December 18, 2008 Thursday

Long-term property investors should bet on S'pore: Analyst

By Joyce Teo

SINGAPORE looks a pretty good bet for long-term property investors, given its strong savings rate, low corporate taxes and near-full employment, according to a key real estate player here yesterday.

And if prices fall further next year, it would be a good time to buy, said Mr Christopher Fossick, Jones Lang LaSalle's managing director for Singapore and South-east Asia at a media briefing at the firm's office. There is a consensus that the economy will go through a tough time next year, which means it will be tough for everybody, including those in property, he said.

'If prices are lower, that provides opportunities,' Mr Fossick added. He pointed out that Asia, particularly Singapore, given its status as a financial services hub, is better off economically than the United States and Europe. The level of household borrowings and corporate loans here is lower than in the US and Britain, he said.

He quoted a recent report commissioned by London Mayor Boris Johnson that said that the rising status of regional hubs such as Dubai and Singapore is threatening London's position as the world's financial capital.

He listed some of the key factors that should continue to attract investors here. Singapore's corporate tax rate of 18 per cent, he said, is a tad above Hong Kong's 17 per cent but below the 29 per cent rate in Britain and the 40 per cent levy in the US.

There is near full employment and a strong savings culture here. Singapore has a gross national savings rate of 45 per cent, compared with 11 per cent in the US, 14 per cent in Britain and 32 per cent in Hong Kong. Also, about 76.5 per cent of Singapore's population are working, compared with 67.1 per cent in the US and Britain.

Property is always a medium- to long-term proposition, he added. Most investors treat it as such and have an investment horizon of more than 24 months. Jones Lang LaSalle's regional director and head of markets, Mr Chris Archibold, said the office market will have a lower take-up rate over the next year but most of the expected new supply will not come to market until late next year anyway.

There are a lot of institutional investors on the sidelines waiting to enter the Singapore market, according to Mr Fossick.

'They are saying, come 2009 and 2010, there will be opportunities to buy properties in Singapore,' he said. 'Obviously, it's going to be at some discount from prices we saw in 2007.'