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Monday, September 22, 2008

Residential market continues to face challenges

The market for residential properties has softened since the beginning of this year and is likely to continue into 2009, market experts say.

The potentially negative influence on the sector is supply, said real estate valuer Regroup Associates Sdn Bhd executive chairman Christopher Boyd.

In a recent survey undertaken by Regroup, it showed that there is an existing supply of 19,183 condominium units in Kuala Lumpur, with 13,902 units more under construction.

The new projects launched were Gaya Bangsar, Twins @ Damansara Heights, Regalia @ Sultan Ismail, 9Madge, NorthShore Gardens, Sunway Vivaldi and Panorama in the City Centre and Mont Kiara/Sri Hartamas.

The average occupancy rate for established condominiums in the city centre, Ampang Hilir, Mont Kiara, Bangsar, Kenny Hills and Damansara Heights was about 80 to 85 per cent.

"Strong upmarket areas such as Damansara and Kenny Hills have limited new supply as approval for high-rise condominiums in these areas is seldom given by the planning authorities. Investors should look for quality projects here as they are extremely lettable," Boyd told Business Times.

Boyd also said there will be a gradual appreciation of values in properties in Kuala Lumpur, spurred by a higher level of inflation, and because developers will not be able to restrain prices as production cost is rising.

Demand from foreign investors will also increase in years to come, he added.

"We have seen buyers this year from South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Middle East. While a liberal policy on foreign ownership brings a far wider market to our doorstep and encourages more and better quality development to meet international standards, it exposes the development industry to changes in the global market sentiment," Boyd said.

For IJM Land Bhd managing director Datuk Soam Heng Choon, he believes that the outlook for the residential market remains strong.

"If buyers like a product in a certain location, they will go for it. Demand for landed properties is still better than high-rise condominiums," he said.

He said medium- to high-end properties priced from RM400,000 still have a strong market going, but sales of houses below RM400,000 are affected as buyers with a household income of less then RM5,000 hold back on buying.

LEONG: The medium-to high-end segment has a pool of buyers who are more resillent to inflation

Mah Sing Group Bhd managing director and chief executive Datuk Seri Leong Hoy Kum said while the outlook is challenging, residential projects by branded developers, especially for landed properties, are still doing well.

Leong said investors looking for capital appreciation and buy-to-stay would generally look at landed residential properties as condominiums are more for rental yield.

"There are still transactions, albeit at a lower pace, as the medium- to high-end segment has a pool of buyers who are more resilient to inflation," he said.

There are also foreign buyers who are still picking up the units, although not in the quantum of about a year ago.

He said the mid- to high-end residential projects are more resilient to inflation and weak sentiments, and are seeing better sales.

By New Straits Times (by Sharen Kaur)

Mah Sing is 'Top Developer Overall'

Property developer Mah Sing Group Bhd has swept three awards out of seven categories at the Euromoney Liquid Real Estate Awards 2008, including the highest honour of "Top Developer Overall Malaysia".

The other two awards were "Best Office/Business Developer Malaysia" and "Best Mixed-Use Developer Malaysia".

Currently in its fourth year, the awards cover developers, lenders, advisory firms, investment banks, investment managers and property management firms from more than 50 countries, across a variety of regional categories.

The organiser, Euromoney Liquid Real Estate, is a leading publication focused on international real estate financial markets.

The Top Developer Award is the single most important category in the developers' award and honours only one developer in each country. Mah Sing Group is recognised as the nation's major builder of quality luxury homes and forward-thinking business/commercial developer.

Mah Sing currently has 14 projects in the Klang Valley, Johor Baru and Penang. The group's platter of luxurious, quality ho-mes and prime commercial projects is focused on the medium- to high-end property segments in Malaysia.

The Euromoney Liquid Real Estate Award is based on surveys and assessments of real estate's sector performance and achievements over the past 12 months, and the winning companies are selected through an annual real estate awards poll organised by Euromoney magazine's research team.

Target respondents include real estate developers, advisers, financial institutions, investors and the end-users.

The official award presentation will be held at a gala dinner in London on October 2.

By New Straits Times

Pullman Putrajaya to open doors in November

The long abandoned hotel project in Precinct 5 Putrajaya will finally open its doors on November 1 - some seven years after the project started.

Previously known as Alam Warisan, the hotel is now rebranded as Pullman Putrajaya Lakeside. The hotel is owned and developed by Putrajaya Holdings, while French hotel and services group Accor SA will operate it.

SIBOURG: The hotel, which is an upscale hotel with business people in mind, will open in phases between November 2008 and January 2009.

General manager Patrick H. Sibourg said the hotel, which is an upscale hotel with business people in mind, will open in phases between November 2008 and January 2009.

"Originally, there were four different blocks with four different hotels - the China Block, the Indian Block, the Borneo Block and the Malay Block. However, it is difficult to have four different hotels in the same compound.

"So the direction was changed to have one hotel, but to keep the identity of the hotel and the unique experience of Malaysia's multicultural background," Sibourg told Business Times.

Accordingly, the four blocks, which have also had a name change to Lotus Wing (China), Bunga Tanjung (Malay), Jasmine Wing (Indian) and Rafflesia (Borneo), will be run by a single operator.

This hotel has 283 rooms, including 34 serviced apartments and 24 suites. Each block portrays the respective ethnicity in the architecture and ambience.

The hotel's target group is the meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition (MICE) market. For a start, it will be ready to accommodate delegates of the International Water Skiing Festival to be held at the Putrajaya Lake.

"On November 1, we plan to open the Jasmine Wing and the Rafflesia with a total of 165 rooms. The opening will be in time for the International Water Skiing Festival to be held between November 7 and 9 at the lake in front of the hotel," Sibourg said.

Meanwhile, Sibourg is positive on the performance of the hotel despite adding to the number of rooms already available in the Putrajaya.

In 2009, he expects the hotel to achieve 65 per cent occupancy and an average room rate of RM230.

When asked where the confidence on its performance stems from, he said: "We are the only large international hotel in Putrajaya."

Pullman Putrajaya expects to attract a huge corporate and government crowd predominantly from Cyberjaya and Kuala Lumpur while a smaller number of leisure travellers is expected on weekends.

The hotel has 21 meeting rooms and five food and beverage outlets called The Village (a floating restaurant), China Bar and Lounge, B's (a 220-seat restaurant with a show kitchen), The Deli @ Pullman and Bar On Third.

It also has a 250-seater lakefront and open-air amphitheatre as well as team-building facilities.

By New Straits Times (by Vasantha Ganesan)

Exciting times ahead for hospitality sector

The Klang Valley hospitality market can look forward to exciting times ahead with more new hotel developments and the entrance of more prestigious hotel players.

Over the next three years, Klang Valley will see an addition of close to 5,600 hotel rooms with four and five-star rating.

Those that will be completed this year include Hotel Grand Mercure Putrajaya Lakeside owned by the French-based Accor Group, Maytower Hotel Service Apartments owned by Mayland Group, Royal Chulan Tower Hotel & Residence owned by Boustead Group and Gardens Hotel and Residences owned by IGB Group.

Among the world-renowned brands that will make their debut are the 240-room Four Seasons Hotel in the KLCC vicinity that is scheduled for completion in 2013, while the St Regis Hotel in KL Sentral, with a minimum of 200 hotel rooms, is scheduled to open for business in 2014.

According to Zerin Properties chief executive officer Previndran Singhe, the entrance of more prestigious hotel players in the local market would act as a magnet to attract other international brands such as InterContinental, Sofitel and The Raffles to Malaysia’s shores.

“There is still good growth opportunities in the local hospitality market, especially for niche players such as luxury heritage hotels in Kuala Lumpur,” Previn told StarBiz.

Knight Frank Ooi and Zaharin Sdn Bhd managing director Eric Ooi said the announcement of the luxury brand, St Regis, had enhanced Malaysia’s regional standing in the five-star hotel category.

Eric Ooi

“Several five-star hotel players made some exciting announcements in the first half of this year.

“They include the approval for the 450-room Grand Hyatt Hotel at Jalan Pinang, Kuala Lumpur, and the entry of the prestigious St Regis Hotel,” Ooi said.

The 40-storey Grand Hyatt Hotel, to be developed by the Brunei Investment Agency, will house 450 rooms and estimated to cost RM360mil.

Another proposed project is the redevelopment of Bangunan MAS by Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB).

PNB acquired Bangunan MAS from Malaysia Airlines Bhd for RM130mil two years ago and intends to redevelop the 35-storey building into a hotel and apartments.

Knight Frank Research, in its latest Real Estate Highlights, said with rising operational cost and tougher economic environment, the local hotel industry was expected to undergo challenging market conditions in the second half of this year.

It noted that the current supply of five-star and five-star hotel rooms in Kuala Lumpur stood at 6,760 and 9,120 respectively, with the bulk of the supply located within the tourist belts in the city such as Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Ampang, Jalan Bukit Bintang and the KLCC locality.

The five-star 438-room One World Hotel in Bandar Utama made its debut in January.

The average occupancy rate for both four-star and five-star hotels in the city during the first six months of this year was 70%, which was 2% higher compared with the same corresponding period in 2007.

Several hotels, including the Impiana KLCC, Berjaya Times Square Hotel and Renaissance Kuala Lumpur, are embarking on refurbishment works.

Renaissance Kuala Lumpur is being refurbished at a cost of RM153mil.

Impiana KLCC will be adding another 180 rooms to its current 335 rooms while Berjaya Times Square Hotel & Convention Centre’s three-phase refurbishment and redevelopment exercise costing RM20mil is expected to be completed in September.

The Renaissance Kuala Lumpur’s RM53mil facelift will be completed next year.

The report said the average room rate (ARR) for five-star hotels during the January to June period was RM370, higher than RM320 recorded for the corresponding period in 2007.

The hotels which recorded ARR above RM300 in the first half of 2008 include Hilton Kuala Lumpur (RM460), JW Marriott (RM390), Mandarin Oriental (RM650) and The Westin (RM450).

The ARR for five-star hotels during the same period was RM200, 10% higher than RM180 recorded last year.

Several hotels that achieved ARR of more than RM200 during the first half of 2008 were Hotel Maya (RM320), Traders Hotel (RM320), Concorde Hotel (RM250) and Boulevard Hotel at Mid Valley (RM220).

Higher tourist arrivals and receipts in the first six months of 2008 have contributed to the strong performance by the hotels.

The full year tourist arrivals for 2008 is expected to reach 22.5 million against 21 million in 2007, while tourist receipts will increase to RM50bil this year from RM45.7bil in 2007.

Meanwhile, the setting up of Pemudah, a special taskforce to reduce red tape in the application of licenses and permits for the setting up of new hotels, in February is expected to give a boost to the local hotel market’s competitiveness in the region.

By The Star (by Angie Ng)

Strong brand can win the day for developers

Branding has become an important pillar in the property development business with more industry players jumping onto the “branding” bandwagon.

The “location, location, location” mantra while still preached by many real estate “gurus” seems to be less prominent. Instead the “location, concept, branding” mantra has been the battle cry over the past several years.

However, it is foolhardy to believe that one could have a successful brand overnight without earning it.

Developers must ensure that they have the right kind of products and services to earn them a good reputation.

There is no short cut to success.

You can have the best advertising company to map out your branding strategy but if you fail to deliver on time, have an inferior product and poor after-sales services, no amount of branding promotions can earn you the trust and respect from your buyers.

This applies to all businesses as well as professional services. Thus, branding should be a constant reminder of the special strength of a company and not mere visual recognition of a logo.

Take the case of a famous Japanese brand that I have been supporting for many years. The power of its brand was so strong that I subconsciously bought all three video cameras from the same brand.

When the first video camera developed faults after three to four years, I bought the second one but this too developed faults after the second year.

Again I bought the third video camera but this too had problems just after a year and repair bill came to more than a third of the original price. Enough is enough. I dumped the brand.

A product must not only look good but also durable and competitively priced. This is why developers who build quality houses find many repeat buyers who also encourage others to buy from the same developer.

Developers like SP Setia, Sunrise, I&P, Sime Darby Property,Titijaya, Naza TTDI, Brunsfield and Sunway City have such strong brands because they do not compromise on quality. However, maintaining that brand image is even more difficult as people has high expectation.

That is why many of the reputable developers continue to promote their brand and win strings of awards.

Naza TTDI Sdn Bhd (formerly TTDI Development Sdn Bhd), despite having proven itself the past 35 years, is not resting on its laurels.

“We have a strong passion to deliver quality consistently. We ensure that every new projects is better than the preceding one,” said Datuk Johan Ariffin, managing director of Naza TTDI.

Datuk Johan Ariffin

Johan said during The Edge Malaysia Top Property Developers Awards 2008 that Naza TTDI was rated 21st among all listed and unlisted property developers in the country. Among the unlisted participants, it ranked third.

“Considering that there are over 1,000 property developers in Malaysia today, the 21st ranking puts Naza TTDI in the top 2% of developers in Malaysia.

“We will strive to do better for our purchasers and hope to further improve on our ranking in 2009,” he added.

Meanwhile, newcomers like the Amarin Group have also raised its profile when it launched a major branding exercise recently. The exercise saw the launch of its website and its latest project website

The group has been actively branding itself since late last year.

Its Amarin brand is synonymous with indulgent, luxurious, innovative lifestyles.

The company sold out its first development Amarin Kiara in Mont’ Kiara.

Its second project, Amarin Wickham is a low-density, low-rise luxury development of only 21 units of duplexes and triplexes in Kuala Lumpur’s prestigious embassy district in U-Thant. Units with sizes from 3,000 to 9,000 sq ft are priced at an average of RM4mil per unit.

Its executive director Lee Vun-Tsir said international investors would seek products that have the best value.

Lee Vun-Tsir

“From our experience, they place tremendous importance on investing with branded developers, as the value they offer is more easily communicated and reinforced thus giving buyers more confidence in the developer’s name and ability to deliver on their promises.”

By The Star

Mutiara Goodyear posts RM5.8m Q1 profit

PROPERTY developer Mutiara Goodyear Development Bhd recorded a net profit of RM5.8 million in the first quarter ended July 31 2008, up 163.7 per cent from RM2.2 million registered in the previous corresponding period.

This was achieved despite a revenue drop of 42.6 per cent to RM35.6 million, from RM62.0 million in the same period last year.

Chief executive officer Kee Cheng Teik attributed the profit growth to sales derived from its Mutiara Gombak project, which comprises 140 units of semi-detached houses and 181 units of terrace houses.

This project has been fully sold at a good profit margin.

In a statement issued last Friday, Kee said Mutiara Goodyear remains optimistic of its performance in future.

The group is encouraged by the recent overall take up rate of over than 60 per cent of its Prima Avenue, Kelana Jaya, project.

Prima Avenue is a commercial development consisting of business suites and retail outlets with an overall gross development value (GDV) of RM120 million.

Meanwhile, the group is also finalising a number of projects to be launched next year with a total GDV of RM2.5 billion.

They include Nadayu Melawati in Kajang and mixed residential projects in Seberang Prai and Penang Island as well as a commercial development in Sunway Commercial Centre in Petaling Jaya.

By New Straits Times

SkyPark set to inject new life into Subang Terminal 3

INTEGRATED AVIATION EXPERIENCE: An artist's impression of SkyPark Subang Terminal

SKYPARK Subang Terminal will be a dominating landmark at the refurbished Terminal 3 of the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang, Selangor, when it rolls out a new frontage that accentuates the airport as a modern and contemporary icon.

Armed with an overall investment of RM300 million and a 59-year lease, the transformation of Terminal 3 is carried out in stages over three years.

The first phase of the redevelopment of Terminal 3 is almost complete, with the launch of SkyPark fixed-base operation and the RM40 million refurbishment of Terminal 3, which will be completed in October this year.

Work on Phase 2 of the redevelopment will start soon. It will entail the creation of a regional aviation centre with maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities, a dedicated hangar and corporate aviation-related industries.

Subang SkyPark Sdn Bhd chief operating officer Janardhanan Gopala Krishnan said SkyPark Subang will bring back life to Terminal 3, which has long been regarded as a tired old airport after all passenger jet operations shifted to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang.

"Subang has been quiet for the last 10 years, but we plan to put it back on the world aviation map," he told Business Times in Kuala Lumpur recently.

He said once completed, SkyPark Subang Terminal will not only be utilised by air travellers, but people around the area as a shopping haven.

The entire set-up of the facility is aimed at creating a trend-setting destination that is tourism lifestyle-centric and a distinction for today's discerning travellers and consumers alike.

Elaborating on the whole scheme concept of the new terminal, Arcradius Sdn Bhd project director Kamal Hussin Abdul Hamid said the company had developed a scheme to retain the existing fabric enclosure of the 110,000 sq ft terminal - by building "boxes in a box", while transforming the interior.

In the main terminal, spaces are rearranged by consolidating and creating new mezzanine planes opening into a well-lighted two-storey single-volume atrium with internal garden conservatory.

On the one-million-sq-ft commercial nexus to be located opposite the terminal, HL Design Group director Martin Haeger said it will house world-class facilities such as a boutique hotel, an aviation-themed park, gourmet restaurants and cafes, food court, and retail and service outlets.

"We will link the terminal with the commercial nexus via an elevated bridge. Elevated car parks with 1,600 parking bays are also provided to enable passengers and customers enjoy a seamless shopping experience," he said.

By New Straits Times (by Azlan Abu Bakar)

Mulpha mulls REIT acquisition

PETALING JAYA: Mulpha International Bhd (MIB) may acquire strategic stakes in real estate investment trusts (REITs) to expand its existing portfolio of properties, capitalising on undervalued entities in the Asia Pacific seeking to deleverage amid a global credit rout.

The diversified firm is already a seasoned real estate investor in the region. Its portfolio of residential, commercial, industrial properties besides hotels are located across several countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China and Australia.

Hence, the idea of owning a REIT could be deemed feasible should MIB decide to unlock the value of its assets and, at the same time, hold a strategic equity interest in a property trust into which the assets would be injected.

MIB executive chairman Lee Seng Huang said the company was eyeing property-related opportunities in Asia Pacific with indirect exposures to the US and European markets. Although real estate prices in the US had fallen due to the subprime loan crisis, he said it was not feasible to make a direct foray into the country as the Malaysian firm lacked operating experience there.

“In general, it will be real estate including real estate companies, real estate funds and REITs. We are not targeting one particular kind of asset class,” Lee told The Edge Financial Daily here recently via video conferencing from Singapore.

Lee added : “It would be cheaper to buy a REIT right now than actually launch it. There are REITs out there which are trading substantially below book value.” He did not elaborate.

MIB is not new to property trusts. The Malaysian firm owns 17% of Australia-listed FKP Property Group which wholly owns the FKP Property Trust. The trust owns diversified assets in the office, retail, and bulky goods segments in eastern Australia, according to FKP’s website.

Note that the Malaysian firm is contemplating the sale of its shares in FKP. Based on FKP’s closing price of A$4.77 last Thursday and MIB’s stake of some 45.11 million shares in the foreign entity, the seller stands to rake in more than A$200 million (RM573 million) from the disposal.

However, the Malaysian firm is not discounting the possibility of raising its stake in the Australian firm.

In a filing to Bursa Malaysia in August this year, MIB had indicated it might buy more shares in FKP from the open market, a move which may trigger a mandatory general offer for the remaining shares it does not own in the Australian entity.

Should MIB decide to sell the shares, the proceeds will be used to finance its working capital needs, and repay bank borrowings. Last Thursday, (Sept 18), MIB obtained its shareholders’ consent giving it authority and flexibility in dealing with the FKP stake.

In Malaysia, MIB’s existing real estate portfolio includes its current headquarters, comprising an office and warehouse, in Jalan Semangat, Petaling Jaya.

The leasehold property has a net book value (NBV) of RM7 million as at December 2007, acccording to the firm’s annual report. Upcoming entities include Menara Mulpha, a new freehold 23-storey Grade A office tower in Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. The tower, to be launched in the third quarter of this year (2008), has some 270,000 sq ft of lettable area.

Notable entities within MIB’s overseas portfolio are its assets in Australia. It owns several hotels which include the Intercontinental Hotel Sydney, Hilton Melbourne Airport and Hyatt Regency Sanctuary Cove. These hotels have a combined NBV of RM918.59 million as at the end of last year.

MIB also owns the RM4 billion Norwest Business Park in Sydney, and RM2.5 billion Sanctuary Cove integrated resort in Gold Coast. Works are in progress to transform a vacant building next to Intercontinental into a Grade A office building with about 73,000 sq ft of lettable area for launch next year.

On a larger scale, the diversified commmercial interests of MIB include property development via its 55.56% subsidiary Mulpha Land Bhd. MIB is also into power plant construction via its 23.4% stake in Mudajaya Group Bhd.

Hong Kong-listed Greenfield Chemical Holdings Ltd, a 62.5% entity of MIB, undertakes the manufacturing and sale of industrial paints, besides coal-mining operations.

MIB’s earnings rose in the second quarter ended June 2008, with net profit more than doubling to RM38.58 million from RM16.87 million a year earlier, helped by better performance from its Australian operations. Revenue rose 2.1% to RM245.33 million from RM240.36 million.

Cumulatively, first-half net gain advanced 11.4% to RM43.19 million from RM38.77 million, while turnover was up 13.5% to RM512.6 million from RM451.55 million.

The stock rose 3.5 sen to 98 sen, with 263,100 shares traded last Friday.

By The EDGE Malaysia (by Chong Jin Hun)

Retail sector outlook murky

PETALING JAYA: The country’s retail sector has moderated in the face of higher fuel and electricity prices and the outlook for the industry remains murky as inflation catches up with consumer sentiment and retailing costs.

The latest industry report put out by Retail Group Malaysia (RGM) on behalf of the Malaysian Retailers’ Association (MRA) showed that industry sales for the first six months (1H) grew 6.9% year-on-year, even as the rising price of energy and food took a big bite out of consumers’ disposable income.

But with inflation hitting 7.7% and 8.5% in June and July, respectively, it was unclear whether the 6.9% rate growth could be sustained, said MRA president and Sogo (KL) Department Store Bhd chief operating officer Eddy Chan.

“I would say that retailers are not as gung-ho as before, but I’ll settle for 6.9% for the year,” he said. “The outlook is still optimistic for certain categories such as pharmaceuticals and those in the supermarket business — the essentials. But areas such as fashion are still suffering.”

Chan said retailers were only now beginning to feel the pinch of the hike in energy prices, which might translate into a slower growth rate for 2H08. More importantly, Chan felt that the sudden hike in prices had dampened consumer sentiment.

“There’s no excitement in the market. Retail has to create excitement, but there is currently too much uncertainty in the market,” he said.

Chan hopes that the implementation of the Malaysia Savings Sale at the end of the year would inject some excitement into the retail industry, and enable the local industry to compete with regional retailers.

Coming off a bumper year in 2007 where sales grew by 12.8%, the highest since 1992, retailers had initially forecast 12% growth prior to June, said RGM managing director Tan Hai Hsin in the industry report.

“Malaysia’s retail industry had strong sales during the first quarter of this year, but slowed down considerably in the second quarter. The second-quarter performance was most affected after the sudden fuel price hike in early June,” he noted.

Tan added that all the different sub-sectors of the retail industry had reflected growth in 1H08, with some areas doing better than the others. He expects retail growth to be maintained through 2H08, and estimates 7% retail growth for the entire year.

The continued growth of the retail industry was unexpected, given the sudden and steep rise in fuel costs in June. In fact, OSK Research said there had been some contrary data emerging from the last quarter.

“Consumer sentiment and retail sales usually track each other but it has been showing a negative correlation,” said an OSK analyst.

“We believed (in an earlier report) that the fuel prices would impact retail sales but statistics are showing that sales are still intact. Month-on-month growth is still in the double digits and oil prices are coming down.”

She added that the festive seasons in 4Q would also boost sales, although numbers could be further improved by another reduction at the fuel pump, which may just be round the corner. Also, she was optimistic that the year-end sale would help boost numbers leading into 2009.

By The EDGE Malaysia (by Fong Min Hun)

China builder BUCG eyes jobs in Malaysia

BEIJING Urban Construction Group Ltd (BUCG), one of China's biggest construction players with US$4 billion (RM13.8 billion) annual revenue, wants to invest in Malaysia.

The China-listed firm, established 30 years ago, is eyeing highway and building construction jobs here, said its assistant president Andy Zhao.

He said BUCG, which is an expert in architectural design, wants to transfer its expertise and has targeted Malaysia as a new growth market.

Today, it has investments in 20 countries including China, the Middle East and Africa, building highways, subways, hotels, residences and corporate towers.

"We feel that now is the right time to enter Malaysia as other foreign investors are pulling back from investing due to global uncertainties.

"We are unfazed by what's happening and as investors, we need to constantly look for new opportunities," Zhao said.

He was speaking to Business Times in Kuala Lumpur at a recent signing ceremony appointing BUCG as main contractor for The Pearl @ KLCC by project developer Ceramic Home Tiles Sdn Bhd (CHT).

The Pearl @ KLCC is BUCG's maiden development in Malaysia and is being built for a Kuwait Finance House-led consortium which bought it en bloc from CHT.

Zhao said the company is looking at building a long-term partnership with CHT to work on the latter's future projects.

"We were invited by CHT to participate in the project and this is just the beginning," he added.

Zhao also said BUCG wants to build ties with local construction players and developers and is talking to main board-listed developer Malton Bhd to explore opportunities in Malaysia.

"We are interested in good projects. We have the money and want to invest it wisely," he said, adding that the company is keen to work on projects in Iskandar Malaysia, Penang and the Klang Valley.

By New Straits Times (by Sharen Kaur)

Hopewell to raise China expressway investment

HOPEWELL Holdings Ltd, a property company controlled by billionaire Gordon Wu, said it agreed to invest 4.64 billion yuan (US$680 million) more on an expressway in southern China, part of a project linking cities in the Pearl River Delta.

The total investment in the second and third phase of the project will be increased to 12.8 billion yuan, Hopewell said in a statement to Hong Kong stock exchange yesterday. The expressway is a venture between Hopewell and Guangdong Provincial Highway Construction Ltd, it said.

The increase was necessary as the venture had acquired more land and construction material costs had risen, the statement said.

By Bloomberg