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05 June 2013

Demand for balance flats in latest launch

Source: Straits Times
By Daryl Chin Property Correspondent

COMPETITION is building at the latest Housing Board launch as buyers - including couples with young children - seek out completed new flats.

With a day left before the close of the exercise, 330 applicants were last night vying for Pinnacle@Duxton's priciest unit, which costs $769,000 and is its only five-roomer on offer.

The launch is proving popular as nearly half of the units are balance flats - that is, those left over from previous exercises. This means they are often close to being finished or are already completed, as in the case of Pinnacle@Duxton.

Analysts say they are also in high demand as this is the first exercise to feature the enhanced Parenthood Priority Scheme, which reserves half of balance flats on offer for married couples who are expecting a child or have one aged under 16. The Duxton units are expected to appreciate handsomely when they hit the resale market, they added.

Altogether, there are more than six applicants for every balance flat on offer across Singapore, according to data culled from the HDB's website.

"Many of these flats are in more established estates, so they draw groups like HDB upgraders looking for a bigger flat with better surrounding amenities," said R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng. Other hot areas include Queenstown and Toa Payoh.

But it was quite a different story for the Build-to-Order (BTO) flats up for grabs. There was less than one eligible applicant for every unit at the five non-mature towns of Choa Chu Kang, Hougang, Jurong West, Sembawang and Woodlands.

The 4,608 flats attracted just 4,077 bids, with the application rate of 0.9 looking set to be the lowest since at least the start of last year.

Property analysts cite three reasons for the low interest.

The first is location - none of the projects is within a 10-minute walk of an MRT station, said SLP International head of research Nicholas Mak.

The second is that the new flats have been overshadowed by the more attractive balance units - an important consideration as applicants can bid for only one flat per launch.

Third, said R'ST Research's Mr Ong, is the way demand seems to have been dampened somewhat by the strong supply in recent years. "It's getting more location specific, and the buyers that are left tend to be more selective."

First-timer Daniel Woon, 25, an engineer, said he is still keeping an eye on the numbers before he puts down his bid.

"A house is something for the long term," he said. "The more calculated the decision, the better." Applications close at midnight tonight.

Islamic finance 'to gain from Asia's closer ties with Mid-East'

Non-energy trade expanding fast and financial flows rising: Lim Hng Kiang

Source: Straits Times | Money 
By Alvin Foo

ASIA'S closer economic and financial ties with the Middle East will add impetus to the expansion of Islamic finance globally, said Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang yesterday.

The increasing connectivity between the two regions comes even as Islamic financial activities here have kept growing over the past year, said Mr Lim, who is also deputy chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

He was giving the opening address at the World Islamic Banking Conference held at the Pan Pacific Singapore hotel.

"The broadening and deepening of economic and financial ties between Asia and the Middle East, the two major centres for Islamic finance, will also provide further impetus for future growth of Islamic finance globally," he said.

Mr Lim noted that the economic ties between the two regions have grown beyond the energy- related sector, with non-energy trade fast expanding.

Already, 40 per cent of the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) non-oil exports are to Asia, said Mr Lim. The GCC comprises the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

He added: "Saudi Arabia is the leading petrochemical supplier to China's textile industry, and China's exports to the GCC are estimated to be growing by 30 per cent annually."

Financial flows between the two regions are also rising significantly, said Mr Lim.

Fuelled by a rapid rise of foreign reserves from an oil windfall, these GCC countries are seeking to rebalance their foreign investment portfolio with a greater allocation to Asia, he noted.

Consultancy firm McKinsey observed that about 11 per cent of the GCC's capital outflows from 2002 to 2006 were to Asia, and this share could increase to an estimated 20 per cent by 2020.

Asia is also investing in the Gulf, particularly in infrastructure projects, said Mr Lim.

There is also a rise in the number of financial intermediaries to facilitate cross-border dealings between the two regions, he noted.

For example, key Middle East Islamic banks have set up shop in Malaysia, and leading GCC banks are using Singapore as a base for expanding into East Asia and to facilitate Asian business expansion into the Middle East.

Mr Lim said: "The presence of all these active players makes for a vibrant Islamic finance ecosystem in Singapore."

Islamic financial activities here have also grown, he noted, and there are more sukuk issuances in the pipeline. A sukuk is an Islamic bond.

Mr Lim also said home-grown Mustafa Group is considering an Islamic financing facility to fund its expansion into neighbouring countries, while Swiber has announced its intention to set up a sukuk programme here in the coming months.