Singapore Condo Builders Facing $19 Billion Wall: Asean Credit

Singapore’s listed developers and real-estate investment trusts face their heaviest burden of near-term maturities on record just as home prices drop.

The 80 property companies on Singapore’s stock exchange reported a combined S$23.5 billion ($18.5 billion) of borrowings that have to be repaid within a year in their latest filings, Bloomberg-compiled data show. The looming debt wall comes as the vacancy rate for condominiums soared to the highest since 2006, pushing prices to the lowest in almost two years, according to data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Savills Plc predicts refinancing for homebuilders and REITs will be more challenging as Singapore’s economy slows, with expansion cooling to 2.4 percent in the second quarter, from 4.8 percent in the previous three months. Population growth on the island is at a 10-year low and Standard & Poor’s expects home prices have further to fall.

“We’re at that point in the cycle when every quarter you’re seeing selling prices come down a little bit and secondary market transactions aren’t very active,” Kah Ling Chan, a property analyst at S&P in Singapore said. “I suspect we haven’t seen the bottom yet.”

Price Plunge

Developers of residential homes are suffering not so much from lower selling prices than “collapsed” sales volumes, said Alan Cheong, a senior director of real-estate research at Savills in Singapore. Secondary home sales plunged to the lowest since 2003 in the first quarter, according to URA data, and as business slows, builders with less pre-sales money to finish projects have to rely on loans, boosting short-term borrowings, he said by phone Oct. 2.

Despite the weaker demand, the number of new residential dwellings being built remains high. Units under construction reached a record in the second quarter of 2013 and some 65,270 apartments were in the pipeline as of June 30, URA data show.

Regulatory measures have been introduced to damp the market. Between 2009 and mid-2013, the Monetary Authority of Singapore implemented eight rounds of property cooling measures to address its concerns the low interest rate environment would lead to a property price bubble, Moody’s Investors Service said in an Oct. 6 report.

“Appetite to buy is already curbed” and rents could fall further, S&P’s Chan said. “We haven’t seen the full impact yet.”

City Developments

The 42 listed developers on Singapore’s exchange reported S$13.4 billion of short-term borrowings in their latest filings, 42.5 percent more than a year earlier, data compiled by Bloomberg show. City Developments Ltd. posted debt of S$1.66 billion in the second quarter, 48.6 percent more than at the end of 2013. Second-quarter net income fell 33 percent, it said in August, and the company is looking to expand overseas to offset declining demand in Singapore.

City Developments’ S$500 million of bonds due next September and sold to investors at par in August 2010 are trading at 101.2 percent of face value, down from 101.25 at the end of last year, DBS Bank Ltd. prices show. It sold S$100 million of 10-year 3.78 percent notes yesterday.

A spokeswoman for City Developments said the company has a strong financial position, noting its cash of S$3.4 billion and 33 percent net gearing ratio.

The three-month swap offer rate, a measure of borrowing costs in Singapore, touched 0.2561 percent on Sept. 16, the highest since June 2013.

REITs are in better shape than listed developers because they started refinancing with longer tenor debt ahead of rising interest rates, according to S&P. “For the REITs, I don’t see a major problem yet,” Chan said. “The bigger players are still getting good rates and valuations haven’t fallen dramatically,” she said.

Ringing Tills

Starhill Global REIT, which has S$124 million of notes that mature in July, reported S$129.1 million of short-term borrowings as of June 30, more than double the amount it had in December 2013. Retail occupancy rates at the trust’s flagship Wisma Atria mall along Singapore’s Orchard Road slipped to 98.5 percent in June from 99.5 percent at the end of 2012, company data show. Office occupancy rates are 100 percent.

Jonathan Kuah, a Singapore-based spokesman for Starhill, said the company has already refinanced its debt due within the coming 12 months. The “leverage situation hasn’t worsened,” he said by e-mail Oct. 7.

Retail sales, which affect revenue at some REITs, decreased for four of the past five months, the worst performance in two years, data from Singapore’s Department of Statistics show. Excluding motor vehicles, sales dropped 0.4 percent in July versus the previous corresponding period.

Don’t Shop Here

“Singaporeans don’t shop here anymore,” Savills’ Cheong said. “Traveling has become so cheap and they buy more stuff on the Internet. The Chinese have also been avoiding Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand since the MH370 tragedy,” he said, referring to the Malaysia Airlines flight missing since March.

Arrivals of tourists from North Asia, which typically comprise more than a quarter of visitors, slumped almost 13 percent the first seven months of 2014 from a year earlier, Tourism Board data show.

Limited Confidence

“In 2008, when the refinancing situation was quite bad, the REITs still managed to pull through,” said Danny Tan, a Singapore-based fund manager at Eastspring Investments Ltd., which managed $115 billion of assets as of June 30. “There’s a high probability these REITs will be able to refinance especially because the loan market is also open to them.”

While the Singapore dollar has weakened 1.9 percent against the U.S. dollar this half that’s not as much as the Philippine peso, which is down 2.5 percent and Indonesia’s rupiah, down 2.7 percent.

Hiap Hoe Ltd., which recently started selling apartments in its prestigious Skyline 360 building, reported short-term borrowings of S$287.6 million for the quarter to June 30, 94 percent more than the S$147.9 million for the three months to December. It raised S$115 million selling three-year 4.75 percent notes at par in September 2013, which now trade at 100.317. A spokesman for Hiap Hoe declined to comment.

Developers on the island are changing their business models and reducing exposure to the local market, according to Singapore-based Tim Gibson, who helps run Henderson Global Investors Ltd.’s global property equities fund.

“By buying Singapore developers now you’re really buying exposure outside of Singapore and into markets like China,” he said in an interview Oct. 8. It “doesn’t give you a huge amount of confidence that a turnaround in the residential market is coming anytime soon,” he added.

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