Collapse or short term blip for SG RE?

Collapse or short term blip for SG RE?


by Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop


After two years of exuberance, activity in the private housing market in Singapore has slowed to a near standstill. The number of new property sales, measured on a monthly basis, contracted 64.9 percent in April, as buyers became more cautious and took a wait-and-see attitude. As a result, several well-publicized launches have been put on the backburner for an indefinite period and some developers have started to drop asking prices, for example at The Lakeshore in Jurong West and Blu Coral in Telok Kurau.



An air of doom and gloom has settled over Singapore’s residential property market and vultures are circling, proclaiming the Singapore residential property market is about to collapse by 30-40 percent, but are they interpreting the facts correctly? Not all experts agree, with some calling the current market downturn more of a short-term blip rather than the beginning of a market collapse.


“The slowing of the property market is a natural development after prices skyrocketed on the back of very strong demand,” says Sherman Chan, an economist at Moody’s, “but a 30-40 percent collapse is highly unlikely. The construction sector is an important growth driver for Singapore and I don’t think the government would let it collapse as there would be wider ramifications. Let’s not forget that the government imposed some measures last year to cool down the market and these measures could very well be lifted if need be.”


In recent weeks, several bearish reports have forecast a dramatic plunge in home values over the next two years. Barclays Capital believes private home prices could slide 28-30 percent by 2010, while Credit Suisse predicted a price decline of 30 percent in 2008-2009.


The bears are pointing to several factors suggesting the writing is on the wall. The stock of unsold condominiums (as measured by projects that have been issued a sales license) rose to 10,861 units in the first quarter of this year, 34 percent higher than the quarterly average in 2007 and back up to levels not seen since June 2005. Net CPF withdrawals for private property have turned negative for the first time, reflecting the decline in transaction as well as profit taking by local buyers who own more than one property. “This has never happened before, not even during the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis,” notes Barclay Capital economist Waiho Leong. And vacancy rates in non-landed property developments have also risen in recent months toward 6.3 percent, compared with 5.6 percent in the last quarter of 2007. Credit Suisse, in its recent report, argues that this will rise further to 9.8-19 percent, on a base and worst case scenario. This could in turn trigger a sharp fall in rentals further weakening the market. “The last time vacancies shot up from 5.8 percent to 9.7 percent, rentals fell by 41percent,” Credit Suisse Tricia Song wrote referring to the year 1996.


Casting long shadows on the markets are the estimated 66,000 home units expected to be completed between 2009-2012, as well as the possible unwinding of speculative purchases. Unless many of the developments that are currently in the pipeline are postponed, a cumulative surplus could provide a glut that will be felt most acutely in 2010, Leong warned.


The bears also argue that given the current thin sales environment, the small price growth recorded by the URA indices do not reflect sentiment and can easily be biased by a few high-end sales. A better gauge of sentiment is land prices and developers’ waning appetite for recent URA auctions, they say. In May, a 99-year residential leasehold site in Choa Chu Kang Drive attracted a top bid of only $203 per square foot per plot ratio, well below the $230-$270 psf ppr range the market had expected.


But not everybody agrees. “I think bad interpretation of data is causing the string of bad news,” says Ku Swee Yong, Director, Savills Residential Private Limited.


Ku points out that the supply figures touted by some analysts bundle together planned, under construction and complete unit numbers. “The reality is that any apartments expected to complete in 2010 but still not under construction today, is unlikely to be completed on time given that the average construction period for a 20 storey apartment block takes 24 months from foundation works till handover” Ku remarks.


“The construction sector is tight on resources today and unless there are policy changes given to encourage faster pace of construction, the ‘oversupply scenario’ is not a realistic one,” he adds.


Tay Huey Ying, Director for Research and Consultancy at Colliers, agrees, pointing out that although the supply pipeline appears a “bit on the high side,” once delays and abandonment of project developments are taken into account, “the new supply will be much lower than expected.”


Leonard Tay, director, CBRE Research also points out that many of the units will be taken out by either en-bloc sellers who need to relocate, or new expatriates moving here. “There is a lack of activity in the market, but property prices have been holding. I believe there are still a lot of buyers in the market with ready cash; they’re just waiting for what’s next,” Tay says, forecasting that the luxury end of the market may “dip just a bit” this year, but prices should hold for now.


As for the units bought under the deferred payment scheme that some say will be “dumped” in the market as the construction is completed, Ku says their number is probably limited to around 2,900, 10 percent of the 29,000 units that URA has given approval for sale under Deferment Payment Scheme. “Not that much to worry about,” he says.


Many property consultants are pointing to the long-term prospects for the Singapore property market supported by the positive vibe stemming from the Integrated Resorts and events such as the F1 race and the 2010 Youth Olympics.


“I think the Singapore property market is still pretty strong. We could see a mild correction, but I don’t see that as a concern because the government is still trying to attract expatriates to work here and they will contribute to demand for properties,” Chan says.


Tay also points out that given the anticipated continuing influx of foreigners, the 15-year historical average number of 7,000 new units needed a year is likely to increase to 8,000 to even 10,000 units.


“So I don’t foresee an oversupply situation as yet. I don’t think the sky is about to fall in,” she says.


Source: Asia Property Report

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