·  They crawl along wires…


·  They jump on roof…


·  They fight with family and maids over trapped baby monkey


THEY wanted to hit back at the monkeys which had been tormenting them for three months.


By Arul John



12 March 2008


THEY wanted to hit back at the monkeys which had been tormenting them for three months.


So the occupants of a semi-detached house in Binjai Park, Bukit Timah, decided to set a trap for the pests.


They succeeded in trapping a baby monkey in a cage provided by the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).


What they didn’t take into account was how the other monkeys would react to one of their own being trapped.


A troop of them descended on the house and created nearly three hours of monkey mayhem.


Some gathered around the cage howling and screeching.


One of the bigger ones even entered the house, baring its teeth, and chased its occupants up to the bedroom.


The elderly home-owners and their two maids ended up barricading themselves in the hall and kitchen while they waited for help.


The incident ended only after AVA officers arrived to take away the trapped monkey.


It had capped a conflict between man and beast that had started in December.


One of the maids, Madam P Nayana, 54, said groups of long-tailed monkeys had been bothering them regularly.


She said they usually came in groups of three or four and entered the house by climbing up the electrical wires outside or the trees in the garden.




Madam Nayana said: ‘The monkeys would go to to the kitchen and grab the sweet potatoes or bananas there. Sometimes, they would go to the hall and grab the mandarin oranges left there from Chinese New Year.


‘They would then go to the garden to eat the food.’


Madam Nayana said her 72-year-old employer, whom she knew only as Mrs Lee, decided to get a cage from the AVA to trap the monkeys.


She said: ‘She got the cage on 11 Jan and we put it out in the garden. We placed bananas and oranges inside and outside the cage to lure the monkeys.


‘But they were smart and only ate the food outside the cage.’


Then, at 4.30pm on 29 Feb, Madam Nayana was watching TV when she heard a loud click.


She said: ‘I went to the hall and saw a baby monkey in the cage. It had gone in to eat the oranges in the cage and got trapped.


‘There were nine other monkeys in the garden and some started howling when the monkey was caught.’


The Lees’ other maid, Ms Juliet Castaneda, 33, and Madam Nayana’s daughter, Miss E. Nirosha, 23, were at the back of the house when they heard the commotion.


Ms Castaneda said: ‘I was gathering the laundry outside when I saw one of the monkeys above the trellis where I had hung the clothes. I got scared and went to the kitchen, but was shocked to see one of the monkeys at the kitchen doorway.’


Miss Nirosha, a student at a private school here, said the monkey was about 45cm tall, had a banana in its mouth and bared its sharp teeth.


Madam Nayana grabbed a wooden walking stick and hit it on the tiled floor to frighten the monkey away, but it went after her instead.


She said: ‘I ran upstairs but the monkey started to follow me. Mr Lee was sleeping in a bedroom downstairs and Mrs Lee was in an upstairs room.


‘She came out upon hearing the commotion and was shocked and scared when she saw the monkey. We tried to chase it away but the monkey bared its teeth again and chased us upstairs again.’


Ms Nirosha said: ‘It then tried to go back into the kitchen but Ms Castaneda and I ran in and closed the door, leaving the monkey outside. I was so scared as monkeys in my homeland, Sri Lanka, are not so aggressive.’


Madam Nayana said Mrs Lee then called the AVA and went downstairs to close the wooden doors between the garden and living room.


She said: ‘We tried to close the doors to stop the other monkeys from entering the house, but the big monkey rushed there and jumped in and out between the living room and the garden.’


Miss Nirosha said: ‘Every time my mother tried to close the doors, the monkey would come between them and bare its teeth. After she beat the floor with a stick several times, the monkey fled to the garden and we closed the doors.’


When Madam Nayana went to one of the bedrooms on the ground floor, she saw another monkey climbing onto the window sill.


She said: ‘The monkey tried to get in but the window grilles blocked it. I jabbed at it with a stick for a few minutes before it finally climbed down.’


Madam Nayana said she and MsCastaneda then closed the other doors and windows and did not re-open them until 7pm.


Nobody was bitten or injured by the monkeys.


She said: ‘When the AVA staff came at 6pm to collect the trapped monkey, the other monkeys in the garden started screeching. The AVA staff took the cage to their van, transferred the monkey to another cage, left our cage in the driveway and drove off.


‘The monkeys then climbed along the rooftops of the neighbouring houses to follow the van.’


Mr Madhavan Kannan, head of AVA‘s Centre for Animal Welfare and Control, said: ‘When the two AVA officers were collecting the trapped baby monkey, the other monkeys on the trees close by were behaving in a threatening manner. They did not attack our officers.’


He said the captured monkey was put down. It was not practical to relocate it elsewhere as it would be unable to survive on its own.


Madam Nayana said the monkeys have not returned to the house since.


She said: ‘I think the capture of their young one scared them off. But we are more careful now and keep all the doors and windows closed unless absolutely necessary.’


Two other homes in the area have also encountered monkey problems.


One of the home-owners, who wanted to be known only as MrChong, said: ‘The monkeys usually just climb into the garden and eat the fruits from the trees. They have never terrorised people before.’


Source: The New paper

An island in Sengkang

An island in Sengkang


YOU read right.


By Lee Hup Kheng


12 March 2008


Singapore‘s first man-made floating island is scheduled to be ready in two years’ time.


The island, which will be about half the size of a football field, will take pride of place in the new Punggol Reservoir.


It is part of the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) programme by PUB, the national water agency.


Drawing inspiration from a nearby fruit park which is being developed by National Parks Board (NParks), the project has a tutti-frutti theme, with a large mangosteen pavilion, lime seats and peer-through orange slices so that one can see the water and life brimming beneath.


Work will start this month. PUB recently awarded the public tender for this project to Marina Technology and Construction at $7.13million.


On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched the project at a ground-breaking ceremony at Sungei Punggol.


When completed in 2010, the island, which will be a floating wetland, will become a natural habitat for fishes and birds.


Mr Tan Nguan Sen, PUB‘s Director of Catchment and Waterways said: ‘We are looking at creative ways to bring people closer to the water and the floating island at Sengkang is an example of that with its refreshing setting.’


People can get up close to water by walking over to the island through two types of bridges – a foot bridge on one bank or a floating boardwalk on the opposite bank.




The floating island will also connect the new Sengkang Park and Anchorvale Community Club, making it easy for people to enjoy the integrated facilities.


Said Mr Raymond Chua, Chairman of the Citizens’ Consultative Committee of Sengkang West Constituency: ‘The floating island will be an important link between the new facilities and with its interesting fruit theme, it will become an icon for Sengkang.’


PUB said that more ABC Waters projects are on the way, with those at Kallang River (along Bishan Park), Jurong Lake, Lower Seletar Reservoir and Pandan Reservoir earmarked to start this year.


The ABC Waters programme aims to transform Singapore‘s waterways from concrete longkangs and functional reservoirs to picturesque and vibrant streams, rivers, and lakes.


PUB hopes the programme will inspire people to take care of Singapore‘s precious water resources by using it wisely and keeping it clean.


Source: The New paper






WHILE the lush greenery, tinkling fountains and gurgling streams of Bayshore Park evoke a sense of serenity, it is anything but serene at the condominium right now.


By Special Correspondent



12 March 2008


WHILE the lush greenery, tinkling fountains and gurgling streams of Bayshore Park evoke a sense of serenity, it is anything but serene at the condominium right now.


Feelings have been running high over moves to put the estate up for an en-bloc sale.


Some are upset that they may be forced to sell their beloved homes.


Others are frustrated that they may be forced to keep their maturing properties and be thwarted from an investment opportunity.


One recent meeting saw residents arguing, jeering and heckling.


Under a white tent put up on the estate grounds, some 500 residents gathered on a Saturday afternoon for their third en-bloc sale meeting in five months.




As with most condo en-bloc sales, the 1,000-plus Bayshore Park residents are split into two strong camps – for and against.


The campaign has gone on the Internet too.


One website, called Bayshore Park Lifestyle, talks about all good things and benefits of the 22-year-old estate and urges residents to ‘say no to en-bloc’.


Meanwhile, it seems someone has written to the authorities, alleging fraud over how the signatures were obtained to requisition the most recent extraordinary general meeting.


It was against this backdrop that the meeting, facilitated by a panel comprising Mr Chan Kok Hong, a managing agent, management committee chairman Richard Soh and lawyer Loo Choon Hiaw, was held, on 23 Feb.


As residents registered, they were each given a booklet of voting slips.


Printed on those slips were their unit numbers and share values, and boxes for them to vote for those they want on the sales committee.


From the outset, there were concerns over the meeting’s agenda.


Mr Chan said the meeting was requested on the basis of electing a sales committee.


A resident stood up to ask if a vote should be carried out on whether or not everyone wants an en-bloc in the first place, but MrLoo said this apparently was not necessary.


One resident wanted an assurance that the votes would be kept confidential.


Mr Chan assured him that the slips would be kept ‘in a safe place’, not to be opened again.


Under the law, any resident, whether for or against the en-bloc sale, can be in the sales committee.




Someone then said it ‘does not make sense’ to vote an anti-en-bloc person to the sales committee as that person could put up road blocks.


Another said that if such a person wanted to be in the committee, he would have to be in it for a check-and-balance role. There was clapping and cheering at this.


The candidates started introducing themselves one by one.


Most of those who were for the sale said they just wanted to find the best price for the estate.


Another said that having sat on the management committee, he knows that maintenance of the estate would get increasingly more expensive.


The candidates included an architect, a retiree and two realestate agents.


An anti-en-bloc nominee said he wanted to be on the committee so that he would know what was happening.


An elderly Englishman, a long-time resident of Bayshore, then asked for permission to ask the candidates some questions.


He was allowed to so so, but was told the candidates were not obliged to respond.


His questions to them included: Have you been a resident for a long time? Have you previous experience in an en-bloc sale? What reserve price do you expect? Are you in arrears of maintenance fees?


The jeering and heckling began.


At one point, some residents surrounded him and kept asking him to stop.


A resident shouted: ‘He has absolutely no respect. These questions are not relevant.’


Agitated residents were seen waving their arms in the air.


The man remained composed, and Mr Chan had to step in, saying: ‘Please, please, please. We need to keep this meeting in order.’


Asked one resident: ‘How can he question them like that?’


Another said: ‘He can’t go around asking them a hundred questions.’


To which the man responded: ‘Dear young lady, I have not asked a hundred questions. They are not ridiculous questions, they are important questions.’


Mr Soh then said: ‘We should allow reasonable questions. If we don’t have order, I may be forced to stop this meeting.’


Some of the nominees answered the man, others did not.


In the end, only the 14 pro-en-bloc residents were voted into the sales committee.


But with an estate as large and diverse as Bayshore Park, it is likely that this committee will have an uphill task ahead.


Source: The New paper

Tall orders for HDB flats

Tall orders for HDB flats


BTO project Punggol Spring four times oversubscribed


Wednesday • March 12, 2008


Wong Siew Ying


THE demand for public housing continues to be brisk. Case in point: The Housing Development Board’s (HDB) first build-to-order project this year at Punggol Spring (artist’s impression) is already four times oversubscribed.


New flats aside, property agents have also described the HDB resale market as the kingpin for the real estate sector this year.


The application for Punggol Spring, where 494 units of four-room flats will be built, will not close until March 17 but the project is already oversubscribed with 2,093 applications.


The Punggol Spring development makes up some of the 4,500 new flats that the HDB has committed to building for the first half of this year. Prices of the Punggol Spring flats range from $204,000 to $259,000.


Apart from this build-to-order development, the HDB’s bi-monthly sale of four-room and larger flats last month also drew overwhelming response, with more than 10,000 flat buyers vying for just 278 units.


Mr Eugene Lim, associate director of ERA, said: “The buyers are usually first timers and they do not have so much cash. As the norm is to pay cash over value for the resale market, they are inevitably being pushed to the new flat market where they don’t have to come up with as much cash or any cash at all.”


Still, the transaction volume in the HDB resale market is expected to remain strong. Industry players expect 30,000 units to be sold this year, 1,000 more than last year.


They also expect prices to increase by about 10 per cent, compared to last year’s rise of more than 17 per cent.


Property agents said the spike last year was partly due to a sharp rise in cash over valuation (COV), but this is likely to change, they added, as buyers have hit a threshold when it comes to forking out more cash.


Propnex CEO Mohamed Ismail said: “The central areas — Queens-


town, Bukit Merah, Toa Payoh — were getting as high as $100,000 but such prices are not sustainable in the long term.


“Therefore, I foresee that for the very high-end side in the central location, the COV will dip quite drastically.”


Despite the high demand for flats, agents are confident there will be enough to go around, whether it is for families or singles.


They also welcomed the HDB’s new incentive to offer an extra $9,000 grant to singles who buy a resale flat and live with their parents, as announced by Mr Lim Boon Heng, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, in Parliament last week.


The scheme, however, is unlikely to have any impact on the market given the small segment it serves. — CHANNEL NEWSASIA


Source: TodayOnline

Foreigners snap up homes as rents start to bite

Foreigners snap up homes as rents start to bite


Their purchases could account for half of 2007 transactions on the secondary market




(SINGAPORE) A record number of foreigners here have opted to purchase homes instead of renting them at ever-climbing rates.


According to an analysis of transactions of private residential properties by DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, foreigners bought 6,536 non-landed homes from the secondary market in 2007 – the largest number since 1995.


They could account for more than 50 per cent of the secondary market transactions last year.


That is because while more than 20,000 non-landed homes were sold on the secondary market last year, this number includes the units from more than 100 collective sales. DTZ’s analysis does not include en bloc units – though earlier reports had put this figure at around 6,000 for the first half of 2007 alone.


Purchases by foreigners on the secondary market represent a 105 per cent increase in volume compared to 2006.


DTZ research senior director Chua Chor Hoon said that while some buyers were investors, there were also those who ‘are not on company budget and find it more worthwhile to buy rather than face escalating rentals, especially if they are going to be in Singapore for more than a couple of years’.


DTZ’s figures for 2007 reveal that rents of prime apartments and condominiums increased 45 per cent year-on-year in 2007 to average $4.80 per square foot (psf). This was attributed to the influx of expatriates and a tight supply of prime apartments, as numerous prime developments were demolished or slated for redevelopment after being collectively sold.


The percentage of foreigners buying non-landed property from the primary market (developer sales) was lower at 25.4 per cent, or 2,314 transactions out of a total of 9,089, reinforcing the assertion that foreigners are more inclined to buy a home for immediate occupation.


Indonesians and Malaysians remain the biggest foreign buyers here, accounting for 23 and 17 per cent of all foreigners in 2007 respectively, but Indians (12 per cent), Britishers (8 per cent), Chinese (7 per cent) and Koreans (7 per cent) are also well represented.


While foreigners bought non-landed homes in record numbers last year, boosting demand in the process, their absence in the landed homes sector (because of restrictions imposed by the government) did not stop a record number of landed homes being sold in the secondary market.


DTZ’s analysis reveals that of the total 5,211 landed homes sold in 2007, 4,823 were from the secondary market.


Apart from the bullish sentiment which ‘spilled over’ from the non-landed sector last year, the landed sector also saw demand rise as it was still considered comparatively good value.


DTZ’s figures show that average capital values for non-landed freehold homes in the prime districts increased by 55 per cent year-on-year to $1,480 psf.


For freehold landed homes in the prime districts, average capital values of detached homes increased 31 per cent year- on-year, while average capital values of semi-detached and terrace homes rose 29 and 27 per cent respectively.


The situation was also exacerbated by the tight supply of new launches of landed homes in the year, estimated at around 650 units.


DTZ’s Ms Chua also believes that with speculation less rampant in the landed housing sector – ‘most buyers are owner-occupiers’ – prices are expected to be more stable and could even prove ‘more resilient’ if the downturn in the global economy is protracted.


However, DTZ expects future supply of landed homes to be relatively low at just 3,100 units over the next few years, so this could push up demand and prices for both primary and secondary market landed homes.


Speculation, defined by the number of subsales, was rampant among developer sales of non-landed homes last year, hitting an all-time high of 4,631 transactions – a 312 per cent year-on-year increase over 2006.


Interestingly, while subsale transaction volume in 2007 was just 27 per cent higher than during the previous peak of 1996, the value of subsales was almost twice as high, hitting $7.9 billion.


The fourth quarter, however, marked a shift in sentiment in the property market. Only 3,947 non-landed homes were transacted in the quarter, of which just 846 were sold by developers, reflecting a 64 per cent quarter-on-quarter drop. This was one of the worst performing quarters in the last three years.


Source: Business Times

S’pore building boom continues, office demand firm

S’pore building boom continues, office demand firm


CANNES – The credit crunch has so far failed to dent demand for office space in Singapore or derail its bid to become Asia‘s leading financial centre, a senior member of the republic’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said.


Speaking to Reuters at the annual Mipim trade fair in Cannes on Tuesday, Choy Chan Pong, head of land administration at the URA, said that Singapore had not felt the threat of vast financial sector redundancies and its construction boom continued.


‘We have not seen any evidence of a decline in demand for office space, and for now most financial institutions in Asia are still hiring,’ he said.


The URA said earlier this week that it planned to double the size of Singapore‘s Marina Bay financial district to 2.82 million square metres – or double the size of London‘s Canary Wharf financial district – as international financial sector occupiers continued to seek presence in the city.


The authority had set aside 101 hectares of green parkland directly adjacent to the Marina Bay financial district that would serve as ‘lungs’ for the city, and which would never be sold for office schemes, at any price.


‘We have had offers from several Middle Eastern developers and investors to buy the land we have allocated for the Marina Gardens but we will never sell it,’ Mr Choy said. ‘It stops Singapore from becoming a concrete jungle. It is priceless.’


Standard Chartered Bank and Development Bank of Singapore have agreed to take a total 1.2 million square feet of space at the Marina Bay Financial Centre, a 438,000 square metre office and residential project being developed by Keppel Land, Cheung Kong Holdings/Hutchison Whampoa and Hongkong Land.


According to data from global property broker Cushman & Wakefield last month, Singapore prime office rents climbed 78 per cent in local currency terms in 2007 but Mr Choy quelled fears this surge in rental costs had begun to price some occupiers out of the market, and towards rival markets of Tokyo and Hong Kong.


‘You have to remember this rental increase was from a very low base,’ he said. ‘Singapore is still cheaper than Hong Kong … and Tokyo is almost full,’ he said.


Hong Kong is the second most expensive office market in the world, behind London, with annual office rents averaging US$239 per square foot. Tokyo is in third place with annual office rents at US$210 per square foot. Singapore is in seventh place.


Its annual office rents average US$130 per square foot.


‘We do not expect financial institutions will have to choose one market over another, so we have no concerns about growth of China or Japan.


‘Realistically, banks know they have to be in all three cities because we serve different markets, and if banks want access to India or South East Asia, they need to be in Singapore,’ Mr Choy said. — REUTERS


Source: Business Times

Market turmoil seen helping remove excesses

Market turmoil seen helping remove excesses




THE unwinding of the global financial markets is actually a positive thing where excesses had been building up the past 5-6 years, said Swiss bank Julius Baer’s managing director V Anantha Nageswaran.


While many investors are feeling the pain, Dr Nageswaran had a different perspective on the volatility in the global financial markets, as he said the unwinding will lead to more normal times.


Looking at the US financial sector over the past 70 years, Dr Nageswaran said it was not until 1999 that it overtook the real economy. ‘The real economy became the sideshow,’ he said at a client lunch yesterday..


The year 1999 was when the United States repealed all previous restrictions and deregulated the financial sector.


Coupled with ultra low interest rates, the financial sector grew and grew, bankers became more and more greedy and ultimately led to the derivatives bust-up which will eventually help return markets to more normal times.


In the meantime, during this difficult period of transition this region will not be spared, he said.


India is less vulnerable than China because its dependence on exports is lower at 23 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). China‘s exports make up 34 per cent of GDP.


But there are some safe havens. Dr Nageswaran likes gold and certain currencies.


He thinks the attractiveness of the Australian and New Zealand dollars is passing. They have gained because of the demand for industrial metals and their prices have risen to an advanced stage of the bull cycle, he said.


‘I would sell into strength, not buy into weakness,’ he said.


He sees opportunities still in buying gold and currencies like the Thai baht, Swiss franc, yen and the Singapore dollar.


Precious metals and agriculture commodities should be a significant portion of one’s portfolio, of more than one-fifth, he said.


As for equities, he would recommend Asian financials such as India‘s ICICI Bank and Malaysia‘s Maybank.


Asian telcos such as Singapore Telecommunications and StarHub will continue to perform.


Some Asian countries like Thailand, India and Indonesia will continue to do well, he said.


The current Thai government will reflate the economy, he said. He sees a strong baht and low interest rates which will help boost the Thai economy.


As for the impact of the Opposition showing in last Saturday’s Malaysian election, a period of uncertainty will follow, he said.


And given the global backdrop, investors have time to wait for more developments before putting money into Malaysia, he said.


Source: Business Times

Singapore – Monaco of the tropics

SingaporeMonaco of the tropics


But reports don’t tell how individual players are doing in region




ASIA ex-Japan remains the fastest-growing – and one of the most profitable – wealth management markets in the world. The number of newly minted Asian millionaires continues to grow as fast as Roger Federer’s serve.


The wealth of the wealthy in non-Japan Asia (US$10.6 trillion at end-2006) has almost caught up with that in Japan (US$11.9 trillion). And I believe it will very soon overtake it.


At the beginning of the decade, Japan had US$6.5 trillion and the rest of Asia only US$1.9 trillion.


In five years, the major private banks in Asia have tripled assets under management from US$200 billion to US$600 billion today.


Singapore in particular, with the explicit support of the government, has sought to build itself as the Asian industry’s centre, complete with the lifestyle trappings of the rich – a world-class concert hall and theatre, exclusive villas with berths for yachts, a high-end casino and lower taxes.


The island’s best grade A office space is filled with the biggest names in private banking. And every young banker who isn’t in capital markets wants to become a private bank relationship manager.


It’s Monaco in the tropics. Surrounded by big, powerful neighbours, the European princely state long ago discovered that offering its neighbours discreet wealth management and low taxes with the buzz of gambling and the thrills of rich men’s yachts and racing cars was a recipe for not just success – but survival.


Monaco‘s casino first opened in 1856. Its fabled grand prix began in 1929. A thriving arts scene and world-class shopping, eating and luxury real estate provided the finishing post-War touches. And by September 2008’s Formula One race in Singapore, the city state will look little different, save for the chilli sauce.


Behind the big numbers, what is not included in the market reports is how individual players are doing in this region.


The industry as a whole has done a sterling job in building presence and gathering assets, though some have done much better than others.


Nor is there much data on what customers think, which is the way competitors should be judged, rather than by asset gathering or profits.


In discussions with customers, one gets the feeling that growth in customer satisfaction has not kept pace with the 25 per cent growth in assets under management.


For all the advances in the range and quality of investment products on offer, customers have a limited voice. And for new customers looking for advice on who to choose, there is little to go on.


Awards, such as they exist, appear to be based on marketing prominence rather than actual results delivered to customers, and serve to make the private bank or banker feel good rather than act as a basis for customer choice.


On the latter issue, I have some hope that a forum may yet emerge to entertain customer feedback. Watch this space. For the former, I have attempted over the past few years to create a ‘league table’ ranking the major players in terms of asset size in non-Japan Asia, managed out of Singapore and Hong Kong.


I make no apologies for my use of English Premier League (EPL) football labels for the three tiers. Other than betraying my origins, the Premier League table supports the logic of the relative competitive advantage that accrues to the teams that get to the top.


You may not know anything about EPL football, or care, but you will undoubtedly have heard of Manchester United (yes, there is a reason for putting them first), Chelsea, Liverpool, or Arsenal. But Port Vale? The Tranmere Rovers?


This is not to say that size matters as much in private banking as in football, given the points made about customer service above. But scale has always created competitive advantages in business – for building brand identity, the perception of safety and the ability to draw and afford the best players.


So while my league is very flawed, until such time as a customer satisfaction version is available it will have to do.


And before those banks who feel hard done by in the figures squeal, please understand that these are estimates – many players will have undoubtedly grown fast since this was last updated in summer last year.


The point is that the table is conservative – plus or minus 10 per cent accuracy in total – and revisions are to the upside not the downside.


Please note also that some newer entrants, such as EFG and Standard Chartered, are not in the list, although Amex Private Bank stands as a proxy for SCB since its acquisition by the latter.


Clearly, the industry in Asia has matured from the early days of the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’.


A pattern of competitive dominance has been established. A limited group of mega banks dominate the market (in this case, five players with 55 per cent of it).


Then there’s a mid-market group or league with double the number of teams compared to the Premier League, but one-third of the market. And finally there’s a fragmented division league where more than 15 smaller banks control less than 10 per cent of customer assets. Size does matter. But that said, many of the smaller players are not necessarily losers in the battle for volume dominance. They are genuinely niche or ’boutique’ banks, much as Porsche can thrive alongside Toyota. In bank relationships, as in their garages, there is a place for both.


These boutiques are often privately owned, and continue to shine in the areas that count for many customers – real relationship management, a personal approach, thinking of the client’s interest and not just their own profit and loss, and not being reliant on a global investment banking parent. While an investment bank parent confers advantages, such private banks risk yielding to the pressure to serve as sales channels for the endless stream of products pushed out by their investment bank factory. And for customers, this is the biggest source of complaint.


As ever, it is the middle league where the competitive dynamics of being ‘stuck in the middle’ are most intense. The teams in this space are all divisions of very large, universal or investment banking groups (except Julius Baer), and while their models may differ in terms of target customers, they are generally as sophisticated, or claim to be, as those in the Premier League. All are very solid teams, though some are a lot more solid than others.


What then is their differentiation? Very little for the most part, it appears, on the surface. And the surface is what most new customers see. US investment banks Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan have managed to define a market position built around bringing their institutional investment banking offerings to private individuals, and a higher net worth target segment.


For the rest, I guess that if I secretly stole all their strategic plans in the middle of the night, mixed them up and returned then randomly to their CEO’s desk, he or she would not know the difference. It is not my business to advise readers on the relative merits of one team over another if they are shopping for a bank.


I will leave that to when real consumer feedback data appears. But assuming that success in asset gathering does bear some relation, at least partial, to the ability to deliver value to customers, it is worth ending with a few words on some of those teams that have made the most progress in moving up the league tables.


Again, I will let the figures do the talking, based on a similar table I prepared five years ago. Noteworthy rises in the mid-league have been Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale (both up more than four times in assets under management), and Morgan Stanley (up five times). Singapore‘s DBS has also done well, up more than four times.


In the division league, many players are relatively new entrants; others started and remain relatively small. Barclays stands out as the most surprising to remain in this category, given its global strength in asset management and the quality of its investment bank Barclays Capital.


At the opposite end of the spectrum is Julius Baer, which was not on my 2001 list at all. After no more than two years, it recently jumped into the championship tier with US$12 billion of assets under management. This extraordinary growth reflects a carefully planned ‘hot-house’ strategy led by Alex Widmer, the former head of Credit Suisse in Asia.


As ever, for all these questions, we look forward to letting the customers be the ultimate judge.


Roman Scott is the managing director of Calamander Capital, a Singapore-based investment and advisory firm, and economic spokesman for the British Chamber of Commerce. He was formerly a partner at Boston Consulting Group and led its wealth management practice in Asia


Source: Business Times

Guocoland dives on options lapse

Guocoland dives on options lapse


Shares hit as Kuwaiti-linked fund pulls out of $815m property purchase




SHARES of Guocoland fell victim yesterday to news that a fund company managed by Kuwait Finance House (Malaysia) Berhad (KFHMB) did not exercise options to buy $814.8 million worth of apartments in Guocoland’s upmarket project here.


Following analysts’ downgrade, the stock dived as much as 19 cents or 5 per cent to an intra-day low of $3.64 before closing at $3.70, down 13 cents or 3.4 per cent. More than 420,000 shares changed hands.


But the reaction from property counters was mixed, with Ho Bee falling two cents to 95 cents and SC Global dipping four cents to $1.50. Keppel Land edged up five cents to $5.35 and CapitaLand gained 18 cents to $5.89.


The fund company managed by KFHMB had purchased options in December last year to buy 97 units at the premier freehold development Goodwood Residence. There are only 210 exclusive units on this 24,845-sq-m estate fronting the expansive Goodwood Hill. KFHMB is the Malaysian unit of Kuwait Finance House (KFH).


Guocoland said on Monday that although the options have lapsed, the parties are still in discussions, with a view to granting fresh options for units in the development.


It is not known why the fund did not exercise the options, but Guocoland said in its Monday announcement that ‘the current private residential property market appears to be cautious in Singapore‘. This could have prompted its decision to market Goodwood Residence units selectively at a later date.


But in the stock market yesterday, speculation was rife over reasons for the lapse. Some cited the cautious market sentiment while others cited over-pricing of the units. There was even talk of an unsuccessful marketing campaign for these units by KFH in Dubai. The median price of $3,200 per square feet that the KFHMB fund agreed was earlier seen by some as a possible benchmark pricing for the area.


DBS Vickers yesterday cut its rating on Guocoland to ‘hold’ from ‘buy’ and lowered its target price to $4.14 from $5.60 after revising downwards its average selling price estimates for Guocoland’s high-end and mid-tier projects and ascribing a 15 per cent discount to Guocoland’s revalued net asset value.


‘We believe that the decision by KFHMB to allow these options to lapse is a sign of the weak sentiment in the physical property market currently, particularly in the high-end segment,’ the brokerage said.


But Westcomb Financial Group said it believes that this lapse of options ‘should not be taken as a signal that the Singapore private residential property market has fallen drastically.


‘In fact, the buyer has overpaid their purchases in December 2007, maybe with the view that the market would continue its uptrend in 2008.’


Source: Business Times

Landed housing plot draws top bid of just $77.80 psf

Landed housing plot draws top bid of just $77.80 psf


Only one other offer made; poor show seen as sign of uncertain market




IN what is seen as a sign of an uncertain property market, a landed housing parcel in Jurong West drew only two bids, and a low top bid of $11.8 million – or just $77.80 per square foot (psf) – at the close of a government land tender yesterday.


The higher bid, put in by Boon Keng Development, was significantly below what analysts had said the site could fetch. Cushman & Wakefield managing director Donald Han, for example, reckoned that the plot would fetch $200-$250 psf of land area.


‘The price is really below expectation,’ said Mr Han yesterday. ‘But with the market sentiment being so weak, you can expect wild swings in prices. Developers will be sitting on the sidelines or might not want to bid their best prices.’


The other bid was put in by Sunway Concrete Products, a unit of Malaysian- listed Sunway Holdings. It offered $10.3 million, or $68.1 psf of land area.


Li Hiaw Ho, executive director for research at CB Richard Ellis, said that both bids were ‘relatively conservative’ and reflected the current cautious sentiment in the market.


The 99-year leasehold site on Westwood Avenue has a land area of 151,759 sq ft. Property analysts estimate that some 50-60 landed homes can be built on the site.


‘Nevertheless, based on the highest bid of $78 psf, terrace houses on this site could still be sold for $900,000 to $1 million each,’ Mr Li said. This is slightly higher than recent transactions of intermediate terrace houses in nearby Westwood Park and Westville, which were between $820,000 and $990,000 each.


Potential buyers, Mr Li added, could comprise locals working in the manufacturing firms in Jurong and Tuas, as well as academics at nearby Nanyang Technological University.


Market watchers, however, said that it is possible that the government might not award the site because of the low price.


The price looks especially low when considering other recent government sales of landed housing plots, Mr Han pointed out.


In October, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) auctioned off 12 sub-divided landed housing plots near Sembawang Beach which can be developed into a total of 57 landed homes. The auction fetched a total of $37.09 million, which worked out to about $285 psf of land area on average.


And in January, the government decided not to sell a short-term office site in Aljunied because the sole bid offered too low a price. The decision followed a recent string of lower-than-expected offers for state land.


Source: Business Times