Published May 19, 2009


Opportunities for property investors

Cityscape Asia, the annual real estate exhibition and conference, opens amid talk of 'green shoots' of recovery for Asian economies

THESE are troubled times, and the global real estate sector has borne the brunt of the sub-prime fallout.

But now the property world is turning its attention to Asia as investors are hoping that 2009 will be the year to begin picking up undervalued assets ahead of economies in the region emerging from the global financial crisis, say the organisers of Cityscape Asia.

The annual real estate exhibition and conference - which is being held in Singapore from today until Thursday - comes amid talk of 'green shoots' of recovery for the Singapore and global economies.

Cityscape Asia focuses on all aspects of real estate development.

The real estate investment market in the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world saw a further contraction of market volume in the first quarter of 2009 against the backdrop of the global financial turmoil and the sustained problem of a credit crunch. However, analysts are beginning to see opportunities as the world and Asia rides out the crisis.

'Established firms, family enterprises and individuals with cash reserves, limited debt and an appetite for risk are expected to be among the first to begin searching the Asian market for bargains in the coming months,' said Graham Wood, group exhibition director of Cityscape.

This year's Cityscape Asia will examine topics relevant to the downturn such as surviving the global financial crisis, the future for real estate funds, and markets to invest in for long-term growth and returns.

But long-standing topics such as Asian real estate investment trusts (Reits), green investments and the retail scene in Asia will also be explored.

More than 4,000 top deal-makers from leading developers, banks, institutional investors and investment authorities, as well as senior officers from the foremost private equity funds and investment advisory firms will gather in Singapore over these three days to discuss key issues and investment opportunities.

This year, more networking functions and face-to-face interaction have been factored in to ensure that delegates have ample opportunity to conduct real business at Cityscape Asia. Participants could well walk away from the conference with signed deals.

Cityscape Asia is an extension of the successful Cityscape Dubai exhibition, which has grown to include Abu Dhabi, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United States and Latin America.

The Singapore conference will focus on Asia. It will discuss and debate the recovery, opportunities, and the strategies adopted by leading real estate investment and development firms across Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, China and India.

In its recent inaugural Asia-Pacific investment market overview report, Colliers International said that opportunities remain in the region for investors. 'Although the regional real estate investment market in Q1 2009 was relatively quiet and despite the fact that the market will continue to be challenged by the economic environment for the rest of 2009, we believe there are still potential investment opportunities in the region in the coming quarters,' said Piers Brunner, Colliers' chief operating officer for Asia.

Real estate investment yields in the Asia- Pacific region have gone up further by 25-75 basis points in the first quarter of the year as investors held back from entering the real estate market, Colliers said. This should make investing more attractive now compared to a few quarters ago.

One market that will be much debated at this year's Cityscape Asia is China. 'In current times, the brightest light glows in China with the economy seeing a huge inventory adjustment,' said DTZ in April.

In the first quarter of 2009, mainland China's residential property sector staged a recovery of sorts, with transactions in some cities rebounding to levels not seen in years. However, the recovery did not spill over to the commercial sector as office markets in the major cities remained sluggish with fewer transactions amid declining rents and prices. A recovery in China could do much to help property markets in the rest of the region, analysts said.

Cityscape Asia also incorporates a host of 'mini events' designed to create business opportunities, such as developer project showcases, interactive discussion forums and investor roundtables.

Developers and other stakeholders from Europe and the US will be at Cityscape Asia looking for Asian investors. In its May bulletin, Citi Private Bank said that it expects to see a new global consumerism marked by a thrifty West and an affluent East, which should see investment flow from the East to the West.

Just one example - Philippe Chaix, director of La Defense, the prime office district of Paris, will be in Singapore during the conference to discuss the future of business property in the French capital, specifically, what it means for Asian investors.

London is also expected to get its share of attention. Asian interest in London properties is growing on the back of a devaluation in the pound, market watchers say. For example, the value of the British pound has fallen about 30 per cent against the Singapore dollar since December 2007. With London property prices down by about 15 per cent from their peak, Singaporean investors could reap savings of about 45 per cent off prices if they choose to invest in London.