Friday, September 30, 2011

Things to check before renting a flat in Singapore

1 - Work with a property agent. If you are a foreigner or you do not know what you are doing, do not try to save money by not working with a property agent. A property agent earns more if you pay higher rental (half of 1 month rental for 1 year lease from you) so do not expect him or her to try to lower the rental, they will not bother. But at least, they will keep things legal and they are less likely to be cheated by a conman then you. Rental scams in Singapore are known to exist and victims are usually the foreigners working without an agent.

2 - Be sure that the property agent is registered. Since January 2011, conducting estate agency work without a valid licence or registration is an offence in Singapore. All registered agents now have their CEA (Council of Estate Agency) license numbers. Be sure that you have this number checked. You will see it on agents business card (I think it is mandatory to put it in the name card). He/She will have 2 numbers: Estate Agents Licence No / Salesperson RegNo. Check these numbers online from CEA page. Click the search sales person and enter Salesperson RegNo. Follow the link in the search result and make sure that the property agents name match and he/she is the person on the photo.

3 - Check if the unit is approved for rent.  Public housing flats, known as HDB after the government body building them, requires approval to be rented out. "Request the flat owner to show you a copy of the approval letter to rent out their flat, as obtained from HDB."[1] Housing Development Board (HDB) also advises you to put a condition in contract that the validity of the contract is subject to the flat owner obtaining the approval.[1]

4 - Check the owner is really the owner. Fake landlord scams are quite common around the world and Singapore is not an exception. First visit the flat before renting it. This may be obvious but some foreigners who forget to request a temporary stay from the employer on arrival desperately try to rent a place from abroad and fall into this trap easily.

But even if the person has access to the flat, this does not prove he/she is the landlord. Be sure you have documented proof of ownership before giving away money or signing up a contract. Some documents which can prove ownership are "Agreement for Lease, Service & Conservancy charges booklet, Annual or Loan instalment payment booklet/Annual Loan statements, bearing the name of the flat owner"[1].

5 - Do not advance pay. Some people find it attractive to pay in advance for a discount. This may cost them a small fortune. A friend of mine lost a small fortune 2-3 years ago by doing so. His landlord with money problems asked him to pay 5 months in advance so he could stay 1 month free. Although everyone advised him not to do so, he paid the money. 2 months later the flat was possessed by the bank and he was asked to leave. He tried to recover his money back but he was not successful. You cannot imagine how easy it is to get lost for someone, by simply changing his address.

How much should you pay? 1 year lease requires 1 month rent + 1 month rent as deposit payment after contract is signed and 2 year lease requires 1 month rent + 2 months rent as deposit. Avoid any scheme other than this.

6 - Know your options. Many foreigners come to Singapore with a temporary place to live before finding a rental unit. I think the standard is 1-2 months temporary flat. In a hurry, they do not make decisions based on all available options. And it seems like many property agents make these foreigners think like a private property unit is the only practical option for them to live in. If you are on expat package paying your rent, or you earn really high this is not an issue. But I see many foreigners stretching their budget and sacrificing their comfort by squeezing themselves into smaller private units with higher rental prices. Smaller and higher compared to public housing units.

In Singapore you can rent a public housing unit (called HDB) by a valid work pass. 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in these units as well as many foreigners working here. Although there are many old and bad units of HDBs out there there are very good ones as well. The catch is you can for example rent a large 4 - 5 rooms furnished HDB flat with a very good condition by 2,300 - 2,800 SGD per month and live comfortably while same sized unit of a private resident would cost you easily 4,500 SGD+ per month. There is absolutely no reason to try to fit into a shoe box (less than 500 square feet units) for 3,000+ SGD when a large 4 room flat can be rented by 2,500 SGD per month.

Singaporeans, especially the ones in HDB units are very friendly people, HDB is a great place to taste the culture here and they are usually surrounded with better amenities than condominiums. Plus you can save up to 20,000 - 30,000 SGD per year by living in an HDB. It is not only on rent you save. You save on every other cost as well (HDB flats are surrounded with cheaper and wider eating and shopping places than condominiums).

7 - Bargain, bargain, bargain.  This is Asia, here we bargain. So landlords assumes that you may bargain and ask a higher price than they are willing to get. Offer 20 per cent less (at least) than the asking price and bargain hard.

[1] - Steps Involved in Renting a flat

Looking for an HDB flat to rent - Part 2

I have started to look for an HDB for rent as I have previously wrote in Looking for an hdb flat to rent: part 1. On Thursday I had a message from one of the property agents about 2 units available within my budget: "Hi, There are 2 units available within your budget. 4 room HDB flat blk ... at Tampines. Asking $2,300 nice unit. Do you wanna see it tomorrow morning?" I have agreed to see both of them yesterday evening.

As I have written in part-1, we have abandoned 3 room flat search since all the units we have seen in Bedok and Tampines were old and in bad condition while asking prices were so high. As we have covered in Cheapest places to rent an hdb flat in Singapore article, 2011 2nd quarter transaction prices in Bedok and Tampines were around $1,700 and $1,800. The units we have seen were starting from $2200 per month. Of course, the HDB transaction prices are mean prices, which means half of the units rented out are above the mean price. But if these units were the upper half, I would even not want to see the lower end. Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to insult the people who are trying to rent them out. Of course they will charge as much as they can, they are already paying very high prices to buy them but there must be a fair match between what a unit offers and a rent asked for it.

Anyway, first unit was really nice. Well kept, well renovated. But the hit came immediately when we stepped in. The owner is not locking a room so the asking price is 2,600 SGD per month! I have written the full message from the agent above. Does it give any hint about this price increase? Room locked? No mention of room lock. But there it is, the price jumps to $2,600 on the spot.

This unethical practice is very common nowadays. Take a tenant to a house by telling him that price is i.e. 2,300 SGD per month but then once he/she is there the price becomes 2,600 SGD per month. I think they believe once you are there and if the unit is nice, you will accept. Even if the unit was OK I would not accept since this is absolutely unethical behavior and more it just insults you. But there they are, tenants with less self respect, accepting this play so it is executed a lot.

I have told my agent, who also behaved liked she was surprised with price jump, that I offer $2,200 SGD per month. The unit is well kept but still it is in an older style HDB, not walking distance to MRT and asking price of a condo unit in a nearby condominium is 3,000 SGD.

One thing you should know as a foreigner here in Singapore is, Singapore in Asia and in Asia we bargain. They offer something and you offer your price until you reach the middle price. My offer was only %15 percent down the asking price. I think the unit is nice and deserves more than $2,100 SGD per month (mean transaction price of last quarter in Tampines for 4 room flat).

I do not expect the owner will consider my price. There were 4 more couples there all brought by the same agent ("tenant shepherd"). I am quite sure one of them will jump into $2,600 SGD per month for 2 years lease where economy is slowing and rents are expected to come down.

Anyway, second unit was a double blow. Its asking price was $2,500 SGD per month not $2,300 SGD per month. And it was not 4 room lol! It was 3 room flat. I am not sure what these property agents are thinking. Do they think that we will say "OK, the prices are higher than you have told us but we have came and spent our time so we should rent. We are idiots with no self-respect anyway". Actually flat was quite OK but again this on the spot rise.

I have asked my agent, who looks like a very nice lady, why did she brought us to view 2 units whose prices were higher and room sizes were less that she has messaged us? I told her my budget and what I am looking for clearly anyway. And I told her I am not desperate to move out. She told us the other agent (landlord agent I guess) told her that the units were 4 room and the price was 2,300 SGD per month. I told her, it was OK for us to see units, it gives us more opinion on the market but she has just wasted her evening and fuel (she takes us to the place by her own car).

These kind of things are quite common I guess. But now the reasons are more unacceptable. I have seen many agents who has increased the price on the spot because "there was a couple who are already willing to pay the increased price". Now, they even do not bother to use that excuse.

Update: 2 days later my agent called me and told me that the landlord asks 2,500 SGD per month but one room locked! I offered 2,300 SGD per month but in fact I will not get it anyway. I won't accept since I am sick of this agent, landlord tricks in Singapore who are simply toying with you. But it was 2,500 SGD because another couple wanted to go for that price (a common tactic used by agents. It may be true or not but when bargaining skip this comment). I said "good for them, I offer 2,300 SGD per month".

It is also time to abandon online famous property sites. The agents there have so many supply of tenants that they behave as they wish to the tenants. I have worked with enough agents from these sites to conclude that none has a proper business attitude towards their customers.

Unfortunately to be continued ...
Update : 2 months after this article, I have managed to rent a nice BTO flat in Bedok which is 5 minutes walk away from Tanah Merah MRT Station. And did not pay an agent fee :)

Governments don't rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world

"This economic crisis is like a cancer. If you just wait and wait thinking this is gonna go away, just like a cancer it will grow and it will be too late. What I would say to everybody is get prepared. It's not a time right now wishful thinking of governments gonna sort things out. Governments don't rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world. Goldman Sachs does not care about this rescue package, even the big funds. I wanna help people. People can make money from this, it is not just trader, what they need to learn about is how to make money in a downward market. The first thing people should do is to protect their assets, protect what they have. Because in less than 12 months, my prediction is, savings of millions of people will vanish. And this is just the beginning."

These are what Alessio Rastani, a UK based trader interviewed on the BBC said along with some uncomfortably things. It is very unusual to see such comments in main stream media. All interview actually look like one of those Onion TV news. Many people thought he was a fake and somehow managed to get on television for a good show. Forbes interviewed with him to check his authenticity. The results are here:  Trader Or Prankster? We Called Alessio Rastani And Asked

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Looking for an HDB flat to rent - Part 1

I will need to find a new home for rent in a couple of months’ time and I have started to look for a new HDB for rent. As of 2011, the supply of HDB rental flats look less than the demand out there for them so it is wise to go into the market as early as possible to have some idea on the rental situation.

Our first prospective unit was in Circuit Road with a too-good-to-be true price of 1,400 SGD per month. We were not expecting something good but we were not also ready for what we have seen. Although the rental mysteriously increased to 1,700 SGD per month when the agent saw my Caucasian face, we even did not have time to get angry to this problem since the unit was simply terrible.

Second unit was in Bedok, an HDB estate full of old flats, with only handful new HDB apartments available here and there. I live in one of these new units but they are expensive. Last one I know, a 4 room flat of 7 years old went for 2,600 per month in September 2011.

For the second flat, I have contacted the property agent through property guru. When we went there, we have been greeted by a “tenant shepherd” who was preparing to herd 4-5 groups of prospective tenants. This disgusting behaviour of group flat review is something I have heard only in Singapore and only in this year. We have refused to go up but a day later we fell into one of these “tenant shepherds” again accidentally. Although again we even did not see the unit, these 2 occasions offered me some insight into tenants we are competing with.

In 2 HDB flat reviews I have seen 8 groups of prospective tenants. I and my wife were the only couple. There were 2 single people and the rest were groups of 3-4 pax.  Men groups were all IT employee (typical shirt, trouser, backpack combination). As a couple we cannot compete with them, neither we wanted to involve in a group flat visits.

Luckily, there are enough landlords out there who would like their flat to be a home rather than a dorm so they strictly request couples or single family units. I must admit, I did not like to see those rental advertisements openly excluding certain races or nationalities but it was not long before I have started to concentrate on them. Competition on these flats is more reasonable and you usually compete with families with a family budget rather than a group of "foreign talents" with a combined large budget on a mission to inflate the price of everything.

It also looks like a little bit difficult to find a property agent working really like a traditional property agent, especially if you are looking for a place through web property portals. Many seem to pack groups of people in flat views. But actually persistently rejecting to see these property offers paid off in a couple of days and we have started to come across property agents rather than “tenant shepherds”.

Anyway, the forth unit, a 3 room HDB flat again, was in Bedok with a ridiculous price tag of 2,200 SGD per month. We knew the building, so we have decided to offer 1,800 SGD per month and never accept something above 2,000 SGD per month. When we have seen the unit, we even did not bother to offer anything. The unit was old, awful (awful for that price) and even did not deserve anything more than 1,200 SGD per month. Last unit we have seen was again 3 rooms flat, this time in Tampines with a price tag of 2,400 SGD per month. And again, we even could not offer any starting price to bargain since the unit’s asking price and the price it deserves was no match.

We have now realized that 3 room flats on the market are mostly old flats in bad condition. So we have abandoned looking for one and we will probably go for a 4 room flat although renting out that extra one room will be a total waste. Let’s see what the following days will bring.

Singapore Population Trends 2011

According to Department of Statistics report released on September 28th 2011, Singapore city state houses 107,000 people compared to a year earlier:

"Singapore’s total population stood at 5.18 million as at end-June 2011. There were 3.79 million Singapore residents, comprising 3.26 million Singapore citizens and 0.53 million permanent residents, and 1.39 million non-resident foreigners."[1]

Number of Singapore citizens and non-residents grew while number of PRs decreased (first time since 1990). There are now 3.26 million citizens, up 0.8 per cent from 3.23 million in 2010. Number of PRsfell by 1.7 per cent, to 532,000 from 541,000 in 2010.

Singapore has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. It basically loses 1.5% of its Singaporean population every year.[2]. So the Singaporean population would shrink about 48,000 people. But rose 30,000 people. The increase is probably due to Singapore PRs converting to Singapore citizenship. The decline in PR population is probably due to this although since 2009 criteria for PR approval and renewal is stricker and less number of people are granted PR.

The number of foreigners who are working, studying or living here on work or education visas jumped 6.9 per cent to 1.39 million in 2011, from 1.31 million in 2010.[3]

See also Singapore population, citizens, permanent residents, non-residents article.

[1] - Singapore Population Trends 2011, Notice of Publication
[2] - Singapore needs some sexual healing, Singapore Business Review
[3] - Singapore's population hits 5.18 million as at end-June

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beauty is a cultural brainwash

London Weight Management created anger among Singaporeans with its controversial TV advertisement where an overweight woman's life is destroyed by his extra kg's and how it became a heaven after he has used the weight loss capsules from London Weight Management. Anita Kapoor wrote an open letter to the company behind the ads in her blog: An Open Letter to London Weight Management.

I personally find the advertisement disgusting (especially the opening scene where the overweight woman is looking down from a high rise building as if she is considering jumping). And I agree what Anita Kapoor wrote in her open letter. But let's be frank: Although it is not as severe as it is depicted in the advertisement, a woman's look in our modern times is one of the most important element determining her social status. This is sad to say and admit, but this is it. Many man want to have beautiful and attractive woman besides them and it seems like this is the only way they feel themselves happy or worse worthy! Why men (and woman) value beauty this much? The answer is simple, because they are brainwashed!

Yes, "beauty", as we value it, is nothing more than a brainwash. Social conditioning component of beauty is much more powerful than the hard wired genetic component of it. Men as well as women are brainwashed when it comes to perception of beauty.

You will agree with me, just think about the "beauty" concept of 100 years ago and now. Just look at those women considered sexy in the 17th, 18th century paintings. Look at the early movies of 20th century. They are fat with today's standards. And they are no way attractive or sexy. Do you think our brain biology change this fast so that our hardwired beauty perception changes! So what has changed! Culture? Yes. It has definitely changed. But something else also changed, which is the real determinant behind beauty, especially woman beauty: The rich!

Take for example, old beautiful women concept in the West. It was based on a rich woman of its time: pale white skin (because she had luxury of not working in the field like masses of her time), overweight (because she had access to calories which were an agricultural revolution away from masses). And look at the beautiful western woman of our time, it is again based on rich woman of our time. Tanned skin (because she has luxury to go to solarium or sunny holiday destinations as opposed to office working masses without that luxury), skinny (because she has time to go to gym as opposed to white collar masses). Think about it. After industrial revolution and following rise of service sector, women increasingly abandoned farmland for factories and offices where they could stay pale white. Then tanned skin became beauty trademark in the west. After agricultural revolution, excess calories became available to masses and then suddenly "beauty" lost its weights! After long office ours made us all fat and losing weight became luxury, "beauty" became skinny.

Beauty is 90 per cent (or probably more) a cultural brainwash. This part of beauty has nothing to do with the nature of mankind or genes. Believe me, if the fat would become a luxury in the future, in one generation fat women would become sexy again.

If you become aware that "beautiful woman" is nothing more than a cultural propaganda, rooted from the social envy to high level of society and amplified by media to sell mostly worthless goods, you will, and should, value it less. And abandoning the overweight given to beauty is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for happiness and self-worth. Both for men and women.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rental Scams In Singapore

Singapore may have low crime rate but this does not mean it has no crime at all. There are some people who execute scams. Today, we will cover the common rental scams executed in Singapore targeting foreigners. There are some simple steps to avoid them and avoiding them can save you a small fortune.

Before going into these rental scams I would like to list 2 steps you should always execute before going into a rental agreement:

1) If you are a foreigner, unless you know what you are doing, always worked through a registered property agent. A registered property agent means an agent with valid CEA license.

2) Check the validity of property agent's CEA (Council for Estate Agencies) license number. Since October 2010, any person/company carrying out estate agency work in Singapore, either for local or foreign properties, are required to obtain a CEA licence from the Council for Estate Agencies. Conducting estate agency work without a valid licence or registration is an offence in Singapore since January 2011. Here is the link to check it online. Be sure that the name, photo match with the agent you see and also the license is not expired.

Now the scams.

Fake Landlord - Overseas landlord

This scam is usually executed like this:
1 - The conman, with a fake name, fake address has units or rooms for rent with a good price.
2 - You are that very very lucky guy who had this great chance to know about this super deal.
3 - The conman cannot meet you or let you view the unit because he does not live in Singapore.
4 - He exchanges mails with you. Sends a contract to be signed, photos of the unit, etc.

5 - Then he requests you to wire a deposit or one month rent.
6 - Next he disappears.

How to avoid? Do not ask me. This is a variation of Nigerian email scam, you can avoid it simply by common sense.

Fake Landlord - You see him, but he is still fake.

Yes, this is possible. Take a look at here for an example: Fake Landlord Cheats Expat Of $1,400. A conman with access to a flat. He may be a bankrupt landlord who previously owned the property, he may be a tenant posing as a landlord, he may be a relative of the landlord or he may simply be someone who broke in an empty flat. In this case for example, landlord is a bankrupt: She Pays Hundreds Of Dollars To Fake Landlord

How to avoid? Always work with a licensed property agent. He/she will cost you extra money and will be more interested in the money he/she will make than getting you a good discount. But at least a licensed property agent will ensure things are legal.

One Room Locked
This is actually not targetting you but HDB. Still it may end you up on the street and cost you a lot.

There are 2 types of housing in Singapore: Public housing and private housing. Public houses are called HDB after the government agency building and maintaining them: Housing Development Board. HDB houses have some restriction on renting and selling them. An owner of HDB flat can rent the whole unit out to a foreigner only if he gets an approval from Housing Development Board. But some owners without a valid approval still rents their units out with a common trick called "one room locked/1 room locked".

This room is rarely locked because the landlord needs an extra storage space. They lock a room and claim that they live in it. So in theory they are not renting you the whole unit but renting you some rooms, which is legal. But in fact it is illegal renting out an unapproved flat. Although as a tenant you may well live throughout your rental period without any problem in a unit like this but if you are caught, you need to vacant the unit immediately which would cost you a lot. Do not go into these kind of illegal rental and be sure that the unit is approved to be rented out.

How to avoid? These units are usually openly advertised so staying away from them is easy. If you are not sure about the legality of the public housing rent, check the flat with Housing Development Board and request to see the valid paper work before signing anything.

Advanced Payment
This is not necessarily a scam but I have seen enough people burnt so I strongly advice against it. Always pay 1 month rent + 1 month rent as deposit for 1 year lease (2 month rent as deposit for 2 years lease) avoid paying X months in advance. This is the legal practice.

Some people think, if the landlord gets your money and disappears it is still easy to find him in a tiny nation like this. Believe me it is more difficult than you can imagine.

How to avoid? Simply do not go into if you do not know the person.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What is really wrong with UBS?

In Singapore, as in many parts of Asia, if an employer decides to fire you, it almost never fires you. Instead, the employer calls the employee for a private meeting and then the employee “decides” to “resign”. And employer accepts the resignation.

UBS Chief Oswald Gruebel has recently declared that he would not resigned because although “he is responsible for everything that happens in the bank, he did not feel guilty”. [1] This was not surprising since after persistent mis-management of decades, company collapsing mistakes (!) no one in the financial services industry feels responsible or guilty and resigns. But because of the culture I have explained above, nobody here was suprprised when he changed his mind in Singapore and “resigned”.

But is that all? A so called lone wolf rogue trader and a CEO has gone and then will UBS be a better company? Isn’t there something else wrong here?  Yes of course there is something wrong with UBS and financial services system in general. And this UBS episode is just one of many manifestations of it.

Remember UBS is the bank who has dumped so called “risk-free” asset inventory to its customers while executives new that the market was about to collapse.  After it were sued, UBS agreed to repay $19.4 billion plus a 150 million fine. Many other banks were involved in this unethical practice, but it was alleged that UBS management knew the market was collapsing.[2]

Recently The New York Times covered this issue in “At UBS,  a pattern of rogue behaviour” article:
 “The problem isn’t the culture” said a former investment banker. “The problem is that there is no culture. There are silos. Everyone is separate. People cut out their own deals, and it’s every man for himself”.

As expected, New York Times did still not touch the real problem. Let me tell this plainly: The problem is simple: the problem is that UBS still exists! It still exist with this work ethic where "trust" must be a "must"! This is the problem with UBS and many other out dated, mismanagement icons in financial services. Free market forces were actually burying UBS, one of the biggest losers of the 2008 financial crisis, under its wrong bets in mortgage-backed securities. Swiss government bailed them out. They were of course too big to fail.

If a mismanaged big loser is brought down by free market forces, its productive assets are captured by better managed winners and its losing, inefficient parts are discarded. Overall net effect is positive because big losers tend to misallocate valuable resources and prevent more efficient companies to flourish which in turn hurts the market. If you bail a big loser out, it will continue to mismanage, misallocate huge resources while it will have unfair power to prevent more efficient companies to have market share.

In financial services, it seems like this basic natural selection is reversed. Although they try to still reflect “alpha male” image, it is becoming very obvious that global financial services industry is a place where “the losers, the least fit, survive” of course in the expense of winners. This is the real problem. UBS should go down the drain like many other “too big to fail” losers. If that has happened, we were probably recovering from the recession of 2008 (which itself was nothing more than a free market force to bring these big losers down to open way to more efficient and productive firms).  But we have instead printed money to save them all, Helicopter Ben gave secret funds when openly given trillions was not enough, and as expected (if you only read main stream media I am sure you were not expecting) nothing recovered except the stock markets and bonuses given to big losers. And the month free money ended, everything went down immediately. And this comedy of reverse natural selection is going on. They want now require productive European tax payers to rescue idiots who pumped billions to a country which has no way to pay the money back. Tactic is same. If we fail you will burn in hell!

What is wrong with these companies? Or rouge traders? The answer is simple. They still exist and they still have jobs. This is the problem.

[1] – UBS head not resigning over $U2bn fraud

[2] – At UBS, a pattern of rogue behaviour, New York Times

Thursday, September 22, 2011

HDB Launches 8200 flats with wide range of choices

As expected, Singapore Housing Development Board (HDB) has released a very large number of Build-to-Order (BTO) flats in September 2011. 8,200 units exactly![1] Recently, HDB has decided to combine monthly smaller launches into larger launches like this to give more choices to applicants and prevent frustration of multiple failed applications due to imbalance of supply and demand (demand 4-5 times of supply became o norm in the past few years).

And when it comes to choice, this launch looks one of the best. There are studio HDB units as well as 5 room flats. Some are offered in new HDB towns while some are in mature estates. 5,415 of them will be new flats from 7 BTO projects (Anchorvale Harvest, Fernvale Rivergrove, Golden Peony, Teban View, Waterway Brooks, Waterway Woodcress, Yio Chu Kang Vista) in Sengkang, Punggol, Jurong West, Jurong East and Ang Mo Kio . 2,847 of them will be from Sales of Balance Flat (SBF) scattered around 15 estates (6 in mature and 9 in non-mature estates).

In Singapore, there are 2 main groups of housing: public housing where 85% of the population live and private housing. Built-to-Order flats are public housing flats (known as HDB) which are built after a sufficient interest is gathered on the project. This scheme, appearently introduced to reduce a HDB supply glut in early 2000s, could not keep up with the public housing demand of last 5 years. Recently, HDB started to release a bumper supply of flats (50,000 is expected to be released in 2011 and 2012) ahead of orders. They will continue to do so until the supply crunch is eased.

Anchorvale Harvest Singapore BTO
Artist's impression of one of the new projects, Anchorvale Harvest - Bounded by Anchorvale Street and Anchorvale Link, Anchorvale Harvest comprises seven 16-storey residential blocks. Choose from 717 units of 3-, 4- and 5-room Standard flats - Source : Anchorvale Harvest Facebook Page
This primary public housing releases are only open to Singaporeans. 5 years after completion, these 99 years leasehold flats can enter secondary market, which is open to Singaporeans and Singapore Permanent Residents. Foreigners with valid working visas can rent these flats, but they cannot buy them.

5,415 new BTO flats will need to be built first, so their contribution to ease the current housing supply-demand situation is a few years away. But SBF flats will help the government property cooling effort almost immediately since they are flats near completion. Although they are more expensive than BTO flats, analyst expect strong demand for them.

[1] - Wide Range Of Choices In HDB’s Bumper 8,200 Flats Launch 

Monday, September 19, 2011

100,000 residential units coming in 2014-2015 and property prices

Yesterday, I have blogged about my views on expert reports that say the upcoming large supply on public and private houses will not result in property price corrections. As you may have heard already, in 2014 and 2015, 50,000 residential properties (both public + private) will be completed. This means 100,000 units in 2 years and the number is about 2.5 times the yearly average of last decade.

First problem I have covered yesterday was the exaggerated immigration expectations. Mr. Cheong expected 60,000 professionals per year who can effort private property while the boom time immigration of 2010 hardly passed 40,000 foreign talents in a year and majority of these mid to high salary bracket professionals cannot afford the ultra-high property prices.

Second problem, which I would like to comment about, is the perception of the current price levels. Even if there will be no oversupply in 2014 and 2015 due to these 100,000 units coming, these units will definitely do something: put an end to a nearly decade long undersupply! What the experts usually do not talk about (and maybe think about) is that current property prices are not “normal” or “supply-demand equilibrium” prices. Current prices are fundamentally the result of severe supply shortage and exaggerated demand by ultra-low interest rates. Since interest rates cannot go lower, even if they stay at this level, a supply ease will most probably affect the prices.

Reflections Keppel Bay under construction - Source: Wikipedia
All my comments are excluding a very likely near future economic bang event – the single event that wakes up investors who do not want to accept that the world economy has a huge problem to be really fixed not postponed by stimulus packages! Let’s assume no more economic woes and everything recovers from the current economic uncertainty. Still, interest rates will not go down more to feed the illusion of “affordable million dollar condo”. They are already zero per cent! Economy will not grow in double digits numbers in the next few years as it did in 2010. That was a post-recession recovery. And 30,000 – 40,000 mid to high level professionals will not come every year if economy does not grow as fast as 10+% and after these 2 rounds of work visa criteria tightening. And there won’t be the severe shortage of housing when 100,000+ new homes are expected in the next few years.

At this climate above, I think UOB Kay Hian’s scenario of 8-10% Singapore private property price correction in 2012 is more likely than Alan Cheong’s flat or increasing prices.

This blog article is to provide general information only and should not be treated as an invitation to buy or sell any property or as sales material.  Users of this report should consider this report as a one of the many factors in making their investment decision. Users should make reference to other sources of information and specific investment advice to obtain a more objective view of the property market. Asia Singapore shall not be responsible for losses suffered.

Can foreign professional demand take up Singapore private property oversupply?

You have probably seen this argument from property “experts” many times in different ways in the news: The property demand in Singapore will be robust and will easily take up the overall oversupply expected to hit the market from 2012 onwards. The anticipated demand is of course from immigration. So the underlying message is very simple. Hey you wait on the side lines for price correction. The prices will be flat or will not fall significantly.

I see several problems in this argument. First it is almost always coming from “experts” who either earns money when people buys property or prices goes up. So it would be naïve to expect that they will expect the price correction. But this is the least important problem. My main problem is their assumptions for future immigration.

Take a look at the assumptions made by one of those experts in the news first:

“Mr Cheong (Alan Cheong, associate director at Savills Research & Consultancy) adds that if Singapore were to bring in around 60,000 foreign professionals per year in the mid to upper segment income bracket, "this group could very easily take up the over 50,000 units that are currently left unsold by developers. Together with existing local and foreign upgrader/investor demand this group of buyers would also be able to absorb the annual Government land supply of 15,000 units coming on stream in future".[1]

There is something wrong with this assumption of 60,000 mid to upper segment professionals. He probably means P2 and P1 Employment Pass holders whose fixed salary is above 4,000 SGD per month and 8,000 SGD per month. But as of December 2011, there were  142,000 of them in Singapore.

 Let’s look at how much was the last known numbers from 2009 to 2010 where we have seen a record 14 per cent GDP growth:

“The number of Employment Pass holders has jumped by more than 20 per cent in the past year, from 115,000 in 2009, to 142,000 last year. For S-Pass holders, the number rose from 82,000 to 98,000.”
 Source : Singapore work pass salaries foreigner intake

The increase was only 27,000 people.  Add 12,000 from EPs who became PR (PR approvals of 2010 29,000 divided by 2.5) were on EP then you will have close to 40000 new foreigners on EP.

Now it is not realistic to expect the same growth levels of 2010 every year, we already know that it will not repeat itself in 2011 (it will be roughly one third of 2010 growth if nothing goes wrong). We also had 2 rounds of foreign intake criteria restrictions which will probably decrease the intake numbers.

Let’s look at the picture again:

1) Growth will most probably slow down significantly from 2009-2010 growth in 2011.

2) In 2011, 2 rounds of restrictions are introduced to tighten criteria of mid to high foreign worker intake.

Next few years will most probably bring much less than 40,000 professionals per year. Many of these will not be able to afford private property. It is very unlikely that 60,000 mid to high bracket foreign professionals will come every year. And it is unlikely the demand from them will be enough to take oversupply. 60,000 per year in this case, is not an assumption: it is wishful thinking. Or am I missing something here?

[1] - Private property demand not expected to ease up

This blog article is to provide general information only and should not be treated as an invitation to buy or sell any property or as sales material.  Users of this report should consider this report as a one of the many factors in making their investment decision. Users should make reference to other sources of information and specific investment advice to obtain a more objective view of the property market. Asia Singapore shall not be responsible for losses suffered.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Singapore's First Solar Leasing Project

Solar power production, although very attractive, requires a very high upfront cost. Solar photo-voltaic panels are relatively expensive compared to energy they produce. The upfront cost can be only covered in a very long period (20+ years), if it can be covered at all. This is basically the main reason you do not see solar panels on the top of every building. It is simply not financially attractive yet. Or maybe it was simply not attractive in the recent past.

A privately held company in Singapore now offers a Solar Leasing solution. Sunseap Leasing, an affiliate of Sunseap Enterprises (which is Singapore subsidiary of SUNSET Energietechnik GmbH), offers a leasing scheme which enables its customers to go solar at an affordable price. The company shoulders design, development, installation and maintenance work and cost of the solar photo-voltaic system while the customer pays a percentage of upfront cost and simply continues to pay by buying electricity from the solar system.

And Singapore's largest developer, The Housing & Development Board (HDB), officially became their first customer to lease 2 mega-watt-peak (MWp) solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. The systems will be installed on the top of 45 HDB residential blocks in Punggol in this  first solar leasing project in Singapore.[1]:

"HDB will cover 30 percent of the initial start-up costs or S$3.28 million, while the outstanding costs will be obtained from Pasir Ris Punggol Town Council through the solar power that is generated and consumed over the years.

Cheong Koon Hean, Chief Executive Officer of HDB, commented, “Punggol, as Singapore’s first Eco-town is the ideal location for us to expand our solar PV installations through solar leasing.”

“The solar leasing model presents a win-win situation for all parties. Energy usage can be optimized with lower usage of power from the grid, thus reducing our carbon emissions in the long term.” [2]

Solar Photo-voltaic modules on HDB rooftops in Singapore - Source: Sunseap Enterprise Pte. Ltd.

It is great to hear that the project cost and risk is largely shouldered by private investment. I am personally against making something feasible by large subsidiary from taxpayers money, so I was always skeptical about this solar power buzz since most projects in Europe and US are only feasible by government subsidizes.

It is now very good to see that a private company shoulders the risk and bulk of upfront cost. Solar power production can indeed be feasible in Singapore since we have relatively high insolation (solar energy received by an area in a given time) and electricity prices are relatively higher here. At first glance, Singapore lacks large lands that is required by solar panel systems but Singapore does not lack large, flat rooftop area. Actually HDB rooftops are great places to install solar panels since they are large, flat and covers a large population of energy consumers.

Installation of this system will be completed by mid 2012. Punggol is selected because it is Singapore’s first Eco-town thus the ideal location for HDB to expand solar PV installations through solar leasing.

[1] - First Solar Leasing Project In Singapore
[2] - HDB kicks off Singapore's first solar leasing project

Friday, September 16, 2011

Business Analytics Professional Short Courses

This blog post is moved to Business Intelligence in Singapore blog:

Business Analytics Professional Short Courses

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Singapore Employment Pass

To work in Singapore, you need to hold a valid work visa (no matter what duration you would work) and Singapore Employment Pass (EP) is the type of work visa, many foreigner white collar employees hold to live and work in Singapore. Although many of these expatriates hold Employment Pass for few years and leave Singapore, it is also the first step of immigration to Singapore for many future Singapore Permanent Residents and Singapore Citizens.

To get a Singapore Employment Pass, you usually need to find a job in Singapore. I say usually because there is a special kind of Employment Pass called Singapore Personalized Employment Pass (PEP). PEP like EP is
granted by Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to eligible foreigners and does not require the pass holder to find an employer in Singapore to apply. a new PEP holder has only 6 months to find an employer upon receiption of PEP or he/she would lose Singapore work visa. Since after losing EP, you can only stay 2 weeks in Singapore, PEP is a popular visa among foreigners, who has just lost their jobs. If you have never been in Singapore before, you are eligible for PEP only if you earn more than 8,000 SGD per month.

There are 3 types of Employment Pass. Q1, P2 and P1. P1 requires a  salary more than 8,000 SGD per month while Q1 requires 2,800 (3,000 from 2012) per month. The approval also depends on many factors. Those applying for jobs which are in high demand have more chance. MOM keeps an skills in demand list of these jobs in its web site.

The academic qualification is an important factor in EP approval. There is a qualified institution list in MOM web page. But if your university is not in that list, you can still get EP with other qualifications you have.

Back in 2006, I have applied first time for EP. My application was rejected in 2 weeks. Since I was here to support Singaporean team of my ex-company for 6 months they needed me to stay 6 months. So they have appealed. 2 weeks later my EP was approved. I handed it back in 2007 and reapplied again in 2008 when I was back in Singapore. Then it was a smooth process.

Not all EP's are approved. MOM has eligibility criteria depending on applicant's education, experience as well as employer's qualifications. Since 2011, the eligibility criteria is more restrict to slow the inflow of foreign workers into Singapore. EP is usually followed by an agency followed by employer so the employee usually do not need to follow the process but need to chase the documents needed. If you are moving to Singapore before your EP is approved, collect every document necessary (or you think may be useful) before coming to Singapore.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Luxury Car Rental in Singapore

A car is a very expensive item to buy in Singapore, a luxury car is ultra expensive. But luckily buying is not the only option if you want and can enjoy a luxury car in Singapore. There are companies who leases these cars. And it seems like luxury car rentals, popular among expats, are on the rise.

Wearnes Leasing, a unit of Wearnes Automotive group, offers the full range of the cars of group for lease - Volvo, McLaren, Renault, Land Rover, Jaguar and Bentley. The company focuses on long term leases like two or three years but shorter leases are also possible and according to The Business Times, the trend for leasing luxury cars instead of owning them is rising. With increase in short term interest, the company is planning to offer more sport cars for short-term lease like Bentley Continental GT, McLaren MP4-12C, Jaguar XK, Renault RS.[1]

Renting a sport car for a day starts from 150 Singapore Dollars for a Renault convertible and 688 Singapore Dollars for a Bentley Flying Spur.

Bentley Continental GT

Premium Leasing is another company which offers only Audi leasing. They offer lease of all Audi models and the minimum lease period is 1 year but a shorter period can be negotiable. Leasing an Audi TT in Singapore from Premium Leasing will cost you 3,800 Singapore Dollars per month.

ComfortDelGro, operator of many taxis and buses in Singapore, also offers car rental and luxury, high end car leases such as BMW M3 Convertible. ComfortDelGro Rent-A-Car has a total fleet of 1300 rental cars and leasing vehicles and 10 of them are sport models like Jaguar XF and XJ, Audi Q5 and Audi A4 Avant.[1]

Lamborghini Singapore offers one and two years leases for super sports cars Lamborghini Murcielago and Lamborghini Gallardo. But if you just want a short taste of riding a Ferrari or Lamborghini, you can also rent one of these super cars in Singapore for 15 to 1 hour.

See also:
Supercar rental in Singapore Prestige Car Rental Bangkok

[1] - Hot wheels on a lease, The Business Times

IT Professionals in Singapore do not look happy

They perceive their job as low paying and many of them face work-life-balance problems. The stress created by their job affects their ability to perform other roles in their lives. 23 per cent are eyeing to leave their profession completely and start a fresh new career. These are the findings of a survey recently conducted by by the Singapore Computer Society (SCS) among 1,024 IT professionals and 692 students. Half of the respondents face more work-life balance problems in their profession. This number is higher compared to other professions.

Top 27 per cent of IT professionals are earning above 100,000 SGD per annum, good amount amount, but the percentage of 100K+ earners are much lower than many other professions like Financial Services, Banking, Law, etc.

I find it not surprising as an IT professional working in Singapore. But I am actually quite suprised that the percentage of them willing to leave the profession is just 23. I am one of them and I thought the percentage was much higher. I would also add that the profession has relatively low prestige. Yes, there is no prestige of being an IT professional. Than it is not surprising to see that new entrants and young workers have more desire to leave it.

Except the IT professionals in Singapore’s financial services industry, which are only 8 per cent of total respondents, salaries are really low compared to the work load. I remember a young IT executive asking an experienced IT executive for 3 reasons to abandon IT completely (the senior one previously told him to run to exit before it is too late). The reply was simple:

1) H1B
2) IT Outsourcing to sub continent
3) Low salaries

The above conversation was in US but it is also more or less true for Singapore. A high immigrant IT workforce depresses the salaries. Also unique to us is the virtual age limit. You can see many IT Engineers in their 40s or 50s in Europe or USA but it is hard to come by in Singapore. An experienced IT Engineer, who cannot jump out of technical stuff before he is 40, will be in high risk. If he loses his job, it is difficult to find a new one. Many IT professionals know this and want to abandon IT before it is too late.

Mr. Chew from SCS points our attention to a “positive” note; more students are joining smaller companies like start-up. But in the survey, small and medium sized local organizations and start-ups had the worst satisfaction level among IT professionals. As a senior IT professional, I strongly suggest new IT professionals to think carefully before joining a small company and chose a larger corporation over a small one at the beginning of their career. Small companies, especially start-ups, may look very appealing for youngsters but they usually skip the fact that for every Google, there are hundreds of failed ventures. Many of the start-up companies are mismanaged, especially the ones which are small for a long time, are almost always mismanaged. And a very good product means absolutely "nothing" if there is no sound business built around (opposite is also true. A ridiculously primitive product can be a hit if there is a very good business model around). Do not get lured into product. Select a company wisely as if you are an investor putting money in it. Most of the time, larger companies are better for new graduates to start since they offer more training, mentoring and clear job specifications at a given time (unlike smaller ones where you are expected to do everything at a given time). In my opinion, small companies are for people who have some experience and better evaluate the company and product.

IT is not surprising then to see a shortfall of professionals in IT where salaries and life quality offered by during the job are both perceived to be low.     

Gender determination tourism

"You have 3 adorable kids and you are telling me that you have spent tens of thousands to have another baby" I have asked. My English, or their English was poor, since I misunderstood them. "No, she said. We spent it to have a baby boy!" They were unsuccessful and disappointed. Many in the west will have hard time to understand this preference for boys in Asia, as being an Asian I even cannot understand it, especially when I hear from young people. Actually, since it is not easy for a young person to openly admit his preference for boys, you do not hear it so much. But it is there. Singaporeans, as well as other Asians have a preference for son due to deep cultural conditioning.

There is now a growing tourism built around this social force which makes countries like Thailand make good money over it. The procedure is called "Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis" (PGD). A single cell is taken fro an embryo and DNA is analyzed. They do this three days after fertilization, when the embryo is consist of only 8-10 cells. The idea is to only place the embryos with desired genetic characteristics to the woman's uterus. Designed to help couples with genetic problems in their family past, it is now widely used by couples who want to have a baby boy!

PGD can cost a lot. Air tickets, hotel, procedure itself can combine to $10,000 in Thailand but it seems like many couples, especially couples from India where sex determination tests are restricted do not care to pay the price. You may protest the couples using PGD for sex determination but this procedure is indeed more human and healthy compared to its alternative used by many poorer Indians: abortion.

According to Chaina Daily,a center in Bangkok reports to receive around 3 Indian couples per month seeking for PGD from cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Kalkota:

"About 80-90 per cent of Indians choose a boy while couples from West and Australia go for boy or girl in the same ratio" says a Bangkok doctor in an interview with The Times of India.

Male children are favored in India since ancient times since they carry the family name and expected to look after mom and dad when they are old.      

Singapore Residential Property Prices to fall 8-10% in 2012

Will property prices fall in Singapore? After all these economic uncertainties,  many are asking this question. If you look at the press and TV, almost all "experts" are saying that the prices at most will stay flat next year or , at worst case scenario, drop slightly. You should be cautious about these experts if you are new in Singapore. This is because Singapore media almost always ask the question to people from companies who earn their revenue by selling property. So it is not surprising to see that according to the experts, as long as world does not come to end, property prices will not come down :)

But an expert today gave a different opinion and answer. "Singapore residential property prices are expected to fall 8 to 10 per cent in 2012" said UOB Kay Hian. Huge supply of properties coming in the next 2-3 years, bad economic environment waiting for the world and Singapore combined with the government property cooling measures seems to be stronger than the zero interest rate environment promised by FED (Singapore interest rates usually follow US rates)[1]

Singapore property prices rose 17 percent in 2010 after declining 25 percent during 2009 thanks to ultra low interest rates. The worrying sharp climb made Singapore Government to introduce four rounds of cooling measures, the last one seen in January 2011. Up to now, Singapore property market is still experiencing price increases, but slower than it was a year ago.

Common sense also says property prices will most probably fall next year. There are many factors which would pressure prices downwards:

1) There is a huge supply of 50,000 private residential units are coming in from now to 2015. Increase in supply is not supportive for prices.

2) Immigration policy is getting tighter and PR approval numbers are in declining trend. Decrease in demand is also not supportive for prices.

3) HDB was building 8,000 units per year until 2010. Due to severe shortage and public cry, they are now building 25,000 units per year in 2011 and 2012.

4) Tighter Employment Pass rules are kicking in. Less foreigners mean less rent demand. Combine it with extra supply competing for the rental demand, prices would probably be under pressure.

5) Global economic printed money party will end sooner or later with a slow global growth or even another global recession.

6) And interest rates in the near future can only go up from current near zero rates. And they may potentially go higher rates than normal 4-5% after this long, artificial zero interest rate period.

See also our recent articles:
[1] - Home prices to fall by 8-10%: UOB Kay Hian

Monday, September 12, 2011

Save More Money, Austrian way

Clouds of financial storms are covering all the visible horizon and it looks like it will sooner or later turn into a heavy rain. When, how strong and how long is the question. So, it is very critical now to think about the financial future and prepare as much as possible. As old saying goes: "Plan for the worst, hope for the best".

What should young people do to prepare themselves for the future and improve their finances? Young people usually have relatively less savings and relatively high debts compared to older people. This makes them more vulnerable to financial crisis. Especially many of them who live from paycheck to paycheck. My Advice to Young People, by Robert P. Murphy from Mises Institute has recently been published in Mises Daily. Go and read the article and reread again but I would also like to summarize some of his key points here. Actually, it is very wise to regularly read Mises Institute Daily to balance the Keynesian bullshits pumped by mainstream global media everyday!

1 - Save more. When you save more, it is good for you. And when you save more, it is also good for others and your country! You can increase your standard of living through saving. We know it very well in Asia, where economies are rising on savings. Murphy advises young people not to listen to main stream economists and feel guilty with saving. Mainstream economists, under influence of Keynesian ideology, try to make you believe that opposite is true: "If you save, others lose". "If everybody saves, everybody loses":

"In the current recession, it's actually more important than ever that people save more. Contrary to Keynesian warnings, if households and firms save more, they will actually speed the general economic recovery."

2 - Develop Multiple Streams of Income. This is where Murphy differs. A typical "save more" advise means "if you are saving 5% of your income, stop eating out, hanging out, going to cinema, etc, and save 25% percent."  Although Murphy admits that reducing frivolous expenditures is an obvious way to save more, he tells that this is not the main way of saving more.

The best way to save more, especially for young people, is to boost one's income, not cut spending. For young people, there may not be much room to cut a lot but in theory, and surprisingly in practice, there are a lot of space to increase income. Murphy does not simply advise young people with a day job to have another night job. He does not advice a young worker to find another boss. Instead he says that "young people should consider a host of entrepreneurial ventures" and "rather than looking for other bosses, young people should become their own bosses, at least in a few limited areas.":

"To some people this suggestion may sound intimidating. But notice that plenty of young people are entrepreneurs and they don't even realize it: Anybody who babysits or cuts lawns for neighbors is an entrepreneur. Such kids have to find customers (usually through word-of-mouth) and provide a service for which they get directly paid. That's what an entrepreneur does.

When I have mentioned this recommendation in public settings, sometimes students ask me what sorts of businesses they should start. The short answer is, "I don't know; that's what you need to figure out." The entrepreneur looks around and identifies a product or service that people currently lack but would be willing to pay for, in such amounts as it would be worth the entrepreneur's money and effort to provide it."

3 - Sell your TV. This bulky, archaic machine actually has no place in a young couples home! You can watch TV when you get older. For now, use your computer to watch things on demand and remove this productivity killing machine from your home so you can concentrate on finding extra income streams.

4 - Build Up at Least a Month's Worth of Expenses in Cash. This is the first step to get out of highly vulnerable "living from paycheck to paycheck" life. Obviously, this will make you less vulnerable to unexpected expenses and lay-offs but the main purpose of this step is much more physiological: "pay-check-to-paycheck mentality is destructive for your inner entrepreneur"!

5 - Tithe or charity. Avoid focusing on yourself and share a bit of what you have with others. First, you will develop a habit of looking beyond your "self" which will avoid things like pulse purchases.

6 - Eliminate Variable-Rate Debt as Quickly as Possible. We have had a very long period of artificially low interest rates thanks to American money printing machine but when the party ends we will pay back as higher than usual interest rates for a long period of time.

7 - Acquire Some Physical Gold and Silver Coins. Future of fiat money (money whose value only depends on faith rather than a real commodity, all currencies in circulation now) looks bleak so keeping a significant portion of savings as a physical, real value item, looks wiser than ever now.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Singapore Employment outlook and Salary Guide 2011/2012

Kelly Services, one of the leading workforce solutions provider in the market, compile a very comprehensive reference on the salary trends, job titles and employment outlook by industries in Singapore. This reference is named “Employment Outlook and Salary Guide”. They have published 2011/2012 edition of the reference guide. It is a must read for everyone currently looking for job or an employee to fill a job position in Singapore. This helpful guide has valuable information like salary range where minimum and maximum salaries per job title are given with corresponding minimum and maximum years of experience. These salary ranges are based on actual transactions between employers and employees and depicts a more accurate picture of the job market than the asking prices you usually see in the job advertisements.

Singapore Employment Outlook and Salary Guide is structured very simple, it is divided into sections based on industries: Accounting & Finance, Banking & Finance, Call Centre, Engineering & Technical, Healthcare & Life Sciences, Human Resources, Information Technology, Office Support, Procurement, Supply Chain & Logistics and Sales, Marketing & Advertisement. Each section starts with a industry outlook of that year in terms of jobs and displays a table containing job titles with information like salary range, experience, etc.

2011/2012 is obviously compiled before the current economic uncertainties emerged and is a bit over optimistic compared to the current outlook. Nevertheless, since it gives very fresh information for each job titles, it is still a very valuable guide.

According to the guide, there is a trend towards hiring of experienced workers who can “hit the ground running” in a very short period and this is especially true for Banking & Finance sector. As you can see from the salary ranges, endless banker rescue plans are working well around the world as well as Singapore, and financial services jobs are still overpaying to its employees.

It is interesting to see increased hiring across engineering and technical domains in 2011. But still, it looks like the demand and salaries are pulled up by financial services and the engineering and technical jobs outside these domains still offer relatively lower salaries. Not surprisingly, salaries are unchanged in this mostly neglected domain.

One of the domains pulled up by Financial Services sector in Singapore is IT. There is a strong demand for IT staff to work in finance and banking domains.
 Full report can be obtained from Kelly Services, Salary Guide web page.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

IT jobs in Singapore

IT industry is booming everywhere but it is especially growing well in Singapore. In the last decade, Singapore started to position itself as a IT hub in the South East Asia. This combined with its status of being one of the few financial centers around the world creates well paying, fulfilling IT job opportunities.

According to Kelly's 2011/2012 Employment Outlook and Salary Guide, 2011 has seen an accelerated hiring  throughout Banking and Financial IT sector and with the rise of "cloud" computing, the demand for experienced IT professionals is expected to grow throughout 2011 - 2012 period. There is a supply shortage currently effecting the Singapore IT job market so it is pretty much favorable environment for those looking for IT jobs in Singapore.

But which IT job skills are in demand in Singapore? According to Sam Baxendale, from boutique recruitment business Ambition, 4 key IT talent areas are in demand in Singapore: Application development, infrastructure (i.e. network support), applications consulting (i.e. SAP) and Project Management. Although all 4 areas are growing in terms of job opportunities, project management is growing faster:

"So what’s driving demand in this area? From our observations, whilst software is actually being developed here in Singapore, due to the speed with which institutions are looking to grow, there is considerable reliance on off the shelf products to enable business to get their functional needs off the ground . Furthermore, If you also consider the speed with which the economy is growing, how is this facilitated? Networks don’t suddenly appear because of leading edge engineering and SAP enterprise suites don’t just appear on peoples’ screens because it’s a great product.

So the aspiring IT professional may now see Project Management as the promised land rather than the more definable computer science disciplines. It’s certainly raised it’s profile hugely as a credible career line to break into and has the added advantage that, as it generally requires little or no pure technical input, it is open to people from a more diverse background . To break into the industry is no exact science. A BSc honours is a good starting point plus a grounding within an array of disciplines within an MNC environment providing exposure to a wide range of stakeholder groups within the IT domain. A well trodden path is the route from Business analysis to PM work as the two are well aligned in the delivery lifecycle. However, it is definitely most likely that an aspiring individual that exhibits the right core competencies will the afforded the break internally rather than moving to a new business. The only exception being very specific domain knowledge, such as FX trading solutions etc."[1]

According to Kelly's Singapore Employment outlook and Salary Guide, an IT Project Manager with 5 to 10 years experience could expect a salary of 6,500 to 12,000 SGD per month in 2010/2011 period in Singapore. 2011/2012 version of the guide suggests an increase in the bottom and shows 7,000 - 12000 SGD per month as the salary.

[1] - Project Management – Keeping Singapore IT robust and scalable 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Feng Shui in Singapore

Many may not realize the importance of feng shui, ancient Chinese system of aesthetics, in Singapore architecture. But there are few buildings or building complexes out there built without consulting a feng shui master. Singapore itself has a feng shui in its foundation, and let's start with it: the belly of the carp.

The belly of the carp

Since the first Chinese settler's came to Singapore in 1800s, the south bank of the Singapore River has been a very auspicious place to do business for Chinese. This side of the Singapore river, known as Boat Quay, was the busiest part of the old Port of Singapore. Boat Quay was handling three quarters of all shipping business during the 1860s. Why it was so auspicious? The south of the Singapore river in Boat Quay resembles the belly of a carp. According to Feng Shui, this is where wealth and prosperity lay and this is the main reason many shophouses were built and crowded into the area.

In the below photo, you can see how prosperous Singapore Cental Business District is rising from "the belly of the carb" (water body below the skyscrapers is Singapore river). Great Feng Shui example!

Singapore skyline
Fountain of Wealth

Fountain of Wealth, the largest fountain in the world, is another example of Feng Shui in Singapore. This fountain and the surrounding buildings of Suntec City are built Feng Shui in mind.

Water flows inward in this fountain. It may look weird to you but in Chinese culture, water is the symbol of life and wealth and the inward motion of the water, according to feng shui experts, represents riches pouring in. Remember This is the reason they named it as "Fountain of Wealth".

But feng shui does not stop there. The buildings of Suntec City looks like the fingers of a hand opened to the sky. Fountain of Wealth looks like a bronze ring in the palm. So the water flowing inwards also represents wealth pouring palm!

It is also said that, if you walk around the central base of the Fountain of Wealth three times while touching the water at all times, you would gain some good luck of your own.

Fountain of Wealth
Marina Bay Sands IR
There is no consensus on the feng shui of Marina Bay Sands IR buildings. Some say it is bad and caused financial problems for parent Las Vegas Sands during its construction and some says it is good. You can read a debate on it here in Feng Shui: Marina Bay Sands IR. An interesting comment comes from a feng shui master:

"Master Tan Khoon Yong of Way Onnet Group said it resembles a blade that will affect (cut) all buildings surrounding the IR, especially the Swissotel Stamford. "Also, because the rooftop is flat, it restricts the development and growth for the IR," he said."

The Gateway 
There is no way to not recognize the four weird thing next to Bugis Junction: The art deco style Parkview Square which looks like a building transported from Gotham City to Singapore accidentally, 2 sharp edge buildings of The Gateway and a large empty land sitting idle between those despite its excellent location for development. It is rumored that no Singaporean developer is showing interest to this site because of the bad feng shui caused by the sharp edges of The Gateway buildings. For the same reason, you can expect the sites on the other sharp edges of The Gateway Buildings to stay idle for a long time, despite their close proximity to Nicoll  Highway MRT Station.

The Gateway Buildings and large empty plot between them
and Parkview Square
Wheelock Place

Another structure as a bad feng shui in Singapore is Wheelock Place. As you know, famous bookstore Borders has gone out of business there. This is not the first unlucky event in the building. The building itself was completed in 1994 but closed down during 1990s due to Asian Financial Crisis. In article named "Five Elements of Orchard Road Buildings" another unlucky event is depicted:

"Wheelock building was invested by a group of financier from Hong Kong. It was built like a shape of a harp, to signify a continuous progress. It's concourse sits on Hai and facing Si. The Building was erected during the Age of 7th, thus resulting in Up mountain and Below water formation?. It's pointed entrance at the concourse is at Zhen Flying Star 64 which does not signify wealth. Inflow of water at Ping Flying Star 31, outflow of water at Chou Flying Star is 29. This does not fit the requirement of the theory, which demand a lucky inflow and unlucky outflow directions.

Thus within a short span of nine months, Lane Crawford Department Store has sized down their operations from five floors to two floor and ceased business later. This was due to financial problems."
Source: Five elements of orchard road buildings

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Asia absolutely not immune to global slowdown

In the annual World Bank-Singapore Infrastructure Finance Summit, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam put it very boldly:

'We're already at stall speed in the US and Europe, which means that we are more likely than not to see a recession. Asia will not be immune to a global slowdown,' he added, while speaking at a conference on infrastructure finance here.'

He used a more direct and bold statement than the World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who said that a new global recession could still be averted, but that the risks to the world economy are high.[1]

His warnings are timely since the same Pollyanna's are again trying to sell us this laughable story, "Asia living happily after the next slowdown" while world is probably heading to a recession. These people were also talking loud before the 2008 financial crisis and then we have seen how decoupled Asia is from the western economic problems. Yes most Asian nations have better fiscal position than west but this strength is not enough to cover the great weakness of Asia: With its production machine and supply chain network calibrated to produce goods and services for overspending west, Asia is directly open to any slowdown in the west. Asian nations, for years, are over investing on this overspending dependent production network and under investing to anything else which would actually decouple them from the economic problems of the west.

"Asia is not decoupled from the West. We have already seen Asia slowing down. Our house view is that China and India are not big enough to drive growth in Singapore or other smaller open economies."
Wu Kun Lung, Credit Suisse[2]

Although I still think US will kick the can one more year to save well connected financial figures by printing more money, Europe does not have so much time before pay back. And sooner or later, US citizens will also start to do what they should already be doing now: Paying back their debt ("Paying back the debt" is what global financial media is trying mystifying with a stupid name: deleveraging).

Although global financial media is trying to believe that printed paper money can save the world economy, it will not. If you could simply print money and solve your financial problems, many third world countries would be the most prosperous places on the planet now. Sooner or later, US and Europe start to live below their means and pay back their debt and China will have to stop spoiling its hard earn savings in wasteful infrastructure projects. And Asian export oriented economies, heavily dependent on overspending to grow will need to readjust their misallocated resources to sail ahead in the new world. And it is what recession is actually there to achieve: reallocating misallocated resources in the bubble times.

[1] - Asia in line of fire as the West takes a hit
[2] - Singapore growth forecast cut as headwinds blow, The Business Times

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Why Singapore is ...

Why Singapore is called lion city?

Classic answer : According to the Malay Annals, while prince of Srivijaya, Sri Tri Buana was hunting on the island, he saw a lion. The prince took this as an auspicious sign and he has founded a settlement on the island and called it Singapura. Singapura means "Lion City" in Malay. This also answers another question, why Singapore is called Singapore? Singa = Lion, Pore (Pura) = City. Alternative answer : Look at the Singapore map of old times, it looks like a male lion with a mane. Since scientist believe that lions have never roamed on Singapore, the name may be coming from this shape of the island.

Why Singapore is so successful? Why Singapore is so rich?

I have been here many years and I would single out 3 factors: Openness to global economy, determination to create perfect conditions for private sector to blossom and a multicultural environment. These factors not only draw prosperity to Singapore, they draw quality businesses companies and talented minds around the world to here. Harward economics don Dale Jorgenson was in town recently and he explained the first two perfectly in an article in The Straits Times[1]:

“… Singapore is a tiny market but it is very open to competitive forces that are associated with a completely globalized economy – it is almost a model of what an open economy should be. That is why it is closer to US rather than Europe.

.. While there are deficiencies in the Government policies, which are not unique, one aspect of the Government’s approach that I find very reassuring is its reliance on the private sector, which means the Government does not create economic activity; it creates conditions for the private sector and it has to rely on that sector to respond.”

Why Singapore is very safe?

Simple, there are laws, there is a strong enforcement of these laws, the fines and punishments are applied to all. But very safe does not mean entirely safe. As a Police banner says here in Singapore “Low crime does not mean no crime”.

Why Singapore is so clean?

Although many big cities look like they need a long, throughout pressure wash, Singapore is very clean. Because there is an army of people keeping it clean and there are fines for those polluting it. One lasting effect Singapore leaves on you is to look for a dust bin for minutes when you are back in your country although before you probably just tossed the dirt on the street. Unlike other South East Asian countries, hawkers on the streets are not allowed in Singapore which makes street more clean.

[1] - To boost productivity, make the most of IT

Rising house prices and declining fertility

Singapore has one of the lowest fertility rates and one of the most expensive housing prices in the world. We have Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of less than 1.2, which is well below the population replacement level.

And while fertility rate is declining to new lows, housing prices are still increasing to new heights. May there be a link between rising housing prices and declining fertility? According to Tilak Abeysinghe from Singapore Centre for Applied and Policy Economics, there is a link between this two.[1]

In the "Ask: NUS Economist" column of The Straits Times, Mr. Abeysinghe shares a very interesting graph which implies a positive relationship between Housing Affordability Index (HAI) and Total Fertility Rate  (TFR) of Singapore[1]. Positive relationship means when HAI increases, TFR also increases. So in the past when housing became less affordable, fertility declined and when housing became more affordable, fertility rose. The link is only distorted in auspicious years for babies in the Chinese calendar. I do not have permission to reproduce the graph here, you can follow the link below and see it in the pdf file.

He then offers a solution to stop further decline in the fertility rate: sustain housing affordability:

"When housing affordability drops, fertility appears to also dip. It may be the case that young couples want to secure a roof over their heads before getting married and having children. When housing affordability drops. they will have to wait longer to secure a house and this may come at the expense of family size.

Although fertility rate is stubbornly less responsive to many factors, it is possible that sustaining housing affordability may hep at least in arresting the precipitous decline in the fertility rate."

I think it is not only couples delay having kids under they move to a new house (which can take up to 5 years after marriage to get a new HDB at the moment), they are also having less children then they actually want to have. This is because the unaffordable houses suck the portion of their monthly income which would be use to raise one more child.

This report was in the last pages of the newspaper and did not draw the attention it deserves. If the correlation is there, we will see further decline in fertility due to the current housing high prices.

[1] - Fewer children when house prices head north 

Ocean Financial Centre

Ocean Financial Centre may look like your typical skyscraper at first sight. But this 43 story building added recently to the Singapore Central Business District skyline and opened a few days ago is not your typical skyscraper. It is the first office development in Singapore CDB to achieve the Platinum Green Mark Reward given by the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore and it is also the first high rise building in South East Asia to receive Platinum Level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design)-CS pre-certification.

What makes Ocean Financial Centre this green? Just above its 4 levels of roof gardens, Ocean Financial Centre has the largest solar panel system for high-rise buildings in Singapore.It uses energy efficient Air-Conditioning System and an innovative paper recycling system (paper recycling chutes) for all offices it houses. The building overall achieves 35.1% energy saving and 42,249 meter cube of water saving per year. This translates into 24,542 tonnes of CO2 reduction per year. Energy savings translate into 9,084,956 KWh per year or 1,816,991 SGD per year.

Ocean Financial Centre - Source : Keppel Land
This building is developed by Keppel Land and sits just opposite to Republic Plaza, next to Raffles Place. It adds about 885,000 sq ft of prime office space to core of Singapore CDB.

Singapore need more prime office space to keep office rentals competitive. Currently prime office space is 45 per cent cheaper than Hong Kong prime office space and 22.7 per cent cheaper than Tokyo. Almost 3 million sq ft of new office space is coming to Singapore Business Centre (including Ocean Finance Centre and Asia Square) this year.