Friday, May 16, 2008

Bar Raised; No Gold BCA Design Awards

Source : The Business Times, May 16, 2008

THE Building and Construction Authority (BCA) announced the results of its 2008 Universal Design Awards yesterday.

Out of 34 entries - one more than in the inaugural competition last year - three buildings garnered a silver award and six attained a bronze award.

Buildings were judged on six criteria - connectivity, accessibility, user-friendliness, safety, aesthetics and corporate philosophy. 'No gold awards were given out because we have raised the bar,' said assessment panel chairman Cheong Hee Kiat.

Prof Cheong explained that this year the judges went beyond surface compliance with the first four criteria, deciding that barrier-free access was the bare minimum. They looked for a corporate commitment to universal design, which broadly means 'design that is friendly to all', on the part of building owners, designers and developers.

BCA building plan and management director Wong Wai Ching said universal design is 'an increasing concern against the backdrop of a greying population', and encouraged the public to highlight the lack of friendly features through BCA's feedback channels.

Alluding to a 1990 code that legally requires all new buildings to meet minimum accessibility standards, Mr Wong said: 'Over the years we have been upgrading the barrier-free code to make more requirements mandatory.'

In that vein, BCA is looking at incorporating current universal design recommendations into the code when it next comes under review five years from now.

More owners and developers are using BCA awards to market their buildings, Mr Wong said. It is a 'differentiating factor in a highly competitive market', he believes.

The nine winners will receive their awards from National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan at the BCA Awards Night next Thursday.

Banyan Tree Posts 38% Q1 Profit Jump

Soure : The Business Times, May 16, 2008

Revenue boosted by strong growth in hotel investment and property sales

RESORT operator Banyan Tree Holdings has reported a 38 per cent increase in net profit to $15.4 million for its first quarter ended March 31.

Total revenue, including other operating income of $7.8 million, rose 34 per cent to $140.3 million, boosted by strong growth in hotel investment and property sales. Operating expenses increased 32 per cent.

Mr Ho: Slight easing in corporate bookings offset by leisure market growth

Banyan Tree's hotel investment revenue grew 18 per cent to $77 million on a better performance by its Laguna Phuket, Banyan Tree Bangkok and Angsana Velavaru resorts.

Revenue from sales of branded properties rose more than fourfold, boosted by Dusit Villas, Banyan Tree Lijiang Villas and Banyan Tree Bangkok Suites. Sales of unbranded properties grew 18 per cent.

The company said that a 'substantial portion' of $107.4 million of unrecognised revenue as of Q1 2008 would be recognised in FY2008.

Q1 earnings per share rose to 2.03 cents, from 1.47 cents a year ago.

'Our Q1 2008 results have been in line with our expectations,' Banyan Tree managing director Ariel Vera said at a results briefing. 'Although we are in a period of uncertainty in the world economy and global financial markets, there has so far been no material negative impact on our hotel operations.'

Executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping noted a 'slight softening' of 5-10 per cent in corporate bookings and meetings, but said that this was 'more than offset by growth in the leisure market'.

Banyan Tree hopes to grow its footprint by expanding its resort and hotel operations to new strategic locations. It will add 47 resorts to its network in the next four years, and expand its existing Banyan Tree Bangkok and Angsana Li Jiang resorts.

The company is also confident of raising US$400 million through its Indochina Hospitality Fund by the end of the year, after a successful roadshow in the Middle East.

Shares of Banyan Tree closed three cents higher at $1.40 yesterday.

Get the link to Banyan Tree's financial results at

UN Slashes World 2008 Growth Forecast

Source : The Business Times, May 16, 2008

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations on Thursday sharply curtailed its forecast for world economic growth this year because of worsening US housing and credit markets

In a midyear update of its annual economic survey, the world body predicted a rise in global gross domestic product of just 1.8 per cent in 2008, below its forecast of 3.4 per cent just four months ago and the 3.8 per cent achieved in 2007.

A housing bubble burst last year in the United States, where a crisis over 'subprime' - or risky - mortgages spread financial turmoil around the globe

The revision was due to 'further deterioration in the housing and financial sectors of the United States in the first quarter of 2008; this is expected to be a further drag for the world economy, extending into 2009,' the 15-page report said.

A housing bubble burst last year in the United States, where a crisis over 'subprime' - or risky - mortgages spread financial turmoil around the globe.

That turbulence, the weakening US dollar, global imbalances and soaring oil and food prices meant that 'the world economy is teetering on the brink of a severe global economic downturn,' the report said.

In the United States itself, the report issued by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs projected a GDP fall of 0.2 per cent this year, compared with its prediction in January of a 2 per cent rise.

The report stressed that all its figures could turn out to be higher or lower depending on how effective US monetary and fiscal stimulus measures were in combating the crisis.

'Our basic analysis is that the problems have not bottomed out yet,' said Rob Vos, a divisional director at the UN agency.

Asia slowdown
The UN update also saw slowdowns not just in western Europe and Japan but also in the dynamic economies of East and South Asia, where growth would fall to 5.9 per cent from 8.5 per cent last year.

China would be hit by slowing exports, tightening monetary policy, appreciation of its currency and rising labour costs, the report said.

For the first time in five years the strongest growth - 6.4 per cent - was expected in the 'transition' economies of former Soviet and southeastern European states. Oil prices rising over US$120 a barrel have fuelled a major boom in Russia.

The report blamed continued economic decline in Myanmar - likely to be worsened by this month's devastating cyclone - and slowdowns in Sudan and Ethiopia for a drop in the poorest countries' growth to 5.2 per cent from 6.5 per cent last year.

The UN said world food commodity prices, after increasing by one quarter last year, had reached an annual inflation rate of 57 per cent in March and were expected to go on rising this year and stay high next year before dropping.

World food supply rose by 5 per cent last year but still fell short of rising demand, due to natural disasters and to rising incomes leading to extra demand for meat.

The report predicted the global economic slowdown would cause oil prices to fall to US$95 a barrel this year and US$90 next year.

The report followed previous ones in calling for concerted international action to tackle financial problems, including requirements that banks and other institutions build up capital during upswings to cushion against possible future losses.

It also said the international reserve system should be switched from the dollar alone to a basket of currencies.

On food prices, it said the crisis had highlighted neglect of agriculture in many parts of the world and called on countries to invest in water supply, infrastructure, better seeds and fertilisers, education and research. -- REUTERS

Judge: Will Is Absurd, Unusual

Source : The Electric New Paper, May 16, 2008


# Man appoints son as trustee in will
# Leaves entire estate on 'trust to be distributed' to same son
# Family sue son, who was found not 'entirely truthful' by court

A BUSINESSMAN's strange will, over which his family is feuding, has raised the eyebrows of judges in Singapore's highest court.

Judge of Appeal V K Rajah said of the late Mr Ng Teow Yhee's last testament: 'In my years in (law) practice, I have never seen a will of this sort.

'It is a highly unusual will where the beneficiary is also the sole trustee.'

Later on in the hearing, he again commented: 'It has a highly unusual form. There are aspects of it that border on the ridiculous. How can someone be the trustee for himself? It's absurd!'

Mr Ng had built up his fortune in the stevedoring and shipping business.

He died in April 2001 at the age of80.

And his will, made on 27 Nov 2000, left everything to his 'favourite' son, Mr Sebastian Ng Hock Guan, 51.

This has led to a bitter division in the family, with the late Mr Ng's wife, Madam Low Ah Cheow, 82, two of her eight children and two grandchildren in one camp. They sued Mr Sebastian Ng for a share of the estate.

They argued that Mr Sebastian Ng was supposed to hold part of the money given to him by the late Mr Ng in 'secret trust' for them.

His estate, which includes an East Coast bungalow on Wiltshire Road, and shares in his company, is estimated to be worth more than $7 million.


After a 35-day trial in the High Court last year, Justice Woo Bih Li said Mr Sebastian Ng had not been 'entirely truthful', but that the other side's evidence was also fraught with inconsistencies and was unreliable.

He ruled that Mr Ng had given his entire estate to his son Sebastian, in the expectation that he would do right by his family.

Mr Sebastian Ng, he said, would have to be dictated by his conscience, though there was no legal obligation.

Madam Low's group, who subsequently changed lawyers, appealed against the decision.

Yesterday, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong and Judges of Appeal V K Rajah and Andrew Phang expressed their doubts over the way the will was worded, and the lack of witnesses to how it had been interpreted by the lawyer to the Hokkien-speaking Mr Ng before he put his thumbprint on it.

The questionable part of the will was that Mr Sebastian Ng would hold 'on trust' the late Mr Ng's residuary estate (after paying all debts and expenses), to be distributed to himself.

Of this, Justice Rajah said: 'You don't distribute to one person. If it's going to one person, why use the word distribute?'

CJ Chan added: 'In a normal will, when you want to give everything to a beneficiary, you simply appoint an executor, give everything to (the beneficiary) absolutely.

'There's nothing to hold on trust.'

The judges also questioned how the will had been interpreted to the late Mr Ng.

Justice Rajah said: 'What troubles me is that there's no line-by-line interpretation (by lawyer Alan Lee to Mr Ng).'

As it also turned out, Mr Lee has been handling matters for Mr Sebastian Ng and his wife for a long time.

CJ Chan pointed out about the will: 'The draft was never produced, the associate who drafted it never gave evidence. We don't know what was interpreted.'

To which, Mr Sebastian Ng's lawyer, Mr Ling Tien Wah, replied that this was because the associate had suffered a stroke and gone into a coma, so could not be called as a witness.

Justice Phang also noted that Mr Ng leaving everything to his son Sebastian, thus cutting the rest of his family off, would result in a 'disconnect' with the way he treated them when he was alive.

They were drawing salaries from the company's subsidiary and a couple of them even lived with him in the same house.

Justice Rajah said the judges had many unresolved questions about the case, in which 'there are no angels'.

CJ Chan said: 'There are many question marks, can you assist us?'

The judges also pointed out to the lawyer for Madam Low's camp, Mr Lim Joo Toon, to consider the possibility of a 'failed trust' and asked him to address that point.


A 'failed trust' would mean that the intestate succession law will kick in, which could result in half the money going to Madam Low, with the remainder split equally among the late Mr Ng's eight children.

In which case, Mr Sebastian Ng might end up worse off.

That's one way in which the appeal court may decide, said Justice Rajah.

But, said CJ Chan: 'This case need not necessarily be decided on an all or nothing basis.'

Justice Rajah told Mr Ling: 'Do you get what we are saying? That your client may be better off trying to resolve this amicably.'

He added: 'We were trying to be delicate. Let me be more direct.

'Now that everything is so stark, it could be all or nothing.'

Mr Ling then asked the court to adjourn the case, so that he could speak to his clients and the lawyers for the other side on how to proceed.

When The New Paper checked last night, the parties had yet to settle the case.

NTUC Income To Sell Beach Rd Property

Source : The Business Times, May 16, 2008

AMID a quiet property market, NTUC Income is selling a small commercial property in Beach Road that could fetch around $24 million to $26 million.

Beach Junction, at 67 Beach Road, is a 999-year leasehold building opposite Shaw Towers. It sits at the junction of Beach Road and Middle Road.

Beach Junction: The 999-year leasehold building opposite Shaw Towers may fetch $24m to $26m

The six-storey development has a net lettable area of about 19,000 sq ft and is fully tenanted.

More than half of the leases expire this year, which means there is potential for near-term rental appreciation, according to marketing agent CB Richard Ellis.

'This is also a unique opportunity for owner-occupiers looking for their own building in a very accessible location,' it said.

The property is served by City Hall and Bugis MRT stations. Accessibility will be enhanced by the completion of Esplanade station on the Circle Line by 2010.

New investors or owner-occupiers will also be able to give the building a new name.

An industry source told BT that the site is worth about $1,300-$1,400 psf.

Besides being close to the huge, eco-friendly South Beach mixed project by a City Developments-led consortium, Beach Junction is expected to benefit from plans for the nearby Ophir Road/Rochor Road corridor, which will be transformed into a commercial node with offices, hotels and supporting uses.

Expression of interest for Beach Junction closes at 3pm on June 5.

CDL Chief Kwek Leng Beng Awaiting Right Time To Buy

Source : The Straits Times, May 16, 2008

PROPERTY tycoon Kwek Leng Beng has warned that most property investors follow the herd instinct and wait too long in a cautious market - then make a wrong move.

The executive chairman of City Developments (CDL) said he remains upbeat about prospects for the real estate scene in Singapore, despite recent weak sales volumes.

Mr Kwek, who was a panellist at the Financial Times Asia Property Summit held at his St Regis Hotel yesterday, said the property market is just consolidating.

The mood in the Singapore property market is cautious in the wake of the United States sub-prime crisis, with many buyers and sellers preferring to remain on the sidelines.

He said he was waiting for the opportunity to 'go in and buy at the right time, be a bottom fisher'.

But most people will do the opposite, he said. 'You notice (people) will keep on waiting... until it's too late,' he said.

'It's the herd instinct... the majority will be wrong.' A shrewd investor will act on his own, he said.

If the casino-led boom in Macau's luxury homes market is anything to go by, Singapore will do even better as it will have two casinos and other major events, he said.

'We are victims of our own success,' Mr Kwek.

'In the old days, we had only regional investors from Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan... But today, we have big investors like Morgan Stanley, hedge funds.'

Mr Christopher Fossick, Jones Lang LaSalle's managing director for South-east Asia, who was on the same panel, said there is now a higher proportion of investors than before, compared with occupiers.

Investors tend to be more sensitive to market sentiment, he said.

CDL, which has held back the launch of four residential projects because of poor sentiment, said in its recent earnings announcement that it plans to release them once sentiment improves and when pent-up demand can be realised.

'In the first place, we were sick,' said Mr Kwek of the property market before its recent boom. 'But today, we have shifted to another platform. Instead of relying on technology, we are relying on our status as a global city.'

He also told reporters yesterday that hotel rates will continue to rise this year because of short supply.

The office market will also do well, though rent increases have moderated. As for the much talked-about office oversupply situation come 2010 or 2011, Mr Kwek thinks supply will not pose a problem then because the current construction boom will check that.

Leng Beng Says S'pore Real Estate Market Sustainable

Source : The Business Times, May 16, 2008

CityDev boss sees further investment opportunities ahead

HOTEL and property tycoon Kwek Leng Beng believes Singapore's real estate market is sustainable and further investment opportunities lie ahead.

'I am also waiting for the opportunity ... to go in and buy at the right time,' he said at a property conference yesterday.

The executive chairman of City Developments said growth in Macau's gaming industry had driven up residential property prices there sharply. And with two integrated resorts and big events such as the Youth Olympics in the next few years, Mr Kwek reckons the future is bright for Singapore real estate.

According to country head of Jones Lang LaSalle Singapore Christopher Fossick, the current slowdown in property demand is largely sentiment-driven, and many investors are probably waiting to purchase at better prices.

In terms of office space, Mr Kwek said: 'There has been a lot of talk that by 2010 and 2011 there will be a lot of oversupply. I do not believe so because in the first place, construction is a problem here.'

He cited rising construction costs as a reason for this view.

While office rents have been rising, Mr Fossick does not see this as a major business concern. Sharing feedback from multinational companies, he said wages are a much larger component of the cost of doing business, compared with rents.

Mr Kwek is also positive on the outlook for the hospitality real estate market. He believes the shortage of hotel rooms in Singapore and the rise in intra-regional travel will keep room rates on an uptrend.

Although Mr Kwek is generally upbeat on prospects for local real estate, he did express one concern. While investments from institutional funds have helped steady the market, 'funds have a duration of life and will get out', he said.

On the other hand, 'for the retail buyers, when they get out, they don't get out all at the same time'.

Mr Kwek asked in a panel discussion why the recent boom in Singapore's property market did not attract many individual investors from the West, while funds showed huge interest. The director of property at Henderson Global Investors Asia, Chris Reilly, said this could be due to the lack of familiarity with Asian real estate among retail buyers in the West.

Property Seems Paler, But It's Anyone's Call

Source : The Business Times, May 16, 2008

Volumes shrink, prices weaken but some segments are holding firm

Based on the latest monthly developer sales data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), property prices could be on the downward trend.

Developer sales fell, with April seeing only 274 transactions. This is about 9 per cent lower than the 301 units sold in March, though still higher than the 174 units sold in February.

And while it is difficult to accurately pinpoint price movements with such low volume, an analysis by Knight Frank of overall median prices achieved nevertheless registered an 8.9 per cent drop in April, falling to $943 psf compared to $1,035 psf in March.

The peak median price of over $1,400 psf was reached in August 2007.

Knight Frank director (research and consultancy) Nicholas Mak also explained that the analysis was a 'median of median prices', and so may not be a precise reflection of price movements.

Mr Mak also said that applying a different mode of analysis to the same data - the formula used to calculate URA's quarterly property price index for instance - could even show that prices have increased slightly.

Still, a comparison of monthly median prices of recently launched developments does suggest that prices could be falling.

The 79-unit Blu Coral was launched in February with nine units sold at a median price of $872 psf. In March, 28 units were sold at a median price of $802 psf, while in April, 18 units were sold at a median price of $657.

Similarly, 53 units of the 106-unit, The Verve, were launched in March with 36 units sold at a median price of $1,187 psf. In April, 8 units were sold at a median price of $1,055 psf.

And nine units of the 625-unit, The Quartz, were sold in March at a median price of $742 psf, followed by 14 units sold in April at a median price of $721 psf.

Interestingly, one unit of Waterfront Waves was sold at $909 psf in April, higher than the median price of $806 in March when 14 units were sold.

Perhaps another indication of the weakening market is that 43 units of 659-unit The Parc Condominium, previously reported as being fully sold, have re-emerged on the market. According to the monthly data, the returned units first appeared in February.

A source that did not want to be named also said that these units were returned by buyers who chose not to exercise their options, forfeiting a quarter of the 5 per cent downpayment in the process.

Jones Lang LaSalle head of research (South-East Asia) Chua Yang Liang has also analysed median prices as a measure of volatility and suggests that this has increased in the Outside Central Region (OCR).

Dr Chua explained that volatility, as a measure of how wide market prices are per unit dollar of the median price achieved could also reflect, 'the market's speculative level'. As such, he said: 'It would appear that upgraders may be returning, with entry level projects that are moderately priced between $750 to $850 psf as the preferred choice.'

Supporting this were the healthy sales of the 56-unit Stadia at Yio Chu Kang, which saw 52 units sold. Two units were sold for under $750 psf while the remaining 50 were sold at between $750 and $1,000 psf.

In the OCR, Dr Chua said based on the analysis, median prices continued to soften by 4.2 per cent. But he also added that the analysis was just an 'indication of the market's mood', and does not account for product differentiation or physical attributes of each development.

While the volume of sales was low in the Central Core Region with just 19 non-landed homes transacted, Dr Chua believes that the low volatility in median prices there suggests that market activity and future prices in the high end market are likely to remain stable.

Also holding this view is CB Richard Ellis Research executive director Li Hiaw Ho who noted that two units in Scotts Square were sold at around $4,300 psf, a unit at Orchard Scotts was sold at $2,520 psf and two units at Skypark were sold at around $2,300 psf.

'Although high-value transactions were limited, the individual transactions seemed to indicate that prices in the high-end market were still holding firm,' he added.

The analysis of price movements will however, remain an academic one, and as such will remain open to debate.

Colliers International director (research and advisory) Tay Huey Ying said there were too few transactions at the higher end of the market to comment fairly on the sector.

And even for the OCR, she noted that the median transacted price for mass-market units averaged $792 psf in April, about 8 per cent higher than the average median price of $729 in August 2007 when the highest sale volume for the sector was registered.

US Sub-Prime Crisis Hurting Asian Property: GIC

Source : The Straits Times, May 16, 2008

THE sub-prime crisis in the United States is starting to weaken Asian property markets, said the real estate arm of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) yesterday.

GIC Real Estate president Seek Ngee Huat told a regional property conference that the impact of the crisis could hasten downtrends in the Asian property markets, according to a report by news agency Reuters.

'The contagion effects of the sub-prime crisis can potentially accelerate the downward spin of the property cycle,' he said in a keynote speech at the Financial Times Asia Property Summit.

'Some market weakening is being sensed in Asia, particularly in Japan and in Australia.'

In Australia, house prices are growing more slowly and demand for mortgages fell 6.1 per cent in March from February, according to the Reuters report.

It added that in Japan, the stock of unsold apartments is rising, while housing starts fell 15.6 per cent in March from a year ago.

Housing starts - the number of new private homes under construction - are used as an indicator of the state of an economy.

On the bright side, the sub-prime carnage presents opportunities for well-positioned players, Dr Seek said.

But he added that any interested party would face competition from other institutional investors.

'As always, weak markets favour those with the capacity to take strategic positions, and so the sub-prime meltdown presents threats as well as opportunities,' he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Morgan Stanley has estimated that GIC manages more than US$330 billion (S$456.8 billion) of assets. This makes it the world's third-largest sovereign wealth fund, behind the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Norway's Government Pension Fund.

GIC Real Estate is also one of the top 10 property investors in the world, with more than 200 investments across more than 30 countries.

Its multibillion-dollar portfolio includes the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney and the Westin Paris in France, among other buildings.

In his speech, Dr Seek said that GIC began by investing in developed markets. It only started to focus on emerging markets in Asia in the mid-1990s.

Interest In Asian Property Seen Growing

Source : The Business Times, May 16, 2008

GIC Real Estate says weaker market favours those taking strategic position

The sub-prime crisis may have affected Asian property markets, but interest in the sector is likely to grow. The Government of Singapore Investment Corp's (GIC) real estate arm is also confident about investment opportunities going forward.

'There is plenty to go around - we will all have fun competing,' said president of GIC Real Estate Seek Ngee Huat at a property conference yesterday.

Going by the pace at which real estate projects are emerging in Asian cities, Dr Seek believed that there would be a continuous supply to meet different risk-return appetites.

Dr Seek recognised that the sub-prime crisis has weakened Asian markets, particularly Japan and Australia. 'The contagion effects of the sub-prime crisis . . . can potentially accelerate the downward spin of the current cycle,' he said.

Nevertheless, the outlook for the property market was not entirely bleak. 'Weak markets favour those who have capacity to take a strategic position,' Dr Seek said. 'The sub-prime meltdown presents threats but there are also opportunities.'

And many around the world are likely to see investment opportunities in Asian property markets as well. 'Massive build-up of investment funds in the world, coupled with the attraction of Asia as a growth region of the future, will ensure continuous global interest in Asian real estate,' said Dr Seek. He pointed out that this will inevitably lead to greater competition.

Dr Seek said that GIC Real Estate had focused mainly on developed markets in its first 10 years, and only started investing in Asia in the 1990s. Even then, it was 'way ahead' of other institutional investors.

GIC Real Estate ranks among the world's top 10 real estate investment firms, according to its website. The unit has over 200 investments across more than 30 countries, culminating in a multi-billion US dollar portfolio.

GIC Real Estate had in March, through its affiliate Reco Hotels JV Private Ltd, entered into a joint venture with Host Hotels & Resorts Inc to explore investment opportunities in Asia and Australia. The real estate unit also bought the Westin Tokyo hotel for about 80 billion yen (S$1.05 billion) in February.

Anchorpoint Relaunched As First 'Outlet' Mall

Source : The Business Times, May 16, 2008

FRASERS Centrepoint Trust (FCT) has relaunched Anchorpoint, the suburban shopping mall in Bukit Merah, after giving it a $13 million makeover.

The mall is branded as Singapore's first 'outlet mall', with several brand- name chains setting up 'outlet' stores which offer heavily discounted goods.

Already, the strategy seems to be paying off.

Christopher Tang, CEO of Frasers Centrepoint Asset Management, the manager of FCT, said that in the three months following the progressive relaunch of Anchorpoint in February, shopper traffic has shot up 20 per cent. Rentals have also jumped to $7.50 per square foot, up from $5.40 psf a year ago.

Anchorpoint's revamp, Mr Tang said, is part of FCT's enhancement and acquisition strategy in the next few years.

Following Anchorpoint, the next suburban mall in line for a facelift is Singapore's first suburban mall, Northpoint. It will be integrated with a new building, Northpoint 2, at a total cost of $38.6 million, and will be completed by year-end.

Mr Tang also says FCT will be acquiring existing malls such as Yew Tee Point and Bedok Mall as part of its strategy. 'All the new malls that we add are very well located, with high catchment area, are next to MRTs, and have very good connectivity,' he said.

Although more mega malls are expected to enter the market soon, Mr Tang remains confident that FCT's suburban malls will not be facing a rush for tenants. 'Generally, there is additional retail space, and the bulk of it is in the Orchard Road belt and Marina Square,' he said, adding that suburban malls were a 'totally different market'.

Banyan Tree Stands Strong

Source : TODAY, Friday, May 16, 2008

Profit up 39% in spite of global slowdown

So far, so good. The slowing global economy appears to have had only a modest effect on Banyan Tree Holdings' bottomline to date.

In the three months to end-March, it posted a robust 38-per-cent rise in profit to $15.4 million from a year earlier, largely driven by hotel investment and sales of luxury villas, town homes and bungalows boasting its prestigious brand.

"For the hotel business, there is a slight downturn in the corporate business but this has been more than offset by the increase in leisure business," said Banyan Tree executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping.

Banyan Tree is a leading manager and developer of premium resorts, hotels and spaces in the Asia-Pacific, with 23 resorts and hotels, 64 spas, 65 galleries and two golf courses.

First quarter revenues rose 34 per cent to $140.3 million. However, expenses grew at a similar pace, by 32 per cent.

Mr Ho said he expected both its hotel business and property sales to remain strong for the balance of this year.

"We do not seem to be affected by the sub-prime crisis and we remain optimistic that this year we should be able to perform quite well," he said.

Mr Khoo Chen Hsung, research vice-president at CIMB-GK, said the result was above his expectations and "very encouraging".

Meanwhile, Banyan Tree also announced that it signed a new contract with Galaxy Entertainment Group, Asia's second-biggest listed casino operator, to manage a resort in Macau.

Banyan Tree will design and manage 254 rooms in the resort, which is expected to open in around 2010.

Welcome To The Revamped Anchorpoint

Source : TODAY, Friday, May 16, 2008

With rentals in the central business district hitting the roof, more retailers are choosing to set up shop away from the city centre.

Hoping to capitalise on this, Fraser and Neave chairman Lee Hsien Yang yesterday relaunched the group's Anchorpoint Shopping Centre in Alexandra Road following a $13-million renovation.

According to a company spokesman, average rentals at Anchorpoint, owned by Frasers Centrepoint Trust (FCT), are still below $10 per sq ft (pst), compared with prices as high as $70pst in Orchard Road. Even then, this is at least 40 per cent higher than pre-renovation.

"The new concept for Anchorpoint as a village-theme outlet mall has been a big hit in Singapore," says FCT chief executive Christopher Tang. "Traffic has been growing and we expect it to accelerate with the relaunch. More importantly, sales turnover at the stores has also risen markedly."

As a result, the shopping mall now enjoys an occupancy rate of 98 per cent with new outlets such as Billabong and Pedro. America's Disney has also set up its first food and beverage outlet in Singapore, "Disney Naturally".

Encouraged by the reception to Anchorpoint's revamp, FCT is now spending $38.6 million to renovate its Northpoint Mall. This will be integrated with its new Northpoint 2 development, which costs over $150 million to build and adds 80,000 sq ft of retail space.

Dive In Property Launches

Source : TODAY, Friday, May 16, 2008

Developers have lowered asking price to bring in buyers

Singapore's much-anticipated property market slowdown is here.

April saw a 58-per-cent dive in new property launches by developers as buyer sentiments soured.

According to data released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday, developers put 271 new private homes on sale last month, down from 642 in March.

Sales dropped by another 13 per cent with just 279 homes changing hands across Singapore, down from 322 in March. This is a sharp contrast to the 1,885 units launched and 1,731 sold at the peak of the housing boom last August.

"There is still a bit of a stand-off between developers and buyers," said DTZ Debenham Tie Leung's senior research director Chua Chor Hoon.

"Buyers are still taking a wait-and-see approach as they are not sure how things are going to unfold. It doesn't make sense for them take the plunge and buy unless they have a strong reason to."

To lure buyers, some developers have lowered the asking price.

According to Mr Nicholas Mak, a director at Knight Frank, the median prices of new sales dipped 8.9 per cent to $943 per sq ft (psf) last month.

The URA does not release monthly changes in price statistics. Its last set of figures shows private home prices rose 3.7 per cent in the three months to end-March, albeit at a slower pace.

Mr Colin Tan, head of consultancy and research at Chesterton International, said: "The evidence is mounting that the market may reached a declining stage."

The asking price has been dropped in some new developments such as Far East Organisation's The Lakeshore in Jurong West and World-Class Capital's Blu Coral in Telok Kurau, which has resulted in higher sales.

Buyers snapped up 18 units in Blu Coral — up from nine in February — after its median price fell to $657 psf last month.

"The question is, can they sustain sales at this price level or do they have to continue to lower it further," said Chesterton's Mr Tan.

City Developments has held back its property launches so far this year, but may launch this year's first new development in the second quarter or third quarter if market conditions permit, its executive chairman Kwek Leng Beng told Dow Jones Newswires.

GIC Real Estate president, Dr Seek Ngee Huat, yesterday warned that Wall Street's credit crisis may flow into Asia's "main street".

"The contagion of the sub-prime crisis can potentially accelerate the downward spin of the cycle," Dr Seek was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

"Its ripple effects are certainly being felt here in Asia. While Wall Street is picking up the pieces, the problems on Main Street are just beginning."

Further Drop In New Home Sales And Launches In April

Source : The Straits Times, May 16, 2008

Prices also show signs of weakening as buyers adopt a more cautious stance

THE private home market continued to weaken last month, with launches of new homes falling to their lowest level in at least 10 months.

Sales volumes and median prices also dipped, according to monthly figures released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority yesterday.

HOLDING UP: Some projects such as The Lakeshore (above) still enjoyed steady sales, with 32 of its 848 units taken up last month. -- PHOTO: FAR EAST ORGANIZATION

Developers launched only 271 homes last month, fewer than half the 642 units launched in March.

The number of homes sold also fell, to 274 in the month, from 322 previously. These figures exclude executive condominiums.

'It is clear that homebuyers were in no hurry to make purchases and were taking more time to assess the market,' said Mr Li Hiaw Ho, the executive director of CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) Research.

He attributed this trend to the continuing instability of financial markets and increasing concerns over the higher cost of living.

Perhaps as a result of the slowdown, prices have begun to show signs of strain.

An analysis by property firm Knight Frank found median prices of new homes sold last month had slid 9 per cent to $943 per sq ft (psf), from $1,035 psf in March.

One reason for the lower prices could be that most of the homes launched and sold were in cheaper mass-market developments.

Eight out of 10 homes sold in the month cost $1,000 psf or less. Only seven homes, or about 2 per cent of the total sold, fetched more than $2,000 psf.

This is a major reversal from previous months. As recently as in December, more than 70 per cent of the homes sold for the month cost more than $2,000 psf.

The strength of the mass-market segment last month was the bright spot in an otherwise dismal set of figures yesterday.

The best-selling project was a suburban development: Stadia in Yio Chu Kang Road, which sold more than 90 per cent of its 56 units within the month.

'Latent demand remains strong, especially for the mass-market projects that are reasonably priced between $750 and $850 psf,' said Mr Chua Yang Liang, the head of South-east Asia research at Jones Lang LaSalle.

On the other hand, only three units were launched in the prime core central region. Demand for homes in this high-end area and in the mid-tier city-fringes remained fragmented and weak, said Mr Chua.

Property consultants said they expect buying activity to remain slow in the coming months as the current gloomy sentiment persists.

But some, such as CBRE's Mr Li, expect sales to start improving next month as developers begin stepping up launches.

Mr Ku Swee Yong, Savills Singapore's director of business development and marketing, said buyers are starting to return to the market.

'I dare say last month's sales numbers will be the lowest we will see this year,' he said.

'Showflat crowds are still pretty good, and from now on, we should see launches picking up.'

Having some high-profile launches would give the market a boost, said Mr Nicholas Mak, the director of research and consultancy at Knight Frank.

'Essentially, the lukewarm sentiment can be explained primarily by the lack of launches of major developments that might cause excitement.'

Design Awards For HDB Estates

Source : The Straits Times, May 16, 2008

Sengkang, Ghim Moh estates score well for innovative design, user-friendly features

HOUSING Board estates are not known for their innovative designs, but two cutting-edge ones are starting to change all that.

They have just become the first HDB estates to win design awards for both their good looks and user-friendly features.

PRETTY AND PRACTICAL: Sculptures adorn the upgraded Ghim Moh gardens estate which is 32 years old. The estate has wheelchair-friendly lifts, safer racks to dry clothes, elderly-friendly toilets and sheltered walkways throughout. -- PHOTO: SURBANA INTERNATIONAL CONSULTANTS

The Coris, a precinct in Sengkang New Town, and the upgraded Ghim Moh Gardens estate, which is 32 years old, both won bronze awards at the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Universal Design Awards.

'Universal Design' generally refers to design that allows users to get around easily, with easy-to-use facilities.

The BCA Awards were launched in September last year, and this year saw 34 entries, with most being refurbished buildings.

Both estates stood out due to their accessibility to residents, with seamless connectivity throughout.

The Coris at Sengkang, which has 14 residential blocks, had a comprehensive signage system so visitors can find their way around easily. There are also various recreational and communal facilities, including an area for the elderly to exercise, jogging tracks and pavilions.

Ghim Moh Gardens features wheelchair-friendly lifts that stop at every floor, safer clothes-drying racks and elderly-friendly toilets. Getting around is easy, with markets and bird- viewing spots all linked by sheltered walkways.

This year, three silver and six bronze awards were given in six categories of buildings: commercial, institutional, residential, open spaces, refurbished and open.

Other winners include Terminal 3 at Changi Airport and the National Museum of Singapore.

At last year's awards, Ikea Tampines clinched the top prize, the gold award, but a prize in this category was not handed out this year.

Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, chairman of the award assessment panel, attributes this to it having 'raised the bar' this year.

He said: 'Buildings need to be a holistic package. They must be comprehensive, integrative and have that special touch, while taking into account the owner's corporate philosophy.'

Winners will receive their awards from Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan next Thursday. Those interested in applying for next year's awards can visit