ascott Residence Trust (ART) were suspended yesterday pending an announcement.

But in a move that surprised many, CapitaLand first put out a statement saying that it might make a general offer. The actual details of the offer - including the offer price - were released much later last night.

The former announcement led to market speculation that news of the intended offer could have leaked, forcing CapitaLand to first declare that an offer was in the making.

CapitaLand’s Ascott stake is thought to be key as it gives the company a global footprint. Its offer was ‘not unexpected’, analysts said.

Ascott is the biggest operator of serviced apartments in Asia and Europe. The company has close to 14,800 units in the key cities of Asia, Europe and the Gulf region as well as 5,400 units under development - making a total of over 20,200 units.

The company aims to boost revenue by expanding the number of units to 25,000 by 2010. And for its next phase of growth, it will look to emerging markets, its chief executive, Jennie Chua, has said.

If Ascott is delisted, it will be able to move faster on projects together with CapitaLand, the developer said. CapitaLand will also be able to fully integrate Ascott’s business and operations into the whole group, which will allow it to deploy capital and human resources seamlessly within the group.

Analysts compared CapitaLand’s offer for Ascott to OCBC Bank’s bid for its listed unit, Great Eastern Holdings.

OCBC has made offers to buy out Great Eastern in the past and has steadily accumulated shares in its subsidiary over time. However, the bank has not made offers at very high premiums to those shareholders who have yet to sell. CapitaLand is similarly unlikely to offer high premiums to buy out Ascott shareholders who hold out, analysts said.

CapitaLand’s shares closed at $6.25 on Jan 4, the last day of trading before the counter was suspended. The acquisition will be funded by bank borrowings, CapitaLand said. The company, which is one of the biggest listed on the Singapore Exchange, has a market capitalisation of $17.5 billion.

Voices : Distribution Of Collective Sale Proceeds Should Be Based Only On Area

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 8, 2008

I SHARE the view of Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi in the letter, 'Flaws likely if en bloc choice left to owners' (Online Forum, Jan 5).

Responses from the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers (SISV) and Law Ministry (Dec 29) contrast with the Law Minister's speech on Oct 19 at the Symposium for International Bar Association Conference: 'Especially in the implementation of principles...very much depends on a balance between individual and societal rights...how each society strikes this balance must be a function of its social, cultural and economic construct.'

The Law Minister added an important caveat that 'the contextual approach should not become an excuse for arbitrary or capricious government' and 'harmony in a diverse society cannot be achieved with a laissez-faire system'.

He concluded with essence of Rousseau and Locke: 'Free society requires rules, rules require free society.'

The SISV should review its civil society role and heed Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong's comment in the Sept 20 parliamentary debate: 'It seems to me a little irresponsible of the SISV to recommend methods of apportionment without also providing detailed guidelines on how to apply them in a fair and equitable manner.

'It is tantamount to giving a loaded gun to a soldier without also providing the necessary training and guidance in its usage.

'Is it then any wonder that the recommendations are frequently abused in such a manner as to effectively oppress minority owners?'

The Law Minister assured the House that he 'would look into this' as he took Mr Siew's point about the guidelines and have discussions with the SISV.

Mr Chan argued eloquently that the distribution of collective sales proceeds should be based only on area because 'condo units are sold by area and not by share value' and 'especially when the intrinsic value of each square foot is computed as an aggregate of area, premium for high floor level, unit design, open view...'.

I agree with this school of thought, but believe 'intrinsic value' comprises two elements:

1. Core Value: Based on strata-title-area of the unit owned by subsidiary proprietors. This is factual and categorically stated in title documents. Hence, it must be key to apportionment because it underpins the very basis of collective sale in terms of land footprint.

2. Consumption Value: Based on state of affairs affecting each unit at point of purchase and 'consumed' by occupants during residency tenure. This is a facetious basis and worthless because a collective sale results in wholesale demolition/redevelopment of estate (unless it is a conservation project involving en bloc alteration and amendment works). Hence, any open vistas or preferred sun-facings are no longer relevant in a collective sale.

At the point of purchase during, say, a soft launch, the top floor unit at Level 10 may have a great view of the lake. But at the point of collective sale, that same unit may now be overlooking a neighbouring estate's garbage centre or is now overshadowed by new adjoining condo of 35 storeys.

What is a good design at one point in time may be not so great at point of collective sale as demographic/real estate trends change over time.

Consumption Value is pertinent only in an individual sale-and-purchase (for example, in a resale transaction), and not in a collective sale.

Mr Chan said that share value 'is a guide for conservancy charges calculation". This is erroneous based on Section 13(1) of the Land Titles (Strata) Act, Section 13(1) and Section 62(1) of the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act of 2004.

It is clear from the statutory provisions the share value determines 'the undivided share of the subsidiary proprietor of that lot in the common property comprised in that strata title plan'. These statutory provisions underpin explanation of 'share values' (see www.singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com).

Tan Meng Lee

Voices : Review Criteria Of HDB Design-&-Build Scheme

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 8, 2008

THE recent sale of City View@Boon Keng has brought property prices to a new level. It seems the prices offered are cheaper than other private properties in the area. However, one question that needs to be asked is whether this is an HDB property or a private one. All reports have labelled it HDB, but are these HDB prices?

As part of the Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS), the HDB has allowed private developers to buy the site and then develop it for sale. Benefits of this scheme have been widely publicised in the media as well as on the HDB website. On paper, it seems a wonderful prospect for both the public and the HDB. The public get flats with better quality, while the HDB does not have to build them itself.

One criterion set by the HDB was that the combined income of applicants must be below $8,000. Thus, if a couple buy the most expensive flat in City View@Boon Keng at more than $700,000, they face the prospect of paying over $2,000 in instalments, based on a 90 per cent loan over 30 years. To service that amount, they have to fork out additional cash on top of their CPF contributions. The rationale is about the same, even if they buy an average priced flat for about $500,000. Unless applicants have healthy savings, they will spend a significant portion of their lives paying off their loans.

The HDB may need to review the criteria it has set for the DBSS. Although they may have worked for past HDB projects, they may no longer apply to the DBSS. If the HDB decides the DBSS is the concept for Singapore's future housing development, it should take into serious consideration the prices private developers will set. Affordable housing may no longer be realistic if we leave these issues unaddressed.

Chan Han Jun

Resettled Residents Asked: What Estate Name And Facilities Would You Like?

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 8, 2008

IF HOME is where the heart is, all the better if the residents love its name.

More than 500 households in Silat Road and Henderson Road recently had the novel experience of voting for the name of their future estate, among other things, in a pilot consultation exercise, as part of a redevelopment project.

They chose 'Kim Tian Green' as the name - since the new estate will be in Kim Tian Road - over alternatives such as 'Kim Tian Heights' and 'Kim Tian Towers'.

Also, an overwhelming 83 per cent of respondents supported proposals for amenities such as a pebble walk, a space for a community garden, a family playground and an activity court.

The HDB said it will proceed with the facilities.

The consultation, which took place between September and October last year online and via mailed survey forms, came about after a forum to enhance community bonding last year highlighted the need for the HDB to gather the opinions of residents being resettled.

In addition, the HDB organised a mini-exhibition on the proposals, as well as two briefing-cum-feedback sessions chaired by the Members of Parliament for the area - Associate Professor Koo Tsai Kee and Ms Indranee Rajah.

Under a redevelopment exercise for the Silat and Henderson precincts announced last year, households living in their 739 flats will be offered homes among the 1,100 two- to five-room replacement flats in Kim Tian Road.

Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu, who headed the community bonding forum last year, said: 'It is encouraging to see that residents want to be involved in the planning of their precinct. It demonstrates that residents are keen and ready to realise the vision...for greater community ownership and bonding'.

Meanwhile, the HDB also said yesterday that the current joint selection scheme for residents whose HDB flats are undergoing redevelopment will be improved.

Currently, up to four households can select their replacement flats together if they are neighbours on the same floor, or if they are related families. With the improved scheme, any group of up to six households in the precinct will be allowed to pick their flats together. This scheme is aimed at preserving neighbourly ties when residents are resettled.

Flat owners in Blocks 9 to 12, and 9A and 12A Ghim Moh Road will be the first to use the enhanced flat selection scheme. The registration period for their replacement flats began on Dec 28 and will end on Jan 25.

Those who wish to pick their flats through this joint selection scheme need only indicate their preference in the application forms for the new flats.

S'pore Fine For Next 5 To 10 Years

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 8, 2008


Country will be elevated to a new economic status comparable to that of Italy, Austria if growth continues

SINGAPORE is poised to grow in the next five years even if there is a slowdown in the American and European economies, predicted Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew last night.

POSITIVE OUTLOOK: Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew with Professor Wang Gungwu, chairman of the ISEAS Board of Trustees, at the institute's 40th anniversary dinner. Mr Lee fielded 12 questions at an hour-long dialogue. -- ST PHOTO: TERENCE TAN

And if its growth continues for yet another five years, Singapore will be elevated to a new economic status comparable to that of Austria and Italy, he added.

Thus, it is important that Singapore consolidates what it has today to strengthen its position.

'We are now at the table with a very large number of chips,' he said. 'Let's move cautiously.'

Mr Lee was speaking to some 700 academics and government leaders, including Foreign Minister George Yeo and Finance and Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at a dinner marking the 40th anniversary of think-tank Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

In an hour-long dialogue, he fielded 12 questions that ran the gamut from Asean unity to Singaporeans' social graces.

Mr Lee's comments on the economy come just days after the Government announced a forecast of more moderate growth of 4.5 per cent to 6.5 per cent for the year. The projections come against a backdrop of concerns over rising costs and a slowdown of the US economy.

At last night's dialogue, a member from the Deutsche Bank asked Mr Lee what his 'inspirations and dreams' for Singapore were.

The elder statesman painted a picture of how the country's economy would look like in the next decade.

In five years, Singapore will be 'at a different plateau'.

'The old Singapore, we are leaving behind,' he said.

He explained why.

Even if there was a slowdown in the US and Europe, the Chinese and Indian economies would continue to grow from 8 to 11 per cent, giving Singapore 'an extra lift'.

The two integrated resorts and the Formula One coming to Singapore will boost the tourism and hospitality industry.

Already, the property market and the banking and financial services industry are reaping the benefits.

'So at the end of five years I think we should be, barring accidents, at a different plateau. If that continues for another five years, I believe we will be more like, say, an Italy or an Austria of today, which isn't bad, considering where we started from,' said Mr Lee.

Italy is a member of the Group of 7 (G7) rich industrialised countries, and Austria is one of the 10 richest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita.

This is a far cry from Singapore in its early days. Said Mr Lee: 'We had zero reserves in 1959, and in 1965 not many people gave us high ratings for survival, never mind success.

'So just be grateful that we are where we are and be mindful that we consolidate what we have and don't risk it.'

He concluded: 'We should be doing all right for the next five to 10 years.'

CapitaLand Makes $1.73-A-Share Offer For Rest Of Ascott

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 08, 2008

Move to privatise service residence arm a bid to strengthen unit's market position

PROPERTY giant CapitaLand plans to privatise The Ascott Group, its listed service residence arm, in a bid to strengthen Ascott's position in the market and streamline the group's operations.

BETTER CONTROL: The move will speed up further efforts to build a capital-efficient business model, says CapitaLand chief Liew Mun Leong. -- BT FILE PHOTO

The move was announced in a statement to the Singapore Exchange late last night. It followed an earlier statement that fore-shadowed the plan.

Trading of both CapitaLand and Ascott shares were halted the whole of yesterday.

Trading in units of the Ascott Residence Trust (ART) was also halted to avoid confusion, although the trust is not involved in the offer.

CapitaLand will offer $1.73 cash for each share, valuing the entire Ascott group at a whopping $2.8 billion.

The offer price gave investors a healthy 43 per cent premium over the $1.21 closing price on Friday, the last trading day before yesterday's halt.

The property group already owns 67 per cent of Ascott, which was listed on the mainboard in 2001.

Chief executive of CapitaLand Liew Mun Leong said: 'CapitaLand has created significant value for its shareholders along the entire real estate value chain and by building a capital-efficient business model.'

For Ascott, 'this approach can be accelerated further if Ascott is privatised'.

In making the offer, CapitaLand cited intensifying competition in the growing global service residence market.

'As a listed entity, Ascott has to comply with listing and compliance requirements, and this may restrict Ascott from having full flexibility to leverage on the capital base, resources and opportunities of CapitaLand.'

For example, when CapitaLand partners Ascott in a development now, this counts as an 'interested person transaction', which lengthens the time to completion.

Secondly, if Ascott is fully owned by CapitaLand, the property giant feels that it will have more flexibility in managing its mix of developments. It will also be better able to respond to demand in different markets.

Cost savings is a third factor.

Yesterday's preliminary statement that CapitaLand was looking to buy the Ascott shares it does not own caught the market by surprise.

Some baffled analysts were unable to suggest why the offer had been made.

'It's not as though Ascott is in trouble,' said an investment analyst who asked not to be named. 'Its gearing is not high - in fact, it's low - and it's in a sector that's doing well.'

Ascott is the largest operator of service apartments in Europe and Asia, with a portfolio of more than 20,000 units in 23 countries. It has a market capitalisation of $1.94 billion.

In 2006, the group spun off some assets into ART, a real estate investment trust that now owns 18 properties.

CapitaLand's move to take Ascott private 'goes against the grain of an asset-light balance sheet', a strategy it has stressed repeatedly, said the investment analyst.

But Kim Eng Research analyst Wilson Liew said CapitaLand might 'think it's a good time to buy back some Ascott Group shares'.

'The consensus seems that it is rather undervalued,' he said.

Since June, at least five research houses have put out an 'overweight' or 'buy' call on Ascott, with target prices ranging from $2.17 to $2.46.

It has traded mostly between $1.40 and $1.90 over the last year, hitting a high of $2.06 in May and dropping to a low of $1.12 just weeks ago.

The group's net asset value per share was 70.6 cents as at Sept 30. Revenue for the three months ended Sept 30 rose 17 per cent to $116.5 million, although net profit dipped 41 per cent to $34.1 million.

Two Landed Sites To Go On Sale With Tenancies

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 08, 2008

Prices should be less than market rate as house owners need to be compensated.

TWO sizeable landed residential plots off Mandai Road will be sold via auction later this month - with prices expected to be below the market rate for comparable plots.

The catch: The 23 houses that sit on the land are owned by different owners rather than the two brothers who own the two respective plots.

That means the buyers of the plots will have to negotiate with the owner-tenants of each house separately and compensate them individually.

After that, the buyer can build three-storey landed homes on the 999-year leasehold sites, both sited on Meng Suan Road.

Colliers International, which is conducting the auction on Jan 30, said fairly large landed plots are relatively rare. For instance, the Government will release only two landed sites for sale in the first half of this year, said its deputy managing director for agency and business services and auctioneer, Ms Grace Ng.

The first Meng Suan Road plot has an area of 21,066 sq ft and is occupied by a row of nine single-storey terrace houses. The second is 31,043 sq ft and with a row of 14 single-storey terrace houses.

The father of the two brothers who own the sites sold the houses to individual owners 40 to 50 years ago for less than $5,000 each.

This may sound unusual, but sales with tenancies were quite common in the past, said Ms Ng. The owners of the Meng Suan Road houses have enjoyed a great deal as they pay the land owners 'ground rent' of just $20 a month.

UP FOR GRABS: The 999-year leasehold sites at Meng Suan Road and their existing single-storey houses will go on sale via auction on Jan 30. The buyer can choose to build three-storey homes. -- PHOTO: COLLIERS INTERNATIONAL

Negotiating with these owners may take time, but the buyer will be able to take heart that he is likely to get a good price. 'We have applied some discount because they are encumbered with existing tenancies,' said Ms Ng.

The indicative price of the sites is between $250 and $260 per sq ft, inclusive of the development charge. This puts the smaller plot at about $5.3 million and the bigger one at around $7.8 million.

Negotiating with the house owners will be somewhat simplified by the fact that owners of six of the 23 houses are related to one another, said Ms Ng.

Dealing with multiple owners may not be easy, but it is something that boutique development firm Link (THM) Holdings has proven it can handle.

The firm, which began as a fashion business, said yesterday that it had acquired a freehold site in Ban Guan Park, off Holland Road, comprising nine apartments and nine shops, after negotiating with the individual owners since late 2005. It paid $31.1 million for the site of 32,900 sq ft and plans to build 20 semi-detached houses.

The firm said there were several failed collective sale attempts in the past decade.

Its director, Mr Kenny Tan, said the firm then decided to talk to individual owners to address their concerns and to get them to sell individually.

Office Occupancy Costs In Singapore Continue To Soar: DTZ

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 07 January 2008

Office occupancy costs in Singapore has doubled from a year ago to US$16,220 per workstation per annum, according to a survey by property consultant DTZ.

The result has catapulted Singapore's ranking globally to the 13th position. In 2006, Singapore occupied the 55th spot.

The survey also found that Singapore recorded the second highest annual growth in occupancy costs per workstation after Moscow.

The DTZ survey uses workstation costs to better reflect the costs of accommodation.

137 business districts in 49 countries and territories were covered in DTZ's latest annual Global Office Occupancy Costs Survey.

At the top of the table was London's West End, which was also last year's most expensive location. It registered an occupancy cost of US$31,160 per workstation per annum.

Hong Kong followed in second position at US$27,540 per workstation. London (City) was at third position with US$20,690 per workstation.

The survey found that workers across the 137 business districts had an average 162 square feet of working space.

The lack of available office space and soaring rents in some Asia Pacific locations prompted companies to reconfigure their office space to meet expansion needs.

As a result, there was a drop in space utilisation standards in these countries. - CNA/ch

Investment Bank UBS Sees Bright Spots In Global Economy

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 07 January 2008

Investment bank UBS is optimistic the global economy is not headed for a global recession this year.

But it says growth is likely to slow from last year and it has shaved its forecasts for US, Europe and Asia.

Despite the slowdown, the bank believes there are bright spots in 2008 where investors can park their funds. It recommends that investors avoid Asian exporters.

It says this is because the main issue across the world right now revolves around slowing US consumer demand. The effect of this will cut across major industries from technology to telecoms firms.

Instead, UBS suggests investors look at companies whose demand is largely derived from Asian economies.

Benjamin Yeo, Executive Director, Asia Corporate Research Head, UBS Wealth Management Research, says: "We'll avoid Asian exporters. It cuts across major industries. Could be tech, telecoms, even consumer discretionary products.

"In place, we will focus more on Asian domestic names. In particular, we look at countries where a large percent of GDP comes from domestic demand. This includes countries like China, India, Indonesia."

In the longer term, UBS says Asia is well-poised for rapid urbanisation and this makes infrastructure stocks alluring.

Mr Yeo says: "While we are seeing a global slowdown - that's a transitional period. We believe, in Asia, we are seeing structural changes...

"I have two themes which we at UBS are interested in getting our clients into: increased affluence and rapid urbanisation in Asia. We think the two infrastructure themes can help in selecting stocks."

UBS says the smart money will be on large companies rather than smaller cap firms.

Mr Yeo says: "In developed markets, we think big caps have underperformed and will regain performance vis a vis small caps. In Asia, on the other hand, the big caps have started to outperform since 12 to 18 months back. We think this outperformance will continue."

As for the Singapore economy, UBS says it is healthy, with the tourism, services and property development sector keeping bad vibes at bay. - CNA/ch

CapitaLand To Make General Offer For Ascott Group

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 07 January 2008

CapitaLand is planning a general offer for the Ascott Group.

However it has not given any details of the offer, which is due to be announced on Tuesday.

CapitaLand says the offer will be made through one of its units.

The property developer currently owns 66.5 percent of Ascott, which operates serviced residences.

Trading in the shares of CapitaLand and Ascott, as well as Ascott Residence Trust, were suspended pending the announcement on Tuesday morning.

Ascott is the largest serviced residence operator in Europe and Asia. - CNA/ch

SPH Spending S$82m To Upgrade, Expand Paragon

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 07 January 2008

Singapore Press Holdings is spending a combined S$82 million to revamp Paragon shopping centre.

The newspaper publisher will spend S$45 million to update the facade of the building and increase retail space.

The renovation will increase the nett lettable area of the retail podium by 11,600 sq ft.

Another S$37 million will be spent to expand the office and medical space above the retail podium.

With the construction of two more floors, this will add another 29,000 sq ft to the mall.

The facelift, which starts this month, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. - CNA/so

'Kim Tian Green': HDB Adopts Precinct Name Chosen By Residents

Source : The Straits Times, Jan 7, 2008

IN A first for the Housing and Development Board's Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) - where old precincts are torn down and rebuilt, while residents are resettled elsewhere - affected residents have been given the final say on the name, look and design of their new neighbourhood.

Following a recommendation arising from last July's Forum on HDB Heartware to instill 'a greater sense of ownership' of the new precinct, Sers lessees who used to live at 16 affected blocks in the Kampong Bahru, Silat Road and Henderson Road areas were recently consulted through mail and online surveys, as well as an exhibition and feedback sessions, on their choices for their replacement site at Kim Tian Road.

42 per cent of the over 500 households who responded chose 'Kim Tian Green' as their preferred precinct name, with 'Kim Tian Towers' getting 35 per cent of the vote and 'Kim Tian Heights' 22 per cent.

HDB then submitted 'Kim Tian Green' as its top choice to the Streets and Building Names Board, which subsequently approved the new name.

Another residents-led initiative was the choice of the precinct design. Out of four that were proposed, 44 per cent of residents - the highest number - chose Design A (see attached graphic), which HDB will now adopt.

83 per cent of respondents also liked the suggested locations for facilities like a pebble walk, community garden and family playground, which the HDB will go ahead to build at those selected sites.

Responding to the survey results, Minister of State for National Development Ms Grace Fu said: 'It is encouraging to see that residents want to be involved in the planning of their precinct... for greater community ownership and bonding.'

'The consultation on the provision of common facilities will be carried out in future Sers replacement sites, to enable residents to develop a precinct that they can call their own.'

HDB Forum Suggestions Benefit Kim Tian, Ghim Moh Residents

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 07 January 2008

Residents in the Kim Tian and Ghim Moh areas are benefiting from recommendations from the Forum on HDB Heartware, aimed at giving people more say in the shaping of their neighbourhood.

The HDB has conducted a pilot project at a replacement site at Kim Tian Road to re-house residents in the Kampong Bahru and Henderson Road area, affected by the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).

Lessees were consulted on the common facilities in their estates, through mail, internet and feedback sessions.

Some 500 households responded to the survey. 42 percent of them preferred the new precinct to be named Kim Tian Green, which has been approved.

A total of 83 percent of the respondents also supported the proposed locations for amenities like playground, activity court and garden.

HDB said 94 percent of the surveyed households agreed the consultation exercise was useful in promoting community bonding and ownership.

Separately, some residents at Ghim Moh will be the first to benefit from the enhancement of the Joint Selection Scheme under SERS.

Lessees of Blocks 9 to 12 and 9A to 12A will be allowed to select flats near their neighbours at the replacement site. - CNA/so

Sers Residents Approve Consultancy Exercises

Source : The Business Times, January 8, 2008

EFFORTS to build more cohesive public housing communities seem to have paid off. Most of the 500-plus households involved in two recent consultation exercises deemed them effective, encouraging similar exercises in the future.

The consultations, announced in July last year by the Forum on HDB Heartware, were with selective en-bloc redevelopment scheme (Sers) residents on providing common facilities and enhancement of the joint selection scheme under Sers.

Ninety-four per cent of respondents felt the exercise was a useful and effective way to promote a closer-knit community and a greater sense of ownership of the new precinct.

In the first initiative, residents of selected blocks at Silat and Henderson roads were surveyed on a replacement site in Kim Tian Road to re-house them. HDB also organised a mini-exhibition and two briefing and feedback sessions.

Residents were given the opportunity to choose the name for the new precinct - Kim Tian Green - and discuss locations for facilities such as a family playground and an activity court.

The second initiative enables joint selection of replacement flats for neighbours on the same floor or related families for up to six Sers households instead of the current four.

The lessees of Blocks 9 to 12, 9A and 12A Ghim Moh Road will be the first to benefit from this.

Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu said the results of the consultation exercises were encouraging.

'Consultation on the provision of common facilities will be carried out in future Sers replacement sites to enable residents to develop a precinct they can call their own,' she said.

S'pore Occupancy Costs Up 106%

Source : The Business Times, January 8, 2008

This makes it 13th most expensive place to work in: DTZ report

OCCUPANCY costs in Singapore have soared 106.4 per cent over the past year - among the highest increase across the 137 locations surveyed - according to a new report.

This means that Singapore is now the 13th most expensive place to work in globally, according to the report by property firm DTZ Debenham Tie Leung.

In 2007, Singapore was ranked 55th.

London's West End continued to be the most expensive location globally, while Hong Kong retained its second position.

DTZ defines occupancy cost as the average total cost of leasing net usable space of 10,000 square feet within a prime CBD location.

It includes rent and outgoings, such as maintenance costs and property tax, if these are normally payable by the occupier. Each city is then ranked on a 'per workstation' basis.

Occupancy cost in Singapore came to US$16,220 per workstation per year - more than double the occupancy cost recorded a year ago.

By comparison, occupancy cost in London's West End is US$31,160 per workstation a year, while Hong Kong's stands at US$27,540.

DTZ's survey showed strong occupier demand across all key global regions - with Asia, central and eastern Europe and the Middle East leading the way despite fallout from the US sub-prime crisis.

In particular, cities in the Asia-Pacific region enjoyed a buoyant office market in 2007 - a trend that was especially evident in Singapore.

The uptrend, DTZ said, can be expected to continue going forward.

'With no significant new supply till 2010 and the depletion of office stock in the CBD as several office buildings undergo redevelopment and/or upgrading, office occupancy cost is expected to rise further,' said Angela Tan, DTZ South- East Asia's executive director.

However, while occupancy costs here are expected to continue climbing this year, the rate of increase will be slower than in 2007, experts said. This is because office rentals are expected to climb at a slower rate in 2008.

'Overall demand numbers for 2008 are not likely to match those for 2007 given the lower expectations for the economy, particularly as companies in the financial and business services (the major consumers of office space) could test their vulnerability against a potential global credit crunch situation in 2008,' said DBS Group Research in a recent report.

Two Residential Sites Off Mandai Rd Up For Auction

Source : The Business Times, January 8, 2008

PROPERTY firm Colliers International yesterday announced the auction of two residential sites off Mandai Road. Both plots have 999-year leases from Oct 16, 1884. The sites are being sold on a non-vacant basis. This means the buyers will be responsible for vacating the tenants.

20-28 Meng Suan Rd: Expected to cost about $5.3m, including a development charge

The two sites are at 20-28 and 43-56 Meng Suan Road. Each is expected to go for about $250 per sq ft (psf), said Colliers auctioneer Grace Ng.

This means the smaller plot at 20-28 Meng Suan Road, which is 21,066 sq ft, will cost about $5.3 million including a development charge (DC). The site is now occupied by a row of nine single-storey terrace houses.

The larger plot at numbers 43-56, which is 31,043 sq ft, will cost about $7.8 million, also including a DC. The land is occupied by a row of 14 single-storey terrace houses.

'The successful buyer can consider developing a row of 10 terrace houses on the smaller plot of land of about 1,938 sq ft each for the inter-terrace units and about 2,583 sq ft each for the corner units,' said Ms Ng. 'The larger plot of land can accommodate up to nine similar terrace houses, as well as four other semi-detached houses of about 2,583 sq ft each. Given the limited supply of land, freehold and 999-year leasehold, this is a rare opportunity for developers and investors to acquire two huge plots.' And with the government about to release a 30-hectare site at Mandai for nature-themed attractions, the area will become more vibrant, she said.

The auction will be held on Jan 30 at Amara Hotel.

Paragon In $82m Facelift, Expansion

Source : The Business Times, January 8, 2008

SPH investment to yield contemporary facade, more retail, commercial space

THERE will be a new look for Paragon shopping centre come October. The Orchard Road mall will get a $45 million makeover - to update its building facade and increase retail space.

Spiffier look: Paragon's move is in line with the transformation of Orchard Rd into a shopper's paradise for the increasing number of well-heeled international visitors

The facelift will begin this month, and is expected to be completed in October.

In addition, the commercial space above its retail podium will be expanded - at a cost of $37 million, including the payment of land premium. This is scheduled to be completed by end-2008.

The total cost of the facade makeover and the addition of commercial space is $82 million.

Singapore Press Holdings, which owns and manages the prime retail and office complex, says that the makeover is part of Paragon's continuous efforts to enhance its retail environment and shopping experience for customers.

And shoppers need not fret: Paragon will remain open and operate as it normally does during the renovation period.

The shopping centre's current glass and granite facade cladding will make way for a 'contemporary yet elegant' look with the installation of pop-out glass boxes.

They will be made of multi-faceted layers of aluminium panels and fritted glass with in-built energy-saving LED lights.

The new three-dimensional facade will comprise multiple transparent, glazed and volumetric external shop-fronts installed above the walkway level.

Five duplexes of designer stores facing Orchard Road will front the mall and each will see its shop front increase by three times the current height. 'At the busy intersection of Orchard Road and Bideford Road, a luxury brand's flagship store will enjoy a looming five storeys of shopfront starting from ground floor, providing a dramatic visual interest at this significant landmark junction,' said SPH.

Paragon's renovation and higher concentration of sophisticated designer stores are in line with the transformation of Orchard Road into a shopper's paradise for the increasing number of well-heeled international visitors coming to Singapore.

'The design is also prompted by luxury brand retailers looking for more space to expand and build their signature flagship stores and an opportunity to do something different,' said Linda Kwan, general manager of Paragon.

'Paragon's facade, when expanded forward by four metres towards the Orchard Road pedestrian walkway and spanning 115 metres in total length, will provide these tenants with significant visibility and brand expression.'

The facade project is undertaken by DP Architects, which also oversaw the integration of Paragon and the former Promenade into a single shopping mall in 2003.

There will be minor upgrading works within Paragon, including the addition of new balustrades for a contemporary look.

Upon completion of the enhancement works, the nett lettable area at the retail podium will increase by about 11,600 square feet.

The commercial space above the Paragon retail podium will be expanded by another 29,000 square feet - with the construction of two more floors for medical and office use.

Businesses Stay Upbeat On S'pore Economy: Survey

Source : The Business Times, January 8, 2008

Optimism balance is still at 84% despite greater uncertainty

Despite a gloomier outlook and inflation fears, Singapore businesses remain optimistic about the local economy, a global survey of private businesses has found.

Accounting firm Grant Thornton International's latest International Business Report ranked Singapore fourth, with an optimism balance of 84 per cent, unchanged from the previous year.

The optimism balance is the proportion of upbeat respondents less those who report negative sentiments on prospects for the country's economy in the next 12 months.

The survey of 7,800 businesses in 34 economies worldwide found an average optimism score of 42 per cent, three percentage points lower than in January last year.

The most bullish responses were from the Philippines and India (95 per cent), Vietnam (87 per cent) and Hong Kong (82 per cent).

Japanese businesses were among the most pessimistic (minus 44 per cent, from minus 5 per cent last year). Thai businesses, perhaps reflecting concern over the country's unstable political climate, reported a score of minus 30 per cent.

Despite a housing downturn and a shuddering credit market, sentiment in the US improved slightly, from 14 per cent to 22 per cent.

Aw Eng Hai, a partner with Foo Kon Tan Grant Thornton, the Singapore member firm of the global group, said: 'Although we have entered a period of greater uncertainty, amid concern over fallout from the US sub-prime mortgage crisis and the increased business costs, it is encouraging to know that businesses in Singapore remain confident in the country's economy.'

In Singapore, there were mixed expectations for prospects in specific business areas. Turnover expectations were slightly down at 71 per cent from 79 per cent last year, but businesses were just as optimistic on profitability as in 2007 (64 per cent).

In the present tight labour market, businesses reported lower expectations of employment growth (31 per cent against 38 per cent last year), but also said they were more optimistic regarding investments in new buildings, plants and machinery compared to 2007.

The relatively upbeat survey findings show a markedly different picture from an earlier business confidence survey. The BT-UniSIM quarterly survey found last November that confidence had slumped amid emerging signs of a slowdown in business activity.

The prospects net balance in that survey, reflecting sentiment in the third quarter last year for the next six months, was just 39 per cent, down 17 percentage points from the previous quarter. The figures from different surveys are not comparable.

The purchasing manager's index, a leading indicator for the manufacturing industry, showed the sector expanded but at a slower pace in December. Manufacturing grew just 0.5 per cent in Q4, pulling down early estimates for the quarter's GDP growth to just 6 per cent, the slowest in three years.

High-Density Homes May Complement Paya Lebar Hub

Source : The Business Times, January 8, 2008

Study says they may come up on sites that are currently industrial estates

The development of vacant state sites already zoned for commercial use immediately around Paya Lebar MRT Station will spearhead the transformation of the area into a commercial hub.

More interestingly, however, high-density homes may also come up slightly further away on sites currently occupied by industrial estates to support an expected influx of population as Paya Lebar shapes up as a sub-regional centre.

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), in a recent study of likely changes in the upcoming Master Plan 2008, identified three sites - two currently part of Eunos industrial estate owned by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the third also in an industrial estate but privately owned - that could be developed into high-rise homes, whether public or private. Despite the fact that the three plots are currently being used as industrial facilities, two of these sites are actually zoned for residential use under the existing Master Plan 2003, while the third is slated for reserve use.

The need to inject a bigger live-in population to complement the development of Paya Lebar as a sub-regional centre may see HDB offering the three sites for development into housing, especially if the plots are accorded relatively high plot ratios of 3.5 to 4.0 to optimise their proximity to Paya Lebar MRT Station, which will be an interchange station, at the cross section of the new Circle Line and existing East-West Line.

JLL argued these plot ratios - which reflect the ratio of maximum potential gross floor area to land area - are similar to the plot ratios granted for housing projects in the Tiong Bahru vicinity. 'Injecting more homes in the Paya Lebar area will help maintain a balance between residential and commercial uses in the location,' JLL said.

And with the increased live-in population will arise the need for having more schools, which can be developed on a plot already zoned for education under the current master plan, JLL's study suggests.

The property consultancy also suggests that two sites currently zoned for Business 1 (suitable for clean and light industrial/ warehouse use) - one each in Aljunied and Eunos industrial estates - are likely to be rezoned to Business Park or Logistics Park to better complement the proposed commercial developments that will be built closer to Paya Lebar MRT Station.

The plot ratios of these two sites are also likely to be raised from 2.5 currently to 2.5 to 2.8, JLL said.

'The improved accessibility of the Paya Lebar location that will result from the area serving as an interchange between two MRT lines will boost the location's image and attractiveness as an alternative office location in the longer term,' JLL said.

The property consultancy does not envisage a plot ratio increase for the vacant state sites currently zoned for commercial use immediately around Paya Lebar MRT Station, as their existing 4.2 plot ratios are in sync with the Tampines Finance Park.

Last year, the government said Paya Lebar will be developed into a business hub to provide space for Singapore's continued growth as a global business centre. Plans for its transformation are expected to be fleshed out in Master Plan 2008, which will be ready later this year.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan in June last year ruled out massive, across-the-board hikes in plot ratios islandwide in Master Plan 2008.

US Slowdown Won't Eat Into S'pore Growth: MM Lee

Source : The Business Times, January 8, 2008

Temasek, GIC comfortable with Merrill, UBS, he says

A slowdown in the American or European economy will not reduce the rate of Singapore's economic growth, according to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

Barring a 'big recession', China and India - where the economies are tipped to expand by 8-10 per cent yearly - will provide the dynamism to pull the rest of Asia's economies along in the next five years, Mr Lee said last night at a dialogue session hosted by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS).

At the end of the five years, Singapore will reach a new plateau, leaving the 'old Singapore' behind as more Singaporeans can enjoy the finer things in life, including arts and culture.

Mr Lee said the economy should then do well as the two integrated resorts (IRs) will be in full operation to give the tourism and hospitality sectors a big boost.

And if things go well in another five years, he said Singapore will be like Italy or Austria today.

Which is not a bad thing, considering where it had started from - zero resources and given a low chance of survival, according to Mr Lee.

Singapore must now consolidate what it has achieved, and not risk it, he said. When it had few 'chips' in the early days, it could take more risk; now that it has more, Singapore should move cautiously, Mr Lee said.

With no natural resources like oil to fall back on, he said Singaporeans have been toughened and motivated to succeed. If Singapore had been rich in oil, Mr Lee said it would not be where it is today.

Responding to a question on the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation's (GIC) acquisition of a 9 per cent stake in Swiss bank UBS in the wake of the US sub-prime mortgage woes, Mr Lee said Singapore is not averse to American banks or financial institutions.

He noted that Temasek invested US$4.4 billion in Merrill Lynch, the American investment banking giant.

GIC paid $14 billion for a 9 per cent stake in UBS - making it the biggest shareholder - because GIC has confidence in the bank's management and growth potential, Mr Lee said. 'It is comfortable with UBS.'

But he also pointed out that Temasek is also comfortable with Merrill Lynch and believes that the investment bank will recover from the losses it suffered.

Touching on the United States presidential race, Mr Lee said whoever is elected the next US president will have a plateful of foreign policy issues to deal with, including a more assertive Russia and a rising China and India.

Still, at the end of the day, he said the US remains an unbeatable economic and military power. Time and again, the US economy has made a strong comeback after showing signs of faltering.

Mr Lee said the US economy stays resiliently strong and that it is well ahead on the technology front.

The Chinese are keenly aware of this - and would not engage the Americans in a confrontation that would upset China's economic development, he indicated.