Real News‎ > ‎2014‎ > ‎March 2014‎ > ‎

20th March 2014

Singapore Economy

Analysts revise growth forecast down to 3.8%

Source: Straits Times

Private sector economists have become ever so slightly more cautious on Singapore's growth prospects this year, according to the latest Monetary Authority of Singapore survey out yesterday. On a more positive note, they still expect inflation this year to remain quite low, pointing to more stable car and home prices.

MAS survey forecasters pull back on 2014 growth

They revise growth projections down to 3.8%, from 3.9% median forecast in December's poll

Source: Business Times / Top Stories

[SINGAPORE] Forecasters polled by Singapore's central bank expect the economy to expand by 3.8 per cent in 2014 - a less optimistic outlook compared to three months ago. However, some economists believe the Republic could chalk up stronger growth for the year, if major risk concerns are addressed.

Professional forecasters, polled by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) from late-February, have tempered their 2014 growth projections marginally by 0.1 percentage point, down from the 3.9 per cent median forecast seen in December's survey.

The slip was due to softer growth expectations for all sectors within the economy, except for the manufacturing sector.

Economists The Business Times spoke to said the slight downward revision was likely due to forecasters' concerns about China's shadow banking crisis, and a slower-than-expected recovery in the United States.

Said CIMB economist Song Seng Wun: "Forecasters were polled by MAS from Feb 20, so they would have been looking at January data at the time. There was some initial worry about China's growth momentum then - whether it was slowing down because of credit tightening or government policies. And we did witness a pull-back in activity in the US around then, too, and part of that was because of the cold weather they had been seeing."

Noting that some forecasters are "recalibrating their expectations", DBS's Irvin Seah agreed that economists might have been spooked by China's shadow banking problem, which could have indirect implications on Singapore.

He added: "Some of the weak data coming from the US recently has also suggested that the pace of recovery has not been as fast as what the market had earlier anticipated. I think these are the factors that are contributing to this modest downward adjustment."

UOB's Francis Tan, however, had a different take: "I think people's views on 2014 didn't really change. What drove the downtick in overall GDP was the higher-than-expected actual 2013 GDP numbers that came in - it's an arithmetic reason."

The Singapore economy grew 4.1 per cent in 2013, roundly beating market forecasts and the government's own estimate of 3.7 per cent.

"Because 2013 GDP turned out stronger than we anticipated, the base has become higher. So the lower growth rate reflected this time makes sense," added Mr Tan.

Regardless of the reason behind the lower median forecast, economists agree that 2014's GDP growth will likely exceed the 3.8 per cent estimate - if risk concerns are addressed.

Said Mr Song: "I think once we get beyond what's happening in Ukraine, and the adverse weather that has been affecting Q1 US growth, we should be on much more stable ground for better global growth momentum, especially in the second half of the year."

Mr Seah will also be looking to see whether risks in China remain contained, and if the US economy's gradual recovery keeps on track.

CIMB, UOB and DBS's full-year growth forecasts stand at 5 per cent, 4.3 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively. These estimates put growth at or beyond the highest end of the government's projection of 2-4 per cent.

But the path forward is not without hazards, cautioned economists.

OCBC's Selena Ling thinks labour-intensive services sectors - such as wholesale and retail trade - are "probably feeling the pinch" from the domestic manpower crunch.

Mr Tan agreed: "Even if global conditions get better and we expect greater revenue and business volumes, if companies can't even find people to work for them, it's going to be hard to satisfy the increase in demand. This is a major risk to my forecast."

Mr Seah also thinks that a moderation in manufacturing activity is on the cards, citing easing PMIs (purchasing managers' index) in the eurozone, US, and China. In addition, he thinks the global electronics cycle may have peaked, since the semiconductor book-to-bill ratio, which tracks demand levels, and global semiconductor sales, have moderated.

"While we do not expect the manufacturing sector to dip into contraction mode, the growth pace in the coming months is expected to be tepid," said Mr Seah.

For the first quarter of 2014, forecasters are now expecting lower growth of 5.3 per cent. This fell from the previous median forecast of 5.5 per cent.

For 2015, respondents project GDP growth to reach 3.8 per cent, while headline inflation and core inflation are projected to come in at 2.6 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively.

-By Kelly Tay

S'pore tourism contribution forecast to rise 5.8%: WTTC

Sector's global growth fuelled by emerging markets, says world body

Source: Business Times / Singapore

DIRECT contributions from travel and tourism to Singapore's gross domestic product are expected to rise 5.8 per cent this year to S$20.3 billion, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Last year, the total was $19.1 billion, or 5.3 per cent of GDP.

Meanwhile, the total contributions from travel and tourism to Singapore's GDP totalled S$39.7 billion last year, and is forecast to increase 5.5 per cent this year, the WTTC said.

Total contribution includes indirect and induced impacts on the economy. Direct contribution is defined as GDP generated by industries that deal directly with tourists such as hotels or restaurants, while indirect contribution looks at the GDP and jobs supported by investment, general government spending in support of tourism as well as domestic purchases of goods and services by the sector.

-By Nisha Ramchandani

Singapore Real Estate

April launch for Farrer Square medical suites

Source: Business Times / Top Stories

[SINGAPORE] RB Capital will be launching its medical suites at Farrer Square for sale next month, chief executive officer Kishin RK told The Business Times.

The 42 strata medical suites, located above Farrer Park MRT station, are part of a $450-million integrated development geared towards the medical tourism market. Designed by RSP Architects, the building includes the 300-room five-star Park Hotel and a ground-floor retail podium.

Farrer Square is expected to be ready in 2017. It will be directly linked to neighbouring Connexion, which houses the 220-bed Farrer Park Hospital, a hotel and medical suites. It will also be connected via existing MRT underground pedestrian walkways to City Square Mall.

RB Capital's medical suites are between 500 and 1,000 square feet in size, with the ability to combine units. These suites have a high ceiling, with a floor-to-ceiling height of between 4.9 and six metres, one of the highest around, said Mr Kishin.

-By Raphael Lim

700 Beach up for sale again - as a hotel

Master Contract said to be eyeing $1m per room or lumpsum of $300m

Source: Business Times / Singapore

[SINGAPORE] Master Contract Services, which earlier this year entered into a deal to acquire the boutique office block 700 Beach with plans to redevelop it into a hotel, is said to be open to selling the asset on a completion basis.

That is, Master Contract is thought to be willing to deliver the completed hotel, which is expected to have about 300 rooms, along with assignment of a management contract entered into with the United Kingdom's Whitbread group to operate the hotel under the Premier Inn brand.

Located between Golden Mile Complex and Golden Mile Tower, 700 Beach is near Nicoll Highway MRT Station.

Master Contract Services has diversified from its original construction business into property development projects.

-By Kalpana Rashiwala

Dorms here 'surpass global standards'

Source: Straits Times

Singapore's purpose-built dormitories surpass international standards in all areas - from amenities to living space - and have always been a step ahead of those in other countries, a dorm operator told a public hearing into the Dec 8 riot in Little India yesterday.

First DBSS resale units fetch up to nearly $700,000

Source: Straits Times

Singapore's first resale units from a premium public housing scheme have been sold, with the priciest going for almost $700,000. These prices for The Premiere @ Tampines flats exceed the going rate for regular Housing Board units in the area, but fall below the highest asking price of $800,000.

Developers to hold firm on home prices, say analysts

Recent launches sold well despite slow market, showing that sales can be made with the right marketing, prices

Source: Today Online / Business

SINGAPORE — Sales of new private homes may remain in the doldrums, but bargain hunters hoping that developers will slash prices to breathe life into the market are likely to be disappointed, analysts told TODAY.

Despite the slow market, several recent launches have sold well, showing that underlying demand can be realised into sales with the right marketing and pricing strategy. So, as long as holding costs remain low, developers can afford to keep prices steady and hope the market will swing in their favour over time.

“It’s a given that it’s very difficult to push prices up in the current market, but there’s still liquidity,” said Mr Colin Tan, Director of Research and Consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants.

“I don’t think we have reached that stage where the market is on a definite decline. Volume is still coming in, whether slower or faster, and it won’t completely disappear.”

He added that developers currently do not have the urgency to cut prices as buyers are still drawn to developments that “tick the right boxes”. However, projects without “premium attributes” may have to rely on attractive pricing to move units.

“But even then, there are still ways to get away by pricing it at the same level and still sell; for example, by incorporating iconic designs or having very good layout,” he said.

Mr Tan added that it is also unlikely that coming launches will have lower price tags since land parcels have commanded high rates despite the property curbs and lending restrictions.

Sites under the Government Land Sales programme are continuing to sell at high prices, with a condominium site in Yishun Ave 9 awarded in a recently-closed tender at S$450 per sq ft per plot ratio. The break-even price for this site is estimated at S$900 psf ppr.

Latest figures from the Urban Redevelopment Authority showed that developers sold 724 new condominiums last month, 28 per cent higher than the previous month, but many analysts noted that the volume is a far cry from last year’s monthly average of 1,602 units.

Still, analysts singled out Hallmark Residences at centrally located Ewe Boon Road as a project that adopted the right pricing strategy to achieve strong sales.

“There are successful cases; for example, Hallmark,” said Mr Ku Swee Yong, Chief Executive of property agency Century 21.

“They lowered prices by 10 per cent and sold 26 units last month, compared with zero in December. So lowering prices helps, but there is not much incentive right now unless you are very near the end of the five-year mark.

“In the meantime, the holding cost is low, so why lower prices? While developers construct, they can continue selling.”

Developers have five years from the time of land acquisition to complete building and selling units in the development and be exempted from paying the additional buyer’s stamp duty.

In addition, developers with foreign shareholders are subject to the Qualifying Certificate rules, which require them to sell all dwelling units within two years of obtaining a Temporary Occupation Permit.

Mr Nicholas Mak, Executive Director of Research and Consultancy at SLP International, said many developers would only cut prices as a last resort.

“It’s not so straightforward. Lowering prices has a whole list of implications and I think things have to become very bad for the developers to consider that,” he said. “For the listed developers, lowering prices means having to write down the value of that particular asset. That will have an impact on their balance sheets, share prices.

“So I think it’s very much a last resort. Developers who need to sell may give certain discounts or promotions during seasonal holidays such as Chinese New Year or Christmas,” he added.

-By Lee Yen Nee

Premium, Grade A office rents keep rising in Q1

Raffles Place and New Downtown also see office vacancies shrinking

Source: Business Times / Property

[SINGAPORE] Premium and Grade A office rents in Raffles Place and New Downtown continue to climb in the first quarter, according to Colliers International.

The quarter also saw office vacancies shrinking and firms taking a proactive approach to review expansion and relocation options to lock in rents before they rise further.

Asia Square Tower 2, which received Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) last September, has seen a string of leasing deals lately, resulting in over 200,000 square feet of space being committed in the past six months, said the development's head of leasing, Luke Moffat.

Besides the high-profile leases inked with Mizuho and Westpac, which have signed up for 105,000 sq ft and 38,000 sq ft respectively, other new tenants include Mercuria Energy Trading (21,000 sq ft), Scor RE (20,000 sq ft), Nikko Asset Management (17,000 sq ft) and Los Angeles-based private equity group Platinum Equity Partners (4,000 sq ft), which is making its maiden entry into Singapore.

-By Kalpana Rashiwala

Real Estate Companies' Brief

Suntec Reit raising $341m to repay debt

But analysts not ruling out imminent acquisitions

Source: Business Times / Companies

SUNTEC Reit is issuing 218.1 million new units at $1.605 apiece in a private placement.

The move will increase the unit base by 9.7 per cent. Analysts say this will dilute distributions per unit by 3.9-8.4 per cent from FY14 to FY16.

Although the Reit said the $341.4 million in net proceeds raised will go towards repaying its existing debt, analysts flagged imminent acquisitions as a more likely scenario.

"Suntec could be amassing gunpowder for future acquisitions in either Singapore or Australia," Maybank-Kim Eng analyst Ong Kian Lin said.

-By Lee Meixian

Suntec Reit

Source: Business Times / Singapore Markets

March 19 close: S$1.645

Maybank Kim Eng Research, March 19

SUNTEC Reit said that it has entered into a placement agreement with DBS, Standard Chartered and HSBC to issue 218.1 million new units (9.7 per cent of current unit base) at S$1.605 per unit. The issue price marks a 5 per cent discount to Tuesday's closing price. Of the S$350 million in gross proceeds, S$341.4 million will be used to pare down existing debt.

CapitaLand sells remaining stake in Australand

Sale receipt of $970.1m; net gain of $35.7m

Source: Business Times / Companies

CAPITALAND has sold its remaining 39.1 per cent stake in Australand Property Group, reaping it an expected net gain of about $35.7 million.

The Singapore-headquartered property group sold its remaining 226.2 million stapled securities through a secondary placement yesterday at an average price of A$3.75 each, 3.6 per cent below Australand's Tuesday closing price but 5.3 per cent above its last reported net tangible asset.

CapitaLand said it will receive about $970.1 million from the sale, which it will deploy towards its key markets of Singapore and China, and for general working purposes, including the repayment of debt.

Last November, the company undertook a partial sale of Australand to improve trading liquidity, so that Australand's securities would trade more in line with its peers, and to reallocate capital to its key markets. Following that, the "strong share price performance provided CapitaLand the opportunity to fully unlock value in its remaining investment in Australand", it said.

-By Jacquelyn Cheok

Stockland Takes 19.9% Australand Stake as CapitaLand Exits

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

Stockland, Australia’s biggest diversified property trust, bought a 19.9 percent stake in Australand Property Group (ALZ) as Southeast Asia’s largest developer CapitaLand Ltd. (CAPL) sold the last of its holdings.

Stockland plans to explore “strategic opportunities with Australand” after purchasing 115.2 million shares in the company at an average price of A$3.78, a 2.8 percent discount to yesterday’s closing price, according to a regulatory statement. CapitaLand said it will use the proceeds from the sale of its A$849 million ($775 million), 39 percent stake in Singapore and China, and to repay debt.

The A$435.5 million purchase is the latest in a number of transactions among Australia’s property trusts. Chief Executive Officer Mark Steinert, who joined Stockland (SGP) in January 2013, has said he wants to increase the company’s exposure to retail and industrial properties. Australand also offers a landbank that would assist Stockland’s residential development business.

“Australand has a diverse and complementary portfolio of assets, including a quality industrial portfolio and medium density residential projects that are well aligned with our strategy,” Steinert said in the statement.

Shares in Australand rose 2.3 percent to a more than five-year high of A$3.98 at the close in Sydney trading. Shares in Stockland fell 2.6 percent to A$3.75, while CapitaLand dropped 0.7 percent to S$2.72 at the close in Singapore trading.

A block trade of 135.32 million Australand shares was sold at A$3.72 each, a 4.4 percent discount to yesterday’s closing price of A$3.89. Another parcel of 90.9 million shares was sold at A$3.80 each, a 2.3 percent discount.

Full Takeover

“Overlapping businesses don’t immediately mean a combination makes sense,” Morgan Stanley’s Australian property analysts,John Meredith, Lou Pirenc and John Lee, said in a research note. Stockland “cannot extract any synergies, either through cost reduction or restructuring Australand’s debt, without launching a full takeover for the group, which could be quite expensive.”

Stockland’s stake in the Australian developer is just below the 20 percent threshold that would trigger a takeover bid under Australian regulations.

“I expect a full bid to be forthcoming in the not too distant future,” Winston Sammut, who helps oversee about A$100 million, including Stockland shares, as managing director of Sydney-based Maxim Asset Management, said by phone. “Strategically, Australand is a fit for Stockland, which has exposures to all segments, industrial, commercial and residential.”

Favorable Market

CapitaLand in November sold a third of its 59 percent stake or 115.7 million shares at A$3.685 each through Citigroup Inc. GPT Group, a Sydney-based diversified property trust, in May dropped an offer to buy Australand’s commercial and development units after failing to agree on a price.

“We have decided to divest our remaining stake in Australand now as market conditions are favorable and Australand’s share price has performed strongly in the past few months,” CapitaLand President Lim Ming Yan said in a statement.

Management Re-Focus

“CapitaLand is trying to improve its return on equities and the business in Australia had lower ROEs,” Singapore-based Vikrant Pandey, an analyst at UOB Kay Hian Pte, said. “CapitaLand feels there are better opportunities in China to deploy these funds.”

Dexus Property Group, Australia’s biggest listed office landlord, and partner Canada Pension Plan Investment Board won a takeover battle for an office fund managed by Commonwealth Bank of Australia when GPT said in January it wouldn’t raise its offer.

Overseas investor interest in Australian property could weaken in 2014 after the country attracted a significant volume of foreign investment over the past few years, CBRE Group Inc. said in its 2014 investor intentions survey.

Residential prices in Australia rose 9.5 percent in February from a year earlier, according to the RP Data-Rismark home value index.

The selldown by CapitaLand triggered a change of control under Australand’s $170 million United States private placement note, giving note holders a right to put their notes to Australand. Australand has begun discussions with the note holders, according to a separate statement.

-By Iain McDonald and Narayanan Somasundaram

Property Development and Investment

Source: Business Times 

In February, 671 units were launched and 724 units sold (excluding ECs). Rivertrees and Riverbank accounted for 60 per cent of the units sold, with about 200 units each. We believe the stronger volume was mainly due to the lower prices at S$1,050 per sq ft, which translated into net margins of 9 to 11 per cent for the developers. We do not foresee a reversal in these trends unless there is an easing in the government's policy curbs, which we think is unlikely in the near term.

Views, Reviews & Forum

Access to HDB valuations crucial in some cases

Source: Straits Times

Housing Board resale flat transactions are now published daily, under new rules targeted at removing cash over valuation in the sales process ("Deals not decided on COV under new HDB resale rules"; March 11). This is a positive move as it empowers the public to make educated buying and selling decisions based on reliable, up-to-date market information.

Is valuation a science or a matter of opinion?

Source: Straits Times

I understand that the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers (SISV) has standard guidelines for all valuers to follow ("Property valuers follow guidelines, not prices"; last Friday). But more often than not, the standard practice in the private property market is for valuation to match the asking price, especially for new launches or unsold units.

Improvement works in private estates: BCA replies

Source: Straits Times

We thank Mr Ng Yee Seng for his support of the Accessibility Fund ("Tweak rules for improvement works in private estates"; last Friday). Like Mr Ng, we recognise that our society is ageing and mobility will be an issue.

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

Household debt growth slowest since 2010: KL

High indebtedness is likely to persist, says central bank chief

Source: Business Times / Malaysia

GROWTH in Malaysia's household debt has moderated to its slowest since 2010, but debt is expected to remain high because of continuing strong demand for home and vehicle loans, the country's central bank governor, Zeti Akhtar Aziz, has said.

The nation's household debt - one of the largest in the region - inched up to nearly 87 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) as at the end of last year, from about 80 per cent in 2012.

Speaking at the launch of the Bank Negara 2013 annual report, Ms Zeti noted that the growth has moderated for the third consecutive year, and added that much of the moderation came from a sharp deceleration in lending by non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs).

NBFIs have captured an estimated 58 per cent of total personal loans, from having been aggressive lenders in recent years. But home loans and vehicle loans (at about 44 per cent and 18 per cent respectively) still make up the bulk - 62 per cent - of total household borrowings.

-By Pauline Ng in Kuala Lumpur

More funds for Asia-Pac property: CBRE survey

Many investors' budgets for real estate purchases in the region this year will be 10-20% higher than 2013's

Source: Business Times / Property

[SINGAPORE] Investors plan to commit more capital to the Asia-Pacific real estate market in the coming year, with 64 per cent of respondents in a survey saying they expect their purchasing activity to be higher than last year.

Notably, around 30 per cent of them said they expect their purchasing level to be 20 per cent higher this year; 19 per cent said they expect to raise their activity by 10-20 per cent.

Another 30 per cent said their level of activity would be the same, and just 4 per cent said they would be less active this year.

These findings come on the back of total real-estate investment turnover in the Asia-Pacific reaching a record US$90.4 billion last year, said the CBRE Asia-Pacific Investor Intentions Survey 2014.

-By Mindy Tan

GLP Park Hefei Hi-Tech now fully leased
Source: Business Times / Companies

GLP Park Hefei Hi-Tech now fully leased

GLOBAL Logistic Properties has signed an agreement to lease around 53,000 square metres of space to a leading fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company at GLP Park Hefei Hi-Tech in Anhui, China. With this agreement, GLP Park Hefei Hi-Tech is now 100 per cent leased. The warehouse provider said in a statement yesterday that the customer will use the facilities to establish a regional distribution centre mainly serving eastern China. The unnamed customer is one of the five largest FMCG manufacturers in the world, GLP said.

Ireland's Nama plans property loan sales at discount

Source: Business Times / Property

[LONDON] Ireland's National Asset Management Agency (Nama) is preparing to sell real estate loans with a face value of more than 300 million euros (S$528 million) as demand for property rises, three people with knowledge of the plan said.

The assets, linked to Irish developer Gerry Conlan, will be sold at a discount, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.

David Clerkin, a Nama spokesman at public relations firm Gordon MRM, declined to comment. Mr Conlan also wouldn't comment.

Nama is planning to sell property portfolios valued at 250 million euros or more in each quarter of this year, Ireland's bad bank said in February.

-From London, UK

Zara owner builds US$10b property empire

Relying on all-cash offers, Ortega, 77, outbids world's top institutional funds and property investors

Source: Business Times / Property

[NEW YORK] Amancio Ortega Gaona, already the world's fourth-richest person based on the success of his Zara fashion retail stores, has quietly amassed a real estate empire worth as much as US$10 billion and is emerging as a formidable competitor for prime properties from London to Beverly Hills. Relying on all-cash offers, he has outbid the world's biggest institutional funds and professional property investors, such as Tishman Speyer Properties LP.

"He's at the very highest levels of high net worth investment and competing with some of the biggest sovereign wealth funds for the primest properties in the market," said Joseph Kelly, director of market analysis for Real Capital Analytics in London, a real estate research firm.

In the past four months alone, Mr Ortega has spent almost US$1 billion purchasing properties in Manhattan's meat-picking district, London's West End, Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive and Barcelona's main shopping drag, Passeig de Gracia. He recently paid one of the highest prices per square foot ever for a London office building.

In late 2011, Manhattan-based Tishman Speyer, which owns Yankee Stadium, Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building and London's Tower Place, was close to finalising the purchase of Madrid's most famous skyscraper, the 43-storey Picasso Tower office building.

-From New York, US

China stocks, currency fall on property concerns

Source: Business Times / Property

[SHANGHAI] China's stocks fell and the yuan weakened near an 11-month low after the collapse of a private developer spurred concern that the industry may face defaults as economic growth slows. Money market rates jumped.

China Vanke Co and Poly Real Estate Group Co, the nation's biggest developers, slumped at least 1.3 per cent. Country Garden Holdings plunged as much as 6.5 per cent in Hong Kong after its chief financial officer quit.

China Construction Bank, a creditor of Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate, which collapsed with 3.5 billion yuan (S$715 million) of debt, dropped in Hong Kong and Shanghai trading.

The Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.2 per cent to 2,021.73 at the close.

-From Shanghai, China

Slower rise in China new-home prices

Trend worst felt in first-tier cities with tighter credit and cooling measures to keep property market in check

Source: Business Times / Property

[SHANGHAI] New home price growth in China slowed last month, led by the four cities the government defines as first-tier, amid tighter credit to rein in excessive borrowing and individual city measures to curb property prices.

Prices in Beijing and the southern business hub of Shenzhen each rose 0.2 per cent in February from a month earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday.

That was the slowest pace since October 2012. They added 0.4 per cent in Shanghai, the smallest increase since November 2012, and gained 0.5 per cent in Guangzhou. Prices climbed in 57 of the 70 cities tracked by the government. That compares with 62 in January.

"Overall, we see the property sector as becoming increasingly a major and more real risk to growth and financial stability this year," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, a senior economist and strategist at Credit Agricole CIB.

-From Shanghai, China

Land prices rise in Japan's 3 largest cities

Source: Straits Times

Restructuring China’s economy for growth and liveability

Source: Today Online / Commentary

At a recent news conference, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the government is focused on enhancing job growth and reducing air pollution. Indeed, China’s impending economic slowdown and severe environmental degradation make up the two most pressing issues that are currently on Beijing’s policy agenda. The causes of these issues point towards a pressing need for China to restructure its economy and wean itself off its export-led manufacturing-based model of growth.

As the first quarter of the year comes to a close, China is showing signs of a gradual slowdown. A slew of economic data shows that China’s manufacturing, retail and investment sectors have slowed down in the beginning of the year.

More importantly, this slowdown is likely to affect China’s ability to achieve its economic growth targets. The government has lowered its growth target for the year to 7.5 per cent, a slight decline from the 7.7 per cent growth achieved in 2013. This raises concerns over Beijing’s ability to maintain economic growth and consequences for other Asian economies.

These concerns are compounded by the fact that economic recovery in the United States and European Union remains slow. In response to current fears of a slowdown, Mr Li has said the government is not preoccupied with GDP growth. In other words, China is targeting a better quality of growth.

Major Chinese cities remain plagued by severe air pollution. According to a recent report by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, hazardous levels of air pollution in Beijing have made the capital “barely suitable” for living. While air pollution is detrimental to the health of citizens, it also has negative implications for the economy. A degradation of China’s living environment is likely to deter the much-needed foreign investment and talent that are crucial for driving the country’s economy.


While problems plaguing the Chinese economy and its urban liveability are indeed daunting, a clear way that Beijing can deal with its economic and pollution problems is through restructuring its economy.

In particular, there is a need to reduce its reliance on manufacturingand shift towards the production of exportable services. This can also help reduce factory emissions and air pollution. More importantly, China needs to diversify its economic base, as other emerging Asian economies with cheaper labour and lower rents establish themselves as new manufacturing bases. A corresponding shift towards higher-value-added services should allow Beijing to provide jobs in such services to citizens, promoting higher-quality job growth.

This is a process that other Asian Tiger economies, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, have gone through successfully. Both cities are now leading global financial centres and top locations for the establishment of headquarters by multinational firms.


The good news is that China has already begun diversifying its economy, albeit at an insufficiently brisk pace. For instance, the establishment of the Shanghai free-trade zone represents an important policy experiment in economic liberalisation. More importantly, it is a crucial first step in liberalising the yuan. Offshore yuan trade is already a booming business, with Singapore’s DBS bank expecting yuan bond issuance to reach 350 billionyuan (S$71 billion) this year.

China can continue to tap this burgeoning demand for yuan-denominatedinvestments by further developing markets for yuan bonds and futures. This requires working closely with Shanghai — its largest onshore yuan centre — and the offshore yuan centres of Hong Kong, Singapore and London.

Yet, as Hong Kong and Singapore have shown, developing new industries, such as the financial services sector, requires investments in human capital and the necessary legal regulatory infrastructure.

It is important to note that manufacturing remains a significant part of the Chinese economy and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Hence, China should encourage cleaner manufacturing processes. This requires beefing up regulatory oversight and enforcement, as well as investing in necessary technological and productivity enhancements to current manufacturing processes.

To be sure, economic restructuring and upgrading of manufacturing processes are costly endeavours. However, they are necessary steps which Beijing needs to take to enhance long-term economic competitiveness and improve urban liveability. Given the important economic roles of major Chinese cities and China’s rapid urbanisation, competitiveness and urban liveability are inextricably intertwined and mutually enforcing.

The emerging problems of the 21st century will be increasingly intertwined. It is, therefore, a good time for the economic powerhouse to begin thinking about how it should restructure its economy in such a way that both economic growth and the interests of its citizens are not compromised.

-By Woo Jun Jie

China Developers Get Share-Sale Approval in Rules Shift

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

Two Chinese developers received regulatory approval for new-stock sales, the first the government has allowed by real estate companies in about four years, after home sales fell and a developer collapsed.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission said yesterday Tianjin Tianbao Infrastructure Co. (000965) and Join.In Holding Co. (600745) are allowed to sell yuan-denominated A shares in private placements, according to separate statements to Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges. The 142 mainland-listed developers may see an average 3 percent increase in profits this year if the resumption of stock offerings cuts borrowing costs by 1 percentage point, according to estimates by Ping An Securities Co. today.

The approvals came after regulators last year started to accept new share sales applications by developers, prompting optimism that the government will ease fundraising limits as slowing economic growth spurs adjustments to policies aimed at curbing property prices. China’s home sales fell in the first two months of the year as local government property measures weakened buyer sentiment, and the collapse of closely held Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate Co. under its debt load has prompted declines in property companies’ shares and bonds.

The regulator’s unconditional approvals yesterday “suggest that refinancing formally, unconditionally and fully reopens,” Ping An Securities analysts led by Shenzhen-based Zhou Yating wrote in a report today. The move “is a direct boost to listed companies’ profitability and investment capabilities.”

42 Companies

China hasn’t allowed developers to raise money by selling shares since 2010, when it stepped up efforts to cool the real estate market amid rising home prices, according to Zheshang Securities Co. and Haitong Securities Co. A total of 42 real estate companies have in recent months announced plans for additional share sales to raise a combined 178.5 billion yuan ($28.7 billion), according to Ping An Securities.

A gauge tracking Shanghai-listed property companies rose as much as 1.1 percent. Beijing Capital Development Co. (600376) jumped as much as 7.6 percent, and traded 5.2 percent up at 4.84 yuan in Shanghai trading as of 11:46 a.m. local time. Tianjin Tianbao rose 2.8 percent while Join.In was down 0.4 percent.

China’s new-home price increases slowed in February, led by the four cities the government defines as first tier, amid tighter credit to rein in excessive borrowing and individual city measures to curb property prices, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on March 18.

Private Placements

Tianjin Tianbao said in a September statement that it plans to raise as much as 1.55 billion yuan in a private placement to build a commercial project and two housing projects in Tianjin, the northern city where it’s based.

Join.In said in an August statement that it plans to raise as much as 1.72 billion yuan selling shares to a group of investors to develop serviced apartments, office buildings, commercial properties and supermarkets in Xuzhou in eastern China’s Jiangsu province.

Zhejiang Xingrun, a Chinese real estate developer with 3.5 billion yuan of debt based in the eastern city of Ningbo, has collapsed and its largest shareholder was detained, government officials familiar with the matter said on March 17.

That’s only “one example of many distressed smaller developers” in China, who turned to more expensive financing methods such as trust products after banks raised risk management standards in the past three to four years, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services wrote in a report March 18.

Bond Default

The failure emerged less than two weeks after the first onshore bond default by a Chinese company. Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology Co.’s missed coupon payment on March 7 may have been China’s “Bear Stearns moment,” prompting investors to reassess credit risks as they did after the U.S. securities firm was rescued in 2008, according to Bank of America Corp.

Short interest in Evergrande Real Estate Group Ltd. (3333), the nation’s fourth-largest developer by market value, was at 8.4 percent of shares outstanding on March 17, up from 3.2 percent a year ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Markit Group Ltd. It touched a record 8.6 percent on March 4. Wagers against Guangzhou R&F Properties Co. (2777) and Agile Property Holdings Ltd. (3383) have both reached the highest since December 2012.

Evergrande’s dollar bonds fell on March 18, sending the yield to 10.86 percent, the highest level on record, DBS Bank Ltd. prices show.

The share-sale approvals came after Greenland Holding Group Co., the Shanghai city government-owned builder of one of China’s tallest towers, said on March 17 that it plans to list on the city’s stock exchange through an asset swap with an affiliate, injecting assets worth 65.5 billion yuan into the unit.

-By Bloomberg News

KB Home Rises Most in 3 Months as Profit Tops Estimates

Source: Business Times / Luxury

KB Home (KBH) rose the most in almost three months after the builder reported a fiscal first-quarter profit that beat estimates as revenue and prices soared.

Net income for three months ended Feb. 28 was $10.6 million, or 12 cents a share, compared with a loss of $12.5 million, or 16 cents, a year earlier, the Los Angeles-based homebuilder said today in a statement. It was the first time KB Home had a profit for the first quarter since 2007. The average estimate of 16 analysts was for earnings of 9 cents a share, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

KB Home, which was primarily focused on first-time buyers, has more recently been opening communities in land-constrained areas where incomes and demand for larger homes are generally greater. Homes sold for an average of $305,200 in the quarter, up 12 percent from a year earlier.

“We are entering the spring selling season positioned with more communities open in attractive locations across the country,” Jeffrey Mezger, president and chief executive officer, said in the statement. “We are confident that our balanced approach to sales price and pace, combined with our focus on both top-line growth and profitability, will produce strong results in the coming quarters.”

The shares rose 5.9 percent to $18.72. It was the biggest gain since Dec. 23 and the best performance in the 11-company Standard & Poor’s Supercomposite Homebuilding Index, which advanced 0.6 percent.

Lennar Corp. (LEN), the largest U.S. homebuilder by market value, advanced 1.8 percent to $41.34. The Miami-based company is scheduled to report earnings tomorrow.

KB Home’s revenue in the quarter increased 11 percent from a year earlier to $450.7 million. The value of net orders was $600.2 million, up 18 percent. The company’s contract backlog, an indication of future sales, climbed 21 percent to $851.6 million.

-By Prashant Gopal

Osborne Targets Empty U.K. Company-Owned Homes With Extended Tax

Source: Bloomberg / News

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne extended a 15 percent stamp-duty sales tax on empty U.K. homes owned by companies to add properties worth more than 500,000 pounds ($831,000) as the government clamps down on tax avoidance.

Residences worth 1 million pounds to 2 million pounds that are held by a company and aren’t leased will also be subject to an annual charge of 7,000 pounds starting in April 2015, according to government filings. A tax of 3,500 pounds on homes worth 500,000 pounds to 1 million pounds will take effect in April 2016.

“Many of these are empty properties held in corporate envelopes to avoid stamp duty,” Osborne said today in his annual budget statement to Parliament. “This abuse will end.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has moved to close loopholes and raise levies on high-value homes to increase revenue and avoid having neighborhoods full of empty homes. An annual tax introduced last year on company-owned properties worth more than 2 million pounds has raised five times the amount forecast in the fiscal year through March as the government found significantly more properties liable for the tax than expected, according to the filings.

Prior to the tax being introduced, homeowners had used overseas-based companies to avoid paying stamp duty when they sold homes and to prevent people from finding out who owned the property. The new tax, which goes into effect at midnight, won’t apply to homes that are rented.

The government estimated that the extended tax will apply to about 12,000 homes and generate 35 million pounds in the next fiscal year and 70 million pounds the following year.

“There is next to no time for those affected to complete their transactions before the new rules bite, forcing many to restructure proposed purchases at short notice,” Tom Wilde, a lawyer at Shoosmiths LLP, said in a statement. “Many previously unaffected people will now be subject to these tax measures.”

-By Neil Callanan

Ortega Outbids Pros to Build $10 Billion Property Empire

Source: Bloomberg / News

Amancio Ortega Gaona, already the world’s fourth-richest person based on the success of his Zara fashion retail stores, has quietly amassed a real estate empire worth as much as $10 billion and is emerging as a formidable competitor for prime properties from London to Beverly Hills.

Relying on all-cash offers, he has outbid the world’s biggest institutional funds and professional property investors, such as Tishman Speyer Properties LP.

“He’s at the very highest levels of high net worth investment and competing with some of the biggest sovereign wealth funds for the primest properties in the market,” said Joseph Kelly, director of market analysis for Real Capital Analytics in London, a real estate research firm.

In the past four months alone, Ortega has spent almost $1 billion purchasing properties in Manhattan’s meatpacking district, London’s West End, Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive and Barcelona’s main shopping drag, Passeig de Gracia. He recently paid one of the highest prices per square foot ever for a London office building.

In late 2011, Manhattan-based Tishman Speyer, which owns Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building and London’s Tower Place, was close to finalizing the purchase of Madrid’s most famous skyscraper, the 43-story Picasso Tower office building. At the last minute, the building’s owner instead accepted a 400 million-euro ($556 million) bid from Ortega, according to two people familiar with the deal who asked not to be identified because the negotiations weren’t public. Unlike Tishman Speyer’s offer, Ortega’s was all-cash.

Long-Term Refuge

Ortega, the founder and majority shareholder of Inditex SA, the world’s largest fashion retailer, is taking refuge in real estate as a safe long-term investment, particularly with U.S. Treasury yields near record lows, according to real estate professionals. By comparison, the fashion industry is notoriously fickle. Inditex has suffered recent downgrades in ratings by analysts as a result of slowing growth.

Ortega’s personal real estate portfolio may be closing the gap with Donald Bren, chairman of Irvine Co. of southern California, often cited as the world’s wealthiest real estate investor. Bren’s properties are worth $14.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

A handful of other billionaires tap their personal fortunes to compete on such deals. They include Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, Brazilian banker Moise Safra, the Conley and Otto families of Germany and Chinese real estate developer Zhang Xin, said Kelly.

Half the Price

While Ortega, 77, has sunk billions into premier locations in some cities at the top of the market, in Spain he’s taken advantage of the country’s economic woes to acquire buildings for deep discounts. The 400 million euros he paid for the Picasso Tower was less than half of its value four years earlier, according to a 2007 filing by the building’s former owner valuing the entire property at 850 million euros.

Spanish property prices have collapsed since its real estate boom ended in 2007 and the country plunged into the worst economic slump of the past 40 years. Home prices and prime office rents have both fallen more than 40 percent since 2007.

“He’s clearly making a big bet on office space in the center of the city at a time when all the big Spanish companies with offices in the centers of Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao, sold out and moved out to middle of nowhere,” said Ken Dubin, a professor at IE Business School in Madrid and the Lord Ashcroft International Business School in Cambridge.

Picasso Tower

“To the extent corporate flight can lead to the collapse not just of property values but lots of other things in a city, it’s important he’s making these big investments,” Dubin said. “And the fact he’s making them obviously gets other people into the game and attracts attention.”

Madrid’s Picasso Tower -- so named because of its proximity to the Plaza de Pablo Ruiz Picasso -- is one of many properties Ortega has purchased near or on the Paseo De La Castellana, Madrid’s main commercial drag.

Elsewhere in Spain, he recently paid $60 million to buy the remaining stake in a building that houses Barcelona’s flagship Apple store, a property he had already invested $105 million in during 2012. In Valencia, he bought another Apple store building for $30 million late last year.

‘Few Parallels’

“It’s an enormous consolidation of power,” Dubin said. “The percentage of square feet of prime space that is in the possession of this one man in this country, there are few parallels in other countries the size and wealth of Spain.”

Ortega’s properties worldwide generated rental income of at least $290 million during 2012, the most recent year records are available.

Roberto Cibeira Moreiras, investment director of Ortega’s main holding company, declined to comment. “Our policy, given we are a private company, doesn’t contemplate interviews,” he said.

Ortega rents some of his properties to his Zara stores. By effectively becoming his own landlord, he benefits two ways. He gains a tenant who is unlikely to leave or make exorbitant demands, while Inditex enjoys a friendly owner unlikely to impose big rent increases.

On Madrid’s Calle Serrano, an upscale shopping street, a building he purchased in 2011 is being renovated. It will soon reopen as Zara’s flagship store for Madrid, one of more than 1,800 Inditex stores across the country.

To be sure, Ortega has been shedding some assets. In January, he sold his 4.05 percent stake in NH Hoteles SA, the Spanish hotel company. And he and his fellow investors in another hotelier, Occidental Hotels & Resorts, are in talks to sell their stake for as much as $700 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

Ortega’s Fortune

Ortega is Spain’s version of Sam Walton, who established in rural Arkansas what would become the world’s largest retailer. Ortega similarly created a multi-billion-euro fortune in Arteixo, Spain, a tiny industrial town far from any major metropolitan area.

The son of a railway worker from northern Spain, he opened his first Zara store in 1975. Its parent company, Inditex, now generates almost $21 billion in annual sales. The company earned $3 billion in fiscal year 2013, operating more than 6,200 stores around the world under Zara and other brands, including Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Bershka and Pull & Bear.

Ortega, who is worth $61.1 billion, stepped down as chairman of the company in 2011. Famously press shy, he retains a 59 percent ownership stake in Inditex. His tiny real estate staff operates from a glass office building on Inditex’s campus in Arteixo.

Real Estate Empire

The precise value of his empire is unclear. He has spent at least $6 billion over the past decade in cities including Berlin, Paris, Chicago, Boston, Miami, Washington and San Francisco, according to Real Capital Analytics and public records. The purchases were mostly made through subsidiaries of Pontegadea Inversiones SL, the bigger of his two main real estate holding companies.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Ortega’s real estate businesses are valued at $5.8 billion, based on their 2012 financial results and the price-to-book value of four publicly traded comparable real estate investment trusts: Utrecht, Netherlands-based Corio NV, Paris-based Societe Fonciere Lyonnaise, Amsterdam-based Eurocommercial Properties NV and Escondido, California-based Realty Income Corp.Including his $1 billion in property acquisitions since 2012, the ranking values Ortega’s holdings at $6.8 billion.

The $10 billion estimate comes from a person familiar with Ortega’s assets. The person said Ortega owns other properties outside the two main property holding vehicles. The Bloomberg ranking doesn’t include those assets because they couldn’t be documented.

London’s West End

Like billionaires from Russia, China, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and India, Ortega has been buying up properties in one of the hottest real estate markets, London. In the past three years, he has spent $1.3 billion there, concentrating on the West End, one of Europe’s most expensive neighborhoods.

“London is the only real global market in the world,” said Andrew Langton, a high-end residential real estate agent there. “Every single nationality is here buying property.”

Lenient Tax Rules

At least two of Ortega’s London properties are owned through Luxembourg entities, which he inherited from the previous owners, records show. Using subsidiaries in Luxembourg, which has lenient capital gains tax rules, is a common tactic among investors.

Inditex also uses tax-haven subsidiaries. As reported by Bloomberg News in February, the retailer has shifted $2 billion of profits into a low-tax unit in the Netherlands and Switzerland, helping cut its income tax bill around the world.

Ortega’s most recent high profile London deal was a 410 million pound ($680 million) purchase in December of the Devonshire House, a 1920s office building in the city’s Mayfair district across from the Ritz Hotel. At $3,641 a square foot, the price was among the highest ever paid for an office building of that size anywhere in the world, according to Real Capital Analytics.

The building, on the site of the residence of the Dukes of Devonshire in the 18th and 19th centuries, has retail space on the ground floor, including a Marks & Spencer store.

Prime Location

“It’s a very sound place to put 410 million,” Langton said. He called the location “prime and probably the best option outside of The City,” referring to London’s financial district.

Ortega has also been expanding his portfolio in high-priced U.S. markets. In November, he purchased from a partnership including private equity firm Carlyle Group a 56,000-square-foot office and retail building on Manhattan’s West 14th Street for $94 million. He had already spent at least $220 million on office buildings in midtown Manhattan. And in January, Pontegadea closed on its purchase of a Beverly Hills property on North Rodeo Drive containing a Gucci store for almost $108 million.

Like the Picasso Tower acquisition, the deal was all-cash.

-By Jesse Drucker

CommonWealth REIT Activists Win Votes to Remove Board

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

CommonWealth REIT (CWH) investors who have been trying for a year to overthrow management are close to victory after holders of the necessary number of shares voted to remove the office landlord’s board.

Stockholders representing 81 percent of shares voted for the removal, according to Corvex Management LP and Related Cos., the investors leading the campaign. CommonWealth has five business days, or until March 25, to have the consents inspected and results declared, Corvex and Related said in a statement yesterday. A two-thirds majority is required for board removal.

Corvex and Related, which together own 9.6 percent of CommonWealth, began their campaign to oust the trustees last March. They have argued that the ownership of an external management firm by CommonWealth President Adam Portnoy and his father, Barry, a company founder, has led to conflicts of interest and underperformance at the real estate investment trust. Both Portnoys are directors of Newton, Massachusetts-based CommonWealth, which pays fees to the management company.

“The shareholders have exercised their rights and we look forward to working with the trustees in the coming days to arrange for an orderly transition process that best protects the interests of all shareholders,” Keith Meister of Corvex and Jeff Blau of Related said in the statement. “We will immediately reach out to the trustees to begin these discussions.”

CommonWealth said in a statement today that it will inspect and certify the results of the vote within the five-business-day timeframe.

Zell Slate

Corvex and Related, based in New York, have proposed a slate of board candidates led by billionaire investor Sam Zell and David Helfand, co-president of Zell’s Equity Group Investments. The two agreed to serve as CommonWealth’s chairman and chief executive officer, respectively, if a new board is chosen.

An entity affiliated with Zell and Helfand will have an option to acquire as many as 4 million CommonWealth shares, Corvex and Related said last month.

The dissident group has argued the Portnoys are more concerned about collecting fees for their firm, REIT Management & Research LLC, than operating CommonWealth for the benefit of all stockholders because the father and son don’t own many shares themselves. Fees paid to RMR rose 40 percent from 2007 to 2013, while the shares fell 68 percent, Corvex and Related said in a March 12 presentation to investors.

Downtown Buildings

CommonWealth has denied Corvex and Related’s claims of conflicts of interest and said it is focused on buying office buildings in U.S. downtowns and selling suburban properties to boost shareholder value.

The company in September announced changes to its corporate governance after conversations with investors who said they wanted RMR’s financial incentives to be more aligned with shareholders. The changes were made in December, according to the REIT.

The statement from Corvex and Related was released after the close of U.S. trading yesterday. CommonWealth shares fell 1.4 percent to $26.81 yesterday. They gained 16 percent in the past 12 months. In the five years ended Feb. 25, 2013, the day before Corvex and Related made their first public filings on CommonWealth, the stock fell 45 percent, compared with an 11 percent advance in the Bloomberg REIT Index.

“Shareholder democracy ultimately worked here, and that’s good news,” Michael Knott, a managing director at research firm Green Street Advisors Inc., said in a telephone interview. “The REIT industry can have quite a few entrenchment devices at its disposal, and CommonWealth seemed to have more than most.”

Buyout Bid

The effort to oust the directors is the second by Corvex and Related. Last year, the group said its plan had support from holders of more than 70 percent of CommonWealth’s shares. The process was challenged by the REIT and ruled invalid by an arbitration panel, which said the investors could try again.

Before attempting to remove the board, Corvex and Related offered to buy CommonWealth for $24.50 a share, or $2.9 billion. The REIT rejected the bid, saying it was conditional and didn’t include a financing plan.

-By Brian Louis

Irish Bad Bank Said to Plan Sale of $418 Million Property Loans

Source: Bloomberg / News

Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency is preparing to sell real estate loans with a face value of more than 300 million euros ($418 million) as demand for property rises, three people with knowledge of the plan said.

The assets, linked to Irish developer Gerry Conlan, will be sold at a discount, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. David Clerkin, a NAMA spokesman at public relations firm Gordon MRM, declined to comment. Conlan also wouldn’t comment.

NAMA is planning to sell property portfolios valued at 250 million euros or more in each quarter of this year, Ireland’s bad bank said in February. The assets include groups of hotels, offices, retail spaces in Ireland and the U.K. and multifamily apartments, NAMA’s head of asset recovery Ronnie Hanna said March 13 at the MIPIM real estate conference in Cannes, France.

The group of assets for sale linked to Conlan, known as Project Spring, will not include the Mount Carmel hospital in Dublin, two of the people said. The hospital petitioned the High Court in Dublin to appoint a liquidator, according to NAMA, which holds Mount Carmel’s assets as loan collateral.

NAMA was set up in 2009 by the government to take over 74 billion euros of risky commercial real estate loans held by Ireland’s banks and sell them over as many as 10 years.

-By Neil Callanan and Donal Griffin