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31st December 2014

Singapore Real Estate

Government trims confirmed-list industrial land sales for H1 2015

Govt trims supply for first half of 2015 with large projects under way

Source: Straits Times / Money

TWO industrial sites that can be used to build strata-titled units have been put on the confirmed list for sale in the first half of next year - one fewer than the allocation in this six-month period.

The move is part of an ongoing government strategy to taper the supply of industrial space.

The two sites listed yesterday under the Industrial Government Land Sales Programme can be sub-divided so the winning bidder can sell smaller units or custom-build its own facilities.

Consultants applauded the move to cut the number of such sites, citing a looming supply of strata units in the pipeline. There are about 10 large industrial projects under construction, with a total gross floor area of 5.39 million sq ft from sites sold this year.

About 44.2 million sq ft of factory space is slated for completion by the end of next year, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

"This should bring some relief to developers of industrial projects with a significant number of unsold strata units," said Mr Nicholas Mak, research head at property firm SLP International.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) rolled out nine confirmed list sites yesterday with a total area of 6.46ha. They will go on sale in the first half of next year regardless of interest from developers. This is down from the 12.06ha placed on the industrial land sales programme in the second half of this year. Demand in this segment slowed after stamp duties were slapped on sellers last year to discourage speculative trading of industrial properties.

Eight of the nine confirmed sites are zoned Business-2, which allows heavy industrial use, and have leases of 20 years, the shortest for such sites. These parcels are likely to draw industrialists who have been calling for more space to expand and develop their production facilities, said experts.

The ninth site is earmarked for light and clean industrial use.

A 1.37ha plot in Woodlands Avenue 10 and a 0.6ha parcel in Ubi Avenue 1 - both on the confirmed list - are targeted for a possible "multiple-user development".

The 20-year leasehold Woodlands site is the second parcel with a sizeable area and short lease to be released, following a 1.63ha site in Penjuru Road snapped up by logistics and warehousing firm UBTS for $9.3 million last Wednesday.

The confirmed list also includes three plots in Tampines Industrial Drive. Construction firm Lian Beng's successful bid for a nearby site at $64.4 million - or $87.34 per sq ft per plot ratio - last month indicates the demand in the area.

Mr Mak said industrialists from the wafer fabrication and semiconductor industries are likely to be drawn to the area. Each site can yield 71,042 to 87,188 sq ft of gross floor area.

If the five plots from the reserve list announced yesterday are included, 14.04ha of industrial land are potentially up for grabs. Sites on the reserve list go on sale only if an acceptable minimum bid is submitted.

Separately, the MTI said buyers of industrial sites launched from Jan 1 will not have to build a goods lift and loading bay if the site is a "full ramp-up development" - industrial buildings that allow vehicles direct access to units on each floor. But other multi-storey industrial buildings with four storeys or more must have a service lift designated for goods.

-By Cheryl Ong

Government tightens industrial land supply under Land Sales Programme

A total of 14 sites have been placed under the Industrial Government Land Sales Programme for first half of 2015 - one fewer than for the preceding six months.

Source: Channel News Asia / Business

SINGAPORE: The Government is tightening the supply of industrial land. A total of 14 sites have been placed under the Industrial Government Land Sales (IGLS) Programme for first half of 2015 - one fewer than for the preceding six months.

Of the 14, nine sites have been placed on the Confirmed List. Of these, three are located at Tampines Industrial Drive, four at Tuas South, and one each at Woodlands Avenue 10 and Ubi Avenue 1. 

According to SLP International Property Consultants, these nine sites will offer a total gross floor area of 84,100 square metres - nearly 58 per cent lower than what was offered under the Confirmed List for the second half of 2014.

The remaining five sites have been put on the Reserve List. They are located at Tuas South, Tampines Industrial Drive and Tuas Bay Close.

Under the Reserve List, the Government will release a site for sale if an interested party submits an application for the site to be put up for tender with an offer of a minimum purchase price that is acceptable to the Government. 

Many of these sites come with a land tenure of 20 years, instead of 30 years under previous land sales programmes. SLP said this could be aimed at lowering the cost of industrial space.

There has also been a reduction in the number of large multiple-user development sites under the Confirmed List.

According to SLP, this is seen as bringing some relief to developers of industrial projects with significant number of unsold strata-units.

In addition, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said, in response to feedback from developers and industrialists, that it will remove the goods lift and loading bay requirement for all full ramp-up developments on IGLS parcels in B1 and B2 zones launched from Jan 1, 2015.

- CNA/dl

Lower private home prices may lure buyers back

Source: Today Online / Business

SINGAPORE — After a year-long pull-back in buying activity that caused private home sales volume to plunge and prices to dip, property analysts told TODAY buyers are set to return to the market in greater numbers next year.

Private home prices, which have dipped 3 per cent this year as of the end of the third quarter, are expected to fall by another 5 to 10 per cent next year because of a projected rise in supply and the continued impact of property curbs. But with more choices for buyers, sales volume may bottom out from the lows this year that have mirrored levels during the global financial crisis.

“Developer sales volume for new launches will rise from this year. Developers will have to clear inventory to avoid paying Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD) or extension premiums for Qualifying Certificates under the Residential Property Act. Prices may fall up to 5 to 10 per cent,” said HSR International Realtors CEO Anne Tong.

Annual sales of new private homes could increase to at least 12,500 units next year from this year’s projected 7,500 to 7,800 units that is about half that of last year, she added.

Mr Alan Cheong, senior director of Savills Research, also expects a rise in sales volume, saying more buyers may return to the market after building up wealth from waiting on the sidelines for the past two years or so.

“Assuming property curbs did not induce a change in market behaviour towards residential homes, what these did was merely raising the barriers for liquidity to flow into the market … From the implementation of the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) in June 2013, the workforce would have enjoyed two pay rises by the first half of next year — one for 2014 and the other for 2015. In addition, two bonuses would have been paid out,” he said.

“The store of wealth is increasing. Meanwhile, measures have been static. Barring a deflation of sentiment due to a cataclysmic event, fundamentals should prevail. In 2015, there may be defining projects that will bring about a pivotal reversal of sales volume.”

Impending interest rate rise heightens concerns

However, some analysts said the cooling measures and TDSR would continue to keep sentiment subdued. In addition, concern over the normalisation of interest rates in the United States, widely expected to begin around the second quarter of next year, will also weigh on the housing market here as an increase in borrowing costs in Singapore will follow suit, affecting affordability and curtailing demand.

This, coming against the backdrop of rising non-performing housing loans and a softening rental market, may lead to home owners selling their investment properties when mortgage commitments grow heavier.

“The rise in rates would be negative for the market … With rents looking to continue falling and interest rates expected to rise in 2015, many who bought units for investment purposes may decide to offload their investments as their rentals would not be able to cover their monthly mortgage interest,” said Mr Wong Xian Yang, research and consultancy manager at property agency OrangeTee.

Such a situation will add to the supply of units for sale, putting more pressure on the resale segment that will have to compete with the more than 20,000 new units that are expected to be completed next year.

But the Government’s move to scale back land supply for residential property development under the Government Land Sales (GLS) programme may help prevent the market from tipping over, following a rise in interest rates, said Colliers International’s director of research and advisory Chia Siew Chuin.

Sites under the Confirmed List of GLS for the first half of next year can yield about 3,020 private homes — almost 23 per cent lower than the 3,900 units on the Confirmed List in the second half of this year and the fewest since the first half of 2010. “This may provide some support for the private residential property market,” said Ms Chia.

Cooling measures likely to stay

Despite the consensus that prices will continue to fall, those hoping for cooling measures to be tweaked or lifted may be disappointed, with the Monetary Authority of Singapore saying last month that private residential property prices are still high, analysts said.

The moderation in prices and drastic fall in transactions this year are better aligned with Singapore’s slower rate of economic growth, which is expected to be about 3 per cent this year, down from 3.9 per cent last year. This is in line with the Government’s plan to steer the housing market towards a more sustainable path.

Mr Wong said: “The housing market is on course for a soft landing, which is what the Government wants. Assuming prices continue on this course, the Government is likely to adopt a sit-and-wait approach. However, should prices spiral downwards because of unforeseen shocks in the economy, I believe the Government would intervene like it has done in previous crises.”

-By Lee Yen Nee

Office rents higher despite lower occupancy rate

Landlords expect further rent hikes next year because of limited supply

Source: Straits Times / Money

OFFICE rents have risen in the fourth quarter of this year despite a fall in occupancy rate, driven higher by expectations of even greater rent rises next year, a new report has found.

Property consultancy DTZ Research noted that net demand for office space this year was slightly lower at 1.36 million sq ft, down from 1.45 million sq ft last year.

The islandwide occupancy rate fell from 95.8 per cent in the third quarter to 93.6 per cent in the final three months of the year.

DTZ tracks a basket of office buildings. Only the space in the Marina Bay area posted a rise in the occupancy rate, from 91.2 per cent to 94.4 per cent, in the fourth quarter.

CapitaGreen and South Beach generated the most leasing activity in the fourth quarter.

CapitaGreen is a 700,000 sq ft office tower in the Central Business District (CBD). Mixed development South Beach near Raffles Hotel will offer 500,000 sq ft of office space.

The report, released yesterday, said both buildings offered rare opportunities for firms to be in a premium-grade office space in the CBD and on the CBD fringe, where supply is limited.

Ms Cheng Siow Ying, DTZ's executive director of business space, said the sudden divestment of Equity Plaza earlier this year also added to the demand for office space this quarter.

Average monthly gross rents in the CBD rose between 2.4 and 4 per cent in the fourth quarter, compared with the previous quarter. Office space in Marina Bay registered the highest rent increase, from $12.75 to $13.25 per sq ft.

For the whole of this year, average monthly gross rents for offices in the CBD rose between 4 per cent and 19 per cent.

DTZ noted that this is much higher than the increase last year, which ranged from 2.4 per cent to 6.1 per cent.

The firm said rising rent levels this year have encouraged more traditional office users, such as banks, to move back-end operations to high-tech industrial space and business parks.

However, landlords anticipating further rent increases next year were willing to wait rather than lock in lower rents in the fourth quarter.

Landlords are optimistic owing to a limited supply next year, and growing demand from the technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) sector, serviced office operators and insurers.

Firms in the TMT sector are willing to pay higher rents to be in prime office districts, which helps in attracting talent and boosting brand positioning, DTZ noted.

Google recently expanded its presence in Asia Square and

LinkedIn doubled their office footprint in Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 2. Mrs Ong Choon Fah, DTZ's regional head of consulting and research, said: "Growth in the TMT firms is supported through growth in cloud technology, social media, Internet and big data.

"As these TMT firms expand, they are more inclined to seek out prime office buildings situated in Marina Bay or newly completed buildings such as CapitaGreen."

DTZ added that office rents are likely to continue rising next year, but at a slower rate.

Rental expectations will be partly mitigated by the 1.1 million sq ft of space to be released owing to leases expiring next year.

Mrs Ong said serviced offices are becoming a growing sector to consider in the office market. "Serviced offices have been expanding as swing space and co-working spaces are increasingly sought after due to their flexibility."

-By Rachael Boon

More efforts needed to fulfil Smart Nation vision

Source: Today Online / Singapore

SINGAPORE — As the Republic strides into its 50th year of independence and beyond, the Smart Nation initiative announced this year may potentially have the greatest impact on citizens, compared with any large-scale government programme to date, and transform the quality of life here.

Several initiatives are under way, such as trials for driverless cars, monitoring and alert systems in flats for seniors and an integrated 3D map that will enable the public, firms, government and research agencies to develop apps for planning and decision-making.

But as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed out last month, efforts are needed in areas such as beefing up cybersecurity and teaching students how to create the technology of the future to make the quantum leap and realise the vision in the next decade.

The Republic must also systematically “integrate all of the technology and possibilities into a coherent and comprehensive whole”, he said, as opposed to what it is already doing in using technology in a piecemeal fashion.

To that end, a unit to coordinate government agencies, citizens and industries has been set up under the Prime Minister’s Office and placed under the charge of a Cabinet minister.

In addition, more needs to be done, said governance and smart-city experts whom TODAY spoke to. Measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) should be set and a framework erected to facilitate data sharing between the Government and private sector. The homegrown information technology sector also needs to be built, with greater knowledge transfer from multinational corporations (MNCs), experts said.

Associate Professor Ng Teck Khim from the National University of Singapore School of Computing observed: “You can see that the Government’s effort is mainly in providing the infrastructure, but whether it will work depends on the industry and citizens.”


Notwithstanding the fact that Singapore will be the first in the world to embark on a Smart Nation initiative by virtue of its status as a city state, there is much to draw on from the experience of successful Smart Cities such as Copenhagen, experts noted. For example, these cities have publicly set KPIs such as lower carbon emissions, higher energy efficiency and a more efficient transport system.

Mr Gerald Wang, research manager of IDC Government Insights in Asia Pacific, noted that, in general, the goal of the Smart City initiative is to “achieve certain socioeconomic outcomes, for instance, raising productivity and quality of life for citizens”.

Estimating that the Smart Nation initiative could cost the Government more than S$50 billion, Mr Richard Wong, director of Public Sector and Government Practice at Frost & Sullivan, said: “For most countries, it is about enhancing citizens’ lives, be it through a more efficient transport system ... or enhancing safety. They are measurable, so most governments use such KPIs as a road map.”

Frost & Sullivan said eight key elements define a Smart City: Governance, buildings, healthcare, mobility, infrastructure, technology, energy and citizens. The consultancy estimated that by 2025, there would be more than 26 Smart Cities, with more than half in North America and Europe, featuring at least five of the elements.

In response to queries, a spokesperson for the Smart Nation Programme Office (SNPO), which is overseen by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, said the Government is focusing on six areas: Making the transport system more efficient, improving government services through digital platforms, enhancing homes, enabling seniors to live actively, getting people ready for the Digital Age and helping SMEs cut costs and generate revenue.

For a start, the Jurong Lake District will be a test bed for new technologies to develop sustainable solutions. One thousand sensors will be installed around the island to track safety and security in public places and monitor air quality and water levels in flood-prone areas. The analysis of the data captured will go towards improving public services.

IDC has come up with a generic road map that divides the implementation of a Smart City into five stages. Mr Wang estimated that, currently, the majority of Singapore’s public agencies are at the rudimentary stage. Up to 10 per cent of the agencies — dealing with public safety, health and transport — are in more advanced phases where they have started collaborative efforts.

The Smart Nation trials in the Jurong Lake District will involve collaboration among the Government, institutions of higher learning and the private sector. Several government agencies will be working with more than 20 partners such as M1 and ST Electronics.

The Government’s engagement with industries is key to the initiative, experts reiterated. Apart from building the homegrown IT sector, the authorities should also look at attracting talent to the sector, they said.

Mr Wang said: “We need to create the right mix of eco-systems that is favourable for the domestic industry to bring about knowledge transfer to the local economy from MNCs.”

The SNPO spokesperson reiterated that there would be opportunities for firms to contribute to the Smart Nation scheme. “We have been supporting innovative businesses and start-ups through grants and accelerator programmes, and providing space for start-ups,” she said. Specifically, the Government aims to grow talent in data and analytics, she added.


Assoc Prof Ng noted that, as part of the Smart Nation scheme, tonnes of data on the Government, consumers and firms would be generated. Hence, a framework has to be in place to facilitate data sharing between the Government and private sector, and ensure the data is treated properly, experts said.

However, experts noted that compared with other countries, Singapore’s data-protection regime is less developed, with the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) enacted only two years ago. Provisions relating to the Do Not Call Registry took effect in January and the main data-protection rules were implemented in July.

Mr Wong said: “We are behind countries such as Australia and (those in) the European Union by at least five to 10 years in terms of adopting such regulations. Businesses are still unsure or unaware of how they may be infringing such laws, so we can’t talk about tweaking such laws to suit the Smart Nation initiative yet.”

Addressing concerns over data privacy, Dr Balakrishnan has said legislation may change with regard to the Smart Nation drive.

Mr Wong said in countries that are familiar with data-protection laws, legislation has been tweaked to implement Smart City projects.

SNPO’s spokesperson noted that there is an 18-month transition period to allow organisations to adjust to the PDPA.

Noting that the Act had been “adequate in providing the baseline governance framework”, the spokesperson said: “We do not preclude the need to adjust laws in the future, if that is required to allow us to share data more openly for the greater benefit of Singaporeans, while imposing more safeguards to prevent misuse.”

The SNPO is in the midst of formulating an approach that will put in place safeguards, she added.


While much remains to be done, experts said Singapore has the advantage of having a developed infrastructure and the capacity as a city state to roll out initiatives on a nationwide scale.

Mr Wong said: “The Government and private-sector firms will eventually be able to sell the successful solutions to other nations looking to do this.”

The experts noted that increasingly, nations would have to analyse and share data in real time. For instance, during a typhoon, analytics can be applied to social-media data to find out where people are trapped or where aid is needed, Mr Wang said.

In the area of national security, there is much chatter about terrorism activities online. Retired United States Central Intelligence Agency counterterrorism chief Charles Faddis noted in a New York Times article that big amounts of data are never meaningfully reviewed or analysed. For example, the US, British and Indian authorities separately picked up information before the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but failed to string the data together to form a cohesive picture.

Mr Wang added that, in particular, Smart City schemes would serve to mitigate problems of overcrowding. “In Asia, especially, there will be a big increase in people entering cities. With that, there will be a lot of stress on cities, such as on rubbish-collection systems, air quality and healthcare ... Smart Nation is going to be big.”

-By Tan Weizhen

Sengkang EC tender closing postponed

Extension is to give bidders more time to study LTA requirement for a minimum of 88 bicycle parking spaces

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) has postponed the tender closing for an executive condo (EC) development site in Anchorvale Crescent in the Sengkang East location to allow potential bidders time to study an additional requirement set by the Land Transport Authority for the provision of sheltered bicycle parking spaces.

-By Kalpana Rashiwala

Ang Mo Kio: A pilot walking, cycling town

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

By 2018, it should be easier and more convenient to commute in Ang Mo Kio without a car. On Tuesday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced preliminary plans to transform Ang Mo Kio into a more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly town. A key proposal is a weather-proof walking and cycling path under the MRT viaduct, south of the Ang Mo Kio MRT station.

-By Chan Yi Wen

Plans to turn Ang Mo Kio into cycling town

16km network to promote more cycling, walking in the estate

Source: Straits Times / Top of The News

RESIDENTS in Ang Mo Kio will soon be able to cycle seamlessly between Yio Chu Kang MRT station and Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, via a 2.6km cycling and walking corridor.

The corridor is one of several measures that the Government intends to roll out, to make Ang Mo Kio a model town that is both cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly.

The plans are slated for completion by 2018, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Land Transport Authority in a joint statement yesterday.

Part of the corridor will make use of under-utilised space under the MRT viaduct. There will also be features such as ramps and elevated flyovers - including one beside Ang Mo Kio station, which will run alongside the MRT track and over the busy traffic junction.

The plans also include dedicated bicycle crossings, possibly removing slip roads to make major junctions safer, narrowing roads to calm vehicular traffic, demarcating bus stops as areas where cyclists have to slow down, and carving out a 16km-long network of cycling and walking paths in the estate.

Taken as a whole, it is part of the $1.5 billion Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 announced last month by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Ang Mo Kio was chosen as a test bed for these ideas because it is a mature estate with little cycling infrastructure that is also close to several industrial and commercial areas where some workers commute by bicycle.

The ideas piloted in the town would demonstrate how steps can be taken towards the vision of a "car-lite Singapore", by promoting other modes of transport, said the authorities.

The new bike lanes will, for instance, take space from the road, pavement or grass verge, said the URA.

Transport experts that The Straits Times spoke to said this was a significant change.

"The readiness to take away road space is a major shift," said Dr Alexander Erath, a transport researcher at the Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory.

"It signals a rebalancing of priorities from high-speed and highly polluting cars, to more space- efficient and environmentally friendly bicycles," he said.

The corridor and bike network would make cycling more comfortable and convenient, and encourage residents to take to their bikes, he added.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Ang Hin Kee said the plans addressed the needs of residents who commute by bike to transport nodes to take the train or bus, by making it safer for them to do so.

Ang Mo Kio resident Darryl David, 44, who cycles about once a week, said the upcoming measures would encourage him to take to his bicycle more often.

"I'll be a lot happier if they made the town more cycle-friendly. It's a mode that combines transportation and fitness," said Mr David, an administrator at Temasek Polytechnic.

The proposed plans can be viewed at from today and the public can give their feedback online.

A roving exhibition of the plans will also be shown at the town's community centres next month.

"We hope to hear from the residents on how they feel about the draft plans, and what we can do to encourage cycling and walking in the town," said URA chief executive Ng Lang.

-By Danson Cheong

Walking and cycling network proposed for Ang Mo Kio

Among the preliminary plans are dedicated walking and cycling paths, bicycle crossings alongside pedestrian crossing lanes, and narrowing some roads to encourage motorists to drive more slowly, with the extra space possibly used for pedestrians and cyclists.

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

SINGAPORE: It will become easier to walk and cycle in Ang Mo Kio come 2018.  The Land Transport Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority on Tuesday (Dec 30) announced preliminary plans to make the town more conducive for walking and cycling.

Plans to pilot Ang Mo Kio as a walking and cycling town were first announced last month by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and these are part of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015.

A 16-kilometre walking and cycling network has been proposed. Among the preliminary plans are dedicated walking and cycling paths, bicycle crossings alongside pedestrian crossing lanes, and narrowing some roads to encourage motorists to drive more slowly, with the extra space possibly used for pedestrians and cyclists.

Mr Rinihartini Mohd Ibrahim, who works in Ang Mo Kio, said: "Sometimes I may not know that there is actually a cyclist behind or in front of me, maybe because they do not have bells to ring. Sometimes you are fighting for a spot, to be walking either to your left or to your right.”

Mr Jonathan Poh is an Ang Mo Kio resident who cycles to the MRT station from home every day. He said: "Cycling now, it is like I am fighting with pedestrians. But if there is a road specially for cyclists, then it is better for me. It is safer."

There are also plans for a 2.6-kilometre corridor connecting Yio Chu Kang MRT station to Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Located along the MRT viaduct, this will give cyclists and pedestrians a seamless path.

Authorities also said a code of conduct will be introduced, laying out a set of rules and principles to guide the behaviour of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. This is to ensure an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone, especially those who are more vulnerable, like seniors and children.

Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC Ang Hin Kee welcomed the move, noting that educating residents will be key. One of the initiatives planned for his area is the teaching of road safety in kindergartens and childcare centres.

"We have made available a kids road safety park. We have also bought some facilities - little bicycles, little traffic lights and the like," he added. "We will incorporate that into their kindergarten curriculum, so that kids from a very young age understand not only the safe way of crossing and using the road, but also that you need to embrace different road users."

Another priority group will be senior citizens, he said. "They tend to be more at risk or more vulnerable, maybe because their reaction time is slower. So we have to find ways to engage them to be safe when using the roads as well."

The goal is to build a good walking and cycling system to encourage more residents to take up more green modes of transport. Members of the public are invited to share their feedback on the preliminary plans, either online at, or at a roving exhibition which begins on Wednesday.

- CNA/xy

Slimming specialist forks out $32m for 4-storey industrial building

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

An ageing four-storey freehold industrial building at 243 Alexandra Road, next to the Kwan Yam Theng Buddhist Temple, has changed hands for the third time in four years. In the latest transaction, home-grown slimming specialist Bottomslim New York is buying the property for S$32 million. This works out to about S$868 per square foot of potential gross floor area. Located about 450 metres from Redhill MRT Station, the property can be redeveloped into a six-storey building, according to earlier reports.

-By Kalpana Rashiwala

New master tenant, new dawn for Sunset Way

Aquilyne Capital has plan to fill up vacant units, revamp area's image

Source: Straits Times / Singapore

THERE may soon be a new shine to Sunset Way.

A new master tenant has taken over nine Housing Board shops in Sunset Way and the challenge of drawing a crowd to the area earmarked as a dining destination.

On Dec 1, Aquilyne Capital took over as master tenant for three years from Circles International Solutions, which had been managing the area since its million-dollar revamp in 2007. Circles did not renew its contract.

The area was touted as the next Holland Village back then, but has failed to live up to its tag. Four of the nine shops at Block 106 Clementi Street 12, all set aside for use as eateries, have remained closed for about a year.

Instead of Holland Village, Aquilyne Capital director Derrick Kuek, 56, now wants to make it "the next Dempsey". He wants his eateries to be "destination brands" like Dempsey Hill.

"For example, today I say, 'Let's go somewhere for coffee.' You may just say, 'Go to Dempsey' without having a specific place in mind."

Mr Kuek, former chief operating officer of ABR Holdings, which has Swensen's as one of its brands, believes he can pull this off with branding, signage, and the right tenant mix.

Aquilyne used to run Manhattan Fish Market at Junction 8 and has franchised Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice. It is now discussing terms with the five existing tenants - Buttercake n Cream, Smokey's BBQ, Bai Li Xiang, Rocky's Pizza and Megumi Japanese Restaurant - whom Mr Kuek said are likely to stay.

With four shops to lease out, Mr Kuek wants to create variety in the cuisine, perhaps add Chinese, Indian or Thai food and something for the tea time crowd. "Ideally a couple who already have a reputation," he said.

He also wants tenants who can open throughout the day or even 24 hours. Current eateries open mostly for lunch and dinner.

Mr Kuek is also thinking of naming the cluster of shops to distinguish it from the rest of Sunset Way - which includes other HDB blocks, Clementi Arcade mall, and private homes. "Perhaps Sunset Lane?" he said, referring to the road just before Sunset Way.

Sunset Lane leads to a little-known multistorey carpark linked to Block 106. Mr Kuek hopes to add signage just outside Sunset Lane to draw diners.

As it is costly and takes time to make drastic physical changes to the place given the permits needed, Mr Kuek said minor works will do. He has added skylights to the canopy of the eateries' alfresco dining area and painted parts of it white to brighten the space.

As for clientele, he wants to get students in the day, office workers for lunch, and residents from the west for dinner.

Mr Jeremy Fox, 40, co-owner of Smokey's BBQ, said he intends to stay and is excited by the new plans. "It's nice to have someone who is going to do a bit of marketing, branding and cleaning. This whole place has huge potential."

-By Kok Xing Hui

Resale price slide: Gently does it

Consumers will find it easier to accept single-digit fall, and not cut spending

Source: Straits Times / Singapore

NATIONAL Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has made clear what he wants for the Housing Board resale market next year: a slow price fall, just as in 2014.

Specifically, he wants a fall of less than 10 per cent.

As he told reporters on Monday: "I love single digits. I'd be very worried about double digits."

Bringing down the once-soaring market has been the aim of the authorities for the past few years, after public unhappiness with high home prices boiled over during the 2011 General Election.

This has been done by raising flat supply and having cooling measures such as loan curbs. As a result, resale prices are expected to have fallen by between 5 per cent and 8 per cent for 2014.

But why is it so important to bring prices down slowly and gently? For Mr Khaw, avoiding the dreaded double-digit drop seems at least partly about psychology.

"Single digit (change)... is something that the human mind can adjust to, and employers, employees, and the environment, the economy can adjust to," he said.

"I think single digit (change) allows human beings and society to make a very nice, smooth adjustment without this huge cliff effect."

Property experts agree. Said PropNex Realty chief executive Mohamed Ismail Gafoor: "Psychologically, it is going to upset people if it is double-digit."

This is particularly because the current fall is deliberately engineered by the Government, not caused by an economic downturn.

A double-digit fall is less acceptable in this case, said ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim. Upset home owners would be a problem for the Government if their unhappiness translated to lost votes.

"If people feel their homes are losing value, they will start looking for someone to blame," said SLP International Property Consultants head of research Nicholas Mak. In the case of this engineered price fall, the blame would fall squarely on the authorities, he said. In addition, there is also a more concrete danger - to the economy itself.

If home prices fall too much, "owners would feel that there is a decline in wealth and would tend to spend less", said OrangeTee managing director Steven Tan.

The fall in consumer spending would hurt economic growth.

The Government thus has to tread a fine line between reining the market in and dragging it down too far.

But might the spectre of past anger over high prices make the Government particularly reluctant to relax its cooling measures, in case the market flares up again?

Experts do not see this as a particularly plausible interpretation.

The Government is probably prepared to tweak the cooling measures before the next election, said Mr Mak.

Mr Khaw himself, on Monday, said that how and when to relax cooling measures will be a topic for the new year.

The fact is simply that prices, particularly in the private housing market, have not fallen that far yet.

This points to a bigger reason that Mr Khaw might fear a double-digit drop - a fall of that size could mean that the market is truly suffering.

He said as much on Monday, when he noted: "Drastic corrections are seldom good because those are usually (due to some) external event."

In the absence of an economic recession or external shocks, experts do not expect HDB resale prices to fall by more than 8 per cent in 2015.

A double-digit fall would mean that things have not gone according to plan - something that, quite understandably, anyone would want to avoid.

-By Janice Heng

Why should HDB be burdened with ceiling repair costs?

Source: Straits Times / Forum Letters

ABOUT 40 years ago, when I was living in a three-room flat in Queenstown, I had to get my upstairs neighbour to cooperate when his waste-water pipe was exposed on my toilet ceiling.

Back then, the HDB was not obliged to fix the leak and we had to foot our own bills.

All flats deteriorate over time as a result of wear and tear, so why should the HDB be burdened with repair costs ("HDB should have access to flats for ceiling repairs: Khaw"; Dec 23)?

In private condominiums, developers usually carry out repairs for free for no more than two years after completion of the project. After that, home owners have to pay to repair any leaking pipes, ceiling seepage and so on.

The HDB has already incurred a huge deficit in the last financial year ("HDB deficit more than doubles"; Dec 18), so it is not prudent for it to provide goodwill repairs even in flats that are more than 30 years old.

It has done well to put a roof over Singaporeans' heads in the last four decades. Where else in the world would the government build executive condominiums for citizens who cannot afford private condos?

But the HDB must not overdo things.

Many flat owners can afford to buy expensive cars, yet complain that the cost of HDB parking is high and that they cannot afford to pay 25 per cent of the bill to repair ceiling leaks.

The Ministry of National Development must explore ways to cut the HDB's deficit.

Measures could include discontinuing the building of executive condos, raising the HDB season parking fee, and reducing the subsidy in the Goodwill Repair Assistance scheme.

-By David Goh Chee Hoe

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

UK house price gain slowest in over a year

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

Rent payments up US$20.6b in US as home ownership falls

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

Home Prices in U.S. Rise at Slower Pace in Year to October

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

Home prices in 20 U.S. cities rose at a slower pace in the year ended in October, putting the market on better footing heading into 2015.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values increased 4.5 percent from October 2013, the smallest gain in two years, after rising 4.8 percent in the year ended in September, a report from the group showed today in New York. The median projection of 24 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 4.4 percent advance. Nationally, prices rose 4.6 percent after a 4.8 percent gain in the year ended in September.

While smaller increases will help put ownership within reach of more Americans as the job market improves and wage gains accelerate, prices are still up 25 percent from the depths reached following the recession. That rebound in property values has helped repair homeowners’ finances, which is contributing to gains in consumer confidence and spending that are driving the economic expansion.

“As you look forward, we’re considering a housing market that should be a more normal housing market, which means driven by the pace of income and other aspects of affordability,” said Michelle Meyer, a senior U.S. economist at Bank of America Corp. in New York, who correctly projected a slowing in home price appreciation. “Price appreciation should slow to fall more in line with the growth in income.”

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 3.9 percent to 5 percent. The S&P/Case-Shiller index is based on a three-month average, which means the October figure also was influenced by transactions in August and September.

Gaining Confidence

Another report today showed consumer confidence rose in December as Americans embraced more employment opportunities and persistent declines in prices at the gas pump. The Conference Board’s index increased to 92.6 from a revised 91 in November that was stronger than initially estimated, the New York-based private research reported.

Home prices in the 20-city index, adjusted for seasonal variations, increased 0.8 percent in October from the prior month, the biggest gain since March. It exceeded the Bloomberg survey median that projected a 0.4 percent advance. Unadjusted prices dropped 0.1 percent.

The year-over-year gauge, based on records dating back to 2001, provides better indications of trends in prices, the group has said. The panel includes Karl Case and Robert Shiller, the economists who created the index.


While the year-to-year returns are cooling, more cities are starting to show a reacceleration, which bodes well for next year, according to the report.

Twelve cities experienced smaller year-to-year gains in October compared with the prior month, down from 18 in September and 20 in August. The eight cities that saw prices rise faster in October included San Francisco, Denver and Tampa, Florida.

“We are seeing hints that prices could end 2014 on a strong note and accelerate into 2015,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement.

All 20 cities in the index showed a year-over-year gain, led by a 9.5 percent climb in Miami and a 9.1 percent advance in San Francisco. Cleveland showed the smallest increase, with prices rising 0.9 percent.

Borrowing costs still hovering near record lows may help draw more buyers into the market. The average rate on a 30-year, fixed mortgage was 3.83 percent in the week ended Dec. 25, the second-lowest since May 2013, according to Freddie Mac data. The rate dropped by 0.65 percentage point this year after rising 1.13 percentage points in 2013.

Home Sales

November data show residential real estate losing traction. Purchases of previously owned homes fell more than forecast in November to a 4.93 million annual rate, the weakest reading since May, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed last week.

New-home (NHSLTOT) sales unexpectedly declined in November to a four-month low, further demonstrating a lack of momentum in the market as it enters the slower winter months. Sales dropped 1.6 percent to a 438,000 annualized pace last month following a 445,000 rate in October that was weaker than previously estimated, Commerce Department figures showed last week.

Home-improvement retailer Lowe’s Cos. of Mooresville, North Carolina, is counting on healthy U.S. growth prospects to sustain the housing recovery over the next three years.

Builder Outlook

“Overall macro growth will bode well for industry, particularly, the improving trends in income and housing,” Chief Financial Officer Robert Hull said at a Dec. 11 investor conference. “A strengthening job market should contribute to disposable personal income growth,” while households already are “becoming more financially fit,” he said.

Payroll gains on track for their best year since 1999 also are bolstering potential home buyers. Employers have added an average 240,910 jobs per month in 2014 through November and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8 percent from 6.7 percent at the end of last year. The Labor Department will release December figures Jan. 9.

-By Michelle Jamrisko

Indian Land-Acquisition Rules Eased by Modi Executive Order

Source: Bloomberg / News

The Indian government issued an executive order to make it easier for companies to buy land and eventually replace a law that has hindered manufacturing and constrained economic growth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration yesterday promulgated the ordinance to spur infrastructure development in rural areas. It exempts at least five categories of land acquisition, including for industrial corridors, from rules that require the consent of at least 70 percent of potential sellers. The order will need to be approved in the next session of parliament, which starts in February, if it is to come into force permanently, according to PRS Legislative Research.

“It will definitely bring more clarity for investors,” said Dharmakirti Joshi, chief economist at Crisil Ltd. in Mumbai. “One of the main pain points has been the fuzziness of the land acquisition act. For any business to succeed, they want more clarity. Nobody wants to take a regulatory risk.”

The measure is intended to boost growth in Asia’s third-largest economy from near the slowest pace in a decade and accelerate Modi’s plan to urbanize the nation. Not one large tract of land has been acquired for development since the nation’s previous government passed an act in January 2014 that was supposed to make the process more transparent.

Bedeviled Investors

More than 1 trillion rupees ($15.7 billion) of projects are stalled as a result, including 600 billion rupees of roads, 20 new coal mines by state-run Coal India Ltd. and steel mills for ArcelorMittal and Jindal Steel & Power Ltd.

India’s land laws have bedeviled development for decades as consecutive governments courted votes from the nation’s 800 million rural residents. Previous rules forced owners to sell land if it was considered to be in the public interest. The laws were abused, leading to clashes between farmers and officials that fueled Maoist rebellions in some mineral-rich states.

Each of India’s 29 states now will have to adjust its own laws to conform with the new federal policy, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said at a briefing in new Delhi yesterday.

Besides industrial corridors, other categories exempt from existing land-acquisition rules include: housing for the poor, rural infrastructure and defense.

The move will bring only partial relief as manufacturers would probably still have to adhere to the existing law and some conditions such as rehabilitation and resettlement remain on all projects, according to Pulkit Patni and Mohit Soni, Mumbai-based analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Insurance, Coal

Power Grid Corp., Container Corp of India and Larsen & Toubro Ltd., India’s largest engineering business, stand to benefit, they wrote in a report yesterday.

Power Grid and Larsen rose 0.5 percent in Mumbai and Container Corp. climbed 1.3 percent, compared with little change in the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex (SENSEX) index. Reliance Industrial Infrastructure Ltd. jumped 6.2 percent today, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. increased 7.8 percent to a record.

This is the third time in December that Modi’s government has resorted to issuing an executive order to accomplish an objective after parliament’s session ended on Dec. 23 without votes on several key bills. Modi also has issued orders to permit more foreign investment in insurance and to make coal mining more transparent.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which controls 52 percent of seats in the lower house, holds only 18 percent of the 245-member upper house. Since it’s improbable Modi will be able to control the upper house before 2018, he needs to find alternative ways to bring legislation into force.

-By Vrishti Beniwal and Abhijit Roy Chowdhury

U.K. House-Price Growth Weakened to 13-Month Low in December

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

U.K. house-price growth slowed to its weakest in more than a year in December, adding to evidence that the market for residential property is cooling.

The annual gain in value dropped to 7.2 percent from 8.5 percent in November, the lowest rate since November 2013 and the fourth consecutive slowdown,Nationwide Building Society said in a statement on its website today. Prices rose 0.2 percent on the month for a third straight increase.

The housing market has slowed this year, with home-loan approvals falling to their lowest in 16 months in October, as affordability is stretched and the Bank of England moves to prevent a buildup of unsustainable lending. Still, Nationwide said the slowdown was “surprising,” given gains in employment, a pickup in wage growth and low mortgage rates.

“If the economic backdrop continues to improve as we and most forecasters expect, activity in the housing market is likely to regain momentum in the months ahead,” Robert Gardner, chief economist at Nationwide, said in the statement. “Hopefully, this will set the stage for house-price growth gradually converging with income growth in the quarters ahead.”

The average house price stands at 188,559 pounds ($292,400), with growth for the three months to December at 1 percent compared with 0.9 percent in the quarter through November, Swindon, England-based Nationwide said. The 7.2 percent gain in values nationally this year compares with 8.4 percent in 2013.

Regional Breakdown

Nationwide said house-price inflation moderated in all but one of 13 regions in the fourth quarter from a year earlier. London, the strongest performing area, posted a gain of 17.8 percent compared with 21 percent in the previous three months.

“While we expect some pick-up in housing-market activity in 2015 from the recent lows, we expect the increase in activity to be limited, thereby keeping a lid on house-price increases,” said Howard Archer, an economist at IHS Global Insight in London. “Many people may also be deterred from buying houses because they look pricey in a number of areas after recent sharp rises.”

-By Scott Hamilton

World’s 400 Richest Add $92 Billion in 2014 as Alibaba Jumps

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

The richest people on Earth got richer in 2014, adding $92 billion to their collective fortune in the face of falling energy prices and geopolitical turmoil incited by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The net worth of the world’s 400 wealthiest billionaires on Dec. 29 stood at $4.1 trillion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the planet’s richest.

The biggest gainer was Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China’s largest e-commerce company. Ma, a former English teacher who started the Hangzhou-based company in his apartment in 1999, added $25.1 billion to his fortune, riding a 56 percent surge in the company’s shares since its September initial public offering. Ma, 50, with a $28.7 billion fortune, briefly passed Li Ka-shing as Asia’s richest person.

“I am nothing but happy when young people from China do well,” Li, 86, said through his spokeswoman in Hong Kong.

Global stocks rose in 2014, with the MSCI World Index advancing 4.3 percent during the year to close at 1,731.71 on Dec. 29. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index rose 13 percent to close at 2,090.57. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 4.9 percent to close at 344.27.

Two of the year’s other biggest gainers were Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg of the U.S. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., added $13.7 billion to his net worth after the Omaha, Nebraska-based company soared 28 percent as the dozens of operating businesses the 84-year-old chairman bought over the past five decades churned out record profit.

Gates, Slim

Buffett passed Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim on Dec. 5 to become the world’s second-richest person. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft Corp., was up $9.1 billion during the year. The 59-year-old remains the world’s richest person with a $87.6 billion fortune.

Zuckerberg, the hoodie-wearing chief executive officer of the world’s largest social-networking company, gained $10.6 billion as the Menlo Park, California-based business rose to a record on Dec. 22.

Bloomberg Billionaires Gainers of 2014

Bloomberg Billionaires Gainers of 2014

This year Facebook made headway in mobile, a business that has flourished as mobile advertising increased and marketing initiatives expanded with applications and video. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion has also been paying off: A Citigroup Inc. analyst said on Dec. 19 the photo-sharing app is worth $35 billion.

Russia Woes

Zuckerberg’s company faced a challenge in Russia, where the blocking of a Facebook page promoting a Russian opposition rally highlighted the challenges the social network faces as Putin cracks down on the Internet amid a looming economic downturn. The European Union and U.S. limited Russian companies’ access to financing to punish Putin after he annexed Crimea in March. Russia’s troubles have been worsened by the corresponding plunge in the price of oil, a bedrock of the country’s economy.

Nobody was hit harder than Vladimir Evtushenkov. Once Russia’s 14th-richest person, the 66-year-old lost 80 percent of his wealth, dropping him from the Bloomberg ranking. He was sentenced to house arrest by a Moscow court in September after a money-laundering investigation connected to the $2.5 billion purchase of shares in oil producer OAO Bashneft.

The court also ruled in favor of nationalizing his stake in Bashneft, which he controlled through publicly traded AFK Sistema. Evtushenkov’s fortune has fallen $8.1 billion, the most of any Russian in 2014.

Leonid Mikhelson has been the biggest loser in dollar terms among those remaining in the country’s 20 richest, dropping $7.8 billion since the start of the year. The 59-year-old is the chief executive officer of OAO Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer, which fell 44 percent during the year. He has a $10.1 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg ranking.

Western Sanctions

Viktor Vekselberg surpassed Alisher Usmanov as Russia’s richest person after Usmanov’s MegaFon OAO lost almost half its value since June. Vekselberg is worth $14.1 billion, while Usmanov fell 32 percent to $13.8 billion.

One of only a few Russians among the world’s 400 richest who gained in 2014 was aluminum billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who added $1.6 billion as his Hong Kong-based United Co. Rusal rose 122 percent. Deripaska has increased his fortune to $8.2 billion. He’s the world’s 154th-richest person.

“The reputation of Russian business in the west has become worse, and will continue to get worse,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, a Kremlin adviser during Putin’s first term who now consults for Moscow’s Institute for National Strategy, a research firm. “That means that the capabilities for Russia’s billionaires to run businesses abroad are going to decrease.”

Adelson Falls

Belkovsky says Putin will try to compensate the country’s sanctioned businessmen by giving them access to different state resources.

“The competition for resources will increase, as will the redistribution of ownership,” he said.

Russian billionaires weren’t the only ones to suffer losses. Sheldon Adelson, the gambling mogul who controls Las Vegas Sands Corp., the world’s largest casino company, fell $8.7 billion as the Las Vegas-based company dropped 25 percent.

Macau’s casinos are looking at their first down year in revenue since the market was opened to foreign operators in 2002, after China’s President Xi Jinping cracked down on corruption on the mainland and high-rollers shunned the gambling enclave. More than half of the company’s 2013 $13.8 billion in revenue comes from Macau.

Bezos, Musk

Adelson’s decline was followed by Jeffrey Bezos, the chairman of Inc. The 50-year-old had $7.2 billion trimmed from his fortune as the Seattle-based company lost ground in the cloud computing market to crosstown competitor Microsoft Corp.

Bezos, whose Blue Origin LLC space company won a contract in November to deploy rockets from NASA launchpads in Florida, is ranked 21st in the world with a $28.7 billion fortune. Blue Origin will develop a space vehicle that isn’t scheduled to be ready until after 2020.

Elon Musk’s space-exploration company is close to winning the certification it needs to begin deploying satellites for the U.S. military, according to an Air Force official. A contract win by Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX would be the first since the Pentagon opened the program in late 2012 to as many as 14 competitive missions.

Musk added $2.9 billion to his net worth, most of which was the result of a 50 percent gain by Tesla Motors Inc., the world’s largest electric-car manufacturer.

Chinese Gains

China’s 10 richest people have added almost $48 billion combined year-to-date. Following Ma’s $25.1 billion gain, technology entrepreneurs Richard Liu of online retailer and Robin Li of Baidu Inc. added a combined $8 billion.

The title of Asia’s richest person could be challenged by Wang Jianlin, whose Dalian Wanda Group Co. staged an initial public offering of its commercial properties division this month. An IPO for Wanda Cinema Line Co. is planned for early 2015. Wang has a net worth of $25.3 billion, gaining $12.8 billion during the year.

Alibaba’s surge minted at least three new billionaires this year, including Simon Xie, an Alibaba co-founder and the second-biggest shareholder of the finance affiliate that owns Alipay. Xie, 44, owns 9.7 percent of Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group Co., the parent of Alipay, according to company filings obtained by Bloomberg News.

Hidden Billionaires

Small & Micro CEO Lucy Peng and Jonathan Lu, CEO of Alibaba, each controls almost 4 percent in Small & Micro Financial, according to filings submitted by the company in Hangzhou. They also both own less than 1 percent of Alibaba, which made them new 2014 billionaires.

Bloomberg News uncovered 86 new or hidden billionaires who had never appeared on an international wealth ranking. Among them were the six heirs to a $13 billion Monaco fortune that were unveiled after the family’s matriarch, Helene Pastor, was gunned down in a parking lot in Nice, France, in May. The fortune spans two branches of the Pastor family, which built much of Monaco’s skyline and owns thousands of apartments in the city-state.

Carlos Pellas became Nicaragua’s first billionaire rebuilding his family sugar mill and parlaying the proceeds into a new bank, BAC-Credomatic, which, by 2005, was one of the largest financial institutions in Central America. He sold it to General Electric Co. in a deal completed between 2005 and 2010 for about $1.7 billion.

Latin America

His rise to riches was almost interrupted by a violent 1989 plane crash that killed more than 130 people and left his wife with 62 bone fractures and skin melting off her face.

Other Latin America fortunes that emerged include five billionaires from Brazil -- Joesley, Wesley, Valere, Vanessa and Vivianne Batista -- who created the world’s biggest beef producer after making more than $17 billion in acquisitions. Their company, JBS SA, rode the biggest stock rally on Brazil’s Bovespa index this year, jumping 30 percent year-to-date, fueled by surging beef prices and Russia’s lifting of a ban on Brazil meat-processing plants.

A surge in real estate and corporate valuations elevated the fortunes of at least five Blackstone Group LP billionaires. Co-founder and chairman Stephen Schwarzman added $926 million as the company rose 7.6 percent. The performance, along with surging art values, made James Tomilson Hill, Blackstone’s vice chairman who runs the company’s $64 billion hedge fund business, a billionaire. Jonathan Gray, who runs the firm’s real estate division, is worth $1.5 billion.

Strong Dollar

Real estate is seen as one way the wealthy could make further gains in 2015.

“The fact that interest rates are going to remain low, there might be some opportunities, especially with residential real estate in Europe,” Efrat Peled, the chairman of Arison Investments, said in a phone interview from her office in Tel Aviv.

Peled, who manages more than $2.5 billion in assets for Shari Arison, says a strong U.S. dollar should give some foreign markets a boost.

“Exports are better when the dollar is strong,” she said.

Whether interest rates stay low remains a looming question moving into 2015. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen appears poised to raise interest rates for the first time in almost a decade, and prognosticators are convinced Treasury yields have nowhere to go except up. Their calls for higher yields next year are the most aggressive since 2009, when U.S. debt securities suffered record losses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Assuming oil prices stay low for a while, it’s really a global stimulus package,” John Benevides, president of Chicago-based wealth adviser CTC myCFO LLC, said by phone. “The oil story is a good story and will help to keep risk-asset prices supported and won’t trigger any broad sell-off in the bond market.”

-By Peter Newcomb and Alex Sazonov

Housing Costs for Renters Rose by $20.6 Billion This Year

Source: Bloomberg / Personal Finance

U.S. renters paid $441 billion for apartments and houses this year, a $20.6 billion increase, as fewer Americans owned their homes and landlords with tight inventories raised leasing charges, Zillow Inc. (Z) said today.

The number of rental households grew by 2 percent, or 770,000, nationally during 2014, according to the Seattle-based real estate information service. In the New York metropolitan area, the largest U.S. housing market, the number of rental residences expanded by 63,000 to 3.4 million, with tenants spending a total of $50 billion for shelter.

Demand for rentals has grown after owners of more than 5 million U.S. homes went through foreclosure since 2007, mortgage lending tightened and younger families postponed buying because they can’t afford or prefer not to own property. That may change slowly as rents rise and the economy improves, said Skylar Olsen, senior economist at Zillow.

“Spending a lot for rent means it’s hard to save for retirement or a down payment and makes it more difficult to move from being a renter to being a homeowner,” Olsen said in a telephone interview. “At the same time, it gives greater incentives to start seeking out an opportunity to be a homeowner.”

Zillow projects rents will increase 3.5 percent in 2015, compared with a gain in home values of more than 2.5 percent. The U.S. inflation rate was 1.3 percent in the 12 months through November.

Home Prices

Home prices will rise more slowly than rents because fewer investors are competing to buy a smaller supply of discount-priced foreclosures, while the inventory of non-distressed properties is growing as prospective home sellers gain equity with appreciating prices, Olsen said.

The U.S. homeownership rate fell to 64.4 percent in the third quarter, an almost 20-year low, according to the Census Bureau. Renter-occupied residences grew by 1.2 million, while owner-occupied households fell about 657,000 in the 12 months through September. The rental vacancy rate dropped to 7.4 percent in the quarter, creating a shortage of about 350,000 homes by historic standards and giving landlords leverage to raise rents.

Steepest Increases

U.S. rents rose an average 3 percent this year, according to the Zillow report. The steepest increases were in areas where technology job growth and limited new development drove up housing costs. Rents in San Jose, California, already the nation’s highest in 2013, jumped 12 percent to an average of $1,807 a month. San Francisco’s leasing costs climbed 11 percent to $1,598, and Denver’s increased 8.7 percent to $1,066.

Builders of multifamily homes broke ground at an annual pace of 340,000 in November, compared with an average 266,000 since 1994, according to Commerce Department data. Nationally, most of the new apartments being built are higher-cost units, which is limiting landlords’ ability to raise rents at the high end of the market while doing little to ease prices for tenants at the low end, Olsen said.

Rents in the New York area increased 1.7 percent from 2013, to a monthly average of $1,228, according to Zillow. They climbed more slowly than the U.S. average as some tenants, even in pricey Manhattan, became buyers or balked at paying landlords more.

A report this month by appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate showed the median monthly apartment rent in Manhattan was $3,225 in November, up 2.6 percent from a year earlier. Rents in Brooklyn climbed 5.3 percent to a median of $2,948, while in Queens, they fell 8.2 percent to a median of $2,525, the firms said.

-By John Gittelsohn

Additional Articles of Interests - Local & Overseas Real Estate