Tuesday, April 29, 2008

S'pore Inflation To Stay High, Cool In H2: MAS

Source : The Business Times, April 29, 2008

Singapore's central bank said on Tuesday that inflation would cool to an average 4 per cent in the second half of 2008, after it hit a 26-year high above 6 per cent in the first six months of the year.

In its twice-yearly Macroeconomic Review, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said its economic growth target of 4-6 per cent this year was intact and was based on a gentle downturn in the United States' economy.

But it warned trade-dependent Singapore could be considerably hit by a more widespread slowdown.

'Inflation will stay high in 2008 due to a confluence of external and domestic factors, although it should moderate somewhat in the second half,' it said in its report, available on its website.

'However, there are upside risks to global oil and food prices. Even if these prices were to level off, upward pressure on wages and rentals, reflecting domestic capacity constraints, are likely to remain.'

Reacting to the inflation threat, Singapore's central bank earlier this month tightened monetary policy by allowing a rise in the Singapore dollar, its main policy tool.

The market is looking for clues on whether policy could be tightened yet again at the next review in October. The Singapore dollar has risen 5.4 per cent against the US dollar since the start of the year.

'The April monetary policy decision provides affirmation that the exchange rate path is consistent with the prevailing macroeconomic conditions in the economy,' the MAS said in its review on Tuesday.

It also said that gross domestic product growth would likely weaken over the next two to three quarters.

'This baseline forecast is predicated on a mild US downturn for 2008. However, if there is a more widespread decline in global and regional economic activity, Singapore's GDP growth will be more significantly affected.'

First-quarter GDP growth came in unexpectedly strong, running at an annualised seasonally adjusted rate of 16.9 per cent, and economists said the data had calmed fears that the weakness of the US economy would drag on Singapore, giving the central bank room to tighten policy.

Manufacturing accounts for about a quarter of economic output and the republic would be hit by any global economic downturn because of its heavy reliance on exports to Europe and the United States.

The MAS also pointed out that the cost of doing business in Singapore, a base for international companies and their families in Asia, had risen.

It said the unit business cost index for the manufacturing sector - which measures changes in the cost of producing one unit of manufacturing output after accounting for productivity changes - rose 4.5 per cent in the fourth quarter from a year ago, the seventh straight quarter of growth and the most rapid rate of increase since the fourth quarter of 2001.

This mainly reflected a sharp rise in unit labour costs as well as government rates and fees. -- REUTERS

Genting Stops Talks With S'pore Sports Hub Consortium

Source : The Business Times, April 29, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR - Genting International announced on Tuesday that it has discontinued discussions with Singapore Sports Hub Consortium in relation to the proposed construction of a hotel in the Singapore Sports Hub.

Its managing director Justin Tan Wah Joo said in a statement this was because the company has been informed that the Singapore Sports Council has decided not to have a hotel in the Singapore Sports Hub at this point of time.

'The subject matter of this announcement is not expected to have any material impact on the consolidated net tangible assets and earnings per share of the company for the financial year ending Dec 31, 2008,' he said.

Genting had announced the start of discussions on Jan 21 this year. -- BERNAMA

Older UK Homes Weather Market Strains Better

Source : The Business Times, April 29, 2008

Personal finance website expects property prices to fall 20% this year

(LONDON) Houses bought four years ago or more are best placed to weather the property market downturn, research shows.

Personal finance website Fool.co.uk expects property prices to tumble 20 per cent this year, taking the average British property value to £153,400 (S$416,000) from £196,000 - the same level as spring 2004 levels.

That means that, on average, people who have bought since then will be sitting on a capital loss.

House-hunt: Home prices have been falling monthly since the end of last year as the credit squeeze has exacerbated affordability pressures after a decade-long boom

Not all, however, will face negative equity, as some will have taken out a mortgage of less than 100 per cent or more of the purchase price.

'It is vital to differentiate between capital loss and negative equity,' said David Kuo, head of personal finance at Fool.co.uk.

'While a capital loss is beyond the control of homeowners, mortgage borrowers can overcome negative equity by reducing the size of their outstanding mortgage compared to the value of the property.'

He added that falling house prices were not 'disastrous', as they would narrow the gap between the value of a property and those further up the housing ladder, making up-sizing more affordable.

The West Country is most vulnerable to a property downturn, while those in Scotland and Ireland are the least so, the figures show, as prices there have more than doubled in the past four years, compared to a 20 per cent increase nationally.

House prices have been falling on a monthly basis since the end of last year as the credit squeeze has exacerbated affordability pressures after a decade-long boom.

The downturn appears to be gathering pace. Halifax, Britain's biggest mortgage lender, said house prices fell last month at their fastest pace since 1992 when the country was in the grip of recession.

The Bank of England unveiled an ambitious plan this week to swap banks' hard-to-trade mortgage assets for government securities in a bid to cushion the economy from the global credit squeeze.

It has also cut interest rates three times since December.

Its scope to deliver further rate cuts, however, is being limited by rising price pressures. -- Reuters

Biggest Drop In 3 Years In British House Prices

Source : The Business Times, April 29, 2008

(LONDON) UK house prices fell the most in more than three years in April as a dearth of credit and concern that the property slump is deepening deterred prospective homebuyers, Hometrack Ltd said in a statement yesterday.

Sign of the times: House prices in London, home to 1-in-8 of the British population, fell 0.7% in April

The average cost of a home in England and Wales dropped 0.6 per cent - the most since December 2004 - to £173,100 (S$468,300), the London- based research company said in a statement. Prices declined 0.9 per cent from a year earlier.

A surge in borrowing costs has prompted banks to withdraw their best mortgage offers, worsening the housing decline. Falling home prices are sapping consumer confidence and held economic growth to the slowest pace since 2005 in the first quarter.

'Weak confidence is effectively resulting in a 'buyers strike',' Richard Donnell, director of research at Hometrack, said. 'The current downward pressure on prices will only start to be reversed once there is a turnaround in buyer confidence' that will 'revolve around greater stability in the financial markets and an improved economic outlook'.

The report is based on a survey of 3,500 real estate agents and surveyors, calculating average values using judgments of achievable prices rather than sale prices alone. Prices fell in all 10 of the regions Hometrack follows. East Anglia and the West Midlands led declines, with a 0.8 per cent drop. Prices in London, home to 1-in-8 of the UK population, fell 0.7 per cent.

The findings add to evidence that the housing slump is deepening. House prices declined 2.5 per cent last month, the most since 1992, according to HBOS Plc, the largest UK mortgage lender. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' measure of sentiment in the UK housing market fell to the lowest since records began in 1978.

Mortgages approved by banks fell 46 per cent in March from a year earlier to the lowest level since 1997, the London-based British Bankers' Association said last Wednesday. The Bank of England is due to publish estimates of mortgage advances by all lenders today at 9:30am in London.

Falling property prices make Britons feel less wealthy and reduce the amount of equity owners can tap for spending. A threefold increase in home values over the past decade has helped the UK economy expand for 63 quarters.

The slump has put the economy on course for its worst performance in 16 years, with the International Monetary Fund predicting growth of 1.6 per cent this year. Growth was 0.4 per cent in the first three months of the year, the Office for National Statistics said last Friday.

The Bank of England, backed by the Treasury, last Monday offered to swap around £50 billion in government bonds for mortgage-backed securities in an effort to kick-start lending.

Higher money-market funding costs are making lenders reluctant to pass on three Bank of England interest rate cuts since last December to homeowners. Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and HSBC Holdings Plc have led writedowns among UK banks on securities tied to US sub-prime mortgages. Losses worldwide total almost US$309 billion. -- Bloomberg

Berlin Property Market Holds Huge Investment Potential

Source : The Business Times, April 29, 2008

But for it to materialise may take a long time

(BERLIN) Frank Roszak, a good-humoured Berlin butcher with a friendly smile, bought a spacious 10-room house in a pleasant suburb just west of the German capital for US$1.3 million about 16 years ago.

Two years ago he put the two-storey house with its leafy 1.5 hectare garden on the market for 500,000 euros (US$790,000).

It has been months since the last prospective buyer left - without making an offer.

His is not a tale of suddenly slumping house prices: It is the property market in Berlin. Other cities may be smarting from softening prices but Berlin, like many parts of Germany, never had a boom and has long been a veritable black hole for investors and a nightmare for homeowners.

'Berlin is a metropolis with provincial prices,' said Christine Schaefer, a property analyst at DZ Bank in Frankfurt.

Of course, there are some advantages to this: There is no turmoil from the broad market slump and talk at dinner parties rarely centres on real estate. Also, as real estate agents and some economists note, it gives the market huge potential.

'Isn't it better to buy into a market that's come down for a decade than invest in a market where the party's over?' said Tobias Just, a real estate analyst at Deutsche Bank.

One problem: to realise that potential looks like taking a very long time. Hopes rise, but the market does not.

As real estate values in countries including Britain, Spain and the United States spiralled higher in the last decade, in Germany's biggest city and the former Communist east prices for new houses and apartments fell by an average of one per cent per year. Prices for existing houses and apartments fell 2 per cent per year, according to banking data.

The situation is only marginally better in the more populous and prosperous west, where housing prices have risen by an annual average of less than one per cent in the last decade.

Many factors have weighed on German prices: relatively weak economic growth, a shrinking population, a traditional low rate of home ownership and cheap rent, generous pensions, risk-averse banks, high closing costs, and - completing the circle - the poor rate of return.

Noting prices in some cities such as Munich have risen steadily if unspectacularly, Mr Just said that the future for weak spots may not be as dim as the past - especially in Berlin where unemployment is gradually retreating, the oversupply of housing is slowly shrinking and economic growth is picking up.

At Lehman Brothers, the real estate team issued a report in March entitled Finally the comeback of Berlin? which - sceptically - highlighted an above-trend rate of rent increases of almost 10 per cent over the past four years in the city.

But the fundamental drivers for a market upturn are hard to find in Bohemian Berlin.

While cheap housing has attracted tens of thousands of students, overall the population has remained stagnant at 3.4 million. It has become the home of thousands of artists, actors, film-makers, musicians and even poets delighted to find such cheap places to live and work in.

Yet there is hardly any industry left - many big companies such as Siemens moved away after World War II and during the Cold War. The banking industry resettled in Frankfurt. Also, many government jobs stayed in Bonn.

The unemployment rate in Berlin is 15 per cent, nearly double the national average, and income levels are below average.

On top of that, just 13 per cent of Berliners own their own homes - well below an already low German rate of 40 per cent.

The high level of public-owned housing and accompanying low rents - and high vacancy rates - also depress property prices.

There was an ephemeral rise in the days immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but even the federal government's move back to Berlin in 1999 - creating some 20,000 jobs - failed to halt the price erosion.

Another false dawn has been foreign bargain-hunters.

Thousands have come - from Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia - to snap up homes at what appeared to be breathtakingly cheap prices. Some agents have taken English courses to cope with the undiminished demand from abroad.

Despite this, the prices are still breathtakingly cheap. -- Reuters

Slowdown Looks Unlikely In China

Source : The Business Times, April 29, 2008

Urbanisation, desire for better housing will put pressure on prices: think tank

(BEIJING) China's real estate market will not see a major slowdown in 2008 despite Beijing's intensified efforts to cool excessive price rises, the top government think-tank said in a report published yesterday.

Still going up: Inflows of speculative capital from overseas would increase during the first half of the year, says think tank

Urban property prices rose less rapidly in March than in the first two months, and the property outlook index, which covers price and investment trends, continued to decline in March after peaking in November.

But the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said that it was still premature to draw the conclusion that the market was heading south.

'Although transaction volumes have been declining in some cities since 2007 and more buyers are now waiting on the sidelines, that does not necessarily indicate the approach of a turning point,' it said in a report summarised by the official China Securities Journal.

China's urbanisation and residents' desire for better housing, compounded by the scarcity of land and the government's tightened grip on land supply to curb investment, would put continued pressure on prices in the long run, it said.

The National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, also said recently that upward pressure on property prices would increase in the second quarter as more people put their money in property to avoid the erosion of returns faced by bank deposits.

CASS said that inflows of speculative capital from overseas would increase during the remainder of the first half of the year, as investors sought shelter from global economic turbulence and bet on continuing appreciation of the yuan.

To brake increases in property prices, Beijing would continue its tightening campaign, including by curbing land supply and loan growth and giving further policy incentives aimed at increasing the supply of more affordable housing, it said.

CASS said the government also needed to curb the hoarding of land by developers, raise the downpayment requirement for second homes, which is currently 40 per cent, and start to levy a general property tax. -- Reuters

Will Property Hunters Hit Jackpot?

Source : The Electric New Paper, April 29, 2008

Some are buying Marine Parade flats, speculating MRT station will be here

TALK about planning ahead.

News of the Eastern Region MRT Line was released only three months ago and the location of its 12 stations have yet to be announced.

The line is expected to be completed only in 2020, a good 12 years away.

Some people are speculating that the new Maride Parade MRT station will be at the side occupied by the NTUC FairPrice outlet.

But some property hunters are already hoping to cash in by speculating on the location of one of the stations at Marine Parade.

They are buying up flats in the area in anticipation of possible capital and rental gains.

The line will connect Changi to Marina Bay via Marine Parade.

The coffee-shop talk is that the station will be built at the former Marine Parade Community Library site near Parkway Parade shopping mall.

This site is now occupied by an NTUC FairPrice outlet.

Housing agents contacted by The New Paper said that since the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announcement in January, some flats there have been snapped up by locals and Singapore permanent residents hoping to cash in.

Some buyers have anticipated that prices of flats nearest the MRT station will appreciate when the station is up and running, said housing agent Victor Lee.

He said these buyers were just guessing where the proposed station would be and 'are buying to invest, either to sell at a higher price or for good rentals when the station is ready'.

He said he has received a few calls enquiring about flats in the area.

'I know some units around that area have been sold partly based on that speculation. But this area has always been popular, whether or not there's an MRT station here.

'People like this area for the proximity to East Coast Park, the sea and Parkway Parade.

'The new MRT station will definitely be a bonus, of course,' said Mr Lee.

Housing agent Sam Lew of ERA, who specialises in that area, said that since the estate is quite small, it's not difficult to pin down where the station is likely to be.

Said Mr Lew: 'It should be in the central area because it's near Parkway Parade, the market and all the other HDB blocks there. That's the only piece of land that can logically accommodate an MRT station.'


He said there has been a slight price increase for flats there since the MRT line was announced, but this was muted partly because of the economic uncertainty and slowdown in en-bloc activity.

He estimated the price increase was about 5 per cent.

Said Mr Lew: 'The market has slowed down considerably because of the sub-prime issues. In the past, it took us about a month to sell a three-room flat. But now it'll take us about three months instead.'

The 21-km, 12-station line will extend to the residential estates of Tanjong Rhu, Marine Parade, Siglap, Bedok South and Upper East Coast which are currently not served by theMRT.


And those who speculate on the Marine Parade station may not be far off the mark with their predictions based on density factors.

For an MRT station to be commercially viable, several conditions need to be considered, said transport economist Michael Li of the Nanyang Business School.

These include future population growth, the catchment of the existing human traffic there and the density of the area, which includes residential, commercial and retail developments.

He said: 'Generally, if the property is near an MRT station, the value will appreciate and the rental will be good. But in this case, the timing of the construction could be many years later especially if the network is planned for year 2020.

'Some of these home-buyers may be there for the initial gains. They may get rid of their flats quickly to the next buyer while the news is still hot.'

When contacted, LTA said the site of the proposed Marine Parade station had not been determined yet.

The alignment of the line and station location will be determined only upon completion of the engineering studies, it said.


Said an LTA spokesman: 'Such studies typically take several years to complete because we need to ensure that the subsequent construction works are carried out properly and safely, with minimal inconvenience to commuters as well as businesses and residents along the (Eastern Region) line.'

Mr Eric Cheng, HSR's executive director, said he had heard rumours about an upcoming MRT station there about two years ago.

But he warned against buying property based on such rumours.

Said Mr Cheng: 'Consumers should ask for black-and-white proof that the MRT station is really going to be at that location because they'll be paying a premium for the place based on those rumours.

'The loss could be a fair bit if the station turns out to be somewhere else. Marine Parade Road is quite long. Things could change.'

CapitaLand Says 2007 Profit Will Be Hard To Match

Source : The Straits Times, Apr 29, 2008

SINGAPORE'S CapitaLand, South-east Asia's largest property developer, said that it will be unlikely to match 2007's earnings this year because of a lack of revaluation gains.

The firm should still do better at the operating level, including buying and selling property and managing property funds, said chairman Richard Hu at the firm's annual general meeting on Tuesday.

CapitaLand last year posted profit of $2.8 billion, of which about $1.1 billion was due to revaluation gains. It reports first quarter earnings on Wednesday. -- REUTERS

PropNex Takes Home Buyers To Court Over Fee Dispute

Source : The Straits Times, Apr 29, 2008

Case hangs on whether flat buyers who deal without agents should pay a commission, too

A COUPLE who bought a home and refused to pay the seller's agent the 1 per cent commission are being taken to court by a property company.

PropNex associate director Ricky Low Yong Sern is seeking about $4,000 in commission or a service fee in a case that is likely to turn the spotlight on the issue of whether home buyers should pay a fee to sellers' agents.

He was the exclusive agent handling the sale of a terrace house in Whampoa built over 30 years ago and classified as a Housing Board flat.

Marketing specialist Loh Yi Min, 29, and his wife, polytechnic lecturer Ariel Wee, 33, bought it for $400,000 in April last year. They had acted on their own without engaging an agent.

In documents submitted to court, Mr Low claimed that he had a right to collect a commission as he had exclusive rights to market the property. He also claimed that he had provided services to the buyers.

However, the couple refused to sign the commission agreement when they inked the sale last year. They claim they had made no deal to pay him a fee in the first place.

Both sides will attempt to reach an agreement when they attend a court dispute resolution session next month.

This is the first lawsuit of its kind started by eight-year-old PropNex.

The issue of commissions payable by independent buyers, or buyers who deal without agents, has been hotly debated in recent years.

While there is no law fixing the fees payable, property sellers typically pay their agents a 2 per cent fee, while buyers pay their agents a 1 per cent fee.

Many agents marketing HDB flats also charge independent buyers a 1 per cent fee, but this is not practised in private property deals. Property veterans said this disparity was due to the lower prices of HDB flats, which amount to a lower commission for agents.

Some independent buyers have complained that sellers' agents inform them that they have to pay a commission just before the purchase documents are signed, leaving them with little time to find out about their rights.

Once the buyers sign the commission agreements, they are bound to pay the fee.

However, agents have countered that independent buyers often leave the paperwork to the sellers' agents but refuse to pay a service fee.

Major real estate agencies contacted by The Straits Times have varied responses to such situations, although all maintain that independent buyers of HDB flats should pay a fee.

HSR property group chief executive Patrick Liew said his company takes three to four independent buyers to the Small Claims Tribunal each year for similar claims and has won payment each time.

ERA Singapore's assistant vice-president Eugene Lim said his company does not take independent buyers to court when no commission agreements are signed.

Meanwhile, the Consumers Association of Singapore has, in recent years, questioned the practice of agents taking commissions from both buyer and seller in the same transaction, citing a possible conflict of interest.

Singapore Banks Likely To Ride Out Challenges Ahead

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 April 2008

Global ratings agency, Fitch Ratings, sees a more challenging operating environment for Singapore banks going forward.

According to its latest report, Fitch expects the three local banks – DBS, OCBC and UOB – to see a slowdown in investment banking and capital market-related income over the next two years.

Loans growth is seen to be moderating, while loan-loss provisions are rising. However, Fitch said it is confident Singapore's Big Three will be resilient enough to ride out the challenges.

Ambreesh Srivastava, Senior Director, Financial Institutions, Fitch Ratings, said: "Singapore banks have taken fairly prudent levels of mark-to-market write-downs, close to 90 percent on account of CDOs (collateralised debt obligations) on subprime-related exposure.

"That is the main reason why all banks reported higher provisioning charges in 2007, compared to 2006 and previous years – more than 100 percent for DBS and OCBC; 66 percent for UOB.

"We do expect Singapore banks' loan-loss provisions to rise modestly from exceptionally low levels. Coming back to banks' structured investments, net exposure is quite modest, ranging from 1 percent for UOB to 5 percent for DBS."

And while fee income will continue to show good momentum, Fitch said non-interest income growth at the Big Three will be weighed down by decreasing capital market-related income.

A slowing property market also means interest income will likely moderate in the form of smaller loans growth, despite being buoyed by increasing borrowing activity in the construction sector.

Overall, Fitch remains positive about the outlook for Singapore banks due to their regional forays.

Mr Srivastava said: "We believe these banks have strong domestic franchises, the strongest bank credits in Asia, healthy financial conditions and improved management capabilities. All this is reflected in high-credit ratings.

"After several years of benign credit conditions in Singapore, the operating environment going forward will be more challenging. This is reflected in slower economic growth and moderation in asset prices.

"Banks' regional forays increase risk profile somewhat, but the disciplined manner (in which) they pursue this strategy, together with strong loss absorption indicators, makes banks reasonably resilient to challenging times ahead. Generally speaking, we are quite appreciative of this strategy."

This confidence is boosted by what Fitch calls "strong solvency positions" by the banks.

"The net non-performing loans – defined as gross NPL minus specific reserves – as a percent of equity is negative for all banks, underscoring strong solvency positions. Write-downs on such investments may dent earnings somewhat but not solvency issue for banks," said Mr Srivastava.

However, there remains a small chance that all this optimism could be derailed.

Mr Srivastava said: "In the unlikely event of a deep and prolonged recession in the US, which may impair consumer confidence globally, the property sector in Singapore and in the rest of Asia will be affected significantly...

"Given the banks' high-credit ratings, upward pressure is limited. Downward pressure may arise from event risk – large acquisition in less creditworthy institution or country."

Fitch has an AA- rating on all three local banks.- CNA/so

CapitaLand Completes Compulsory Acquisition Of Ascott

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 April 2008

Property developer CapitaLand has completed the compulsory acquisition of the Ascott Group, a serviced-apartments operator.

From 28 April, Ascott becomes an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of the company.

It will be delisted from the Singapore Exchange with effect from 29 April.

CapitaLand said the privatised Ascott will enhance the company's competitive advantage of having a fully integrated real estate and financial services value chain across sectors.

It will also increase cost savings through greater sharing of services and resources with CapitaLand's other unlisted business units. - CNA/vm

Banyan Tree To Launch China Development Fund By End-2008

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 April 2008

Luxury resorts and spa operator, Banyan Tree, has announced aggressive plans to expand its global operations.

The company believes that China-led growth will be a defining feature of global travel over the next few decades. So it is expanding its operations in the Chinese mainland to 12 locations from the current four.

To support the expansion, Banyan Tree said it is planning to launch a new US$400 million China development fund.

Ho Kwon Ping, Executive Chairman, Banyan Tree, said: "We recognise that there is a clear window of opportunity for us as a player in this space that we've identified. Suddenly this space has opened up, it's become a global space. There are no global players there. Only regional players like us."

The China development fund which is expected to be introduced later this year is similar to the company's existing IndoChina Hospitality Fund.

The company expects the new fund to mature within seven years. Banyan Tree plans to use the funds to further expand into other growth areas around the region.

Mr Ho continued: "In each of the funds that we set up, Banyan Tree will be the cornerstone investor with about 15 per cent. It will be the general partner (and) the hotels will be branded Banyan Tree or Angsana."

The mainboard-listed company also plans to open 47 new hotels over the next five years and expects to grow by up to 60 per cent annually. This follows a 142 per cent jump in net profits in 2007.

Banyan Tree also expects total global headcount to triple to 24,000 over the next four years. - CNA/vm

ERP Rate For Bukit Timah Expressway Gantry To Be Revised

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 April 2008

From 5 May, the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) rate for the Bukit Timah Expressway gantry will be increased by 50 cents to S$1.50.

The change will apply for the period between 7.30am and 8.00am.

There will be no changes to the ERP rates for other gantries.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it is revising the rate after it has completed its quarterly review of traffic conditions on ERP-priced roads and expressways.

It said this is to ensure optimal traffic flow on Singapore's roads.- CNA/so

New S$21m St Andrew's Autism Centre To Be Built At Elliot Road

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 April 2008

A new S$21-million centre catering to autistic people up to 55 years old will be built in the East Coast area.

St Andrew's Community Hospital in Simei

The St Andrew's Autism Centre will look at the comprehensive needs of people with autism, including education, social skills training and recreation. It will also prepare them for employment.

The centre will be located at a two-hectare area along Elliot Road, the site of the former St Andrew's Centre Hospital.

The new centre will have specially-equipped classes and daily training rooms, a sensory gym, music therapy and dance rooms, a library including a toy library, and a domestic science lab.

It will also have sheltered workshops, medical and assessment centres, as well as sports and outdoor play facilities. Family members can also access services such as counselling and autism-support training.

Currently, the St Andrew's Autism Centre is situated at the St Andrew's Community Hospital in Simei. It caters to autistic kids and youths up to 18 years old.

Although there are 18 special schools with a total enrolment of 1,200 children and youths with autism, only three schools are autism-specific.

While there are no actual figures for the adult autism population in Singapore, what is known is that services for them are inadequate. There are an estimated 30,000 people with autism in Singapore, but only one in 25 are served in the school system. - CNA/vm

Jurong General Hospital To Integrate Best Of Hospital Features

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 28 April 2008

The new Jurong General Hospital will be a "green building", with state-of-the-art technology. It may also be as high as 20 storeys to give a panoramic view of the Jurong Lake district.

Lim Suet Wun, Head of Planning Committee, Jurong General Hospital, said: "With each hospital we intend to improve on what's been done. So we certainly expect this hospital - in terms of its facilities, how it looks like and its operational aspects - to be the most modern hospital that the government could built."

Patients will have radio frequency tags which can provide their pulse rate and temperature automatically. This will be implemented at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in June.

The hospital will also be energy-efficient. Dr Lim continued: "It will have to integrate into its environment and certainly will have to have the convenience to make sure that we have links to all the adjacent buildings."

Dr Lim said it took his committee about eight months to conduct a feasibility study of the Jurong General Hospital. The 12-member committee comprises people who had experience in developing hospitals.

A model of the hospital will be unveiled in the later part of 2008.

The hospital, like all future facilities, will also have a community hospital next to it. This is to provide patients with step-down care, if needed.

The Changi and St Andrew's Hospitals, the first to pilot this arrangement, said such integration has led to greater synergy of resources and administrative work.

TK Udairam, Chief Executive Officer, Changi General Hospital, said: "We can schedule the patient to have surgery (or) therapy. Start here and then they continue in St Andrew's...

"Over time, if we can expand this, we can actually do the pathway so that it comes from CGH, goes to St Andrew's and even goes to step-down care."

Dr Loh Yik Hin, Chief Executive Officer, St Andrew's Community Hospital, said: "There has been greater efficiency because even in shared processes such as means testing, part of this can start during the inpatient stay at CGH and then we can complete the tail end of the means test."

"Being located next to CGH (Changi General Hospital) also helps us address some of the acute needs of our partner hospital. For instance, during the height of the acute bed crunch, we were able to let Changi General (Hospital) have 33 beds in one of our wards and this has gone quite some way in alleviating their bed crunch."

About 80 per cent of patients at St Andrew's hospital are referred to by CGH.

Structures like bridges will be built in the new Jurong General Hospital to connect the tertiary hospital to the community hospital, and also to other amenities in the area such as the MRT station and nearby shopping centres.

The Jurong General Hospital will be ready by 2015. - CNA/vm

31 ‘Stayers’ Back En Bloc Resister

Source : TODAY, Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A GROUP of 31 home-owners — most of them facing en bloc battles in condominium estates islandwide — have showed their support for one of their ilk, who was featured on the cover of Weekend Today.

Yesterday, representatives of the group, who call themselves the "Stayers", delivered an envelope containing a letter and $520 to Today's newsroom, in a symbolic show of support for business consultant Ken Lee.

Mr Lee, 52, had earlier got an en bloc application for his condominium, Airview Towers on River Valley Road, voided. But on Thursday, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court's decision and Mr Lee — who represented himself — was ordered to pay his opponents' legal costs.

Today understands this amount, to be decided in court, could be anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000.

In the letter with 31 signatures, the group — residents from estates such as Bayshore Park, Horizon Towers and Mandarin Gardens — expressed their "admiration" for Mr Lee's fight and said they wanted to "start a fund to help him pay his efforts".

"We, in our own condos, are fighting against the en blocs affecting all of us and would like Mr Lee to know that we share his sentiments, and we too will oppose the sale of our homes even if we have to fight alone, like him, to do so," the group wrote.

A member of the group, sales director Augustine Cheah, who lives in Bayshore Park, said the en bloc issue needed to be told from the point of view of the resident.

"The case for en bloc is being presented by developers and agents and they are all profit motivated," he said.

Members of the group, who come from some 13 estates, had met each other online by word of mouth and share an interest in resisting en bloc attempts.

When shown the letter, Mr Lee said he was "touched by the gesture and appreciate the kind thoughts", but doesn't know what to do with the money yet.

He added that he would consult a lawyer on the issue of repaying the legal costs.

Property Market Looks Weak: Citi

Source : The Straits Times, Apr 29, 2008

THE broader economic backdrop for the Singapore property market generally looks weak in the next 18 months, says Mr Don Hanna, Citi's global head of emerging markets economic and market analysis.

'The level of economic activity that we foresee in general continues to weaken this year and next,' he told reporters on the sidelines of Citi's closed-door Asia Pacific property conference at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia hotel yesterday.

One of the implications of the United States subprime crisis is that central banks in Singapore and many other nations are more concerned about the way real estate is financed, he said.

'In an economy like Singapore, which is probably the most open in the world, where you are going to see weaker global demand and lower trade flows, and as a result, lower income,' he added. And that would affect general demand for property, he said.

But Asia is in much better shape to ride out the downturn, said Citi Investment Research's director of research for the Asia-Pacific, Mr Adrian Faure.

He told reporters that a speaker from US home-loan lending giant Fannie Mae had said that there has never been a time when the US saw a fall in property prices all across the nation.

'But all of us in this part of the world are used to extreme and sharp up-and- down cycles, where these markets tend to be very efficient. They correct rapidly,' said Mr Faure.

In good markets, investors tend to be less choosy but as credit conditions get tougher, companies with high quality credit will have it easier, he said.

'Inevitably, this downturn is going to be a great opportunity for the big (firms) to consolidate, and to get better access to capital and projects.'

Asia - Some Bright Spots Amid Challenges

Source : The Business Times, April 29, 2008

Asia expected to weather real estate downturn

THE mood was generally subdued at a property conference held by Citi yesterday although a few positive assessments of the market provided some bright spots.

Opening the event, Citi country officer Piyush Gupta said that 2007 was a strong year for property across Asia but the first quarter of this year had been challenging.

Property indices are under-performing the broad market in several regional cities, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, he said.

Amid this broad picture however, it is not all doom and gloom. Banyan Tree executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping pointed out that the US sub-prime crisis and the resulting credit crunch have so far had minimal impact on the high-end hospitality business.

In fact, having just returned from a roadshow in the Middle East to promote the group's Indochina hospitality fund, Mr Ho said that investors' reception was positive.

According to him, there has been no perceptible slowdown in the hotel business, though travel within the US has probably come down.

'Even the sale of branded residences by us this year has increased several-fold over the last year,' said Mr Ho, as buyers probably see them as a relatively attractive form of alternative investment.

Citi's real estate research team also reckoned that there are some worthwhile investment real estate plays, despite the market slowdown, in the form of real estate investment trusts (Reits).

An April 25 Citi report on Singapore property says: 'We believe news flow for developers will remain negative and are hence putting a cap on developers' performance. Suntec, Ascendas, Parkway Life and Capitamall Trust are our preferred buys among Reits.'

Ending yesterday's media session on a hopeful note, Citi's Asia-Pacific director of research Adrian Faure said that although Asia will not be immune from the sub-prime crisis, it is in good shape to weather the real estate downturn, underpinned by low loan-deposit ratios and strong liquidity.

Allgreen Q1 Profit Plunges 65%

Source : The Business Times, April 29, 2008

Company cites US sub-prime crisis as a factor, says property market was subdued

ALLGREEN Properties yesterday posted net earnings of $17.5 million for the first quarter ended March 31 - a 65 per cent slump from $49.6 million in the same period last year.

Earnings per share plunged 66 per cent to 1.10 cents, from 3.28 cents in Q1 2007. And in similar fashion, revenue sank 52 per cent to $87.9 million, mainly due to a drop in development income.

Citing the US sub-prime crisis as a factor, Allgreen said the property market was subdued, which led to lower number of transactions in the residential sector.

'In view of the slowdown, the group held back launching residential projects,' it said. But landed properties launched at Pavilion Park, Bukit Batok saw good take-up.

The saving grace for Q1 was investment property revenue, which improved from Q1 2007 due to higher rents from offices, serviced apartments and retail space. Revenue from Traders Hotel also rose as a result of higher room rates.

But costs and expenses were up sharply. Finance cost increased 51 per cent from a year earlier due to borrowings for investments in China and Vietnam and land purchases in Singapore.

Other operating expenses soared 79 per cent, mainly due to higher depreciation and an 'unrealised exchange loss arising from US-dollar transactions in respect of investment in Vietnam'.

Despite the lacklustre first quarter results, Allgreen said it expects to be profitable in 2008, as it forecast when it issued its 2007 results.

According to Allgreen yesterday: 'The property sector saw a decline in transactions in Q1 2008 and this is likely to extend into Q2. However, we expect a pick-up in activity in the second half of 2008.'

Allgreen's stock closed three cents higher at $1.33 yesterday, with with more than 2.2 million shares changing hands.

Analysts are divided on the company's prospects. In the past month, CIMB-GK has anticipated it will 'underperform', while DBS Vickers and UBS have called a 'buy' on the shares.

German Fund Pays $744m For S'pore Office Block

Source : The Straits Times, Apr 29, 2008

Lehman Brothers and the regional arm of Japan-based Kajima have sold an office building development at 71 Robinson Road to a German buyer.

THE residential property sector may be cooling but the office sector is still relatively hot.

RECORD HIGH: The price paid for the Robinson Road building, due to be completed next year, translates to a high of $3,125 psf. -- PHOTO: KAJIMA OVERSEAS ASIA AND LEHMAN BROTHERS

United States investment bank Lehman Brothers and the regional arm of Japan-based Kajima have just sold an office building development at 71 Robinson Road to a German buyer.

The price was a hefty $743.75 million, sources say, though the sum was not officially disclosed.

In October 2006, they had paid just $163.4 million for the site. Last September, the pair said they would spend about $450 million to develop it.

Kajima will complete the building as the contractor before it is delivered to the buyer, German real estate asset manager Commerz Real's real estate fund hausInvest global.

The fully-owned unit of Commerzbank said yesterday that it is buying the site for an undisclosed sum from the partnership of Kajima Overseas Asia and Lehman Brothers. It said it wants to ride on the ongoing growth in Singapore's office sector.

The fund's price translates to a record $3,125 per sq ft (psf), based on 238,000 sq ft of net lettable area. The nearby Hitachi Tower was sold early this year for $811 million or $2,901 psf.

The 15-storey top grade building, in the Central Business District, has a gross floor area of 280,000 sq ft and is due to be completed in the second half of next year.

Jones Lang LaSalle said they had embarked on a global marketing campaign after the sellers appointed them to look for a buyer late last year.

There were other contenders, said its managing director for Singapore and South-east Asia, Mr Chris Fossick. He said they are now in serious talks with a number of parties wishing to lease space in the building.

'There is keen interest in the Singapore office market, particularly from international investment funds which take a medium to long-term view of the market,' said Mr Fossick.

Commerz Real management board member Hans-Joachim Kuehl said they expect to attract rents of about $15 psf.

Commerz Real, which was advised by CB Richard Ellis, is no stranger to the office market in Singapore. Late last year, the same fund hausInvest global bought 78 Shenton Way for $650 million, or $1,857 psf.

Record $3,125 PSF Paid For Office Building In Volatile Market

Source : The Business Times, April 29, 2008

Commerzbank unit buys 71 Robinson Rd for $743.8m

Commerz Real, a fully-owned subsidiary of Germany's Commerzbank, has bought 71 Robinson Road, setting a record in the process and perhaps heralding a new wave of office deals.

The price paid for the building, which was owned by a partnership of Lehman Brothers and Kajima Overseas Asia, was not disclosed by Commerz Real. But sources say it was $3,125 per sq ft of net lettable area (NLA), or $743.8 million. This is 7.7 per cent higher than the $2,900 psf of NLA paid for Hitachi Tower in January.

Lehman/Kajima acquired the building in October 2006 from SingTel for $163.4 million. A year later, the partnership said it would spend about $450 million, including the land cost of $163.4 million, to redevelop 71 Robinson Road into a 280,000 sq ft (gross floor area) building to be completed by mid-2009.

While the selling price represents a healthy capital appreciation, it is understood that the acquisition comes with a coupon payment by Lehman/Kajima to Commerz Real amounting to 4.5 per cent - or about the investment yield for Commerz Real for the duration of construction.

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) was appointed by Lehman/ Kajima to market the development in late-2007. JLL managing director (SEA) Chris Fossick said marketing was done globally, with interest from both Singapore and international funds.

In terms of leasing, Mr Fossick said there are no pre-commitments yet but talks are going on with several parties.

Commerz Real was advised by CB Richard Ellis. Commerz Real management board member Hans- Joachim Kuehl said: 'We have seen strong interest from major financial institutions in the development and expect to attract rents in the region of $15 psf.'

The acquisition was made by Commerz Real's real estate fund hausInvest global which also owns 78 Shenton Way, bought in December 2007 for $650 million or $1,857 psf of NLA.

It is worth noting that 78 Shenton Way was sold by a joint venture between Credit Suisse and CLSA funds after they paid $348.5 million for it earlier in the same year.

JLL's Mr Fossick believes this year could see more such assets held by opportunistic funds go to core funds like Commerz Real.

By his reckoning, 2007 saw core funds acquire at least 10 office assets held by opportunistic funds. Larger deals include that by CLSA, which sold the SIA Building to German pension fund SEB.

Mr Fossick believes at least another 13 office assets could be targets for core funds, including DBS Towers 1 and 2. 'We could look back on 2008 and still see quite a lot of transactions despite the global credit crunch,' he said.