Friday, June 13, 2008

St Regis To Make Debut In Kuala Lumpur By '14

Source : The Business Times, June 13, 2008

THE St Regis brand is set to make its debut in Kuala Lumpur in 2014 following the signing of an agreement between its parent Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and ONE IFC.

Owned by ONE IFC, the St Regis Kuala Lumpur will be built at the Kuala Lumpur Sentral Precinct (KL Sentral). It will have 200 guest rooms and 200 whole-ownership St Regis branded residences.

ONE IFC is a joint venture controlled by former stockbroker Chua Ma Yu, who holds a 60 per cent stake through CMY Capital. Government-linked Malaysian Resources Corporation (MRCB) holds 30 per cent and Jitra Perkasa - an investment holding company owned by foreign and local investors - the remaining 10 per cent.

At the signing ceremony yesterday, ONE IFC chief executive Carmen Chua - Mr Chua's daughter - said that it is too early to talk about costs or sales.

But the six-star St Regis Hotel will add to the increasing attraction of KL Sentral, which is already popular with businesses because of its proximity to the KL Express Rail and Light Rail Transit hubs.

Many property players see the area as Kuala Lumpur's next central business district.

MRCB owns most of the land there and has said that the total built-up area will be 20 million square feet by 2015 when the various parcels are developed. The total gross development value (GDV) is estimated at RM8.3 billion (S$3.49 billion). About RM2.8 billion has been completed and another RM5 billion is in progress. St Regis is CMY Capital's second project. It is also building One KL, opposite the Petronas Twin Towers. The 94-unit apartment block which comes with its own individual pools plus a larger common pool has been sold off the plan, mainly to Mr Chua's business associates and friends.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has been engaged as architect for the St Regis project. Given that the firm's portfolio includes buildings such as New York's Freedom Tower and UAE's Burj Dubai, the St Regis KL is expected to be the new benchmark.

Ms Chua said that construction will start in 2010 and completion is expected in 2014. ONE IFC has received approval for 1.4 million sq ft of development space on the 0.89-hectare site. Besides the hotel and residences, there are intentions to develop office space on the plot.

KL Sentral land prices have been appreciating as various developments have come up. For example, Singapore's CapitaLand is teaming up with MRCB to build high-end residential apartments there. And the number of office workers in the area is expected to double to 50,000 in seven years.

ONE IFC acquired the St Regis plot from MRCB for an average price of RM1,400 psf last year. Ms Chua is confident that by 2015, KL Sentral real estate prices will mirror those around the Petronas Twin Towers area.

St Regis Kuala Lumpur 'represents one of the largest private sector-driven initiatives, which will complement the government's efforts in stimulating continuous economic growth', she said. According to her, the St Regis will mean more jobs for Malaysians, as 95 per cent of the staff will be Malaysians.

Starwood's Asia-Pacific president Miguel Ko said that St Regis Singapore was launched five months ago and 'St Regis KL fits nicely in our expansion plans for South-east Asia'.

Economic Growth To Remain Soft This Year: IMF Chief

Source : The Business Times, June 13, 2008

OSAKA - The world's major economies are likely to grow sluggishly for the rest of this year despite easing financial market turmoil, International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Dominique Strauss-Kahn said on Friday.

The IMF expects 'several quarters of soft growth' in developed countries with a proper recovery unlikely until 2009, he told a small group of reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of Group of Eight (G8) finance ministers here.

The United States was likely to start to see a rebound at the end of 2008 or in early 2009 with Europe following close behind, the IMF head said, predicting a U-shaped recovery rather than a V-shaped one.

Growth has slowed in most major economies in the wake of a slump in the US housing sector, which triggered turmoil on world financial markets last year and led to a credit crunch as banks became reluctant to lend to each another.

Some calm has returned to financial markets recently, although renewed jitters about the fallout from the sub-prime loan crisis emerged this week after Lehman Brothers announced it expected a big second-quarter loss.

'We have good reason to think that the financial crisis is mostly behind us but it's too soon to say' for sure, Mr Strauss-Kahn said.

He noted that problems in the US housing sector continued, which was increasing the risk of financial losses for banks.

G8 finance ministers are meeting in Japan to discuss threats to the global economy from soaring oil and food prices as well as the lingering fallout from the sub-prime loan crisis sparked by a wave of defaults on US mortgages.

'Inflation has become a serious problem again,' the IMF head said.

He said it was 'legitimate that central banks are giving all their attention' to rising prices.

US and eurozone central bankers have toughened their message on inflation recently, sparking speculation about possible interest rate rises to keep a lid on inflation.

Oil prices were climbing because global production capacity was getting close to its limit, requiring fresh investment to tap new resources, Mr Strauss-Kahn said.

He said the crude oil price spike was linked to the demand-supply balance as well as 'financial activity'. Fuel subsidies could help to ease the burden of high energy prices for some people in the short term but they were not the long-term answer.

'The real price of energy must be passed on to the end consumer,' he said. -- AFP

China's May Property Prices Up 9.2%

Source : The Business Times, June 13, 2008

BEIJING - China's urban property prices rose 9.2 per cent in May from a year earlier but eased from 10.1 per cent growth in April, according to official data.

Average property prices across 70 large and medium-sized cities rose 0.1 per cent in May from the previous month, the National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning agency, said in a report on its Web site on Friday.

It compiles the figures together with the National Bureau of Statistics.

Price rises in some cities remain steep. In Beijing, prices rose 12.4 per cent in May from a year earlier, while those in Urumqi, capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang, rose by 21.7 per cent.

But in an overall view, China's urban property inflation has eased in May.

In Shenzhen, house prices rose only 2.5 per cent in May compared with a year ago - a significant slowdown from the growth rate of 14.2 per cent in May 2007. -- REUTERS

STB Says More Foreigners Seeking Medical Treatment In S'pore

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 12 June 2008

More foreigners are coming to Singapore to seek medical treatment. In 2006, some 400,000 came for treatments such as health screenings and the numbers are rising.

Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said there's been a steady increase of 15 to 20 per cent every year. This is due to the trust foreigners have in the Singapore's medical system and the latest technology available here.

Many from as far as Russia also come to Singapore for eye surgeries and cancer treatment.

STB said this will help boost the technical skills and experience of doctors here as well as lower the operating costs of the advanced medical equipment.

More are also choosing private hospitals such as those managed by Parkway Health which attend to about 60 per cent of international patients. Doctors said this will only help them improve their skills and at the same time benefit the wider population of Singapore.

Jason Yap, Director, Healthcare Services, Singapore Tourism Board, said: "Singapore is a rather small country with only 4.5 million people. With the advanced medical technology and services that we have, you find that it is not large enough a base.

So you find that for certain number of services, you need certain number of patients for a doctor to look after. If he does not have enough of these patients, he will lose his skills. And that is one reason why it is so important for Singapore to have international patients, to provide a larger base and spread the skills as well as technical acquisition over." - CNA/vm

US Home Foreclosures Reach Another High In May

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 13 June 2008

Surging US home foreclosures rose to another record in May, according to a survey Friday which showed home foreclosure actions hit a fresh all-time high of 261,255.

A building up for auction in Baltimore

The survey by research firm RealtyTrac said the percentage of foreclosure actions -- including default, auction sale notices and bank repossessions -- rose seven percent from the prior month and spiked 48 percent from a year ago.

The report showed one in every 483 US households received a foreclosure filing during the month as the housing market slump continued to buffet the world's largest economy.

"May was the third straight month where we've seen a month-to-month increase in foreclosure activity," said James Saccacio, chief executive of RealtyTrac.

"The nationwide rate of increase for default notices and foreclosure auction notices slowed in May, with default notices up just one percent from the previous month and auction notices down three percent from the previous month," he said.

Bank repossession actions continued to mount, however.

Parts of California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona have been hit especially badly by the US housing meltdown, which started in early 2006 following a multiyear building boom. - AFP/ms

S'pore Set To Be Major Hub In Region For Arabs

Source : The Straits Times, June 13, 2008

George Yeo highlights growing ties with Yemen and Middle East

SINGAPORE is stepping up ties with the Middle East and is set to be a major hub in the region for Arabs, said Foreign Minister George Yeo on Wednesday.

Mr Yeo was speaking to reporters after hosting dinner for a visiting Yemeni official, Mr Ahmed Janned Al Janned.

He is the deputy governor of the Hadramout region for Valley and Desert Affairs.

Mr Yeo said relations between Yemen and Singapore took a step forward recently after Singapore appointed a non-resident ambassador - Mr Helmi Talib - to the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

The appointment came after his visit to Yemen in May last year, the first made by a Singapore minister.

Singapore had agreed then to provide Yemen with technical assistance in capacity building.

The 10,000-strong Arab community in Singapore has close ties to Yemen - with more than 95 per cent of them having Yemeni roots.

Besides expanding links with Yemen, plans are also being drawn up for a centre in Singapore to study Arab culture, said Mr Yeo.

'There is some progress and a lot of work is being done,' he said.

This comes as financial ties between Singapore and the Middle East grow steadily, with Singapore companies working on billions of dollars' worth of projects in the region.

Mr Ahmed Janned, whose ancestors were among the first Arabs to settle in Singapore, will be here until tomorrow.

He is related to Mr Syed Omar Aljunied, a pioneer Arab businessman who came here in the 1800s.

Mr Ahmed Janned said the relationship between Yemen and Singapore goes back 200 years.

'I am looking forward to renewing this relationship and I am looking forward to taking more Singapore expertise to Hadramout, in particular, and Yemen in general.'

Mr Yeo noted that Singapore has always been an important part of the Arab network in the region.

'Singapore would be one of the hubs of Arabs in the region and of new links between South-east Asia and the Middle East, and indeed of a much greater east-west trade between the Middle East and Asia,' said Mr Yeo.

Singapore Private Home Sales Down 40% In Q1

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 12 June 2008

Sentiments in the Singapore residential property market continued to weaken in the first quarter on the back of a possible recession in the United States.

Private home sales dropped by 40 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the last quarter of 2007, according to a report by DTZ Research.

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Transactions of private condominium units, based on caveats lodged, fell 41 percent to 2,500, while sales of landed homes declined 38 percent to 566.

Analysts said the poor sales were due to a stand-off between buyers and sellers' price expectations.

"A lot of these sellers are still looking for prices at the peak of the market, which is probably in the middle of last year. They are still confident that the market would trend up in the mid term, and that the current slowdown is likely to be temporary," said Tay Huey Ying, Director of Research & Advisory at Colliers International.

But the slowdown looks set to stay for a while. Developers are launching fewer units. Only 487 private condominium units were released for sale in the first quarter of this year, down 49 percent compared with the previous quarter. This is the lowest since the SARS period in the first three months of 2003.

The number of new properties resold before completion continued to decline, by 40 percent in the first quarter, the lowest in one and a half years.

"I think sub-sales will continue to remain at a very low volume in the coming quarters.....Speculators are likely to continue to stay away from the market at this point because the road ahead is still very uncertain - the uncertainty in the US economy, as well as the global financial market turmoil," said Tan.

Going forward, analysts expect overall prices in the private residential property market to increase by between 0.5 and 1.5 percent in the second quarter of this year. - CNA /ls