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5th January 2015

Singapore Economy

As risks loom large, growth takes an uncertain course

US economic recovery offset by weaker growth in Singapore's other key trading partners, monetary policy and geopolitical risks

Source: Business Times / Government & Economy

THE Singapore economy is officially expected to grow 2-4 per cent this year: the exact same forecast as a year ago for 2014. But this range could mean either a pick-up in growth or further slowdown in 2015 - and it's anyone's guess given the diverse range of risks to growth, both domestic and external. 

Advance estimates last Friday put Singapore's 2014 growth at 2.8 per cent - in the lower half of the government's forecast range and significantly slower than 2013's 3.9 per cent. For now, market economists expect some improvement in 2015, with a median forecast of 3.2 per cent growth this year.

This is largely premised on the view that the US economy's strength will power demand for exports, compensating for weaker growth in Singapore's other key trading partners: the eurozone, Japan and China. A year ago, US growth was still tepid, and recovery slow.

Some analysts are also optimistic that the recent plunge in oil prices - Brent crude fell to a new 5.5-year low of under US$56 last Friday - could serve as a growth catalyst for major net importers of oil such as the US, Japan, India and China.

However, recent global economic indicators show that some of the risks which the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said in late November could undermine its 2015 forecast are looming large.

Growth forecasts across the eurozone have been cut, its latest manufacturing purchasing managers' indices point to more weakness and economists expect inflation to have dipped again in December, feeding fears that the eurozone economy could fall into a deflationary spiral.

There are those who think these dangers could be contained.

"With uplift in the US economy, expectations for more easy-money policies from the European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of Japan (BOJ) to prop up their economies, and China maintaining a steady course even as the economy continues to restructure, we believe that the external risks from these countries will be manageable," UOB economists said in their outlook report for Q1 2015.

Indeed, Japan has already passed a US$29 billion stimulus package to spur growth and analysts think falling inflation could force the BOJ to ease policy further this year. ECB president Mario Draghi on Friday also hinted that aggressive stimulus is around the corner, to fight the eurozone's dangerously low inflation.

However, this very divergence in global monetary policies creates its own risks, other economists point out. Already, uncertainty over when and how quickly the US Federal Reserve will hike interest rates is raising concern over an unexpected move hitting financial markets and business sentiment.

With major central banks moving in opposite directions, interest rate expectations will fluctuate and currencies will be volatile, with significant impact on financial markets too, said DBS economist Irvin Seah. And the ripples from such volatility will inevitably be felt in small, open Singapore, he added.

Other external risks include the possibility that China's ongoing property market correction may take a sharper turn, causing mortgage defaults to spike - which could slow China's growth further. Unlike a year ago, MTI has also flagged downside risks from ongoing geopolitical tensions and the possibility of a global Ebola outbreak.

Domestically too, challenges from last year have been carried over into the new year. The labour crunch continues, with a final round of foreign worker quota cuts and levy hikes due to hit employers in July.

The construction sector will still face a double whammy of manpower constraints and a slowing property market. Citi economist Kit Wei Zheng estimates that the 10-15 per cent decline in house prices that he anticipates could shave 0.4-0.6 per cent off headline GDP growth this year, via weaker construction investments alone.

And while the pain of economic restructuring intensifies, the productivity gains that should offset higher wage costs have yet to materialise, five years after the push towards productivity-driven growth began. Singapore experienced negative productivity growth of -0.5 per cent in the first three quarters of 2014.

Higher US interest rates expected this year could filter through to Singapore rates and dampen consumer spending, which is possibly already slow due to the negative wealth effect from falling home prices, said Manu Bhaskaran, founder of economic consultancy Centennial Asia.

"Barring a huge boost from global demand that could offset these domestic adjustments, the domestic economy will remain a drag, and may even worsen," Mr Bhaskaran wrote in a recent note. But as long as the global economy holds up, Singapore should be able to absorb the costs of domestic restructuring to grow a modest 3 per cent, he said.

-By Teh Shi Ning

Local interest rates creeping up as Singapore dollar falls

Observers say rates will move further up even in the absence of Fed rate hikes

Source: Business Times / Banking & Finance

LOCAL interest rates have been on a slow upwards creep, and on the first working day of the New Year, rose to a 52-week high as the Singapore dollar continues to weaken against the greenback.

The key three-month Sibor, or Singapore interbank offered rate, on which most home loans are pegged rose to 0.45738 per cent on Jan 2, up 17.6 per cent from the low of 0.38885 per cent on Feb 21.

The benchmark rate had been flatlining for much of the first half of 2014 until it began its slow rise from August, then picked-up pace steadily as the USD rallied. The SGD has fallen to four-year lows against the USD. At last Friday's 1.328, it is down more than 7.0 per cent from last year's July 23 high of 1.238.

Observers say Singapore interest rates are now tied to the strength of the USD and will move further up even in the absence of rate hikes from the US Federal Reserve. Expectations are for the US Fed to raise rates in the second part of this year.

"I suspect a large part of the Sibor's upward creep is due to the SGD weakness," said Selena Ling, OCBC Bank economist.

The latest growth data released last week showed that the Singapore economy continues to slow and with not much cost pressures, the SGD is likely to remain weak.

The Singapore economy grew a weaker-than-expected 1.5 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2014, slowing from Q3's 2.8 per cent expansion as the manufacturing sector shrank in the final quarter, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry last Friday.

Full year 2014 growth was 2.8 per cent, down from 2013's 4.1 per cent

There's also "the softer GDP growth coupled with benign inflationary environment which does not warrant an overly aggressive monetary policy stance", Ms Ling added.

Ms Ling said another factor for tighter SGD liquidity has been "intensifying competition for SGD deposits, especially over the year-end."

OCBC's forecast for three-month Sibor is 0.55 per cent and 0.69 per cent for mid- and end-2015, respectively.

DBS Bank projects that the SGD will head to 1.33 by fourth quarter 2015 and 3-month Sibor to reach 0.60 per cent then.

United Overseas Bank (UOB) is more bearish, it expects that the start of the US interest rate normalisation in June 2015 will see further downward pressures on the SGD this year.

Our forecast for the USD/SGD remains at 1.34/USD as of end 2Q 2015, said UOB in its Q12015 outlook.

"With the SGD Sibor positively correlated with the USD Libor (London interbank offered rate), our expectations that the US interest rate normalisation in June 2015 will see the Sibor moving on a higher trajectory in 2015.

We expect the three-month SGD Sibor to move towards 1.00 per cent by end 2015," said UOB.

Should home loan borrowers worry? Some say the pace of the increase could be a concern but as long as the absolute interest rate remains low, the hike in monthly instalments should be manageable.

On a S$100,0000 loan with 20-year tenure, the monthly instalment would rise S$11.45 to S$484.85 if 3-month Sibor moves to 0.70 per cent for a home loan package based on 3-month Sibor + 0.85 per cent, according to OCBC Bank.

Lui Su Kian, DBS Bank (Singapore) head, deposits and secured lending, consumer banking said the best time to lock in an attractive set of fixed rates is during a low interest environment. "Fixed rate packages continue to remain popular with both private property and HDB home owners, but there are also options to have both floating and fixed rates within the same programme," said Ms Lui.

-By Siow Li Sen

Singapore Real Estate

Weak market hit property stocks in 2014

Properties Equity Index fell 5.81%, but some players bucked the trend

Source: Straits Times / Money

PROPERTY stocks listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) had a mixed year in 2014 as the weak property market at home took a toll on many developers.

However, some industry players, including the big developers CapitaLand and City Developments, made healthy gains over the 12 months thanks in large part to strong overseas investments.

Overall, the Singapore Properties Equity Index, representing all property-related counters, suffered a 5.81 per cent drop in market value for the full year.

Among the worst performers were Bukit Sembawang, Guoco- Land, Wing Tai and Ho Bee Land, all hit by hefty share price falls.

Shares of Bukit Sembawang ended the year 17.9 per cent lower at $5.05. The developer has had difficulty selling its projects and reportedly slashed prices by up to 16 per cent to move units of The Vermont on Cairnhill last June.

Developer and investment firm GuocoLand faced similar challenges. Some 25 per cent of its Goodwood Residence in Bukit Timah Road were unsold as of the middle of last month. Its shares closed at $1.78, down 21.2 per cent for the year.

Singapore's private housing market has been hit by tough government cooling measures. Prices fell 4 per cent last year with some analysts expecting up to a 10 per cent drop this year.

Against this backdrop, Singapore-centric Wing Tai suffered amid a challenging 2014. Its shares closed 16.8 per cent lower at $1.64. Ho Bee Land, whose luxurious units at Sentosa Cove have been met with very tepid demand, dropped 8 per cent to close at $1.95.

To buffer against the weak market conditions, developers are pushing to diversify their portfolio into non-residential segments. Ho Bee's investments in office properties - including three in London over the past 18 months - underlined this strategy, and should help the group stabilise its income, DMG & Partners Research said in a recent report.

But it was not all doom and gloom in the real estate sector last year. At the other end of the index, UOL Group, CapitaLand and City Developments notched up big gains in their share prices.

UOL gained 12.4 per cent for the full year to close at $6.96. In November, it reported a 10 per cent jump in its third quarter net profit, helped by a strong contribution from its wholly owned hotel unit Pan Pacific Hotels Group, while its newly opened One KM mall in Tanjong Katong Road is more than 90 per cent let.

CapitaLand, the region's biggest listed developer, is not invulnerable to headwinds affecting residential sales in Singapore, but the group's major projects had been substantially sold as at Sept 30 as the group led the market in implementing price incentives over the latest down cycle, OCBC Investment Research said.

CapitaLand has also been lifted by investments overseas, particularly in China and Vietnam where its projects were a contributor to the group's $130 million net profit for the quarter to Sept 30.

Its shares ended the year 9.2 per cent higher at $3.31.

City Developments (CDL) rose 7 per cent to $10.27 for the full year. The property group is poised for further expansion, following its agreement with Blackstone and CIMB Bank to create an investment platform linked to its Sentosa Cove assets set to raise $1.5 billion. CDL has also made significant investments abroad, with a particularly keen focus on the London area where it has received approvals for projects at Reading, Croydon and Belgravia.

DBS Group Research analyst Derek Tan has a neutral outlook for property plays. "We forecast private property primary transaction volumes will remain subdued at 8,000 to 9,000 in 2015," he said in a report last month. "We expect property developers to continue to focus on building up a base of recurring income from investment properties and seek opportunities regionally."

-By Wong Wei Han

Columbarium issue sparks calls for flat refunds

Would-be residents convey request to HDB through MP at dialogue

Source: Straits Times / Singapore 

SOME upset would-be residents of Fernvale Lea have asked the Housing Board for a refund for their flats over the columbarium issue.

They conveyed their request to Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West, during a three-hour closed-door dialogue which was attended by 400 people.

In spite of assurances from him that there would not be a crematorium or funeral parlour services at the Chinese temple, a group gathered around a table where they could leave contact details for HDB to call them about a refund. It is unclear how many eventually did so.

Dr Lam, giving a quick rundown of the dialogue, said: "They felt uncomfortable that such a (columbarium) service would be provided there and have requested that HDB look at their request for a refund."

The URA and HDB said in a joint statement later in the evening that they are looking into the request.

The Straits Times understands that several of those who attended the dialogue felt that HDB should have been more upfront about the columbarium.

News of the columbarium, which is expected to be completed by next year, had surprised many residents when it was reported last week.

Dr Lam said that it was indicated in the Fernvale Lea brochure for the new flats.

"There is really nothing to hide," he added.

He also noted that it is not uncommon to have columbarium services at places of worship.

Three temples within Anchorvale - Puat Jit Buddhist Temple, Nanyang Thong Hong Siang Tng Temple and Chee Hwan Kog Temple - already have similar set-ups.

There will be 3,258 residential units in the vicinity of the temple, spread across Build-To-Order projects Fernvale Lea and Fernvale Rivergrove, and executive condominium Lush Acres.

To a number of them, the concern was how the resale value of their flats would be affected by all this. One of them was project manager Vicky Naidu, 33, who said that rejecting the flat "is a very tough decision".

"We have already waited for so many years to get a house, so if I reject this, I have got to wait another few years.

"It is not an easy decision to make overnight."

-By Samantha Boh

Outcry in Sengkang over 'next-door' columbarium plans

Home owners in Sengkang said plans for columbarium spaces were not made clear to them and that they were only aware that a Chinese temple will be built. 

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

SINGAPORE: Property owners in Sengkang are up in arms over plans to build a Buddhist temple with columbarium services near their new homes, despite measures to mitigate possible inconveniences for residents being put in place.

About 400 affected home owners and members of the public turned up at a dialogue session on Sunday (Jan 4) with Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min, the temple's developer, Housing and Development Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority. The media was not allowed in. The dialogue held at Anchorvale Community Centre overran by an hour, as many present sought clarifications.

The temple operator said it plans to disallow the open burning of incense within and near the site. It is also looking at managing traffic congestion at the site during festive seasons, and some plans include the provision of bus services to the temple and manning of roads to prevent illegal roadside parking.

The columbarium area will also be kept out of public view, and must not exceed 20 per cent of the temple's overall floor space, according to guidelines by HDB and URA.


As many as 3,300 households could be affected - the site is immediately surrounded by two Build-to-Order (BTO) projects, and one executive condominium (EC) development. Home owners there said plans for columbarium spaces were not made clear to them and that they were only aware that a Chinese temple will be built.

Authorities have since explained that the disclaimer was included in the brochures for some of these public housing projects. But not all home owners were appeased and some took issue with the form that the clause came in.

"It was printed accordingly that it was a 'proposed Chinese temple', but it doesn't state that it has a columbarium there. Why must you print it in the fine print at the footnote?" said Ms Nora Sharif, a flat owner of the BTO project Fernvale Lea.

Others were concerned about flat prices and the fact that a private company was allowed to run the religious site. Australia-based funeral services firm Life Corporation won the tender to run the temple in July last year.

"We should reserve these lands for our religious organisations, said Mr Alex Tan, a unit owner of the Executive Condominium project Lush Acres. “If our religious organisations were to compete with a private entity, in a few years' time we may find our temples and churches priced out of the market. If a Buddhist temple needs to find new land, they may not be able to do so because private companies are bidding higher prices than what a not-for-profit organisation can pay."

The HDB and URA said tenders for places of worship are open to both private companies and religious organisations to allow for flexibility in the choice of operating model. Dr Lam also pointed out that the temple is not the first place of worship run by a private firm.

He added there was no purposeful effort to keep residents informed of the columbarium plans as it was not uncommon for places of worship to house such spaces. One example is the Fo Guang Shan Temple at Punggol Place, which has a columbarium area located near homes.


"The initial reports actually caused a little bit of uneasiness, because they mentioned there will be funeral services and a crematorium. It is one assurance that we gave residents that it will not happen," Dr Lam said, in a separate press conference after the dialogue session on Sunday.

He also said some of the residents who were supposed to move into the nearby housing projects when completed have since asked for refunds. These requests have been forwarded to HDB for consideration, the MP added.

- CNA/ec/kk

Columbarium news irks future residents of Sengkang flats

Source: Today Online / Singapore

SINGAPORE — News that a columbarium would be located close to their future homes has riled some would-be Fernvale Lea residents so much that they are asking the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for a refund on their flat.

The request was made by some among the 400 who turned up at a closed-door dialogue called by Sengkang West Member of Parliament (MP) Lam Pin Min yesterday, although they were assured that the Chinese temple housing the columbarium would not be providing cremation or funeral services,as had been said by articles circulating on social media.

After news broke last week of the coming columbarium, some current and would-be residents around Fernvale Link started an online petition to stop the development, which is expected to be completed by 2016. It has garnered more than 800 signatures.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the HDB said it would look into the residents’ request for a refund.

Petitions started by residents who are unhappy with the siting of facilities — the so-called Not In My Backyard syndrome — are not new.

For example, in 2012, residents in Woodlands Street 83 petitioned against the setting up of an eldercare centre at the void decks of Blocks 860 and 861, while some Toh Yi residents opposed the building of studio apartments for the elderly in their estate.

After the dialogue yesterday, which was organised by the Sengkang West Citizens’ Consultative Committee and involved representatives from the HDB, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the company developing the temple, dozens of future Fernvale Lea residents queued up to give their names and contact details for updates on the possibility of a refund.

Brochures for potential buyers of Fernvale Lea flats had indicated that the nearby Chinese temple might include ancillary services, such as a columbarium.

However, some residents who attended yesterday’s dialogue, which became heated at times during its three-hour span, argued that the possibility should have been made clearer, with some raising their concerns about traffic congestion and the resale value of their property, among others.

Speaking to TODAY about the reactions from the residents over the columbarium, Dr Lam said: “Although it was indicated in the brochures, some of them might have missed it and felt that because they weren’t given prior notice, they could not make an informed decision. I believe most of the unhappiness is because they felt there was a lack of information given to them to make such a decision.”

He added that he had received similar Not In My Backyard feedback about other facilities, such as schools, eldercare services and the new hospital in Anchorvale, and that the way to manage such situations is to find out and address residents’ concerns.

For this particular case, it was important for the dialogue to assure residents that the temple will not offer funeral and crematorium services, he said.

On whether there is any possibility of changing the current plans of the temple to remove the columbarium, the MP said: “We have to leave it up to the HDB and URA to assess the situation.”

Responding to TODAY, the HDB and URA’s statement said approved temples have and are allowed to set aside some space within their buildings for columbarium use.

As the site was sold for the predominant use as a Chinese temple development and not that of a columbarium, the space for the columbarium must not exceed one-fifth of the total gross floor area of the building, it added.

“To protect the amenity of adjoining developments, the columbarium area must also be located inside the main building, out of sight from surrounding developments, preferably in the basement. If it is located above ground, it should be screened from public view,” a spokesperson said, adding that it is not unusual for places of worship to house columbaria.

Meanwhile, soon-to-be residents of Fernvale Lea, such as one who wanted to be known only as Ms Ong, 38, raised the concern that the empty plot of land next to the temple might be developed for funeral services.

The parcel in question is currently earmarked by the URA for civic and community institutions such as police stations, welfare homes as well as funeral parlours.

Dispelling this fear, Dr Lam said he had received assurance from the URA that it is unlikely it will approve any plans for a funeral parlour in the middle of a residential area.

-By Laura Philomin

Short-term rentals 'a boon for tourism and home owners'

Visitors get local experience, owners get needed income: Business group

Source: Straits Times / Singapore

ALLOWING short-term rentals here will boost Singapore's tourism and help home owners make ends meet, a local business association has argued.

The Sharing Economy Association (Singapore) (Seas) raised these points in a paper it has sent to the authorities in a bid to lift the ban on short-term rentals.

Rentals under six months are not allowed for both public and private homes under Housing Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) regulations.

But the URA said last month that it will conduct a public consultation to possibly review its policy for private housing.

Seas argued that short-term rentals can support entrepreneurship as well as give visitors a more "local" experience. They can also distribute tourism outside of "traditional hotel districts", and soak up demand for accommodation during peak periods.

"Research indicates that individuals using a home-sharing platform tend to stay longer and spend more than typical visitors," the paper added.

Formed last year, Seas comprises seven members, including home rental portals Airbnb and PandaBed. It aims to promote Singapore's sharing economy - a marketplace where people can rent and share anything from homes to cars to tools.

The paper said that existing legislation for short-term private property rentals is vague.

Referring to the URA's rules, it said: "It is unclear whether or not these guidelines based on the duration of a stay are supported by the Planning Act."

But responding to queries from The Straits Times, the URA said it issues guidelines to provide transparency and clarity on how the authority exercises its functions under the Planning Act, which governs urban planning and land development.

"The guideline in question... is intended to safeguard the residential living environment of a development, and to ensure that residents are not adversely affected by the frequent turnover of transient occupiers on short-term stays."

It said that the six-month rule was imposed in response to complaints and feedback from residents.

Whether or not enforcement is done depends on the guideline and the case, it added.

The Singapore Hotel Association previously also raised concerns over short-term rentals posing competition to hotels and serviced apartments, and their safety and hygiene standards.

But Seas pointed to security measures on home-sharing platforms, such as review systems which allow hosts and guests to post reviews of each other.

Pointing to other cities that have allowed home sharing, and the growing worth of the global sharing economy, Seas argued: "Singapore's new policy on home sharing should include smart and targeted provisions to prevent issues of disamenities in residential areas rather than blanket bans against short-term rentals."

Mr James Chua, Seas' treasurer and chief executive of Panda- Bed, said: "We want to get the dialogue going on this issue."

A 48-year-old Singaporean, who has been renting out four properties in Serangoon, Braddell and Novena on Airbnb since 2012, said that he hopes the ban will be lifted. His guests are mostly tourists who stay for about three days.

"I started doing this so I can be a full-time caregiver for my mother," he said.

"It gives me flexibility so I can stay home and provide her with a comfortable life."

-By Yeo Sam Jo

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

SCE, Surbana ink Tanzania master planning deals

Both Arusha City and Mwanza City have not had their masterplans reviewed for the past 20-30 years

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

SINGAPORE Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) and Surbana International Consultants have inked a contract to help the Tanzanian government draw up the master plans for Arusha City and Mwanza City, following six months of negotiations and due diligence.

The agreement was signed on Christmas Eve.

SCE is a government outfit formed to share Singapore's development experience with foreign governments.

Like many African cities, many informal settlements have sprung up in both Arusha City and Mwanza City, resulting in an urban sprawl where urban development spreads uncontrollably beyond the cities' edge. Both cities have not had their masterplans reviewed for the past 20-30 years.

Tanzania's economy relies mostly on agriculture as well as gold and exports of minerals, although recent major gas discoveries off the shores of Tanzania are set to build up liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports as another of its growth pillars.

In fact, Temasek's Pavilion Energy in 2013 paid US$1.3 billion for a 20 per cent stake in three gas blocks in offshore Tanzania. Temasek also owns 60 per cent of Surbana.

Louis Tay, Surbana's managing director for Africa and city management, said the benefits of a good masterplan are manifold in a rapidly developing country like Tanzania.

For one thing, it is an indication of a government's commitment to its nation; for another, it gives transparency to potential international investors - say, a manufacturer that wants to build a factory and needs to know what infrastructure will be built in the next few years.

When the master planning project is completed, a city gallery with physical models and exhibition panels will be set up to give locals and potential investors a glimpse of what the city will look like in the next 20-30 years.

Mr Tay said: "The plan is communicated in black and white. As an investor, you can get the government to lock down the investments based on that. In the past, without a masterplan, it's very difficult. Nobody knows what the next 5-10 years will bring. Developments spring up on an ad hoc basis, with no clear commercial basis as to why they are located in a particular area. A masterplan tries to avoid all these things."

This contract is urban consultancy Surbana's eighth in Africa, following earlier ones in Burundi, South Africa, Republic of Congo, Angola, Rwanda, Nigeria and Mauritius.

Currently, projects in Africa make up only 2 to 3 per cent of Surbana's revenue but this proportion is growing each year as it continues to seek out more opportunities on the continent. The consultancy said it expects to announce more deals in new territories this year together with SCE, away from sub-Saharan Africa where it has mostly been operating, and leaning towards central or west Africa.

Eventually, when it has reached a critical mass of projects in Africa, it may even set up an office there. For now, it works out of temporary offices. Mr Tay said it would be too "speculative" to set up a permanent office and locate people on the ground without a large-scale project.

"Right now most of our projects are planning. Planning is straightforward. You fly in, fly out and get the job done. When you get into planning downstream, like designing massive infrastructure or a township, where the period of engagement is longer and the demand on resources is heavier, if there is such a project, we will seriously consider setting up an office."

Surbana currently has offices in Singapore, Malaysia, China, India, Vietnam, Myanmar, Brunei and the United Arab Emirates.

Asked what will happen to the project if there is a change in government after Tanzania's general elections next October, SCE CEO Kong Wy Mun said the team has factored that into its calculation of risks, but doubts that it will bring too much inconvenience.

"We hope, by then, we would have done the bulk of the work. The key thing is that at least in the history of some of the better developed economies in Africa like Tanzania, even with a change of government, the civil service still functions. The powers are quite distinctly demarcated, so that outstanding projects will still continue unless the new government decides not to. Even if that happens, whatever work that has been done should still be accounted for."

Payments are also made progressively at various milestones rather than one lump sum at the end of the project's completion.

-By Lee Meixian

Bell tolls for many lower-end US shopping malls

Locale, glut of stores, changing shopping habits and demographics cited as factors for their demise

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

Ellington gets out of home rentals, sells all 900 houses for US$126m

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

Ellington Exits Single-Family Rental Foray in Big Sale

Source: Bloomberg / Personal Finance 

Ellington Management Group LLC has gotten out of the rental-home business.

The investment firm founded by Michael Vranos that specializes in mortgage-backed bonds sold 900 houses toAmerican Homes 4 Rent (AMH) for about $126 million, according to a Dec. 31 statement from the real estate investment trust. That was all of Ellington’s homes, said a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named because the company’s strategy is private.

Ellington’s exit comes less than two years after it started buying distressed U.S. homes to benefit from the housing recovery. The Old Greenwich, Connecticut-based firm said in April 2013 that it raised $140 million through a private REIT to purchase and renovate homes as well as to acquire and resolve soured multifamily mortgages.

Leo Huang, chief executive officer of Ellington Housing, said at the time that Ellington’s mortgage expertise would help it “to target and time markets.”

Steve Bruce, a spokesman for Ellington at ASC Advisors, declined to comment on the sale.

Large corporate landlords are expanding with bulk purchases from some investors who started buying houses near the market’s trough in 2012 and expected to sell when prices rebounded. American Homes 4 Rent, based in Agoura Hills, California, also bought Beazer Pre-Owned Rental Homes Inc. in July, gaining more than 1,300 houses.

The REIT now owns more than 30,000 properties, making it the biggest single-family landlord after Blackstone Group LP. The private-equity firm’s Invitation Homes unit owns more than 46,000 houses.

As the biggest companies continue to grow, they’re benefiting from the worst U.S. rental-housing shortage in more than a decade. The lack of supply is helping to drive rent increases. Institutional investors have spent more than $25 billion since 2012 buying single-family homes to rent.

-By Heather Perlberg

2015 shaping up to be another difficult year for Spaniards

Thousands of poor, jobless people face evictions from their homes even as data show economy is improving

Source: Business Times / Real Estate