Published March 27, 2008

Last year's boom in investment sales likely to continue in '08


IT was an eventful 2007 for the Singapore property investment sales market, which hit a record $55.29 billion in volume of transactions. This was 81 per cent higher than the previous record of $30.59 billion in 2006. The robust momentum in the investment market was largely driven by active acquisition of development sites by developers in both the private and public sectors. The office sector was also very active.

The investment market was exceptionally active last year for the following reasons:

# A reversal of the 'perfect storm' - a combination of factors that allowed Singapore's property market to hit the sweet spot.

# Strong economic growth of 7.7 per cent in 2007.

# Office and residential market property booms.

# Strong interest from foreign real estate investors, both corporate and individuals.

# Emergence of Singapore as a service centre hub for Asia, for example private banking, back offices, medical centre and education.

# Feel-good factors such as the Formula One and integrated resorts.

The private sector investment sales market took the lead in 2007, accounting for 79 per cent of total investment sales or $43.63 billion. Public sector sales contributed the remaining 21 per cent or $11.66 billion.

Altogether, 39 government sites were bought by developers during the year, made up of three 'white' sites, 12 residential sites, eight commercial sites, six hotel sites and 10 industrial sites.

In addition, five residential sites at Sentosa Cove were sold for a total of $1.11 billion in 2007.

Significant public land sales in 2007 included a prime 'white' site at Marina View (Land Parcel A), which was awarded to Macquarie Global Property Advisors (MGPA) for $2.02 billion, and a commercial site at Beach Road, which was sold to a consortium comprising City Developments, the Istithmar Group and the Elad Group for $1.69 billion.

By sector, the residential sector took the lead in investment sales in 2007. Total residential investment sales amounted to $34.43 billion in 2007, representing 62 per cent of total investment sales and an increase of 118 per cent year on year.

A total of 116 collective sales were transacted in 2007, generating investment sales of $13.64 billion, exceeding the $8.2 billion from a total of 79 collective sales concluded in 2006 and is the highest ever.

Interestingly, many, including a number of overseas institutions and individuals, were observed to have purchased bulk apartments in residential projects before or after each project was officially launched for sale.

There was the purchase of 16 units at The Orchard Residences by a Thai investor for $135 million and a fund linked to MGPA acquired 162 units at The Cascadia for a total of $280.36 million. Also, a joint venture between US-based Wachovia Group and City Developments acquired 44 units at Cliveden at Grange for $432.43 million.

Investment activity in the office sector remained strong throughout the year, with increasing foreign investor participation, supported by strong market fundamentals.

Total office investment sales generated $14.19 billion worth of sales or 26 per cent of the year's total investment sales. This was nearly triple the $4.79 billion recorded in 2006. On the back of an upbeat office market, prime office properties continued to be highly sought after by Reits and foreign funds as they expanded their investment reach in Singapore.

About $4.86 billion worth of private en bloc office buildings and strata-titled office properties was acquired by these investors which in turn gave them a 54 per cent share of the $8.97 billion in total private major office transactions in 2007. The most significant transaction was the acquisition of Temasek Tower by MGPA at $1.04 billion.

Other notable office sales included the sale of Chevron House to a US fund for $730 million and the sale of 78 Shenton Way to Commerz Grundbesitz Investmentgesellschaft (CGI), a German fund, for $650.78 million. The deal was CGI's first foray into the Singapore property market.

Another German fund, SEB Asset Management, displayed strong interest in office properties by acquiring the SIA Building, 12 floors at Springleaf Tower and 10 floors in 79 Anson Road for a total of $965.91 million in 2007.

In addition, New Star Asset Management, a UK fund, acquired Parakou Building for $128 million and One Phillip Street for $99.02 million.

Reit-related office sales in 2007 included Keypoint at Beach Road which was acquired by Allco Commercial Reit for $370 million, inclusive of income support of up to $10.5 million for two years to be provided by the vendor. Both Keppel Land and Cheung Kong Holdings divested their one-third stakes in One Raffles Quay to K-Reit and Suntec Reit respectively, for $941.5 million each.

Looking ahead, strong office demand and potential for further rental escalation will lead to more buying of quality office properties in 2008. The sustained influx of foreign investors should continue to lead to brisk activity in the office investment market and provide strong support to prices.

Despite some volatility resulting from the global credit crunch and the slowing down of the US economy, investment sentiment will remain positive albeit a little cautious in 2008, due to the healthy economic forecast for Singapore.

Mounting inflationary pressure, the divergence of the weakening US dollar, the high level of liquidity in the investment market and the perception of promising returns have combined to make Singapore real estate an attractive investment alternative.

Investment activity in the office sector is likely to continue to outperform other property sectors given the limited supply coming on stream in the short term.

Foreign funds and Reit-related parties will also continue to lend support to the investment market, showing keen interest particularly in offices, retail and industrial assets.

The writer is executive director, investment properties, at CB Richard Ellis