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11th November 2014

Singapore Real Estate

Ascott bags five new management contracts in China

This brings its China portfolio to 12,000 apartment units; next target is 20,000 units by 2020

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

Capitaland's serviced residence business The Ascott has landed contracts to manage five additional properties in China, boosting its portfolio to 12,000 apartment units in the populous country. In a statement to the Singapore Exchange on Monday, CapitaLand announced that The Ascott would manage 1,000 more apartment units in Yinchuan, Changsha, Shenyang and Xi'an.

-By Nisha Ramchandani

Culture of high-rise gardens takes root

Singapore sets new 200ha greening target for buildings by 2030

Source: Straits Times / Singapore

SINGAPORE has hit its greening targets two decades before its deadline of 2030 - and the Government has decided to raise the bar significantly.

Last year, plants covering building exteriors totalled more than 61ha, an area the size of 195 school fields.

This far exceeded the target of 50ha the government had hoped to hit by 2030. 

The new target is now 200ha of building greenery by the same deadline.

A spokesman from the National Parks Board (NParks) attributed the rapid increment of skyrise greenery to several programmes.

This includes the Urban Redevelopment Authority's enhanced Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises (Lush) programme, and NParks' Skyrise Greenery Incentive Scheme, which offers incentives and subsidies to encourage the installation of skyrise greenery.

The greenery targets were spelt out in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint - first in 2009 and again in the latest document released last Saturday.

This blueprint sets out the Republic's targets and strategies for sustainable development until 2030, in areas such as recycling and air quality.

Green roofs, vertical greenery and gardens in the sky can reduce urban heat gain, which could translate into energy savings, said Mr Tan Seng Chai, group chief corporate officer of CapitaLand and chairman of the CapitaLand Sustainability Steering Committee.

For instance, green roofs and walls can cool surface temperatures by up to 18 deg C and 12 deg C, respectively.

Skyrise greenery also has the potential to improve air quality and create habitats to enhance biodiversity in urban areas.

The new target is not too ambitious, the NParks spokesman said, adding: "We are confident that with the whole of government approach coupled with partnership with private developers, this target is achievable."

For NParks, this would include working with other agencies, such as the Education Ministry, as well as developers of public and community infrastructure, to green their buildings.

The Housing Board is also looking to incorporate skyrise greenery into their buildings so that it becomes "a signature of their developments".

The private sector also welcomed the new target.

"In land-scarce Singapore... more skyrise greenery can maximise the use of space to bring about many benefits," said Mr Allen Ang, head of innovation and green building at property developer City Developments.

Mr Stephen Pimbley, founder and director of architecture firm Spark Architects, said much of Singapore's skyrise greenery is "fairly divorced" from the everyday experience of architecture.

He said: "Imagine if our City in a Garden were able to grow its own food - Singapore could boast a network of productive urban gardens and reduce the need for food importation."

-By Audrey Tan

Mall developers bet on trends to draw traffic

Source: Straits Times / Money

DESPITE an anaemic retail scene, some fashion houses such as Uniqlo and H&M are doing a roaring trade and expanding their footprints.

From One Raffles Place to Kallang Wave Mall, developers of malls both new and revamped have been touting Uniqlo and H&M as anchor tenants - a marked shift from the old formula.

"The typical mall used to be one with a cinema, foodcourt and supermarket. But now the retail market has evolved so much, it's H&M, Uniqlo and Daiso that make up the typical mall," said Knight Frank head of retail Heidi Yong.

By Christmas, H&M will have added three stores here this year, and Uniqlo seven.

"Since our opening four years ago, customers' response has been very positive," said an H&M spokesman. For the nine months to August this year, H&M net sales here increased 29 per cent from a year ago.

Meanwhile, some developers are betting that men's fashion will be a new growth area. Over at orchardgateway mall, there is a dedicated men's floor that counts a retro-chic barber shop, a bespoke shoemaker and an array of boutiques among tenants.

"Modern shoppers are no longer content with mass-produced fashion or even high-end luxury brands. They desire more diverse styles, edgy designs as well as indie labels," said the mall's management.

"Shopper traffic is healthy at this stage and we believe it can definitely be better in the upcoming festive period."

Developers are also offering mall-goers more dining choices as the food and beverage sector continues to outperform other sectors that make up the retail sales index.

Five years ago, F&B made up no more than 20 per cent of the tenant mix at the average mall.

"Now, we wouldn't be surprised if it hits 40 per cent," said Mr Desmond Lim, head of CBRE Research Singapore. "Landlords think that a mall is no longer a point of pure transaction, but a lifestyle experience."

The Japanese wave retains a strong presence in themed dining options here. Last month, Isetan announced plans to lease out one floor of its Wisma Atria department store to Japanese restaurants and food kiosks, "to spread Japanese food culture".

Other lifestyle concepts include the monthly pedestrian night organised by the Orchard Road Business Association and the introduction of a mixed martial arts organisation to Orchard Central.

With three new malls slated to open by Christmas - namely, Big Box, One KM and Capitol Piazza - tougher competition is expected to continue to drive change in the retail landscape.

"Retail malls, new and revamped, face the same challenges and the trend continues to be one of differentiation," said JLL head of research for South-east Asia Chua Yang Liang.

-By Marissa Lee

UK chain targets first hotel here at economy travellers

Source: Straits Times / Money

BRITISH hospitality firm Whitbread will open its first hotel in Singapore as part of its plans to expand across the region.

The 300-room Premier Inn Singapore Beach Road is aimed at the economy travel segment, with average room rates of $160 to $190 expected.

It will be close to the cultural enclaves of Haji Lane and Arab Street, the Marina Bay financial area, as well as the Singapore Sports Hub.

The hotel, which is under construction and expected to open in mid-2016, will feature amenities catering to business as well as leisure travellers, including a swimming pool, gym and meeting facilities.

Whitbread operates 670 Premier Inns around the world, including five in the Middle East and three in India, with a total of 55,000 rooms.

Its new hotel here is part of a strategy to expand its global presence by about 10,000 rooms in three key regions - South-east Asia, India and the Middle East - by 2018.

The group has set its sights on opening 1,976 rooms, or 12 hotels, in three countries in South-east Asia alone over the next three years. This includes the new hotel in Singapore.

Mr Erik van Keulen, senior vice-president of development at Premier Inn Asia-Pacific, said that the expansion is part of the group's "long-term strategy to further enhance and develop the Premier Inn brand globally".

He also told The Straits Times yesterday that Singapore, as a regional hub, is a "very vital part of the South-east Asia mix" for Premier Inn.

"Singapore, as a destination, has almost continuously reinvented itself and generated a lot of new demand on the back of existing demand that is gradually growing," said Mr van Keulen.

He added that the outlook for the hotel market here is "very, very positive".

But he noted that while the group hopes to set up multiple Premier Inn hotels here, the "high cost to build (hotels) and the limited availability of land may not make it easy for us to expand quickly".

-By Jacqueline Woo

Companies' Brief

Rolling over debt keeps S'pore Reits in shape

Still-low rates help trusts reduce interest costs, says S&P report

Source: Straits Times / Money

LOCAL real estate investment trusts (Reits) are faring better this year than in previous years, thanks to moves to reduce interest costs by aggressively rolling over debt at still-low rates, said a Standard & Poor's (S&P) report yesterday.

Trusts have been tightening their belts on expectations that interest rates could rise over the next few years, which would have major repercussions as borrowing costs are a major component of their expenses, said S&P credit analyst Craig Parker.

"Trusts with sizeable debt exposure to floating interest rates are likely to suffer most. 

"The severity of the impact will depend on the buffer that each Reit has relative to its financial policy," Mr Parker noted.

"Still, we expect that rated Asia-Pacific Reits can largely shoulder the higher interest burden. The Reits are attempting to cut their interest costs and extending their debt tenors.

"They are also refinancing expensive debt incurred during the height of the global financial crisis at reduced rates.

"Furthermore, Reit managers are still holding back even though they have room to borrow substantially more."

S&P upgraded CapitaCommercial Trust to A-/Stable due to an improving business profile and a more favourable view of its credit metrics. The ratings service also upgraded HongKong Land Holdings and HongKong Land Co to A/Stable due to its reassessment of their financial risk policies.

Growth in rental demand and rates here have been flat or slightly sluggish this year for properties in Reits rated by S&P.

"Nevertheless, we project a stable credit outlook for the Reits we rate," said Mr Parker.

"The Reits have amassed high-quality portfolios that can withstand economic headwinds better than lesser-quality properties held by their competitors, sustaining their credit quality despite sluggish rental growth."

Limited new retail assets in the near term will sustain high occupancy at most suburban malls in Singapore.

But retail rental growth has been subdued due to slowing tourist arrivals, he noted.

Meanwhile, office and industrial rents here are approaching peak levels, Mr Parker said.

Industrial rents have been strong and capital values have increased, with vacancy rates falling from a peak of 14 per cent in 2006 to 9.5 per cent this year.

-By Grace Leong

ARA expects boost from Straits Trading alliance; Q3 profit up

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

ARA Asset Management, a major real estate fund manager in the region, on Monday reported a 60 per cent increase in third-quarter total revenue to S$52.8 million. Net profit rose 53 per cent in tandem to S$30.7 million. 

-By Lee Meixian

ARA's Q3 earnings soar by 53% on back of higher fees

Reit manager's net profit boosted by $16.1m fee from Harmony Fund

Source: Straits Times / Money

HUGE performance fees for ARA Asset Management helped the real estate investment trust manager rake in bumper earnings in the third quarter.

The company earned a performance fee of about $16.1 million from the ARA Harmony Fund, which it manages.

That bumper fee caused ARA's net profit to leap 53 per cent to $30.7 million for the three months to Sept 30 from the preceding year, it announced yesterday.

Total revenue for the third quarter shot up by 60 per cent from the previous year to $52.8 million.

Apart from performance fees, ARA's management fees in the third quarter also went up, mainly due to Reit base and performance fees.

The asset manager said it brought in higher Reit management fees partly because its properties have performed better after renovation and therefore gained in value.

ARA group chief executive John Lim said in a statement yesterday that the ARA Harmony Fund's strong performance "underscores our core competence in driving better asset performance".

The fund owns Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre, which has seen its overall value surge from $235 million as at Sept 30, 2009, to a valuation of $663.25 million on average as at Sept 30 this year.

The ARA Harmony Fund's internal rate of return, after deducting about $16.1 million in performance fees, worked out to 26.3 per cent over the first five years of the fund's existence.

The fund's shareholders include City Harvest Church, which owns an indirect 39.2 per cent stake. The church has racked up a paper profit of about $162 million over five years from this investment, according to calculations by The Straits Times in an earlier report.

ARA said that it would continue to pursue growth via more acquisitions and listing more Reits in new markets.

The size of the assets it manages was around $26.1 billion as at Sept 30.

The company also said that recent proposals by the Monetary Authority of Singapore to boost Reits' corporate governance and align Reit managers' interests with shareholders' are "largely positive", and will support "further growth and strengthening" of the Singapore Reit market over the long term.

ARA is part of a newly announced Reit industry association that aims, in part, to prevent the Reit industry here from becoming over-regulated.

Group earnings per share came in at 3.63 cents for the third quarter, up from 2.37 cents in the same period the previous year.

Net asset value per share was 36.33 cents as at Sept 30, up from 32.84 cents as at Dec 31.

ARA shares closed down half a cent to $1.705 yesterday.

-By Melissa Tan

Keppel T&T pushes ahead with IPO of data centre Reit

The initial portfolio of Keppel DC Reit is expected to comprise eight data centre properties in the Asia-Pacific and Europe

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

Keppel Telecommunications & Transportation (Keppel T&T) is pushing ahead with the planned multi-million dollar initial public offer (IPO) of its data centre real estate investment trust (DC Reit), the first of its kind in Asia.

-By Angela Tan

Keppel T&T's data-centre Reit set for Dec 12 listing

Estimated $811m IPO promises to be one of the largest this year

Source: Straits Times / Money

THE first real estate investment trust comprising data centres will be listed here next month and promises to be one of the largest and most highly anticipated initial public offerings of the year.

Keppel Telecommunications and Transportation (Keppel T&T) aims to list Keppel DC Reit on Dec 12 once it has won shareholder backing at an extraordinary general meeting on Nov 25. The offering is estimated at $811 million, according to a circular released yesterday to the bourse.

Keppel T&T has received a letter of eligibility to list.

It will also ask shareholders to support a proposal to divest its interests in Keppel Digihub, Keppel Datahub 1, Gore Hill Data Centre and Citadel 100 Data Centre, and inject them into the Reit.

The divestment of these four properties is expected to raise $505.4 million in gross proceeds.

About half of this amount - $244.1 million - will be used to subscribe for units in the new Reit, in which Keppel T&T, a logistics, data-centre services and investment firm, will hold a 30 per cent stake.

The Reit will start with eight data-centre properties in the Asia-Pacific and Europe: Keppel Digihub and Keppel Datahub 1 in Singapore; Gore Hill Data Centre in Sydney, Australia, and iseek Data Centre in Brisbane, Australia; Basis Bay Data Centre in Selangor, Malaysia; GV7 Data Centre in London, Britain; Almere Data Centre in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Citadel 100 Data Centre in Dublin, Ireland.

It will be managed by Keppel DC Reit Management, a wholly owned unit of Keppel T&T.

News about the listing galvanised the company's stock to a six-year high of $1.87 in January when it was first announced.

A data centre is a facility that centralises an organisation's IT operations and equipment, and where it stores, manages and disseminates its data.

There has been a surge in demand for data centres, driven by growth in e-commerce, cloud computing and big data, said Keppel T&T chief executive Thomas Pang. The proposed mainboard listing "is poised to capitalise on these trends", he added.

Keppel T&T will continue to look out for opportunities to develop data-centre assets across its target markets of the Asia-Pacific and Europe after the transaction, the company stated yesterday.

Keppel T&T has had to rely on its parent, Keppel Corp, for funding up to now, so the Reit would allow it to finance more of its own expansion, said CIMB analysts Jessalynn Chen and Kenneth Ng in a September report.

The listing would also allow the company to realise the full market value of its data centres.

Still, the company "has been careful and measured in its expansion plans" so far, they noted.

Therefore, aggressive investments in the data-centre space are not expected even after the listing, though Keppel T&T may collaborate with other data-centre owners or managers to co-invest in new properties.

-By Chia Yan Min

Property development boosts Sim Lian's Q1 net earnings

Group profit more than doubles to S$77m; company sees continued challenge in private residential market

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

Strong revenue booking from property development projects helped Sim Lian Group to more than double net earnings to S$71.66 million for the first quarter ended Sept 30, 2014 from S$27.68 million in the year-ago period. Group revenue jumped to S$379.02 million from S$151.17 million.

-By Kalpana Rashiwala

Singhaiyi Q2 profit falls 75% to S$1.86m

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

Property developer Singhaiyi Group reported a 75 per cent drop in net profit to S$1.86 million for the second quarter from S$7.34 million a year ago, largely due to exceptional one-off items which were booked in the previous period. The group said the lower bottom line was mainly due to the exceptional items such as the provisional day one gain of some S$12.8 million from the acquisition of Tri-Country Mall, a major shopping mall in Cincinatti, Ohio, in the second quarter period a year ago.

-By Anita Gabriel

Views, Reviews & Forum

HDB loan interest rate should be less than banks’

Source: Today Online / Voices 

The Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) concessionary loan is designed to assist the lower-income group afford a HDB flat.

Its interest rate is expected to be lower than those for bank loans, which are designed to make a profit mainly from the higher-income group, whose members do not qualify for the HDB’s housing loans.

Ironically, banks have been offering lower interest rates for the past few years and even guarantee to charge a rate below 2.6 per cent.

For example, the POSB HDB Loan rate is 1.88 per cent per annum, with a cap of 2.5 per cent for at least eight years. (“Lower mortgage rates help this manager grow his savings”; Nov 10)

The HDB concessionary rate should be lower, considering the responsibility of providing a more affordable housing loan for the low income.

-By Wong Boon Hong

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

M'sia GDP forecast to grow amid debt concerns

A new debt threat in the form of 1MDB, which recently recorded a loss of RM665m, may be emerging

Source: Business Times / Government & Economy

Malaysia's top auditor wants tax collection system beefed up

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

Asia-Pacific Reits cautious as rate hike looms

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

London property firm's restaurant strategy pays off

Shaftesbury leverages successful eateries, which create a buzz and boost demand at shops on its properties

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

NZ home loan limits set to go gradually

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

First Persian Gulf Macy’s to Anchor $1 Billion Mall

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

The Persian Gulf’s first Macy’s Inc. (M) department store will be part of a $1 billion Abu Dhabi mall planned by Gulf Capital and Stephen Ross’s Related Cos.

The Gulf Related joint venture will put up $350 million of its own cash, and seek loans from Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC for the rest, co-managing partner Kenneth Himmel said in Abu Dhabi today. The shopping center, which will also include Bloomingdale’s, will open in March 2018.

“The most popular shopping centers in the United States have a Bloomingdale’s and a Macy’s because they do complement each other very well,” Himmel said.

The Al Maryah Central mall will connect with an existing luxury shopping center called the Galleria on Al Maryah Island. The mall will have 2.3 million square feet of space and the project includes a tower containing a 200-room hotel and another with about 300 serviced apartments, Himmel said.

Gulf Related will seek loans for 65 percent of the towers development cost of about $340 million, Himmel said. A main contractor will be selected in January and be on site by March or April, he said.

Al Tayer Group, which opened the region’s first Bloomingdale’s in the Dubai Mall, is taking an equity stake in the Abu Dhabi project as it “will be participating in acquiring the department store space,” Chief Executive Officer Khalid Al Tayer said in an interview today.

-By Zainab Fattah

Barclays, BofA Said to Advise Billionaire Sawiris on Listing

Source: Bloomberg / News

OCI NV hired Barclays Plc and Bank of America Corp. to advise on the listing of its construction business in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The company, controlled by billionaire Nassef Sawiris, is also working with Egyptian investment bank EFG-Hermes Holding SAE, the people said, asking not to be identified as the information is private. The company is considering a listing on Nasdaq Dubai exchange, the people said.

Orascom Construction Ltd., as the new entity will be known, will include all OCI’s construction assets, as well as its 50 percent stake in BESIX Group. The listings are targeted for the first quarter, the company said on Nov. 6.

Sawiris relocated Orascom Construction Industries to the Netherlands from Egypt last year through a buyout by OCI, an entity he helped set up amid a tax dispute with the Islamist-led former Egyptian government. OCI’s fertilizer and chemicals business will still be listed in Amsterdam, it said.

An Egyptian court overturned a 7 billion-Egyptian pound ($979 million) settlement between OCI’s local unit and the government on charges of tax evasion, the company said last week. Sawiris said in a Nov. 5 interview that he’ll boost investment in Egypt after the legal victory.

Spokesmen for OCI and Nasdaq Dubai declined to comment. Barclays, Bank of America and EFG-Hermes also declined to comment.

-By Dinesh Nair and Sarmad Khan

Sears Florida Development Gives Preview of Strategy

Source: Bloomberg / News

A mixed-use retail development in South Florida may provide a glimpse at the future of Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD)

The department-store chain said today that it will convert its location in Aventura,Florida, into an open-air development that includes dining, other retailers and a scaled-down Sears store. The project, called Esplanade at Aventura, also will contain a hotel and offices, according to a statement today.

The move fits with Sears’s strategy of squeezing more value out of its extensive real estate holdings. The Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company has been leasing space in some of its stores to other retailers, and the chain said last week that it was considering spinning off hundreds of its properties as a real estate investment trust.

With the Aventura Mall project, Sears would repurpose the site’s parking lot, auto center and department store into a more inviting property. The plan calls for about 250,000 square feet (23,000 square meters) of restaurants and retail. That includes a 20,000-square-foot Sears store and about 45,000 square feet of office space, parking and a hotel.

“Our owned real estate adjacent to Aventura Mall, one of the largest and most successful malls in the country, provides a significant platform for shareholder value creation,” Jeff Stollenwerck, president of real estate for Sears, said in the statement.

Digital Focus

Sears Chief Executive Officer Edward Lampert, who is also the company’s biggest shareholder, is trying to turn the chain into a leaner, more digitally focused retailer. The company, which has posted nine straight quarterly losses, agreed last month to lease space at seven locations to British clothing merchant Primark Stores Ltd. In one case, Primark will take over the entire store, and Sears will move out.

Investors applauded Sears plan to create a REIT last week, sending the shares up 31 percent on Nov. 7 -- their biggest one-day increase in more than a decade. The stock gave back some of those gains today, falling 9.6 percent to $38.72 at the close in New York.

Sears said today in a separate statement that its rights offering for 40 million shares of Sears Canada has been oversubscribed and will generate the maximum of $380 million in proceeds the company had forecast. Sears announced the offering last month. Lampert’s ESL Partners hedge fund bought almost half of the block.

-By Lauren Coleman-Lochner

NYC Riders Gawk as Fulton Street Hub Is Opened

Source: Bloomberg / U.S. Politics

Transit riders in downtown Manhattan’s new subway hub snapped photos and craned necks to gaze up at the 53-foot glass enclosure that crowns the $1.4 billion Fulton Center.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority opened the site today, replacing a decaying underground warren. It links nine different lines to accommodate 300,000 daily riders and renovates a station that was partially ruined in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Riders are met with digital signs, polished tiles and ample sunlight.

“This is arguably one of our first 21st century transit hubs in New York,” said Richard Sarrach, an architecture professor at Pratt Institute in New York. “It’s really a proper arrival point for hundreds of thousands of people every single day.”

It wasn’t an easy path. Initial plans called for a $750 million renovation that would finish in 2007. The MTA in 2009 pushed the opening to 2014. Still, gone are the days of rushing through a dark and dirty station. At Fulton Street, appreciative remarks could be heard above the normal chatter of the city.

“It’s dazzling,” Steven Donnely, a 42-year-old free-lance writer, said while looking up at the skylight.

Rare Gem

Trains ran on schedule during the first morning commute, said Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman. The agency added staff to help riders navigate the new facility, which also includes 65,000 square feet of retail space.

The station stands out in a region that depends on a mass transit system devised and constructed in haphazard fashion beginning in the early 1900s.

Riders have grown accustomed to subway stations with cracked floors, leaking ceilings and narrow passageways. Suburban commuters bemoan the 1963 demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station, designed in the Beaux-Arts style. Its replacement, which serves New Jersey Transit, the Long Island Rail Road and six MTA subway lines, is a grimy, low-ceilinged maze folded under Madison Square Garden.

The new Fulton Center is the first major station renovation for the MTA, the largest U.S. mass-transit system, since its 2009 overhaul of its South Ferry station at the southernmost tip of Manhattan. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 destroyed that $527 million makeover. The MTA expects to reopen the renovated South Ferry station in 2017.

Form, Function

Today, passengers making their maiden voyages through Fulton Center said they found it both beautiful and workable.

“It’s a really functional work of art,” said Phil Wilde, 63, a filmmaker. “I just walked around and could feel like I was going in all the right directions.”

Getting passengers to and from the different subway platforms in an easier, more direct way was a key part of the renovation. There are 10 escalators, 15 elevators and brightly lit paths to direct riders to trains.

The aesthetic centerpiece is a 53-foot-diameter glass and steel shell that hangs over the site’s atrium. The structure, called the Sky Reflector-Net, allows year-round daylight. The spiraling structure includes 952 reflective panels attached to a cable system.

“Customers are getting off the train and are in essence surprised or in awe,” Ortiz said.

-By Michelle Kaske and Allyson Versprille

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