Friday, December 16, 2011

ABSD Property Curbs

What is the intention of the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) curbs ?
First, let's look at the policy measures introduced since 2010 to see the Big Picture:

Summary of policy measures in 2010 and 2011
Feb-10 ----- Introducing Sellers' Stamp Duty (SSD) on all residential properties and residential land that are bought after today and sold within 1 year from the date of purchase. Lowering LTV limit to 80% for all housing loans provided by financial institutions and regulated by the MAS

Aug-10 -----  Increased holding period for imposition of SSD from the current 1 year to 3 years. Increased minimum cash payment from 5% to 10% of valuation limit. Decreased LTV limit for housing loans granted by financial institutions from 80% to 70%

Jan-11 ----- Increased SSD period from 3 year to 4 years. Increase SSD to 16% within the first year, 12% within second year, 8% within  third year and 4% within fourth year. Lowered LTV from 70% to 60% for individual buyers and 50% for non individual buyers

Dec-11 ----- Foreigners and non individual buyers to pay additional buyers stamp duty (ABSD) of 10%. PRs owning one and buying second and subsequent property will pay ABSD of 3%. Singapore citizens owning two and buying third and subsequent property to pay 3% ABSD.
These are mainly demand-side measures---- calculated to discourage or defer real demand.
Remember that the govt also have supply-side measures----- land releases to ensure that developers can tender for plots to meet the supply spikes.
Ostensibly, the Dec 11 measures are anti-speculative since the ABSD targets additional purchase of properties beyond the 1st and it follows an incremental layering approach by the policymakers to prevent a bubble from forming in the property sector.

The only difference is that this time it discriminates  between SG citizens, PRs and foreigners with graduated deterrence's (ABSD).

Foreigner demand as a percentage of total transactions has risen from 13% last  year to 17% for 10M11. Recent data showed that foreigner buying activity had become increasingly broad based, moving into the mass and mid-end market segments, compared to the more high-end focus previously.
One way to look at the ABSD measures is to look at it as one of incremental policy layering ----- speculative  hot money from foreigners (corporate and individual) and  PRs being targeted was a logical policy outcome. Low interest costs, the high SGD and the desirability of SG as an attractive destination for HNWIs will facilitate hot money inflows which will gravitate towards properties; given the markets abhorrence for derivatives and hedge funds.

But, if the demand is genuine, that is if SG is so desirable to the HNWIs, would the measures be effective? IMHO, Yes, as it will skew foreigner demand towards the higher end sector ---- those who can afford high ABSD will be able to afford high end properties!! So the policy discourage speculation at the mid end and mass market sectors and is pro-SG citizens ( an important consideration during elections).
Foreigners from the United States, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland are exempt due to certain clauses in their free-trade deals with Singapore. However, buyers from these countries, excluding permanent residents, comprised only 1.7 per cent of all foreigner purchases of non-landed homes this year---- meaning that those most affected will be the Chinese, Indonesian and Indians.

What will the foreigners do, if they have to reside here for investment and biz reasons and cannot buy?
The answer is simple----- they will gravitate towards rental of properties!!

The other big question is one of timing----- why now?
Given the Eurozone uncertainties and the glacial pace of growth in the US, there is likely to be a period of  monetary easing (QE to be exact) and low interest rates in the West. Hot Money will flow to  Asia  eg HK, China, SG etc.....
So while the aneamic economic growth in Europe and the US slow global growth in trade terms, it will cause hot money to seek growth in faster growing Asia which has huge potential for economic growth due to domestic consumption arising from the surging population growth.
Hence, the direction of  hot money flows is not difficult to fathom----it will gravitate to where there is less controls.
SG due to its open and market friendly policies is a hot favorite.
The policymakers do not have a choice in coming up with the latest ABSD measures, if they want to slow down the rate of property price increases; given the drastic measures in HK and China.

Developers are of course "peeved" about the timing and the anti-speculative measures and are lobbying for their removal--- that is the raison detre for REDAS and it is no surprise that they do so.
Developers have come up with new tactics to keep sales going.
Latest BT update on Monday 12/12/2011, by Uma Shankari, says...

Other developers said it was 'business as usual' at their showflats, but admitted that sales were slower compared to a week ago.

For the most part, buyers are now waiting for prices to fall. Property agents noted that there was a 'steady flow' of potential buyers at showflats - but most left without buying anything.

This is even as many developers - including Far East Organization, Wing Tai Holdings and City Developments - are offering packages to offset the stiff new measures.

Far East is offering a 5 per cent relief package to affected buyers at all of its already-launched projects.

It will reimburse buyers 3 per cent of the unit price to offset the new stamp duty, and buyers will also get furniture vouchers worth 2 per cent of the flat price.

Wing Tai and City Developments are also offering relief packages at selected projects, BT understands.

But will property prices collapse 30%, as some analysts say?
That is NOT the intention of the policymakers; whom will adjust and recalibrate policies if the prices drop excessively.
IMHO, the policymakers seek a gradual incremental rate of property price rise------ not a collapse !!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Handing over the baton in China

According to Xinhua and reported by CNA , China will maintain property market restrictions and "prudent" monetary policies.

Many observers have their lenses zoomed in to the once-in-a-decade leadership changes.
No surprise on the "property market restrictions " as they were the fruits of  many incremental policies that finally managed to cool runaway property  prices. So any changes will be similarly targeted and incremental.

Xi Jin-Ping and Li Ke-Qiang are both groomed successors who have been given increasing exposures to policymaking and the top leadership changes should NOT be disruptive to the continuity in policymaking.

The signals sent out are therefore intended to ensure that 2 current "tenets":
-  Housing remains affordable
- Consumer prices (CPI) remain stable
remain in place even after the handing over of the baton. So it is very important that China do not give any nasty surprises here.

Monetary Policies and Fiscal Policies which has quite an impeccable record under the current leadership of Hu and Wen are likely to maintain "unswervingly " on course given the  signals sent out at the close of the annual Central Economic Work Meeting.

Let's look at the statements released after the meeting:

"the country will speed up the construction of ordinary commercial residential housing to increase the effective supply and promote the healthy development of the property market."

Since April 2010, China has imposed a raft of measures aiming to calm property prices. They include higher down payments, limits on the number of houses that people can own, the introduction of a property tax in some cities, and the construction of low-income housing.

The statement also said that :

"China will push forward the trials of property tax reform."

China introduced the property-tax trials in Shanghai and Chongqing at the beginning of the year as part of its efforts to curb skyrocketing home prices and contain asset bubbles.

Another part of the statement:

"China should appropriately handle the investment and financing, construction, operation and management of affordable housing projects, and progressively solve housing problems for low-income urban residents, newly-employed workers and migrant workers from rural areas."

The government has vowed to build 36 million units over the next five years in an effort to give more mid- and low-income households access to housing and stabilize runaway property prices, with 10 million units planned for both 2011 and 2012.

China's housing authorities said on Nov. 10 that the country has already met this year's goal of starting the construction of 10 million units.

This is what the incoming Li KeQiang said:

"The construction of affordable homes will help curb excessive price rises and fuel urbanization, which will in turn unleash consumption and investment potential and push the development of related industries,"

 VP Li Keqiang said in late November that the government should stick to its tightening measures over the property market and consolidate the regulative results it had achieved.

Hence the outcome of this meeting is no surprise.

More cities posted monthly home-price declines in October following the government's campaign to calm the property market.
In October, 34 cities in a statistical pool of 70 major cities saw declines in new home prices from September, compared with 17 in September, data with the National Bureau of Statistics showed.

This what the policymakers are trying to achieve: ----- a slowdown in the increase in home prices.
So the policymakers would not do an about turn now, when the policies are gaining traction. The policies have to be "calibrated" and the market would be monitored, the process of calibration via the feedback loop is a delicate balancing act.  However, if prices start plunging badly then policies would be adjusted incrementally

Gaming growth rates

A BT article today entitled...
"Gaming growth rates in Asia-Pac likely to moderate: S&P" by Grace Leong
says that in 2012:
- Singapore's net gaming revenue is expected to grow by 5-10% .
- Macau gross gaming revenue growth is 10-15 % .

The estimates were according to the analyst Joe Poon.
In the 1st 11 mths of 2011:
- Macau posted a 44 % jump in gross gaming revenues
- Singapore's net gaming revenues  soared 42 % to USD 5 b this year.

Regulatory uncertainties on  "junket approvals" and  "advertising" were cited as "dampers".

While Singapore's two IRs have exceeded performance expectations since their opening last year, several factors including regulatory uncertainty and projected slower growth in Singapore's economy could put a damper on local gaming growth.

Singapore's latest move to tighten advertising regulations to ensure the two casinos do not target locals, and expectations that the government may introduce more of such measures to tackle problem gambling, may crimp local gaming demand, the report said.

But the duopoly held by the two IRs until 2017 would also provide growth opportunities for them. And if the Casino Regulatory Authority were to approve junket operating licenses next year, Singapore's gaming growth rates would likely be higher than the current projected 5 per cent to 10 per cent.

Amid credit tightening measures in China, the Macau market is expected to post stronger gaming revenue growth than Singapore next year because the opening of Sands Cotai Central, a 5,800 room casino development project starting next first quarter, will likely fuel demand and boost mass market growth.

Mr Poon said he believes bad debts aren't likely to have a significant impact on the credit profiles of gaming operators in Macau, as they have limited exposure to direct lending to VIP players.

'We expect more projects will start in the next few years in Cotai, but the city could face challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, labour shortages, and a cap on the number of gaming tables,' he said.

Elsewhere in the region, countries including Japan are likely to accelerate their plans to develop licensed integrated casino resorts to spur economic growth.

'We expect operators in the region, with their improving financial capacity, to aggressively bid for casino licenses and invest billion of dollars into gaming projects,' Mr Poon said.

'We consider gaming operators to be better positioned now than they were in 2008 to accommodate risks associated with investments in new gaming developments and any moderation in gaming demand,' he said.

He cited significantly improved cash flow from existing properties, 'resulting in a better balance between cash generating assets and assets under development'.

'As many of these assets move from the construction phase to stabilised levels of cash flow generation, they should provide operators with greater capacity to accommodate any unexpected moderation in gaming revenues or capital availability,' he said.

The report did not examine the effect of emerging gaming locations on SG; such as in Japan and the new Cotai strip in Macau.

However, B/Ss are expected to improve and be resilent...
 "As many of these assets move from the construction phase to stabilised levels of cash flow generation, they should provide operators with greater capacity to accommodate any unexpected moderation in gaming revenues or capital availability"

"Wisdom is purified by virtue and virtue is purified by wisdom. Where one is, so is the other."