Tuesday, June 10, 2008

HDB Launches Build-To-Order Project In Marsiling

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 10 June 2008

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) on Tuesday launched a Build-To-Order (BTO) project called Straits Vista @ Marsiling.

The project is located near the Woodlands Regional Centre, and is served by Woodlands MRT station and bus interchange.

HDB advised potential buyers to plan ahead for their housing needs, since BTO flats take a few years to complete.

It said couples planning to get married should book their flats under the Fiance-Fiancee Scheme.

Couples with at least one partner aged 30 or below can also apply for the Staggered Downpayment Scheme to defer paying half the downpayment until they get the flat.

Applications for the new flats can be submitted from now till 23 June on HDB's InfoWEB. - CNA/ac

HDB Wins UN Public Service Award For Home Ownership Programme

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 10 June 2008

Singapore's public housing agency - Housing and Development Board (HDB) - has been given the United Nations Public Service Award.

HDB said the award is in recognition of the Home Ownership Programme, which has successfully provided over 80 per cent of Singaporeans with affordable quality flats, of them 95 per cent own these homes.

Describing it as a significant milestone in its history, HDB said the award represents the international community's recognition of Singapore's public housing programme.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan visited the HDB headquarters at Toa Payoh on Tuesday to congratulate the management and staff on this achievement.

In his speech, Mr Mah spoke on the dual challenges of providing for more vulnerable groups such as the elderly and the lower-income, as well as making HDB flats attractive to more well-off Singaporeans.

He also felt that a shared experience of HDB living was important to developing a collective Singapore identity.

HDB's "Remaking Our Heartland" programme is set to give new, middle-aged and old HDB estates a major makeover, to turn them into "vibrant homes."

Singapore Is Top Asian City With Highest Quality Of Living

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 10 June 2008

Singapore has come out tops in Asia for having the highest quality of living, according to an annual survey by consulting firm Mercer.

The study was based on a number of factors including the political and social environment, medical and health considerations, public services and transportation, and housing.

Globally, Singapore is ranked 32, after climbing two spots from last year.

In Asia, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe and Osaka are ranked just behind Singapore.

Overall, European cities dominate the top global rankings. Zurich scores the highest for overall quality of living, retaining its number one position from 2007.

Luxembourg is tops for personal safety. At the bottom end of the scale is Baghdad, which has the lowest ranking for quality of living and personal safety. - CNA/ir

HDB Upgrading Pace Will Continue Despite Rise In Construction Costs

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 10 June 2008

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is containing construction costs as much as it could even though they have gone up significantly recently.

HDB is doing this by simplifying some of the projects or by combining them so that there are more economies of scale. A recent example is the Punggol Sapphire project which has more than a thousand units against the usual number of some 500 units per project.

But Mr Mah assured Singaporeans that public flats would continue to be affordable, despite the rising costs. The pace of HDB upgrading under the Main and Interim Upgrading Programmes will also not be affected by rising costs.

Mr Mah was speaking to reporters on Tuesday after an event to congratulate the HDB for winning the United Nations Public Service Award.

HDB said the award is in recognition of the Home Ownership Programme, which has successfully provided over 80 per cent of Singaporeans with affordable quality flats, of them 95 per cent own these homes.

Related Video :- http://tinyurl.com/6nzwhk

While the challenges for public housing today may be different, they are no less formidable than those faced by the HDB when it started Singapore's public housing programme in 1960.

HDB said flat buyers now have varying aspirations. There is also the challenge of differing income levels. So the HDB will continue to meet the housing needs of the majority as well as lower income Singaporeans.

Mr Mah said: "Someone with an income of S$1,000 to S$1,500 is eligible to rent a flat. But I would much prefer that they would own a flat, even if it is a small flat because from there, they can build a base, earn some assets and later on when they do well in life, they can upgrade."

Mr Mah added that another challenge is to rejuvenate the older housing estates so that Singapore maintains the quality of living in these estates and the value of the flats.

But HDB’s immediate task is to tackle rising costs as the construction industry has not been spared from the global phenomenon of increasing prices of raw materials.

He said: “Raw material prices and energy prices have increased. All these are feeding through into the construction cost index for the moment. What we have to do first is to manage the costs as much as we can by simplifying some of the projects or by combining them so that there are more economies of scale, (and) by using more economical materials."

Mr Mah said that the government is also helping to reduce the construction pressure by withholding some projects. But the minister added that the government does not expect a major delay in the completion of the two mega integrated resort projects due to rising construction costs. - CNA/vm

HDB Launches 382 BTO Flats For Sale At Marsiling

Source : The Straits Times, June 10, 2008

THE Housing Board offered 382 flats for sale at Marsiling under the Build-To-Order (BTO) scheme on Tuesday.

The flats at Straits Vista @ Marsiling, near Woodlands Regional Centre, comprise 50 three-room and 332 four-room units.

Residents can also enjoy easy access to other amenities such as shops, parks, schools and a sports/swimming complex. -- PHOTO: HDB

The three-room flats, with floor area of between 67 and 69 sq metres, are priced from $116,000 to $164,000, while the four-room units, with floor area of 93 to 95 sqm, will be sold at between $184,000 and $257,000.

They are expected to be ready by May 2012.

The HDB said the Marsiling flats are part of the 8,400 units planned for this year under the BTO scheme and are the first HDB project in Woodlands town in recent years.

'It will help to meet the strong demand for flats in the northern part of Singapore, although the bulk of the new BTO flats will continue to be offered in Punggol and Sengkang,' said the board in a statement on Tuesday.

The project is well served by Woodlands MRT Station and a bus interchange. Residents can also enjoy easy access to other amenities such as shops, parks, schools and a sports/swimming complex. It is just a 5-minute drive to the Bukit Timah and Seletar Expressways.

As BTO flats typically require a few years to complete, the HDB advises buyers to plan ahead for their housing needs.

Applications for the new flats can be submitted from June 10 to 23.

Wide range of affordable resale flats available

Buyers with more immediate housing needs can get a resale HDB flat, with eligible first-timers given a CPF housing grant of $30,000 to $40,000, as well as the additional CPF grant of up to $30,000.

The HDB says there is still a wide range of affordable resale flats available to meet the budget of most flat buyers.

Its records show that in the first quarter, 14 per cent of the resale transactions were conducted at or below market valuation.

Road Ahead For HDB: Meeting Diverse Needs Of S'pore's Population

Source : The Straits Times, June 10, 2008

THE road ahead for the Housing Board (HDB) is to meet the housing needs of a growing population with increasingly different needs and aspirations, said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan on Tuesday.

HDB will also have to make the flats attractive for the more educated and more well-off Singaporeans, so that they too can go through the HDB experience. -- ST PHOTO: ALBERT SIM

As Singapore welcomes a larger and more diverse population into its fold, he said the challenge for HDB is to find innovative ways to accommodate everyone in a comfortable way, without compromising our living environment and social cohesion.

'Globalisation and the changing economic environment have also led to such issues as structural unemployment and a widening income gap. We will need to ensure that public housing can help achieve the twin objectives of meeting the housing needs of the majority of the population, as well as providing a social safety net for lower income Singaporeans,' said Mr Mah during his visit to the HDB Hub on Tuesday morning to celebrate the UN public service award won by the Board for its home ownership programme.

As Singapore's population ages, the minister said the HDB will need to focus on meeting the housing needs of the more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and the lower-income, so that they can level up with the rest of the population.

At the other end of the spectrum, it will also have to make HDB flats attractive for the more educated and more well-off Singaporeans, so that they too can go through the HDB experience.

'This shared experience of HDB living will become all the more important, as we strive to develop a collective Singapore identity,' said the minister.

Mr Mah referred to a recent marriage and parenthood survey by the Ministry of Community Development, Youths and Sports, which revealed that the purchase of an HDB flat is a rite of passage for most Singaporeans.

It showed that 89 per cent of singles preferred to live in their own homes after marriage. For most, this would mean setting up their first home in a new or resale HDB flat.

'The challenges for public housing today are different, but no less formidable than what we faced in the early days. Today's environment is far more complex, with a more diverse group of flat buyers that have varying aspirations and income levels,' added the minister. 'In response, HDB builds flats to suit different budgets and preferences, with a range of flat types, designs, and locations to choose from.'

Upgrading aging flats in old estates

He also identified the upgrading and rejuvenation of older housing estates as another key challenge for the HDB.

With nearly a-third of the flats built before the 1980s, there will be more flats reaching 40 to 50 years old within the next 10 years.

Mr Mah said new, middle-aged and old HDB estates will be transformed into vibrant homes for Singaporeans under the HDB's 'Remaking Our Heartland' programme.

'Giving our HDB heartlands a major makeover is a key part of the Government's plan to develop and reshape the Singapore of tomorrow. In the next 10 to 20 years, HDB will be embarking on plans to build a new generation of public housing,' he said.

'The urban regeneration of HDB estates will go beyond the current upgrading programmes in terms of scale and scope. It will transform the existing public housing estates and mark a new milestone in Singapore's public housing programme.'

Surprise Jump In US Pending Home Resales

Source : The Straits Times, June 10, 2008

WASHINGTON - THE number of Americans signing contracts to buy existing homes jumped unexpectedly in April, signalling that lower prices are making real estate more affordable, a private report showed.

The index of pending home resales rose 6.3 per cent to 88.2, the highest level in six months, following a 1 per cent drop in March, the National Association of Realtors said yesterday.

Lower property values may be starting to lure some buyers who are able to qualify for loans, suggesting that purchases will improve next year.

Still, stricter lending rules, a recent increase in mortgage rates, and continued pressure on prices from mounting foreclosures will likely keep some buyers away for much of the year.

'There are some signs that sales are close to a bottom, although the level of inventories is so high that there is going to be continued pressure on prices and housing starts,' said Mr James O'Sullivan, a senior economist at UBS Securities in Stamford, Connecticut. 'We'll need to see more than this report to suggest housing is really rebounding.'

The index was expected to fall 0.4 per cent, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of 32 economists.

Stocks extended gains following the report and US Treasury securities dropped.

Pending resales were still down 13 per cent from April last year, the report showed.

'Bargain hunters entered the market en masse, especially in areas that have experienced double-digit price declines, but it's unclear if they are investors or owner-occupants,' said Mr Lawrence Yun, the chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.

He also said the drop in consumer confidence and stricter lending rules made the immediate outlook unclear. - BLOOMBERG

Stalemate Over Prices Leads To Lowest Auction Sales In 10 Years

Source : The Straits Times, June 10, 2008

THE property auction market has hit a brick wall with buyers and sellers in a stand-off over prices that could jam up the works for the rest of the year.

Sales are likely to hit their lowest point in a decade, with only 31 properties worth $27.28 million bought between January and last month, said Colliers International.

Residential sales are particularly flat with just six private homes worth $8.38 million sold over the five months.

Compare that with the same period last year when 108 properties worth $204.64 million found buyers, it added.

Business is so slow that at least three auctioneers are now holding monthly sales instead of fortnightly sales.

Ms Grace Ng, Collier's deputy managing director and auctioneer, said: 'The sales so far (residential and commercial) are likely the lowest in 10 years, but it is not a reflection of poor market conditions.

'It's mainly due to the lack of mortgagee sales and the stalemate between buyers and sellers.'

Mortgagee sales occur when a cash-strapped home owner cannot service the debt and the bank force-sells the property.

The same stand-off is evident in the general private homes market, where buyers want lower prices but sellers are refusing to budge.

Ms Mary Sai, Knight Frank's executive director (auctions), said: 'Right now, there are offers on the table, but owners are not biting because the offers are about 10 per cent to 15 per cent below previous transacted levels.'.

The last time auction rates were so low was in the first half of 1998, when 52 properties worth $56.44 million were sold, said Colliers.

Auction clearances went on to hit a record high in 1999, thanks largely to mortgagee sales. Many owners were hit by the financial crisis and forced to sell their homes, while buyers were picking up bargains after property values plunged from the 1996 peak.

Ms Sai said the bargain hunters are back, but mortgagee sales have yet to surface in a major way - and consultants do not expect them to.

Ms Ng said: 'In 1998-1999, a lot of people could not service their loans or rent their properties out. Affordability wasn't there.'

'Now, our employment rate is still high, so people are still servicing their loans. Interest rates are also attractive even if they are rising.'

A senior director at DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, Mr Shaun Poh, added: 'The market attracted a fair bit of speculators last year. Some of them may have trouble offloading their properties, so we may see a small increase in mortgagee sales towards the end of the year.'

But unless buyers or sellers give ground, the market - both for auctions and general sales - is likely to stay at a stalemate.

The one area where auctioneers have been more active is the commercial arena, with shop units, shophouses and industrial property successfully going under the hammer.

Of the 31 properties sold in the first five months of the year, six were residential properties, 16 were shop units or shophouses worth $13.92 million, and seven were industrial properties worth $2.81 million, said Colliers.

Of the remaining two properties, one is an office unit and the other is a piece of land.

'This year, we are seeing more interest in strata-titled commercial and industrial units,' Mr Poh said.

'They are buying for their own use because office rents have risen so much.'

No More Cheap Mortgages As Banks Raise Rates

Source : The Straits Times, June 10, 2008

Hike of up to 1 percentage point for some fixed rate packages to 3.98%

THE days when you could lock in cheap mortgage rates for the first year or two seem to be over, now that banks have quietly jacked up rates for new fixed-rate loans.

Just five months ago, banks were dangling teaser rates on the first year of their fixed-rate home loan packages. Maybank had a package that offered 1.68 per cent, while United Overseas Bank's (UOB's) FirstZero product carried zero per cent.

But now, homebuyers would be hard-pressed to find rates fixed on the first year of a mortgage at below 2.68 per cent, as some banks had already raised the rates of certain packages by up to 1 percentage point in recent weeks to as high as 3.98 per cent.

UOB and OCBC Bank have raised rates for their three-year, fixed-rate mortgages to 3.68 per cent from 2.98 per cent. Standard Chartered Bank has raised its rate for its two-year, fixed-rate package to 3.78 per cent a year from about 2.68 per cent.

This means new home buyers will have to grapple with much higher costs of borrowing, if they want the certainty of locking in their interest rates for the next few years.

A new customer will fork out about $3,500 more in interest for the first year on a loan of about $500,000, if the rate has been raised by 0.7 percentage point.

Banks may have turned cautious and are raising mortgage rates amid a slowing property market and an uncertain economic outlook.

They are facing 'increased credit risks on housing loans', suggested Mr Dennis Ng of mortgage consultancy portal www.HousingLoanSG.com

The higher fixed rates may prompt more buyers of new homes to take up loans linked to transparent rates that they can easily monitor. These include the Singapore Interbank Offered Rate (Sibor) - the rate at which banks lend to each other - and the swap offered rate (SOR), which is Sibor plus a bank's lending costs.

Existing holders of home loans, whose fixed or variable rates are up for renewal in the coming months, may also find floating rates more attractive, as the difference between fixed rates and those linked to Sibor or SOR widens.

Customers with loans linked to the 12-month Sibor, which is hovering at about 1.7375 per cent, are still enjoying rates as low as 2.4 per cent that is fixed for a year - a difference of 1.3 of a percentage point compared to some newly-hiked, fixed-rate packages.

Some banks, however, have also started to raise rates linked to Sibor and the three-month SOR, currently at 1.4307 per cent. Some banks have raised their SOR-linked packages by 0.1 of a percentage point, or more, to as much as SOR plus 1 per cent.

DBS Bank has not changed its rates - yet. Market sources say the bank is preparing to introduce new - and higher - rates for both its fixed-rate and Sibor-linked packages in a few weeks.

Still, the banks' rate increases may raise eyebrows since the Sibor and United States Federal Reserve rates appear unlikely to climb sharply in the coming months.

Market talk that the Fed might soon raise interest rates to curb inflation was quashed last week, with an unexpectedly sharp surge in the US unemployment rate to 5.5 per cent last month.

One banker, who declined to be named, said the Singapore banking industry's motives for raising fixed rates this time, however, might 'have less to do with current Fed rates than expectations that Sibor is close to bottoming out'. Thus, market players may now be raising rates to squeeze higher margins from new loans.

A banking analyst said banks had enjoyed a roaring mortgage business in the past year, and some had already hit most of their 2008 targets.

'So, they may now be focusing on credit quality and growing their margins for any new loans,' he said.

The question on the minds of home owners is whether this fixed-rate mortgage hike is an ominous signal of an eventual rate hike for all other packages. This may cool the already lukewarm property market further.

Bankers, however, kept mum about their pricing strategy, pointing out instead that the current mortgage rates were still at historical lows.

S'pore Is Easiest City In The World To Do Business

Source : The Straits Times, June 10, 2008

It is also top in region for economic stability and legal/political framework: Survey

SINGAPORE has leapfrogged rival Hong Kong in a ranking of the most influential commercial centres around the world.

The Republic is now the second most influential centre in Asia, just behind Tokyo, according to the survey, which is said to be used by multinationals to help guide investment decisions.

Singapore sits in fourth spot globally in the MasterCard Worldwide Centres of Commerce Index, up two places from last year. Hong Kong fell from fifth to sixth.

Although the Republic trails London, New York and Tokyo, it beat them in terms of a key criterion used to compile the ranking - the ease of doing business.

In last year's inaugural ranking, Singapore came in fourth in this area, which covers a range of factors, including quality of life, investor protection, health and safety, and corporate tax levels.

Mr Mark Ellwood, the managing director of recruitment firm Robert Walters Singapore, attributed the high score to how easy it is to set up a business and to hire foreign talent here.

Mrs Mildred Tan, the managing director of Ernst & Young Associates, said: 'Singapore is very pro-business, and institutions gravitate towards environments that are open and welcoming.'

She called the ranking a 'positive reinforcement' for firms considering doing business in the Republic.

'When it comes to relocation, they will look at various things, from tax incentives to telecommunications infrastructure. The study will be another indicator for them whether to start here, to remain here, or to grow here.'

Singapore was also top in the Asia-Pacific for two of the other six criteria used in the ranking: economic stability and the legal/political framework.

The ranking of 75 cities is drawn up by a panel of academics and other experts.

It serves as 'a road map for corporations to identify and evaluate investment and market opportunities in a world where cities, instead of countries, have become the primary economic players', said Dr Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, MasterCard Worldwide's economic adviser.

He said Asia 'is experiencing a renaissance in terms of economic growth and social development'.

Eight Asian cities feature in the top 25 this year, up from five last year. 'The growth performance of China and India has shifted the economic centre of gravity towards Asia,' said Dr Hedrick-Wong.

Mr Manu Bhaskaran, the head of economic research at the Centennial Group and one of the eight members of the Worldwide Centres of Commerce research panel, said that given time, Singapore could overtake Tokyo as the top Asian centre of commerce.

'Tokyo has not opened up the way the US, Europe, Dubai and Singapore have,' he said, adding that Singapore's absolute score of 66.16 points was not far behind that of Tokyo (66.6).

The other four criteria used in the ranking are volume and connectivity of financial flow, reputation as a business centre, knowledge creation and information flow, and liveability.

One of Singapore's biggest challenges appears to be its place in the bottom half of the 75 cities in terms of liveability.

While Vancouver in Canada emerged as the world's most liveable city, Singapore ranked 40th - or fifth in the Asia-Pacific.

MasterCard said a relative lack of personal freedom dragged its score down.

As was the case last year, the top three places in the study went to London, New York and Tokyo, in that order.

First-timers in the top 25 include Shanghai and Amsterdam.

Mr Bhaskaran said the Chinese city could rise further, as it was 'sitting on top' of what is probably the most dynamic economy for the next 20 to 30 years.


Strong showing

SINGAPORE'S sterling ranking is the result of its strong position in the Asia-Pacific.

Here's how the Republic fared in the region based on the seven criteria used:

# Legal/political framework: No. 1
# Economic stability: No. 1
# Ease of doing business: No. 1
# Volume and connectivity of financial flow: No. 4
# Reputation as a business centre: No. 2
# Knowledge creation and information flow: No. 4
# Liveability: No. 5

Top 10 cities

THE MasterCard Worldwide Centres of Commerce Index ranked 75 cities according to their ability to connect markets and commerce on a global level.

At the top are:

1. London
2. New York
3. Tokyo
4. Singapore
5. Chicago
6. Hong Kong
7. Paris
8. Frankfurt
9. Seoul
10. Amsterdam

Tharman Shanmugaratnam Says S'pore Not Headed For A Recession

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 08 June 2008

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Sunday gave the assurance that Singapore is not heading for a recession.

Speaking at a community event, Mr Tharman said, "From all indications we have at this point, I don't think we're heading for a recession. But there will be discomfort on the ground. Unfortunately, the fuel price increase in Malaysia does mean that vegetable, poultry and some other prices will go up. We can't avoid that. Fortunately, rice prices globally are coming down.

"But overall, we're in a situation which isn't temporary - this will be with us for a while. Commodity prices are much higher than what they used to be. But we're tackling it, and we're confident of tackling it - both through the government's measures, the Growth Dividends, the GST Credits, as well as the way in which you see a lot of community initiatives on the ground."

Mr Tharman was speaking to reporters at the Entrepreneur-in-You Carnival at Republic Polytechnic, where some 7,000 people turned up to pick up tips on starting their own business.

The carnival included forums, workshops and an exhibition to nurture business acumen.

There were also winning business presentations by tertiary institutions, and a presentation of the 2008 Youth Enterprise Awards.

The People's Association organised the event to encourage Singaporeans to be entrepreneurial. - CNA/ms

No Signs Of A Recession, Says Tharman

Source : The Straits Times, June 9, 2008

But the hike in fuel prices in Malaysia will cause discomfort here

SINGAPORE is not heading for a recession, said Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, although fuel price increases in Malaysia would lead to discomfort.

'From all indications we have at this point, I don't think we're heading for a recession.

'But there will be discomfort on the ground,' he said, speaking to Channel NewsAsia at the Entrepreneur-in-You Carnival at Republic Polytechnic.

At the event, about 7,000 people turned up to pick up tips on starting their own business.

'Unfortunately, the fuel price increase in Malaysia does mean that vegetable, poultry and some other prices will go up. We can't avoid that,' he said.

Malaysia's decision to trim subsidies for petrol and diesel and raise pump prices has meant that overnight, there has been a 41 per cent increase in petrol prices, from 80 Singapore cents to $1.13 per litre, while diesel prices rose 63 per cent, from 66 cents to $1.08 per litre.

Prices of a range of goods are set to go up as the cost of trucking them in rises, and fresh food tops the list.

But practically everything imported from Malaysia, including building materials, will also cost more soon.

He added that it was fortunate that rice prices globally were going down.

'But overall, we're in a situation which isn't temporary - this will be with us for a while.

'Commodity prices are much higher than what they used to be,' he said.

This was being tackled through government measures such as Growth Dividends, goods and services tax (GST) credits, as well community initiatives on the ground, he said.

Tharman: S'pore Not Headed For Recession

Source : The Business Times, June 9, 2008

But there will be discomfort on the ground, he says

DESPITE the growing prices of food and oil around the world, Singapore is not heading for a economic recession, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

According to Channel NewsAsia reports, Mr Tharman said at a community event that from all indications at this point, he did not think Singapore was heading for an economic recession.

But he admitted that there would be discomfort on the ground.

'But overall, we are in a situation which isn't temporary. This will be with us for a while,' he said, adding that 'commodity prices are much higher than what they used to be. But we are tackling it, and we are confident of tackling it, both through the government's measures, the growth dividends, the goods and services tax credits, as well as the way in which you see a lot of community initiatives on the ground.'

In April, Singapore's annual inflation rose more than expected to a 26-year high of 7.5 per cent due to higher oil and food prices, prompting the government in May to raise its full-year inflation forecast to 5-6 per cent from 4.5-5.5 per cent.

Gross domestic product in Singapore grew 6.7 per cent in the first quarter of this year from a year ago, and the government stood by its GDP growth forecast of 4-6 per cent this year, which is below the average growth of about 8.1 per cent in the last four years. -- Xinhua

Singapore Is Safest Place In Asia: Mercer Rankings

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2008

It takes 9th place for personal safety; 32nd for quality of living

IN the global quest to woo foreign talent, a good 30 cities are placed above Singapore in terms of quality of living, going by consulting firm Mercer's latest rankings.

But solely on 'personal safety', Singapore is in the top league with the best - all of which happen to be in Europe.

In a ranking dominated at the top by Swiss and German cities, Singapore is 32nd in Mercer's 2008 global quality of living survey, up two places from 2007.

Canadian and Australian cities, as well as New Zealand's Auckland, also rank strongly in the top 25.

The annual survey covering 215 cities uses New York City as the benchmark with an index score of 100.

This year, top-ranked Zurich scores 108, while at the other end, Baghdad gets just 13.5 points.

Singapore's index score is 102.9, a small improvement from 102.5 last year.

In Asia (outside Australia and New Zealand), Singapore ranks highest, followed by the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe and Osaka. And only two US cities - Honolulu and San Francisco - are above Singapore.

Mercer's survey evaluates cities on 39 key indicators in all the major areas that affect the living environment - socio-political and cultural climate; the economy; health and sanitation; education standard; public services; recreation; availability of consumer goods; housing; and the natural environment.

It also produces a separate ranking on 'personal safety', covering issues such as internal stability; crime; effectiveness of law enforcement; and relationships with other countries.

Here, Luxembourg takes the top spot, followed by Bern, Geneva, Helsinki and Zurich, who all share second position.

Singapore - at No 9 overall, just ahead of Auckland and Wellington - is 'safest' in Asia, followed by several cities in Japan and Hong Kong.

The Mercer quality of living survey serves as a guide to governments and major companies when sending staff on overseas assignments.

Said Mercer senior researcher Slagin Parakatil: 'Establishing suitable allowances linked to local costs and quality of living is essential in encouraging expatriate employees with transferable skills to accept international assignments.'

Commenting on Singapore's results, Wong Su-Yen, managing director of Mercer Asean, said that the island's improved ranking this year reflects its strength relative to other cities in public services; transport; medical services; housing; and the socio-political environment.

'On the other hand, Singapore could further improve its standing by enhancing its socio-cultural environment, recreation options and natural environment.

'The just-released Leisure Plan by the Urban Redevelopment Authority aims to address precisely some of these issues,' she added.

'If Singapore continues to enhance its quality of living offerings, we believe the city will continue to rate favourably for expatriates looking to relocate to the region.'

Worst Of Credit Crisis Over: BlackRock

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2008

US offers earnings predictability and is attractive value-wise

BlackRock Investment Management vice-chairman Bob Doll believes the US market has seen the worst of the credit crisis, although the process of de-leveraging is expected to continue for another two to four years, which will be an economic headwind.

According to Mr Doll, the market hit bottom in mid-March when equity markets hit a low. 'That's the constructive part,' he said. 'The cautious part is that it doesn't mean that we go straight up from there.'

Mr Doll spoke to journalists yesterday during a brief visit to Singapore. BlackRock is one of the world's biggest publicly traded investment management firms, with assets under management of US$1.36 trillion at end-March.

In America's favour are stimulative fiscal and monetary policies taken to cushion the impact of the credit crunch, including successive cuts in the Fed funds rate and a tax rebate. In addition, a weak US dollar is helping exporters.

The latter, said Mr Doll, is helping some companies post double-digit earnings growth, even though US growth has slowed.

'We're in a period of zero to 2 per cent real growth in the US as far as the eye can see,' he said. 'It's not below zero but not at trend level either, which will be very frustrating.'

In a balanced portfolio, Mr Doll said, BlackRock is slightly overweight on equities, slightly overweight on cash and underweight on fixed income. In the year to date, the US market has outperformed - it had fallen in value by 4.3 per cent as at June 2, against a 9.7 per cent fall in Asia ex-Japan equities and a 9.8 per cent drop in Europe ex-UK equities.

'Most investors are underweight on the US, and ask why the US is doing better,' Mr Doll said. 'This is an environment where you would want to upgrade the quality of your portfolio.'

The US, he said, offers predictability of earnings and is attractive from a valuation point of view. BlackRock is underweight on Europe.

On emerging markets, Mr Doll said: 'Where we have the luxury of a long-term horizon, we retain a slight overweight. But we're slightly underweight on concerns about inflation.'

Still, developing markets are expected to continue to outperform mature markets.

BlackRock is also turning more positive on China. 'We're warming to China,' Mr Doll said. 'We've seen a massive decline in that market and growth slowing modestly. The equity market deserves attention.'

BlackRock is 'long-term bullish' on hard and soft commodities, thanks to a supply and demand imbalance, he said. 'In the short term, hard commodities, which have been in a bull market longer, have got a bit ahead of themselves.'

He said that the US economy 'was not, is not and will not be' in recession and the S&P 500 should finish 2008 'slightly higher' than today. But the big caveat on these projections is that oil and food prices should 'level off'.

'For a reasonably constructive outlook to come through, we need to see some levelling off of commodity prices. The world can accommodate US$180 to US$200 (per barrel) oil if we have plenty of time to get there,' Mr Doll said.

'If commodities continue to move up at the pace we've seen of late, all bets are off. The US will be in recession, and the world in a noticeable slowdown.'

S'pore Leapfrogs HK As A Financial Centre

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2008

Survey ranks it fourth worldwide but expert says it can't stand still

Singapore climbed to fourth place on MasterCard's Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index this year, leapfrogging Chicago and Hong Kong along the way. It is now the number two city in Asia in this ranking of financial centres - with only Tokyo ahead of it.

'The Centers of Commerce Index is a roadmap for corporations to identify and evaluate investment and market opportunities in a world where cities, instead of countries, have become the primary economic players,' said Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, MasterCard Worldwide's economic adviser in Asia-Pacific.

The index surveyed 75 cities using seven key indicators of varying weightages that evaluated a city's legal and political framework, economic stability, ease of doing business, financial flow, business centre, knowledge creation and information flow, and livability.

Singapore's ranking was driven by its strong showing in relation to the ease of doing business and its legal and political framework indicators, in which it ranked first and second overall, respectively.

Manu Bhaskaran, a member of the panel behind the index, attributed Singapore's strength in these areas to prudent government leadership in facilitating commerce,

'The government has made the right decisions in cutting taxes, bringing in talent and focusing on integrated resorts,' said Mr Bhaskaran at the briefing on the index yesterday.

He is, however, quick to caution against complacency. 'Singapore tends to do well in the 'process areas' which are related to bureaucracy. But other people can learn this formula and mimic it,' he said.

Instead, Singapore would do well to shore up its competence in the knowledge creation and liveability areas, he said.

It is currently ranked 40th for liveability - an indicator measuring elements like personal freedom and quality of life. 'To generate more knowledge creation, Singapore should keep adding more universities and encouraging foreign talent,' said Mr Bhaskaran.

Singapore also has its work cut out if it wants to break into the top three, which is illustrated by the fact that the top three positions have been retained this year by London, New York and Tokyo.

'London and New York possess critical mass, having amassed a concentration of analysts, investment banks and the support services that accompany them. Critical mass is something that we lack, especially in the financial flows area,' said Mr Bhaskaran.

The key to overcoming this limitation is cross-border integration and higher levels of economic growth within the Asean region, he revealed. 'Singapore has to be the capital city in the economic sense in Asean, in order for it to be in the top two,' he said.

US Slowdown To Be Long, But No Recession: Survey

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2008

WASHINGTON - Economists have trimmed forecasts for US growth in the second half of this year and in 2009, but more have come to the view that the United States will dodge a recession, a survey released on Tuesday showed.

Blue Chip Economic Indicators, a monthly newsletter, said 53.5 per cent of the 48 private economists surveyed for its June issue do not believe the US economy is in or will enter a recession in 2008, up from 40 per cent in the May survey.

'The consensus now suggests the downturn in economic growth will be less steep than earlier feared, but the subsequent recovery in growth to its trend rate will take longer than hoped a few months ago,' the newsletter said.

The economists polled on June 2 and 3 projected third-quarter growth at a 1.5 per cent annual rate, down from the 1.7 per cent pace forecast a month ago. For the fourth quarter, they said the economy would likely expand by 1.2 per cent, down from the 1.5 per cent projected a month ago.

Despite the downgraded expectations for the second half of 2008, the consensus forecast for the year as a whole moved up to 1.5 per cent from 1.4 per cent as economists took into account an upward revision to first-quarter growth and bumped up their expectations for the second quarter to a still-anaemic 0.4 per cent from 0.2 per cent.

The consensus projection for 2009, however, slipped for a sixth straight month, dropping to 1.9 per cent from 2 per cent.

Most analysts surveyed assumed below-trend economic growth will eventually free up enough spare economic capacity to begin exerting downward pressure on prices, the newsletter said.

'As a result, inflation is expected to increase much less in 2009 than in 2008,' it said. The economists forecast that consumer prices would advance 3.9 per cent this year, but just 2.6 per cent in 2009.

The Federal Reserve has cut benchmark interest rates by 3.25 percentage points since mid-September to help buffer the the impact of a deep housing downturn and tight credit, but policy-makers have signalled growing concerns on inflation.

The Blue Chip survey found the consensus of economists was that the Fed was finished lowering interest rates. However, the newsletter said the US central bank was not expected to start raising rates until the second quarter of next year. -- REUTERS

New Projects Boost HK's May Home Sales

Source : The Business Times, June 3, 2008

(HONG KONG) Hong Kong's existing apartment sales rose last month from a month earlier as homebuyers' confidence was boosted by sales in new projects during the month.

Transactions for 10 of Hong Kong's biggest private-housing projects rose to 596 last month from 454 in April, according to figures compiled by Centaline Property Agency Ltd.

'In May, buyers' focus has actually been on the luxury new apartments,' Louis Chan, managing director of residential properties at Centaline, said in a phone interview yesterday. 'This has bolstered the confidence of less-affluent buyers. You can expect the market to be dominated by the less-expensive second- hand apartments in June.'

Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd has sold more than 420 apartments at its Celestial Heights development in the city's Ho Man Tin district since the project went on sale on May 21, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported yesterday, citing executive director Justin Chiu. The sale brought in over HK$11 billion (S$1.9 billion) for the company, the newspaper said.

Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd, the city's biggest developer by market value, sold a house in the Peak district for HK$285 million, according to spokeswoman Fiona Wan.

The unidentified buyer paid the equivalent of HK$57,000 a square foot, a record in Asia, for the unit at the Severn 8 project, Hong Kong's Sing Tao newspaper reported yesterday. She declined to confirm whether the sale set a record.

Hong Kong's economic growth unexpectedly accelerated in the first quarter as exports to China and Europe climbed. -- Bloomberg-

Iran Property Boom Likely To Continue

Source : The Business Times, June 3, 2008

Iranians buy houses with easy loans, but some are still priced out of market

(TEHERAN) Negar Ehteshami just paid the equivalent of US$6 million in rials in cash for a luxurious apartment. But it is not in New York or London. It is in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Lapping it up: Some economists see a huge scope for the market to keep rising as, with interest rates below inflation, Iranians seek a store of value in property

'I am a millionaire because of this 300 square metre apartment,' said Ms Ehteshami, a 56-year-old interior designer from a rich Iranian family who has always lived in an affluent northern Teheran neighbourhood.

'But nothing else in my life resembles the life of a millionaire,' she said, moving her Hermes handbag out of the way as she closed the window of her apartment. 'Here I feel (as though) I am inside a helicopter. I can see the whole city.'

Hers is a tale with echoes in much of the West: a house price surge fuelled partly by easy lending. In Iran, however, people are still being priced out of the market.

A property boom in the world's fourth-largest oil producer has been powered by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic policies since he was elected in 2005, economic analysts say.

Property prices surged by more than 100 per cent in 2007, after rising by about 65 per cent in 2006 and more than 50 per cent in 2005. Some economists see a huge scope for the market to keep rising as, with interest rates below inflation, Iranians seek a store of value in property.

'The high prices might be a bubble,' said economist Reza Abdizadeh. 'It might be fake and not logical. But it is a fact. Historically, housing prices have never dropped in Iran. The government might be able to stop prices from rising but will not succeed in lowering them.'

Shortly after Mr Ahmadinejad was elected, his government came up with a plan for 'quick-impact loans', handing out substantial sums to individuals and companies with plans to create jobs in Iran where the official unemployment rate is above 10 per cent.

This stimulus is also a textbook trigger for inflation and alarmed many, including the head of Iran's Central Bank, Tahmasb Mazaheri.

The government has said those who have used the money to invest in property and not for creating jobs will be banned from obtaining loans for five years.

Criticised by politicians and economists for his populist economic policies, Mr Ahmadinejad cut bank interest rates despite strong liquidity growth last year. They are now well below inflation, currently above 20 per cent a year.

'When there is no other opportunity to invest, and interest rates of banks are around 16 per cent, naturally money flows to real estate,' said Ali Afshari, a real estate agent.

The government has tried unsuccessfully to rein in prices. With one million prospective owners coming on to the market each year and Iran capable of building only 600,000 new homes a year, conservative politician Mohammad Khoshchehreh said there was a shortage of 1.6 million homes.

Hamid Taghavi, a government employee with two children, sold his 60 square metre apartment in Teheran to pay for his son's wedding in 2007. It has since become difficult for him even to rent a smaller apartment.

'I wanted to buy a smaller apartment with the rest of the money, but it seems at the age of 55 I will be homeless in less than two years,' he said.Stoking the fire, some real estate brokers and analysts forecast a 'super jump' in prices in the coming months amid mounting international pressure on Iran to suspend its nuclear work. The UN has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear programme. In addition, Washington has blacklisted three of Iran's main state banks and, under US pressure, European banks have also pulled out.

Foreign capital has played a large role in the market's success, because of money repatriated by Iranians living abroad, which analysts believe has increased since Iran was first hit by UN sanctions in 2006. -- Reuters

Higher Rents Lift Europe's Property Mkt

Source : The Business Times, June 5, 2008

(LONDON) The clouds over European commercial property may be about to lift because falling prices have raised rental yields, while inflation pressures elsewhere are making the sector's index-linked rents a tempting hedge.

The vast majority of shops, warehouses and offices across the continent are let on rents that rise in line with inflation.

Fund managers and analysts say a surge in rents could help revive interest from income-hunting insurers and pension funds, who covet higher-yielding properties because they can more easily match investment returns against their liabilities.

'If we are in for a short sharp bout of inflation, rental indexation is one of the few ways investment managers can benefit,' said Robert Gilchrist, chief executive of fund manager Rockspring LLP.

'As long as you avoid over-rented situations (where occupiers struggle to pay rents), you can get some significant, secure rises in income on a year-on-year basis,' he said.

During the real estate boom years in recent years, institutions were forced to shell out large sums for European property providing meagre annual rental income yields, but now the market is in the grip of a downturn, and yields are on the rise.

Research published last week by property services firm CB Richard Ellis showed double-digit increases in office rents across many European cities including London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Prague, Moscow and Stockholm in the year to March 31, despite concerns that a slew of banking sector layoffs would dent rental growth.

'Office occupancy costs are continuing to defy sluggish economic conditions and the credit crunch as they rise faster than global inflation,' said Raymond Torto, global chief economist at CB Richard Ellis.

Of course, inflation-linked rents are no cast-iron inflation hedge, because rents could grow faster than occupiers can afford.

'Economic inflation and rental inflation are not the same,' said Lehman Brothers analyst Mike Prew.

'Indexation increases the risk of over-renting ... and trouble in credit markets has reduced the ability of tenants to service higher rents, which is likely to lead to a rise in delinquencies.'

Nevertheless, some institutions now see real estate as a cheaper inflation hedge than commodities.

According to data from Investment Property Databank, average UK commercial property values have slumped around 17 per cent in the last year while oil, gold and copper have all hit record prices in the last six months.

By exiting traditional commodity investments at peak pricing and buying into high-income producing real estate at close to the bottom of the cycle, buyers can offset higher funding and property transaction costs, while rising rents make interest payments easier to service.

'There's a clear logic behind it,' said Robert Matthews, head of international property at Scottish Widows Investment Partnership.

'If you look at commodity prices today you can see why some investors want to take a profit and deploy the capital in cheaper inflation hedges like real estate, which they regard to be more fairly priced now than 12 months ago,' Mr Matthews said.

Analysts at JPMorgan suggest inflation could also provide a tonic for listed European property companies which own assets let on index-linked rents, andwhose shares are trading at substantial discounts to net asset value.

In a note ranking European property stocks on inflation-friendliness of rent contracts and average GDP growth forecast of domestic economies, JPMorgan said Babis Vovos, Corio , Hammerson, ProLogis European Properties and Europe's largest property company, Unibail, offered good inflation protection to investors.

The negative correlation of real estate prices to inflation could also help several European markets rediscover the fair value for real estate faster.

This could help several markets avert the type of stalemate price correction seen in Britain and Spain where buyers are still stalling on purchases because they fear assets will be priced more cheaply in the future.

JPMorgan said a rise in inflation would put upward pressure on the current UK property real yield spread of 4.4 per cent and the current continental property 4.1 per cent real yield spread, pushing them closer to their 'worst case', and encouraging risk-averse buyers to re-enter the market. -- Reuters

One North - An Ecosystem Of Learning

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2008

Lessons at one-north include the study of literature, how to build a digital game and cookery classes

IT'S a place where you can study Confucius and Shakespeare, learn how to build a digital game for the Wii, probe the human gene or whip up a Mexican meal - whichever takes your fancy.

one-north, a fast-developing area that wants to be known as Singapore's 'icon of the knowledge economy', is teeming with schools and institutions of learning.

Learning centre: (Left) The Pixel building boasts a funky grey, black and white harlequin-patterned exterior; NTU@one-north houses the Centre for Continuing Education, the Confucius Institute and an alumni clubhouse; aspiring future game developers admiring works of art by DigiPen students

The list includes well-known names in both local and international education - the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) one-north campus, Insead, DigiPen Institute of Technology, Singapore Polytechnic, United World College, Tanglin Trust School, the Anglo-Chinese School and Junior College and the Japanese Primary School.

Not forgetting the various institutes in genomics, molecular biology and nanotechnology that are housed in giant research centre Biopolis, as well as much smaller outfits that focus on creative pursuits such as drama and cuisine.

'The location at one-north provides an ideal setting for students, staff and visitors to learn, work and unwind alongside scientists, researchers, technopreneurs and business people from all over the world,' said a spokesperson for NTU.

The Jurong-based university last year opened NTU@one-north, which houses educational facilities such as the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) and the Confucius Institute, as well as a 10-level alumni clubhouse.

The CCE offers executive programmes and online courses for participants in Singapore and abroad. The Confucius Institute, a collaboration with Shandong University and the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), teaches Chinese and runs courses on Chinese culture.

Different cup of tea

Offering a rather different cup of cha is DigiPen Institute of Technology, which from September will offer two degrees in Singapore - a Bachelor of Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Production Animation.

The first degree focuses on the technology behind the development of video games, including the development of game engines, graphics, physics, artificial intelligence and networking. The second degree aims to prepare students to produce 2D and 3D art for animation industries such as feature films and video games.

The institute is housed in Pixel, a funky grey, black and white harlequin-patterned building at Central Exchange Green, a grassy area in one-north. Jason Chu, chief operating officer for DigiPen, said that the atmosphere there is 'dynamic, exciting and desirable'.

'DigiPen's programmes are exciting and challenging and students need an environment where they can focus and concentrate their efforts in studying,' he said. 'The location in Pixel is serene and provides an ideal learning environment.'

DigiPen actually started life in 1988 as Digipen Corporation, a computer simulation and animation company in Canada. In 1998, DigiPen Institute of Technology was created in the US, and its American alumni includes Kim Swift, who ranked seventh in a recent list of the top 25 most influential people in the digital gaming industry. She helped to develop the Portal game for Valve Corporation, which won Best Game of the Year award in 2008.

Mr Chu said that one of the reasons why DigiPen decided to open its first-ever branch campus in Singapore was 'the dedication and support of the Singapore government towards the development of the interactive digital media industry (IDM)'. Singapore also has 'the potential of becoming the centre for the IDM industry, due to its strategic location in South-east Asia', he said.

For Narayan Pant, the dean of executive education at Insead, the nation's cosmopolitan nature was also a draw for the world-famous business school, which also has campuses in Fontainebleau and Abu Dhabi. 'Singapore is a cosmopolitan culture and this is a reflection of our own cosmopolitan roots,' he said. 'We get students, teachers and participants from all over the world. It's not only about bringing the class to the world, but about bringing the world to the class.'

Insead's campus at one-north opened in 2000, and the school had initially planned its next step of expansion for 2008. 'Instead, our next stage of growth was in 2005, when we had to make a 50 per cent expansion in space,' said Prof Pant.

The business school's proximity to other institutions of learning and research is another plus point. 'In education, you don't work alone,' he said. 'You work in an ecosystem. It's about being near a library, the NUS, the NTU. And every new development, such as at Rochester Park or Fusionopolis, adds to the ecosystem. From that perspective, one-north is a great place to be.'

Another school which a multi-national flavour, this time literally, is Palate Sensations. The school, situated in a black-and-white colonial building at the Wessex Estate, offers lessons in French, Italian and Mexican cuisine, as well as courses for cocktails and pastry.

'We like to work some of our courses around a theme, like a movie,' said managing director and owner Lynette Foo. 'We have Mexican cooking classes built around Like Water for Chocolate, and French classes around the movies Ratatouille and Chocolat.'

A few blocks away, also in the Wessex Estate within one-north, is the Centre Stage School of the Arts, which teaches drama to children. On any given day, crowds of kids can be seen entering or leaving the school, chattering excitedly and getting ready to enact scenes from Roald Dahl's The Twits or Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The school accepts participants as young as six months, when babies start to learn the basics of interaction, to as old as 17 years. It also has a few adult classes. 'Theatre's so important, it's not only about acting, but about poise, expression, listening and language,' said artistic director Peter Hodgson, who has a bachelor of arts in theatre as well as teaching and acting diplomas.

'More and more, the corporate world is also tending to hire people with an arts background,' added Mr Hodgson, who started the school with his wife, Alison Tompkins.

Centre Stage used to be located in the River Valley area, but Mr Hodgson said that Wessex Estate, in the green enclave of one-north, is more conducive to learning drama. 'The advantage here is that we have a beautiful, calm environment,' he said. 'It's more helpful to what we do.'

China Property Market Set To Cool

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2008

Developers face credit squeeze, falling sales and lower prices

(BEIJING) A credit crunch, dwindling transactions and falling prices in some hot markets add up to trouble for China's real estate industry, a key pillar of growth for the world's fourth-largest economy.

Just looking: Dropping home sales is a threat to developers, who rely on pre-sales to fund operations

Although official figures show investment in property still grew 32 per cent in the first four months from a year earlier, developers are battening down the hatches as bank loans dry up and the cost of tapping other sources of funds rises.

Dropping home sales is a particular threat to developers, who typically rely heavily on cash from the pre-sale of unfinished projects to fund operations and further expansion.

'Our strategy now is to safeguard our cash flow. We're taking a more conservative view of the future,' Yang Junfang, deputy head of strategic investment for Xinyuan Real Estate, a developer in second-tier cities, told a property forum last week.

All this makes bank regulators and analysts nervous that a new crop of non-performing property loans is on the way.

'It's one of our biggest concerns, but we don't see a manifestation of that in the quality of loan portfolios yet,' said Charlene Chu with Fitch Ratings in Beijing.

The volume of residential transactions in Beijing fell 13.7 per cent in April from March and was down 56.4 per cent from a year earlier, according to the China Index Academy, which is affiliated with SouFun.com, a top real estate website.

Liu Juan knows all too well that interest in the market is flagging. She and her husband have been trying in vain to sell their Beijing apartment and move into a larger one.

Many prospective buyers have come to look at the flat over the past two months, but none has made an offer.

China does not publish official data on nationwide sales. But it compiles a property outlook index that aims to capture the buoyancy of the market. The index has been falling since reaching a peak last November.

'Some cities have seen significant falls in real estate transactions, especially since the end of 2007, which poses risks to the short-term operations of listed firms that cannot be overlooked,' the China Index Academy survey said.

The survey showed that the liabilities of domestically listed Chinese developers reached 76.5 per cent of their assets at the end of last year, up from 69.1 per cent at the end of 2006. The 70 per cent mark is seen as a warning threshold.

And while average property prices in 70 cities were up 10.1 per cent in April from a year earlier, prices have already seen monthly declines in the prosperous Pearl River Delta region of southern China, especially in the boomtown of Shenzhen.

'I tend to believe that property prices in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou will enter an adjustment phase in the last two quarters of this year,' said Zhong Wei, an economics professor at Beijing Normal University.

Chinese developers are trying hard to shore up their capital base. Many are seeking to team up with international funds, which are thus able to drive a harder bargain. Before last October, when the credit crunch worsened, the shoe was on the other foot.

However, potential foreign investors have to overcome daunting regulatory hurdles.

'It takes half a year to bring the money in and takes forever to get it out,' said Craig Blomquist, chief executive officer of Fan Ya Tai Asset Servicing Consulting in Guangzhou.

As well as tightening bank credit, regulators have sought to slow property inflation by approving only two domestic IPOs and four corporate bond issues for real estate firms this year.

As if that were not enough, weak investor interest has forced some Chinese developers such as Evergrande Real Estate Group to ditch plans for initial public offerings in Hong Kong.

With no sign of an easing in the credit squeeze, cash is king. Building a land bank and waiting for prices to rise is no longer an easy option because it ties up a lot of money. -- Reuters

Good Investment Deals In Thai Market

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2008

THAILAND offers some of Asia's best real estate investments. High-quality contemporary properties in prime locations continue to drive prices and build the country's position regionally, but players say government barriers for overseas buyers are crimping growth.

Royal Phuket Marina: The resort towns of Phuket and Pattaya are the most popular locations outside Bangkok for foreign investors. Thais show less interest buying there

Bangkok's luxury condominium market achieved record prices six months ago when a penthouse suite at The Sukhothai Residences sold for 408 million baht (S$17 million) or 342,000 baht per square metre (psm). But while more than double the average cost of luxury accommodation in Bangkok, this was about half the cost of a similar apartment in Singapore or Hong Kong, where prices range from 655,000 to 667,000 baht psm, according to Jones Lang Lasalle.

The research also shows Bangkok properties generate more profit. Average rental yields are 4.8 to 5.1 per cent of the initial purchase price per year, compared with 3.1 per cent in Hong Kong and 2.7 per cent in Singapore.

More than 10,600 units will be completed in downtown Bangkok this year, of which 34 per cent will be high end, says CB Richard Ellis (CBRE).

Investing in quality properties close to Bangkok's underground and skytrain routes is the safest bet, says Songkran Issara, managing director of Charn Issara property developers.

'There is strong demand if a project is in the right location and of the right quality,' says Aliwassa Pathnadabutr, managing director of CBRE (Thailand). 'People are prepared to pay a high price for such products.'

She says Thai buyers at the top end of the market will typically pay up to 150,000 baht psm. And they will pay even more for top-end projects like The Sukhothai Residences, where 30 per cent of buyers are paying an average of 200,000 baht psm.

Developer Raimon Land says sales at The River, an 842-unit twin-tower development being built on the banks of Bangkok's Chaopraya River, demonstrate Thailand's investment potential. Prices there have risen from 145,000 to 250,000 baht psm since the sales launch in March 2007.

And some players reckon there is plenty of upside yet. 'The market is still undervalued and I expect significant growth over the next five years, especially at the high end,' says Darren White, president of real estate consultancy Binswanger (Thailand). 'Prices would rise again if young expats living here were able to borrow locally.'

Thai law prevents foreigners owning land, but non-Thais can buy 49 per cent of available freehold space in any condominium. Leases are a maximum 30 years, compared to a minimum 99 years in Singapore and other regional markets.

Bank of Thailand guidance advises financial institutions against loaning money to foreigners wanting to buy property locally. 'We'd like the government to drop restrictions on foreign ownership of condominiums,' says Raimon Land chief executive Nigel Cornick. 'Failing that, then a percentage increase or zones where there could be 100 per cent foreign ownership.'

The resort towns of Phuket and Pattaya are the most popular locations outside Bangkok for foreign investors, with Thais showing less interest in buying there. Mr Cornick says Raimon's Northpoint beachfront development in Pattaya has already hit the 49 per cent quota after its launch last November. 'If 100 per cent could be owned by overseas investors, we would have sold the whole project by now,' he said.

Viet Market Seen Hurting S'pore Firms

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2008

Analysts say they may end up with unsold homes given slowing sales of late

SINGAPORE developers in Vietnam are likely to be affected by a cooling residential property market and tighter government regulations, research houses say.

Keppel Land, CapitaLand, Guocoland, Fraser & Neave, Allgreen and Chip Eng Seng are six developers with residential projects in Vietnam, said BNP Paribas, and Keppel Land has the largest exposure with about US$7 billion of project value.

Safe as houses? Keppel Land's new Dong Nai township project; the company has the largest exposure, about US$7 billion of project value, among Singapore players

While margins may exceed 30 per cent, development risks are high as well.

'Sales have slowed down in the past few months. Selling prices have also become more realistic and some speculators are leaving their deposits forfeited,' BNP Paribas said in a report.

According to BNP Paribas, the first phase of Keppel Land's The Estella fetched an average selling price of about US$2,200 per square metre (psm) early this year. This is around 30 per cent lower than the highest price of US$3,200 psm at end-2007 by CapitaLand's The Vista, which is across the road.

In the same vein, Morgan Stanley said last week that developers may end up with unsold inventory, should speculators forgo their options to purchase units.

'While developers have been announcing strong buying interest for their projects for some time, most buyers have only paid the respective deposits for registered papers - that is, the options to purchase units,' Morgan Stanley said in a report. At The Estella, for instance, sale-and-purchase agreements have been signed for only 200 of the 650 units launched.

Morgan Stanley also projected a 38 per cent devaluation of the Vietnamese dong against the US dollar from current spot levels over the next 12 months. A weaker dong would make residential property less affordable, since rents and prices are pegged to the US dollar.

Morgan Stanley said that it foresees developers delaying launches amid poor sentiment. And it is bearish on prospects for Keppel Land - 'the most vulnerable, with NAV (net asset value) potentially declining by seven cents a share to $7.18 a share'. For CapitaLand and Allgreen, however, Morgan Stanley analysts believed that the impact on NAV would be negligible.

BNP Paribas remained neutral overall on Singapore developers in Vietnam. 'Long-term fundamentals remain favourable with a high urbanisation rate, rising incomes and affluence, returning overseas Vietnamese and an influx of expatriates,' it said.

Both research houses also highlighted regulatory risks in Vietnam. Morgan Stanley, for instance, said that the residential property market could cool further when a 25 per cent capital gains tax on property transactions takes effect in January 2009.

'The Vietnamese government is taking pro-active measures to address economic challenges facing the country,' Keppel Land was quoted as saying in a Bloomberg report last week. 'Foreign investors are still confident of the long-term growth potential of Vietnam. Fundamentals in the property market remain strong.'

Chip Eng Seng Unit Bags $123.5m HDB Contract

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2008

CHIP Eng Seng Corporation's wholly owned subsidiary Chip Eng Seng Contractors (1988) has been awarded a $123.5 million contract by the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

The contract is for the construction of five 25-storey residential blocks in Sengkang. The contract includes the construction of a multi-storey carpark with future community facility on the first storey, and a precinct pavilion. Work is expected to begin this month, with completion slated for 2011.

The contract is not expected to have any material impact on the group's net tangible assets and earnings per share for the current financial year ending Dec 31.

Mr Lim: 'With increasing demand for construction, we are confident of our prospects for the rest of 2008'

This is the company's second HDB construction contract this year. In January it announced a contract to build 1,394 housing units in Queenstown. The company has also undertaken two other HDB housing projects, one in Sembawang and the other being Pinnacle @ Duxton.

The group's construction order book now stands at about $755 million. Said executive chairman Lim Tiam Seng: 'With increasing demand for construction, we are confident of our prospects for the rest of 2008.'

Mr Lim further believes that the group's construction division will continue to have a busy year ahead with tenders and construction work.

Developers To Unveil More Modestly-Priced Condos

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2008

Dakota slated for preview this month at under $1,000 psf average, lower than earlier indicated

Developers are getting ready to release mass- to mid-market condos, encouraged by the response to modestly-priced developments recently.

City Developments Ltd (CDL) previewed Shelford Suites about a week ago at an average price believed to be around $1,550 psf, although CDL's spokeswoman said the average price for the five-storey freehold project in the Shelford/Adam roads vicinity is in the $1,500 to $1,700 psf range.

Testing the market: CDL previewed Shelford Suites about a week ago at $1,500-$1,700 psf. The group is also aiming to preview the first phase of Livia, a condo in Pasir Ris, by month's end or early July.

The property giant is also aiming to preview by the end of this month or early July the first phase of Livia, a 724-unit condo at Pasir Ris Drive 1.

The 99-year leasehold condo, near Pasir Ris MRT Station, is being developed by a joint venture involving CDL, Hong Realty and Hong Leong Holdings.

'The average price will be revealed closer to the preview,' CDL's spokeswoman said.

However, market expectation is that CDL will price the project attractively, at below $700 psf for the initial phase.

Those taken in by the charms of riverfront-living close to the city can look forward to Ho Bee's and NTUC Choice Homes' preview of The Dakota later this month.

The average price of the 99-year leasehold condo is expected to be 'under $1,000 psf', BT understands. This is lower than than the $1,000-1,100 psf average price expectation Ho Bee had indicated in June last year when the developers emerged as the top bidder for the plot at a state tender.

The 348-unit project is expected to be 20 storeys high and will front Geylang River. It will also be close to Dakota MRT Station, which opens on the Circle Line next year. The Dakota will comprise six blocks with a mix of two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments, and penthouses.

Over in Pasir Ris, CDL's spokeswoman said that the company is in 'in the final stage' of preparing a phased soft launch of Livia. The condo is targeted at the mass market and will comprise several blocks of 15 to 16 storeys with two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments, and penthouses.

Elsewhere on the island, freehold projects with tiny studio units dubbed 'shoebox apartments' (ranging from under 400 sq ft to about 500 sq ft in size) in places like Sophia Road and Race Course Road, have been selling fairly quickly at around $1,100 to $1,400 psf in the past couple of months.

Over in the Botanic Gardens vicinity, UOL Group, Kheng Leong and Orix Corporation will officially launch today Nassim Park Residences condo.

Nearly 50 units have been sold at an average $3,000-3,200 psf since the preview began the week of Vesak Day, although this is expected to go up slightly from today.

罗里斯德园20栋黑白洋房 将改为优质服务别墅出租

《联合早报》June 9, 2008

裕廊集团(JTC)计划把罗里斯德园(Rochester Park)内的20栋黑白洋房,发展为优质服务别墅(quality serviced villas)并出租给公众。







整个配套租金叫价 料可超越黄金地段洋房

至于租金范围,世邦魏理仕(CB Richard Ellis)执行董事李晓和表示,别墅增添了“服务”元素,整个配套叫价相信可超越本地黄金地段洋房的租金。


最近,从30年代英国殖民地时期保存下来的黑白有地住宅备受本地市场青睐。土地管理局(SLA)今年起,以两年期标租形式向外开放的36栋黑白住宅都获得热烈反应,成交租金平均高于租金指标(guidance rent)的30%,在热门地区增幅甚至高达一倍。

据了解,实里达和三巴旺的黑白住宅的成交月租达1万8000元,亚历山大(Alexandra Park)超过2万元,杜佛街(Dover Street)一带则超过1万5000元,它们部分以半装修形式出租。

裕廊集团也将进一步把罗里斯德园从目前以餐饮为主的休闲区,发展成为全方位生活方式中心(holistic lifestyle centre)。园内11栋面积各为300平方米的黑白洋房中,目前有五栋租给餐饮业者,其他租户包括一个治疗范围包括语言和睡眠障碍的多元化保健中心。