April 12, 2009

me & money

To Ascott CEO, real estate is hot property

He believes property values will go up in land-scarce S'pore

By Lorna Tan, Finance Correspondent

Real estate forms a significant portion of Mr Chong Kee Hiong's investment portfolio.

After all, the chief executive of Ascott Residence Trust Management and Ascott Real Estate of The Ascott Group believes that in land-scarce Singapore, real estate will definitely appreciate over time.

He also invests in real estate investment trusts (Reits) because of their regular dividend payouts.

From 2004 till the middle of last year, Mr Chong, 43, enjoyed annual returns of about 15 per cent from his Reits holdings.

Prior to Ascott, he was chief financial officer at Raffles Holdings for three years.

His first job was with an accounting firm, the same one that gave him a scholarship to study accountancy at the then-Nanyang Technological Institute, now Nanyang Technological University. He was with the company for about five years.

This was followed by a stint in an engineering and architecture firm as its financial controller. He was also based in Shanghai for two years, working for a Singapore-listed property developer.

He is married to Monica, 40, a housewife, and they have four children - Ryan, 11, Kyran, seven, Dylan, five, and Aydan, two.

Q Are you a spender or saver?

I believe in spending within my means. About 50 per cent of my pay every month goes towards paying bills and other fixed household expenses. The balance is saved and invested.

At this point, I am reducing discretionary expenditure and investing more of my disposable income as I believe that the returns on investments made in the next one to two years will be tremendous when the market recovers.

Q How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?

I have six credit cards to take advantage of the various promotions, such as discounts on petrol, offered by the issuing banks.

But I mainly put my purchases on just two cards for better management of my expenditure. I charge about $5,000 in total each month, and pay my bills in full on time every month.

I usually withdraw about $1,000 once a month from the ATM.

Q What financial planning have you done for yourself?

My core equity investment portfolio comprises mainly real estate-related stocks and other blue chips.

However, I'm holding on to more cash now and waiting for the opportunity to return to the market for greater returns.

Currently, I'm 75 per cent in cash and the balance is in equities comprising Reits and stocks. I invest in blue-chip companies, like banks and Singapore Press Holdings, and smaller companies with good fundamentals and potential.

This is the portion of my investments which I assess regularly and rebalance when necessary.

As for insurance, I have mainly term insurance for life, critical illness and hospitalisation coverage. My life cover is more than $1 million.

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

I come from a big family. I am the youngest of 11 children. We lived in a small rental three- room flat in Toa Payoh. My father ran a small shoe stall at the Bendemeer market while my mother looked after the brood at home and helped my father out at the stall occasionally. My parents were very thrifty. We led a simple life and managed to make ends meet.

When I was in secondary school, I started helping out at my father's stall. From a young age, I learnt the value of money and managed to get bursaries from clan associations when I was in primary school and a scholarship for my university education. I gave tuition during my National Service days to be self-sufficient. I am the only one in the family to have gone to university.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

As a young working adult earning $1,450 a month in my first job, I was anxious to get ahead of my peers in achieving a certain level of financial status. I saw investing in the stock market as a faster way of increasing my wealth than simply squirrelling money away in a savings account. That was my motivation to start investing.

Since then, I have of course matured in my views. My investments now are to generate both regular cash flows and substantial returns over the long term, to ensure my children's tertiary education and for retirement.

Q What property do you own?
In early 2005, I bought a 5,400 sq ft semi-detached house in the Bishan area for $2.5 million. The value has gone up 60 per cent since then. In end-2007, I bought a 600 sq ft condo in the Central Business District area for $1.4 million as an investment. Its rental yield is about 3 per cent per annum.

Q What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?

My car, since it is a depreciating asset. It is a Mercedes convertible which I bought in 2005 for $235,000. However, I have no regrets as the purchase was to reward myself after years of hard work.

Q What's your retirement plan?

I'm aiming for financial independence by 50. When I do retire, I would like to enjoy quality time with my family, read and travel more. I would also like to devote more time to community work. By then, I would need $10,000 a month for my wife and myself.

Q Home is now....

The semi-detached house in Bishan.

Q I drive....

The silver Mercedes convertible. I also have a family car, a champagne-coloured Honda Odyssey, which my wife uses to chauffeur the kids around.

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