Thursday, February 21, 2008

Parkway's Hospital In Novena To Be Ready By 2011

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 21 February 2008

Parkway Holdings says its upcoming hospital in Novena will be ready by 2011.

The hospital, to be built at the junction of Novena Terrace and Irrawaddy Road, aims to meet the expected increase in demand for hospital beds.

The Parkway Group expects the Singapore market to have a shortfall of as many as 2,000 private patient beds by 2012.

Unveiling detailed plans for its fourth hospital in Singapore, Parkway said the proposed 17-storey hospital will have 72,350 square metres of gross buildable area and will offer 350 beds.

The new hospital will focus on four key areas of treatment - cardiology, orthopaedics, oncology and surgery.

It will also have medical suites and outpatient specialty centres, diagnostic and treatment services, inpatient care, and public and retail spaces.

Parkway put in a bid of S$1.2 billion dollars for the site, a figure that was five times higher than what was offered by a rival listed hospital operator. - CNA/ac

URA Releases Site In Tanjong Pagar For Hotel Development

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 21 February 2008

A 30-storey hotel is set to be built on a reserve site at Gopeng Street/Peck Seah Street, the Urban Redevelopment Authority revealed on Thursday.

The land parcel, which spans just over 2,300 square metres, is one of the two new hotel sites being released under the government land sales programme for the first half of 2008.

The 99-year leasehold site can generate a maximum permissible gross floor area of about 19,415 square metres.

Located within the Tanjong Pagar area, the site is near several hotels serving the business community and foreign visitors.

Under the government's reserve list system, a reserve site will only be put up for tender if a developer puts in a minimum bid acceptable to the government. - CNA/ac

Singapore Power Building Sold

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 21 February 2008

The 17-storey Singapore Power Building on Somerset Road has been sold.

Pacific Star Group did not disclose the price it paid but it is believed to be close to S$1 billion.

The property group described the transaction as a landmark deal and one of the largest commercial real estate deals transacted in Singapore to date.

It is planning a makeover of the 30-year-old property. Part of the plans will be to introduce retail and dining space.

It currently has a total net lettable area of 550,000 square feet.

The initial makeover may involve building a double-storey glass facade along Somerset Road to help retailers maximise shop frontages.

The first phase of the building's transformation is scheduled for completion in the second half of 2009.

The building was previously jointly owned by Singapore Power and PUB. - CNA/ir

OCBC's Q4 Net Profit Down 16% To $428m

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 21 February 2008

Singapore's Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC) said Thursday its fourth quarter net profit fell 16 percent from a year ago in the absence of one-time gains and higher expenses offsetting strong revenues.

Net profit was S$428 million compared with S$510 million a year ago when it was bloated by divestment gains. Revenue totalled S$1.08 billion, up 19 percent from the same period last year, the bank said in a statement.

Net interest income - difference between the interest earned and interest paid on deposits and other liabilities - climbed 25 percent from the year before and 9.0 percent from the previous three months as loans expanded.

Non-interest income, including earnings from fees and commissions, was up 12 percent from the same quarter last year.

Expenses during the quarter jumped 42 percent to S$485 million as the bank raised salaries and gave out incentives.

For the full year, net profit rose 3.0 percent to S$2.07 billion on revenue of S$4.12 billion, up an annual 29 percent, on higher income from interest and fees.

OCBC's loan book rose 19 percent, boosted by growth in business loans in Singapore, Malaysia and other overseas markets.

Expenses for the financial year rose 26 percent to S$1.68 billion, about 41 percent of which was associated with overseas business expansion in China and Indonesia.

For the full year, OCBC said it made allowances of S$226 million for investments in collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) with some exposure to risky US mortgages.

Bank chief executive David Conner was cautious about prospects for 2008. "Given the ongoing concerns over the effects of the US sub-prime crisis and a possible US recession, the economic outlook for 2008 is uncertain," he said.

"We will nevertheless continue to work hard to deliver growth by expanding
our customer franchise throughout the region." - AFP/ir

Why Is Brother's Flat Cheaper?

Source : The Electric New Paper, February 21, 2008

HDB says prices of new flats pegged to current resale prices, flats in outer areas cheaper

# Brother buys flat last year. Now, he wants to buy one

# Same block, same floor, same size, so...

HIS brother had bought a new four-room HDB flat for $280,000 under the Balloting Exercise last February.

Earlier this month, he applied to buy a similar unit there, only to find out that the price had gone up to $364,000 - an increase of about 30 per cent.

The unit was the same size and was even on the same floor and block in Bukit Merah.

The buyer, a manager who wanted to be known only as Andy, felt that the price increase did not make sense.

'I was shocked when I saw the price online. Even my brother couldn't believe it. If there's no change in construction cost since the block is already built, why did the price go up?

'In general, the prices of flats in that area have increased, but not by such a huge jump.

'What's the explanation for the hike?' he asked.

HDB said that it is not appropriate to compare the twoprices as there is a one-year difference between the two sales launches.

In the pricing of new flats, HDB said it takes into account the market values of equivalent resale flats in the area.

The HDB resale market did exceptionally well last year, and prices increased by 17.5 per cent compared to year 2006.

Andy, who is in his 40s, decided to apply for a four-room flat in Bukit Merah despite having to pay more than his brother.

Blocks of HDB flats at Bukit Merah, one of the most popular HDB estates in Singapore.

He is currently living in a HDB flat in the central part of Singapore.

'I've little choice. I want to live near my mum, who is living with my brother,' he said.

But another home-owner we spoke to in that estate is more than happy with the increased value of her new flat, even though she will not be able to sell it for five years.

Housewife Joyce Soh, 37, saw her flat's value go up by more than 20 per cent in a year.

She had bought the five-room flat last year and moved in three months ago.

She paid $408,000 for a 1,184sqft unit on the 24th floor.

Today, a similar-sized unit in the same block is going for about $502,800 in the latest Balloting Exercise, although it is on a lower floor, according to information from HDB's website.


Ms Soh, who relocated from Taman Ho Swee, said she is not surprised by the increase in price.

'This location is very central and it's near the city,' she said.

'Prices of other HDB flats in this area are also some of the highest, too,' she said.

Bukit Merah is one of the most sought-after HDB estates due its proximity to town.

Record prices have become the norm in this estate and in nearby Queenstown.

Last June, a five-room flat in Bukit Merah was sold for $720,000.

In January, an executive flat in nearby Queenstown was sold for a whopping $890,000 - one of the most expensive Housing Board flats in the country.

PropNex CEO Mohamed Ismail said it is unusual for prices of newflats to increase by such a huge percentage within a year.

He said it could be because flatprices for the Balloting Exercise (BE) last February were decided before the HDB market started to pick up during that quarter.

Mr Ismail also said that the HDBresale price increased by only 2 per cent for the whole of2006.

Last year, HDB resale prices rose by 1.3 per cent in the firstquarter and soared to 6.6 per cent in the third quarter.

Mr Eric Cheng, executive director of HSR Property group, said that market valuation for resale flats has gone up at least 30per cent compared to last year.

Mr Cheng said: 'If resale prices increase, logically, new flat prices will increase too.

'And prices in Bukit Merah are also higher because of location and amenities.'

Axing Death Tax A Boon To The Middle Class

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 21, 2008
A SINGAPORE manufacturer did his sums after Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam scrapped estate duty last Friday.

He was surprised to discover that his family would save at least $200,000, based on his assets of a terrace house, cash in the bank, Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings, shares and his stake in the company.

‘I didn’t know it would have cost me so much,’ said the 57-year-old, who put his net worth at about $6 million. He spoke to The Straits Times on condition that he would not be named.

‘But you can’t tailor your life to avoid estate duty. I focus on my business and how to make a profit.’

Last Friday, that death tax - known as estate duty - a legacy of the British colonial administration, was laid to rest when Mr Tharman announced its demise in Parliament.

Estate duty kicked in when a person died and left assets worth over a certain threshold. Most people thought it affected only the very rich.

In fact, with rising affluence, a growing number of middle- and upper-middle income earners were also liable.

Many had accumulated more than $600,000 of assets in cash, shares and other such assets in their lifetime, said KPMG tax services executive director Ooi Boon Jin.

‘If you had CPF savings of up to $600,000 already, and if you had $700,000 of cash and shares outside CPF, that entire $700,000 was technically subject to estate duty,’ he said. ‘It was a significant ‘cost of death’ and did not affect very rich people only.’

Indeed, tax experts say the abolition of estate duty will benefit the middle class in particular. Unlike the very rich, this group may not have had the resources to set up trusts and other legal arrangements that would have enabled them to sidestep death duty.

Mr Dennis Khoo, general manager of Standard Chartered’s wealth-management division, said many rich people minimised death duty by holding more assets in residential property - rather than stocks, cash and insurance.

Estate-duty rules tended to encourage people to channel money into property because it had a much higher exemption threshold than other assets.

Those wealthy enough were also advised to set up a trust, a legal arrangement enabling them to give away their assets, such as shares and property , to named beneficiaries. A trustee, typically an institution, administers the trust. A very basic trust to hold as little as $50,000 cost $3,000 to $5,000 to set up, with an annual fee of about $1,000 to $2,000.

‘It is true that there were mechanisms for minimising or avoiding estate duty, but these were the domain of the wealthy end of the scale as they could involve quite complex and expensive arrangements,’ said PricewaterhouseCoopers tax partner David Sandison.

On a broader level, one of the more significant impacts of scrapping the death tax is that it may attract new wealth. Well-heeled families may be encouraged to live in Singapore permanently and keep their assets here.

The Government stands to lose about $75 million a year from estate duty. ‘But it’s not a huge loss to the Budget,’ said chief executive of LGT Bank in Liechtenstein (Singapore), Mr Rolf Gerber.

The pros outweigh the cons, he said.

Doing away with estate duty, he explained, will encourage wealthy foreigners to move here as they will not face the ‘added layer’ of cost of death duty. Long-time rival wealth centre Hong Kong did away with its death tax three years ago, he said.

Dr Francois Monnet, Credit Suisse’s head of private banking in South-east Asia and Australasia, also expects that wealthy individuals will be encouraged to move their wealth here and take up permanent residence.

Countries such as Britain, Japan and South Korea still have estate duties, whereas Malaysia and Australia have abolished theirs.

Mr Michael Troth, head of global wealth structuring (Asia-Pacific) at Citi Global Wealth Management, said scrapping the tax removed a negative perception about Singapore.

‘Prior to last Friday, it was felt that as Hong Kong had abolished its estate tax a couple of years ago, somehow it must be more attractive to invest there than in Singapore,’ he said.

‘By abolishing estate duty in Singapore there is no issue any more, either perceived or actual, and Hong Kong and Singapore are on a level playing field as far as estate tax is concerned.’

There is another potential boon. Private bankers hope wealthy people spared the death tax will be encouraged to give back more to society.

‘It will be great to see new names and new donors enter the fray of giving, especially the new rich and also rich immigrants,’ said Ms Tan Su Shan, managing director and head of Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei for Citi Private Bank.

Still, the smart money believes that in order to attract more assets to Singapore, other measures are needed too.

Abolishing estate duty alone is unlikely to attract a ‘tidal wave’ of assets to the wealth-management industry here, said UBS Wealth Management’s wealth-planning consultant, Mr Bill Lexmond.

He singled out the issue of the taxing of Singapore-based and managed assets. Now, there is an incentive for assets to be held outside Singapore as individuals here have a ‘blanket exemption’ from taxes on all foreign-sourced income, while only certain Singapore-sourced income is tax exempt, he said.

Mr Lexmond believes the Family-Owned Investment Holding Company Investment Scheme, a proposed new incentive aimed at attracting assets to Singapore, due to be unveiled by May by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, must be broad enough to address this.

‘This incentive should apply to all returns from investments for qualifying family-owned investment holding companies,’ he said.

What estate duty entailed

THE first $9 million of residential property and the first $600,000 of all other assets, including Central Provident Fund savings were exempt from the now-abolished estate duty.

Amounts above those thresholds attracted the duty. The rate was 5 per cent of the first $12 million and 10 per cent of anything above that.

Estate duty had to be paid within the first six months after a person’s death or penalties and interest applied.

The amount of estate duties collected for financial year 2007 was about $147 million, according to the Ministry of Finance.

ARA Aims To Double Asset Portfolio In Three Years

Source : The Business Times, February 21, 2008

It seeks to expand geographically, and into new asset sectors to cross $20b

SEEMINGLY undaunted by the global credit crunch, real estate fund and Reit manager ARA Asset Management is aiming to double its assets under management to more than $20 billion by 2011.

‘We have positioned ourselves to double what we have today in three years’ time,’ chief executive John Lim told BT in an interview.

ARA’s total assets under management stood at $10.4 billion at the end of last year - a jump from the $6.7 billion in assets the company was managing at the end of 2006.

ARA, which derives its income mainly from managing real estate investment trusts ( Reits ) and private real estate funds, is seeking to expand geographically and into new asset sectors to hit its target portfolio size.

Right now, the company is focused on office and retail properties in Singapore and Hong Kong.

But it plans to look at India, Japan, Australia and the Middle East for growth, Mr Lim said. He is also keen to branch out into the fast-growing hospitality and industrial sectors.

Related link: Click here for ARA Asset Management’s financial results

Mr Lim is undaunted by the global credit crunch. While he admits that fund-raising is getting more competitive, he said that there is still plenty of capital out there.

‘Banks might be more reluctant to lend, yes,’ Mr Lim said. ‘But when it comes to US pension funds or money from the Middle East, there is still plenty of money waiting to be invested.’

ARA divested a Syariah- compliant private real estate fund last October, recording an internal rate of return of 23.7 per cent. The fund was set up in August 2004 with $100 million in committed capital.

ARA now intends to establish a second Syariah- compliant fund this year, Mr Lim said.

ARA’s performance is also not likely to take a hit this year even in the face of the global market downturn, he said. The company has a good locked-in income stream in the form of base fees and performance fees for the Reits it manages, as well as portfolio management fees from its US$1.5 billion ARA Asia Dragon Fund, which closed last September.

ARA’s 2008 financial performance should outstrip last year’s, Mr Lim said. In particular, full-year contribution from ARA Asia Dragon fund is expected to provide a ’significant boost’ to revenue this year, he said.

ARA yesterday reported that its 2007 net profit rose 153 per cent to $34 million, up from 2006’s $13.5 million.

Revenue for the year ended Dec 31, 2007, rose 98 per cent to $62.1 million - from $31.3 million in 2006 - as the company brought in higher management, acquisition and performance fees.

Net margin rose from 43 per cent to 55 per cent. Earnings per share rose from 2.64 cents to 6.53 cents.

The company will pay out a final dividend of 3.8 cents a share, it said.

ARA, which is 16 per cent owned by Hong Kong’s Cheung Kong Holdings, was listed on the Singapore Exchange last November, with an initial offer price of $1.15 a share. The stock closed 0.5 cent down at 71.5 cents yesterday.

Plan To Defer Public Works Will Have Little Impact: Report

Source : The Business Times, February 21, 2008

CONSTRUCTION industry experts are seeking to play down the significance of the government's moves to ease the pressure on the industry's costs.

The government is intending to defer an additional $1 billion worth of public-sector projects to help the industry - a move that follows the decision last November to postpone $2 billion worth of projects.

A report by construction cost consultancy Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) said that the deferring of public-sector projects 'is expected to have a limited impact on relieving construction demand as it will represent around 10 per cent of annual demand'.

Latest estimates by the Building and Construction Authority value construction contracts awarded this year at up to $27billion.

RLB's latest figures for its tender price index shows that it also increased by 23 per cent as at the end of the third quarter last year. It said that rising construction costs are attributed to increased costs of foreign construction labour and professional expertise, materials and equipment costs, as well as on- and off-site overheads.

Indicative construction costs of an office building in the CBD of up to 41-55 storeys is between $353- $438.5 psf of gross floor area (GFA).

The construction costs of a luxury condominium is between $325.2 and $441.3 psf of GFA, while a five-star hotel will cost between $464.5 and $627 psf of GFA to build.

Good quality retail space costs $311-$367 psf of GFA to build.

In terms of key construction materials, concreting sand has shown the highest year-on-year increase, jumping 160.3 per cent as at November 2007. The price of granite aggregate increased by 32.1 per cent in the same period while the price of ready mix concrete increased by 71.4 per cent.

However, RLB noted that prices did generally 'moderate to a downward trend' for the second half of 2007, the period that coincides with the start of the US sub-prime loans crisis and the global credit crunch.

Indeed, RLB added: 'Whilst the Singapore construction market will be somewhat buffered in the short term by existing development commitments within the domestic market, it will be difficult to predict the impact of the global financial crisis in the medium run.'

RLB does believe that on the back of rising crude oil prices and growing building activity particularly in the Middle East, China and India, price gains are anticipated for the first half of 2008.

Citing other industry sources, RLB said that world steel demand is forecast to reach over 1.45 million tonnes in 2011, which represents an 88 per cent growth in the ten years from 2001.

'However, a slowdown in the rate of demand growth is anticipated towards the end of the current decade,' it added.

一年前放宽条例以来 越来越多人申请 将整间组屋出租

《联合早报》Feb 21, 2008











新加坡国立大学经济系副教授谢妮春日前受访时说,即将在2013年启动的“公积金终身入息计划”(CPF Life)不应该是国人的唯一收入来源,年长屋主也可从组屋套取现金,作为额外收入。




Dennis Wee房地产经纪行董事许家荣说,组屋租金过去一年上涨不少,平均增加15%左右。四房式组屋月租介于1500元至1800元;五房式介于1800元至2200元;公寓式组屋则是2000元至2500元之间。










CapitaLand, HPL Sue Eight Owners Of Gillman Heights

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 21, 2008

Developers claim contract breach as owners seek ruling over validity of sale

A GROUP of home owners in Gillman Heights Condominium are being sued by the estate's buyers for alleged breach of contract.

LEGAL ACTION: CapitaLand and Hotel Properties, which have agreed to buy the 607-unit Gillman Heights Condominium in Alexandra Road for $548 million, are claiming the eight home owners are breaching their contractual obligations. -- PHOTO: CAPITALAND

They face legal action by CapitaLand and Hotel Properties (HPL), which have agreed to buy the sprawling 607-unit estate in Alexandra Road.

The eight owners, who together own four units, had filed an application to the High Court last Monday. They want to know if a supplementary deal to the original collective sale agreement is valid.

The developers responded yesterday, claiming the action breached the owners' contractual obligations, which includes an undertaking not to do anything detrimental to the sale process.

However, the owners argue that they need their question about the sale deal answered by the High Court before they can be said to have assumed such contractual obligations.

Their question stems from Gillman Heights' unusually complex sale process, which involved two collective sale agreements. The original expired on June 22 last year, and a supplementary agreement was tacked on to extend it. Most majority sellers signed both; minority owners did not sign either one.

The eight owners being sued said they, and some others, signed the first deal but not the supplementary one.

They say they are caught in a unique position between the majority and minority owners. The group also claims that some of the signatures on the supplementary agreement came in after the deadline. If these tardy signings were excluded, the second agreement may not reach the required 80 per cent owners' consent.

'All they want is a judge to decide whether there was a valid extension or not, and if not, what are the consequences,' said lawyer N.Sreenivasan of Straits Law, which is representing the eight owners.

'Collective sales are in fact a form of compulsory acquisition, and even those who have signed the collective sale agreement have only agreed to tie themselves up for a fixed period of time.'

Mr Pang Tee Lian and his wife are among the eight owners facing legal action. Mr Pang, 59, said yesterday: 'We know we're fighting someone with very deep pockets, so we're scared. But we're also frustrated.'

'In my mind, a collective sale is a win-win situation, with a happy seller and happy buyer. We're not out to make an extra buck for the fun of it,' added Mr Pang, a general manager at an architectural firm. 'We just don't know where we stand: Are we the majority or minority?'

In fact, groups representing both majority and minority owners have also clashed with CapitaLand and HPL, which last year agreed to pay $548 million for Gillman Heights.

At least one unhappy majority seller circulated letters among his neighbours earlier this year calling for a concerted action to invalidate the sale. CapitaLand responded with a series of legal letters threatening to sue for breach of contract.

In the meantime, the condo's minority owners want the High Court to overturn the sale, which got the go-ahead in December from the Strata Titles Board, the body that governs collective sales.

Their appeal hearing will take place next Monday.

This series of legal clashes is fast becoming an eerie echo of the prolonged tussle over the collective sale of Horizon Towers in Leonie Hill.

That struggle started last May after some majority owners tried to back out of the deal. They were subsequently sued by the buyers - which incidentally include HPL - while minority owners are now appealing against the sale.

Property row

'We know we're fighting someone with very deep pockets, so we're scared. But we're also frustrated...We just don't know where we stand: Are we the majority or minority?'

MR PANG, explaining why he and seven other home owners filed the application to the High Court

'Any extension must be very carefully scrutinised.'

MR N.SREENIVASAN of Straits Law, which is representing the home owners

Weak US$ Lures Foreign Buyers To US Property

Source : The Business Times, February 21, 2008

Florida is the most popular state, accounting for 26% of all transactions

(MIAMI) Canadian retiree Sheldon Kovensky felt the lure that attracts so many foreign buyers to sunny Florida these days - falling prices for luxurious oceanfront condos that can be bought with weak US dollars.

Mr Kovensky has been scouring south Florida from Miami Beach to Palm Beach in search of a three-bedroom apartment on the sand.

Armed with a Canadian dollar that has gained 25 per cent against the greenback in the last two years, he is expecting a big bargain.

'We're hoping to get an apartment worth about a million (US dollars) that I can purchase for about 20 per cent less,' he said by phone from his home in Unionville, Ontario, as he faced digging out from a snowstorm.

'The Canadian dollar is on par and the Florida market has dropped 20 to 30 per cent, so you get a lot of bang for your buck,' he added.

Realtors, analysts and buyers said that the strength of the Canadian dollar, the euro and other foreign currencies, on top of a falling real estate market, is making the United States an enticing place for foreigners looking to buy property.

In fact, they said, the combination of the weak US dollar and the allure of Miami as a cosmopolitan, multilingual city may be helping to prop up a faltering, overbuilt condo market that had been expected to crash but has seen, to date, only a small drop in prices compared to other Florida cities.

In a study by the National Association of Realtors last year, Florida was the top destination for foreign buyers, accounting for 26 per cent of all transactions, ahead of California at 16, Texas at 10 and Arizona at 6 per cent.

More than 7 per cent of all Florida homes were sold to foreigners, the study found, and 65 per cent of realtors said that they had brokered at least one foreign deal.

Online property auction site in December reported a record number of foreign visitors, citing the weakness of the US dollar as a key contributor.

Jan de Vetten, a Dutch toy trader who has built a side business helping friends and business associates buy Florida homes, said that in some cases they are getting properties at half price.

'They negotiate typically 25 to 30 per cent off the asking price and the euro is almost a dollar and a half now, so they probably have another 10 to 15 per cent in value,' he said.

Foreign buying was also reported brisk in Arizona, New York and elsewhere.

In New York, Manhattan's average sales price soared to a record US$1.4 million in the fourth quarter last year as foreigners pushed up demand.

In Phoenix, cash-toting Canadians are snapping up second properties, mostly high-end homes on golf courses as refuges from the harsh winter, agents said. Many hail from Calgary, Canada's oil boomtown.

'There's definitely some Canadian money in town,' said Julie Goodman, a Remax agent who said that she had sold six properties and had another four families coming this month for visits. 'They pay cash and know that cash talks.'

After the US market peaked in late 2005 and the sub-prime mortgage crisis set in, sales and prices began tumbling across Florida. The worst was felt in west coast cities like Punta Gorda, where condo sales fell 50 per cent, and Fort Myers, where the median price of an apartment fell 21 per cent in 2007.

While Miami sales fell - 39 per cent for existing single-family homes and 41 per cent for condos - median prices remained resilient before finally weakening in December 2007.

For the year, the median Miami condo price rose 6 per cent. But analysts expected a drop in coming months as thousands of new condo units come onto the market.

The weakness in the greenback, agents said, is attracting buyers to Miami from continental Europe, Scandinavia and Canada in addition to the traditional influx of cash from volatile South American countries, particularly Venezuela.

A strong pound has Britons looking outside their traditional stomping ground in Orlando, Florida, said Vani Ungapen, director of research at the Florida Association of Realtors.

'Most of them are buying high-end homes,' she said. 'They are looking for a big house with a swimming pool, and you can't buy that in London.'

Brokers said that Miami Beach's famous South Beach district is luring Italians, French and Germans; Russians are flocking to Sunny Isles Beach to the north; Venezuelans who may be fearing socialist President Hugo Chavez are buying in Doral, to the west.

Miami broker Brigitte Benichay said that middle- class French entrepreneurs are eager to join a 30,000-strong French community in Miami and open businesses here.

'Because of the strength of the euro, they are paying cash,' she said. 'Eighty per cent of the ones I meet want to pay all cash. Business is very strong.'

The Beacon Council, Miami's business development agency, said that foreign businesses are increasingly setting up shop in the city.

The number of multinational projects it is working on has virtually doubled in five years, and those companies are bringing employees interested in buying property.

'The economic market here is diversified. We're not any longer dependent on one industry, like tourism, or on one region, like Latin America,' president Frank Nero said.

Despite explosive price increases in recent years, Mr Nero said, prices can look cheap to someone from Paris or Madrid. -- Reuters

UOL Still Bullish On Office Rentals

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 21, 2008


OFFICE rents have been skyrocketing over the past 12 months but property group UOL Group reckons there will still be further rises to come.

The firm reported stellar full-year results yesterday. It said rents for retail space should benefit from high levels of employment, as well as strong tourist arrivals, although the pace of increase will moderate.

UOL is cautiously optimistic about the residential market and will launch three projects this year - Nassim Park Residences, Breeze by the East in the East Coast area and Green Meadows opposite Peirce Reservoir.

Its plans came with news yesterday of a 124 per cent jump in net profits to $758.9 million, on the back of a hefty revaluation gain.

The gain of $590.5 million on UOL's investment properties boosted profit to such an extent that they exceeded revenue, which came in 18 per cent higher at $709.1 million for the 12 months to Dec 31.

Revenue from hotels was higher, due to improved numbers from hotels in Singapore, Australia and Vietnam. The inclusion of revenues from the former Negara on Claymore, now known as Pan Pacific Orchard, and subsidiary Pan Pacific Hotels & Resorts, also helped.

Full-year earnings per share rose from 42.72 cents to 95.38 cents, while net asset value per share rose to $4.96 per share as at Dec 31 last year from $3.97 previously. A final dividend of 10 cents a share and a special dividend of five cents apiece were declared.

UOL Profit Doubles On Valuation Gains

Source : The Business Times, February 21, 2008

Group to launch 3 freehold condos this year even as it sees cautious market

UOL Group, which yesterday posted a 124 per cent jump in group net profit to $758.9 million on the back of $590.5 million in fair value gain on investment properties, is planning to launch three freehold condos this year.

They are the 100-unit Nassim Park Residences, an 88-unit boutique development named Breeze by the East, and a 401-unit condo on the former Green Meadows site along Upper Thomson Road. opposite Peirce Reservoir.

In its outlook for the current year, UOL said: 'Following the strong price appreciation in 2007 and with the removal of deferred payment scheme and the turmoil in the global financial markets, the residential property market has turned cautious and any price appreciation is expected to be modest.'

However, the group's hotels should benefit from high occupancy and improved average room rates, it added.

The group also has exposure to the office market through Novena Square, United Square, Odeon Towers and Faber House, which analysts say should provide UOL with upside from positive rental reversions.

UOL also owns Velocity and United Square retail malls.

The group did not list its Q4 performance, but comparing the full-year results with that for the first nine months, net profit for the quarter ended Dec 31, 2007 came to $332.1 million, up 43.3 per cent from the same year-ago period.

On its latest full-year performance, UOL said that even excluding fair value gains and exceptional items, profit surged 72 per cent to $273.2 million. The increase came from higher income from property development, quoted investments, property investments and hotel operations.

'Operating profit from property development grew by 117 per cent compared to 2006, while operating profit from hotel operations and property investments increased by 45 per cent and 10 per cent respectively,' UOL said.

Full-year group revenue rose 18 per cent to $709.1 million. UOL said that it benefited from the progressive recognition of revenues from the sale of residential projects like Duchess Residences, Pavilion 11, Southbank, and The Regency at Tiong Bahru.

And despite the exclusion of revenue from Parkroyal on Coleman Street which was sold in December 2006, revenue from hotel operations was higher, due to improved performance of the group's hotels in Australia, Singapore and Vietnam and the inclusion of revenues from Pan Pacific Orchard (formerly Negara on Claymore) and Pan Pacific Hotels & Resorts Pte Ltd, which were acquired in June 2006 and July 2007 respectively.

UOL's net asset value per share rose to $4.96 as at Dec 31, 2007 from $3.97 as at end-2006 on the back of capital appreciation of office and retail properties and quoted investments.

UOL's listed hotel arm Hotel Plaza reported a 26 per cent drop in net earnings for the year ended Dec 31, 2007 to nearly $85 million - due to the absence of exceptional gains from the sale of Parkroyal on Coleman Street, although this was partly offset by better operating performance from the group's hotels, as well as lower interest expense and the recognition of $49.3 million in fair value gain on investment properties.

Hotel Plaza's group revenue increased a mere one per cent to $290.2 million, again due to the absence of contribution from Parkroyal on Coleman Street which was divested in late 2006. Hotel Plaza's Q4 net earnings - based on comparing the full-year and nine-month results - fell 52.1 per cent to $44.8 million.

Hotel Plaza is proposing a five-cent per share (one-tier) first & final dividend. UOL shareholders will receive a 10-cent per share first & final dividend and a five-cent per share special dividend. Both payouts are one tier.

Mass-Market Safe, High-End May Take A Hit

Source : The Business Times, February 21, 2008

Property players sketch the best and worst-case scenarios for private homes in 2008

Luxury-home prices could fall by up to 20 per cent in 2008, assuming sub-prime woes don't end this year. But the mass market may hold its own or ease 5-10 per cent at most. This was the worst-case scenario according to most property players polled by BT.

In a best-case scenario with sub-prime woes clearing by mid-year, high-end prices could rise up to 10 per cent and mass-market homes as much as 15-20 per cent, the majority of respondents said.

The most optimistic is Jones Lang LaSalle Research, which forecasts an 18-22 per cent increase in luxury/prime prices and a 20-25 per cent gain in mass-market prices in a best-case scenario.

Sales activity is generally expected to be quiet in the first half, before picking up in the second half. 'Interest is still very much there, but investors see no strong push factor to get into the market just yet,' says DTZ executive director Ong Choon Fah.

Most developers and property consultants are hoping the sub-prime-related gloom will vanish in the second half. Voicing a common view in the industry, City Developments group general manager Chia Ngiang Hong said: 'We expect the situation to improve after mid-year. Most of the high-profile sub-prime-related write-downs by major international financial institutions are already out. Hopefully, the rest of the write-downs, if any, should be out by March/April. This current period is good for consolidation.'

UOL Group chief operating officer Liam Wee Sin said: 'If the sub-prime episode is short-lived, it can be seen as a welcome breather for the Singapore property market. Both home and land prices in the high-end segment escalated too quickly, especially in Q2 and Q3 last year.'

But Wing Tai deputy chairman Edmund Cheng feels it may not be realistic to expect sub-prime problems to fade away by mid-year. 'They are likely to linger beyond this year, as the exposure has extended to many other areas, and it may still take some time for the full extent of exposure to be discovered,' he said.

But on a more positive note, he believes mid/ upper-mid projects near Orchard Road will be more resilient 'as they should benefit from demand for replacement properties by those who have sold prime district homes through en bloc sales, as well as demand from expats who find prime district housing too expensive'.

Agreeing, Credo Real Estate managing director Karamjit Singh thinks mid-tier private home prices will appreciate 10-15 per cent this year in a best-case scenario, outpacing his estimate of gains of 10 per cent for the suburban/mass market and 5-10 per cent for upmarket homes.

In the high-end category, many property analysts with stockbroking firms see an oversupply of potential launches as sites sold through en bloc sales are redeveloped.

In a worst-case scenario, a major factor that could hurt high-end prices is if demand dries up and 'specu-vestors' who bought luxury homes in the past few years offload them below current prices, as they still stand to reap huge gains given their low entry cost, reckons Knight Frank executive director Peter Ow.

In the primary market too, some smaller developers may drop prices to generate sales. But Mr Ow acknowledges that the bulk of the unlaunched high-end housing stock is in the hands of a few major players who have the financial capacity to delay launching projects. Instead, they could focus on selling their mid-tier and mass-market homes this year to generate cash flow.

Giving his take, a major developer said: 'High-end depends on the appetite of foreign buyers and their perception of liquidity and value in the Singapore market. The strong Sing dollar will help persuade these investors that the property market here will be a good store of value.'

Observers also believe overseas funds are likely to turn increasingly to parking money in Asia, instead of the United States and Europe. Other demand drivers for the Singapore residential sector, especially in the mid and mass segments, include falling mortgage rates, the continued influx of expats from China and India setting up home here, and wage growth arising from the tight labour market.

Most market watchers say the upside for high-end residential prices will be limited even if the sub-prime problem clears around mid-2008.

'Price increases would not so much apply to luxury-class homes as these have already increased significantly since 2005,' CB Richard Ellis managing director Pauline Goh argues.

However, mid-tier homes could appreciate 5-10 per cent and mass-market prices 10-15 per cent this year, assuming things become more positive after June, Ms Goh added.

Frasers Centrepoint CEO Lim Ee Seng said: 'Even in a worst-case scenario, I don't really see mass-market home prices coming down much because construction costs are still going up and that raises the breakeven cost of such projects.'

Knight Frank's Mr Ow says the mass-market will benefit from strong demand from HDB upgraders, given the shortage of HDB homes.

China Firm Is Top Bidder For HDB's Bishan Plot

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 21, 2008

THE results of the most recent tender for a Bishan plot illustrates how foreign players are increasingly making inroads into privately developed public housing here.

China's Qingdao Construction Group Corporation emerged as the top contender for a 1.5ha plot in Bishan Street 24 with a bid of $135.9 million, almost $20 million more than the next bidder.

The Housing Board will evaluate the tender, which closed on Tuesday. It is expected to announce the winning bid in the next two weeks.

Qingdao, which has been building in Singapore for the past nine years, out-bid home-grown Sim Lian Land and a local-foreign joint venture comprising Hoi Hup Realty and Malaysia's Sunway Concrete Products.

Sim Lian's bid of $116 million was the second highest.

Blocks in the Bishan development can go up to about 50 storeys. Qingdao said on Tuesday it will build more than 400 flats on the land.

Qingdao's bid was the equivalent of $237 per sq ft (psf) per plot ratio. ERA Singapore assistant vice-president Eugene Lim estimates the break-even cost at $400 psf, making the selling price of the flats at $440 to $480 psf.

The site is the fourth put up for tender under the HDB's Design, Build and Sell Scheme. This basically gives private developers the freedom to design, build and price flats as long as they work within the general rules of public housing. For example, flats must be easy to maintain and cannot be sold to families earning more than $8,000 a month.

About 1,500 more such flats are being planned for Toa Payoh, Simei and Bedok.

Qingdao, which has more than 20 branches in countries outside China, has been building mainly HDB flats on contract, so the Bishan tender marks its first foray into the local real estate industry as a developer.

Knock-On Effects Of Credit Crisis May Be Dire

Source : The Business Times, February 20, 2008

Painting a very dire picture of what could unfold from the current credit crisis, GIC Asset Management's director of economics and strategy Yeoh Lam Keong said there is a real chance of a systemic financial event and a deep and prolonged US and global recession should there be another round of de-leveraging in the structured credit market.

'The outlook is very difficult and confusing now - the ball is still in the air,' he said at the 9th annual conference of the Investment Management Association of Singapore yesterday.

But any further de-leveraging of the structured credit structure could have serious consequences. 'That is why the policy-makers are going all out to prevent further deterioration.'

Mr Yeoh said there is a 50 per cent chance of the US economy going into a recession. And if there is a recession, the probability is 60 to 70 per cent that it would be a mild one. The remaining 30 per cent probability is the prospect of a deep and prolonged US and global recession.

'If the current slowdown leads to labour shedding, there will be more forced selling of homes and house prices will fall that much faster. This will have severe implications.'

There will be knock-on effect on the other credit sectors, including US household debt which is the highest in the world. Financial institutions will chalk up more losses. 'A US$50 billion here, a US$30 billion there, and soon you are out of capital,' Mr Yeoh said of banks.

'So there is a risk of a severe recession, and it's a high and rising probability,' said Mr Yeoh, who qualified that the opinions were his and not GIC's.

The next sign-post investors should look for is massive layoffs. Once that happens, the question is can policy-makers respond fast enough and with the correct policy to stop the deflationary pressures from getting out of control?

The current credit downturn, added Mr Yeoh, is different from previous ones because the investors affected are very dispersed. 'The investors can't be gathered into a room to arrange for a bail-out. It cuts across jurisdictions.'

Also, coming in an election year, there is the risk that the crisis may develop while the political process carries on, he said.

Also sharing the similar cautious outlook is Aberdeen Asset Management Asia's managing director Hugh Young. 'This time round, it's more worrying than the dot-com bust and the Asian financial crisis. Markets can fall substantially from where they are today,' he said during his panel discussion on Trends in Asian Investments.

But there is some good news, said GIC's Mr Yeoh. For one thing, corporate balance sheets are strong and hence companies are able to hold on to labour. And inventory is lean.

So what could signal that the troubles are ending? When there is accounting and regulatory forbearance, when credit market undershoots its fundamental value and when financial institutions are recapitalised, said Mr Yeoh. A U-shape recovery is preferred over a V-shape one, as the latter will bring inflation to the fore.

'The long-term view is still positive. We are looking at the long-term recovery of investment cycles in Germany and Japan. The US would have worked out its imbalances. It would be a moderate inflation environment as the increase in labour supply will hold down costs,' he said.

Meanwhile during his keynote address, renowned investor Jim Rogers again expounded his well-known views that commodities is the place to be in the next 10 years or more. He is also bullish on Asia. Besides direct investments in commodities, other ways to play his investment ideas include investing in commodity-producing countries like Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia, or water-treatment or power-generation industries in countries like China, or the travel industry which will cater to the millions and millions of tourists from China, he said.

MAS Fears Asia Will Hurt If US Engine Seizes

Source : The Business Times, February 20, 2008

A sharp and deep recession in the United States will hit Asian economies, warned Heng Swee Kiat, managing director, Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), yesterday.

And in his first public comment on the global financial turmoil, Mr Heng said the credit crisis has now started to have an impact on the real economy.

Wading into the debate on whether Asia has de-coupled from the US, Mr Heng said the region has significant links with the world's biggest economy through trade, investment and finance. Only if these linkages are significantly weakened can Asia be said to have de-coupled from the US, he said yesterday at a fund management conference.

Still, the short-term outlook for Asia remains generally positive barring any sharp deterioration in the global economy, he noted. The current forecast is for Asia ex-Japan to grow at a fairly healthy pace of around 7.8 per cent in 2008, one percentage point lower compared to last year.

Structural changes have taken place in Asian economies over the last 10 years, he pointed out. 'Certainly, the fundamentals of the economies and financial markets in Asia have improved significantly since the Asian financial crisis,' he said.

Most Asian economies have large foreign reserves and current account surpluses. There is a sizable educated and skilful labour force, and a growing middle class that forms a broad consumer base, he said.

Asian corporates and households are doing well after four years of robust growth. Asian capital markets are better developed. Asian banks are better capitalised, have less bad loans, and are better supervised and managed.

'These are significant changes. However, a long-term or structural de-coupling of Asia from the US is possible only when the economic linkages through trade, investment and finance are significantly weaker,' said Mr Heng.

Studies by MAS, and other economists, show that this is not the case at this stage, he pointed out.

What we are likely to see, however, is the weaker synchronisation of business cycles, he said.

'The underlying momentum in the Asian economies will allow Asia to ride out the slowdown in the US if it is mild and short-lived. But a sharp and deep contraction will trigger the threshold where all economies will be affected, albeit in different degrees depending on their reliance on external demand,' said Mr Heng.

On the global financial turmoil, Mr Heng said the credit crisis has now started to have an impact on the real economy.

Policy makers are facing the challenge of how to contain the spread of the credit crisis to the real economy, he noted.

'What is striking is that the securitisation of loans was meant to be a mechanism for risk transfer. Instead, it became a channel through which shocks are amplified and transmitted throughout the system in unpredictable ways. These shocks have now started to have an impact on the real economy,' he said.

In the US, the housing-sector correction is leading the slowdown in the economy. Consumer spending is constrained by high debt levels. Financial institutions have sustained large losses. And this is driving the turn of the credit cycle, which means restraint on both consumer spending and corporate investments.

Indeed, at this point there is a risk of being caught in a negative spiral involving tighter credit standards, reduced credit availability and slowing down of the macro economy.

'The extent to which this spiral takes hold determines the extent of the US slowdown, and the extent to which the rest of the world will be affected,' said Mr Heng.

'Hence, the immediate challenge for policy makers is to contain the spread of the credit crisis to the real economy, to prevent this spiral.'

The full extent of the exposures is not yet known and central banks face different degrees of slowdown and inflationary pressures in their economies, he explained.

According to Mr Heng, a multi-pronged approach coordinated across jurisdictions, where necessary, was needed to tackle these challenges. 'The situation is fluid, and we need to remain vigilant.'

Restrict Frequency Of Costly En Bloc EGMs

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 21, 2008

Each meeting costs $15,000; depletes management funds

THE process of calling for extraordinary general meetings (EGMs) for the purpose of an en bloc sale can be abused because of a legislative loophole.

Over the past five months, three such costly meetings have been held in my condominium estate, Bayshore Park, in a bid to form a collective sales committee.

The first, which was held on Sept 29 last year, was void because it did not follow the new law for collective sales. At that time, the pro-tem sales committee did not heed the prudent advice to wait for the new law which was about to be enforced. The committee went ahead and held the EGM under the old law. As a result, almost $15,000 of our management and sinking funds was spent wastefully.

The second meeting, on Jan 12 this year, was cancelled as a quorum in share value could not be reached on time. Again, $15,000 more from our funds was expended.

To my dismay, a request for a third meeting was submitted to the Management Committee four days after the second was cancelled. The third meeting is now scheduled to be held on Saturday. Guess what: We will have to use $15,000 more from the funds to organise the meeting.

I do not know if this meeting will succeed. But I am quite certain that if it fails, yet another attempt will be made to hold a fourth, draining even more money from our fund.

Under the current law, there are no restrictions on the frequency with which such meetings for the appointment of a collective sales committee can be requested. As a result, residents of condominiums like mine are exposed to a virtually endless stream of EGM requests. These threaten to deplete a condominium's management and sinking funds.

Private estates like Bayshore Park need help from the Government and the Strata Titles Board to regulate the frequency of requests for such meetings in the bid by some to form a sales committee.

Please set a reasonable guideline for the frequency with which these meetings can be called.

I understand that laws for en bloc sales must remain flexible to allow property owners to take advantage of the opportunities that may arise in the property market. But the property market doesn't change as dramatically as the frequency with which such meetings were called in my estate.

I hope the Strata Titles Board will address this legislative loophole, to protect our management and sinking funds, and prevent the deterioration of the maintenance and value of our homes.

Mona Liew Tan Lee (Mdm)

UOL Posts 134% Jump In Full-Year Profit To Record S$759m

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 20 February 2008

Property developer United Overseas Land (UOL) has more than doubled its profit for 2007, helped by a S$590.5 million gain from investment properties.

Net earnings jumped 134 percent to a record S$759 million, boosted by higher income from property development, quoted investments, property investments and hotel operations.

Revenue rose 18 percent to S$709 million. The group benefited from the progressive recognition of revenues from the sale of residential projects such as Duchess Residences, Pavilion 11, Southbank, and The Regency at Tiong Bahru.

UOL's hotel portfolio continues to perform well, especially in Singapore, Australia and Vietnam.

The developer says it remains cautiously optimistic about the property market in Singapore. It expects positive demand especially in the office and retail property sector.

UOL plans to launch 3 residential properties this year - Nassim Park Residences, a boutique project at Upper East Coast called Breeze by the East, and a site formerly known as Green Meadows along Upper Thomson Road. - CNA/ch

CapitaLand Sues 4 Gillman Heights Condo Owners For Breach Of Contract

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 20 February 2008

Capitaland is suing the owners of four units of Gillman Heights condominium for breach of contract.

It is also seeking unspecified damages.

The owners, who belonged to a majority group, had agreed to sell their units in a collective sale agreement with CapitaLand in February last year.

CapitaLand is paying S$548 million for the 607-unit estate and the deal has also received the approval of the Strata Titles Board. But two groups of owners are now contesting the sale.

One group of minority owners has filed an appeal against the sale.

Another group comprising majority owners, which had agreed to the sale, is also having second thoughts.

Last week, this group of majority owners filed an application to the High Court to invalidate the collective sale agreement.

Reports say the issue centres on price, which some owners have been quoted as saying is too low.

Each owner is set to receive between S$890,000 and S$950,000 from the en bloc sale.

In its legal proceedings, CapitaLand is arguing that the sale agreement is binding on all parties that have signed it, especially now that the sale has been approved by the Strata Titles Board.

The suit has been filed by a joint venture firm Ankerite, which is jointly owned by CapitaLand, Hotel Properties Ltd and two private funds. - CNA/ch