Real News‎ > ‎2015‎ > ‎February 2015‎ > ‎

10th February 2015

Singapore Economy


S'pore in top 10 of Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index

Source: Business Times / Technology

Singapore ranks 10th globally in the inaugural Sustainable Cities Index from Arcadis, a global natural and built asset design and consultancy firm, faring lower than other Asia-Pacific cities such as Hong Kong and Seoul. The Sustainable Cities Index was put together by the Centre for Economics and Business Research and explores social (People), environmental (Planet) and economic (Profit) metrics to develop an indicative ranking of 50 of the world's leading cities from 31 countries.

-By Chan Yi Wen

Singapore Real Estate


NCS' smart cities lab launched to test bed smart cities innovations

SURF@NCS will function as a living lab for public agencies and commercial enterprises to create and test bed smart cities innovations.

Source: Channel News Asia / Business


In conjunction with the launch, NCS also announced that it has signed collaboration agreements with Cisco, A*STAR's Institute for Infocomm Research and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) to explore smart city innovations.

"Through SURF@NCS we aim to partner best-of-breed technology providers to build a vibrant eco-system where we can co-operate solutions to enhance essential government services and deliver game changing enterprise innovations," said NCS CEO Chia Wee Boon. 

- CNA/av

Companies' Brief


Parkson Retail Asia's Q2 profit drops 24.6% to S$10.2m

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

Department store operator Parkson Retail Asia reported a 24.6 per cent year-on-year slide in net profit to S$10.2 million for the second quarter ended Dec 31, 2014. The bottom line was impacted by losses from new stores during their gestation period as well as closure costs from its Landmark-Keangnam store in Vietnam, among other things.

-By Nisha Ramchandani

KOP returns to the black in Q3 on stake divestment gain

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

KOP Ltd, whose businesses encompass the property and entertainment industries, said on Monday that a stake divestment gain has put the company back in the black for the fiscal third quarter. The company, which gained its Catalist listing in May last year from the reverse takeover of Scorpio East Holdings, posted a net profit of S$39.9 million for the three months ended Dec 31, 2014, against a net loss S$117,000 a year ago.

-By Jamie Lee

KepLand makes first London purchase in two decades

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

Keppel Land has announced its first London investment in about two decades, with the £91 million (S$187.5 million) purchase of a nine-storey freehold office block. It said on Monday evening that it has inked a sales and purchase agreement with Aberdeen Property Trust for the building at 75 King William Street.

-By Kalpana Rashiwala

Ascendas India Trust to buy CyberVale for S$35.2m

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

The trustee-manager of Ascendas India Trust on Monday said it plans to acquire CyberVale from its sponsor Ascendas Group for about S$35.2 million. CyberVale is an IT special economic zone with about 600,000 square feet (sq ft) of built-up area. The property comprises two operational buildings and vacant land that can yield an approximately 400,000 sq ft IT building.

Sing Investments & Finance full-year profit up 10.4%

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

Sing Investments & Finance said net profit for its fiscal full-year rose 10.4 per cent to S$12.7 million. Net interest income and hiring charges gained 8.4 per cent at S$32.6 million.

Views, Reviews & Forum


Restrict the use of CPF for property to boost retirement savings

Source: Business Times / Opinion

As worries over retirement adequacy come to the fore, Singapore has to embark on the politically challenging debate of whether to introduce restrictions on the amount of CPF savings that can be used to purchase property. There will always be people buying properties that they cannot afford in the hope of a quick flip. People are more likely to overextend themselves when buying private properties, or one of the resale flats that the market is pricing at around S$1 million in attractive locations such as Duxton, Queenstown, or Bishan.

Global Economy & Global Real Estate


China property slowdown weighs on Yongmao's Q3

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

Joan Rivers’ NYC Penthouse Listed for Sale at $28 Million

Source: Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- The Manhattan penthouse once home to Joan Rivers, the comedian and television personality who died last September, was listed for sale Monday at $28 million.

The 5,100-square-foot (470-square-meter) triplex on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was owned by Rivers for 25 years, according to a brokerage listing by Leighton Candler of Corcoran Group. The property, at 1 East 62nd St., off Fifth Avenue, was built in 1903, and its original owners were Alice and John S. Drexel, according to the listing.

“The home’s centerpiece is a ballroom and adjoining music room with 23-foot ceilings,” which “allow for entertaining on a grand scale,” according to Candler’s listing. “Adjacent to the music room is a dining room that allows for more intimate gatherings -- its three French doors opening to the south-facing terrace, allowing for al fresco dining.”

The limestone property, described as a penthouse condominium, has five fireplaces, two kitchens and four full bathrooms. Common charges on the property are estimated at $16,812 a month, while monthly taxes are about $8,525, according to the listing.

The median sale price of Manhattan luxury homes fell to $4.8 million in the fourth quarter, down 2 percent from a year earlier, according to brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate and appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. The inventory of luxury homes, defined as the top 10 percent of the market by price, climbed 31 percent to 1,559 apartments for sale.

Rivers, with her rapid-fire, nasal, Brooklyn-inflected delivery, specialized in celebrity gossip, ribaldry and insults. She died at 81 after undergoing a diagnostic procedure at Yorkville Endoscopy LLC in Manhattan. Her estate sued the facility last month, saying it provided reckless and negligent treatment, violated her privacy and abandoned her when she needed emergency care.

-By Oshrat Carmiel

Aussie Housing Bubble Seen Inflating After Rate Cut

Source: Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Geoff Schippers, a mortgage broker in Sydney, has seen an increase in clients looking for homes to buy since the central bank dropped its benchmark rate to a record last week.

“At least 70 percent of my clients are now contemplating investing in a residential property or properties,” Schippers, principal at Scout Finance, said. “A few months ago that proportion was very small. People who were sitting on the sidelines are now motivated to get into the market.”

The Reserve Bank of Australia, which cut the interest rate to 2.25 percent on Feb. 3, faces a conundrum in one of the world’s hottest property markets. As the central bank tries to stimulate economic growth while unemployment rises, its rate reduction also threatens to inflate a housing bubble after speculators pushed prices to record highs.

The nation’s four-biggest lenders reduced their benchmark variable mortgage rates to as low as 5.63 percent after the central bank move. The two largest, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp., cut borrowing costs to a six-year low. National Australia Bank Ltd., the fastest-growing major mortgage lender, dropped rates to an almost 40-year low.

“The rate cuts by the banks will provide a real impetus for the property market,” said Savanth Sebastian, an economist at Commonwealth Securities Ltd., a unit of Commonwealth Bank. “There is certainly a lot of risk in an asset bubble forming in property.”

Exceeding Target

The RBA in September called the housing market unbalanced as mortgages to landlords surpassed those to first-home buyers. When the central bank announced the rate cut last week, it said it was working with other regulatory authorities to assess and contain economic risks that may arise from the housing market.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority urged banks on Dec. 9 to limit lending growth for rental properties to 10 percent a year.

Banks are already exceeding the target suggested by the regulator. In December, annual mortgage growth for investors increased 10.1 percent, the fastest pace since March 2008, according to RBA data.

Sydney is the center of the nation’s frenzied home buying, with the median asking price for a detached property topping A$1 million ($784,000) in November. The median price of homes listed in New York is $549,000, according to Zillow Inc. London values averaged 403,200 pounds ($618,186) in the three months through November, according to property researcher Hometrack Ltd.

The International Monetary Fund estimated in October that Australia has the most overvalued housing market on a price-to-income basis after Belgium.

Investor Losses

Investors are piling into real estate even as an increase in the supply of rental homes drives down yields. About two-thirds of all investors claimed losses on rental property in the year-ended June 2012, a 7.5 percent increase from two years earlier, according to latest data available from the Australian Taxation Office.

Home prices climbed 7.9 percent across major cities last year after doubling in the decade to 2011, according to CoreLogic Inc. They climbed 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter from the previous three months, government data showed on Tuesday. That compared with an expectation for a 1.8 percent increase, according to the mean estimate of 15 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Rental yields for houses fell to 3.7 percent in December from 3.9 percent a year earlier, and for apartments they slipped to 4.5 percent from 4.7 percent, according to the data.

Returns from rents are still better than the 3.2 percent a year rate on average to hold money in Australian fixed-term bank accounts, known as term deposits, the lowest rate on record, according to RBA data. Australia’s 10-year government bonds yielded 2.45 percent on Feb. 6, having touched a record low 2.248 percent on Feb. 3.

Asset Hunt

“Falling yields on deposits have triggered a hunt for assets and investors are doing that without understanding the consequences,” said Martin North, a Sydney-based principal at researcher Digital Finance Analytics. “While house prices are already full on any measure, the quest for yield is going to have a stimulatory effect into the property market and build more risk into the economy.”

Investors accounted for 50 percent of new mortgages in November, up from 46 percent a year earlier, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Debt reached a high of 153 percent of annual household disposable income in September, according to the latest figures from the central bank.

“The rate cut is only going to increase the confidence,” said Schippers, who became a broker in 1998 and has arranged mortgages worth about A$750 million. “People who have been missing on deals will turn aggressive in their bidding.”

Growth Forecast

The central bank last week lowered its forecast for economic growth this year to between 1.75 percent and 2.75 percent, from between 2 percent to 3 percent, and predicted unemployment will rise.

Traders are anticipating that policy makers will lower rates again this year. On Feb. 6, they priced in another quarter-point cut from the RBA by June, with about a 28 percent chance that it could come as soon as March, overnight index swaps data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Luke Gardiner, a mortgage broker in Sydney, said he’s had an increase in customers calling and e-mailing about buying homes following the rate cut. His increase in business comes after a slowdown as growth in home prices cooled. Prices across the major cities climbed 8.1 percent in December from a year earlier, down from 11.7 percent in April, according to data from CoreLogic.

More Confidence

“The rate cut has boosted client confidence,” said Gardiner, who has arranged about A$50 million of mortgages since June 2013. “It’s going to result in more investor loan applications.”

-By Narayanan Somasundaram       

Starwood to Sell NYC’s Baccarat Hotel to Chinese Insurer

Source: Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital Group agreed to sell New York’s luxury Baccarat Hotel to an affiliate of China’s Sunshine Insurance Group.

The 114-room property on Manhattan’s West 53rd Street is scheduled to open next month, Starwood said in a statement Monday. The Beijing-based insurer agreed to pay $230 million for the hotel, which occupies the first 12 floors of the 50-story Baccarat Hotel & Residences project, the Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 6.

Chinese companies have accelerated real estate investments in global gateway cities such as New York. In October, Beijing’s Anbang Insurance Group Co. agreed to pay $1.95 billion for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue, an Art Deco landmark and one of the city’s signature properties. It would be highest price paid by a Chinese buyer for a standing U.S. building, Kevin Mallory, global head of hotels for CBRE Group Inc., said when the deal was announced.

That the buyer for the Baccarat “is yet another Chinese insurer could signal an increase in the pace of Chinese institutional capital looking abroad for diversification and safety,” said Ben Carlos Thypin, director of market analysis at property-research firm Real Capital Analytics Inc.

At about $2 million per room, the price for the Baccarat would be the second-highest on that basis for a New York hotel, behind the $2.5 million per room paid for a 75 percent stake in the Plaza Hotel in 2012, Thypin said. That price included the Plaza’s retail space, he said.

Crystal Facade

Starwood Capital built the Baccarat hotel and condominium project with developer Tribeca Associates. The property, with a 125-foot-wide (38-meter-wide) corrugated crystal facade, is across the street from the Museum of Modern Art. The hotel will be managed under a long-term contract by Greenwich, Connecticut-based Starwood’s SH Group.

“Sunshine shares our long-term strategic vision for Baccarat Hotels and will be an excellent partner for the growth of our brands, particularly in the fast-growing travel markets of Asia,” Sternlicht said in the statement. Additional Baccarat Hotels are under construction in Dubai and Rabat, Morocco, he said.

Rooms at the New York hotel feature four-poster beds flanked by marble nightstands, Baccarat crystal light fixtures, white-marble bathroom floors and flat-screen televisions concealed within smoked mirrors, according to the property’s website. The property also has a Spa de la Mer, fitness center and indoor pool.

Room Rates

Nightly rates for the week of March 9 start at $729 for a “classic king” and top out at $18,729 for the “Baccarat suite,” the website shows.

Sunshine is China’s seventh-largest Chinese insurance group, according to Starwood’s statement. The company in November bought a Sheraton hotel in Sydney for A$463 million ($362 million) from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. The Stamford, Connecticut-based hotel company isn’t affiliated with Starwood Capital.

Eastdil Secured LLC advised Starwood Capital in the Baccarat transaction. Sunshine was advised by Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.’s hotels and hospitality group and represented by Holland & Knight LLP.

-By Nadja Brandt & David M Levitt

Flamboyant Malaysian’s real-estate deals called into question

Links with Najib’s family and sovereign wealth fund 1MDB part of an uproar gathering around the Prime Minister and threatening his hold on power

Source: Today Online / World

NEW YORK — In early 2010, a young Malaysian financier named Mr Jho Low began making some very expensive real-estate deals in the United States.

First, a shell company connected to Mr Low, famous back home for partying with the likes of American socialite Paris Hilton, bought a US$24 million (S$32.5 million) apartment in the Park Laurel condominiums in Manhattan. Three years later, that shell company sold the condo to another shell company, this one controlled by someone even more prominent in Malaysia: The film-producing stepson of the Prime Minister.

A similar transaction was playing out on the other side of the country. Mr Low bought a contemporary mansion in Beverly Hills for US$17.5 million, then turned around and sold it, once again to the Prime Minister’s stepson.

Mr Low also went shopping at the Time Warner Center condominiums overlooking Central Park in New York. He toured a 76th-floor penthouse, once home to celebrity couple Jay Z and Beyonce, then in early 2011, used yet another shell company to buy it for US$30.6 million, one of the highest prices in the building.

At the time, Mr Low said he represented a group of investors, said two people with direct knowledge of the transaction. Mr Low recently told The New York Times that he had not bought the penthouse for investors and that it was owned by his family’s trust.

One thing is clear: As with nearly two-thirds of the apartments at the Time Warner Center, a dark-glass symbol of New York’s luxury condominium boom, the people behind Penthouse 76B cannot be found in any public real-estate records. The trail ends with Mr Low.

Mr Low, 33, is a skilful, and more than occasionally flamboyant, iteration of the sort of operative essential to the economy of the global super-rich. Just as many of the wealthy use shell companies to keep the movement of money opaque, they also use people such as Mr Low. Whether shopping for new business opportunities or real estate, he has often done so on behalf of investors or, as he likes to say, friends. Whether the money belongs to others or is his own, the lines are frequently blurred and the identity of the buyer elusive.

Mr Low’s lavish spending has raised eyebrows and questions from Kuala Lumpur to New York, where he has made a boldface name for himself as a “whale” at clubs such as the Pink Elephant and 1Oak. The New York Post once called him “the mystery man of city club scene”, adding: “Speculation is brewing over where Low is getting his money from.”

One answer resides at least indirectly in his relationship, going back to his school days in London, with the family of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Mr Low has played an important role in bringing Middle Eastern money into numerous deals involving the Malaysian government and he helped set up, and has continued to advise, a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund that Mr Najib oversees.

That relationship has now become part of an uproar gathering around the Prime Minister and threatening his already shaky hold on power. In Parliament, political cartoons and social media, Mr Najib’s critics tend to argue that he is too close to Mr Low.

Increasingly, the glare turns to Mr Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz and his friendship with Mr Low. With Mr Low’s help, Mr Aziz runs a Hollywood company that produced the films The Wolf Of Wall Street and Dumb And Dumber To. He has spent tens of millions more on homes in Manhattan and Beverly Hills — transactions that involved Mr Low, The Times found.

“That’s a lot of money,” Mr Sivarasa Rasiah, an opposition lawmaker, said of Mr Aziz’s spending. He added, “Every US report on him talks about family wealth. Family who?”

While Mr Aziz had previously said he was personally wealthy, he declined to explain how he had acquired his money. In a statement, Mr Najib’s office said: “The Prime Minister does not track how much Mr Aziz earns or how such earnings are reinvested.” As for the Prime Minister himself, the statement said he had “received inheritance”.

In a statement provided by a spokesman, Mr Low, whose full name is Low Taek Jho, said he was a friend of Mr Aziz and his family. His real-estate transactions with Mr Aziz were made “on an arm’s-length basis”, he said, adding that he had never bought real estate in the US for the Mr Najib’s family or “engaged in any wrongful conduct regarding any financial matters for the Prime Minister and his family”.


To mention Mr Low in Malaysia is to conjure the image of a baby-faced young man in rimless glasses and a loose black V-neck, holding a magnum of Cristal and surrounded by celebrities. But if he is sometimes derided as a tabloid party boy who once flew a group of bottle girls from New York to Malaysia, the reality is that the clubbing life, for Mr Low, was actually a way to build a booming business managing money for his friends.

“I think a relationship with an investor is not just about managing their money well,” he said in an extensive interview in 2010 with Malaysian newspaper The Star. “Although it is not in my job scope, if my friend says he wants a flight urgently to somewhere or he wants a dinner reservation at a well-known place, I’ll do my best to make it happen.”

He also said: “I am usually the concierge service that arranges everything and thus, my name is all over the place.”

Around George Town on Penang Island where he grew up, the Lows were seen as a family of somewhat deflated affluence, said several businessmen who have known them for years. The father, Larry, was an executive for an investment holding company called MWE Holdings, but he split with his partner in the mid-1990s and faded from the local business scene. Still only a teenager, Mr Jho Low, the youngest of three children, emerged as the family’s best hope for the future.

There was money for education abroad, and in London, while attending the ancient and elite Harrow school, Mr Low became friends with Mr Aziz who was studying at the London School of Economics. He also grew close to Mr Aziz’s mother Rosmah Mansor, who stayed for months at a time in an apartment she kept there.

In college, at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr Low kept up his ties back home by running a Malaysian student group. But he also came to know the children of prominent Jordanian and Kuwaiti families. Even before graduating, he was managing money for what he later described as “my family and close Middle Eastern and South-east Asian friends”.

After college, many of his early business deals were based in Malaysia — helping a Kuwaiti bank buy a high-rise complex called the Oval and bringing Middle Eastern money into the country to finance a commercial zone in the south and a new financial district in the capital. By 2007, he had formed an investment group that included a Malaysian prince, a Kuwaiti sheikh and a friend from the United Arab Emirates who went on to become Ambassador to the US and Mexico.

Two years later, he was pitching his idea for a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. His plan was to invest public money for the public good through a fund tied to one of the country’s oil-producing states, and so he began wooing the Sultan of Terengganu, who was also Malaysia’s king under the nation’s rotating monarchy.

It was all about making connections, making friends. Success, he told The Star, is “attributable to being at the right place and right time and meeting the right people coupled with a trusting relationship”.

In April 2009, those ingredients all came together for Mr Low. The stepfather of his friend Mr Aziz became Prime Minister of Malaysia.


Mr Low’s business romance with Malaysia’s king, it turned out, was short-lived. But the new Prime Minister was happy to have a way to benefit the nation writ large and the sovereign wealth fund soon morphed into a new one, called 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Mr Najib became chairman of the board of advisers of 1MDB, which calls itself a “strategic development company”. A close Penang friend of Mr Low’s father became a director and two of Mr Low’s friends joined the staff. Mr Low himself was not given an official role, but he is regularly consulted on its actions, said three people who have had regular dealings with 1MDB, but who requested anonymity to preserve relationships.

In his statement to The Times, Mr Low played down his role in 1MDB, saying that “from time to time and without receiving compensation”, he had given his views on various matters.

While Mr Low has no official position with the fund, it emerged in British court documents in 2012 that he had presented a letter of support from 1MDB in his investors’ unsuccessful bid for the hotel group that includes Claridge’s. He also said the financing would be fully underwritten by Malaysian government investment funds, the documents showed.

Mr Low and 1MDB also had dealings with an oil-drilling company called PetroSaudi International, which had been founded by a Saudi businessman and a Saudi prince.

Soon after its creation, 1MDB invested US$1 billion in a joint venture with PetroSaudi. A few months later, a PetroSaudi subsidiary bought a Malaysian holding company, UBG, in which Mr Low and his investors held a substantial stake, public records showed. News media reports did not say so, but corporate records reviewed by The Times showed that a director of the PetroSaudi subsidiary was a close friend of Mr Low named Mr Geh Choh Hun.

PetroSaudi has told the Malaysian press that the deals were unrelated. And both men said Mr Geh was not representing Mr Low’s interest in the deal.

By 2011, 1MDB pulled out of the PetroSaudi joint venture. The proceeds, however, were not immediately returned to Malaysia. Instead, they ended up in a Cayman Islands company and managed by an investment firm that 1MDB only recently identified. The money was recently returned to 1MDB, the fund has said.

The Caymans manoeuvre has stirred an outcry even within Mr Najib’s own party. “I don’t understand why the government carries on with 1MDB,” Mr Daim Zainuddin, a former Finance Minister, said in an interview. “To me, it’s quite frightening because you don’t know what they’re doing,” he said, adding: “Why must government money be parked?”

There have been other criticisms as well — that the fund has taken on large amounts of debt and that some of its investments have benefited large donors to Mr Najib’s party.

The Prime Minister’s office said 1MDB was run by professional managers and that many blue-chip companies do business with funds registered in the Caymans. The criticisms, it added, “need to be examined for political motivation”.

A year ago, accounting firm KPMG refused to sign off on 1MDB’s financials, said Mr Nur Jazlan Mohamed, chairman of Parliament’s audit committee. KPMG declined to comment for this article. The fund, which described the parting as amicable, found a new auditor: Deloitte.

Mr Nur Jazlan, a member of Mr Najib’s party, said the Deloitte blessing gave him comfort. “They wouldn’t sanction the accounts if there was a problem,” he said. Still, he acknowledged that conditions were fertile for fraud, given the scant oversight of 1MDB.

Over the summer, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who led the country for 22 years and retains considerable influence, publicly denounced Mr Najib and called on him to reform 1MDB.


The year before Mr Low showed up at the Time Warner Center, the New York news media reported the US$24 million purchase of an apartment in the Park Laurel, a few blocks away on West 63rd Street.

The purchase, the reports said, had been made by a shell company on behalf of two residents of Switzerland. Those reports were mistaken. The Swiss “buyers” were actually Rothschild bankers. The real party behind the shell company was Mr Low, whose spokesman acknowledged to The Times that the condo had been bought by a trust benefiting his family.

Nearly three years later, the Lows sold it to Mr Aziz’s shell company for US$33.5 million in cash — a 40 per cent appreciation.

The sale involved a string of shell companies. In one spot on the property transfer, Mr Aziz is listed as the “sole director” of Sorcem Investments, a British Virgin Islands company that was behind the shell company that bought the Park Laurel condo.

The transfer of the Beverly Hills house from Mr Low to Mr Aziz was even more opaque. After Mr Low’s shell company, 912 North Hillcrest Road (BH) LLC, paid US$17.5 million for the home — 11,573sqf, with five bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, private gardens and a glowing pyramid in the reflecting pool — his trust sold ownership of that shell company to a corporate entity controlled by Mr Aziz, both men acknowledged to The Times.

Legally, however, the property itself never changed hands. The same shell company appears as owner in the public property records of Los Angeles County. It is as if nothing ever happened.

Mr Aziz confirmed that he owned the New York condo as well as the Beverly Hills house.

Mr Low said the transactions were done at fair-market value. He sold the Beverly Hills property, he said, because he had found another nearby. That house cost US$39 million.

Back in New York, the Time Warner Center was a natural destination because Mr Low’s friends already owned apartments there. With the penthouses on the top five floors of the north tower came wraparound views — the Catskill Mountains far off to the north-west, the Statue of Liberty just beyond the southern tip of Manhattan and Central Park right next door. Mr Low went to view Penthouse 76B with a retinue of women and told people involved in the deal that he would pay US$30.6 million — all cash, as in his other real estate purchases.

One member of the condominium board and another person with direct knowledge of the deal said they believed Mr Low was buying for a group of investors. One of them recalled Mr Low saying a main investor was the family of Mr Najib.

In its statement to The Times, the Prime Minister’s office said Mr Najib had no financial interest or any agreement related to any Time Warner condominiums.

Mr Low’s statement said the condo was owned by his family’s trust and that he and other family members stayed there from time to time when they are in New York.

Lately, Mr Low has been emphasising that he is investing his family’s money and no longer managing money for investors and friends.

After portraying himself for years as a friend of people with money — and saying in the 2010 interview with The Star that he came from a “fairly okay family” — he has started to say that he was born with it himself. Last year, he did an interview with The Wall Street Journal, which reported that his grandfather had made a fortune in mining and liquor investments in Thailand. The Journal’s account — which said the Low family had a US$1.75 billion fortune and called Mr Low a scion — was immediately picked up in Malaysia.

As befits the modern scion, Mr Low has lately begun trading in another asset class: Contemporary art. His entry into the art market has generated buzz both for his youth and for the fact that he has become such a significant force so fast. Last year, he made the ARTnews list of the world’s 200 leading private collectors.

The art market is even more opaque than real estate, so that list is based not on actual sales data but on the assessments of people in the industry who know about collectors’ holdings. But two people familiar with Mr Low’s activities in the art world said he had taken a liking to pop art.

“Inserting a Jho Low at the top of the market — who buys pictures over US$20 million, US$30 million, US$40 million — it swings the market,” one of them said.

To the public, of course, the buyer is anonymous. But among the purchases Mr Low has been involved in, they said, is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Dustheads, for US$48.8 million.

Asked if his family owned the painting, Mr Low said he did not buy Dustheads on behalf of any investor. Asked about his involvement in the art market, he replied: “The Low family is interested in fine art.”

-By The New York Times

If you can’t beat them, join them

In Macau, casino operators join China reform wagon

Source: Today Online / Business

HONG KONG — Leading China’s anti-corruption campaign, President Xi Jinping warned Macau in December that the world’s biggest gambling hub needs to be about more than baccarat. Now, the reform drive has new champions — the casino operators.

The firms that lead the former Portuguese colony’s US$44 billion (S$60 billion)-a-year gaming business are pledging to spend billions of dollars to open more amenities such as convention centres and theatres, and touting their credentials as good employers.

The stakes are high as Mr Xi’s zeal for squashing ostentatious spending squeezes revenue growth to a low since the industry was liberalised in 2001, with high-rollers quitting Macau’s tables.

The rate of casino revenue growth last month was 17 percentage points lower than a year earlier, the eighth consecutive monthly decline, and this month is set to be the worst on record with analysts predicting growth will be down some 35 percentage points.

Officials are set to review Macau’s 35 casinos and will examine how operators have diversified away from gambling in deciding who gets the most gaming tables in a new strip modelled on Las Vegas, and who hangs on to concessions set to expire from 2020.

The industry review is also likely to shed light on what the casino operators can expect when the first of their licences start to expire, particularly after Mr Lionel Leong Vai Tac, Secretary for Economy and Finance in Macau, said last month there may be changes in taxes on casinos, reported local media, without giving details.

“We believe it’s in the very best interests of the concession holders to demonstrate to the government the significant investment they are making to help diversify the economy towards other forms of entertainment such as theatre and cultural activities,” said Mr Aaron Fischer, an analyst at CLSA in Hong Kong.

The six licensed casino operators in the special administrative region are prepared to adapt and say their track record shows it can be done.

Despite the extended slide in revenue growth, casino operators remain determined to make it big in Macau, with new developments coming up fast.

Over the next three years, the operators, including Melco Crown, SJM Holdings, Galaxy Entertainment Group and MGM China Holdings, will open new resorts on the Cotai strip, a reclaimed stretch of land between the bustling main peninsula of Macau and Coloane island, which is modelled on the Las Vegas strip.

These developments point to the future of the gaming industry in Macau, featuring much more than baccarat card tables and roulette wheels.

Galaxy’s newest development is set to open on the Cotai strip in May, together with its new Broadway property, which will house a 3,000-seat theatre.

Meanwhile, Melco Crown is expected to open its movie-themed Studio City in the third quarter with facilities that include a Ferris wheel that stands more than 400-ft tall, a night club and a 5,000-seat concert hall.

-By Reuters

Australia rate cut good for foreign builders, buyers

But borrowing rates still considered high, and strict lending will limit the odds of an investor-driven bubble

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

Japan inspired 'water-house' could slash energy needs

Water absorbs heat during hot spells and distributes it during cold snaps

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

New York, HK offer world's lowest office yields

Source: Business Times / Real Estate           

Sun Hongbin - from prison inmate to white knight

Now one of China's richest business execs, Sunaco CEO is also rescuing Kaisa Group

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

US property agents seeking to use drones for aerial photography

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

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