|LOCAL INDUSTRY REVIEW
The economy performed favourably in 2006 with a GDP growth of 7.9% and an all-time high in employment creation was achieved during the year. The Government has restructured our economy and has laid a solid foundation to propel Singapore into its next phase of growth as a global city.
Its strategies of attracting skilled foreign talent and developing Singapore into a leading Asian hub for wealth management, tourism, education, medical and health, science and technology, bio-medical, logistics, and an advanced international business and financial centre, plus other forward looking initiatives, have started to place this city into the global limelight, thereby turning Singapore into an attractive strategic investment hub in Asia.
The property market has performed well during the year following its slow recovery which began at the end of 2004. Private residential property prices have increased by 10.2% compared to 3.9% last year. The increase in prices was led by the high-end projects in the prime districts of 9, 10, 11 as well as new districts like Marina Bay/Downtown Core and Sentosa Cove which increased by 17% for 2006. Private apartments within the rest of central region and outside the central region rose by only 3% and 4.2% respectively. The market has evolved into a segmented one with high-end luxury segment achieving significant increases as compared to the mid-to-low segment. This has prompted the Government to reclassify property price indices to better reflect the price trends in the different segments.
Whilst the recovery of the market was propelled by the high-end luxury segment, the improvement is mainly due to an improving economy, renewed confidence and pent-up demand from limited high-end supply when the property market was suffering for almost 10 challenging years. Increased interest from well-heeled foreigners who are global investors, who tend to have more than one home in more than one major key city, add further confidence in the Singapore economy. Overall, prices for the property market are still below its peak of 1996.
Transaction volume also registered a new record level of 11,147 units as compared to an average of about 7,500 units per annum for the last 10 years.
When Singapore was restructuring its economy, rental for the office sector was low. But now, the situation is reversed with more business investments on-stream and companies expanding its operations. This had led to a natural pheno-menon as the office sector has performed remarkably well with rentals increasing by more than 30% for 2006. Grade A office space has once again hit the high of $13.00 per square foot. Average occupancy was 89.5% and a shortage of prime office space is expected in the next few years.
The retail sector has also performed well with occupancy of about 95% and prime rental increasing by about 4.6%.
For the year ended 31 December 2006, the Group deli-vered a sterling performance with attributable profit rising by 76% to $351.7 million (2005: $200.4 million) on the back of higher revenue of $2.55 billion (2005: $2.37 billion) and improved margins from both the property development and hotel segments. Pre-tax profit of $150.9 million was also recognised on the disposal of long leasehold interest in four hotels to CDL Hospitality Trusts (CDLHT). Basic earnings per share increased by 78% to 37.0 cents for the year (2005: 20.8 cents).
In view of the excellent results, the Board has now proposed the payment of a special final gross dividend of 10 cents per share to be paid together with the final gross dividend of 7.5 cents per share. After taking into consideration the special interim dividend of 7.5 cents which was paid on 27 December 2006, the total dividend proposed or paid by the Company to its ordinary shareholders for the year under review amount to 25.0 cents per share. This is twice the amount of 12.5 cents per share paid for year 2005.
The Group has continued to be the only major listed Singapore property company that has adopted a conservative accounting policy of depreciating its investment properties as allowed by the Financial Reporting Standards (FRS). When FRS 40 on investment properties becomes mandatory from 1 January 2007, the Group will continue to adopt its current policy of stating its investment properties at cost less accumulated depreciation. If the Group were to adopt the policy of stating its investment properties at valuation, it will be able to boost its results significantly through the recognition of revaluation surpluses. However, the Group is of the view that as investment properties are held as long-term investments, by stating them at valuation would result in the recognition of unrealised gains in the profit and loss account which may, in turn, cause a fluctuation in its actual operating performance from year to year depending on the state of the market. If other listed property companies were to state their investment properties at valuation, this difference in accounting treatment will render our financial results not directly comparable with theirs.
2006 was an exciting and successful year for the Group. Although it sold 1,337 units in 2006, which is lower than the 2,071 units achieved in 2005, the sales value for 2006 of $2.77 billion was substantially higher compared to $1.66 billion achieved in 2005.
The Group is confident that the Singapore property market will continue to perform well. We have focused our priority and resources on the domestic market and are now well positioned to maximise and reap the benefits in a market that we know best, and one that is on an upswing momentum. The Group has remained steadfast to its strategy to be the proxy to the Singapore real estate market. It has maintained its leadership position by spearheading the launch of several extraordinary developments and created much buzz in the high-end market segment.
It successfully launched four high-end projects in 2006. The Group set new benchmarks by redefining lifestyles in Singapore with the launch of the first of its kind, the prestigious St. Regis Residences in early June. During the launch, it set unprecedented record prices of over $3,000 per square foot, commanding a 30% premium. This development comprising only a limited 173 beautifully appointed apartments pushed the envelope of sophistication and introduced an unmatched ultimate luxury to Singapore. This joint-venture project was released for sale in phases and to date, 134 units out of the 150 units released for sale have been sold. Over 75% of units sold have been bought by well-heeled foreigners who understand the value of branded residences. By year end of 2007, the hotel is scheduled to be open whilst the residences are expected to be ready in 2008. With their completion, the holistic branded residence experience will be realised and appreciated.
In mid-June, the Group also released for sale Residences @ Evelyn, a 208-unit joint-venture development located on an elevated site in the prime Newton vicinity, which is near completion. All phases of this project have since been launched. To date, more than 93% of the project has been sold. Another highlight of the Groupís launches was the highly successful 264-unit waterfront enclave Ė The Oceanfront @ Sentosa Cove. Launched in July, this 50:50 joint-venture development met with phenomenal response, setting new benchmark prices for Sentosa Cove at that time. The project has been fully sold.
In November, the Group launched Phase 1 of Tribeca by the waterfront, a 175-unit, freehold luxurious development located next to Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel that boasts panoramic views of the Singapore River. It met with good response and to date, of the 140 units released, 127 units have already been sold.
Even though the recovery of the property market has been mainly confined to the high-end segment, the mid-tier market is also slowly making some progress. In October, the Group, together with its joint-venture partners launched the sale of 472-unit freehold condominium, Ferraria Park in the Changi/Loyang area. More than 70% of the 250 units released under two phases have since been sold and we expect the sales to pick up as the recovery of the property market begins to be more broad based.
During the year, the Group booked in profits from both St. Regis Residences and The Sail @ Marina Bay which are joint-venture developments. Other joint-venture developments contributing towards the profits include The Pier at Robertson, Savannah CondoPark, Parc Emily, Residences @ Evelyn and Edelweiss Park.
Wholly-owned projects such as City Square Residences also contributed to the profits for the year under review.
However, profits from The Oceanfront @ Sentosa Cove, Tribeca and Ferraria Park have not been accounted for as these projects are still in the early stage of construction.
The office market has performed robustly with limited supply and strong demand due to the improving economy. Occupancy rate of the Groupís properties has improved to 92.3% and rental rates upon renewal of leases would be adjusted to the current market level. As office leases are usually committed for three to five years, adjustments would take time and rental increase for the portfolio would be gradual and steady.
Grade A offices performed particularly well with Republic Plaza achieving about $13.00 per square foot, surpassing the earlier peak of $11.00 per square foot in 1996.
In line with the Groupís strategic land acquisition policy to replenish its land bank, the Group successfully acquired four parcels of strategically located sites with land area of about 917,000 square feet and potential development areas of approximately more than 1.8 million square feet. Cost of these acquisitions amount to over $1 billion.
Millennium & Copthorne Hotels plc (M&C), in which the Group has a 53% interest delivered the highest level of profits since its listing in 1996. The positive results are due to an improvement in operating profits and realisation of some capital gains from the disposal of a few assets. Revenue increased 8.6% to £646.3 million (2005: £595.2 million) with headline operating profit up 15.4% to £124.7 million (2005: £108.1 million). Headline profit before tax (excluding other operating income and impairment) rose to £94.4 million, an increase of 27.6% (2005: £74.0 million). For the year under review, M&C sold the long term leasehold interests in three Singapore hotels to CDLHT. This realised £210.6 million in cash of which £78 million was reinvested for a 39.1% stake in CDLHT.
The strong and sustainable results achieved are testimony of the focused strategy laid down by its board in 2004 during the industryís low point in 2003, which was aimed at restoring M&Cís profitability, redeploying its assets and developing the hotel brand, whilst maintaining a dividend consistent with the Groupís overall performance.
|CURRENT YEAR PROSPECTS
The economy is expected to perform strongly and the Government has recently upgraded its forecast to 4.5% - 6.5% from the earlier estimate of 4% - 6%.
Demand for residential properties is expected to remain strong in 2007 given the forecast of almost full employment, strong economic growth across the various sectors, the official policy of attracting foreign talent, low interest rate environment and the remaking of Singapore economy to broaden its growth potentials.
In January 2007, the Group launched the much-awaited One Shenton Ė a redevelopment of an old office building in the Central Business District into a residential project. The response to this 341-unit iconic masterpiece located in the Marina Bay vicinity was overwhelming.
With the continuing strong demand in the high-end luxury market segment, the Group has lined up three upmarket projects for launch in the next few months.
The first is the boutique 59-unit development at Balmoral Park/Stevens Road known as The Solitaire. With its good location, hilltop views and fine architecture, good response is expected. The second project is the luxurious development at the former Kim Lin Mansion site on Grange Road. This distinctive 110-unit development, with generous landscaping, comprises good size apartments with most of the units offering a 360į view of the surrounding is attracting interests from individuals as well as real estate funds and corporate investors. Both are freehold developments.
The third development is the much sought-after 223-unit luxurious residential development at Quayside Collection at Sentosa Cove. With all units having water or marina views, and the popularity of Sentosa Cove, the response is expected to be overwhelming.
In view of the improving sentiments in the mid-market segment, the Group is also planning to launch this year a 50:50 joint-venture development at the former Parkview site. This 493-unit project will be launched in phases.
Construction costs have increased over the last 12 months due to higher demand resulting from the more active pro-perty market and construction of the two mega Integrated Resorts. Cost of new developments has increased and will underpin the improving property prices.
The Group has recently acquired another enbloc sale site at Thomson Road. The Albany consisting 56,865 square feet (including the adjoining state-land) has the potential to be developed into a 36-storey residential project with about 135 apartments, strengthening its presence in this vicinity. The Group has earlier purchased in March 2006 the adjoining Lock Cho Apartment, Comfort Mansion and a four-storey walk-up apartment which has a combined plot area of about 137,479 square feet and if amalgamated with the adjoining state land, it will enlarge the site to approximately 178,000 square feet. With a permissible height of up to 36 storeys, the proposed freehold development is expected to comprise about 380 to 400 apartments. This is in line with the Groupís policy of strategic land acquisition.
Construction of the 700,000 square feet City Square Mall has begun and it is expected to open for business in 2009. The project has generated much interest among the major retailers and the Group is in the midst of negotiation with several of them for anchor tenancies in the Mall.
The Group has received expressed interest for its retail properties to be injected into a REIT. The Group is keeping its options open and may even consider its own retail REIT at the right time.
The office market is expected to perform very well in the next few years especially with tightening supply and growing demand. Occupancy of our office portfolio is almost 94% now and rentals are expected to continue to improve further this year. The Group is mindful that an office REIT is a trendy proposition and one that the market expects. But the timing of when to list is critical as the yield is used to determine the capital value of the assets in a REIT. Unlike a hospitality REIT where hotel rates can be changed overnight, office tenancy agreements can only be renewed when the leases expire, usually in three to five years. It is in the Groupís interest to ensure that our real estate values are maximised for our shareholders. The Group is evaluating various proposals submitted by investment bankers to determine the viability of creating an office REIT at this point of time or at some future date. Alternatively, we are also considering other proposals to unlock shareholder value. We will evaluate our options and an announcement will be made in due course.
M&C remains committed to grow its international hotel business as a long-term owner and operator of hotels in many global gateway cities. Its main focus is to create larger, more sustainable earning streams with better gross margins.
The Group has continued to view its investment in M&C with a unique twin strategy. By being a hotel operator, it has been able to generate positive, sustainable cash flow for the Group. At the same time, it has been able to utilise its real estate expertise to exploit the maximum value of its hotel assets and enhance the real estate value by elevating the status of some of its key strategic hotels in prime locations through total refurbishment and redevelopment like the Zenith Residences in Sydney, conversion of Sunnyvale (Silicon Valley, USA) and even the potential redevelopment of some other hotels in London and USA. Furthermore, the Group is also lending its expertise to help to develop a super luxurious condominium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, located along the popular shopping belt which is a piece of prime property owned by M&C just next to the Regent Hotel. The Group has also been able to unlock shareholder value when the opportunity is right as was done in the case of the sale of The Plaza Hotel
in New York and the recent flotation of the hospitality REIT.
With its strong balance sheet and the flexibility created through the hospitality REIT platform, M&C is in an advantageous and enviable position to seize opportunities and is well placed for its next phase of growth.
M&C will also continue to strengthen its brand positioning and grow its presence through management contracts. It announced the winning of 9 new management contracts in 2006 taking the total number of rooms signed since 2004 to just under 4,000 and the total number of management contracts to 21.
The M&C board had earlier laid the foundation with focused strategies for M&C during the difficult period of 2003. With the appointment of the new Group Chief Executive Officer, Peter Papas, with effect from 1 March 2007, his broad experience and hands-on leadership will provide a fresh impetus to drive organic growth as well as selected acquisitions at the opportune time so as to bring M&C to the next level. M&C is confident that with a new and solid management team, it is well poised to propel the business forward to achieve higher and more sustainable growth.
The prospect for the Singapore real estate market looks bright for the next few years. The government has restructured our economy and is making it an attractive place to live, work and play. There are various factors which have contributed to the attraction of global investors.
Firstly, there is now increased liquidity in the world and relatively lower risk premiums paid by corporate borrowers. With globalisation and innovation, there is a global financial revolution with greater access to global funds. More companies have an increased appetite to invest and Singapore is a favourite choice investment city.
Secondly, the Singapore economy today is more vibrant and sustainable with great potential. Foreign capital is flowing into Singapore as the government has put in place a stable, cosmopolitan and conducive environment for investment. It has remained nimble and determined to push ahead to develop Singapore into a global city. This has attracted many investors to Singapore as their base for expansion into the resurgent Asia Pacific region.
Thirdly, non-traditional markets such as China, Russia, India and Middle East which have attained emerging wealth are also attracted to Singapore and are starting to explore opportunities here as a springboard to the dynamic Asia Pacific markets.
Singapore is well positioned to reap the benefits of these market trends. The influx of foreign investments, foreign talents, high net worth individuals into Singapore and increased tourism with visitor arrivals has translated into a rise in demand and interest for the real estate market which augurs well for our economy.
With the locked-in profits from progressive recognition of pre-sold development projects, the Group is confident to perform even better over the next 12 months.
I would also like to thank the Management and staff for their unwavering dedication and hardwork in the past year. We are also deeply appreciative of the continued support of our stakeholders including our investors, customers, business associates and the community.
|KWEK LENG BENG
28 February 2007