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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Basic shelter versus investment instrument

The strong rebound in property markets of various Asian cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur from one of the worst modern-day financial crisis shows that property has multi-functions as a basic shelter over one's head and an investment instrument.

A person's address is also increasingly becoming a gauge of one's financial capability and social status.

That's why luxurious houses in highly-sought-after addresses are still selling like hot cakes in the region despite the prevailing uncertainties in the global economy.

It shows there is much liquidity in the system and property investment is probably mopping up quite a big chunk of the surplus cash.

Asians are well known to be big savers and it is not surprising that the region is now leading the global economic recovery.

In Singapore, there has been a hike in demand since late last year and even mass housing are fetching prices of S$800 to S$1,000 per sq ft while the luxurious range are from S$2,000 to S$4,000 per sq ft.

Despite the rising prices, both Singaporeans and foreigners are snapping up properties which further fuelled price increases and caused worries over a potential asset bubble.

One of the reasons for the huge appetite could be the city-state's growing status as a global city and the rising number of high net-worth foreigners making Singapore their home.

What they find palatable include Singapore's personal safety and security, cleanliness, good governance, ease of travel through its smooth and integrated public transport system, and a tolerant and enterprising society.

As a Malaysian investor with a growing presence in the island-state, YTL Corp Bhd managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh said in his speech at the YTL Concert of Celebration at the Singapore Botanic Gardens last Saturday: “The world loves doing business in Singapore because it upholds the rule of law, welcomes talents and skills, and excels in acceptance and tolerance.”

To prevent a rush for landed houses in Singapore, foreigners are only allowed to buy such properties in Sentosa Cove and not in other parts of the country.

There is no restriction on the purchase of condominiums and apartments by foreigners, although only permanent residents can buy public housing.

Likewise, in its effort to promote itself as a real estate destination for foreigners, Malaysia should look at the holistic and integrated approach to the whole exercise.

The efforts will be more effective if prompt actions are taken to improve the quality of life for the local people and these include security and safety, good governance, integrity, and a well-balanced and tolerant society.

Of course, the other important factors include efficiency of the public transport, overall cleanliness and general well-being.

Foreigners are usually attracted to destinations that have rich natural living cultures and practices, and that is why places like Bali and Phuket are havens for them.

It is fine to promote a growing appetite for property investment among the people but it should not be at the expense of sky-rocketing prices that will affect the average people.

Bank Negara's move on Thursday to raise the overnight policy rate by another 25 basis points shows that the Government is concerned that a rising leverage on speculative activities could cause a financial imbalance in the banking system.

Obviously, the Government fears that the active mortgage market will fuel an asset bubble.

This is because a prolonged cheap mortgage environment will tend to enhance speculative activities in the property market. Right now, the upper-middle customers are buying mainly for investment purposes.

And with the intense competition among banks to use up their high liquidity, lending activities for property purchase is bound to continue.

Perhaps the next increase should be by at least 50 basis points to bring it closer to the normal pre-crisis rates.

Deputy news editor Angie Ng hopes the growing population of borderless citizens who have homes in different parts of the world will promote greater understanding and respect among people of all races.

By The Star (by Angie Ng)

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