A spate of recent property dealings shows that Singapore remains on the map of foreign investors despite the sluggish market and weak economic outlook. The high-profile offers of late include Chinese developer Qingjian Realty's $638 million bid for the Shunfu Ville collective sale site, and the $145 million offered for a bungalow in Cuscaden Road by a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Shun Tak Holdings.
Earlier this week, Indonesian tycoon Tahir offered to acquire the 28-storey Straits Trading Building in Battery Road for $560 million or at about $3,520 per sq ft, which would set a record psf price for office space in Singapore. Also, Qatar Investment Authority is rumoured to be on the verge of finalising a deal to buy Asia Square Tower 1 from BlackRock for a whopping $3.5 billion or $2,700 psf.
Analysts told The Straits Times yesterday that foreign buyers, whether high-net-worth individuals, companies or funds, have always been keen to explore investment opportunities here, yet the flurry of recent dealings appears to run counter to concerns over slowing growth and headwinds buffeting the real estate sector.
Most property segments in Singapore - retail, hotel, office and residential - are facing varying challenges stemming from either weak global growth, an increasing supply of space, weak tenant demand or the real estate cooling measures.
Singapore's economy grew a modest 2 per cent last year, the weakest rate of growth since 2009. Analysts believe many investors are looking beyond and opting for a mid- to long-term view - five to 10 years or more - when assessing investment prospects here.
UOB economist Francis Tan noted: "The investors are banking on Singapore continuing to be a trading hub for goods and services. "They are buying into the Asean story, where the regional economies become more integrated, hence providing more business opportunities."
This would help prop up demand for office space as more firms set up operations here to ride on regional growth. Analysts also point to the frequently cited attributes - such as political stability, pro-business environment, good infrastructure and rule of law - as a magnet for foreign investment.
Although the market is sluggish, Singapore is still a safe bet compared with other developing economies, which may pose more risk and have greater uncertainty. Chinese investors may favour Singapore because we are Mandarin speakers, we are in Asia, and they understand the culture.
Foreign funds with an Asia-Pacific-centric mandate are unlikely to give Singapore a miss, owing to its status as a financial hub and gateway city. Regardless of the weakness in the property sector now, analysts say its long-term outlook remains fairly bright, given the land scarcity and prospects of further - albeit slower - population growth in the future.
CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said: "Some investors are perhaps worried the US dollar may continue to strengthen against their respective (countries') currencies and they are putting their funds in Singapore property as a form of capital preservation."
Adapted from: The Straits Times, 4 June 2016