Photographer: Darren Soh/Bloomberg

Singapore Eases Property Curbs After Housing Prices Decline

  • Stamp duty on sellers wound back, rules on debt ratio eased
  • Developer shares surge, led by City Developments, CapitaLand

Singapore is rolling back some property-market curbs after a three-year decline in prices made homes more affordable in the city state.

Shares of property developers surged after the surprise announcement by the government Friday that stamp duty imposed on sellers will be reduced and some mortgage restrictions eased. City Developments Ltd. jumped as much as 10 percent and CapitaLand Ltd. climbed to the highest in almost two years.

“Singapore’s property market had been quite weak for a period, this is more reactionary for the Singaporean government to prop up the market,” said James Soutter, a portfolio manager at K2 Asset Management Ltd. in Melbourne.

Sellers’ stamp duty, currently payable on residential properties sold with four years of being purchased, will now only apply for three years, the government said. The rate of duty will also be lowered, to 4 percent for properties sold in the third year, to a maximum of 12 percent for dwellings sold within one year.

Singapore Is Getting Fed-Ready by Easing Property Curbs: Gadfly

The move is the first relaxation of a raft of measures to cool home prices the government started to roll out in 2009, with some of the strictest restrictions imposed in 2013. Home prices fell 3 percent last year, and have declined for 13 quarters in a row -- the longest losing streak since the data was first published in 1975.

Surprise Move

Developers weren’t anticipating the move. CapitaLand Chief Executive Officer Lim Ming Yan last month said property curbs are set to stay in place for at least another year amid signs the city’s housing market is stabilizing, while City Developments’ billionaire Chairman Kwek Leng Beng said the worst isn’t over in Singapore’s property market but the pace of decline had slowed.

The changes were “not done in haste,” said Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong, who’s also the national development minister. “Our aim is to ensure a stable and sustainable property market in Singapore.”

Rules surrounding the debt-servicing ratio for some mortgages will also be eased after some borrowers, particularly retirees, said the rules limited their flexibility. The changes take effect March 11.

“This is positive news and will take the market by surprise because there was expectation property easing measures would be announced in last month’s budget,” said Alan Richardson, a Hong Kong-based investment manager at Samsung Asset Management. “The stealth move should lead to a scramble to re-rate property developers back to book value on optimism property prices have bottomed and will start to rise from here.”

The changes to sellers’ stamp duty will help smooth some inconsistencies in the system, such as homeowners being penalized for selling when their circumstances change, like divorce or losing their job, said Christine Li, director of research at Cushman & Wakefield Inc.

“Such home owners will be hit by a double whammy as they not only have to sell their properties in a down market, they also have to fork out substantial proceeds in the form of” stamp duty, she said.

— With assistance by En Han Choong

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