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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Revisiting The Property Bubble & Investment Trap Part 3 - Quick 2011 Year End Review of the Property Market & External Business Environment

After the Presidential Election campaign, I last wrote about the Singapore property market in End Sep 2011. I had not written much since then, for the following 2 reasons.

(a) As I put in my last posting, I believe it would be about "going back to the basics" for our property market ... "that property prices might move sidewards due to the world recession from 2009 and probably drag on for sometime longer due to the Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Crisis in Japan and then the re-emergence of the Euro-zone debt crisis".

There were no significant "internal changes" to the property market since the May General Election and a change of MND Minister, until perhaps last night when new control measures were announced; except for the ever-continuing ridiculous pricing of some new EC & DBSS launches, despite the negative volatile economic picture arising from the Euro-Zone debt crisis. I will elaborate later on.

(b) I was busily involved in the commissioning of the new Clementi Bus Interchange, as the final phase of the Clementi Town Centre / Suburban Mall / Bus Interchange development project.

New Clementi Bus Interchange
The Old Clementi Temporary Bus Interchange
Just a short distance away, a new DBSS project was launched at prices which seemed ridiculously high to me considering the present negative volatile business environment and uncertainty of employment. So you may understand how difficult it is for me to comprehend and accept property prices if they are still ridiculous, when construction cost data are at my finger tips.

An interesting architectural shot taken of Clementi Towers
Appreciating in context - The Singapore's Property Market

Following GE 2011, my particular attention was on what measures the new MND Minister would take since "affordable public housing" was a "hot-potato" issue during the last GE. Nothing much came until yesterday night. These are my observations :-

(a) Ramped-up BTO supply.   That the new MND Minister was able to "largely cleared the  backlog of BTO first-timer applicants" with his ramped-up BTO programme in just 6 months, perhaps made it just too simple for the previous intelligent MND Minister to even think about it. No wonder his predecessor was too busy, and took more than a year; figuring out how to implement control measures to "fix" prices for "asset enhancement" but not simply to supply more affordable BTO flats when the waiting threatens with backlog ... or was it a bargain for electoral votes so that he could be empowered again to enhance your property value? This certainly looked "going back to the basics" for the new Minister and not of our property market that I wrote on 23 Sep 2011(LOL).

(b) Issue of HDB pricing.  The next issue which the new MND Minister could not answer for his predecessor was still on "affordability" of HDB flats. He has so far kept silent on the contentious issue of pricing HDB flats, which emerged as a top election issue. HDB, under Mr Mah, maintained that market-based pricing made more sense, although opposition parties had argued for a more transparent cost-based method.

I had posted on 17 Sep 2011 - "Since the stepping down of Mr Mah Bow Tan as MND Minister and the taking-over by Mr Khaw Boon Wan, I believe nothing has changed to the pricing formula for new BTO flats or even EC. If Mr Mah could not explain about profits on BTO flats and do something to the pricing formula, I believe there is nothing more Mr Khaw would do too, judging from his actions so far." [Re-visit the top-read posting in this Blog; posted on 21 April 2011 just before GE 2011 - "An illegal raid on the reserves? Mr Mah Should Explain About Ballooning Land Costs"]

"CPF grants are helpful but it seems like we are just taking money from one pocket to return it to another. We must seriously consider the pricing formula for HDB flats and seek to make it a transparent one as much as possible," said Zainudin, MP to Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and his own PAP comrade in Parliament.

But do you now know the pricing formula for new HDB flats?

But I am sure you have read this :-

"As a result of rising land costs and the need to keep flats affordable, the size of HDB flats has shrunk by 5 to 10 per cent over the last two to three decades. For example, a five-room flat in Bukit Batok Central built in 1989 has a floor area of 121 sq m, compared to 110 sq m for a similar unit built in 2003....The shrinking size of public flats here has not lowered Singaporeans' quality of living, according to HDB CEO Cheong Koon Hean" but experts like Colin Tan disagreed as reported in this article in TODAY.

(c)  New Property Control Measures.  

"The new cooling measures mean any foreigners who want to buy a property will incur an additional 10 per cent stamp duty and another 3 per cent stamp duty. Including the seller's stamp duty, it may go up 25 per cent to break even in the next four years. The foreigner has to be really bullish about the property market," ... "With the additional 10 per cent, it will add $150,000 to the total cost of the stamp duty, which is already at 3 per cent,"  for most private condominium which is priced at about S$1 million.

Why the latest round of control measures?

I was chatting with a a new citizen colleague (formerly a China national) early this week. I told him that I expect prices of properties here to consolidate drastically next year. My arguments are the same as you might have read my previous posting(s) such as this in Oct 2010, but now also supported by new dismayed developments of the continuing financial crisis in the Euro-Zone.

He disagreed with me and told me a major price consolidation next year is unlikely. His reason - Just look at the number of China investors coming to Singapore to buy properties. China had tightened the property market and price had consolidated so much as evident at the End of Autumn which traditionally is the highest sale-volume month. I was monitoring the H-Share related HSI index and property counters and this review maybe a good simple summary. So China investors are instead investing here in Singapore. Perhaps unknown to you, many China investors are buying their 2nd or even 3rd property (home or here) with hard cash while many Singaporean genuine homeowners are struggling to pay off one very expensive property purchase with a "mortgage". He was right but that was before the new control measures were announced.

Sometime last year, you had heard our PM Lee said a double-dipped recession was unlikely; but just a few days back he would have thought otherwise as his NTUC Labour Chief told us to "bite 3 bullets instead of 1". Next, this would become his excuse for you to improve productivity but perhaps still let pay stagnate another 10 years ... (Read about what I call the $10K Salary Syndrome here) ..... Coincidentally, in U-Channel, I heard about the latest control measures.

If you asked me whether it is too late, I would say "Yes". But is it fair? ... Certainly yes... Why? Simply...those Singaporeans whom I considered to be daring enough ... had gone forward to purchase their expensive EC, DBSS etc at prices still ridiculous to me ...while the market was left 'open" to the foreigners since many moons ago after MBT announced earlier control measures ... "Tharman mentioned "no capital controls"...[read my posting dated 7 Dec 2010 more than a year ago here] ... and you may recall that the revision of income ceiling for HDB flats purchase was implemented exactly 1 year late since PM Lee first announced it during N-Day Rally in 2010. So the "capital controls actually came one year late but implemented in the form of new property control measures by KBW. For the obvious reason which I had also mentioned trap all those buyers for the last one year in - locals and foreigners included, while the "price was still ridiculous". This is for the sake of the economy in future and the Govt coffer.

Read here, HK is looking at relaxing restrictions on mortgages for residential properties if economic conditions worsen ...

Read here, China is looking at relaxing restrictions - "China's thin margin for error in property policies". ... "Fears that the euro might collapse, unleashing a tsunami of financial and economic disruptions around the globe, have added urgency to concerns that China's campaign to cool overheated housing prices may go too far."

But ... we in Singapore is putting in new control measures ... I am afraid a substantial number might have already been trapped ...  Is it really "An entire nation held hostage by the property market" ?

Is this effective to prevent a future drastic fall in property prices and a collapse or have you burnt your pocket and are already trapped?

Not if you had already committed and bought "high" in the last one year ... but good for those who are looking forward to a 10~15% price consolidation in the private mass property market, or a 15~20% price fall in the Central Core Area. It is worth the wait - isn't it, if you are not already entrapped?

Appreciating In Context the External Business Environment & Property Markets

Asia's economy looks heading for a 'yo-yo' year in 2012.

European banks' claims on Asia, excluding Japan, amount to $1.4 trillion, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements. If Europe's debt problems intensify and its banks retrench, they may pull back some of that credit with little warning, leaving Asia vulnerable to a sudden exodus of capital.

Singapore stands out among the most heavily exposed, with European bank claims amounting to 83 % of the country's gross domestic product, according to a Bank of America-Merrill Lynch economist, so you can imagine how much exposure we have to the Euro-Zone Crisis.

For some Asian economies, it is China rather than Europe that will most influence 2012's course. China is the largest trading partner for many Asian countries, and it is no longer simply an assembly point for goods destined for export.

That means what happens inside China matters a great deal for the rest of Asia. The biggest domestic worry centers on China's cooling property market, and the repercussions for bank lending and local government borrowing.

Beijing orchestrated a real estate slowdown this year to try to avoid a damaging property boom and bust. But the side effect has been a rise in troubled loans to developers, and a drop in land sales that has cut off a vital source of revenue for heavily indebted local governments.

Credit Suisse, which has been among the more bearish in its forecasts on China's housing sector, predicted property prices would fall 10 percent in 2012, bringing the cumulative decline to 20 percent from a mid-2011 peak.

China's central bank said on Dec 2 that home prices were at a "turning point" and banks were concerned about a possible chain reaction if prices were to fall by 20 percent. Many market watchers took that as a signal that Beijing would ease some of the restrictions it placed on home purchases.

China has already reduced the amount of reserves that big banks must hold, a measure that freed up an estimated $55 billion to $63 billion in lending capacity.

Economists expect China to continue lowering banks' reserve requirements. That in turn should help spark stronger growth in the second half of 2012.

So for Singapore, it is still worthwhile to look at China as an economic driver of growth. At least, it looks certain as an indicator of the direction for growth in Asia and its property market is of paramount concern.

The Likely Future Direction

Can the new MND Minister delivers the 10~15% price consolidation that those who still have not committed in private properties might be waiting for? And what sort of price are we looking at as fair as genuine home buyer?

In my posting last October 2010, I wrote about my general observations of the whole property market after the earlier control measures were announced. They were :-

Falling prices in land bids by developers
(a) Fall in price of DBSS land bids by about 10% to a base of about $220~$230 psf ppr.
(b) Fall in price of EC land bids by about 20% to about $230 ~ $ 240 psf ppr
(c) Fall in price of Private Mass Market Condo land bids by about 10%~15% to about $320~$340 psf ppr.

While there was a fall in bidding price for land psf, we did not see a corresponding fall in sale price of new launches since then. Most of these lands would probably have been pushed out in new launches by now or will have to be pushed out very soon as the URA requires development to commence with a certain time frame.
With the latest control measures announced, I expect "construction costs" to actually fall at least in the short run, probably to match the fall in land bids then.

While a 10~15 % fall in prices of private property seems imminent, whether it will materialise into a major price correction of say 25~30% will depend very much on the "external drivers", either on the Euro-Crisis or China's growth which has shown sign of slowing down recently and the future direction of the China's property market.

I read in the papers that developers are now offering discounts of about 10% to foreigners to offset the additional 10% stamp duty payable by foreigners due to the new control measures. You can see there is certainly a comfortable margin for developers to do so. Those who have paid high prices in the last one year would probably regret.

During the 2006~2007 boom of HDB re-sale flats MBT seemed to have successfully engineered for the HDB re-sale index to rise despite a fall in prices of private property index - The infamous asset enhancement scheme.

In the first series of my posting, I had explained how developers had tried and probably succeeded to push up prices of private properties by a "$200 psf" benchmark. This was propped up and made "sustainable" by the HDB re-sale index which defied a severe fall through the Lehman crisis. With supply of BTO now increased, I am looking at a different scenario.

The 2008 financial tsunami had shown that "nothing is impossible even for big banks". We have seen Dubai's sudden fall. What will the Euro-Zone Crisis deliver at the end? China is smart enough this time round, not to help out Europe but will help itself due to their imminent change of leadership in 2012. I am still looking at a major correction in private property prices by the end of 2012. This round of control measure will just lessen the pain of the fall for those who have not yet committed but certainly not for those who had been daring enough to commit in the last one year but got trapped by the "$200 psf benchmark" pushed up prices.

Next let's see if more will lose jobs as banks start to retrench. And do not forget, Singapore stands out among the most heavily exposed to the European banks. That you have voted for a "financially savy" EP may not help you out any more.

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