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13th June 2014

Singapore Economy

Unemployment rate inches up in Q1 but remains low: Manpower ministry

The seasonally adjusted overall unemployment rate was 2 per cent in March this year, up from 1.8 per cent in December 2013.

Source: Today Online / Singapore

SINGAPORE: The unemployment rate in Singapore remains low, despite rising slightly in the first quarter of the year, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) figures show.

The key findings from MOM’s “Labour Market, First Quarter 2014” report, released on Friday (June 13), were that the seasonally adjusted overall unemployment rate was 2 per cent in March this year, up from 1.8 per cent in December 2013.

Similar increases were observed for residents from 2.7 per cent to 2.9 per cent and citizens from 2.8 per cent to 3 per cent. This could reflect increased job search activity as more residents, especially the less educated, were encouraged to enter the labour force, given more job openings and an increase in wages, with the tightening of foreign manpower controls, the ministry said.

The long-term unemployment rate stayed low at 0.6 per cent in March 2014. There were 12,900 residents who had been looking for work for at least 25 weeks in March 2014, down from 13,700 in March 2013.

Total employment grew by 28,300 in the first quarter, lower than the seasonally high increase of 40,600 in the last quarter of 2013 but broadly comparable to the 28,900 in the first quarter of 2013. This brought total employment to 3,552,200 in March 2014, which was 4 per cent higher than a year ago, the report said.

The seasonally adjusted job vacancies rose for the third consecutive quarter, though the rate of increase over the quarter moderated to 3 per cent in March 2014 from 9.2 per cent in December 2013 and 5.8 per cent in September 2013.

"It could mean there's a mismatch in the skills available in the market and the people that are looking for work just don't have the right skills," said Mr Ian Grundy, the head of marketing and communications for Asia at Adecco Group.

"It could also mean that the increase in jobs, for those jobs, they're just not that attractive. They may not be paying as much, or the benefits package may not be good enough, and that the employers need to make those jobs more competitive."Some economists say that job openings are more apparent in the food and beverage, accommodation and financial services sectors," Mr Grundy said.

"These sectors have been quite reliant on foreign manpower to some extent. This appears to indicate that the available labour pool may not be making up for the change to a new labour market regime, where we are trying to be less reliant on foreign manpower," noted Assoc Prof Randolph Tan, the Deputy Director for the Centre for Applied Research at SIM University.

"In short, what it really means is that, with a tighter labour market and less access to foreign manpower, what we hope is for the resident labour pool to be able to fill the needs of employers, but that doesn't seem to be happening immediately. At least that appears to be what we are seeing in this quarter." 

The ministry’s report also highlighted that job openings continued to outnumber job seekers, though the ratio has eased. The seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons declined from 1.43 in December 2013 to 1.33 in March 2014.

A total of 3,110 workers were made redundant in the first quarter, a decline from the 3,660 in the preceding quarter, though this was higher than the 2,120 workers retrenched in the first quarter of last year.

- CNA/cy

Singapore Real Estate

Private housing market unlikely to see price war, say analysts

Developers are not in a rush to lower prices as demand has yet to reach a standstill

Source: Today Online / Business

SINGAPORE — While more developers have taken to cutting prices to improve sales amid a property slowdown, potential home buyers anticipating a broad-based price war may be disappointed as the private residential market has yet to reach a tipping point that could trigger such a situation.

Analysts told TODAY that most developers are not in a rush to lower prices given that demand has yet to reach a standstill. Projects that have been relaunched at a discount are isolated cases that are unlikely to result in intense price competition in the market, they said.

Multiple sets of cooling measures and loan restrictions introduced last year have kept buyers on the sidelines, forcing some developers, including CapitaLand, South-east Asia’s largest listed developer, to re-launch certain projects at lower prices to generate demand.

CapitaLand in April re-launched its Sky Habitat condominium in Bishan at about 10 to 15 per cent lower than its initial launch price, helping it sell 130 units in that month alone. This was compared with the 182 units sold since Sky Habitat’s launch in April 2012.

In February, MCL Land cut prices at Hallmark Residences at Ewe Boon Road by about 10 per cent. Sales have jumped about eight times to 41 units since, versus the five sold before the discount.

And at Wheelock Properties’ The Panorama in Ang Mo Kio, a 10 to 15 per cent price cut helped offload an additional 80 to 85 units, adding to the 56 units moved since its initial launch in January.

Despite these success stories, developers are unlikely to launch into a broad-based price war, said analysts.

“If we look at the few developers that are cutting prices, their projects tend to be a bit isolated. For example, there are no other new 99-year launches near The Panorama and there’s also no similar competing project around Sky Habitat … I don’t think we’ve reached a situation where there’s a price war,” said Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director of research and consultancy at SLP International.

Singapore’s low interest-rate environment is also expected to continue to sustain demand in the long run, offering little reason for developers to slash prices too drastically.

“I think developers will not participate in a price war until interest rates start rising steadily. At the moment, there’s no indication that prices will collapse in a big way ... Many developers are doing okay financially, they just have to nudge it, offer a little discount, to keep their income stream,” said Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants.

“Many times the discounted units are the relatively unpopular ones, for example, those on lower floors or facing a less desirable direction. These units are valued at a lower price anyway, so a market-wide impact is quite limited.”

Private home prices fell for the first time in almost two years in the last three months of last year, slipping 0.9 per cent on a quarterly basis. In the first quarter of this year, prices declined another 1.3 per cent, showed Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) data.

But recent moves by developers to reduce prices are helping to draw buyers’ attention.

In April, 745 new private homes were sold, up 55 per cent in March.

To further boost activity, developers of slow-moving projects may want to consider taking prices a little lower, said Ms Penny Yaw, head of research at HSR International Realtors.

“In recent years, we have seen property developers throwing in non-cash goodies to justify higher selling prices and to encourage sales. We think the time is ripe to take out some of these freebies and to simply reduce the selling prices … If prices were to be reduced by 15 to 20 per cent, the unsold units would move fairly quickly,” she said.

But several developers contacted by TODAY said they have no immediate plans to slash prices.

TA Corp, part of the joint venture developing The Skywoods at Dairy Farm, said: “Despite the impact of the Total Debt Servicing Ratio on overall market sentiment, we have seen encouraging take-up for The Skywoods … We are monitoring buyers’ sentiment closely and have no plans to change our marketing strategy as yet.”

Far East Organization also said it has no plans to relaunch any of its projects.

Meanwhile, buyers of projects that have since been relaunched at lower prices need not be too concerned that banks will come chasing them for a top up on their housing loans.

“I think it’s still too early for the banks to request for top ups as the price falls are still moderate and the ability of borrowers to service their housing loans remain strong,” said head of mortgage advisory at REMS Advisor Chew Ching Lien.

“While the existing owners may be sitting on paper losses, the property market moves in a cycle and valuation may come up again when these projects are completed.”

OCBC Bank’s head of consumer credit risk Joseph Wong echoed that sentiment, saying that the possibility of invoking a margin call on housing loans is low given that movements in local home prices are rather stable.

URA's landscape renewal to cover more areas

Policy extended to include residential, commercial, hotel, mixed-use projects

Source: Business Times / Property

THE Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday announced enhancements to the 2009 Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High Rises (LUSH) programme, aimed at encouraging developers to plan for more green spaces in Singapore.

Termed LUSH 2.0, which includes the landscape replacement policy, it will now cover more geographic areas.

Developments in strategic areas must replace the full site area with green communal spaces - at least 40 per cent must be planting areas and the remaining 60 per cent landscaped communal areas.

Additionally, the policy has been expanded to cover all residential, commercial, hotel and mixed-use developments outside strategic areas to set a minimum greening standard island-wide.

-By Sheena Tan

Lush spreads its green cover further

Source: Straits Times

To encourage skyrise greenery such as roof gardens in private developments, more areas will be subject to regulations and developers given more incentives under an enhanced government scheme. Since the Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises (Lush) programme started in 2009, it has supported the addition of 40ha of new urban greenery - the size of 130 primary school fields - in new developments. 

Greener high-rise buildings under LUSH 2.0

Source: Today Online / Business

SINGAPORE — To further promote greenery in Singapore’s urban landscape, the Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises (LUSH) initiative has been expanded to cover more development types and geographical areas than its original scheme, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said yesterday.

Termed LUSH 2.0, the enhanced programme includes additional incentives and regulations to encourage developers and building owners to adopt more green features.

One of the enhancements requires a larger number of buildings to replenish greenery displaced during their development.

Bonus gross floor area (GFA) over and above Master Plan gross plot ratio limits for rooftop outdoor refreshment areas will now be extended to new developments and redevelopment proposals.

The URA will also be more flexible in considering covered areas of communal ground gardens and wider communal planter boxes for GFA exemption.

“The provision of greenery in Singapore has always been important in our planning — not just because it beautifies our city, but because we see the value of greenery in improving our quality of life. This is an effort that involves many partner agencies, as well as developers and building owners, working together to create a lush environment for people to enjoy,” said URA chief executive Ng Lang.

More than 40ha of green spaces have been added within Singapore’s urban areas since the introduction of LUSH in 2009. That is equivalent to 130 primary school fields, the authority said.

“The green message is spreading … We are pleased with what LUSH has accomplished and have decided to do more through additional incentives and regulations. Our aim is to make Singapore a great garden and a great home,” Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan wrote in a blog post yesterday prior to the URA’s announcement.

Developers welcomed the government’s push for more skyrise greenery.

Mr Tan Seng Chai, CapitaLand’s group chief corporate officer and chairman of the company’s sustainability steering committee, said: “Skyrise greenery not only enhances the environment by bringing building users closer to nature, but also reduces urban heat gain, which potentially translates to energy savings.”

City Developments (CDL) said besides environmental benefits, buildings with green features are also better-received by users.

“Besides the carbon and energy usage reduction that can be achieved by doing this, developments with green spaces are also fast gaining popularity as they offer added lifestyle enjoyment for users,” a CDL spokesperson said.

“The enhancements under the LUSH 2.0 programme will no doubt keep Singapore at the forefront in creating gardens in the sky, and is a step in the right direction to enhance our ‘Garden in a City’ reputation.” 

-By Lee Yen Nee

$1.44b Nusajaya Tech Park breaks ground at Iskandar

Source: Straits Times

COMPANIES looking to operate in Malaysia's booming Iskandar growth corridor will soon have the option of setting up shop at the upcoming $1.44 billion Nusajaya Tech Park. A ground-breaking ceremony was held yesterday for the 210ha park, a joint venture between property developers Singapore's Ascendas and Malaysia's UEM Sunrise.

Iskandar 'complements, not competes with' Singapore industries

Ground-breaking ceremony held for Nusajaya Tech Park

Source: Business Times / Top Stories

[SINGAPORE] The trade ministers of Singapore and Malaysia yesterday emphasised that the Iskandar development region in Johor will complement, rather than compete with, Singapore's own manufacturing sector.

They stressed this at the ground-breaking ceremony of Nusajaya Tech Park, the 60:40 project between Singapore's Ascendas and Malaysia's UEM Sunrise.

The tech park, located minutes from the Tuas second-link expressway, allows Singapore companies looking to expand, as well as international firms looking to develop new supply chains in South-east Asia.

In urging Singapore companies seeking to venture overseas to consider Iskandar, Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang said that the proximity of Singapore and Iskandar allows investors to "position their full value chain of business and manufacturing functions across both locations, hence spurring the development of complementary industries".

"With the right mix of industries and enhanced connectivity, there is potential for both countries to develop a seamless economic space," he added.

Speaking to the media later, Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed remarked that the high-tech park is in line with Malaysia's objective of moving up the value chain to sustain its Economic Transformation Programme.

President and group CEO of Ascendas, Manohar Khiatani, told BT that the park is not intended for low-value labour-intensive activities, but mid to higher value-added activities that Singapore cannot contain due to its resource constraints. He likened it to a buffet spread before someone with a limited appetite.

"These activities that cannot be hosted in Singapore are equally valuable activities, and now they can be hosted in Nusajaya Tech Park, so it's like an extension of our industrial activity," he said.

Asked if international companies will prefer to locate in Iskandar over Singapore for affordablity reasons, he said: "There is clearly a trend of companies coming to Iskandar not just to arbitrage labour costs or operating costs, but to develop new supply chains in South-east Asia. Some of the end products are made in Singapore, so if they can get their suppliers who also make high value components to be based close by - whether in Singapore or Iskandar - then it just enhances the attractiveness of the whole value proposition."

The 210-hectare Nusajaya tech park will be developed in phases over nine years, although the start-up phase spanning 28 ha of ready-built facilities and land plots for build-to-suit developments will be completed by 2016.

When fully completed, the park is expected to yield nine to 10 million square feet of industrial and office space. It aims to cater to multinational companies and small and medium enterprises in growth industries such as precision engineering, electronics, light and clean manufacturing, and warehousing and logistics.

Already, the park has received 40 per cent pre-commitment for the ready-built facilities in the start-up phase. Mr Khiatani said a large proportion of them are Singapore-based companies, but German and Japanese firms have also expressed interest in the park. The marketing team is also going to the United States next month to promote the tech park and Iskandar region to investors.

Yesterday also saw precision engineering firm Sanwa Group of Companies, logistics and supply chain solutions partner YCH Group and Telekom Malaysia's info-communication technology unit, VADS Berhad, sign expressions of interest in the park.

The park's freehold facilities are mostly land-based factories, suited for chemical as well as marine and offshore engineering industries, but which tend to be limited in Singapore due to space constraints.

The park's facilities range from semi-detached units of 13,000 sq ft to detached factories of 42,000 sq ft, with prices averaging RM380 (S$148) per square foot (psf) - a fraction of Singapore's industrial land which transacted for S$320 to S$640 psf in the first quarter of this year. The tenures of plots in Singapore go up to a maximum of 60 years only, and even this was recently slashed.

Nusajaya Tech Park is actually Ascendas's first industrial project in Malaysia, a fact that Mr Mustapa acknowledged in his speech with a good-natured: "Better late than never!"

-By Lee Meixian

Ascendas' Nusajaya Tech Park breaks ground in Iskandar

The commercial property landlord's first large-scale industrial park development in Malaysia is expected to be one of the key economic drivers in Johor.

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

JOHOR: Singapore commercial property landlord Ascendas and its Malaysian partner, UEM Sunrise, broke ground for its Nusajaya Tech Park project at Iskandar Malaysia on Thursday (June 12).

The park - which will cater to key growth industries like precision engineering, electronics, clean manufacturing and logistics - has a projected gross development value of S$1.5 billion (RM3.7 billion). To be developed in three phases over nine years, it is expected to reap economic benefits for both Singapore and Malaysia.

Spanning 210 hectares, the integrated tech park will have ready-built facilities and land plots for build-to-suit developments. The first phase of the development is expected to be completed in 2016.

Ascendas says the selling price for the freehold project is about RM380 ringgit per square foot. For the built-to-suit, there will be different considerations, depending on the complexity of the building.

This is Ascendas' first large-scale industrial park development in Malaysia and it says the park has generated interest. Ascendas soft-launched 43 units of the ready-built factories in January, and about 40 per cent has been taken up. "Most of the interest comes from the smaller and medium-sized companies, many of them are Singapore-based companies," said President and Group CEO of Ascendas, Mr Manohar Khiatani.

Companies including Sanwa Group of Companies, YCH Group, and VADS Berhad have also indicated interest in the new tech park. Sanwa is exploring taking up a 72,000 sq ft facility for their precision engineering and manufacturing operations.

Meanwhile, YCH Group has teamed up with Nusajaya Tech Park to explore developing a state-of-the-art supply chain facility operated by the group within Iskandar Malaysia. VADS Berhad is exploring the setting up of a data centre in the park.

YCH Group told Channel NewsAsia that the Malaysia market currently accounts for 10 to 15 per cent of the company's revenue, and this proportion is set to grow with its potential presence in Nusajaya Tech Park.

The two trade ministers from Singapore and Malaysia joined stakeholders at the ground-breaking ceremony for Nusajaya Tech Park on Thursday. "This high-tech park is designed to complement operations of some companies in Singapore with companies in Malaysia. This marriage is a very strong marriage," said Mr Mustapa Mohamed, Malaysia's Minister of International Trade & Industry. "It goes to show how we are committed to further develop ties between Singapore and Malaysia. This place will result in a lot of spin-off activities in Iskandar, Johor, and it will be a win-win collaboration for our two countries."

"The Nusajaya Tech Park is expected to be one of the key economic drivers in Johor," he added. "When completed, it will support some 200 companies and a business community of over 20,000 people."

Singapore's Minister of Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang called on Singapore companies seeking to venture overseas to consider Iskandar Malaysia as an option, calling the development a strategically important one for both Malaysia and Singapore.

"We have and will continue to jointly develop industries with synergistic activities in both Singapore and Iskandar Malaysia," he said. "With the right mix of industries and enhanced connectivity, there is potential for both countries to develop a seamless economic space."

Singapore is the top foreign investor in Iskandar Malaysia, with committed investments of RM 11 billion as of April this year. The special economic zone has attracted total investments of RM 138.61 billion, of which 45 per cent have been realised, according to the Iskandar Regional Development Authority. 

- CNA/xy

HUDC estate at Hougang Ave 7 privatised

Only two HUDC estates in Singapore still yet to be privatised

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

SINGAPORE: The HUDC estate at Hougang Avenue 7 has been privatised under the Land Titles (Strata) Act, after it obtained the required 75 per cent majority support, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) said on Friday (June 13).

This means that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council is no longer responsible for managing and maintaining the common properties of the estate, which comprises 286 units of flats at Blocks 344 to 350 Hougang Avenue 7.

The Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No. 4013 will be constituted to take over the management and maintenance of the estate’s common properties. Individual owners in the estate will own their respective strata units, as well as the common property such as car parks and open landscaped areas, as tenants-in-common, the HDB said in a statement.

Among the 18 HUDC estates in Singapore, 16 have completed the privatisation process. For the remaining two estates, Potong Pasir is currently undergoing privatisation, while Braddell View has just obtained the support level for privatisation.

- CNA/do

Real Estate Companies' Brief

Ascott inks franchise pacts in Vientiane, Bali

Source: Business Times / Companies

THE Ascott Limited, the serviced residence arm of CapitaLand, has inked its first franchise agreements in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, and Bali in Indonesia.

An operating serviced residence in Vientiane will be rebranded as the 116-unit Somerset Vientiane in the fourth quarter and the 194-unit Citadines Kuta Beach Bali is scheduled to open in August.

The franchise agreement for Somerset Vientiane is entered with a subsidiary of Singapore-listed hospitality player LCD Global Investments Ltd.

Under the agreement, LCD's Parkview Executive Suites will be rebranded as Somerset Vientiane. Ascott will manage the serviced residence for the first two years before transitioning to a franchise arrangement.

-By Lynette Khoo

Ascott secures franchises in Vientiane, Bali

Franchising will be a key growth driver for the company, CEO Lee Chee Koon says.

Source: Channel News Asia / Business

SINGAPORE: Serviced residence operator Ascott has secured its first franchise agreements in Vientiane, Laos, and Bali, Indonesia, the company said on Thursday (June 12).

It will operate a serviced residence in Vientiane, which will be rebranded as a 116-unit Somerset Vientiane, in the fourth quarter of this year, as well as the 194-unit Citadines Kuta Beach Bali that is scheduled to open in August this year, according to its statement.

Ascott CEO Lee Chee Koon said franchising will be a key growth driver for the company. “Together with investments, management contracts and strategic alliances, franchise will bring us closer to achieving our target of 40,000 apartment units globally by 2015,” he said.

Ascott awarded the Somerset Vientiane franchise to a subsidiary of LCD Global Investments, a Singapore-listed real estate and hospitality group. Ascott will manage the serviced residence for two years before transitioning to a franchise arrangement, according to the statement.

The franchise for Citadines Kuta Beach Bali was awarded to PT Menara Permata Propertindo, it added.

- CNA/cy

Low Keng Huat Q1 net dips 4%; revenue up 36%

Source: Business Times / Companies

CONSTRUCTION group Low Keng Huat (Singapore) Limited has posted a net profit of $14.6 million for the three months ended April 30 this year (Q1 FY2015), as year-on-year Q1 revenue increased by 36 per cent to $24.2 million.

However, the profit attributable to shareholders was 4 per cent lower than that for Q1 FY2014 owing to lower profits from the construction segment.

Construction revenue increased by $7.5 million to $11.9 million for Q1 FY2015 from $4.4 million last year.

This was largely due to a $114.3 million contract awarded to the group in June 2013 for the design and building of a hotel block at Jurong Town Hall Road that is expected to be completed in the first half of 2015.

-By Lester Wong

Views, Reviews & Forum

'Locking in' the Quay to our trading history

Source: Straits Times

Robertson Quay today is home to an array of cafes, restaurants and contemporary art galleries. Round the corner in Jiak Kim Street is iconic nightclub Zouk, which has been drawing partygoers for the past 23 years. Yet the area has not always been so cosmopolitan.

Leavening touch of neighbourliness

Source: Straits Times

Many would aver instinctively that as people got more packed together in urban spaces, the less close-knit they became. There's more to it, of course, than just a reflexive lurch towards privacy triggered by cheek-by-jowl living conditions. The "kampung spirit" of olden days, that the pioneer generation are not alone in still talking about nostalgically, thrived despite the cramped conditions of makeshift homes. People are less neighbourly now perhaps because their emotional, social and instrumental needs are fulfilled increasingly by links formed outside their neighbourhood - at workplaces, schools, recreational spaces and in cyberspace.

Restore Bukit Timah Nature Reserve without closing it

Source: Straits Times

The news that the National Parks Board (NParks) is going to restore Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is welcome and long overdue ("Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to shut for repairs"; June 3). The sorry state of the trail network is the result of a lack of maintenance and effective management over many years. Now, NParks is moving to the opposite extreme and attacking it all in one huge project, resulting in the virtual closure of the reserve for two years.

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

World housing prices soar as global economy recovers

Source: Straits Times

Malaysian housing developers ignoring freebie guidelines

Source: Business Times / Property

SOME seven months after more cooling measures were introduced, home prices continue to inch up as developers prefer to offer rebates than price their products lower.

Many appear to be not abiding by guidelines on "freebies". Some banks are also still basing their financing on the sales-and-purchase agreement (SPA) price rather than net selling price, a survey by the national House Buyers Association (HBA) has found.

On a more positive note, except for one small developer, the projects surveyed by HBA volunteers did not offer the easy financing developer interest bearing scheme (Dibs), which the government had banned from this year.

Brochures and other materials gathered by volunteers at various property fairs, however, indicate that many developers - even the bigger ones - are ignoring the guideline on so-called freebies.

-By Pauline Ng in Kuala Lumpur

China group to build creative hub in Sydney

A$25m tower will be tallest residential building in Australia

Source: Business Times / Property

[CANBERRA] Chinese property development group Greenland is determined to make its new project in Sydney, a new tower that will not only be the tallest residential building in Australia but will also house a creative hub featuring dance, theatre, music, film and visual arts facilities.

Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore announced on Tuesday that the A$25 million (S$29 million) creative hub will be built in the heart of the city following an agreement between her city and Greenland.

An Australian first, the hub will span 2,000 square metres over five stories.

In addition to the hub, the A$440 million, 67-story Greenland Center will feature 490 residential apartments and ground-floor retail space, while a 173-room hotel will be built on a neighbouring site in Sydney city centre.

-From Canberra, Australia

Investors turn to Japan Reits as inflation hedge

They're banking on asset price rises; stable interest rates

Source: Business Times / World

[TOKYO] Yield-hungry investors have been betting that Japanese real estate investment trusts will pay off as asset prices rise and interest rates remain stable, with the instruments growing in popularity among both retail and institutional investors.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange Reit Index pushed to 13-month highs this month, and has risen around 3 per cent so far this year, helped by the introduction in January of the Nippon Individual Savings Account (NISA).

The tax-break facility was set up to give Japanese retail investors incentive to move their funds to other assets from historically low-earning saving accounts, whose cash value erodes as the Bank of Japan slowly moves closer to meeting its 2 per cent inflation target.

"People have started realising inflation is really coming,"said Kyoya Okazawa, head of global equities and commodity derivatives at BNP Paribas in Tokyo, to explain Reits' appeal. "I think it's an inflation hedge," he said. "This kind of fear is pushing some money into higher-yielding assets instead of just bank deposits."

-From Tokyo, Japan

Manila acts to cut risk from property market

Banks ordered to adjust capital for real-estate exposure

Source: Business Times / World

[MANILA] Philippine lenders can have greater real estate exposure as long as they have enough capital buffers to stem risks identified in an industry stress test, the central bank said, as it issued new rules aimed at reducing risks arising from a growing property market.

The new regulation, which came ahead of a rate policy review on June 19, is a "pre-emptive macro-prudential policy measure" to ensure that banks' real estate exposure remains healthy, the central bank said in a statement late on Wednesday night.

But it said the new measure "does not reflect any imminent vulnerability among banks with exposure to the real estate sector". Stress tests will be conducted under the new prudential guideline to determine whether banks' capital is sufficient to absorb credit risk related to real estate lending and investments.

At present, Philippine banks are required to meet a capital adequacy ratio of 10 per cent, higher than a Basel II requirement of 8 per cent.

-From Manila, Philippines

Retail sales rise less than forecast in May

Purchases are up 0.3%; consumers take break after 3-month surge in shopping

Source: Business Times / World

[WASHINGTON] Retail sales rose less than forecast in May as American consumers took a respite following a three-month surge in shopping that has underpinned economic growth.

The 0.3 per cent increase in purchases last month followed a revised 0.5 per cent gain in April that was much larger than previously estimated, Commerce Department figures showed yesterday in Washington.

Consumers are ramping up spending as a healing job market and rising home values boost balance sheets. Higher May sales from auto lots to Lowe's Cos Inc signal vitality in household spending, which makes up about 70 per cent of the economy, though bigger wage gains may be needed to sustain the momentum.

"The more jobs there are, the more people with money in their pockets," Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies LLC in New York, said before the report. "One of the key components of this cycle is that consumer spending has been moderate because income growth has been moderate."

-From Washington, US

US retail sales edge higher in May
Source: Channel News Asia / Business

WASHINGTON: US retail sales rose modestly in May, lifted mainly by auto sales, but the April gain was revised sharply higher, pointing to stronger growth, government data released Thursday showed.

Retail and food services sales rose 0.3 per cent in May, after a revised 0.5 per cent gain in April, the Commerce Department said.

The previous April estimate was only 0.1 per cent.

Excluding auto sales, May retail sales edged up 0.1 per cent, according to the data which is adjusted seasonally but not for price changes.

The May numbers came in much weaker than analysts expected; the average estimate was for a 0.7 per cent rise in retail sales and a 0.4 per cent rise in ex-auto sales.

But the strong upward revisions to the April numbers indicated a better retail environment in general, analysts said.

"Retailers are on course for their best calendar quarter for over three years, providing further evidence that the US economy is warming up from the cold spell earlier in the year," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

Year-over-year, total retail sales in May were up 4.3 per cent.

The Commerce Department said that total retail sales in March through May period were up 4.3 per cent from the same period a year ago.

Sales of motor vehicles and parts rose 1.4 per cent in May, leading the monthly gain.

Sales at gasoline stations rose 0.4 per cent, while non-store retailers' sales advanced 0.6 per cent as shoppers increasingly go online.

Department stores posted the largest sales drop, at 1.4 percent.

- AFP/nd