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

A-Reit Buys Acer Building For $75m

Source : The Business Times, January 29, 2008

It also bags warehouse in CBP, announces completion of HansaPoint

ASCENDAS Real Estate Investment Trust (A-Reit) has bought the Acer Building at International Business Park in Jurong East for $75 million or $344 per square foot of lettable area.

Market sources say the price reflects an initial yield of 6.5-6.8 per cent.

A-Reit yesterday also announced the purchase of Sim Siang Choon Building, on the fringe of Changi Business Park (CBP), from Sim Siang Choon Hardware for $31.89 million.

This is a four-storey warehouse with a first-storey showroom and a separate single-storey warehouse.

In addition, A-Reit said HansaPoint@CBP received a Temporary Occupation Permit on Jan 22 and has achieved full occupancy.

The $28.6 million project's major tenants include Rohde & Schwarz Systems & Communications Asia, Credit Suisse and Citco Fund Services (Singapore).

The completion of HansaPoint@CBP and acquisition of the Acer and Sim Siang Choon buildings will have a positive effect on A-Reit's distribution per unit (DPU).

A-Reit is buying Acer Building from Acer Computer International.

The deal involves Acer's local subsidiaries Acer Computer (Singapore) and Logistron Services leasing back 23 per cent of the current net lettable area for five years with an option to renew for a further 3+2 years.

The building's current occupancy is 97 per cent.

Acer Building's sale was handled by DTZ through an expression of interest exercise that drew five offers.

The other bidders are believed to have been two other Singapore Reits, Frasers Centrepoint and a private fund managed by Mapletree.

The property, a high- tech business park development, was completed in May 1996 on a site leased from JTC Corp for 30 years with an option to renew for a further 30 years. It has a total lettable area of 20,231 sq metres.

A-Reit's manager says there is potential to create a further 1,200 sq metres of lettable space.

According to a report last year, Acer is paying JTC an annual land rent of $715,469 with escalation of 4 per cent a year as of Q3 2007.

The new owner is expected to pay JTC a slightly higher land rent each year, according to the report.

BT understands that A-Reit should enjoy considerable upside from positive rental reversion, as a number of leases in the building are up for renewal in the next one to two years.

Some of these tenants are paying monthly rent of $2 to $2.60 psf, whereas current rents for similar properties in International Business Park are $3.20 to $3.60 psf.

Besides Acer, other tenants in the building include Jacobs Engineering, Converge Asia and Nortrans Shipping.

Vietnam's Property Market Becomes Hotter

Source : The Business Times, January 29, 2008

(HANOI) Rents in major cities of Vietnam have skyrocketed and there are few signs the market will cool in the next few years as demand continues to vastly outstrip supply, local newspaper Vietnam Investment Review reported yesterday.

'We predict that office rents will peak in 18 months at more than US$100 per square metre per month for Grade A space, with Grade B space reaching as much as US$90 per square metre,' the newspaper quoted Brett Ashton, managing director of Savills Vietnam, as saying.

Office rents in southern Ho Chi Minh City already topped US$70 per square metre per month, a significant increase over the US$45-50 per square metre seen late last year.

Property consultants attribute skyrocketing rents on a serious supply and demand imbalance, said the newspaper.

UK House Prices Fall For Fourth Month: Report

Source : The Business Times, January 29, 2008

The average cost of a home in England and Wales fell by 0.3 per cent

(LONDON) UK house prices declined for a fourth month in January as higher interest rates and a slumping property market sapped confidence among buyers, a report by Hometrack Ltd said.

The average cost of a home in England and Wales fell by 0.3 per cent, the same rate as in December, to £174,700, the London-based research group said yesterday.

The average selling time rose to 8.5 weeks, the most since the survey of real-estate agents and surveyors began in 2001.

'Weak confidence among would-be purchasers continues to put downward pressure on house prices,' said Richard Donnell, director of research at Hometrack.

'With most buyers also being sellers, households are now waiting until there are signs of general stability before committing.'

Economists predict the Bank of England will reduce the benchmark interest rate further on Feb 7 after cutting it from a six- year high last month.

Governor Mervyn King said last week that a weaker property market 'will go hand in hand' with slower consumer spending in 2008.

Still, faster inflation along with slower economic expansion mean that the bank faces a 'difficult balancing act' this year, Mr King said on Jan 23. Policymakers kept the rate at 5.5 per cent this month.

'Alongside data showing weakness in activity, the bank has flashing on its radar inflation risks that look to be pronounced and enduring,' said David Tinsley, an economist at National Australia Bank here who formerly worked at the Bank of England.

'Rates will get to 4.75 per cent this year, and then the bank will stay on hold.'

Home prices increased 2.3 per cent from a year earlier, the least since June 2006, Hometrack said.

The supply of homes for sale declined 4.6 per cent in the month as people became more pessimistic about future price gains.

'Wait and see' is likely to remain the default position of most homeowners unless they need to move,' Mr Donnell said in the statement. 'For the brave-hearted, there could be some deals to be done if the seller needs to sell or is realistic on the achievable price.'

House prices may decline about 5 per cent this year and about 8 per cent in 2009, Roger Bootle, economic adviser at Deloitte & Touche LLP, said in a report yesterday.

UK home prices probably won't pick up until mid-2009, according to Instant Access Group, the country's biggest property investment club.

The weaker residential property market will drive the worst UK economic performance since 15 years ago, when Britain last emerged from recession, Mr Bootle said.

He predicted the economy, which grew 3.1 per cent in 2007, may expand 2 per cent this year and even less in 2009.

All 30 economists in a Bloomberg News survey expect the central bank to lower the main rate to 5.25 per cent next month.

Policymaker David Blanchflower cited the weakening property market as one reason why the bank needs to 'get ahead of the curve' with lower rates, according to an interview with The Guardian newspaper published yesterday.

'Not only is the interest-rate environment far less favourable, but the global financial crisis and the associated credit crunch have brought an end to the period of easy credit that in recent years has been the bedrock of the rapid rises in house prices,' Mr Bootle said.

'There is a risk that the economy will slip into a full-blown recession.' - Bloomberg

Many Projects Clinch URA Provisional Clearance In Q4

Source : The Business Times, January 29, 2008

But developers are in no rush to launch condos ahead of Chinese New Year

A SLEW of projects from various segments - residential, hotels, office and industrial/warehouse - received provisional permission (PP) from Urban Redevelopment Authority in the fourth quarter of last year, based on official data released on Friday.

The private residential projects that bagged PP in Q4 included a 401-unit condo at Upper Thomson Road by UOL Group (on the former Green Meadows site), several strata housing projects at Gilstead Road and Paya Lebar Crescent and the high-profile Marina Bay Suites, whose preview incidentally has been postponed from the end of this month till after the Chinese New Year festivities.

URA data also showed that there are several high-end private residential projects that have secured the pre-requisites for sale - that is, Housing Developer's Sale Licence and Building Plan Approval - but that had yet to be launched as at Dec 31, 2007.

These include Wing Tai's 176-unit Belle Vue Residences at Oxley Walk, 45-unit Ardmore Point at Ardmore Park, 100-unit L'VIV at Newton Road, and City Developments' 228- unit Sentosa Quayside and 77-unit Shelford Suites, among others.

Wing Tai deputy chairman Edmund Cheng said, when contacted by BT, that the group's three projects are not quite ready for launch yet as the showflats, for one, are not ready. 'It's not a good time to launch in any case, as we're crossing over to the Chinese New Year period,' he added.

'With all the global uncertainty, we'll have to see how things pan out before we launch anything. But I don't think it's going to be all gloomy. I'm still quite positive about Singapore's economic growth and this will provide the fundamentals for the property industry to go forward.

'The consolidation in property prices we've been seeing for the past few months is a positive thing, bringing expectations to a more realistic level. Before that, prices were going up so fast, it was not to anybody's interest including developers', because our replacement costs were also so much higher,' Mr Cheng explained.

Knight Frank executive director (residential) Peter Ow reckons it makes sense for most developers to hold back launching projects for now, because they would find it tough to achieve the kind of prices they may have in mind, in the current market.

'Developers can afford to wait it out for a few months as most have strong financial muscle - thanks to the supernormal profits they've made in the past couple of years on the back of strong price appreciation, especially in the high-end segment,' Mr Ow added.

Credo Real Estate managing director Karamjit Singh observed that residential developers are going ahead with securing planning approvals, designing their projects and building showflats but not in a rush with marketing them until sentiments become more conducive for launches, perhaps after Chinese New Year.

'It's a different story for developers of hotels and offices and to some extent industrial facilities. These sectors are experiencing a space shortage, especially for hotels and offices. So developers will rush to proceed with developing such projects once they receive planning approval,' he added.

At least four hotel projects received PP in Q4: CityDev's 257-room property at Sentosa Cove, CGH Group's 272-room hotel in Tanjong Pagar, Haggai Institute for Advanced Leadership Training's 180-room facility at Fairy Point Hill in Changi, and Hotel Grand Central's 328-room hotel in Little India.

Two separate office developments on 99-year sites at Anson Road - by a unit of LaSalle Asia Opportunity Fund III, and by a Mapletree Investments subsidiary - clinched PP in Q4. URA also gave its nod for 144,870 sq metres (gross floor area) of office space and 5,530 sq m of retail space at Marina Bay Financial Centre's Phase 2.

Also receiving the same approval were two transitional office projects on 15-year leasehold sites next to Newton MRT Station and in Tampines.

Among a string of industrial projects obtaining PP in Q4 were Ascendas Real Estate Investment Trust's 74,660 sq metre business park project at Changi Business Park Ave 3 and HG Metal Manufacturing's factory at Jurong Port Road. Jurong Port Pte Ltd also received approval to build a 10,240 sq metre extension to its existing warehouse at Jurong Port Rd and URA gave the green light for StorHub Self Storage to develop a warehouse project at Simei Avenue/Tampines St 92.