Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Parkway Life REIT Makes Maiden Investment In Japan With S$35m Deal

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 16 April 2008

Parkway Life REIT has bought a pharmaceutical product distributing facility in Japan's Chiba prefecture for S$35 million.

The trust says the investment is yield-accretive, with a net initial yield of 5.3 per cent.

The facility, called J-REP Matsudo II, will also be used for manufacturing pharmaceutical products.

The investment is Parkway Life REIT's first overseas venture and comes just seven months after it was listed on the Singapore Exchange.

The acquisition will be funded fully by debt, which will double the REIT's gearing to 8 per cent.

J-REP Matsudo II is a freehold property in Matsudo City, Chiba prefecture. It is currently occupied by Inverness Medical Japan, a company involved with drug development, manufacturing, export and sales.

The two-storey building has a net lettable area of 3,240 square metres and a current unexpired lease term of nine years. - CNA/ir

US Economy Likely To Bottom This Year

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

HSBC exec sees sustainable rally in equity markets before year-end

THE US economy is likely to bottom this year and equity markets should stage a sustainable rally before year-end, says HSBC Investments chief investment officer Leon Goldfeld.

But there will be no rally until the market sees signs of an economic turnaround, he says. The key metrics are a slowdown in job losses and housing inventory.

'I still believe the second half will kick-start a rally that is sustainable, particularly for this region,' he says. 'In a sense, I'm an optimist with a time lag - perhaps in the third or fourth quarter.

'Between now and then, we're likely to be in a volatile range. Investors should focus on buying the dip rather than selling on a rally. If the market does dip, it's a very good time to accumulate, particularly in May and June as it gets closer to a trough.'

This year so far, global MSCI indices are down 8-9 per cent. Asia ex-Japan has fallen more steeply, about 12 per cent. Volatility, measured by the VIX index, has trended down after peaking in March.

Mr Goldfeld says that financial stress will continue to generate bad news. But he points to some potentially contrarian signals. One is that while the financial sector is expected to write off up to US$800 billion, roughly US$1.3 trillion of bank stocks' market capitalisation has already been wiped out. Part of the downdraft reflects the expectation that banks' profitability will fall in the future, as fee income from securitisation shrinks.

In terms of valuations, global equities are trading at a price earnings multiple of about 14 times, and Asia about 12 times. 'The market is building a buffer for negative years. Analysts have a positive earnings consensus, but the market is discounting a 20 per cent decline in earnings,' Mr Goldfeld says.

Fund managers are overweight on cash. Surveys of investment advisers are uniformly bearish, which historically has been a good short to medium-term contrarian signal. Credit spreads have also widened to the level of previous recessions. US corporations, however, entered the downturn with strong balance sheets and low gearing. These strong financials are one reason that the economic downturn is unlikely to be deep, and unemployment at 4.5 to 5 per cent is relatively tame.

One caveat is that the recovery, when it occurs, is unlikely to be sharp. 'My suspicion is that as banks have to repair their balance sheets, the recovery will be relatively subdued. US growth may be anaemic for a year or two, but 2008 should be the trough,' says Mr Goldfeld.

He is most optimistic on Asia, where he believes that asset prices could reach bubble proportions after markets begin to rally.

'Once we hit a bottom, I think we could rally very high especially in Asia and the emerging markets,' he says. 'There is a massive amount of cash in the system. Treasury bills are yielding 0.5 per cent. No one will live with that. Once things improve, people will take risk and it will be in areas where there is confidence and high growth expectations. Once people sense the trough, you can easily see 20 per cent in gains in two months. That's the historical pattern.'

In its latest report, BCA Research says that scepticism appears to be entrenched in the US market, which is 'eventually positive' from a contrarian standpoint, 'especially within the context of good value and record setting stimulus efforts'.

Net repurchases of own stock by the US corporate sector hit a record high in the fourth quarter. BCA says that while it would be more bullish if corporate resources were directed towards expansion, equity repurchases do confirm that valuations are attractive.

Dent In S'pore Investor Optimism

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

An ING Asia-Pacific survey shows investor sentiment dived 35% in the first quarter, the biggest fall among 13 Asian markets

INVESTOR sentiment in Singapore is one of the least optimistic in Asia, a survey says. Singapore also experienced the biggest drop in investor sentiment from the fourth quarter of last year to the first quarter of this year.

Japanese investors were the least optimistic, with the overall pan-Asia sentiment index falling to 125 for Q1 2008 from 135 for Q4 2007.

According to a survey of investor beliefs and outlook conducted by banking group ING Asia-Pacific, Singapore's investor sentiment fell 35 per cent, the largest decline of 13 countries in Asia. Investor sentiment in Singapore stood at 88 for Q1 2008, down from 136 in Q4 2007, and a further dip from 141 in Q3 2007. This compares with 107 for Hong Kong and 96 for Korea in Q1 2008.

Singapore came in third in terms of being least optimistic, beaten only by Taiwan and Japan - which was the least optimistic.

ING said that there was a further decline in investor sentiment in Asia, reinforcing the reality that the region is not insulated from the global market uncertainty.

The sub-prime crisis and credit crunch remain key areas of concern in this part of the world, it added.

'Investors in Singapore are more actively invested in global equity funds and, therefore, it is not surprising that the volatility in the global market has some impact on Singapore,' explained Hou Wey Fook, chief investment officer, ING Private Banking, Asia. 'The reality is that markets around the world are linked and Asia has not been spared the effects of the credit crunch and a slowdown in the US economy.'

Singapore's open economy and export-driven market leave it dependent on what happens in the US. 'Singapore is probably the most dependent on global developments,' noted David Cohen, an economist at Action Economics. 'As a tiny city state, most of the activity here is trading.'

He noted that Singapore is more vulnerable than Hong Kong - another open economy, but with the advantage of having China as a hinterland.

The less buoyant sentiment in some markets was, however, tempered by optimism in fast-growing markets like China and India. These two countries reflected the highest levels of investor optimism in Asia, with investor sentiment index scores of 136 and 168 respectively.

Falling pan-Asia sentiment

Overall, the pan-Asia sentiment index still fell to 125 for Q1 2008 from 135 for Q4 2007.

The other countries included in the pan-Asian survey are China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand. Japan, Australia and New Zealand were surveyed but not included in the Pan-Asian index.

Singapore investors remained less optimistic about the longer term than their Asian counterparts.

Slightly over a quarter of respondents in Singapore indicated that they have a positive outlook of the economy in Q2 2008, compared with nearly half the respondents in Asia (ex-Japan).

Slightly less than a third of respondents here also said that they expect their state of personal financial situation to improve in Q2 2008 compared with more than half of those surveyed in Asia (ex-Japan).

The souring of investor sentiment, in turn, has a bearing on investment decisions and investment products.

The survey showed that a majority 93 per cent of investors in Singapore expected the sub-prime crisis to impact their investment decisions in Q2 2008.

Singapore investors also did not expect the economic climate to pick up soon, with 82 per cent expecting the US economy to worsen in Q2 2008 in view of global market uncertainties.

More than a third of respondents here believed that property prices in Singapore will drop and about one-fourth of these investors expected it to drop by 5 to 7.5 per cent in the next three months, said the survey.

Singapore investors were opting to invest closer to home, with 84 per cent favouring local stocks and cash deposits. Almost half of those surveyed were invested in local mutual or managed funds and unit trusts.

'It's premature to anticipate the worst is over, although we expect Asia to be resilient,' commented Mr Hou. 'In the longer term, Asia's economies will remain robust, driven by inter-regional trade and domestic demand.'

He said that gross domestic product (GDP) growth here will likely be impacted marginally. 'We expect Asia to continue to post strong GDP growth between 3 and 9 per cent across the region for 2008, with Singapore growing 5.3 per cent.'

S$ Crosses In Focus After MAS Action

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

A$ and yen still safe, but £, NZ$ and ringgit look more vulnerable

WALL Street and the US dollar have continued to look edgy after yet another month of horrible US job losses in March, sharing the financial headlines of the past fortnight with an increasingly feeble British pound and the de facto appreciation of the Singapore dollar last week.

In currency trading yesterday, the greenback was trying to keep its nose above last week's record low of S$1.3546, while the British unit was less than half a Singapore cent above Monday's fresh five-year low of S$2.6654.

Locally, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) surprised quite a few last Thursday by re-centring the mid-point of its undisclosed trading band for the trade-weighted Singapore dollar or S$ nominal effective exchange rate (S$Neer) higher - while keeping the upward slope and width of that band unchanged.

Effectively, Sing-watchers estimate that this translated into an appreciation of about 2 to 2.5 per cent for the S$Neer. Accordingly, the forecast range for the US dollar by end-2008 has now been lowered to S$1.30-S$1.35 - compared with a higher S$1.33-S$1.38 range before the MAS decision.

Further afield, the British pound tumbled after more bad news from the UK housing market and a 0.25 per cent interest rate cut, crashing through our first key support area of S$2.7150 to S$2.72 like a hot knife through butter.

And by yesterday afternoon, the euro had soared to a fresh post-launch high of 80.64 pence - boosted by news that a headline number for the key UK RICS housing market survey last month had tumbled 13 points to register a -78.5 low (the worst reading in its 30-year history). In sharp contrast, the seven Chinese yuan support for the soggy greenback came (and went) with hardly a pause.

North of the Causeway, however, the Singapore dollar's latest surge had pressed the Malaysian ringgit down to a fresh 16-month low of S$0.4278 by yesterday afternoon, while record oil prices found the Indonesian rupiah a fresh 20-month low of S$0.01473 per 100 rupiah.

All told, currency action has continued to be heavily influenced by Wall Street gyrations, but with two significant differences. Yes, the euro - a safe-refuge favourite - clocked a fresh high of US$1.5912 when Wall Street slid again late last week.

But for a change, it was the Singapore dollar that shared top spot with the Australian dollar in terms of percentage gains - the latter thanks to still-soaring prices for both soft and hard commodities. And, with Wall Street's key indices managing (somehow) to emerge from the past two weeks relatively unscathed, the Antipodean pair have also recorded decent yen gains. Technically, however, the picture for the New Zealand dollar looks far less healthy than that of its neighbour, at least in Singapore dollar terms.

In terms of more familiar US dollar supports, two of the six we highlighted here on April 2 have come and gone (seven yuan and 40 rupees), two are in sight (S$1.35 and NT$30), but the two non-Asian ones have still to be tested (US$1.6 per euro and 70 on a broader indexed basis).

And in Singapore dollar terms, the chart picture still looks decent for the Australian dollar and yen, which have managed to stay on the right side of S$1.25 and S$1.32 per 100 yen respectively.

However, we must caution that the latest bout of Sing dollar strength hasn't been good for some others. The New Zealand dollar, for example, has been forced below a six-month old trading range of roughly S$1.08-S$1.14. Further losses threaten if it cannot find its way back into that range quite quickly.

For the pound, there is an interim support area at around S$2.63, but what scares us is that more substantial support only kicks in much lower down, at somewhere between S$2.48 and S$2.52.

The technical picture for the Malaysian ringgit could also turn a lot nastier versus the local unit, if it cannot keep its head clear of fairly important support which looms quite close at around 42.5 Singapore cents.

Can Asia Escape A Global Slowdown?

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

While the outlook for the region remains reasonably favourable, there are downside risks

THIS past weekend, at the IMF-World Bank Spring meetings, finance ministers and central bank governors from around the world met amid serious financial market turmoil which began in the US sub-prime market and continues to spread across asset classes and regions.

Less vulnerable: Asian economies are well-positioned to implement macroeconomic policies needed to protect themselves against risks from the financial market turmoil

Yet for many in Asia, the discussions surrounding this turmoil may have seemed remote. After all, Asia continues to grow robustly, while financial institutions in the region have largely escaped the problems confronting their counterparts in the United States and Europe.

Moreover, improved macroeconomic frameworks and financial oversight - not to mention the accumulation of vast reserves - mean that Asia is generally far less vulnerable than a decade ago and better placed to implement needed policies to deal with a global slowdown.

Nevertheless, 2008 is likely to be a challenging year for the region. Already there are signs that exports to the United States and European Union, and electronics exports in general, are slowing, as are retail sales. While Asian financial institutions appear to have limited exposure to sub-prime and related assets, and there is no sign of a credit squeeze, the region has not been immune to contagion - equity markets have fallen, spreads have risen, and corporate debt issuance has declined sharply.

The IMF projects that growth in emerging Asia will decline by about 1.5 percentage points but, at 7.5 per cent, would still lead global growth. At the same time, inflation is rising across the region. This initially reflected spikes in food and commodity prices pushing up headline inflation, but pressures are recently showing signs of broadening, with core inflation moving upward as well.

While the central outlook for the region remains reasonably favourable, there are downside risks. The IMF's World Economic Outlook projects a 1.25 percentage point decline in the global growth, to 3.7 per cent in 2008, led by a mild recession in the United States.

But with the financial crisis spreading - and notwithstanding dramatic and helpful actions by major central banks - a significant possibility of a deeper slowdown in the US and globally remains.

How big an impact might such a sharper slowdown have on Asia?

In our April 2008 Asia and Pacific Regional Economic Outlook we find that, while over the last 15 years, spillovers from US growth to Asian growth have been modest - with a one percentage point US slowdown leading to a 0.25 to 0.5 percentage fall in Asian growth - the impact today could be significantly larger.

Despite Asia's success in diversifying its exports, both trade exposure to, and financial integration with, the United States have actually increased over this period, and Asia's business cycles are increasingly aligned with US cycles.

To date, a slowing of exports to the United States has been partly offset by strong exports to non-traditional markets, notably in the Middle East and Latin America. But this reflects the positive impact of high global commodity prices on these two regions, and in a global slowdown both commodity prices and the positive impact on Asia's exports could moderate.

Moreover, while Asian financial markets have held up well, a further deterioration in the global financial environment could affect the region, by raising funding costs, reducing confidence or increasing the volatility of capital flows.

In a worst-case scenario, a US credit crunch could spill over to Asia, lowering growth in the region.

On the positive side, Asia is well-positioned to implement macroeconomic policies needed to protect against these risks.

For now, central banks in much of Asia should focus on rising inflation pressures. For some countries, notably China, more flexible exchange rates would allow for a more effective monetary policy, while stronger currencies would dampen inflation.

In the face of a sharp slowdown, however, inflation could ease, and many countries would have scope for a more accommodative monetary stance. Fiscal policy could also play a role - prudent policies in much of Asia have created 'fiscal space' which can be effectively used if needed.

Given the prominence of financial risks, additional steps may be required. First, monetary and supervisory authorities should be focused on monitoring risks related to ongoing questions about exposure to potentially impaired assets. Regulators also need to ensure that risk management - including of liquidity risk - remains appropriate.

Second, the authorities should review contingency plans to ensure they are prepared for any worsening in the financial environment. Central banks should clarify conditions under which liquidity facilities might be activated, while the authorities also should formulate plans to handle potential calls for bank recapitalisation.

Over the last decade, Asia has become increasingly integrated into the global economy, and has benefited with a period of sustained and rapid growth. On the flip side, it now finds itself unable to escape fully the impact of global financial and economic turmoil. But timely and appropriate policy responses can mitigate the impact of this turmoil and help ensure that the region continues its strong economic performance this year and beyond.

The writer is director of the Asia and Pacific Department of the International Monetary Fund

Singapore Flyer Officially Opens

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

PM Lee describes ride as 'enjoyable and spectacular'

FIREWORKS and lasers lit up the Marina Bay skyline last night as the world's largest observation wheel was officially opened.

Drumming up support: PM Lee (left) and Florian Bollen (right), chairman of Singapore Flyer, giving a resounding start to the attraction's official opening

Gracing the festivities at the Singapore Flyer was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who made his first trip on board the $240 million attraction.

Speaking to reporters after a half-hour ride on board one of the 28 capsules, Mr Lee described the experience as 'enjoyable and spectacular'.

Singapore Flyer

'We have a beautiful city and this is a remarkable view of it,' he said. 'The Singapore skyline is constantly growing and changing. The Flyer is an addition to that skyline, as well as to view the city around us.

'I'm very happy with the project. It's on time and it has achieved what we hoped for. We are optimistic it will do very well (with regard to) passengers and become one of the busiest flyers in the world.'

Also at the opening yesterday were 350 guests, including families and the elderly from various grassroots and social welfare organisations.

The Singapore Flyer board and management also presented a $28,000 cheque to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, which was received by Straits Times editor Han Fook Kwang.

The 165 m tall Singapore Flyer took over five years to conceptualise, plan and build.

It was opened to the public on March 1, after a soft launch on Feb 11 for corporate customers. The attraction is expected to draw about 2.5 million people in its first year.

It is seen as a key part of Singapore's plan to grow tourism and attract 17 million visitors by 2015.

Lehman CEO Says Worst Is Over, Yet Troubles Ahead

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

NEW YORK - Lehman Brothers Holdings chief executive Dick Fuld on Tuesday became the third investment bank head to strike an optimistic note about financial markets this month, saying 'the worst is behind us.'

Some investors feared Lehman could face a bank run similar to the one that forced Bear Stearns Cos to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase & Co at a rock-bottom price

Speaking at the Wall Street investment bank's annual meeting, he said that the US economy will take 'a number of quarters to regain its previous strength', but that client trading activity and investor sentiment offer reasons to be optimistic.

His remarks followed similar statements by Goldman Sachs Group chief executive Lloyd Blankfein and Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack last week in which both said global markets are showing signs of working through their difficulties.

US equity investors seem to be listening - the Standard & Poor's 500 index has risen more than 4 per cent since mid-March.

Financial markets typically rebound ahead of actual economic recoveries, but despite their optimism, investment bank chief executives have in recent weeks been reluctant to call a market bottom.

'Maybe we're at the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter,' Mr Blankfein said last week. 'If you watch sports, sometimes there's a lot of timeouts in the fourth quarter. It takes longer to play than any of the other quarters, and sometimes it ends in a tie and goes into overtime.'

Mr Mack, also using a sports analogy, said the sub-prime mortgage crisis was in the 'bottom of the eighth inning or top of the ninth.'

Investment banks still face difficulties. Regulators will likely force dealers to boost their capital levels and reduce their assets relative to their borrowings, a big theme last weekend at the G7 meeting in Washington, DC.

Lehman is planning to both raise equity and reduce assets as it looks to deleverage, Fuld said on Tuesday. The investment bank sold US$4 billion of convertible preferred shares at the beginning of the month, proving it can raise capital.

That was crucial for Lehman, which some investors feared could face a bank run similar to the one that forced Bear Stearns Cos to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase & Co at a rock-bottom price.

Many investors are less concerned about investment banks' stability now, though, after the Federal Reserve said the banks can borrow directly from the central bank.

Lehman has accessed overnight Fed financing several times, and plans to do so again on Wednesday. It does not have any borrowings outstanding as of Tuesday, Mr Fuld said.

Speaking after the annual meeting, Chief Financial Officer Erin Callan said the investment bank has found that securities that can be pledged to the Federal Reserve can also be borrowed against in short-term markets known as repo markets.

Lehman has been using various securities as collateral for borrowing at the Fed, most notably loans packaged into bonds last week. When the Fed accepts the assets, Lehman then knows it can borrow against the assets in repo markets, she said.

Last week, Lehman packaged US$2.8 billion of unsold loans into bonds, about US$2.26 billion of which were investment-grade.

The bank then used some of the investment-grade bonds as collateral in borrowing from the Fed.

Separately, Lehman Brothers said shareholders approved the company's directors for a year term. All Lehman directors are elected annually. -- REUTERS

HK Apartment Rents The World's Highest: Survey

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

Hong Kong has the world's priciest apartment rents, with the lease for a three-bedroom unit costing more than US$9,700 ($13,170) on average a month, a survey released on Wednesday said.

Asian cities, led by Hong Kong, accounted for six out of the top 10 locations that have the world's most expensive rentals for three-bedroom apartments, according to the survey

Singapore, which positions itself as a South-east Asian business hub, saw Asia's biggest year-on-year rental increase of more than 30 per cent last year, the survey by human resources firm ECA International showed.

The survey covered 2007 and is based on lease prices for a three-bedroom apartment in popular expatriate areas, ECA International said.

Asian cities, led by Hong Kong, accounted for six out of the top 10 locations that have the world's most expensive rentals for three-bedroom apartments, it said.

Other Asian cities in the top 10 global list are Mumbai which ranked sixth, Seoul seventh, Singapore ninth, and Ho Chi Minh City 10th.

Monthly rentals in Asia were on average US$3,820, well above the global level of US$2,950, said ECA International.

Globally, Moscow ranked second, followed by New York City, Tokyo, and London in fifth spot, said ECA International.

'A robust economy and increased demand for high-end accommodation have been instrumental in driving rental prices up,' said Lee Quane, ECA International's general manager in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong apartment rents of US$9,734 were more than double Asia's average and reflected the geographical advantage of the Chinese territory for foreign firms wanting to build a base in the region, ECA said.

'Particularly in the financial services industry, people are moving into Hong Kong so, in spite of its relative high cost, it still remains one of the prime locations for foreign companies to establish themselves,' said Mr Quane.

A three-bedroom apartment in Singapore rented for US$4,460 a month on average last year, compared with 3,364 in 2006, ECA said.

'The demand for high-end accommodation has risen, driving up rental prices, which can be partly explained by companies expanding their operations in Singapore together with government initiatives to attract skilled workers from overseas,' he said.

At the same time, a number of factors limited the supply of property available in Singapore, he said.

Mumbai, India's financial hub, had the region's second-highest rental rise of 21 per cent. A three-bedroom apartment there cost US$5,991 to lease, ECA said.

For other major Asian cities, Jakarta ranked 10th in Asia, Manila was 14th, Bangkok came in 15th followed by Kuala Lumpur in 16th spot.

According to the survey, Karachi is the cheapest city in the world to rent a three-bedroom apartment.

ECA says its annual survey of rentals compares lease prices in 92 global cities. -- AFP

Kim Eng’s Ronald Ooi Cuts Losses On Condo Deal

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

He is said to have led group which backed the purchase of Tulip Garden

Kim Eng Holdings managing director Ronald Ooi, in his personal capacity, is believed to have led a group that backed Bravo Building Construction on its failed $516 million purchase of Tulip Garden.

Tulip Garden: The $516m deal failed as the buyer's request to extend the payment deadline was rejected. The $25.8m deposit was forfeited

BT understands from market sources that Mr Ooi and the group were instrumental in raising the initial $25.8 million or 5 per cent deposit on the Tulip Garden sale which has since been forfeited.

Mr Ooi, who is said to be worth some $300 million, is said to have decided to cut losses on the acquisition in the face of weakening sentiment on the prime property front. ‘It had become more challenging to raise the necessary funds under current market conditions to complete the deal,’ a market watcher said.

Mr Ooi could not be contacted.

The deal, which worked out to $1,018 psf per plot ratio, was inked in July last year when the Singapore property market was enjoying one of its strongest bull runs in recent memory.

The collective sale was approved by Strata Titles Board in February this year.

But last week, lawyers representing Tulip Garden’s owners sent a notice of rescission of the sale and purchase agreement for Tulip Garden to Bravo’s lawyers and notified them that the owners would be forfeiting the 5 per cent of the transaction price paid to them so far as deposit.

This was after Bravo failed to pay the second 5 per cent instalment by the deadline on April 7.

Bravo had requested another extension of this deadline to June 7, as well as to extend the completion date of the transaction (which is when it would have had to pay up the remaining 90 per cent of the purchase price) from May 28 to Aug 7

Tulip Garden owners had a meeting and most decided they wanted to cancel the sale if Bravo missed the payment deadline on April 7.

Raise Income Ceiling On HDB Flats Over $500k

Source : The Straits Times, Apr 16, 2008

WITH regard to the recent sale of Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) HDB flats in Boon Keng, I propose the Housing Board set different income limits for flats valued at more than $500,000. This makes more sense in terms of financial planning and affordability issues.

There were 3,500 who balloted for 714 DBSS flats in Boon Keng, but only 460 were sold. My nephew was one of those and was allocated a flat but failed the $8,000 income requirement to buy a new HDB flat. At a price of $727,000, it would be unwise for someone with a combined income of less than $8,000 to commit to a flat.

Simple calculation:

Cost of flat: $727,000

Stamp and legal fees: +$18,100

Current CPF: -$100,000

Loan: $645,100 @ 2.5% over 30 years = $2,583 per month

Combined income of $8,000, CPF-OA contribution: -$1,840 per month

Cash top-up: $743 per month

Based on these figures, a couple would have over-committed to a 30-year housing loan. In the event that one of them is unable to work or needs to take care of children, the burden of the loan will be too heavy for the other party. They would not have surplus to save for retirement or other needs.

As a financial planner, my advice is that one should not commit more than 20 per cent of monthly income to a housing loan, and the full loan amount must be insured by both parties. A couple earning $8,000 combined should not commit to a new HDB flat valued at more than $500,000.

Thus, I hope the HDB will set a higher income ceiling for flats over $500,000.

Song Yee Soon


《联合早报》Apr 16, 2008



在价格方面,大多数私宅单位的成交价继续趋软。仲量联行(Jones Lang LaSalle)的数据显示,除了核心中央区(CCR)的最低中位成交价上升了6%,由每平方英尺1524元上升至1621元,其他地区的成交价都普遍下滑。




世邦魏理仕(CB Richard Ellis)执行董事李晓和与莱坊(KnightFrank)研究部主管麦俊荣都指出,发展商在今年3月推出的新私宅单位由2月份的343个增加至642个。






Inflation To Remain 'Fairly High' In 1st Half

Source : The Straits Times, Apr 16, 2008


SINGAPORE'S inflation rate will stay at record levels despite a tightening of monetary policy last week to help combat rising prices.

'Our projection is that inflation will stay fairly high at this current level - above 6.5 per cent for the first half of the year. And then, we expect it to go down in the second half of the year,' Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang said yesterday on the sidelines of a biomedical science conference.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) expects inflation this year to settle at the upper half of the 4.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent range. Inflation hit 6.6 per cent in January, the highest since 1982. Last week, the MAS allowed a rise in the Singapore dollar, which had since hit record highs against the greenback.

'Overall, I think we have a wide array of levers to address the inflation problem...The exchange rate, that's our main lever,' said Mr Lim. 'At the same time, we also tackle supply constraints, whether it is office space, commercial space, industrial space or wages through our flexibility in our labour markets.'

He said he was 'fairly confident' that Singapore would do well in the medium term, with a growth forecast for the year tipped at 4 per cent to 6 per cent.

While Singapore's trade with the United States has been affected, intra-Asia trade 'has been holding up quite well', added Mr Lim.


Choice Homes Unit Top Bidder For Site

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

A SUBSIDIARY of NTUC Choice Homes Co-operative yesterday placed the top bid of $290.19 million or $460 psf per plot ratio (psf ppr) for a 99-year leasehold private condominium site at Lorong 2/3 Toa Payoh.

The bid was about 23 per cent lower than the $601 psf per plot ratio that property giant Far East Organization paid for a condo site next to Ang Mo Kio Hub in September last year, when the market was still buoyant.

That plot is about two MRT stops away from the latest parcel, which is a stone's throw from Braddell MRT station.

The $601 psf ppr for the Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8 site is a record for 99-year suburban condo land, and that tender attracted a whopping 14 bids.

In contrast, yesterday's tender for the Toa Payoh plot drew only four bids. Besides ChoiceHomes Investments Pte Ltd, the other bids came from GuocoLand unit First Capital Holdings ($263 million or $417 psf ppr); Frasers Centrepoint ($319 psf ppr) and a joint bid by Hoi Hup Realty and Sunway Developments for $311 psf ppr.

CB Richard Ellis executive director Li Hiaw Ho estimates the breakeven cost for Choice Homes would be around $800 psf. Secondary market deals at freehold Trellis Towers at Toa Payoh Lorong 1 are between $850 psf and $950 psf, while the older 99-year leasehold Oleander Towers is selling for $700-800 psf.

Analysts reckon Choice Homes may have priced its bid on the assumption of an average selling price of $950-1,000 psf.

Choice Homes CEO Margaret Goh declined to comment on the breakeven cost for the proposed condo, but said that the 43-storey project with about 560 units would target the 'upper end of the mass market, more affluent HDB upgraders' given the attractiveness of the location in Toa Payoh, which offers good investment value.

Ms Goh also disclosed that Choice Homes is in talks with possible joint-venture partners.

Disneyland South-East Asia?

Source : TODAY, Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Two years after the tales were last heard of a possible Disney adventure in the region, there are prospects anew that Mickey could yet hold fort in a theme park here.

The operator of Tokyo Disneyland said yesterday — as fans flocked to the theme park on its 25th anniversary — that it was considering opening a new facility in South-east Asia. Oriental Land chairman Toshio Kagami said the company wanted to operate a new leisure facility other than a theme park in Japan.

"Maybe we will start with South-east Asia," wire agency AFP reported him as saying, as Mickey and friends marked a quarter century in Japan.

Disney's on-off link to the region was last in the news around the time Singapore was awarding its two integrated resort licenses.

Today had reported that Disney was evaluating the market, but did not have anything to announce. Then, unconfirmed media reports suggested that a site in Marina East had been earmarked for the theme park operator.

Malaysia had touted the Disney link in 2006, too, as it began to develop the Iskandar economic zone.

While Today had learnt then from Disney that there had been no discussions nor plans for a Disney-branded resort development in Malaysia, a developer for the economic zone said yesterday that it has since sold the land designated for a theme park to Khazanah, Malaysia's state investment arm, and the latter has "taken the project forward".

UEM Land director Zulkifli Tahmali told Today: "I'm not sure if it involves Disney, but Khazanah has always said it has been talking to a few theme-park operators, none of which has been finalised."

Thailand has also been reported as a potential home for Mickey and Minnie as far back as 1994, while Singapore also tried to bring the pair to Seletar in the 1990s. Talks collapsed because Disney was not willing to pay for the land.

Still Home For 8 More Months

En bloc firm offers Leedon Heights residents leaseback deal

RESIDENTS of Leedon Heights came home to a pleasant surprise last week — the chance to stay on in their apartments until the end of January next year, instead of having to move out by June.

Following appeals from residents and home-owners, the buyer of the en bloc site, GuocoLand, extended a leaseback deal to them.

In a notice dated April 10, the company offered a short-term lease, subject to a minimum of three months, up until Jan 31, 2009.

The 48,525-sq-m, 23-year-old condominium off Holland Road and Farrer Road was to have been vacated by June 2.

But as the showflats for the development will be built off-site — though still on the sprawling land — developer Rivaldo Investments, a Guocoland subsidiary, agreed to the lease arrangement.

Leedon Heights made news last April when GuocoLand paid $835 million — a record price then — for the site.

Following Channel NewsAsia's report in January that Guocoland was considering a leaseback deal, many residents apparently responded positively.

One of them who affirmed his interest was retail banking consultant Richard Hartung, who has been living at Leedon Heights since 1994.

But last month, he said, he got a letter from the developer saying that the offer would not be made.

On the latest good news, Mr Hartung said: "We would have loved to stay longer but we have already made new housing arrangements."

Although unusual, leaseback deals are not unheard of.

Property analysts whom Today spoke to said the current slowdown in the property market is allowing developers to kick back their heels and bide time on their next hot project.

Said Mr Colin Tan, Chesterton's head of research and consultancy: "Developers may feel their developments can fetch better prices if they ride out the current cycle. Because they are in no hurry, they may offer a lease back to residents and collect rent at the same time."

Knight Frank's director of consultancy and research Nicholas Mak cautioned that in the offering of such a scheme, there had to be a substantial number of residents interested in renting, as the cost of maintaining the property is high.

Even so, developers would have much to gain in the future with the offering of such goodwill.

"The former owners of these units could be future buyers of the developer's new project or of their inventory stock," said Mr Mak.

March Property Sales Up In Still-Cautious Market

Source : TODAY, Wednesday, April 16, 2008

THE DOMESTIC property market is expected to remain cautious even after an increase in sales and launches last month.

Some 322 private residential units were sold in March, a 70-per-cent increase from the 189 in February, according to data released yesterday by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

A total of 642 new units were offered for sale by developers last month, up 87.17 per cent from 343 in February, the data showed.

CBRE Research's executive director Li Hiaw Ho said although the number of new private homes sold was higher and signalled "an increase in activity", the "overall mood of the market was still cautious".

According to CBRE, 787 new private homes were sold in the first quarter this year, or about half of the 1,449 units in the previous quarter.

CBRE forecasts sales volume will exceed 1,000 units next quarter, with prices "expected to hold or improve marginally".

Mr Nicholas Mak, Knight Frank's director for its consultancy and research department, said the typical ratio of new sales to the number of units launched would be 90 to 100 per cent in a buoyant market environment.

Knight Frank expects the sales volume to remain low in the coming few months due to continuing uncertainty over the United States economic outlook and volatility in the financial markets.

"Homebuyers, especially in the mass market segment, are expected to remain cautious until there is a sustained recovery in the financial markets and economic conditions, which would spill over to the property market," Mr Mak said.

Developers are likely to launch their projects slowly in the next few months as they gauge market sentiment.

Private Home Sales Recover In Weak Market

Source : The Straits Times, April 16, 2008

301 units, excluding exec condos, sold in March; worst first quarter since 2003

PRIVATE home sales last month rebounded from February, but taken as a whole, the first quarter was the worst since Sars wreaked havoc on sales in 2003.

A total of 301 residential units, excluding executive condominiums, were sold last month, according to data released yesterday by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. In February, 174 units were sold.

This puts first-quarter private home sales at 795 units, compared to 427 units in the corresponding period in 2003.

In the previous quarter ended Dec 31 last year, 1,449 units were sold. While sales rose last month, the take-up rate of launched units remained similar to that in February, consultants say.

The take-up rate outside the central region in places such as Buangkok and the East Coast remained soft and could lead to a supply overhang, said Dr Chua Yang Liang, Jones Lang LaSalle's head of research for South-east Asia.

Prices remained generally weak last month, he added.

Using just the lowest median price category - more reflective of underlying market sentiment - prices outside the central region fell 9 per cent to $648 per sq ft (psf) last month, from $712 psf in February, said Dr Chua.

But high-end projects in posh areas posted a 6.4 per cent rise in the lowest median price to $1,621 psf last month, he added.

Dr Chua said developers are more upbeat about mass-market projects than buyers - evident from the number of launches and the recent strong bidding for suburban government land.

Buyers are cautious, as the economy is expected to slow in the coming months, he said.

Indeed, there will be launches at 'more realistic prices', said one developer.

CBRE Research executive director Li Hiaw Ho said activity may pick up in the current quarter in terms of project launches, but buyers' response will be 'price-sensitive'.

Sales this quarter may improve and top 1,000 units, as larger-scale suburban projects will be launched, he added.

But Knight Frank director of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak expects sales to stay thin in the coming months due to ongoing economic and financial market uncertainties.

'Homebuyers, especially in the mass-market segment, are expected to remain cautious until there is a sustained recovery in the financial markets and economic conditions,' he said.

Still, there are glimmers of hope. Yesterday, a government tender for a Toa Payoh condo site attracted four bids, with the top one from ChoiceHomes Investments coming in at a relatively strong $460 psf.

CBRE's Mr Li said the top bid would translate to a break-even of at least $850 psf and a possible sale price of about $950 psf to $1,000 psf.


'Homebuyers, especially in the mass-market segment, are expected to remain cautious until there is a sustained recovery in the financial markets and economic conditions.'

MR NICHOLAS MAK, Knight Frank's director of research and consultancy

Private Home Sales Tumble, Prices Weaken

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

Buyers may have slight edge in power stakes but analysts expect caution to reign for a while

Official numbers yesterday confirmed what many had already suspected as developers sold only 795 private homes in the first quarter of this year - just about half the 1,469 units that they had sold in the preceding quarter.

But there was also an equally significant pointer for market watchers looking for data on the direction of private home prices.

The islandwide median price of private homes (excluding executive condos) sold by developers dipped 0.8 per cent from $1,064 psf in February to $1,055 psf in March, with the decline coming from the Outside Central Region (where suburban mass-market projects are typically located). The median price there slipped about 3.8 per cent, from $844 psf in February to $812 psf in March.

However, the median price in the Core Central Region jumped from $1,723 psf to $2,450 psf, while that for the Rest of Central Region rose from $1,095 psf to $1,104 psf over the same period. These figures are based on Urban Redevelopment Authority's monthly survey of developers' sales.

Property analysts cautioned against reading too much into the monthly price data given that sales volumes are still relatively thin.

Developers sold 301 private homes in March, a significant improvement from 174 units in February but slightly lower than the 320 units for January.

These numbers are lower than the monthly sales of more than 500 units for September to November last year. The dizzy days between June and August last year had seen more than 1,000 units being sold each month.

Chesterton International's head (research & consultancy) Colin Tan said that, focusing on projects with sales of at least five units in February as well as March, there were 14 developments that recorded month-on-month price declines, outpacing just seven projects with increases.

'The number of declines versus rises gives some sense of the power play between buyers and sellers. The market is on balance at the moment, with some hint that buyers have a slight edge. We cannot yet say for sure that the market has definitely turned,' he added.

URA's data showed that developers launched a total of 642 private homes (excluding ECs) in March, up significantly from 343 units in February, which had a shorter period for home sales because of the Chinese New Year festivities. The March launch figure was the highest in seven months.

Jones Lang LaSalle, looking only at private apartment and condo sales, said the ratio of units sold to units launched has fallen from 101.2 per cent in November last year to 46.4 per cent in March 2008. 'But the ratio may be stabilising since the March figure was just slightly lower than the 47.5 per cent ratio in February,' said JLL's head of research (South-east Asia) Chua Yang Liang.

'It seems developers' optimism on the mass market far exceeds buyers' expectations. Buyers maintain a more cautious outlook of the market as the economy is expected to ease in the next few months, despite the strong advance estimate of 7.2 per cent GDP growth for Q1 2008.'

The highest-priced primary market transaction in March was the $4,612 psf fetched by a unit at Scotts Square along Scotts Road - higher than the $4,140 psf top price achieved in February, for a unit at The Ritz-Carlton Residences in the Cairnhill area.

Looking ahead, CB Richard Ellis executive director Li Hiaw Ho said: 'The current market sentiment is likely to continue into the second quarter. Activity may pick up in terms of project launches, but buyers' response will be price sensitive.'

Knight Frank director Nicholas Mak too expects sales volumes to remain thin in the next few months in the face of continuing uncertainty of the US economic outlook and financial market problems. 'Homebuyers, especially in the mass-market segment, are expected to remain cautious until there is a sustained recovery in the financial markets and economic conditions, which would spill over to the property market. Developers, on the other hand, are likely to launch their projects slowly in the next few months to take advantage of any improvement in market sentiments,' Mr Mak added.

Global Property Firms Showcase Projects Here

Source : The Business Times, April 16, 2008

M'sian developers making their presence felt at Cityscape Asia 2008

IN a light moment at the Cityscape Asia 2008 conference yesterday, Urban Redevelopment Authority chief executive Cheong Koon Hean said: 'For those interested, I still have land to sell.'

Ms Cheong: Marina Bay offers big opportunities

Ms Cheong, who gave the keynote address at the conference, was referring to the redevelopment of Tanjong Rhu, a former shipyard area, and how urban planning can help enhance value and 'bring about real estate opportunities'.

She was also priming the audience for much larger real estate opportunities at Marina Bay, revealing that so far it has attracted $16.5 billion of investments.

Malaysia's UEM Land, which is behind the 24,000 acre integrated development at Nusajaya in the Iskandar Development Region of Johor, is also looking for investors at Cityscape Asia 2008.

Interestingly, while much was made of a memorandum of collaboration that UEM Land signed with US giant General Electric International (GE) in September last year on safety, security, infrastructure and the environment, UEM Land managing director Wan Abdullah Wan Ibrahim said there was no discussion on 'buying and selling of land to GE'.

GE is a 'facilitator and project manager' whose services were offered gratis, he explained.

UEM Land does want to sell property, and Mr Wan Abdullah said that at its latest Horizon Hills development, 50 per cent of the 465 units sold so far have gone to Singaporeans or foreigners working in Singapore.

While Cityscape Asia is very much a platform for the real estate industry to market its projects and services, the only Singapore developer exhibiting this year is City Developments Ltd (CDL).

It is part of the 'Singapore: Building Green Pavilion' supported by the Building and Construction Authority.

Nevertheless, CDL said it is proud to be participating.

Major companies with representation at Cityscape Asia 2008 were from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, the UK, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Brunei, Italy and the US.

Malaysian developers, however, are making their presence felt, with UEM Land and SP Setia taking up large exhibition spaces.

Also making their mark are developers from the Middle East, including Dubai World's real estate unit Limitless.

Since opening its South-east Asian headquarters in Singapore in December, Limitless has been increasing its investments in Asia.

At Cityscape Asia 2008, it will showcase three South-east Asian projects - Malaysia International Halal Park, Puteri Harbour in Malaysia and Halong Star in Vietnam - representing some 1,285 hectares of land to be developed and an investment of some US$100 billion.

Malaysia's IDR Attracts Major Middle East, Singapore Investors

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 15 April 2008

Singapore investors have been snapping up the properties within the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) in the Malaysian state of Johor, according to Malaysian property firm UEM Land.

UEM said Singapore investors have so far accounted for 95% of the industrial properties sold on the 24,000-acre plot of land in Nusajaya. The developer said the majority of industrial property interest has come from small and medium businesses.

Singapore investors also make up for 50% of residential sales there.

UEM Land said it is currently in further discussions with Singapore firms for larger joint projects in the IDR, to keep ahead of competition.

"It's not just one man's dream; it's founded on very strong foundations, one of which is Singapore. How do we complement Singapore? At the end of the day, these two governments need to collaborate. Because if we don't, India and China will make us irrelevant in the future, so we've got to collaborate," said Wan Abdullah Wan Ibrahim, MD of UEM Land.

The 24,000-acre plot of land, just a 10-minute drive over the Second Link Bridge from Singapore, Is set to accommodate some 500,000 people when completed in 2025, up from the current 75,000 already there.

Since its launch early last year, 128 acres of industrial land has already been sold and UEM is aiming to sell a further 180 acres this year.

The largest investment to date came from Middle Eastern company Limitless, who is in a joint venture with UEM to pump some S$100 million to develop a 111-acre plot of land.

The developer is looking to spread its wings and gain further investment from overseas, but has noted some concerns.

"We notice that the prime concern, especially coming out of Singapore, is safety and security. So we decided that we need to address the concern," said UEM Land's MD.

To address the issue of security, UEM will be collaborating with General Electric to create a security masterplan. - CNA /ls

Trade Minister Lim Says Inflation Rate To Go Down In 2nd Half Of 2008

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 15 April 2008

Consumer prices may rise more than 6.5 per cent in the first half of the year. But, according to Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, the inflation rate is expected to go down in the second half of 2008.

Singapore's inflation rate has been hovering at its highest level in 26 years. This has been fuelled by a rise in prices of food and raw materials.

Last week, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said that it would allow the Singapore dollar to rise in a bid to fight inflation.

Speaking on the sidelines of a biomedical conference on Tuesday, Mr Lim said: "Our measures to tackle inflation covers a wide range. First, of course, is through the exchange rate - that is our main lever.

"But at the same time, we also tackle supply constraints - whether it's office space, commercial space or wages through our flexibility in our labour markets."

For now, the government is maintaining its forecast for inflation to remain in a range of between 4.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent this year. - CNA/vm

PM Lee Officially Opens Singapore Flyer

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 15 April 2008

Singapore's latest iconic attraction was officially opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday evening.

The launch of the Singapore Flyer was marked by an open-air extravaganza that included performances and fireworks.

The laser and pyro displays were choreographed to a music composition which was specially arranged by well-known local composer Iskandar Ismail.

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The S$240-million Singapore Flyer took more than five years to conceptualise, plan and build.

Mr Lee took a ride on the 165-metre tall Singapore Flyer, which is the world's largest observation wheel.

"We've had a very enjoyable, spectacular ride. We have a beautiful city and this is a remarkable view of the city," he said.

"Many things are happening at Marina Bay as you know - the IR is coming up, the F1 is coming, the circuit will pass all around the Flyer. We can see all the buildings coming up around the Bay, and the Singapore skyline (is) constantly growing and changing," the prime minister added. - CNA/ac

More Controls To Keep Real Estate Agents In Line

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 15 April 2008

Real estate agents may be accredited under a new scheme, if the Ministry of Finance (MOF) gives the go-ahead.

Two industry watchdogs - the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA) and Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) - are joining hands to start a new accreditation scheme and they plan to submit a proposal to MOF in the middle of the year.

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They believe compulsory guidelines will help improve the professionalism of the real estate industry.

James Chua had planned to buy a 4-room HDB flat, in the Admiralty area, valued at about S$260,000. He was willing to pay only S$12,000 in cash over valuation (COV).

But he was told that another buyer had already made a similar offer, and that was when his agent came up with a "suggestion".

"She (property agent) said if (I am) willing to pay S$10,000 COV and S$2,000 commission to the selling agent, then (I) can still buy the flat. I was taken a back. Isn't that not representing the best interests of the seller? I find that highly unethical and lacking integrity. I said I won't do it but my buying agent said if you are still paying S$12,000, then what's the big deal. That was when I started to suspect that they are in this deal together," said Chua.

Chua had since bought another flat through a new agent. But he had reported the incident to the Inland Revenue Authority, which is the licensing body for real estate agencies. Chua hopes more can be done to better regulate the industry.

Last year, over 1,000 complaints were filed against property agents.

The IEA said this is about 40 percent more than 2006, partly due to the property boom.

Said Jeff Foo, president of the Institute of Estate Agents: "All these years, we hear consumers complaining about unethical agents, agents not knowing their job. And at the end of the day, nothing is done about it. The agents get away with it scot-free, because they are not regulated.

"The best thing is to legislate. If taxi drivers and security guards are all licensed, why not real estate agents? Real estate agents deal with about the largest investment of some consumers."

IEA said it can only take disciplinary action against agents who are its members. If found guilty, rogue agents will be blacklisted and will not be able to work for another real estate agency.

It estimated that there are some 30,000 real estate agents in Singapore, and only 1,500 of them are IEA members.

Under the new proposed accreditation scheme, new agents must be trained under the National Skills Recognition System (NSRS).

NSRS is a national framework for establishing work performance standards and certifying skills acquisition, implemented by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency.

Existing agents are expected to upgrade themselves and pass the Common Examination of House Agents. There will also be provisions to punish errant property agents.

For now, the onus is on consumers to do their homework. They can run a check on their agents on IEA's Central Registry System, or ask to see the agent's Practicing Certificate.

From May, agents will have to submit the checklist to HDB, together with the resale application. This is to ensure all procedures are transparent. - CNA /ls

Private Home Sales Leapt 80% In March From February

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 15 April 2008

There are signs the property market in Singapore might be making an about-turn following its muted start to the year.

Figures released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) show that the number of private homes sold in March leapt 80 per cent from the month before, signalling improved buyer sentiment.

And developers were even more positive. They launched more than 600 units for sale in March - about 85 per cent more than the month before, and the highest in seven months.

Analysts said they expect to see more units being placed on sale in the months to come.

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Donald Han, Managing Director of Cushman & Wakefield, Singapore, said: “Moving forward we expect more launches taking place in the second quarter of this year. While there are generally not a slew of new launches, a lot of developers have re-launched their projects. Re-launched in the sense (they) have started to price properties at more realistic levels.

“Early part of year, it's not too effective to start pricing there. But now we are well into 2008. There are developers who are certainly using pricing to attract more positive sentiment to lure the buyers out."

Still, developers have some way to go before the property market even begins to resemble that of its heydays last year.

A closer look at the numbers show that most of the increase in sales came from the high-end market where sales jumped 80 per cent, compared to a 31 per cent hop in suburban region sales.

For now, it seems that mass market buyers will still be holding back in hope of better deals to come.

Analysts are also quick to note that the ratio of launches to sales in March still remain at February levels at 47.5 per cent to 46.4 per cent.

Nicholas Mak, Director of Knight Frank, said: "At first glance, it seems like sales figures in March have improved over February. The numbers moved back to about the same level as in January or December. But on closer analysis we find that the take-up has weakened. Typically about 70 to 90 per cent of units launched are sold. Right now that figure has fallen to about 50 per cent, same as February."

But overall, analysts said the private home market data for March should still put a smile on the faces of those in the industry, given the current economic climate due to the bad news from the US and its ensuing ripple effect worldwide. - CNA/vm