SINGAPORE: Michelin awarded the Bib Gourmand to 50 Singapore food establishments in 2018, a huge leap from the 38 that was given out last year.
The latest list includes 17 new establishments. Hawker food also came out tops, with 28 of the recipients found in hawker centres.
The Bib Gourmand award was established in 1997, and given to establishments selected by Michelin inspectors for their quality menu priced at no more than S$45.
Two popular restaurants have made it to the list: Muthu’s Curry at Little India, which is known for its fish head curry; and hipster fave The Coconut Club for its take on nasi lemak.
Other new entrants are: Chai Chai Chuan Tou Yang Rou Tang, which is located at Bukit Merah View Food Centre and is known for its mutton soup; Eminent Frog Porridge and Seafood at Geylang Road Lorong 19; and Rolina Singapore Traditional Hainanese Curry Puffs at Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market and Food Centre.
Two char kway teow establishments have also debuted on the list: Lao Fu Zi Fried Kway Teow at Old Airport Road and Outram Park Fried Kway Teow at Hong Lim Market and Food Centre. Incidentally the latter is right across another new recipient, Tai Wah Pork Noodle.
Dropping out from this year’s list are duck rice and porridge stall Liang Zhao Ji, Peony Jade at Keppel Club, Indian restaurant Shish Mahal, 328 Katong Laksa and ramen shop Tsuta.
The full selection from this year’s Michelin Guide Singapore will be announced on Jul 25.
MICHELIN'S BIB GOURMAND 2018 FULL LIST
NParks unveils smart roadmap to improve efficiency in tree management and nature conservation efforts
SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board (NParks) will progressively tap on more technologies to improve its operational efficiency and processes over the next three years.
Under its digitalisation masterplan, which was unveiled at the International Federation of Landscape Architects World Congress (IFLA) on Wednesday (Jul 18), NParks said it will focus on leveraging technologies to improve three main areas – arboriculture, horticulture and nature conservation and biodiversity management.
To improve the inspection and management of the 2 million trees under its purview, the agency is currently piloting an electronic sensor that can detect early signs of structural instability in trees. This could help identify potential tree failures earlier so that measures can be taken.
To allow more timely interventions, the agency is also currently working with various researchers to make use of data models and environmental sensor data for tree analytics.
One such project is a model that will allow NParks to study the impact of environmental conditions, such as wind on a tree's stability.
Called the Finite Element Model, it can estimate how force is needed to break or uproot the tree. This will provide arborists with an additional tool to determine maintenance needs of a tree.
To improve its efficiency in nursery management processes, NParks is piloting a smart irrigation system that can automatically trigger the watering of plants during dry weather conditions.
It is also testing an RFID inventory system to consolidate information such as species name and location on all plants in its nurseries. This will allow NParks to track how the plants have been distributed more efficiently.
Finally, to coordinate and strengthen nature conservation efforts, NParks is currently developing a prototype system that can detect forest fires and automatically activate a drone to provide real-time information of a fire.
Called the Forest Fire Detection System, digital cameras will be installed at various locations to provide continuous monitoring of Singapore's nature reserves.
At the same time, statistical modelling techniques are also being used to better understand ecosystems.
This includes hydrology modelling which will be used to study the impact of changing climate conditions on the Nee Soon Swamp Forest as well as an agent-based modelling to determine marine organism movements in coastal waters.
SINGAPORE: A planned temporary relocation of St Margaret’s Primary School (SMPS) that will see the school moving out of its current premises at Wilkie Road to the MacPherson area for two years has caused some consternation among parents of affected students.
The holding school, which is the site currently occupied by MacPherson Primary School, is located about 4.5km away from SMPS and is 8 minutes’ walk away from Mattar MRT station. According to a letter to parents seen by reporters, SMPS said it would relocate from 2020 to 2021 due to planned upgrading works to equip the school with facilities like redesigned classrooms, a dance studio, an outdoor jogging path as well as an indoor sports hall.
Apart from saying that the relocation was made possible due to MacPherson Primary’s impending merger with Cedar Primary in 2019, no other details were given in the letter about the rationale for choosing the holding site.
PARENTS’ CONCERNS: INCONVENIENCE, SCHOOL BUS FARES, CHILDREN’S STUDIES
The distance between the two schools is about 4.5 kilometres, and some parents and family members reporters spoke to said picking up and dropping off their daughters will be a hassle, particularly if they also have other children studying in other schools close to SMPS.
One grandfather, for example, says he helps his daughter with the ferrying of her children at times. Apart from one granddaughter studying in SMPS, he also has a grandson studying at a boys’ school in the area, as well as another child in a nearby kindergarten. All of them, he said, start school at around the same time.
“I don’t live nearby, and the children need to leave the house at about 6.30am as it is,” he said. “When SMPS moves to Mattar, I’ll have to run from one end to another. It will be a big headache for me.”
“There are some old schools nearer to here,” he added. “I don’t understand why they couldn’t move somewhere nearby.”
One mother of three also cited the additional travelling time her daughter will have to face. She explained that while her daughter has a school bus to ferry her to and from school, she takes public transport home when she has extra activities or other CCAs.
“My main reason for enrolling my daughter in SMPS was the accessibility,” said the mother, who lives within 2km of the school’s Wilkie Road premises. “She has a direct bus home now, but with the new location, she’ll need to take at least 2 buses, which is an additional 20 minutes bus ride.”
Meanwhile, another mother whose Primary 3 daughter takes a school bus to school raised concerns that the bus company will increase the fare when the school moves. The mother, who also lives within 2km of the school, says that currently she pays S$100 a month for the school bus, and expects them to increase it to “at least S$180”.
“The new location is really quite far away,” she said. “And to make matters worse, my second daughter will be enrolling into SMPS that year as well, so I’ll have to pay double.”
Beyond inconvenience, she is also worried that her daughter’s studies will suffer. Pointing out that her daughter will be part of the first batch to take the PSLE with the new scoring system, she described the issues arising from the school relocation as an “additional burden” she has to worry about.
“If it’s a little bit (of inconvenience), I can bear with it,” she said. “But it’s going to be an everyday, routine thing, where she has to wake up earlier to go there and come back later.”
“I’m worried that she won’t have the time to complete her homework, and I don’t want this to affect her PSLE results ultimately.”
She added that she was “very disappointed” that the school chose to break the news to parents about the relocation via a letter distributed to students. According to her, the letter was given out to students when school re-opened for Term 3 at the end of June.
“I went to the school to receive my daughter’s report book during the parent-teacher meeting held just before the school holidays, and no one said anything,” she said.
“They could also have emailed all the information to us,” she added, pointing out that student performance updates are regularly emailed to parents.
HOLDING SCHOOL THE NEAREST SITE THAT WILL ALLOW SMPS TO REMAIN SINGLE-SESSION
In a subsequent letter distributed to parents on Friday (Jul 13), the school explained the rationale for choosing the holding school. For one, it said that it is not easy to look for a holding school as the school’s pupils come from “all parts of Singapore”. Some students, the school said, come from as far as Johor, Sentosa, Tampines and Jurong.
Furthermore, the school’s heavy traffic is another factor that has to be taken into consideration, the school said. Traffic assessment by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) noted that around 600 cars travel to the school daily. The school is also “among the few” in Singapore with a “mega fleet of school buses” – about 48 school buses of varying sizes in 2018, according to the letter.
The school added that while the Ministry of Education (MOE) has offered the school “a few options”, the holding school at MacPherson Primary is the nearest site which would allow the school to remain single-session.
“A double-session model, such as upper primary in the morning and lower primary in the afternoon or vice versa, would mean that children in the same family may need to report and be dismissed from school at different times,” the school said in the letter. “Parents may need to engage two bus companies for two different sessions. Those who ferry their children to school may have to make multiple trips.”
As to why parents were not informed earlier, the letter said that information was not confirmed and the upgrading project could be delayed indefinitely if a suitable holding venue for SMPS could not be found.
The school explained that MOE and LTA took time to assess the traffic situation at SMPS, and how the move could affect the traffic conditions at MacPherson Primary.
“Giving information that is incomplete or premature will cause alarm and frustration as parents will not be able to make any concrete plans for the unclear future,” the school said.
“LTA was only able to get back on their approval just before the start of Term 3, 2018. Hence, parents could only be informed in the first week of Term 3, 2018.”
In response to reporters queries, SMPS principal Pang Wee Mian pointed out that parents were informed of the change, including the location of the holding site, via various communications channels such as letters to parents and the school’s website.
“Parents who intend to register their daughters during the 2019 P1 Registration Exercise were also updated when they went to the school during the 2018 P1 Registration Exercise,” she said.
Based on the feedback gathered from parents, the school also provided additional information on the considerations behind its temporary move to the holding site, and the measures it will take to facilitate the move, Ms Pang added.
“For example, we will work with LTA to assess traffic conditions during school arrival and dismissal times, and make arrangements for school bus services,” she said. “There will also be a school-based student care centre at the holding site.”
MOE WILL FIRST CONSIDER FEASIBILITY OF ON-SITE SCHOOL UPGRADING
In a statement to reporters, MOE explained that when it comes to upgrading schools, it will first consider if it is feasible to carry out upgrading without a temporary relocation, taking into account factors such as the school layout and safety of students and staff.
But in the case of SMPS, the upgrading works will be “extensive”, according to its divisional director for infrastructure and facility services Choo Lee See. “This is why, in the interest of the students and staff’s safety, the school will need to move to a holding site,” she said.
She added that the holding site was chosen after much consideration, and also has sufficient facilities to ensure that the school curriculum and programmes can continue without disruption.
“MOE is working closely with the school to facilitate its move to the holding site, and ensure that teaching and learning will not be affected,” said Mrs Choo.
SOME PARENTS STILL THINKING OF TRANSFERRING CHILDREN OUT
The more detailed communication from the school has helped some parents come to terms with what is happening.
One of them is the mother whose P3 daughter takes the school bus. After receiving the letter, she said that while she is still not sure if MacPherson is the “ultimate best choice”, she better understands the school’s rationale.
“They did mention that they will source for new bus drivers to facilitate (the move) better. If that does not add on to my financial burden significantly, I will not transfer her to another school.”
But another mother feels she will need to transfer her daughter out of SMPS. Her son, she explained, studies in a school nearby, and she plans to move her daughter into the school from next year.
Her home, she said, is about 6 kilometres away from the holding site, and her daughter will be taking her PSLE when the school moves in 2020.
“It will be a hassle, and she’ll need to adapt to a new school, but I don’t think I have a choice,” she said. “It’s really too far away.”
SINGAPORE: Home-grown food court operator Koufu on Wednesday (Jul 18) made its trading debut on the Singapore Exchange’s (SGX) mainboard at an opening price of S$0.65 – 3.2 per cent above its initial public offering (IPO) price of S$0.63 apiece.
The counter ended the morning trading session at S$0.64, after fluctuating between S$0.635 and S$0.66 with about 25 million shares traded.
The broader Straits Times Index (STI) was last seen at 3,250.83, up 0.35 per cent or 11.19 points. Gainers slightly outnumbered losers by 145 to 139.
With a market capitalisation of about S$350 million, Koufu will boost SGX’s consumer cluster to a total of 152 listings with combined market capitalisation of more than S$135 billion, the bourse operator said in a news release.
Mr Simon Lim, SGX’s head of equity capital market for sectors, said this will “provide investors with the opportunity to invest in one of Singapore’s most established household F&B brands”.
"We are excited to be the Group’s choice listing platform as it seeks to strengthen its presence in Singapore and overseas, drive productivity through innovation and automation, as well as expand into the online food ordering and delivery space," he added.
Founder-CEO Pang Lim described the listing as a “strong vote of confidence” for the 16-year-old company, as well as a “recognition” of its track record and growth plans.
Koufu said it received “strong support” from both institutional and retail investors at the close of its IPO on Monday noon.
The public tranche of 6.3 million shares was 17 times subscribed, with application monies of about S$67.8 million lodged.
For the placement tranche of 85.1 million shares, it received “strong” indications of interest for about 552.5 million placement shares, with a total value of just over S$348 million.
The valid acceptances for the reserved shares resulted in all 5.5 million being allotted.
Separately, 21 million shares were taken up by three cornerstone investors, namely Maxi-Harvest Group, One Hill Investments and Qilin Asset Management.
Among the future plans outlined in its prospectus, Koufu is earmarking S$30 million of the IPO proceeds for the building of an integrated facility in Woodlands, which will be home to a larger central kitchen and a centralised dishwashing facility.
Some S$5 million will also be set aside for other expansion plans, such as the acquisition of a major stake in a business-to-business bakery. Slated to be completed in the fourth quarter, Koufu said this will expand its bakery, confectionary and hot kitchen food production business.
Apart from new openings in Singapore, including its first food court in a hospital launching this month, Koufu is eyeing overseas expansion by using Singapore and Macau as “springboards” to enter China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.
It has also begun negotiations with several commercial landlords and developers to establish new food and beverage (F&B) outlets in Macau.
At the moment, Koufu manages 47 food courts, 14 coffee shops, 81 self-operated food and beverage (F&B) stalls, a hawker centre in Jurong West and the Punggol Plaza. Outside of Singapore, its presence in Macau comes in form of a food court at Sands Cotai Central, as well as two F&B stalls and a F&B kiosk.
STRING OF F&B LISTINGS
Koufu’s market debut comes on the back of a string of F&B listings last year, including traditional coffee shop operator Kimly, as well as restaurant chains RE&S Holdings and No Signboard Holdings.
Phillip Securities' research head Paul Chew said the performance of Catalist-listed Kimly has been key in attracting F&B operators to go public. Since the IPO last March, the counter has risen 38 per cent after last trading at S$0.345 on Wednesday morning.
“When you have one bellwether stock like Kimly that pulls up the valuation for the whole sector, it will attract other listings,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
Other listings have had less upbeat performances; RE&S Holdings and No Signboard Holdings have fallen 18 per cent and 33 per cent below their IPO prices, respectively, since their debut on the Catalist board in November.
RHB Research analyst Lee Cai Ling explained: “In general, companies’ first-year performance will be lacklustre following its listing as the companies require time to execute its expansion plans. Secondly, the IPO expenses can be quite significant hence dampening the bottomline.”
Mr Chew also noted that market participants are generally concerned about the lack of organic growth among consumer firms though this has helped by the presence of healthy cashflows and decent dividends.
In the case of Kimly and Koufu, the emphasis on serving up affordable food options at coffee shops and food courts means they are “more defensive consumer staples” that will be less sensitive to economic downturns, he added.
Moving forward, Ms Lee expects ongoing trade tensions and slower growth expectations to churn higher volatility in the local stock market. Cautious investors would hence prefer to park their monies with blue-chip companies or defensive stocks, such as consumer staples, she said.
Echoing that, CMC Markets analyst Margaret Yang said SGX-listed F&B operators, including crab restaurant owner Jumbo and Kimly, have registered a negative 2 per cent year-to-date return as of yesterday’s closing. This compared with a negative 4.7 per cent return for the STI over the same period.
“In view of rising trade tensions and uncertainties in the global environment, domestic-focused F&B names are favoured by their defensive nature and stable cashflows,” Ms Yang said.
SINGAPORE: A yellow python has been removed after it was found at an HDB block in Queensway on Wednesday morning (Jul 18).
Tanjong Pagar Town Council said it was informed of the incident at Block 168A Queensway at about 8.20am by a residents' committee chairperson.
The snake was eventually removed by an Agri-Food and Veterinary Agency (AVA) contractor, the town council said.
The python was discovered near the rubbish chute area behind the block, with resident Annie telling reporters that it had been there for at least an hour and a half, since 7am.
"It's just below my block. Another neighbour called Felicia alerted us, so we went to take pictures," she said.
"Some residents placed the rubbish near it so that they don't go near it," she added.
AVA advises members of the public to stay calm should they spot a snake, and not to attack it.
"If the snake is in a room inside your home, take children and pets away from that room and close all the doors and windows except those that lead outside," AVA said on its website. "This is to allow the snake to escape outdoors."
SINGAPORE: Local security agency firms can tap on a new plan that outlines clear roadmaps to help them adopt digital technology in their work, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo announced at its launch on Wednesday (Jul 18).
The Security Industry Digital Plan (IDP), developed by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) in partnership with the Ministry of Home Affairs, identifies a list of technology solutions at different stages of their development. It is a part of the security Industry Transformation Map announced in February.
For instance, firms that have barely implemented any technological solutions will start in the first stage of the roadmap. It includes basic technology such as automated visitor management systems, mobile-enabled patrol and incident management systems, and surveillance cameras with analytics.
Mr Kenny Ng, a senior security supervisor at a condominium which has adopted technology into its security measures, said that his job has been made easier with surveillance cameras.
“It’s 12-hour [work] so, with this technology, it has made our job easier. We just monitor our cameras on the screen … Previously we have to chase [after] the vehicles and record the vehicles. Now our vehicle plate recognition camera will allow vehicles to enter and exit smoothly and records are automatically updated in the smart database,” said Mr Ng.
For security agencies that are more advanced in technology adoption, the roadmaps suggest cluster guarding, robotics, artificial intelligence and immersive media to beef up existing digital technology strategies.
SMEs can use an online self-assessment checklist to rate their digital readiness and identify digitalisation opportunities.
To encourage local security agencies to adopt pre-approved solutions identified in the roadmap, Enterprise Singapore will set aside S$7 million through the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG). There are seven pre-approved solution packages available, with more in the pipeline.
The pre-approved solutions, selected by MHA and IMDA, have been proven, market-tested and are cost-effective, said Mrs Teo. It will reduce the effort needed by firms to find their own solutions and give them a peace of mind that the vendor is reliable, she added.
PSG will help support 50 per cent of qualifying costs, capped at S$30,000 per security agency per year. A majority of security SMEs are eligible for the grant.
A guide for an “Outcome-Based Security Contract” as a “necessary first step” to guide service buyers in adopting contracts based on outcomes, as opposed to fixed headcount was also launched. The guide includes principles and templates for service buyers to adopt such contracts at every stage of the tender process.
Mrs Teo said that many security agencies in Singapore have not adopted any technology in their work, and about 30 per cent of firms have adopted one technological update in their work.
“With these pre-approved digital solutions and support available through PSG, we aim to double the number of security agencies that adopt at least one of these three pre-approved digital solutions by 2020 ... Certainly, by 2025, these basic building blocks should be the norm and no longer the exception,” she added.
TRAINING THE INDUSTRY’S WORKFORCE
The IDP also includes a roadmap on training to prepare the security industry’s workforce with the necessary mindset and skills to adopt and benefit from technology.
Developed with SkillsFuture Singapore and the Security Industry Institute, the training is aligned with the Skills Framework for Security.
Raj Joshua Thomas, president of Security Association of Singapore, said that the plan can help alleviate manpower issues in the industry.
“At any one point of time, we have a shortage of security officers so we are helping to right-size the industry with technology. If we have to deploy less people, the shortage will just become lower and lower, and negated. So, I think we should not worry about officers being replaced by technology because structurally there is already a shortage,” Mr Thomas told reporters.
“The image that people have of the industry will also change because previously, people think it’s a jaga (caretaker) job but it, in fact, has already moved up to something of a higher value,” he added.
SMEs that require more help in reviewing their business can approach the SME Digital Tech Hub for business advisors or specialists for more advance digital solutions. These consultancy services are provided free-of-charge.
It is the fourth IDP launched to guide SMEs on their digital transformation efforts. Previously, similar IDPs were launched for the environmental services, logistics and retail sectors.
A Technical Reference (TR) for video analytics systems was also announced at the launch. The TR sets requirements and specifications for the selection, installation, operation, maintenance and data interoperability of video analytics systems.
The TR, which will be ready by end of next year, will help buyers assess the effectiveness of systems.
SINGAPORE: The dream was nearly complete, the quest for the greatest World Cup result of all time nearly accomplished. In a tournament ruled by underdogs, a pup of a country - not yet 27 years old - hoofed, hared and hustled to the very last, only to fall short against a supremely gifted French outfit.
Even then Croatia refused to stay down, as has been their story for the last five weeks in Russia, and what a narrative it was. Back home their small and declining population continue to suffer the effects of economic and political uncertainty, with a football federation awash in corruption scandals that have directly impacted players - including one now recognised as the best at the World Cup, Luka Modric.
Like many of his teammates, the captain was made a refugee during the Balkan War, after rebels torched his house and executed his relatives. But Modric and his cohorts flourished partially because of such challenges, not in spite of them. And at the World Cup, their indefatigable nature came to the fore in group matches I had the fortune of witnessing in person, through three straight gruelling knockout games which stretched into extra time, and all the way to the final itself.
Here their legs burned and chests hurt but having known worse pain, they pushed and pressed to keep their dream alive, far past the limits of their abilities, until one goal behind became two became three became the end of the line.
Croatia did not learn to do this from an elaborate blueprint presented on animated powerpoint slides. They did not practise this on stylishly-pruned grounds of a fancy million-dollar facility. This was as basic a football - and sporting - principle as it gets: Team work, hard work, pure and simple, pays off.
HEY SINGAPORE, DO YOU EVEN DO SPORTS?
It would appear this message has not been lost on Singaporean fans, both hardcore and casual. Throughout the competition, Croatia’s gutsy displays have won online hearts in the thousands, and at a public viewing party for the final I overheard plenty of keywords like “determined” and “fighting spirit” every time a checkered red-and-white shirt threw himself at the ball.
All of which has made me wonder: Why can’t we convert this consumption, this awareness into advancing Singapore’s football and sporting culture?
Hold up first - do we have one? Let’s bring it back to our de facto national sport. Parents who want their kids to make a career out of football - few and far between. Void deck and street soccer court culture - fast disappearing, if not disappeared. Youth academies - forced to relocate after residential complaints about noise.
Oh, and there’s that national team stuck in a loop of damnation.
All this, while Singaporeans sit glued to their couches, devouring football in the EPL and other European football divisions every weekend, and the World Cup every four years.
High-quality, first-rate sporting spectacle taking place not halfway across the world, but on a screen in front of you: Is this not how all athletes - from weekend warriors to professionals to greats - are influenced and inspired, too?
I’m no footballer, but football is how I started. Arsenal vs Man Utd on the telly, with the imperious Patrick Vieira - Vicks patch and all - storming from box to box, just running and going at it hard, just doing whatever it takes to propel his side to victory, just like the Croats of today.
Watching him, I wanted to kick about with the other kids downstairs, so I started jogging to improve my stamina, got hooked on endurance sport, joined kayak racing as a CCA, then rode the endorphin wave into the national squad for dragon boat and later, rowing.
This is, in essence, about loving sport, a journey that can start in a living room and be nudged along by supportive parents, PE teachers and the like. Because in the absence of a dedicated sports ministry and the rapid dissolving of local sports media, the onus is truly on us, the people, to kickstart a genuine sporting culture.
How we respond to the news of the day matters, too. Take the unfolding Ben Davis saga: Enough with the finger-pointing and blame-laying, there are only so many instances where online outcry brought actual change.
The best response, I feel, is to take real action - get out there and kick a ball, get your kids to kick a ball, and don’t stop until Singapore has a critical mass of footballers doing well enough to warrant a change of deferment criteria.
It will take time but we are young, not even as young as a certain World Cup finalist, and the years can be used to slowly wean mindsets to embrace a more conducive attitude and ambition when it comes to sport.
Take one argument on the Davis situation which I came across on Twitter. It lost me from the get-go using phrases such as “not a guarantee” and “return on investment”, but regained my attention with the claim that Davis’ chances of playing in the EPL are “romantically dreamy”.
I’m sorry but football, and sport, is all about dreaming - and the keeping on of dreaming. Just ask Croatia.
SINGAPORE: Sales of new private homes slumped 20.2 per cent year-on-year in June, according to data released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Monday (Jul 16).
Excluding executive condominiums (ECs), developers sold 654 private homes in June compared with 820 units in the same month last year. This was also a 41.7 per cent decrease from the 1,122 private homes sold in May - a nine-month high fuelled by a deluge of new launches.
Including ECs, 706 units were sold in June, a drop from the 1,259 sold the previous month and 1,064 homes sold in June last year.
In June, developers launched 726 units, down 41.7 per cent from May but up 356.6 per cent from June last year.
The Outside Central Region proved most popular with both buyers and developers last month, with 474 units launched and 374 homes sold.
This compares with the 67 units launched and 66 sold in the Core Central Region, and 185 units launched and 214 sold in the Rest of Central Region.
The private residential projects that sold the most units in June were Margaret Ville (121 units), Affinity at Serangoon (107 units), Twin Vew (64 units), The Gardens Residences (64 units) and 120 Grange (42 units).
Earlier this month, the Government announced new property cooling measures, including a 5 percentage point hike in Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) rates for citizens and permanent residents buying second and subsequent homes, as well as a 5 percentage point tightening for loan-to-value limits for all housing loans granted by financial institutions.
The measures are expected to have the largest impact on the en bloc market as well as the private residential market, analysts have told reporters. Top executives from some of Singapore’s biggest developers have also said the local property market is likely to see some slowing on the back of the surprise cooling measures, although a crash is unlikely.
"We expect new home sales to decline significantly in the next few months as the market takes stock of the potential implications," said Ms Tricia Song, head of research for Singapore at Colliers International.
"Developers and buyers are also likely to shun the month of August due to the Ghost Month which starts on Aug 11."
Huttons Asia's head of research Lee Sze Teck said 3,508 units were launched and 4,000 units sold in the first half of 2018, compared with 3,960 units launched and 6,039 units sold in the first half of 2017.
Mr Lee said Riverfront Residences, Park Colonial and Stirling Residences were launched for sale in July, while Daintree Residences will be launched this weekend.
He noted that after more than 1,000 units were estimated to have been sold at Riverfront Residences, Park Colonial and Stirling Residences in one night after the new cooling measures were announced, double-digit sales continued to be registered at the three projects.
This is "a testament to the adequate liquidity and fundamentally healthy demand in the market", Mr Lee said. Looking forward, he said he expects developers to sell around 1,500 units this month.
SINGAPORE: The latest round of property cooling measures may have caught the market by surprise with its speed and severity, with an analyst describing it as "a sledgehammer to kill a fly".
However, the warning signs were there: High land prices, a jump in the number of new housing loans, and a wage growth lagging behind economic expansion were some of the red flags which prompted the authorities to take pre-emptive action, several experts said.
Add to these the increasing external risks which dampened the economic outlook, and there was an urgency to curb "euphoria" in the property market, as Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) chief Ravi Menon put it.
"Economic growth is healthy in 2017, and also in the first quarter of 2018, but there are potential macroeconomic and external risks that are not to be ignored. The rising interest rates, the low inflation rate, political instability and the trade war," said Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo, who is the Director of the Institute of Real Estate Studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
WHERE THE NUMBERS STAND
According to experts, there are several indicators that guides the Government's decision making on the property market: Gross domestic product (GDP), wage and income levels, banks loan growth, property price index, volume of transactions as well as land prices.
Over the past year, land prices have gone up by 15 to 20 per cent, said CBRE head of research for Singapore and Southeast Asia Desmond Sim. The surge was fuelled by the en bloc frenzy and record-breaking bids in the Government land sales programme.
A Colliers report in April estimates that the total value of collective sales transactions last year to be at S$8.13 billion – the best showing since 2007 – with S$5.83 billion already raked in for the first quarter of this year from 17 successful residential en bloc sales.
Meanwhile, record-high bids for Government land sales sites were received, including a Cuscaden Road site which sold for S$2,377 per square foot per plot ratio. If the cooling measures were not introduced, the pace of increase in land prices could go unabated and this would likely lead to upward pressure on property prices, said Mr Sim.
Ms Christine Li, senior director of research at Cushman & Wakefield, reiterated that rising land prices would mean developers have to launch new projects at higher prices. This would, in turn, lift the resale prices of other properties in the vicinity, and possibly lead to an unsustainable pace of price increases, she added.
Earlier this month, just two days before the cooling measures were announced, MAS said at a briefing on its annual report that new housing loans over the last 12 months had risen by 34 per cent year-on-year.
Calling the jump "worrisome," Professor Sumit Agarwal from NUS Business School said that these rates of bank lending "mimic" the situation in the United States before the subprime mortgage crisis struck. At the time, housing loans grew 50 per cent between 2004 and 2006, before the housing market crashed in 2007 and spiralled into a global financial crisis.
The dramatic rise in lending could "destabilise the banking system and the economy in whole", Professor Sumit said.
The situation is compounded in a rising interest rate environment, with expectations for further rate increases as the market forecasts the United States' Federal Reserve to increase its rates two more times this year.
However, Mr Alan Cheong, senior director of research at Savills, noted that the 34 per cent spike was a cumulative increase over 12 months. He added:
Housing loans growth over time have come down … It's not a good reason to use loan growth as one of the reasons to curb the market.
While private property prices currently have not matched previous peak levels in 2013 and 2014, Professor Ong Seow Eng from NUS' real estate department said that back then, the environment of higher interest rates was absent.
As a result, the Government's fear that home buyers would find it increasingly tough to repay their loans might have gone up a few notches, the experts said.
"The interest rate may also expose the vulnerabilities of the banking system, if the concentration of loans in real estate in the bank portfolio is too high. Real estate market and the banking and finance market are highly interrelated," said Assoc Prof Sing.
Nevertheless, the cooling measures were pre-emptive, as data from MAS and the banks showed that the banks' exposure to property-related loans are well within safety limits.
Based on MAS statistics, housing and bridging loans in May stood at S$203.1 billion, accounting for slightly more than 30 per cent of total loans. This is in line with MAS regulation which limits the banks' property-related exposure at 35 per cent of their total eligible assets.
DBS head of secured lending Tok Geok Peng said home loans "form a large part of" the bank's consumer loans. DBS' latest financial report showed that housing loans make up 22 per cent of its total loan portfolio across all the markets it operates in.
OCBC's total exposure to housing loans across all its markets is 26 per cent, while UOB's is slightly higher at 27.6 per cent. All three banks did not provide data specific to the Singapore market.
Nevertheless, MAS data showed that the loan-to-deposit ratio (LDR) has remained stable from January to May, hovering between 86 and 87 per cent. LDR is used to measure banks' liquidity, where a 100 per cent ratio means that the bank loans out a dollar to a customer for a dollar of deposits it receives. Market convention generally dictates that an ideal LDR is usually between 80 and 90 per cent.
Turning to housing loan growth, MAS statistics showed that this grew by 4.8 per cent in May year-on-year.
Mr Paul Chew, who heads research at Phillip Securities, noted that the current level of housing loan growth is conservative.
"It is not irrational lending on (the part of) bankers," he added.
Mr Sim also noted that the strong growth in transaction volume would automatically lead to a rise in new housing loans.
While the indicators in the banking system may not have set off alarm bells on their own, they could be of some concern when one looks at the bigger picture.
Singapore's economic growth has generally hovered above 3 per cent over the last few quarters, with latest flash estimates for second quarter GDP growth coming in at 3.8 per cent.
While economic growth has been generally healthy, it is "not as bullish as private property prices", noted Mr Sim.
Assoc Prof Sing also pointed out that wage growth has not kept pace with GDP growth, and this may widen the housing price to income ratio.
Based on latest available statistics, real median monthly household income from work grew 1.5 per cent last year, the lowest growth rate since 2009 when the Republic was hit by a global financial crisis
Economists had attributed the lower growth in median household income from work to higher inflation in 2017. In contrast, the Republic experienced deflation in 2015 and 2016. MAS expects inflation this year to be similar to last year's level.
At the same time, the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) price index showed that private property prices went up 9.1 per cent since its trough in in the second quarter of last year. In comparison, private property prices declined 11.6 per cent over a period of four years from mid-2013 to mid-2017.
Mr Sim said that the concern lies not so much in the magnitude of the price increase, but its pace.
"The 11.6 per cent decline took four years. This (9.1 per cent jump) took four quarters," he said, adding that prices would jump more if the Government did not act.
The experts, however, were split over whether the momentum was too fast. Some noted that if left unchecked, the run-up in prices could be faster than the previous boom cycle from mid-2009 to mid-2013. Others pointed out that what the market has seen over the last year pales in comparison to the start of the previous cycle, where quarterly price increase reached as high as almost 16 per cent.
Likewise, the 25 per cent jump in the number of property transactions over the last 12 months divided opinions as to whether it was a cause for concern. This could imply that demand have been coming mainly from investors, he said.
Others felt the spike could be a result of a low-base effect from the previous year, and not necessarily an indicator of an overheating market. Ms Li said the increase was significantly lower than the 98 per cent increase in volumes between 2008 and 2010. Then, the number of private residential units sold hit 40,000 over a year, compared with the current 25,000.
In raising the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) rates and tightening the Loan-to-Value (LTV) limits, the Government said these were done to "cool the property market and keep prices in line with economic fundamentals". It added:
The sharp increase in prices, if left unchecked, could run ahead of economic fundamentals and raise the risk of a destabilising correction later, especially with rising interest rates and the strong pipeline of housing supply.
COOLING MEASURES: 9 ROUNDS IN 9 YEARS
This latest round of cooling measures — the ninth in nine years — comes on the back of several others that have been rolled out progressively since 2009 when private property prices started skyrocketing.
Apart from increasing the ABSD rates by five per cent for individuals and 10 per cent for entities, the LTV limit has been tightened by five percentage points.
This is not the first time the Government has tightened the LTV limit. It was reduced from 90 to 80 per cent in 2010. That was also when the Seller's Stamp Duty (SSD) was introduced for properties that were sold within one year of purchase, in a move aimed at deterring speculative activity.
Between 2010 and 2011, some of the measures were tightened to curb the persistent rise in prices.
The ABSD was first introduced in end-2011. More rounds of Government intervention ensued, which saw loan tenures cut and ABSD rates raised as prices continued ticking upwards.
In 2013, the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) framework was introduced, requiring banks to ensure that the monthly debt obligations of home buyers cannot exceed 60 per cent of their household monthly income. Prices peaked in the third quarter of 2013, and went on to decline gradually for 16 straight quarters.
The Government eased some measures in the first quarter of last year. Under the changes then, the SSD will be payable if a homeowner sells his property within three years of purchase, down from four years previously.
BUT DEMAND STILL HOLDING UP
Despite several rounds of property curbs, Singapore's property market has proved to be resilient, as prices rose quickly over the past year.
On the day the latest cooling measures were announced, thousands of prospective homebuyers flocked to the showrooms, after property developers brought forward the launches to beat the midnight deadline.
About 1,000 units across all three projects – Riverfront Residence at Hougang, Park Colonial at Woodleigh and Stirling Residences at Queenstown – were sold under five hours.
"What happened that Thursday night was the fear of missing out," said Mr Sim, as he attributed the frenzy to the familiar Singaporean "kiasu" trait.
In land-scarce Singapore where people are increasingly affluent, it is no surprise that demand for properties has been relatively strong, except during economic downturns.
The Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s sent property prices on a free fall, dropping by 35 per cent in 1998. Prices climbed back up but remained relatively subdued until 2005, due to a series of events such as the dot-com bubble burst and the severe acute respiratory syndrome crisis, which kept demand at bay.
Prices started rising faster after 2005 but in 2008 and 2009, the property market was hit by the onset of the global financial crisis, with prices falling 24.9 per cent. But the down cycle was short-lived, lasting only two years before the market started recovering.
Notwithstanding a period of slow decline in prices from 2013 to 2017 as a result of Government intervention, the market has generally been holding up well as the Singapore economy grew steadily.
"It's a sign that the Singapore economy … and the job market is working. Economy is doing well, so people have the ability to buy," said Mr Cheong on the resilience of the property market.
He added that affordability has increased for certain segments of the population. Income levels of the top 30 percentile of Singapore residents went up between 13 and 18 per cent during the recent four-year period when private property prices were declining.
Experts also pointed out that there has been an abundance of liquidity post-global financial crisis. Until last year, the US government had been increasing money supply through quantitative easing and keeping interest rates low.
Part of the money is starting to flow back from overseas buyers into the Singapore property market after they had focused their attention elsewhere as a result of earlier cooling measures, some experts said.
With places such as Hong Kong, China and Australia implementing their own cooling measures to tame their residential property markets, and a clampdown on corruption in China and India, "their money has to be parked somewhere", said Prof Sumit.
Domestically, Singaporeans tend to have greater faith putting their money in real estate than in other asset classes like equities or bonds, Mr Cheong noted.
"The market is sending this message … It's ingrained," he said.
The idea of having a tangible asset that can be bequeathed to the next generation is also etched into the Singaporean psyche.
ZACD Group executive director Nicholas Mak added:
Quite a few generations of Singaporeans have been conditioned to think that it's good to own your own home … If it's good to own your own home, it's good to own another home because of capital appreciation"
To many Singaporeans, property is a "sure-win" investment. There is the general perception that the value of properties would go up in the future, said Mr Ku Swee Yong, chief executive of International Property Advisor.
He noted that the strong overall demand has kept prices resilient in the Singapore property market, and this is aided by banks giving out loans based on the valuation set by the value appointed by the developers. He believed that the market would be less exuberant if banks rely on independent valuation.
EN BLOC ASPIRATIONS ON HOLD?
As part of the latest cooling measures, the authorities also imposed a non-remittable five per cent ABSD on developers buying residential properties for housing development, effectively putting all collective sales projects on the line as the cost for developers has gone up significantly.
It has already claimed at least one casualty.
JLL regional director of investments, Tan Hong Boon, said that a collective sale committee has pulled the plug on an en bloc bid, after it felt that the gains may not be attractive. Mr Tan, however, declined to reveal more details.
At Waterloo Apartments, its collective sale committee has reverted to its original plan of getting the authorities' approval for the site to be zoned for hotel developments.
Ms Christina Sim, who heads collective sales at Cushman & Wakefield, said the committee had wanted to launch the development for sale as a residential site, after seeing the higher prices fetched by en bloc residential projects.
Since the cooling measures were announced, en bloc bids across the island have been plunged into uncertainty.
"(Is it) game over?" That's what many residents who are trying for an en bloc had on their minds," said Mr Terence Lian, investment sales head of Huttons Asia.
The real estate company is the marketing agent for the collective sale of 15 sites. Last week, Mr Lian held separate meetings with the collective sales committees of Kensington Park and Pine Grove, to address any concerns which residents might have, and to discuss the way forward.
Given the large size of the two sites, Mr Lian said they were more vulnerable to the impact of the property cooling measures, as developers might not be confident that they can sell all the units before the five-year deadline in order to apply for the remission of the 25 per cent ABSD.
After their meeting with Huttons, residents remained upbeat about their en bloc prospects, even though they acknowledged there are causes for concern.
"We were taken aback, didn't expect the cooling measures to come out so fast," said Mr Phua Thye Hin, chairperson of Kensington Park's collective sale committee.
The secretary of the committee, Ms Tee Lee Lian, said they received feedback from residents that they were concerned how the cooling measures could hamper their en bloc prospects.
The 314-unit condominium at Serangoon Gardens has garnered 70 per cent of owners agreeing to the collective sale at a reserve price of S$1.05 billion, and they hope to get the required 80 per cent consent by the fourth quarter of this year.
Over at Pine Grove, its collective sale committee chairperson Kogi Murthi said that some owners stopped asking for higher prices after the cooling measures were announced. The current asking price is S$1.72 billion.
Her team believes that Pine Grove still stand a strong chance given its location in the Holland-Bukit Timah area. So far, 77 per cent of owners at the 660-unit development have signed the collective sales agreement.
Mr Vincent Teo, who chairs the Mandarin Gardens collective sale committee, said they are "not giving up", although there is still some way to go to achieving the requisite consent. Currently, 60 per cent of owners of the 1,006-unit development at East Coast have agreed to sell it at an asking price of S$2.48 billion.
For residents who are opposed to the en bloc attempts, they are hoping that the government intervention could put the brakes on.
Mr A J Leow, who is a resident at Ivory Heights, said he felt "a sense of relief" when the cooling measures were announced.
Cashew Heights resident Andy Goh was, however, sceptical about any lasting impact from the cooling measures. They would be "effective temporarily" only, and the momentum will come back few months down the road, he lamented.
SINGAPORE: Singapore’s exports rose for the third consecutive month in June, although the pace of growth slumped due to the slower growth of pharmaceutical shipments, official data showed on Tuesday (Jul 17).
Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) grew just 1.1 per cent last month, slowing significantly from a 15.5 per cent expansion in May and 11.8 per cent in April, according to figures released by the trade agency Enterprise Singapore.
This was less than the 7.6 per cent rise predicted in a Reuters poll of analysts.
On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, exports fell 10.8 per cent in June after growing 10.3 per cent the month before. The poll tipped a contraction of 8 per cent.
Pharmaceutical exports grew 19.1 per cent in June from the year earlier, slowing from 32.1 per cent growth in May.
Shipments of electronics fell by 7.9 per cent, after declining 7.8 per cent in May. The growth of non-electronic exports slowed to 4.6 per cent in June, following a 26.2 per cent expansion in the previous month.
Overall, shipments to four of Singapore’s top 10 markets grew, with growth led by the US and Indonesia. Shipments to China, Singapore’s biggest export market, fell by 15.8 per cent after declining 6 per cent in May.
OCBC Bank’s head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling described that as “lopsided effects” from the brewing trade tensions between the US and China thus far.
“NODX rose to only 4 of our top 10 NODX markets in June, with the largest declines seen in South Korea and China, which could be partly due to the rising trade war concerns,” she wrote in a note.
Citing how growth for NODX in the first half came in at 5.4 per cent year-on-year, down from 9.1 per cent over the same period a year ago, Ms Ling expects the growth momentum for exports to further decelerate into the third quarter.
This will mean “some downside risk” to the full-year NODX growth forecast, “assuming potential further disruptions to regional supply chains if the next leg of US$200 billion of US tariffs on Chinese imports materialises in September”, she added.
Echoing that, DBS economist Irvin Seah said the marginal rise in NODX for June is in line with expectations “of a drop back to reality”.
In addition, the big decline in the seasonally adjusted month-on-month figure is the “bigger worry”, which suggests that the “underlying trend is heading downwards”.
Noting how the modest rise in NODX was driven largely by ad hoc items, such as “civil engineering equipment” and the ever-volatile pharmaceutical products, Mr Seah said "sustainability was always in question" with risk on the downside.
“Moreover, the PMIs (purchasing managers’ index) over key markets have been easing and leading indicators for electronics were also pointing to a softer patch in global electronics demand,” he added.
INCREASINGLY CLOUDY ECONOMIC OUTLOOK
Given the slowdown in the external environment, Mr Seah is expecting “an even slower GDP growth” for the Singapore economy in the third quarter.
"Although the economy had held up well in the second quarter, the impact from the slowdown on the external front will only manifest in the third quarter figures," he said.
Coupled with the effects of trade protectionism and tighter liquidity conditions, Singapore's economic outlook in the longer horizon is "turning increasingly cloudy", Mr Seah added.
While holding on to their full-year GDP forecast of 3.5 per cent, Maybank Kim Eng economists Chua Hak Bin and Lee Ju Ye also warned of “emerging downside risks” in the second half of the year.
These include the recent property cooling measures, which appear “ill-timed and overly harsh, coming on the back of a visible growth slowdown and an escalating US-China trade war”, Dr Chua and Ms Lee said.
“Property transactions actually fell 42 per cent in June from May, with few signs that foreign purchasers are back in any significant way. Mortgage growth is moreover still slow,” they said, while adding that these suggest existing measures like the total debt servicing ratio (TDSR) rules are already keeping household debt in check.