TOO MANY JOBS, TOO LITTLE TIME?

TOO MANY JOBS, TOO LITTLE TIME?

 

Youth Olympics 2010: Can S’pore deliver?

 

WITH many big projects underway, will our construction resources be strained?

 

By Elysa Chen

 

 

10 March 2008

 

WITH many big projects underway, will our construction resources be strained?

 

That possibility is worrying some in the industry.

 

By 2009, stage three of the Circle Line and the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort have to be up and running.

 

By 2010, the Youth Olympic Village at the National University of Singapore has to be ready, as well as the second integrated resort in Sentosa.

 

And in 2011, the $1.87 billion Sports Hub in Kallang is expected to be completed.

 

On top of these big projects, public housing upgrading and road widening works will be on-going.

 

Former secretary general of the Singapore Contractors Association Ltd (SCAL) Chan Shelt Tsong said: ‘We all share in the euphoria of Singapore hosting the Youth Olympic Games, but I wonder how is it going to be built?

 

An indication of the red-hot construction sector, Mr Chan said, is that developers are more willing to reduce the imposition of penalties should a contractor fail to complete a project on time.

 

Mr Chan, also a general manager at a multi-national construction company, said that 20 people would submit tenders for a project previously, compared to an average of only three bids now.

 

A deputy general manager in another major construction firm, who did not want to be identified, said: ‘For projects like the integrated resorts and the Youth Olympic Village, you are setting a deadline which you have to meet, whether or not you can achieve it.

 

‘This is different from designing the project first, then working forward to estimate your deadline.’

 

He added that the situation might have worsened with the current market situation, where manpower supply cannot be increased on short notice.

 

He said: ‘Everybody is hard pressed. In order to attract and retain workers, we need to offer higher wages and more in variable bonuses.’

 

Mr Lim Pik Sim, a project director with Smatra Engineering, said: ‘The whole of Singapore has become a construction site.’

 

Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng feels that the construction industry is ‘already at maximum capacity’.

 

‘How much faster can we grow? We’ve hit our limit and this will translate into potential pressure on cost,’ he said.

 

A check with several construction companies and suppliers confirmed that prices of materials used in construction have increased due to higher demand.

 

Concrete prices have gone up from $60 per cubic m in 2006 to $130 per cubic m.

 

Prices of steel are also on the rise, from $800 in 2006 to $1,400 per ton now.

 

Mr Nicholas Mak, director of the consultancy and research department at Knight Frank, said that construction costs for a medium-quality development has increased 15 to 20 per cent.

 

Even equipment suppliers are finding it difficult to meet the surge in demand over the last two years.

 

A director of a equipment rental and supply company, who wanted to be known only as Mr Wong, has already spent $10 million importing more cranes and hoists since 2006.

 

He has bought 10 cranes and 30 hoists within the last two months.

 

And it is still not enough.

 

He said: ‘A lot of customers are asking for quotations, but we don’t even dare to quote because, if we have no cranes, how can we supply?’

 

Mr Wong said that rental prices of equipment have increased by 20 to 30 per cent, and the rental volume has increased by at least 50 per cent.

 

Manpower is similarly stretched.

 

A clerk at a construction consultation company, who gave his name only as Mr Chiu, said that crane operators can clock up to 10 hours a day in overtime.

 

Speaking in Mandarin, he said: ‘They end work at 3am or 4am, so that companies can catch up on delays. Including overtime pay, their pay has increased from $3,000 to almost $10,000 a month.’

 

Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah, who has been in the construction industry for more than 20years, feels that we should further relax the foreign labour quota in certain sectors, especially if employers can prove that they have tried their best to get manpower.

 

She said: ‘We should not impede growth because of these restrictions.’

 

Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen had said in Parliament last week that the ministry will continue to monitor the situation.

 

Ms Lee told The New Paper on Sunday that there was not only a shortage of labourers, but also of professionals such as architects and engineers.

 

She described how her friends had to go to China, India and the Philippines to recruit employees, and how she had to hire skilled labour from Malaysia.

 

Mr Wee Teck Han, the secretary general of the Asian Concrete Construction Institute, a non-governmental organisation, added that the supply of skilled workers is also tight regionally because many other countries are experiencing construction booms.

 

Referring to big train projects in Thailand and the Iskandar Development Region in Malaysia, MrWee, who has been in the industry for over 30 years, said: ‘The region is busy, and this will impact on our ability to deliver.’

 

But despite these problems, MsLee remains confident that the industry will be able to deliver the projects on time, provided the Ministry of Manpower can help to balance the demand for manpower.

 

Agreeing, SCAL executive director Simon Lee said: ‘We just need to increase the necessary resources to increase our capacity. We also need to be even more precise in our planning.

 

‘We need to get it right the first time.’

 

Source: The New Paper

Inflation erodes away bank savings

Inflation erodes away bank savings

 

Banks cut fixed deposit rates; but cautious investors stay liquid in face of market volatility

 

By SIOW LI SEN

 

(SINGAPORE) Cash-rich Singaporeans averse to risky alternatives are in an unhappy spot of having their savings eroded by inflation.

 

Not only is inflation clearly on the rise – it hit a 26-year high of 6.6 per cent in January – banks are further cutting their already miserable deposit rates.

 

Last week, DBS Bank slashed its fixed deposit (FD) rate again to 0.9 per cent for a 12-month deposit of $1 million. The latest revision is less than half of the 2.02 per cent it offered on Jan 2.

 

And OCBC Bank’s 12-month FD rate has been lowered to 1.2 per cent from 1.4-1.8 per cent last year. This is for amounts between $500,000 and $1 million.

 

Despite the paltry returns on deposits, those with spare cash appear to have few choices beyond the safe haven of banks. In January – the latest month for which data is available – savings and demand deposits jumped 24 per cent to $143.1 billion, swelled by high bonuses paid out after a robust year.

 

But fixed deposit growth slowed for the 10th straight month. It was up 7.6 per cent to $171.4 billion, versus an average of 18 per cent in 2007.

 

‘The trend in the past seven years is that when interest rates rise, people take money from savings and current accounts and place it in FDs,’ said Standard Chartered’s general manager of wealth management Dennis Khoo. ‘When interest rates fall, the reverse happens. Now, when the gap is no longer large, there is no incentive. So people forget to shift to FDs.’

 

Typical interest rates for savings and demand deposit accounts are 0.3 per cent.

 

Interestingly, bankers said that generally, people with excess cash don’t seem to be using it to pay down loans such as mortgages.

 

‘We review our interest rates regularly and have recently adjusted them downwards in line with the market,’ said Fabian Lum, OCBC Bank’s vice-president for group wealth management (deposits). ‘We have not seen significant withdrawals of fixed deposits by our customers or changes to how they make use of such products.’

 

Some observers reckoned that money is left in savings and demand deposits accounts while people mull the choices of higher returns elsewhere.

 

‘With global interest rates likely to dip further, some investors prefer to stay liquid,’ said Winston Teo, United Overseas Bank’s head of deposits, investments and insurance. ‘That said, in a climate of stock market volatility, there will be opportunities and it may be a good time to pick up some bargains as some equity valuations have fallen to attractive levels.’

 

Bankers said that customers are asking about higher-yield products, though caution seems to be the order of the day.

 

Some of the more gung ho are venturing into foreign currency products.

 

Helen Neo, Maybank’s head of consumer banking, said that the bank is seeing greater investment in structured deposits that are principal protected and also offer higher returns. ‘We are also seeing growth in foreign currency time deposits,’ she said.

 

Stanchart’s Mr Khoo said that since August last year, the bank has sold more than $400 million of deposit-type products, principal protected and capital guaranteed.

 

As for Stanchart’s dual currency product, sales have grown three to five times since September last year, he said.

 

Source: Business Times

Mandarin Oriental banks on luxury segment bookings trend

Mandarin Oriental banks on luxury segment bookings trend

 

By NISHA RAMCHANDANI

 

LUXURY hotel group Mandarin Oriental International Ltd says it may see weaker demand this year, particularly in the United States, though it should be bolstered by the limited supply of luxury hotels – its strategic focus – in certain cities.

 

While the US could see a softening as the year progresses, key cities like New York, London, Hong Kong and even Singapore are not characterised by oversupply, said John Witt, CFO for Mandarin Oriental, in a phone interview with BT.

 

‘Our strategy is to focus on the luxury segment. We’ve seen a solid start to the year. Future booking trends are encouraging,’ he said. The continued propensity for travel as well as the group’s new hotel projects will be growth drivers especially since it has ‘significant hotel ownership interests’ in both Asia and Europe.

 

And while the short supply of labour can be a challenge, it is a ‘challenge we’re meeting quite well’, said Mr Witt, adding he has not seen any exceptional pressure.

 

The company is looking to nearly double in size from its current 21 hotels to about 40 hotels over the next few years as new projects come onstream. Last year, the group announced eight new hotels including in Beijing, Guangzhou, Taipei and Milan. The new projects will help the hotel operator achieve its mid-term goal of 10,000 rooms, which allows Mandarin Oriental to achieve ‘critical mass as a luxury brand’, said Mr Witt.

 

The group’s original flagship, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, reopened in September 2006 – after a nine-month, US$150 million renovation – which helped contribute to revenue. In its first full year of operation post-renovation, the hotel achieved an occupancy of 74 per cent and an average rate of US$399, 50 per cent above the 2005 rate.

 

The group’s net profit for FY2007 ended Dec 31 was US$108.2 million, up 35 per cent from US$80 million the previous year. Revenue amounted to US$1.007 billion, a 19 per cent growth from US$850 million in FY2006. Earnings per share for FY2007 was 11.16 US cents, compared with 8.28 US cents previously. A final dividend of 5 US cents per share has been recommended, bringing the total annual dividend to 6 US cents – double that of the year before.

 

Source: Business Times

Transformation of Punggol River begins

Transformation of Punggol River begins

 

The $7.13-million project to create a reservoir park with man-made island will be ready by 2010.

Tania Tan

 

Sun, Mar 09, 2008

The Straits Times

 

WORK to transform the Punggol River into a scenic reservoir park, complete with a man-made island, got off the ground on Sunday.

 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was at the official opening of the adjoining Anchorvale Community Club in Sengkang, symbolically released the first piece of the floating island – a clump of soil and grass – into the water.

 

For its design, the $7.13 million project will draw inspiration from a nearby fruit park being developed by the National Parks Board. Its pavilions will be shaped like mangosteens and its benches, like limes.

 

Work will be completed by 2010.

 

Punggol River is the first of five sites to be improved this year under the Active Beautiful, Clean (ABC) Waters Programme.

 

Launched by national water agency PUB in 2006, the $200 million programme is an ambitious island-wide revamp of 28 waterways.

 

The aim is to rejuvenate Singapore‘s drainage and water-supply infrastructure, including the canals and reservoirs, and turn it into a scenic network of streams, rivers and lakes where people can enjoy water activities and even commute.

 

Giving a preview of the projects during the Budget debate last month, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim said, for example, that the Lower Seletar Reservoir would sport a heritage bridge, featuring story panels which will tell of the area’s kampung history.

 

Work on the pilot projects of Kolam Ayer and the Bedok and MacRitchie reservoirs is in its final phases and will be unveiled this year.

 

‘With these projects, we hope to bring waterfront living to the heartland, improve the quality of our living environment and enhance property values,’ said Dr Yaacob.

 

Source: Straits Times

10% of homes must pay for rewiring to get mio TV

10% of homes must pay for rewiring to get mio TV

 

The reasons: cables are too old or some private homes are too far from an exchange

 

By Alfred Siew

 

SOME private home owners who thought SingTel’s mio TV was their ticket to pay-TV programmes are up against the same obstacle that for years kept them out of StarHub’s cable TV service.

 

SingTel’s pay-TV service, launched last July, delivers TV channels over a regular phone line, but some users are finding that they have to rewire their homes to get it.

 

This is because phone cables in their homes may be too old or their homes are too far away from a phone exchange which has the equipment to deliver the service.

 

They were in the same spot when StarHub launched its cable TV service more than a decade ago, in that they had to pay to hook up their homes if they did not want to wait until their homes were covered.

 

The Straits Times spoke to five private home owners – three in landed properties and two in apartments – who want mio TV but have not been able to get it as they live in the 10 per cent of homes still not covered by SingTel.

 

The service is available to 90 per cent of homes now, up from 85 per cent at its launch, but it is not known when the entire island will be covered.

 

While StarHub charges landed property owners from $2,352 to hook up their homes, SingTel does not have a fixed rate. The cost depends on the amount of work that needs to be done.

 

Retiree Tan Tuan Khoon, 61, for example, who lives in a semi-detached house off Yio Chu Kang Road and is interested in the CCTV4 Chinese news channel, said he was told it would cost $2,500 to hook up his home for mio TV.

 

He had signed up for the service, only to be told later that his house was not within range of the signals. He said: ‘I already get SingTel’s broadband and phone line at home but I can’t get the TV programmes.’

 

In the same boat is businessman Ng Thye Peng, 34, who listed the channels he wanted, only to find out that he could not receive the service in his condominium apartment in the East Coast.

 

Like Mr Tan, he is already surfing the Net on SingTel’s broadband service.

 

Replying to queries from The Straits Times, SingTel spokesman Tricia Lee called for customers to be patient, saying that the rollout was still under way; she noted that the process for other pay-TV services also took years.

 

Ironically, SingTel has been fast off the blocks with mio TV, garnering 27,000 customers for the service in the first five months.

 

Its pulling power comes from its being the first real challenger to the stranglehold StarHub has had on the market for 13 years.

 

Some couch potatoes believe mio TV can present even stiffer competition for StarHub if it hastens its efforts to hook up viewers.

 

Manager Wayne Goh, 35, who lives in a semi-detached house off Yio Chu Kang Road that is still not covered by SingTel, does not mind paying up to $500 for mio TV.

 

He was offered a set-top box as part of a deal when he signed up as a SingTel broadband service customer recently, but was later told that the mio TV service had not come to his neighbourhood.He said: ‘I’m still keen if it means I can use the same phone line at home instead of installing a new cable.’

 

Source: Straits Times

En-bloc deals and irritating financial agents

En-bloc deals and irritating financial agents

 

I REFER to Thursday’s letter, ‘Wooing en bloc residents: One bank does it right’ by Ms Lucy Chong Oi Peng. My family, too, has suffered harassment from all types of agents purporting to help us with our ‘problem’ of managing our finances.

 

On Thursday afternoon, two representatives of Manulife Financial rang our doorbell and asked my maid for my and my husband’s mobile phone number. My maid refused and informed them that we were only tenants and not the targets they were interested in. They were very persistent and refused to leave. While one of them engaged my maid, the other tried to persuade my son to give up our phone number.

 

Koh Hui Hoon (Mdm)

 

Source: Straits Times

Park in Orchard area? It’ll cost you even more

Park in Orchard area? It’ll cost you even more

 

Parking fees have gone up at 18 out of 20 malls, in one case by 36 per cent. -ST

Judith Tan

 

Mon, Mar 10, 2008

The Straits Times

 

THAT trip to shop or run errands on Orchard Road is setting back motorists more in parking charges nowadays.

 

A Straits Times check of 20 malls on the shopping strip revealed that parking fees during off-peak hours on weekdays have gone up at 18.

 

Just over a third of the 18 carparks are charging between 10 and 20 per cent more.

 

While the jump is bigger at some, there are also places where weekday, off-peak fees have stayed about the same.

 

The most expensive places to park are Tangs Plaza and Wheelock Place, where leaving your car for three hours will cost $9 before 5pm on weekdays.

 

Prices are not uniformly high along Orchard Road. It is four times cheaper to park in Plaza Singapura, for instance. Three hours there costs just $2.25.

 

Tangs Plaza is the only mall on the strip that charges by the minute, so motorists pay for the exact amount of usage.

 

At other carparks, the rates are calculated in blocks of between 15 minutes and an hour.

 

It can make a difference.

 

Housewife Ong Lee Lee, 55, for example, found she will be charged $3.50 for an hour and five minutes at Tang Plaza. If she parks at Ngee Ann City down the road for that length of time, she will pay $3.84 for a block lasting 1-1/2 hours.

 

Parking charges at most carparks rose with the upping of the goods and services tax by 2 percentage points last year, say carpark operators.

 

But the jump has been by more than 2 percentage points – by a whopping 36 per cent in one instance.

 

Cairnhill Place takes the dubious honour as that carpark. Leaving your car there for three hours before 5pm on a weekday now costs $8, up from $5.90 just two years ago.

 

Back in 2002, the nondescript-looking carpark was the best-kept secret among motorists looking for lots in the heart of Orchard Road: It cost just $3 for three hours then.

 

Its operator, Wilson Parking, which runs 50 carparks islandwide, declined comment on the price increase.

 

One reason for the general increase, explained Metro Parking managing director Tyrone Lopez, is rising costs.

 

Rental rates for carpark spaces, as well as manpower and equipment costs, have gone up. He declined to say by how much the figures have risen in the recent hike.

 

Metro Parking operates more than 80 carparks, including Shaw Centre, where Sunday and public holiday rates are now marginally higher. Its weekday rates have stayed the same.

 

Centrepoint, for example, still charges $1 for the first hour and $1.20 for the subsequent half hour, to encourage off-peak and weekday shopping, said senior centre manager Tan Hwee Cheng.

 

But higher carpark charges elsewhere have come at a time of higher petrol and electronic road pricing costs, putting the squeeze on motorists.

 

These factors have pushed public relations account director Carolyn Tay, 43, onto public transport. Meeting clients in Orchard Road three times a week costs her about 20 per cent more each month. She now takes the train if she needs to be there for more than an hour.

 

Others have resorted to waiting for the best deals. Housewife Celeste Lee, 43, for instance, is willing to wait up to half an hour to snag a lot in the open-air Urban Redevelopment Authority carpark in Grange Road, where coupon parking costs $1 an hour.

 

She blew more than $30 a week on parking alone for her twice-weekly trips to Ngee Ann City for yoga, the gym and her children’s art classes.

 

But parking in Grange Road can be hellish on a rainy day, she said, especially with her two children and shopping bags.

 

She added: ‘I guess you either pay for the convenience or put up with getting wet… I’d rather get wet.’

 

Source: Straits Times

Motorists will travel on brand new road into Sentosa

Motorists will travel on brand new road into Sentosa

By Wong Siew Ying, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 10 March 2008 2103 hrs

 

SINGAPORE: Motorists driving into Sentosa from Tuesday will be travelling on a brand new road.

 

It will replace the current Gateway Avenue which will be closed to make way for the development of Universal Studios Singapore, a part of the Resorts World at Sentosa.

 

Sentosa Leisure Group said the 730-metre, four-lane road marked out in red will help improve traffic on the island.

 

The Resorts World at Sentosa is bearing the S$60 million construction cost for the road, along with new ramps that will lead to its future 4100-lot basement car park.

 

For now, ticketing will continue at Sentosa Gateway before drivers cross the bridge to the island.

 

However, admission booths will be located further inland on the new road starting the second quarter of this year.

 

This relocation is expected to cost some S$3 million. – CNA/ac

 

Source: Channel News Asia

URA unveils plans to promote Ophir-Rochor corridor at MIPIM, Cannes

URA unveils plans to promote Ophir-Rochor corridor at MIPIM, Cannes

By Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 10 March 2008 1241 hrs

 

SINGAPORE- The Urban Redevelopment Authority has announced its plans for the Ophir-Rochor corridor.

 

The project is expected to be developed over the next ten to 15 years as part of plans to rejuvenate the Central Business District.

 

It will feature a mix of offices, hotels and other complementary facilities in a park-like environment.

 

The first land parcel in the new Ophir-Rochor corridor will be launched for sale in June via the Confirmed List of the Government Land Sales Programme.

 

This 2.74 hectare site is adjacent to Parkview Square and is located at Rochor Road / Ophir Road.

 

It will include a requirement to develop a minimum quantum for office and hotel use.

 

This will help boost the tourism industry and cater to the growth of Singapore‘s financial and business services sector.

 

URA said that this Ophir-Rochor corridor will be “the catalyst for future development and growth in the area”.

 

Plans for development of the Ophir-Rochor corridor and sale site will be exhibited and promoted at the Singapore Pavilion during the “Marche International des Professionals de L’Immobilier” (MIPIM) between 11 and 14 March 2008.

 

MIPIM is a premier international property event in Cannes.

 

The Singapore Pavilion will see a mix of public-private companies led by URA.

 

This is part of URA’s continuing efforts to attract foreign investors to property development and investment opportunities in Singapore.

 

Singapore‘s real estate investment opportunities in Ophir-Rochor and Marina Bay will be jointly promoted at MIPIM Cannes.

 

The Singapore Pavilion will also promote Singapore‘s key recent and upcoming developments. –CNA/vm

 

Source: Channel News Asia

KFH allows options for 97 Goodwood Residence units to lapse

KFH allows options for 97 Goodwood Residence units to lapse

By Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 10 March 2008 2007 hrs

 

SINGAPORE: Kuwait Finance House (KFH) has allowed options to acquire 97 units of the high-end Goodwood Residence to lapse.

 

The deal would have been worth S$818 million for developer GuocoLand, which has said that Singapore‘s property market appears to be cautious.

 

The developer had granted Kuwait Finance House the options back in December.

 

In a filing to the Singapore Exchange, GuocoLand said the two parties are in talks about fresh options for the units in the development.

 

Goodwood Residence, located near the Orchard Road shopping belt, is a high-end residential development with 210 units in two towers. – CNA/ac

 

Source: Channel News Asia