US Q1 home price declines at record

US Q1 home price declines at record


NEW YORK – Declines in US home prices accelerated in the first quarter, falling a record 1.7 per cent from the end of 2007, according to a federal index.


The house price index of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight that covers home purchases is also down a record 3.1 per cent in the quarter from a year earlier. — REUTERS


Source: Business Times

New initiatives launched to promote green building movement

New initiatives launched to promote green building movement


SINGAPORE: The green building movement in Singapore has gained momentum and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) hopes to spur it further by enhancing its Green Mark Incentive Scheme.


At the BCA awards ceremony on Thursday, City Developments was named Singapore’s first Green Mark Champion.


This new award is given to developers and building owners who have at least ten projects that have attained the BCA Green Mark Gold and Platinum standards.


However, BCA was unable to find a winner for the ultimate prize – the Green Mark Champion Platinum Award, which requires developers to have at least 50 eco-friendly projects to qualify.


Among the 97 winners at this year’s BCA award ceremony, three CityDev projects secured the Green Mark Platinum prize. They are 9 Tampines Grande, Cliveden at Grange and The Solitaire. They were evaluated based on several criteria, with more weightage placed on energy efficiency.


National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said: “A key aspect of sustainability in the built environment is how efficiently you use resources, especially energy.


“All indications show high energy prices are here to stay for quite some time, so a focus on energy efficiency will reduce costs and enhance the competitiveness of the building.”


BCA expects more industry players to tap into its S$20 million fund, which has been set aside for the Green Mark Incentive Scheme in 2006. So far, S$2.6 million has been committed to 17 projects.


There are over 100 green buildings in Singapore and BCA said another 200 are waiting to be certified.


With effect from Thursday, it has expanded the scheme to smaller buildings and other stakeholders in the industry, as the minimum gross floor area (GFA) eligibility is reduced from 5,000 square metres to 2,000 square metres.


Dr John Keung, CEO of BCA, said: “If you do your green building design from day one with that objective of energy efficiency in mind, you’ll tend to have a more cost-effective design, so we are extending the incentive scheme to the architects and to the mechanical and electrical engineers to encourage them to take charge from day one.”


Huge savings can be reaped from green developments. For instance, the new mall 313@Somerset is expected to generate S$1.3 million in energy savings a year.


Another new initiative is the Green Mark for Parks Award as the BCA is working with the National Parks Board to promote sustainable practices and features in parks.


The three winners for the new award this year are Fort Canning Park, Chinese Garden and the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.


BCA also launched the inaugural Design and Engineering Safety Excellence Award on Thursday to commend industry players who have upheld high construction safety standards.


Source: Channel NewsAsia

Buffet sees long-term effect of crisis on US

Buffet sees long-term effect of crisis on US


MADRID – US investor Warren Buffet said on Wednesday that he saw the impact of the current financial crisis on the US economy lasting longer than many people do.


‘I think tidal wave that hit various financial institutions since last August has largely been recognised and felt,’ Mr Buffet, the world’s richest man, told a news conference in Madrid.


‘In terms of the effect on the economy in the United States, we don’t know, but I think it will be longer and deeper then many people do. There could well be a lot to come,’ he added.


Dollar will continue to fall

Mr Buffet said the US dollar would continue to fall as the policies needed to correct the greenback’s slide had yet to be implemented.


‘The dollar will decline in value. That’s not a 20-year prediction or a two-year prediction. The same policies that have obviously resulted in a deterioration in the value of the dollar will produce some more results,’ he said.


‘It looks at the present time like those same policies are being continued, so I would expect, unless we have a major change, that the dollar will decline in value over a long period of time,’ he added, who is worth US$62 billion according to Forbes magazine.


Won’t buy Internet firms

Mr Buffet said that he had no plans to invest in Internet companies.


‘I have tried to stay with businesses where I know how their economics will look in five, 10 or 20 years and that’s much easier to do in areas where there’s little change,’ he said.


‘I’m not good at predicting change. I tend to stick with things where there is very little change and that tends to preclude internet companies,’ he added. — REUTERS


Source: Business Times

Singapore government encourages CEOs to invest in green buildings

Singapore government encourages CEOs to invest in green buildings


SINGAPORE – The government has been taking the lead in turning its buildings green and is now asking Singapore CEOs to follow suit.


Some experts say that planning to go green right from the design stage can mean substantial savings in energy costs later.


The public sector is paving the way, with the Environment Building being a prime example of an energy-efficient government building. And private sector firms are increasingly following in its footsteps.


With the industry and buildings sectors accounting for about 65 percent of Singapore’s total energy use, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Yaacob Ibrahim emphasized how important it was for businesses to play their part in conserving energy.


Dr Yaacob said: “To further emphasize that energy efficiency is the way to go, we are also putting in place several schemes that will incentivise energy efficient technologies and practices in the industry.


“We are even looking into assisting companies at the design stage of their facilities so that the newer factories will be energy-efficient from day one.”


‘Retro-fixing’ or re-modelling older buildings with more energy efficient materials can help cut energy bills by 30 to 60 percent.


But global experts say building energy-efficient buildings saves more money than retro-fixing less energy-efficient buildings later on.


Chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory Lovins, said: “Capital cost goes down if you build things right the first time. I don’t just mean operating costs go down. I mean capital expenditure goes down.


“So in a typical class A office, we normally save around 80 percent or 90 percent of the typical energy use, and improve the productivity and health of the people in the building, and yet the capital expenditure goes down about three to five percent.”


He explained that energy-efficient office fixtures – like windows and lights – have smaller and simpler mechanical systems, so one saves on the costs it would take to modify regular office fixtures.


Mr Lovins also said an added incentive to switch to improved environmental space is that it creates happy workers and shoppers – spaces that are well-lit increase labour productivity by up to 16 percent, and boost retail sales by as much as 40 percent.


Source: Channel NewsAsia

HDB revises flat application rules

HDB revises flat application rules


SINGAPORE: The Housing & Development Board (HDB) has revised the application process for its Build-to-Order (BTO) and Balloting Exercise (BE) modes of sale to address recent increases in non-selection of new HDB flats. The changes will take effect from the May 2008 BTO exercise.


Under the revision, first-timer applicants who reject two chances to select a flat will have their first-timer priorities removed for a one-year period in HDB’s sales exercises.


This means that they will be treated like second-timer applicants, and will no longer be able to ballot for the 90% of publicly available flats which HDB safeguards for first-timers. They will also not be eligible for the Married Child Priority Scheme which gives them two additional tries.


Additional chances for repeatedly unsuccessful first-timers – that is those not invited to select a flat – will be limited to only BTO exercises in non-mature estates. No additional chance will be accorded if they participate in the BE or the Quarterly/Half-Yearly Sales Exercise, where the supply of flats is limited.


The additional chances will be accorded to first-timer applicants who had been unsuccessful twice (that is, starting from the third try), instead of the existing practice where additional chances are only given starting from the fifth try.


HDB said the above measures will encourage applicants to consider their options carefully before participating in an HDB sale exercise. The measures will also help to minimize non-selection of HDB flats by applicants who repeatedly participate in sales exercises and thus divert HDB’s time and resources from those with urgent housing needs.


Recent launches of Build-to-Order flats have seen an overwhelming number of applications, especially those in mature estates, leading to speculation that there is a shortage of new flats. But HDB said, on the contrary, the bulk of applicants often do not end up making a purchase.


The recent Coral Spring project, for instance, saw about 30% of flats not taken up even after all applicants had been invited to book a flat.


HDB said in the last four Build-to-Order exercises, about 50 to 70 percent of applicants rejected their chance to book a flat, citing reasons like location and cost. However, HDB said such information was readily available to applicants when the projects were first announced.


It said it had considered other options – such as raising the administration fee and reverting to the old queue system. However, these measures are not necessarily effective deterrents, and in the case of the latter, may in fact lead to an over-supply.


Reactions to the changes were mixed, with most first-timers cheering the increased priority.


“For a first-time buyer, to get a flat is very important. For second-time buyers, maybe they already have a flat… but (for first-time buyers like us), we are just starting to build a family, so we should have more priority,” said a flat applicant.


For those who have rejected the allocated flats, some said the HDB should consider such applicants on a case-by-case basis.


Eric Chong, a first-time flat buyer, said: “There must be a reason why people want to reject, because they might not like a second-floor flat, or other reasons. I must purchase the one that I like most, because it’s a big investment.”


The new rules kick in with HDB’s latest BTO projects – Compassvale Pearl in Sengkang, and Punggol Sapphire. These will add another 1,485 new flats to the market.


Including upcoming projects in Punggol, Sengkang, Woodlands and Bukit Panjang, to be launched in the second half of this year, the total planned supply for 2008 is 8,000 flats. The number is more than the 6,000 in 2007 and 2,400 in 2006. – CNA/ir


Source: Channel NewsAsia

CapitaMall to buy S’pore property for US$619m

CapitaMall to buy S’pore property for US$619m


SINGAPORE – Singapore-listed Reit CapitaMall Trust (CMT) said it is buying office development, The AtriumzOrchard, for $839.8 million (US$619 million) from the government through its trustee HSBC Institutional Trust Services.



CMT said the total acquisition cost, including purchase price and fees, would be $850 million and would be funded by a mixture of debt and convertible bonds.


The development, of two office towers of seven and 10 storeys, is located at Singapore’s main shopping belt along Orchard Road, CMT said in a statement on Thursday.


It also has some ground floor retail space and is connected to a major train interchange.


Trading in shares of CMT was halted at 1400 (0600 GMT). — REUTERS


Source: 938Live

Moody’s has negative rating on S’pore REITs

Moody’s has negative rating on S’pore REITs 



Moody’s Investors Service has a negative rating outlook for Singapore’s real estate investment trusts over the next 12 to 18 months.


Moody’s said in a new report that despite overall sound fundamentals, negative market sentiment and tighter market liquidity have impaired the access of some issuers to the capital markets.


Lead author of the report, Kathleen Lee said materially tighter credit conditions are adversely affecting both the availability and price of debt at a time when a number of S-REITs face imminent refinancing needs.


She added that depressed unit prices of many trusts have also reduced the attractiveness of equity funding.


As a result of these challenges, Moody’s in recent months has downgraded or put on review for downgrade three S-REITs and set outlooks for two others to negative.



Source: 938Live

CapitaMall Trust buys The Atrium@Orchard for S$840m

CapitaMall Trust buys The Atrium@Orchard for S$840m


SINGAPORE: CapitaMall Trust (CMT) has bought The Atrium@Orchard office development for about S$840 million.


The Atrium@Orchard is a commercial development comprising two Grade A office towers and some ground floor retail space.


CMT said the purchase from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) will be funded by a mix of debt and convertible bonds. Predicting a 2.1 percent initial property yield, the Trust plans to issue at least S$650 million worth of bonds.


While some analysts have expressed concern, CMT said current office rent at The Atrium is low by market standards and it has room to more than double.


It expects a 4.5 percent yield to be achievable by 2010 when almost all the leases are due to expire.


CMT plans to integrate the development with the Plaza Singapura shopping mall next door, which it also owns.


Deputy Chairman of CapitaMall Trust Management, Liew Mun Leong, said the proposed merger of the two properties will create one of the largest integrated developments along Orchard Road.


The combined property will have about 170 metres of prime retail frontage and over 900,000 sq ft of net lettable space.


The acquisition will also grow CMT’s asset size by 15 percent to some S$6.9 billion.


With the latest purchase, CMT has revised its local target asset size from S$8 billion to S$9 billion by 2010.


Asked why CapitaCommercial Trust (CCT) was left out in the deal, CMT said it is to avoid a conflict of interest for both sides.


Pua Seck Guan, CEO of CapitaMall Trust, said: “Although The Atrium currently is predominantly an office building, our intention is to convert the office space into retail and create a synergy with Plaza Singapura.


“Since CMT owns 100 percent of PS (Plaza Singapura), it makes sense for CMT to own The Atrium at this moment, until we work out the asset plan to convert the office space into retail. As a result, we don’t think it’s wise to have a joint venture with CCT at this moment because that will create conflict.”.


Source: Channel NewsAsia

His worry: Is S’pore becoming high cost, low tech?

His worry: Is S’pore becoming high cost, low tech?


By Clarissa Oon


WHAT keeps pioneer civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow awake at night is the fear of Singapore becoming a high-wage and ‘not so high tech’ economy like London and losing its competitiveness.


The longtime advocate of technical education said Singapore must ensure its best and brightest continue to become engineers and not just bankers.


Mr Ngiam observed how Singapore started off in the late 1960s with low labour costs and low technology.


‘In the 1970s and 1980s, we moved to low cost, higher tech.


‘Today, the question I would like to pose is: Are we in danger of being high cost and low tech? That really gets me very worried at night.’


Wages in Singapore had gone up significantly over the decades, he said, but the level of technology not by as much.


In comparison, the high labour costs of many Western countries are offset by strong technological capabilities. He cited the example of Finland, where, he was told, ‘the engineer is more respected than the manager’.


His pet theory for the decline of the British economy is that ‘their best and brightest from Oxbridge, instead of going into engineering and running factories, went into the City of London’.


‘City of London – they are not creators of wealth, they are just shuffling assets around the place,’ he said dismissively.


The United States has overtaken Britain because ‘while some of their best went to Wall Street, their best still go into engineering, ‘ he said.


Mr Ngiam was a champion of technical education when he was Economic Development Board chairman from 1975 to 1981.


It was partly as a result of his lobbying during this period that Nanyang Technological University was born and the National University of Singapore expanded its engineering faculty.


Recalling those days, he said: ‘I used to tell everybody, what I want is 1,000 engineers, 5,000 technicians from the polytechnics, and 10,000 Institute of Technical Education workers.


‘You give me that, I grant you a job.’


Once they knew they could find trained manpower here, the multi-national companies flocked to Singapore, he added.


Mr Ngiam said the beefing up of technical education was very timely, ‘because now the world talks about global competition and a knowledge-based economy.


‘How do you become a knowledge-based economy, except through science and technology?’


As a result, if the cream of the education system goes into Shenton Way instead of the technology and industrial parks, ‘I think we are done for’.


Source: Straits Times

Singapore is 29th most peaceful country

Singapore is 29th most peaceful country


Republic scores well in 140-nation index for its few refugees, lack of internal conflict


By Sue-Ann Chia


SINGAPORE moved up two spots in a global index which measures how peaceful countries are.


It ranks 29th out of 140 countries in the Global Peace Index, which aims to link peace to prosperity.


When ranked against its neighbours, Singapore is No. 6 among 25 countries in Asia and Australia.


Its improved position this year is due to its ‘favourable score’ for the low number of refugees as a proportion of the population, said a statement on the index.


The index is compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which is part of the group that publishes the Economist magazine.


Overall, Singapore scored well in areas such as its lack of internal conflict, likelihood of demonstrations and political instability.


Last year, when the index was started, Singapore was ranked high for its low level of violent crime.


Commenting on the current results, political observer Eugene Tan said: ‘They show that the effort put in to maintain a cohesive society is paying dividends.’


The index uses 24 indicators – grouped in three categories – such as levels of violence, military spending, relations with neighbours and political instability.


It also takes into account democracy, transparency, levels of education and material well-being.


Iceland, a newcomer on the index, clinched the top spot as the most peaceful country in the world. At the bottom, for the second year running, is Iraq.


Topping the list in Asia and Australasia is, once again, New Zealand, which ranks fourth globally. Next comes Japan (fifth globally), Hong Kong (23rd), Bhutan (26th), Australia (27th) and Singapore.


The study was initiated by Australian IT entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Killelea, with an international team of academics, philanthropists and peace institutions.


Last year, it covered 121 countries and this year, 140.


Commenting on the findings, Mr Killelea, 58, said: ‘The world appears to be a marginally more peaceful place. This is encouraging, but it takes small steps by individual countries for the world to make greater strides on the road to peace.’


Most countries had better scores for level of internal conflict and violent crime, political instability and potential for terrorists acts.


A report on the index noted that there is a strong relationship between peace, business and national wealth.


Said Nobel laureate and South African cleric Desmond Tutu: ‘You ultimately can’t have business where you have conflict.’


Singapore‘s Mr Tan added: ‘If you have to deal with security concerns, there would be increasing costs to doing business. So Singapore, in a sense, has peace dividends that attract businesses here.’


Source: Straits Times