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Singapore's 'en-bloc' redevelopment fever may be cooling


SINGAPORE - Singaporean engineer Andy Goh has stopped saying hello to some neighbours in his condominium.

The mood in the 596-apartment Cashew Heights complex is "tense and stressed" after an initiative late last year to offer it for collective sale to a property developer, said Goh, 49.

A firm opponent of the deal, worth at least $1.88 billion, he feels outnumbered by owners who want to cash out. Recalling a meeting in his condominium last month, Goh, who worries the sale price won't allow him to buy a new home of comparable size, said his dissenting voice was drowned out by the other owners.

Singapore has seen a frenzy of so-called en-bloc deals over the last two years in the redevelopment market, a phenomenon that has made some Singaporeans millionaires, inspired hit television shows and turned neighbours into enemies.

David Wong, a member of Cashew Heights' pro-en bloc committee, said owners can sell their apartments for at least double the price in a collective sale compared with individually.

"I think the financial reason surpasses the sentimental reasons," he said, adding that those who did not want to sell have a vote. Under Singapore law, 80 per cent of the owners in an older development need to approve the sale before tender.

The drama of Singapore's property market has been captured in two television shows called "En Bloc." In one episode, an anti-en-bloc owner's property is vandalized, while a letter spreads rumours of bad feng shui in another episode.

More than a combined $8 billion worth of such deals were signed in 2017 - the highest in a decade amid a nascent recovery in the housing market.

Redevelopment is seen as key to optimizing land use in the city-state, home to 5.6 million people in about 700 square kilometers.


But the pace of redevelopment sales has started to show signs of slowing, with recent government measures helping dampen the euphoria, including an increase in stamp duty for home purchases of more than $1 million.

Traffic impact studies are now required to ensure redevelopment will not trigger congestion. The development levy for enhancing sites or building bigger projects on them was raised by an average of 22.8 per cent - the biggest increase in a decade.

"I think if you look, definitely the window is closing a bit," said Desmond Sim, research head for Singapore and Southeast Asia at real estate services firm CBRE.

He said recent collective sales had gone through at the minimum asking prices, developers sated after last year's buying spree and sellers' expectations sky-high.

"The exuberance of putting in high premiums has gone," he said.

The average premium above asking price has fallen to 2.9 per cent this year from 10 per cent in 2017, according to an analysis using data through late February by real estate services firm Cushman and Wakefield.

Aggressive land bids prompted the central bank in November to warn of "excessive exuberance" in the property market, urging developers to factor in new projects slated to open.

Derek Tan and Rachel Tan, equity research analysts at Singapore's largest lender, DBS, said last month there appeared to be "a bit of fatigue" in the en bloc market, citing recent deals' relatively low pricing.

"The fact that most of the sites have also been awarded at reserve price levels, rather than a premium, may indicate that developers are turning more choosy in adding to their land bank and becoming more cautious in their pricing strategy," they wrote.


Those transactions included the $728 million sale of the Pearl Bank Apartments, the tallest residential structure when it was completed in 1976, to CapitaLand through private negotiations after an unsuccessful public tender.

"The asking price from the owners in all these recent en blocs is getting higher and higher. There must be a tipping point," said Ronald Tay, chief executive at CapitaLand Singapore.

Developers may also be opting more for the government land sales (GLS) programme rather than en-bloc deals, which can take more than a year to close.

"I would say that we definitely have a slight preference at this stage toward GLS because the turnaround is faster," said Sherman Kwek, chief executive officer at City Developments, although he did not rule out more en bloc deals.

Cushman estimates that Singapore developers have about S$18.9 billion available for more near-term land acquisitions.

Analysts say developers have been building smaller apartments to keep prices palatable to buyers, even as land costs rise. Consultancy JLL estimates the median size of apartments sold directly by developers fell to 69 square meters in 2016 from 111 square meters in 2009.

Goh will receive $3.2 million for his three-bedroom apartment, where he lives with his wife and four children, if the sale of his development, built in the early '90s, goes ahead.

He has been trying band together with other owners who oppose the sale, and laments that no new condominium estates will match the space or open layout that he likes about his neighborhood.

"Even if it is 'en bloced' at $3.2 million, I couldn't get a unit that is equivalent in size," he said.

Friday, March 16, 2018 - 17:50

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We went through the list of Singapore billionaires and found some interesting trends


Forbes released its 2018 list of billionaires last week, and while there haven’t been major shifts from the list that we compiled last year, the entrance of Razer founder and CEO Min-Liang Tan into the club was something that caught the attention of many.

With a net worth of US$1.1 billion (S$1.44 billion), Min-Liang Tan isn’t just the second youngest on the list at 40 (Kishin RK is 35) – he’s also the only one proudly helming the tech/gaming flag.

Globally, however, tech moguls lead the pack, with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (US$112 billion) and Microsoft’s Bill Gates (US$90 billion) taking the top 2 spots.

Perhaps soon our list will reflect the same trends, and Min-Liang Tan might just become the pioneer of tech billionaires in Singapore.

Regardless, we found a few trends among those in the list, so let’s take a look at some of them.

Singapore's richest people, according to Forbes 2018 billionaires index

1. Many Found Their Fortune In Real Estate 

Out of the 28 individuals on the list (the Kwee family consists of 4 brothers), those who made their fortune in real estate were the most common.

More specifically, there were 13 of these individuals on the list.

Brothers Philip and Robert Ng topped the Singapore list at a net worth of US$10.8 billion, and are currently heading Far East Organization and Sino Group respectively.

Robert (L) and Philip (R) Ng.

Sino Group is one of the leading property companies in Hong Kong, while Far East Organization is one of the largest private property developers in Singapore with over 770 Far East developments to date, including 53,000 (or one in six) private homes in Singapore.

The Kwee family (US$5.6 billion), at 4th place, owns Pontiac Land which is known for the management of hotels like the Ritz-Carlton Millenia, The Capella, Regent Hotel, and also high-rise offices like Millenia Tower and Centennial Tower.

Going further down the list, Chua Thian Poh (US$1.4 billion) is the founder of luxury property developer Ho Bee Land, known for building high-end condominiums in Sentosa.

He is also a well-known philanthropist and notably donated over US$10 million toward college-level education since 2008.

At the official launch of Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Centre in NUS.

Another industry that stood out was hotels, with 4 in the list having made their fortunes there.

Power couple Ong Beng Seng and Christina Ong (US$2.1 billion) are both established hoteliers, heading Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) and the COMO Group respectively. Christina Ong is even nicknamed the ‘Queen of Bond Street’ because of the properties she owns on Bond Street in London.

Choo Chong Ngen, founder of budget hotel chain Hotel 81, actually made his fortune in textiles first before going into the hotel business.

He has since expanded into the mid-tier market with 5 new hotel brands, and is said to own more than 6,500 rooms in Singapore.

Choo Chong Ngen is also known for his philanthropic efforts in the education sector, most recently donating S$2.5 million to 5 polytechnics to set up a bursary for financially needy students.

Choo Chong Ngen donating S$2 million to set up a new bursary for needy students at SMU.

2. The Average Age Is Around 66

According to a CNBC report in 2016, the average age of the world’s billionaires is 63.2 for males, and 62.2 for females.

Doing a quick calculation for the Singapore list, the average age comes up around 66 years – not too far from the global average.

Kishin RK, one half of the father-son duo behind Royal Holdings and founder of RB Capital, is the youngest at 35; while Chang Yun Chung of shipping empire Pacific International Lines is the oldest at 99.

Kishin RK.Photo: High End Magazine

Almost a third of the list are currently in their 60s.

In an article on Business Insider which talks about the age that current billionaires hit their first billion, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg topped the list, joining the billionaire club at a tender age of 23 in 2008.

Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel followed suit in 2015, at 25.

Google co-founder Larry Page made his first billion at 30, and the OG of tech moguls, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, hit the goldmine at 31.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also joined the club in his 30s, at 35.

See any similarities? Yup, they all found their fortunes in tech.

Even on the Singapore list, second youngest Min-Liang Tan (40) struck gold with gaming peripherals, and a very successful IPO in November last year.

So if you want a higher chance at hitting your first billion early…you know what to do.

3. Many Self-Made ‘Founder’ Billionaires On The List

We also found that more than half of those on the list are self-made billionaires – that is, having made their fortunes from businesses they built from scratch.

One of these individuals is founder of OSIM, Ron Sim (US$1.2 billion), who sold noodles and waited on tables for a living to help support his family as a young boy.

Ron Sim.Photo: Marketing Interactive

However, it was in the midst of working odd jobs that he realised that he had a flair for sales. Thus, in 1980, he started R. Sim Trading Pte Ltd which sold household goods.

However, the business couldn’t survive the 1985 recession and had to close down.

Not wanting to give up, he noticed the emerging attention on healthcare, and opened Health Check & Care in 1989. In 1994, the company was renamed OSIM.

Currently, OSIM has a presence in 21 countries, 98 cities, and has 414 outlets worldwide.

Of course, this is not to say that those on the list who inherited their businesses were just lucky.

For example, Kwek Leng Beng (US$2.9 billion) joined his father’s company, Hong Leong Group, in the 1960s albeit being trained as a lawyer.

Since taking over, he played a vital role in helming the business, and the group now has more than 300 companies under its umbrella, including 12 listed ones.

Kwek Leng Beng.
Photo: The Times

He’s also the chairman at City Developments Limited (CDL), Singapore’s second-largest property developer with a global presence in 26 countries.

CDL is currently one of the world’s largest hotel groups, has developed over 40,000 homes in Singapore.

Chairman emeritus of United Overseas Bank (UOB) Wee Cho Yaw (US$6.6 billion) also took over the company his father co-founded, after spending years learning about the business from the older Wee.

Wee Cho Yaw.
Photo: Celebrity Family

Under his leadership, he steered UOB to foreign exchange and international trade financing, and grew the bank’s assets nearly nine-fold. He was also incremental in the bank’s expansion of its network and services.

UOB currently has 68 branches in Singapore and more than 500 offices in 19 countries and territories in Asia Pacific, Western Europe and North America.

4. Out Of The 28, Only 1 Is A Woman

In Singapore, the list only mentioned 1 female billionaire – ‘Queen of Bond Street’ Christina Ong.

Christina Ong.
Photo: Herblog.com

Globally, 2,208 billionaires were recorded, and the number of female billionaires stood at 256. That’s around 11.6%.

On a positive note, however, the figure was up from 227 in March 2017 and 187 in June 2015 – hopefully, the increasing trend would continue, and the same would happen in Singapore too!

Who Do You Think Will Make The List Next Year?

Now that you know about some traits that Singapore’s billionaires share, do you think there’ll be any interesting newcomers next year?

Sunday, March 18, 2018 - 08:50

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Quick fix? Struggling Singapore retailers turn to vending machines


SINGAPORE - With sales stagnating and high rent and manpower costs eating away at his profits, Azan Tengku, the director of Singaporean gift company Kalms, decided to close down his stores and move all his products into vending machines.

Kalms, which has rolled out 50 machines island-wide that sell mostly teddy bears and jewelry, is one of a growing number of companies in the city-state adopting vending machines in a move encouraged by a government push for automation and tighter restrictions on low-skilled foreign workers.

The city-state is seeing some of the fastest growth rates in vending machines sales worldwide, even as there are signs of saturation in major markets like Japan, which at 5.5 million has the world's highest number of vending machines per capita.

"Rent is high in Singapore and good retail employees are hard to find," said Tengku.

"Singapore and Japan face the same challenges when it comes to employment and how both countries are densely populated and have space limitations."

Photo: Reuters

Since the launch of its first vending machine in late 2016, Kalms says it has recorded month-on-month growth of 15 per cent for 16 consecutive months.

The firm is now partnering with other companies to sell food, clothing and electronic products on its machines, which it says will allow it to roll out hundreds more across the island-state in the coming year.

Businesses that manufacture vending machines in Singapore, like Le Tach, are also profiting from the trend.

Le Tach's co-founder Steve Chia said the company has grown from manufacturing 50 vending machines in 2011 to over 1,000 to date, adding that the types of vending machines have also expanded from dispensing drinks and snacks to selling daily essentials and accessories.


Singapore recorded $67.2 million in vending machine sales in 2017, data from research firm Euromonitor International showed, a 3 per cent increase from the previous year, and sales are expected to exceed $72 million by 2020.

While the island-state of around 5.6 million people only just sneaks into the top 30 countries in terms of vending machine sales, it is one of the fastest growing markets behind Russia (12.3 per cent), China (11.5 per cent), Thailand (8.5 per cent) and the United Arab Emirates (3.3 per cent).

Meanwhile Euromonitor's data, collected through interviews with trade bodies and firms, shows major markets like Japan are in decline because of increased competition and price-sensitive customers.

In Singapore, the government has been encouraging firms across industries to adopt more manpower-lean formats, alongside moves to ease their reliance on low-skilled foreign workers and ensure more access to jobs for locals.

As well as a multi-million dollar National Robotics Programme, one such initiative has been targeted at trying to promote technology in the food service industry through grants and consultancy services.

With the help of this scheme, food caterer JR Group has grown from one vending machine to over 100 in the last decade, and now has unmanned 24-hour cafes selling hot local dishes as well as Western, Indian, Korean and Japanese cuisine all out of machines.

"We wanted to find solutions and new ways to help us efficiently push out our products, and at the same time, pass these savings down to our consumers," JR Group CEO Jocelyn Chng said.

Other unusual items that can be found on sale in Singapore vending machines are insect repellent, fresh flowers, health supplements and ceramic bowls and vases.

The trend toward robot sales may have its limits though.

Some of Kalms' competitors in the gift and souvenir industry say the model only really works for emergency purchases and do not cater to casual shoppers or the millions of tourists who flock to Singapore every year.

Susan Tay, director at educational toy firm The Better Toy Store, said her products require more explanation to customers and human interaction that is lost in the world of robot sales.

"Automated machines may be a boon for retailers who just want sales, but may be a bane for responsible retailers who need to match the product to (consumer) needs," said Tay.

Sunday, March 18, 2018 - 12:00

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McDonald's responds to video of man raging at staff: Employees do not deserve to be shouted at


McDonald's has responded to a viral video of a man yelling at its employees manning a Dessert Kiosk at Hougang Mall.

In an official statement, the fast food giant said that it was aware of the incident and believes that its employees do not deserve to be shouted at.

A footage of the incident taken by Stomp contributor Caren shows the man shouting at two McDonald's employees.

Apparently, the man was upset that he had been asked to make payment before he finished placing his orders.

Rants the man: "You don't tell me sorry because I very angry.

"What! I haven't order finish. Money, money, money. What is this?"

Despite multiple attempts by an employee to alleviate the situation, the man only became angrier, demanding to see the restaurant manager.

At one point, the man takes out some bills from his wallet and slams the money on the counter, adding:

"What? My face, I got no money to pay for this ice cream?

"Money? I got no money to pay the ice cream? F***!"

In response to the incident, a McDonald's spokesman told The Straits Times:

"While our employees strive to do their best every day to serve our customers with care, we also hope that any unintended misunderstandings can be resolved amicably.

"We believe that under any circumstance, our employees - just like any human being - should be treated with respect, and do not deserve to be shouted at in the manner as portrayed in the video."

According to Stomp contributor Caren, the man eventually left the kiosk with an ice cream cone, but returned with it half-eaten and complained that it was not the flavour he had ordered.

Despite an employee offering to change the cone for him, he continued to make a scene.

Monday, March 19, 2018 - 10:10
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Cherry blossoms in bloom at Gardens by the Bay's Flower Dome