Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Marina IR's Progress On Track

Source : The Straits Times, June 10, 2009

CONSTRUCTION of the hotel towers at the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort (IR) is on target for completion by next month.

The three hotel towers have been built past level 50 - just five floors away from the 55-storey peak for hotel rooms, Marina Bay Sands announced in a statement yesterday.

The developer said it will hold an official topping-out ceremony early next month, presided over by Las Vegas Sands Corp chairman Sheldon Adelson.

The towers will contain around 2,600 luxury hotel rooms that are simultaneously being fitted out.

The US$5.4 billion (S$7.9 billion) IR will open by the end of the year, though likely not fully.

When completely open, it will comprise a casino, hotel rooms, convention and retail space, as well as various entertainment facilities.

Once the hotel towers reach 55 floors, Marina Bay Sands can start construction of the 56th floor and the 1ha Sands SkyPark on the 57th floor.

The SkyPark, which will stand some 200m from the ground, will have a public observation deck in the world's largest building cantilever.

Mr George Tanasijevich, general manager and vice-president of Singapore development at Marina Bay Sands, said the topping out will be one of many significant achievements over the next few months.

'We are putting the roof on the Expo and Convention Centre and are lining up luxury brands and cutting-edge designers for our retail stores.'

Last year, there were concerns that the project would not progress smoothly given the credit crunch. But Las Vegas Sands has assured investors that the Singapore IR is its top priority.

South Beach Project Gets Fresh Funds

Source : The Straits Times, June 10, 2009

CDL and partners secure extra $1.2b; completion expected by 2016

THE landmark South Beach project being developed by City Developments (CDL) and Middle Eastern investors has secured a fresh injection of cash from banks and a
property developer from Hong Kong.

South Beach, which is designed by London-based architectural firm Foster & Partners, will house premium office space, luxury hotels, city residences and retail space. -- PHOTO: CITY DEVELOPMENTS

CDL and its two joint venture partners - Istithmar, part of the Dubai World Group, and Elad Group - have disclosed that they have secured an extra $1.2 billion to develop the Beach Road project. It is opposite the Raffles Hotel.

The deal comprises an $800 million syndicated bank loan and $400 million in secured convertible notes.

About $205 million of the $400 million secured convertible notes will be subscribed by three investors associated with the Nan Fung group of companies, one of the largest privately held conglomerates in Hong Kong. The remaining $195 million will be taken up by a wholly owned subsidiary of CDL.

The two-year $800 million secured term loan is provided by a syndicate comprising DBS Group, United Overseas Bank, OCBC, HSBC and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.

The capital injection goes some way to allay concerns about the development of the project which must be completed by 2016, under the terms of an agreement signed with the Government.

Last year, construction was delayed by the developers who said they wanted to wait for construction costs to fall to more reasonable levels.

Yesterday, the South Beach project was said to be on track to be completed by 2016, with CDL taking a leading role in the development.

The project, designed by London- based architectural firm Foster & Partners, will house premium office space, luxury hotels, city residences and retail space.

Construction costs are 'expected to come down further, which will be to our advantage', said CDL executive chairman Kwek Leng Beng, adding that securing financing for South Beach showed the confidence of bankers and investors in the development's potential.

'We are pleased to welcome our new investors and look forward to leveraging on their extensive experience in property investment and development in North Asia,' said Mr Kwek.

'These partners and investors have extensive networks and can bring in business connections which will further value-add to the project.'

Ms Vivien Wai Wai Chen, chairman and managing director of Nan Fung Group, said: 'We have been looking for good investment opportunities to grow in the current challenging economic environment.

'The South Beach project presents a unique opportunity to work with renowned international investors who are leaders in their respective areas and provides a prominent platform for us to enter the Singapore market.'

Nan Fung Group's investment in the South Beach project highlights a growing trend of Hong Kong developers becoming more active players in Singapore.

Hong Kong's Sun Hung Kai Properties is jointly developing Ion Orchard with CapitaLand.

Ahead of the announcement yesterday, shares of CDL closed 14 cents, or 1.56 per cent, higher at $9.09. And the stock is up 42.7 per cent since the start of the year, compared with a 33.4 per cent gain in the benchmark Straits Times Index.

Nan Fung Group Invests In South Beach Project

Source : The Business Times, June 10, 2009

Entities linked to HK-based group pumping in $205m in refinancing deal

HONG KONG developer Nan Fung group has emerged as an investor in Singapore's South Beach project.

South Beach project: CDL will take a leading role for the project, which is on track to be completed by 2016

It will subscribe to $205 million of five-year secured convertible notes under a refinancing exercise for a $1.2 billion loan on the 3.5-hectare site. The plot was sold for almost $1.69 billion in 2007 during the property bull run to South Beach Consortium - a joint venture company equally owned by subsidiaries of City Developments Ltd (CDL), El-Ad Group and Dubai World.

The $1.2 billion loan that matures later this month will be refinanced by a combination of an $800 million two-year secured bank loan and $400 million of secured convertible notes.

A fully owned unit of CDL will subscribe for $195 million of the notes, with entities associated with the Nan Fung group of companies taking the rest. The notes may be converted into equity in the joint venture company any time during their five-year duration, subject to conditions and terms that have not been disclosed.

If CDL converts its notes, it will emerge as the leader of the consortium. And if Nan Fung follows suit, it will become a shareholder in the consortium.

The $800 million secured term-loan facility announced yesterday has been provided by a syndicate comprising DBS Bank, United Overseas Bank, OCBC Bank, The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (Singapore Branch).

These five banks plus Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi provided the initial $1.2 billion bridging loan facility.

Market watchers note the smaller quantum of $800 million secured for the latest term loan. In a statement, South Beach Consortium noted the 'ongoing challenging credit environment in the global financial markets'.

In its full-year 2008 results statement released in February, CDL said a recent external valuation of the South Beach project was done and the conclusion is that no provision is required for impairment on the development.

It was in November last year that CDL first announced a deferment of construction of the project until construction costs ease.

The project was originally slated for completion by 2012. Under an agreement signed with the Singapore Government, from whom the consortium bought the 99-year leasehold site, the group has up to 2016 to complete the development. The consortium is now expected to begin construction by late next year.

In a filing with Singapore Exchange last night, CDL said: 'The consortium . . . is currently taking the opportunity to review and refine its plans for the development so as to maximise the immense potential of this sizeable prime site, making it even more efficient, while in the meantime noting that construction cost is expected to come down further.'

The project, designed by London-based Foster + Partners, will comprise two tower blocks and four conserved buildings housing offices, luxury hotels, retail space and residences.

In late 2007, CDL said that the project would cost some $2.5 billion in all, including the land cost.

CDL will take a leading role developing the South Beach project, which is on track to be completed by 2016, yesterday's statement said.

Talk surfaced last year that El-Ad and Dubai World were keen to offload their stakes in the project. However, the two yesterday confirmed their commitment to South Beach.

The consortium's winning bid of $1.69 billion for the plot in the public tender worked out to $1,069 per square foot of potential gross floor area and was reported to be about $500 million lower than the top bid, which was not even short-listed under the two-envelope evaluation system.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority evaluated the various concepts before looking at the price offered for the site.

The South Beach project will be Nan Fung's first major property investment here.

The group, set up by Chen Din-hwa, has a joint venture with Singapore's Metro group developing 1 Financial Street in Beijing. Mr Chen, who is in his 80s, made his early fortune in the textile business before moving into property.

S'pore Is An Expensive City

Source : The Straits Times, June 10, 2009

SINGAPORE has become one of the 10 most expensive cities in Asia for expatriates to live, according to a new cost-of-living survey.

Singapore has become one of the 10 most expensive cities in Asia for expatriates to live, according to a new cost-of-living survey. --ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

That's because although the pace of price rises of many goods and services slowed in Asia this year, this did not happen as much in Singapore, said human resources firm ECA International which conducted the survey.

This is despite a weakening Singapore dollar which makes goods and services here cheaper to foreigners.

The Republic jumped three places from the 13th spot last year to the 10th spot, while the strengthening of the yen saw the region's top four spots being taken up by Japanese cities.

Tokyo reclaimed its position as Asia's most expensive city, followed by Nagoya, Yokohama and Kobe.

Explaining Singapore's move up the ranks, Mr Lee Quane, regional director of ECA Asia said: 'Prices have not slowed down as much in Singapore as in other parts of Asia.'

The pace of increase in prices of goods and services in countries such as China and Malaysia, for instance, has slowed down by half. Comparatively this rate is down by just one quarter for Singapore, said Mr Quane.

Still, Singapore remains a more affordable place than long-time rival Hong Kong, where the cost of living is being driven up by the strength of the Hong Kong dollar, which is in turn pegged to the US dollar.

Hong Kong jumped from 98th spot to 29th in the global ranking, and is the seventh most costly city in Asia.

Globally, Singapore came in 72nd, up from being 114th in 2008.

Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Manila and New Delhi are among the Asian cities which have become relatively cheaper for expats to live in.

Rent My Office: Cash Perks Thrown In

Source : The Straits Times, June 10 2009

Landlords resorting to 'golden hellos' to draw tenants in quiet market.

COMPETITION for tenants is so intense in the quiet office sector that landlords are resorting to offering cash or capital contributions to attract new business.

With companies putting expansion plans on hold, demand for office space is seen as still weak. -- ST FILE PHOTO.

Also known as capital expenditure, or capex subsidies, these 'golden hellos' are said to range from half a million dollars to a couple of million dollars and are often used for the fitting out of offices, according to consultants.

A few deals in the works involve one-off lump-sum cash incentives - largely unheard of here - although most landlords prefer to spread the capital contributions over the lease period.

'It shows that there's a certain amount of pressure in terms of occupancy. This hasn't been done since 2003,' said Jones Lang LaSalle's head of markets, Singapore, Mr Chris Archibold.

'The biggest problem today is the lack of cash outlay to fund the fit-out process in a relocation,' said Cushman & Wakefield managing director Donald Han.

Mr Han was recently involved in a 20,000 sq ft anchor tenant lease where the landlord agreed to a fit-out loan to be paid back over the period of the lease.

Fit-out costs can range from about $35 per sq ft (psf) to more than $100 psf.

Capital contributions seem to be more the exception than the rule, with landlords of mostly new space offering them, and then only to certain tenants.

'The tenants have to be big enough to anchor a building. It's got to be a good size to get a leasing campaign started,' said Mr Archibold.

'These would be Fortune 500 companies, a recognisable brand name.'

Five to six deals involving capital contributions are being negotiated, he said.

CBRE executive director (office services) Moray Armstrong said there had been a few deals with capital contributions during past downturns.

And, in this cycle, it is possible that capital contributions - a common practice in the United States - may be more widespread and some of the funds might be at the forefront of this, he said.

Landlords of new developments have it tougher, given that they have to offer more than just competitive rents to attract tenants who may prefer to stay put.

About 2.5 million sq ft of space will come to the market this year alone, up from 1.4 million sq ft last year.

Straits Trading Company is offering capex subsidies for its Straits Trading Building that will be ready in November and is now one-third pre-committed.

Another new building, Mapletree Anson, is close to securing 35 per cent in pre-committed leases.

A Mapletree spokesman said this was 'an encouraging take-up rate, given current market conditions, as we understand that new buildings and developments in the vicinity have not secured any pre-commitments to date'.

Indeed, there have been no major leasing deals over the past nine months, against three to four major deals per year during the recent boom, said Jones Lang LaSalle.

But office inquiries have risen recently as landlords are now more competitive, said Mr Douglas Dunkerley of Corporate Locations.

Office rents plunged in the first quarter by up to nearly 30 per cent for Grade A Raffles Place space. Jones Lang LaSalle's first quarter rent is at $10.75 psf.

Office rents are expected to fall less sharply from now on, with consultants estimating single-digit second-quarter fall for Grade A Raffles Place space.

Nevertheless, with companies putting expansion on hold, demand for office space is still weak. By next year, office vacancy levels are expected to rise to the low teens - a level seen in previous slumps, consultants said.

'The MNCs that we've talked to recently have seen demand levels for their products fall to something that looks like 2003 to 2005 levels,' said Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Phillip Overmyer.

'Yet cost levels - office rentals, operating costs - have only decreased slightly from record levels in 2008.'

Mr Overmyer said he feared this might mean some of the larger companies moving out of Singapore to cheaper locations.

Qatar's Housing Prices To Rise In Q3: Execs

Source : The Business Times, June 9, 2009

(DOHA) Qatar housing prices are expected to rise again from late 2009 and growth in the property market to continue due to infrastructure needs in the world's biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, executives said earlier this month.

'We will see stability very soon, by the third quarter and the market will start climbing again,' Brian Meilleur, president of Al Waab City, a US$3.3 billion mixed-use property project, said on the sidelines of a construction conference here.

'Once we get this one done, we would like to look further into Qatar and look regionally as well.' Qatar house prices have fallen as much as 30 per cent in the last six months due to the global slowdown, but high demand for property will limit price weakness, real estate services company Jones Lang LaSalle said in May.

The economy could grow 7 per cent or more in real terms in 2009 as it boosts gas production, its economy and finance minister said.

At the end of March 2009, around 191 construction projects were under way in Qatar, with a total value of US$82.5 billion, Dubai-based research firm Proleads said in April.

Infrastructure projects, including roads and bridges, education and sports projects, are some areas that are likely to experience growth in Qatar over the coming years, said Yahya Jan, Dubai-based vice-president and design director for NORR Group, a Canadian engineering and architecture company.

'We are bidding for a number of very large projects in Qatar,' Mr Jan said. 'Whether oil is US$35 or US$135 a barrel, there will be tremendous revenue coming to the region because they are exporting energy.' Qatar, which is bidding to host the FIFA football World Cup in 2022 and currently hosts several sports tournaments, is spending billions of dollars on property projects.

The focus of real estate developers in Qatar and other Gulf Arab states should be more on the middle-income housing market, said Steven Miller, Dubai-based managing director of FXFOWLE, a US architecture company.

'Everybody in the region wants to be high income which is ridiculous. You can make money in middle income, but you can't make stupid money,' said Mr Miller, adding that the company is interested in education projects in Qatar. -- Reuters

NZ's Home Prices Fall At Slowest Pace In May

Source : The Business Times, June 9, 2009

(WELLINGTON) New Zealand house prices fell in May at the slowest pace this year, signalling the housing market may soon pick up and help the economy recover from a recession.

Average prices dropped 8.1 per cent from a year earlier, Quotable Value New Zealand Ltd, the government valuation agency, said in an e-mail report. The annual decline is the smallest since December.

Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard cut the benchmark interest rate to a record-low 2.5 per cent in late April to help kick-start the economy, which is in its worst recession in more than three decades. House sales and home-building approvals are rising as consumer confidence in the housing market improves.

'The wider market is moving toward some form of equilibrium,' said Quotable Value spokeswoman Glenda Whitehead. 'The recent buoyant activity has been fuelled by people taking advantage of lower mortgage rates.' More consumers are inspecting properties and making offers, Ms Whitehead said. A lack of new listings is helping to underpin prices, she said.

A net 46 per cent of people surveyed in April said it was a good time to buy a house, ASB Bank Ltd said in a report last week. The net figure, which subtracts pessimists from optimists, has risen from 38 per cent in January.

New Zealand house prices began falling in July last year amid the global credit crunch and plunging consumer confidence. House sales fell to a record low in January and prices in March were 9.3 per cent lower than a year earlier.

Rising unemployment and tighter lending criteria from banks will slow the recovery in house prices, Ms Whitehead said. The government last week forecast the jobless rate would rise to 8 per cent by early 2010 from 5 per cent in the first quarter of this year. -- Bloomberg

Property Stocks Slump After Recent Rally

Source : The Straits Times, June 09 2009

Sell-down overdue as market looks for real signs of recovery.

Property stocks plummeted yesterday as investors – afraid that the party is over for now – headed for the exit.

The sell-down follows a sharp rally in recent weeks and is viewed as overdue given that the stocks have looked overpriced, said a fund manager.

Shares of property heavyweight City Developments (CDL) closed 6.7 per cent lower at $8.95 on a volume of 7.08 million shares. It is now 10.5 per cent below last week’s high, but still a long way above its March lows.

CapitaLand closed 3.6 per cent behind at $3.71 on a volume of nearly 42 million shares. This is down from last week’s high of $4.01.

And developer Keppel Land slipped 7.8 per cent to close at $2.34 on a volume of 15.4 million shares. It is 16 per cent lower than last week’s high of $2.78.

In an AmFraser Securities report yesterday, Mr Najeeb Jarhom noted that the three stocks had recorded “stunning” triple-digit surges since their March lows.

Keppel Land has led the pack with a 328 per cent jump from 70 cents to $3, despite being booted out of the Straits Times Index recently.

The report added that the stock should trade between $2.30 and $2.90.

CapitaLand is expected to trade within a range of $3.50 and $4.10.

As for CDL, its shares should trade between $8.70 and $10, it said.

Yesterday, most other property counters were also hammered.

Allgreen Properties slid 4.5 per cent to 95 cents, while office landlord Singapore Land was down 1.6 per cent at $5.40.

At $1.35, Wing Tai was 7.5 per cent lower, while Wheelock Properties edged 2.3 per cent down to $1.70.

The recent rally of property stocks was in line with growing confidence in the physical property market, as general panic has slowly evaporated.

Sales of new private homes surged past the 1,000-unit mark for three consecutive months from February to April. And buying interest continues to appear strong, judging from recent sales.

A DMG & Partners Securities report yesterday upgraded the Singapore property sector to “overweight” from “neutral”, citing various factors such as physical prices levelling off and the return of interest in prime homes.

Foreign buyers are also expected to return because of the pickup in domestic buying activity.

Key risks, said analyst Brandon Lee in the report, included a slower- than-expected economic recovery, negative newsflow emanating from the United States, and the integrated resorts failing to take off.

“The stock market is going to be very volatile. But at least confidence is back in the physical market, which is a good thing for property stocks in the near to medium term,” said an analyst.

The resale market is stirring and one of the upside surprises is likely to come when the Urban Redevelopment Authority caveats come out next week, he said.

Stocks-wise, the upside is not as attractive, he added.

Market observers say the market continues to search for real signs of recovery to latch onto.