Real News‎ > ‎2015‎ > ‎January 2015‎ > ‎

19th January 2015

Singapore Economy 

Foreign worker curbs ‘to reduce income disparity’

Better pay for blue-collar jobs with fewer work-pass holders coming in to do construction, plumbing work, says Grace Fu

Source: Today Online / Singapore

SINGAPORE — The income disparity between blue-collar jobs and higher-paying ones will decrease in future with the tightening of Singapore’s foreign-worker policies, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu yesterday in a community dialogue.

Citing the example of Australia, where plumbers are the highest-paid workers over weekends, Ms Fu said Singapore “is going to be like that because we are not going to have so many work-pass holders to come in (to) do construction or plumbing jobs”.

She added: “So if you have skills like this, you’re going to demand better pay and that’s really the future of Singapore, where the disparity is not as great as now. What would be blue-collar jobs will get better pay.”

Ms Fu was speaking to residents and students while on a ministerial community visit to Tampines East.

During a 70-minute dialogue, questions about foreign labour, the integration of immigrants here and opportunities for Singaporeans dominated proceedings.

The starting point of Singapore’s policies on foreign labour is the interest and benefit of Singaporeans, said Ms Fu, who is Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources as well as Foreign Affairs.

Singapore has to be economically attractive, remaining open, so companies will continue to invest here and provide jobs and options for locals, she noted.

While the Government is creating more education opportunities for Singaporeans — through the setting up of the Singapore University of Technology and Design as well as the Singapore Institute of Technology, for example — the bigger question is whether a university degree trains people appropriately for jobs here.

Through initiatives such as SkillsFuture, the Government is encouraging students to pick up skills that are relevant to the jobs out there and ensuring opportunities to upgrade as they go.

“(If) you deepen your skills, you can become an expert and there are very well-paying jobs waiting for us,” she said.

Two student participants noted that social tension and unhappiness could arise between Singaporeans and foreigners here, as shown by the outcry that followed a Filipino nurse’s recent online remarks calling Singaporeans “loosers” (losers) in their country.

Ms Fu urged Singaporeans to take a firm stand against insensitive comments made by a minority, but remain calm, cool-headed and united.

There are black sheep among both Singaporeans and foreigners who make insensitive comments about others, she added.

However, other fault lines, such as those along race and religion, may also surface. “Our position is that we must, first of all, be sensitive to one another. There’s a certain limit when we talk about freedom of speech. You have to take into consideration (the relationship among different races and religions) in Singapore, so be careful when you make the remarks,” she said.

Asked whether there were people who had left after taking up Singapore citizenship, Ms Fu said the number is “very low” and has been stable for a long time.

New citizens may come to Singapore for economic opportunities — as did many immigrants in the early days — but many become “valuable, really good Singapore citizens who put their heart and soul in this place”, she said, urging Singaporeans to give them a chance.

The Government has also raised the requirements for one to be considered for citizenship, added Ms Fu.

Asked after the dialogue about issues being raised on foreigners, Ms Fu told reporters those are perennial issues that merit the reiteration of mutual respect when incidents arise and said she was glad the youth are taking interest in such issues.

-By Neo Chai Chin

UOB suit: former agents' sons, daughter, nephew also named

Lending bank claims conspiracy by 8 defendants in purchase and mortgages for 38 Sentosa condo units

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

Two former real estate agents and their related parties have denied allegations by United Overseas Bank that they were involved in a "conspiracy" to mislead the bank into offering them inflated housing loans.

Goh Buck Lim, a former employee of ERA Realty, and Aurellia Adrianus Ho, a former freelance property agent, said in their statement of defence that they are not liable to the plaintiff for any alleged purchase price misrepresentations of 38 condo units at Marina Collection (MC) in Sentosa.

-By Lynette Khoo

S'pore empty homes may climb to highest since 1998

Increasing number of apartment vacancies is putting pressure on some landlords and giving the upper hand to tenants

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

Sam King had a pleasant surprise when the lease on his Singapore apartment came up for renewal late last year. For the first time in six years, Mr King was able to negotiate a lower rent with his landlord.

"It has turned into a tenant's market," said the 29-year-old sales director at an aviation services company, who got a 10 per cent reduction in the rent on his two-bedroom penthouse in the east of Singapore. His landlord also agreed to split some renovation costs, and provide new curtains and lights.

Holland Village mall acts to inject fresh verve

Lower rents, shorter leases, brighter lights among steps to pep up centre

Source: Straits Times / Singapore

OWNERS of units at the Holland Road Shopping Centre are slashing rents, shortening leases and spending money on refurbishment in a bid to breathe new life into the ageing mall.

They are hoping to attract new tenants and keep existing ones, so boosting business in the mall, which has seen crowds dwindle.

A check by The Straits Times found that new and long-time tenants have had their monthly rentals cut by 20 to 30 per cent, with some slashed by half.

Some tenants, for instance, are paying about $3,800 a month for a 200 sq ft unit, which is less than half of what an Orchard Road retailer pays. And at least one tenant has struck a deal to pay weekly rents, rather than being tied to year-long or two-year leases.

Lower rent also prompted the well-known EMF Bookstore to re-open in the mall last September, seven months after it closed, citing high operating costs and higher rentals. It had been operating at the mall for 27 years.

Its sole proprietor, Mr Eddie Zhang, said he was approached by his former landlord and is now renting a 500 sq ft unit for less than what he used to pay, although he declined to say by how much.

The mall's management is also trying to add buzz to the three- storey complex, which was built in 1972. It will spend more than $100,000 this year to change ceiling lights and install new glass doors.

In its heyday, Holland Road Shopping Centre attracted expatriates, Singaporeans and tourists on the hunt for furniture, art and antiques, as well as festive decorations. But in recent years, the mall has become a shadow of its former self, even after the opening of the Holland Village MRT station on the Circle Line in 2011.

Several tenants blamed the decline on lack of variety, with nail bars and massage parlours taking over the premises of several shops which moved out in recent years.

Shoppers in the area are also spoilt for choice, with malls like JEM, Westgate, Clementi Mall and Star Vista opening since 2011.

But Mr Alan Ng, chairman of Holland Road Shopping Centre's Management Corporation Strata Title, said there is a limit to what it can do. That is because the mall's 111 units are owned by 78 owners, who set their own rents.

Mr Ng, who is an owner as well, added: "Everyone wants to look after his own interests.

"Some landlords think that nail salons give the highest return... It's difficult to control in that sense, if we do not own something, we can't enforce rules."

Mr Neil Piaro, who owns carpet shop Mark Ashley, is moving out in March, after 12 years. "It's quiet... It's just not worth it to stay on," he said.

Under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Master Plan, Holland Village is designated as an "identity node", a neighbourhood with distinctive features worth keeping.

Retail competition is likely to hot up even more with the opening of a new medical centre, along with shops and food and beverage outlets, opposite the mall, possibly by next year.

But some people hope the mall can recapture its charm.

One of them is Mr Donald Ho, who chose the Holland Road mall over Jurong Point to set up a shop selling silk products.

Besides a cheaper monthly rent of $3,000 for a 160 sq ft unit, he said, the customers in the area "are more discerning and knowledgeable, so they are willing to spend more on quality".

-By Jermyn Chow & Jessica Lim

Keppel Land to buy 4.6 ha site in Jakarta

Source: Business Times / Companies & Markets

Keppel Land has inked a conditional agreement to acquire a 4.6 hectare site in West Jakarta for 381.9 billion rupiah (S$40.2 million), where it plans to develop a high-rise condominum with ancillary shophouses and shop units. The development, which will be launched in phases starting 2017, will consist of over 4,000 units, from studio apartments to three-bedroom units. Keppel Land is planning to position the property for sale to homebuyers in the middle-income segment, it said on Sunday.

-By Nisha Ramchandani

Keppel Land to buy Jakarta site for $42m

Source: Straits Times / Money

KEPPEL Land said it had signed a conditional agreement to buy a piece of land in West Jakarta for about 381.9 billion rupiah (S$42 million), where it plans to build 4,000 condominium units.

The 4.6ha site is a 15-minute drive from Jakarta's main airport, Soekarno-Hatta International, the company said in a statement yesterday.

It said it will sign a sale-and-purchase agreement later to develop a high-rise condominium for "middle-income" buyers. The project will offer a range of units from studio apartments to three-bedders, as well as shops.

Keppel Land has other projects planned in the Indonesian capital as it taps growth in Asean's largest economy.

It said recently that it would redevelop the 18-storey International Financial Centre (IFC) Jakarta Tower 1 into a 49-storey building. It is currently constructing IFC Jakarta Tower 2.

The company also bought another residential site in West Jakarta, for a high-rise condominium development as well.

Keppel Land Indonesia president  Sam Moon Thong said: "Indonesia is one of the group's key growth markets, and we will continue to strengthen our presence in the country."

Building world-class architecture in Singapore

Source: Straits Times / Money

SINGAPORE'S construction industry can gear up and deliver on what the best architects need to execute cutting-edge building designs, an internationally-renowned architect has said.

New design technologies, advanced materials and construction methods and precision have helped create "world-class cultural and residential projects" in Singapore, Ms Zaha Hadid told The Straits Times in an interview.

"There is a remarkable degree of enthusiasm, ambition and energy in Singapore that one finds in places where people have embraced the future with confidence - yet not forgotten the past."

Iraqi-born Ms Hadid's first high-rise residential project in Singapore, d'Leedon, was among the first few developments here to use Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology. This manages building processes by translating data on building structures into three-dimensional formats.

The 1,715-unit project in King's Road recently obtained its Temporary Occupation Permit. It was developed by a CapitaLand-led consortium that includes Hotel Properties Limited, a fund managed by Morgan Stanley Real Estate, and Wachovia Development Corporation.

The total cost of developing the District 10 project was about $3 billion, including the $1.3 billion price tag for the 840,049 sq ft site which was bought in a collective sale in 2007.

Ms Hadid said she enjoys the construction stages most when she gets to work closely with engineers and contractors to develop the best methods of construction. "One of the most exciting parts of each project is the initial organisation, which allows the drawing of a new diagram for the building. That's really the beginning of every project - and a very key point."

Though the requirements for residential projects vary around the world, she noted that it is important for her as an architect to understand local and cultural preferences such that all residents will be able to enjoy their homes to the fullest.

"Having a comfortable home is such a crucial issue - not only in terms of a shelter and the basics - but also for well-being, for a better life," she said.

"There's enough total wealth today that all people should have a good home and access to good schools and hospitals."

Ms Hadid - the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize - is now exploring the construction of "exoskeletons" on her projects.

This gives the structure a form of "fluidity" - a trademark of her signature use of curves in buildings.

At the same time, she is working on residential developments in New York, Rio de Janeiro, Miami, China, Mexico and Australia.

-By Cheryl Ong

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

China's new home prices fall 4.3% in Dec

However, property sales volumes in 70 major cities hit highest level in 2014, up nearly 9% from November

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

China home prices fall, further slowdown seen

Source: Straits Times / World

BEIJING - China's new home prices fell significantly in December for a fourth straight month even as year-end sales volumes surged - a sombre omen for fourth-quarter 2014 economic growth data due this week.

Yesterday's gloomy National Burea of Statistics (NBS) data foreshadowed weak economic figures expected tomorrow, with expansion expected to slow to 7.2 per cent, the weakest since the depths of the global financial crisis.

Falling property prices are likely to keep pressure on policymakers to head off a sharper slowdown this year.

The expected slowdown in growth of the world's second-largest economy, from 7.3 per cent in the July-September quarter, means the full-year figure would undershoot the government's 7.5 per cent target and mark the weakest expansion in 24 years.

If the gross domestic product data (GDP) proves worse than expected, some analysts say the People's Bank of China could cut interest rates further or lower reserve requirement ratios for all banks.

A reserve ratio cut would give banks greater capacity to lend, but many market watchers question if they would be willing to increase their exposure as economic conditions deteriorate.

With real-estate investment accounting for about 15 per cent of China's GDP growth, a 9 per cent decline in new floor space under construction in the first 11 months of 2014 could take a heavy toll.

Mr Wang Tao, China economist at UBS, wrote in a note: "We expect China's GDP growth to slow further in 2015 to 6.8 per cent, as the ongoing property downturn leads to further weakness in construction and industrial production, and related investment."

The NBS data showed that last month's new home prices fell an average 4.3 per cent, year on year, in 68 of the 70 major cities it monitors.

But in something of a policy success for Beijing, property sales volumes in 70 major cities last month hit the highest level seen last year.

This is up nearly 9 per cent from November, according to data from the NBS.

-By Reuters

Chinese home prices fell in December for fourth straight month

Persistent oversupply likely to keep pressure on real estate prices and investment

Source: Today Online / Business

BEIJING — China’s new home prices fell significantly in December for a fourth straight month, with persistent oversupply expected to keep pressure on real estate prices and investment, though year-end sales surged.

Average new home prices across China fell 4.3 per cent last month compared with year-ago levels, a faster decline than the 3.7 per cent drop seen in November, based on Reuters calculations from official data published yesterday.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data showed new home prices fell year-on-year in 68 of the 70 major cities it monitors, unchanged from November, though year-end sales volumes surged.

Mr Liu Jianwei, senior statistician at the NBS, said recent policy relaxations including November’s official interest rate cut and cheaper loans had boosted home-buying interest as developers pushed year-end sales.

Property sales last month in 70 major cities hit the highest level seen last year, up nearly 9 per cent from November, data from the NBS showed.

China’s top listed residential developer China Vanke reported a 129 per cent surge in sales last month from a year earlier, while sales over the same period for mid-sized Country Garden leapt 167 per cent.

The gloomy house price news foreshadowed economic growth data for 2014 due out tomorrow, with expansion expected to slow to 7.2 per cent, the weakest since the depths of the global financial crisis.

With real estate investment accounting for about 15 per cent of China’s gross domestic product growth, a 9 per cent decline in new floor space under construction in the first 11 months of last year could take a heavy toll.

“We expect China’s GDP growth to slow further in 2015 to 6.8 per cent, as the ongoing property downturn leads to further weakness in construction and industrial production, and related investment,” Mr Tao Wang, China economist at UBS, wrote in a note.

China’s real estate market has been plagued by falling prices and high inventories in recent months, crimping demand in 40 economic sectors ranging from steel to cement to furniture.


Property researcher CRIC said housing supply remains excessive despite the pick-up in sales, with only two major cities of 23 it studied seeing a decline in inventory at the end of last month.

“In most Tier 2 or Tier 3 cities, inventory destocking remains the main task for local property markets in 2015,” noted Mr Liu Yuan, the head of research at Shanghai property consultant Centaline.

Yet, despite falling prices and a stock overhang, several Chinese developers have said they will launch more housing projects this year as they strive to meet sales targets and boost market share — at the risk of adding to already-bloated inventories.

China Home Prices Fall in Fewer Cities as Demand Grows

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

New-home prices fell in fewer Chinese cities last month as some areas benefited from a recovery in housing sales after the government eased property curbs and cut interest rates for the first time since 2012.

Prices dropped from a month earlier in 65 of the 70 cities tracked by the government, the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement today. That compares with declines in 67 cities in November.

Housing sales rebounded in major cities last month after the central bank in November trimmed borrowing costs and eased curbs on an industry that had become a drag on the nation’s slowing economy, unleashing demand from homebuyers. If the momentum is maintained, nationwide home sales may see the first annual increase in 12 months in January, signaling the bottom of the market, according to Barclays Plc.

“The property price cycle will turn a corner this year, and will be better than consensus expectation,” Hao Hong, the Hong Kong-based head of China research at Bocom International Holdings Co., said before today’s data release, citing more favorable mortgage policies following the interest rate cut. “As sales volume picks up, prices should, too.”

Home sales by area jumped 10 percent last month from November in the 23 major cities tracked by China Real Estate Information Corp., as developers tapped the improved sentiment among homebuyers to clear inventories, according to the advisory firm.

-By Bloomberg News

Shenzhen home prices rebound as rate cuts lift demand

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

For sale: former missile silo in New Mexico desert

Site 10 storeys deep capable of withstanding a nuclear blast

Source: Business Times / Real Estate