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Asian developers upbeat

Thursday, June 25, 2009 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES [ BusinessWorld Online ]


SINGAPORE — Asian property firms are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel and several are positioning for an upturn even as the world economy struggles to recover from its worst recession in decades.

The mood among US and European executives at this week’s Reuters Global Real Estate Summit is glum, but Asian counterparts are more upbeat with some revealing plans for new projects in anticipation of an upturn later this year.

For instance, Chinese commercial property developer SOHO said it has built up a war chest of $1.9 billion to replenish its land bank and intends to start new projects in Shanghai and Beijing in coming months.

Indiabulls, India’s third-largest listed property developer, aims to launch six to seven residential projects in the financial year ending in March 2010 on the back of an expected recovery in demand.

"The general mood has been cautious, but there is also optimism. Asian companies in general are in much better shape compared to their peers in other regions," said Ayala Land, Inc. CFO and Asian Public Real Estate Association President Jaime Ysmael.

Spurring the optimism in Asia is a recovery in residential markets, with price cuts drawing buyers in China, Hong Kong and Singapore, where saving rates are high and banks are prepared to lend.

The volume of transactions in these places are close to levels seen during the bull market of 2007 and residential property values have begun to edge upwards as developers such as Singapore’s City Developments raise prices.

Asian property values did not rise as much as in the US and parts of Europe this decade. In dollar terms, property in countries such as the Philippines are cheaper than before the onset of the Asian crisis in late 1997.

Interest rate cuts and government stimulus plans are also helping regional property markets recover.

Singapore residential prices were supported by mortgage rates that were below rental yields, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report said this week.

"At the current mortgage rate of around 2.75%, our net cost of carry model implies that prices can rise by 30% before home buyers enter negative carry," it said. The bank predicts Singapore home prices will rise 20% next year.

Singapore’s housing market has been hit hard by the downturn, with home prices plunging nearly 14% in the first quarter of this year, the steepest drop in over 30 years,.

Nomura said unemployment was stabilizing in Hong Kong and forecasts home prices and rents in the Chinese territory will rise by 22% and 11%, respectively, this year.

A poll of 10 analysts conducted in conjunction with the summit showed China home prices are expected to gain an average of 10% between now and the end of 2010.

The outlook for Asia’s office market remained negative but most developers said rents have stabilized after falling sharply in the fourth quarter of 2008 and earlier this year.

Some investors said any pick-up may not be sustainable.

"There is a risk that this is a bear market rally and the situation could reverse when such liquidity leave the cities or country, or there is new shock to the economies," said LaSalle Investment Management’s Asia-Pacific head of research and strategy Kenneth Tsang. — Reuters

Local industry asks gov’t for standby assistance

THE PROPERTY SECTOR has joined other industries in seeking financial help in the form of a standby fund and subsidies from the government.

Bansan C. Choa, national president of the Subdivision and Housing Developers Association, Inc., told reporters yesterday that his group had submitted a proposal to the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) in April for a P30-billion "housing stimulus program".

"The government has requested all industries to submit a stimulus package and we submitted ours. We are proposing [that the government subsidize] the amortization of existing homeowners who [have] lost their jobs as well as shouldering more than a third of the interest that new home buyers are paying," he said.

Mr. Choa claimed the plan, to run for two years, would help spur the economy by contributing P2.6 trillion to gross domestic product.

"If the economy improves, then there would no longer be a need for such," he said.

Mark Diamante, planning officer of HUDCC, said the government body in charge of housing policy had yet to decide on the matter.

Based on the association’s proposal, the P30 billion would be part of a P160-billion housing stimulus.

"The worldwide consensus is that the next two years will be years of great uncertainty for everyone," the association said in its proposal.

It said the stimulus aimed to promote economic growth "by providing financial assistance to key sectors of the economy. The housing sector has been a major source of private employment in the domestic market and generates as much as 16.5 times in multiplier effect to the country’s nominal growth."

Under the proposal, P160 billion will be needed to support new housing construction and avert a possible slowdown in demand, at the same time assisting existing loan borrowers, particularly those who would be displaced from work.

"The two measures discussed above are the two most important macroeconomic policy tools that will provide the immediate impact needed," the group said.

Of the amount, P130 billion will be used for the construction of 200,000 housing units over two years, while the remaining P30 billion will go to the reduction of interest rates and monthly amortizations.

"Home buyers become naturally wary of accepting long term financial obligations during uncertain times and may consequently postpone purchases. However, by offering attractive low monthly amortization for an interim period, these buyers may still be encouraged to buy homes," the group said. — KJRL

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