Tuesday, July 31, 2012

HDB launches 4,191 new built-to-order (BTO) flats in Choa Chu Kang, Punggol, Bukit Merah, Clementi and Geylang

Housing Development Board (HDB) has announced the launch of 4,191 Built-to-Order (BTO) flats among 7 projects in 5 towns today. The flats offered are in  two non-mature towns (Choa Chu Kang and Punggol) and three mature towns (Bukit Merah, Clementi and Geylang). The projects are:

  • 1,130 unit Keat Hong Axis located along Choa Chu Kang Avenue 1 near Hong Shopping Centre
  • 526 unit Punggol Opal bounded by Punggol Central
  • 1,009 unit Waterway Cascadia bounded by Punggol Way, Sumang Walk and My Waterway@Punggo
  • 278 unit Clementi Gateway located along Commonwealth Avenue West and near the Clementi Fire Station
  • 418 unit (114 units of Studio Apartments (SA)) Depot Heights along Depot Road
  • 492 unit Telok Blangah Ridgeview is bounded by Telok Blangah Heights and Telok Blangah Street 32
  • 338 unit (196 units of SAs) GreenTops@Sims Place located along Sims Place
Artist Impression of Waterway-Woodcress, a new BTO project released in September 2011
This is the fourth BTO launch in 2012. HDB has a goal to launch 25,000 flats this year. 95% and 85% of the BTO flat supply (excluding Studio Apartments) in mature towns and non-mature towns respectively will be set aside for first-timers.

Previously in may HDB has launched 4,627 New BTO flats in Choa Chu Kang, Punggol, Sengkang and Kallang/Whampoa. Next launch will be in September 2012 and HDB will offer 3,700 new BTO flats for sale in Ang Mo Kio, Choa Chu Kang, Kallang Whampoa, Tampines and Woodlands. During this launch, HDB will also offer 3,000 flats of Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercise. The balance flats will be from both mature and non-mature estates.

Pump, pump it up Ben, Pump it up a little more

"Get your boody on the floor tonight, make my day" - Pump up the Jam

Yesterday, Asian markets as well as Singapore stock market went up with the hope that money printers-in-chiefs Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi will step up to save the day for the corrupted, non functioning, well debted but well connected part of the world economy again. Pavlov's alpha dogs, called investors in Bloomberg, and their equally stupid trading algorithms reacted cheerfully to the stimulus "hopes". It seems like Keynesian stupidity will rule the world for a long time.

Whenever I see these investors, dancing on the floor and drunk with the printed money out of thin air, I always remember the sexy hip hop artist Ya Kid K. and her famous techno song, Pump up the jam:

"Pump it up a little more (Ben)
Get the party going on the dance floor
See 'cos that's where the party's at
And you'll find out if you're too bad"

If you know economics only as much as Paul Krugman, which pretty much means you do not know economics at all, this stimulus party may look good to you. But the only thing it stimulates is the mal investment!

The main lesson for us all: Pumping up the jam may have an ugly end.

Think about it. For the man on the street, financial institutions and banks are parasites making money from money (sometimes from clients money, frequently from tax payers money). Yes, they have became parasites thanks to stimulus packages but being a parasite is not their purpose or function. In a free market economy free from moral hazards of a money printing central bank, their purpose is to channel savings to profitable investments. But they need a mechanism to differentiate profitable investments from the unprofitable ones. And interest rate is the mechanism used to separate a profitable investment from unprofitable investment projects. If you keep it artificially near zero levels, the mechanism will stop working and savings will be channeled to first profitable and unprofitable projects and then mostly to unprofitable ones! Enter the great malinvestment period of our last few decades. By keeping the interest rates around zero, maestro (!) Greenspan caused savings to be channeled to endless stream of property projects and fuelled the great financial crisis of 2008 in USA. And to save US, Bernanke is pumping money in the world economy and creating a great bubble in the world scale.

What is at stake is more than our finances: European and American central banks are basically destroying decades of accumulated wealth, mostly created by their fathers and grandfathers, by saving the day for institutions called too big to fail (which are actually too nonfunctional to not fail). And China, who never fails to imitate West and USA, is busy with destroying 3 decades of savings by pumping them into houses which will never be occupied, trains which will never be used and bridges which will never be crossed.

So, future does not look bright. But luckily, stock markets are holding well.

Malaysia Public Holidays 2013 Calendar

If you are planning a holiday to Malaysia, you should take into account the public holidays in Malaysia. Malaysia has a huge number of public holidays and while some of these holidays are nationwide, some of them are specific to some states.

New Year's Day
January 1st 2013
The first day of the year is holiday in Malaysia like in many other countries but not in all states. In the states of Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis & Trengganu this day is not a holiday.

Prophet Muhammad's Birthday
(Maulidur Rasul)

January 24th 2013
Mawlid (Prophet Muhammad's Birthday),which occurs in Rabi' al-awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar, is celebrated in many Muslim countries and in Malaysia, this day is a nationwide holiday.

Chinese New Year
February 10th 2013
Chinese New Year is the most important traditional Chinese holiday in Chinese culture. The festival begins on the first day of the first month so its day vary year to year, going approximately a week+ earlier every year compared to the previous year.

Wesak Day

24 May 2013
Vesak is a holy day is informally called "Buddha's Birthday" but it encompasses the birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and passing away (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha. It is a religious holiday by Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and the South East Asian countries. Date of this holiday varies every year because it is celebrated according to the Chinese calendar.

Malaysian King's Birthday
Harijadi Agong
June 1st 2013
Malaysian King's Birthday is a nationwide holiday.

Hari Raya Puasa

8-9 August 2013
Eid ul-Fitr is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. The date of this holiday varies according to the Islamic calendar.

National Independence Day

Budget Singapore Hotel : Ibis Singapore Novena

The Ibis Singapore Novena hotel is the first International economy hotel in Novena, offering a total of 241 stylish designed rooms with timber floors, large bay windows and high ceiling. Facilities offered to guests include a lobby area with a 24-hour reception, a currency exchange facility, lift access, 24 hour self-service launderette (coin-operated) and complimentary wi fi internet access throughout the hotel. The hotel also has a bar. Parking facility is available for guests as well (chargeable).

The 3 star hotel is located within walking distance to Novena MRT Station and the Orchard shopping belt is two train stops away. It is also located near medical facilities (Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Medical Centers) and shopping malls such as United Square, Velocity and Square2 Malls. Travelling by car, it takes about 20 minutes to Singapore Changi Airport and Singapore Cruise Centre. Within a 10-15 minute drive from the hotel are Little India, Arab Street, Fort Canning Park and the National Museum of Singapore.

The rooms are stylish designed with timber floors, large bay windows and high ceiling. Each room includes complimentary Wi-Fi Internet access and amenities such as a 32-inch LCD TV, an in-room electronic safe, tea and coffee making facilities, a hairdryer and a direct dial telephone. Each room comes with either a queen-size bed or twin beds, as well as an attached bathroom with a standing shower.

The hotel provides complimentary Wi-Fi Internet access at hotel lobby area and guest rooms. The hotel has gym facilities as well.

The hotels appeal is its relatively budget room prices. Room prices in Ibis Singapore Novena starts from 168 SGD per night which is quite budget in Singapore standard.

Ibis Singapore Novena
Ibis Singapore Novena
The hotel has a open concept restaurant located on the ground floor, serving a variety of pastas, grills and a touch of Asian cuisine. Located on the ground floor as well, the hip, modern and funky In-House Bar is a relaxing place for guests to relax and enjoy a pre-dinner drink or simply enjoy the ambience.

According to hotels combined, Ibis Singapore Novena has a good, 7.6, review rate. Of the 413 reviews, guest give thumb up to all major aspects of the hotel: free internet, clean rooms, comfortable beds, helpful and polite staff, convenient location and economic price.

This hotel has a more popular and centrally located cousin named Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen at the city center.

What pumps the stock markets up?

Asian stock markets cheerfully rallied yesterday with the hope that super money printers-in-chiefs Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi will step in to save the day for the nonfunctioning, corrupted, well-debted but well-connected part of the economy with the expense of every functioning parts. Pavlov’s alpha dogs and their equally idiot algo-trading algorithms are cheering up whenever they see a stimulus package in the horizon. The cheer inflates every asset it can find on its way and then ends with a sure disappointment and expectations of more and more stimulus. It seems like all the world economy is taken hostage by hard core Keynesians (Keynesian economist is an economist who believes governments can create economic activity and save the humanity by "digging holes" and "filling those holes").  To just show how absurd, wrong and stupid the things are now just look at  Yanis Varoufakis’s article:
On 20th August, the Greek government will have to borrow 3.2 billion from one arm of the Eurozone (from the EFSF) in order to repay another (the ECB). Yet Greece is insolvent. The very idea of an insolvent entity borrowing more from a community, like the Eurozone, in order to repay that same community is obscene. All it does is to shift the burden from the Central Bank to the taxpayers of Germany, Holland, Austria and Finland. This is not an act of solidarity with Greece. It is an act of irresponsible kicking-the-can-up-a-steep-hill. The simple point I have been trying to drive home for a long while now is that the Eurozone must make a simple decision: Either to give Greece a proper chance of exiting its current death spiral. Or to dump Greece now, before the Greek state loses all its remaining assets and before it gets deeper into debt. And if our Eurozone partners are not prepared to make up their minds (caught up in their own short term concerns and shenanigans), then Athens must force their hand to decide within the next 23 days. How? By announcing that Greece will NOT be borrowing on 20th August monies it cannot repay under the present scheme of things.
Here is what we have written before:
If you know economics only as much as Paul Krugman, which pretty much means you do not know economics at all, stimulus news may look good to you. The only thing it will do is to stimulate mal investment to unproductive assets such as property and add up to huge public debt which is the number one reason of the lack of growth in the first place. The problem is that by keeping interest rates near zero levels. Central Banks are damaging the functioning of a financial system whose purpose is to channel savings to profitable investments. This is because interest rate is the mechanism used to separate a profitable investment from unprofitable investment projects. Here in Asia, where there is a huge lack of innovative investment projects, savings already tend to overflow to property. And with zero interest rates, they are flowing fast to properties. Although this means great gains for early private property buyers, for Asian economy, this amounts to a huge over investment to a relatively unproductive asset and is damaging for the economy.
Source : Singapore private property prices up again from Q2 2012
By creating money out of thin air and inflating the assets all we stand on, ECB and FED are making sure that we crash down from higher and higher altitudes and end up badly. This stupidity will end badly. I hope I am wrong.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bak kut teh

Bak kut teh (literally 'meat bone tea') is one of the most famous dish of Singapore and Chinese regions with sizable Teochew community. It is a Chinese soup of meaty pork ribs simmered in a complex broth of herbs and spices. I like it a lot but since it is a quite heavy dish to eat, I do not eat it frequently. Actually it has been a whiles since I have eaten Bak kut teh. Last week, one of my wife's friend came to Singapore and she wanted to try Bak kut teh. For me, a Bak kut teh stall in a hawker center near my house is the best but she wanted something famous so I planned to take her to Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House at Rangoon Road. She could not make it to there with us but later she went there with her husband and next day they wanted more of it. So since it was near, I have taken them to their stall in Marina Bay Sands food court. The food in Marina Bay Sands food court is usually quite bad and expensive but the bak kut teh here in Ng Ah Sio stall was quite delicious and expensive.

They say the dish is originated from the Chinese coolies and workers of Hokkien origin. These men who took the long way to Singapore for a better life were terribly paid so they could not effort to buy and eat meat. So  they have come out with this soup which was to strengthen them with meat soup and many herbs and quickly became popular. Teochew community originated version of this soup is different from Hokkien version. And if you believe Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House, bak kut teh actually was first cooked by Teochew coolies in Singapore:
As one of the pioneers of this now-famous dish, Mr Ng Siak Mai’s father – Mr Ng Mui Song, began plying the pork based, peppery herbal soup cooked in a distinct Teochew style in the 1950s at the current River Valley and Hill Street vicinity. These early servings of the Bak Kut The was accompanied by Chinese doughnuts (You Tiao) and a strong brew of Chinese tea. There was no chilli and soya sauce dips. 
One of the common beliefs of the origins of Bak Kut The is rooted in the early days of Republic’s founding where large numbers of young men migrated from China to work as coolies at the godowns by the historic Singapore River. As their jobs involved much physical hardship and their meagre salaries could ill afford the luxury of meat then,  they used the bones of pork to brew their soups as a form of nourishment. It is said that the Teochew labourers came up with the original version of Bak KutTeh and their legendary stamina and strength after taking it soon led the other groups of Chinese coolies making the same with vanation in the types of herbs added.
Anyway, we had a chance to go to Rangoon Road to eat the dish. Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House is one of the best places to try Bak Kut Teh. Their secret recipe for the spicy herbal soup is very delicious and quite different than the other shops. The place is quite accessible, walking distance away from Farrer Park MRT Station. The shop is at the end of the road. Ng Ah Sio is in this business for quite a long time. Mr Ng Siak Mai took over the shop from his father upon his retirement and served food in New World Amusement Park until 1988. Since then the shop is at this location at Rangoon Road. Other than this road, they have a shop in Marina Bay Sands food court and at Tanjong Katong Road (since April 2012).

The shop at Rangoon Road is quite in the middle of nowhere but since the shop is famous and the dishes are delicious, they have plenty of customers and it is usually crowded here in the morning and evening. They are open from 7 am to 10 pm except Mondays.

Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House
We have ordered one signaturespare ribs soup (S$8), braised pig trotter (my favorite - S$8) and blanched xiao bai cai (the veggie dish below, S$4) and rice. My wife likes to drink the soup so I usually end up eating most of the meat. For this reason only one bak kut teh dish is enough for us. They renew the soup for free when it finishes but you need to ask for it. 

Bak Kut Teh (the plate with the spoon)
Below map shows the location of the shop in google maps:

View Larger Map

Budget hotel in Singapore: Perak Hotel

Although there is nothing like cheap accommodation in Singapore and especially hotels at Singapore are very expensive, there are some relatively budget hotels in Singapore. And no, if you are looking for a cheap singapore hotel in Singapore, Hotel 81s or hotels far away from city center are not your only option. There are plenty of budget hotels in Singapore located centrally. One of them is Perak Hotel, located centrally in Little India.

Perak Hotel was formerly known as Perak Lodge. The hotel was voted amongst the top 50 Best Budget Hotels in the world conducted by The Independent, a UK-based newspaper in May 2001. This budget hotel occupies a beautifully restored building, 5-10 minutes walk away from Bugis MRT Station and Little India MRT Station. The location is very near to Arab Street, Bugis Junction Shopping Mall, Sim Lim Square, Little India, Mustafa Center and National Library.

The hotel has 35 air conditioned rooms which come in 4 types: Standard Room (Single/Double), Superior Room (Queen/Twin), Deluxe Room (Single/Double) and Standard Triple Room (3 Single Beds). The Standard Rooms are priced 128++ SGD per night while Superior Rooms, which come with windows, are priced 158++ SGD per night. Both Deluxe Room (Single/Double) and Standard Triple Room (3 Single Beds) prices start from 188++ SGD per night. But in Singapore, the hotels are usually priced higher at the counter so if you book room online, you can get better deals.

Cheap Hotel in Singapore
Perak Hotel
Perak Hotel provides free wireless high-speed internet and its onsite restaurant serves free breakfast with coffee and tea from 7am and 10:30am. There is a supermarket in the shopping center named The Verge for you to buy necessities and since the location is Little India, there are plenty of Indian food around.

Other cheap and clean Singapore hotels located centrally
Victoria Hotel Singapore  Ibis Bencoleen Singapore
Victoria Hotel offers a central and budgetaccomodation in SingaporeShoebox of a room but very cleanaccomodation in Singaporea central below 200 SGDper night hotel

Location of Perak Hotel

View Larger Map

Cheap Singapore Hotels - Hotel 81 Dickson

If you are looking for a safe, clean and a cheap hotel in Singapore, you do not have so many options. Yes, safe and clean is abundant in Singapore but a cheap, budget Singapore hotel with these features are not easy to come by. Especially in the city center. Yet you still have some alternatives. We have written about  Victoria Hotel. Not so far away from this hotel, on  3 Dickson Road, Singapore there is a Hotel 81 named Hotel 81 Dickson which also provides a very high value-to-price ratio and it has the location, location and location!

Hotel 81 Dickson is the newest addition to Singapore's well-know Hotel 81 chain. Although most less than 100 Singapore Dollars per night hotels either far from the city, or very uncomfortable or they are in the red light district of Singapore, Hotel 81 Dickson is in the middle of the Singapore city. It is 5 to 10 minutes walking distance from Bugis MRT Station and Little India MRT Station.  You can easily  take the MRT from  Singapore Changi Airport as the Bugis MRT Station is on the same line.  

Hotel 81 Dickson is the perfect option for exploring Singapore on a tight budget. Electronic shopping heaven Sim Lim Square, Singapore National Library, Shaw Towers, Suntec City and Raffles City are not very far away. There's a supermarket near the hotel named The Verge where you can buy snacks, refreshments, toiletries, etc. Tekka Mall hawker center (Tekka Mall) is nearby where you can eat food at a cheaper price.

Hotel 81 Diskson - Source : The Best in Singapore
Hotel 81 Dickson is considered one of the best hotels of Hotel 81 chain in Singapore. The room prices are usually below 100 SGD and as low as 85 Singapore Dollars per night. The hotel offers 5 types of rooms: Twin Room, Triple Room, Superior Room, Standard Room, and Family Room. All of these rooms are clean and reasonably priced but as with all good small budget hotels in Singapore, they are quite small. Please note that some rooms will not have windows so if you really want windows, you should book Superior Room.

While you are staying in the  Hotel 81 Dickson , do not miss the opportunity to visit Wing Seong Fatty's (Albert) Restaurant which is just behind Sim Lim Square. This Asian Chinese restaurant is a very good place to try Asian food and they cook cereal prawns and fried fish slices quite well. And also do not miss Mustafa Center, where you can find anything you want but it also worths to visit as an exotic tourist attraction.

Other cheap and clean Singapore hotels located centrally
Victoria Hotel offers
a central and budget
accomodation in Singapore
Shoebox of a room but very clean
accomodation in Singapore
a central below 200 SGD
per night hotel

HDB Rental Prices jumped in Q2 2012

After breathing briefly in Q1 2012, HDB rent prices continued to increase in the second quarter of 2012. Renting a 4-room HDB flat now costs 2,374 Singapore Dollars per month, a 6% jump from 2,238 SGD per month of Q1 2012. There was also a dramatic jump for 3 room flats from 1,841 SGD per month of Q1 2012 to 1,966 SGD per month of Q2 2012 (almost a 7% jump).  Year on year change in the rental prices for HDB flats was 13% for 3-room flats and 12% for 4 room flats.

These numbers are from HDB's Median Subletting Rents by Town and Flat Type web service from where you can follow actual transaction prices for HDB flats. As of second quarter of 2012, the cheapest 5 towns to rent a 3-room HDB flat were:
1 - Woodlands  - $1,700 SGD per month
2 - Jurong East  - $1,800 SGD per month
3 - Jurong West - $1,800 SGD per month
4 - Bukit Panjang - $1,800 SGD per month
5 - Hougang - $1,800 SGD per month

As of second quarter of 2012, the cheapest 5 towns to rent a 4-room HDB flat were:

1 - Bukit Panjang - $2000 per month
2 - Sembawang - $2050 per month
3 - Woodlands - $2050 per month
4 - Yishun - $2190 per month
5 - Geylang - $2200 per month

Some towns are playing to the $3,000 per month level. The most expensive town to rent a 4 room HDB in Singapore is Queenstown now with $2,950 per month, a jump from $2,600 per month. Bukit Merah ($2,800 per month), Central ($2,800 per month), Clementi ($2,550 per month) and Bishan ($2,550 per month) are the most expensive places now to rent a 4 room HDB flat.

Median HDB rental by unit type per quarter - Source : HDB
   As you can see from the graph here, HDB rents became more and more expensive since 2007. Just 5 years ago, average rental price for a 4 room flat was below 1,500 SGD. Today even 2,000 SGD per month will not be enough for a super old HDB in a vertical slum. 

Singapore condo rents inched up Q2 2012

Median rental price to pay per square feet of a condominium inched up from S$3.73 per month in Q1 2012 to S$3.74 per month in Q2 2012. This was after a slight fall from S$3.74 per month of last quarter of 2012. These numbers below are compiled from Urban Redevelopment Authority's Rentals for Private Residential Developments web service.

The graph below plots the median, 75 percentile and 25 percentile rental prices per sqft per month over quarters. As you can see from the chart, the rents were in a continuous up trend between 2009 and last quarter of 2011 but since then they are flat. This may be because of an increase in the supply of rental condominium flats which are hitting the market in large numbers and decrease in the demand due to shrinking expatriate packages and slow down in hiring due to global economic conditions. Rental demand for condominiums largely come from relatively high paid expatriates since most Singaporeans own their own flats and most foreigners cannot afford to live in expensive private properties (although many still create a demand by renting rooms in condominiums).

Popular expatriate locations and one of the most expensive districts to rent a condo in Singapore are District 9 (Orchard, Cairnhill and River Valley), 10 (Ardmore, Bukit Timah, Holland Road and Tanglin) and 11 (Watten Estate, Novena and Thomson). Although district 9 shows a decline for the first time since Q1 2011, the rental prices in district 10 went up a little.  

District 4 (Telok Blangah and Harbourfront) rentals show a little recovery after sharp fall in Q1 2012. As we have written in our article named With foreign talent leaving asking rental prices are falling, the asking prices in this district fell sharply in Q1 2012 and the actual transaction price data also points to a 10% decline in a single quarter.

The rental prices in the East changed as below:

  • District 14 (Geylang and Eunos) - down from $S3.28 per sqft per month to S$3.2  per sqft per month, 
  • District 15 (Katong, Joo Chiat and Amber Road) - down from $S3.43 per sqft per month to S$3.31 per sqft per month, 
  • District 16 (Bedok, Upper East Coast, Eastwood and Kew Drive) - down from $S3.14 per sqft per month to S$3.11 per sqft per month, 
  • District 17 (Loyang and Changi) - up from $S2.58 per sqft per month to S$2.61 per sqft per month,
  • and District 18 (Tampines and Pasir Ris) - up from  $S2.98 per sqft per month to S$3.00 per sqft per month.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Budget Singapore Hotel : Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen

If you are looking for a budget Singapore hotel with an excellent location and very good facilities and service,
Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen is just for you. As you may have known Ibis is the worldwide economy hotel brand of the Accor group and this 3 star Singapore hotel is one of the best options for leisure and business travelers who want to stay in a convenient and central location but do not want to pay ultra high prices to a hotel room. This budget hotel is close to some of the most popular destinations in the city. It is only a short distance from Little India, Bugis Street, and the many shops and eateries on Orchard Road. The hotel is very near to Central Business District and Suntec City and is just walking distance away from Bras Basah MRT station and Dhoby Ghaut MRT Interchange which allows access to 3 major train lines in Singapore.

According to hotels combined, Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen has very good, 8.1, review rate. Of the 4392 reviews, guest give thumb up to all major aspects of the hotel: fast internet speed, modern building, comfotable beds, clean rooms, a great selection and atmosphere in the bar and very good access to shopping options.

The hotel is also relatively cheap to stay and can be considered as a budget hotel in Singapore's standards. Just this week, one of my friends stayed in there (she likes her privacy and do not stay with us :)) for 178 SGD per night. This is below 200 SGD per night and is quite budget compared to its central location and relatively attractive facilities.

The hotel has recently won TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2012:
Located in the heart of Singapore's central business district, ibis Singapore on Bencoolen is known for its excellent service at economical rates. The award-winning hotel is the hotel of choice for shoppers, business and leisure travellers alike, due to its proximity to shops, offices and attractions at Bugis, City Hall, Little India and Orchard Road. With contemporary furnishings, Wi-Fi internet access, easy accessibility to major shopping malls and a reputation for enviable levels of customer service, ibis Singapore Bencoolen has carved a name for itself as a great value for money hotel, a fact reinforced yet again with the most recent award from TripAdvisor.
Source : Ibis Singapore Bencoolen wins TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2012

Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen
Modern amenities are available in all of the 538 rooms at the Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen. Guests will find that the rooms have phones, coffeemakers, wireless Internet access, TV, and en suite bathrooms. All of the rooms have air conditioning as well. 
Guests can dine at the onsite restaurant serving local fare and Asian tapas. The Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen also has an onsite bar where guests can get together and unwind. Internet access is available throughout the property. Laundry service is available, and those who arrive by car will find parking.

Some other central budget hotels nearby

Victoria Hotel Singapore YMCA International House Singapore Fort Canning Lodge

Second hand (resale) HDB flat prices are up in Q2 2012

Just as URA announced the price statistics of private properties, Housing Development Board (HDB) has released The 2nd Quarter 2012 Public Housing Data yesterday which shows a HDB’s Resale Price Index (RPI) increase from 191.6 in 1st Quarter 2012 to 194.0 in the 2nd Quarter 2012. Although this is less than the speed of price increase in Q2 2011 (which was 3.1%), an increase of 1.3% over the previous quarter is twice the speed of 0.6% of Q1 2012 q-o-q increase!

Resale HDB flat transactions increased by about 19% from 5,900 cases in 1st Quarter 2012 to 7,000 cases in 2nd Quarter 2012:
"More buyers are flocking to the resale flat market, with 7,000 units sold in the second quarter of this year as prices rose to a record high, while the Cash-Over-Valuation (COVs) demanded by sellers continued to ease."
Said ERA Key Executive Officer Eugene Lim: “With COVs hovering around S$25,000, many home buyers choose a resale flat instead of going for BTOs (BuildTo-Order) that come with a three-year wait.”
Source : Demand for resale flats up

HDB Resale flat price index 2012
HDB Resale flat price index 2012
Singaporeans whose household income is more than 10,000 SGD cannot directly buy from HDB and need to go to resale market to buy a public housing flat. This demand is combined with the increased number of Singapore PRs who can only buy from resale market and private property downgraders who are cashing out their private property. Supply situation is also not helping, HDB has underbuilt public flats in 2000s and although the speed is up from 8,000 units per year to 25,000 units per year, these flats has 7+ years to hit the market (2-3 years to be completed and 5 years of minimum occupancy).

Ultra high rental cost is one of the main reasons people are rushing out to buy resale flats although the prices are so high. A good HDB flats costs around 2,200+ SGD per month now which translates into 26,000 SGD per year bleeding from your pocket per year. This lets people to rush to ownership of the flat instead of renting them.

On the other hand HDB flat owners seem to rush to benefit from the rental rates. The number of HDB flats approved for subletting also grew by about 3 per cent to just under 7,000 units. Median rentals for four-room flats are between S$2,000 and S$2,900.
Mr Lim said: “One thing for sure, expatriates’ pay packages are now a lot less than they were in the past. So a lot of them are now looking for rentals below S$3,000.” 
But this threshold will remain for HDB rentals, PropNex CEO Mohamed Ismail said. “The minute it goes beyond S$3,000, people have got alternatives, which is the private property, that comes with facilities, gym, swimming pool. Why do I pay S$3,500 for a HDB? Makes no sense,” he said.Source : Demand for resale flats up

Private property prices rise to all time high in Q2 2012

The great pain of accommodation prices, both for buying and renting, will be with us sometime more as they are still rising on the back of damaging ultra low interest rates. Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has released 2nd Quarter 2012 Real Estate Statistics yesterday and confirmed its recent flash estimates : Prices of private residential properties increased by 0.4% in 2nd Quarter 2012, compared to the 0.1% decrease in the previous quarter.

Although overall non-landed private property prices have gone up 0.5% during the 2nd Quarter 2012 compared to the previous one, the composition of the price change is interesting: New uncompleted home prices fell 0.9%, but this was offset by 2.3% increase in the completed property sales. It looks like people are resisting to high prices of developer sales and turning to the resale market.

ERA Key Executive Officer Eugene Lim said: “The decrease in new home sales was matched by an increase in the resale market transactions. As new home sale prices have been rising, buyers are turning to the resale market for bargain hunting.” A total of 3,487 units were transacted in the resale market, accounting for 37 per cent of all sales in the second quarter, up from 2,206 units in the first quarter that accounted for 24 per cent of total volume.  
Meanwhile, 5,402 private homes were sold by developers, down from 6,526 units.Mr Lim said that the trend was more apparent in the Core Central Region (CCR), where some of the resale prices were comparable to topend new home prices in the Outside Central Region (OCR). Source : Private home prices reach all-time high
What a bargain it is ?!? As you can see from the chart below, the new peak has dwarfed both 1997 and 2008 peaks. And as the central banks around the world are keen to print money to save the day, this may be just the beginning for another price inflation. 

Singapore Property Price Trends 2012
Singapore Property Price Index - Source : URA

Uncompleted private residential property supply in the pipeline increased from 78,572 units in 1st Quarter 2012 to a total supply of 83,251. This pipeline supply of 83,251 units was the highest ever recorded since such data were first available in 1999.

Rental prices for private property also rises. Rentals of private residential properties increased by 0.3% in 2nd Quarter 2012, the same rate of increase as in the previous quarter.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thailand's famous jet-ski scam goes on

"Early on Saturday Morning two Iranian Men reported threats made by Jet Ski Operators following financial negotiations after they damaged the hired Jet Skis. 
Mr. Alireza Tajikkhaveh aged 24 and Mr. Omidreza Jahangard aged 30 presented themselves to Pattaya Police Station and confirmed they had hired two Jet Ski’s on Pattaya Beach in front of Mike Shopping Mall and admit to damaging both Jet Ski’s following a minor collision." - November 24, 2012 - Iranians file complaint of threats made by Pattaya Jet Ski Operators
One of the most famous and shameful scams running in Thailand for years is the infamous jet-ski scamsUnscrupulous jet-ski operators around the tourist destinations in Thailand are ripping off many tourists without many major disruption to their businesses. 

Although it looks like a small thug operation, Thailand jet-ski scam is a well organized and extremely lucrative business, and it is a big mafia operation that goes way up beyond the scammer thugs on the beach. According to here, it's been reported up to 100 Thai's are involved in the Jet Ski scam on Pattaya Beach Road alone. So since it seems like everyone in the jet-ski business is involved in these scams so the best way to avoid it is to not rent a jet ski in Thailand.

Meanwhile, clueless tourists are falling into this scam every day and Thailands jet-ski scams continues to embarrass Thailand on an international level. The topic is covered many times, filmed several times and several countries have issued official Government Travel Warnings on this, including the USA, Canada, Australia, and Ireland. In February, Larry Cunningham, Australia's Honorary Consul to Phuket, appealed to Phuket's government to stop jet-ski operators who hire thugs and demand compensation for equipment damage renters did not cause. Below is from USA Embassy:

"Rental Vehicle Scams: You should be aware of a common scam that involves the rental of motorbikes, jet skis, and sometimes cars. Many rental companies require your passport as a deposit. If there is damage to the rental vehicle, the company often holds the passport until you pay for the damage. We have received many reports of renters having been charged exorbitant amounts for damage to jet skis or motorbikes, even in instances where the renter had caused no visible damage. A variation of this scam occurs when the motorbike is “stolen,” and the rental agency demands that you pay two or three times the price of the motorbike to replace it. For this reason, you should be cautious about rental arrangements and not use your passport as a deposit or collateral. You should be certain to examine the vehicle and note any pre-existing damage before operating the vehicle. If you purchase insurance from the rental shop, be sure you know what the insurance policy covers, and get a receipt showing you paid for insurance."Source : Thailand Country Specific Information

It seems like Thailand government tries to look like doing something and according to the Pattaya Times (this scam is usually called Pattaya Jet-Ski scam since most of the victims fall into the trap in Pattaya)  Thailand government wows to end jet-ski scams:

"Senior police officers from the entire Eastern Region were brought together for a meeting with the government’s strong-willed Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) for Police Affairs, Chalerm Yubamrung, who demanded action to end the prevalence of security issues that mar the image of Pattaya’s tourism and entertainment businesses.

The meeting took place at the Nong Nooch Tropical Garden. The police assembly coincided with the Prime Minister’s mobile cabinet meeting held at the Royal Cliff Beach Hotels, which addressed a number of critical plans and their implementation for Chonburi province and the Eastern region.

DPM Chalerm stated that the jet-ski scams have been a source of continuing international embarrassment to the resort city for years. He demanded a plan for resolution of this pattern of bad behavior, and wanted definitive action taken as soon as possible."

The scam is run in Pattaya like below:

"Along the Beach Road in Pattaya, often between Soi 10 and Soi 13/4 (entrance to Walking Street), Thai Jet Ski touts will approach the tourist. Most likely time to witness the scam unfolding would be between 5pm - 5:30pm as it is getting dark. Particularly outside Mike Shopping Mall, Royal Garden Plaza, and Soi 13/2 to Soi 13/4. The tourist is required to sign a contract with the Jet Ski operators before they board the Jet Ski and have their fun. Cost is around 700 baht ($20) for thirty minutes. When the tourist returns to the beach the Thai Jet Ski operator will board the Jet Ski and bring it up on to the beach. Here is where the scam starts, as they (theatrically and dramatically) point out the damage and demand that the tourist pay for it, typically ranging anywhere from 30,000 baht ($950) to 70,000 baht ($2,200), but it can be 100,000 baht ($3,180) and up. Of course this damage (deep scrapes on the underside of the Jet Ski, scratches to the paintwork, or a broken plastic bumper) has been there all the time. Often, if not most times, it is a group of tourists that are scammed. More people, more money."
Source : Thailand Jet Ski Scam and Extortion

Still, the only way to not fall into this very costly scam is to avoid renting jet-ski in Thailand. Actually, it is wise to avoid renting any vehicle in Thailand such as motorbike and car. Although the jet-ski scam has been around for years, number of violent threats against tourists who dispute the fee has been increased and some locals are warning that it is only a matter of time before someone is killed.

[1] - Knives pulled on tourists in jet ski scam

Singapore property prices may fall 10 - 15 % says UBS

Residential property prices in Singapore has been in a bull run since 2009 and it seems nothing can bring down the prices which are fuelled by bubble generating printed money as well as a supply shortage inherited from the previous decade. But today, UBS released a new report which predicts a 10 to 15 percent fall in the Singapore property prices in the next 1 year. Although this prediction is less pessimistic than the 30 per cent price fall predictions of December 2011, it is still pessimistic compared to many reports which predict marginal price changes in the same period.

Current prices are supported by low interest rates, which temporarily make 1 million dollar condominium units “affordable” and a property undersupply of the period between 2000 and 2010. Although the new property releases both in public and private property sectors has significantly increased in the past few years, most of these units are not completed yet.

But there are dark clouds on the horizon which can, in the worst case scenario, make this prediction an optimistic one. The most important one is the Eurozone crisis. Although European leaders display a stellar performance on kicking the can down the road for many years, inevitable end to the ridiculous European 
Debt Crisis solution cycle may come soon. And this end, is the main risk facing Singapore's economy and financial system now, MAS said today, warning Singapore to brace for "a more adverse turn of events":

Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said any sharp deterioration in the eurozone, the city-state's biggest export market, could hurt economic growth and lead to a drying up of bank credit.

"The key risk facing the Singapore economy and financial system is the ongoing crisis in the eurozone," Menon said at a news conference."While eurozone governments have taken important steps to deal with the crisis, we must be prepared for a more adverse turn of events."

Turmoil in the eurozone continued to cast a shadow across global financial markets Wednesday after Spanish borrowing prices hit a new historic high amid fears that Madrid will soon need a full-blown bailout.
Singapore could see a drying up of bank credit similar to the aftermath of the collapse of US bank Lehman Brothers in 2008 that hammered global markets, Menon said.

Source : Eurozone crisis is main risk for Singapore: central bank

Currently supply of homes is still tight and although UBS acknowledges this, they expect a huge supply hitting the market from next year onwards. And according to UBS, this oversupply will not be fully absorbed by backlog of demand:

“UBS expects 140,000 to 150,000 homes to be completed from this year to 2015, higher than its estimated cumulative supply shortfall of 90,000 units built from 2000 to 2011.”
Source : Singapore home prices may fall 10%-15%: UBS

These with the estimated slowdown in the population growth thanks to tighter immigration policies turned UBS sour on the Singapore property market’s prospects, leading to 10-15% correction in the prices.

Another problem is the growth rate of the Singapore’s economy. After inflating in 2010 and in 2011 with cheap credit flow from China and West, Singapore growth may fall below 1% this year:

Singapore's growth may fall below 1 percent should the U.S. and Chinese economies slump and the European crisis worsen significantly, the central bank said as it bolstered reserves to counter market turmoil.
The island's current gross domestic product growth forecast of 1 percent to 3 percent is based on assumptions that there is no recession in the U.S., no significant escalation of the euro zone crisis and no hard landing in China, Monetary Authority of Singapore Managing Director Ravi Menon said today.

"If one or more of these assumptions do not pan out, Singapore's GDP growth could dip below 1 percent this year," Menon said in a briefing in the city state as the central bank released its annual report. "Growth momentum is clearly slowing."
Source : Singapore Says Growth May Fall Below 1%; MAS Boosts Reserves

But there is a probability holding the markets from falling more: USA can response to all these economic turmoil by a third round of financial suicide, called Quantitative Easing III (QE3), and China may follow it by another round of huge destruction of its 2 decades old savings and pump printed money to inflate Singapore property more.

But some are more optimistic than UBS.  “My opinion is UBS is so macro and they don’t have a strong feel of the market. A 10 to 15 per cent drop is a huge correction. We have not seen such things happening despite the cooling measures introduced in December last year,” said Mohamed Ismail Gafoor, CEO of PropNex Realty.[1]

[1] - Singapore home prices may fall 10%-15%: UBS

Jetstar will fly direct budget long haul between Singapore and Osaka

Starting from November 1 2012, Australian low-cost airline Jetstar will fly Darwin (Australia) - Singapore -Osaka (Japan) route. The existing route is currently only Darwin - Singapore and Osaka will be added to extend the route to Japan and by this new service, there will be a budget direct flight between Singapore and Osaka. This will be the forth long haul destination of Jetstar from Singapore. The airline currently flies to Beijing (China), Melbourne (Australia) and Auckland (New Zeland) from Singapore.

 The Darwin - Singapore - Osaka route will be served three times a week and the service frequency will be increased to to four times per week from 17th December 2012. The long haul budget flights of Jetstar are serviced usually serviced by Airbus 330 aircraft with economy and business class options. For this route, shorter Darwin-Singapore leg will be operated by Airbus A321 and the long haul Singapore-Osaka leg will be operated by an A330 with both economy and business classes.

Jetstar Group chief executive officer, Jayne Hrdlicka, said, 'This new service means Darwin will be connected to Osaka as well as Tokyo, and by extension, to three other major Japanese cities via Jetstar Japan's domestic network.'
With this new service, the Jetstar Group will operate up to 31 international services per week to Osaka including long haul services from Cairns and the Gold Coast in Australia with Jetstar Airways and short haul international services from Singapore via Taipei and Manila with Jetstar Asia. Jetstar Airways also operates a service from Melbourne to Singapore, which can then connect to the Osaka flight.

The EOS M: Canon's first mirrorless compact camera

Canon, Japanese camera and optical products maker, has announced its first compact mirrorless camera, The EOS M. The EOS M will come with a 18.1-megapixel image sensor, the DIGIC 5 imaging processor similar to other Canon DSLR cameras. The compact 108.6mm x 66.5mm x 32.3mm camera weighs 265g and is equipped with a 3-inch touchscreen panel.

Some of you may ask what is mirrorless camera? Unlike a compact digital camera, a mirrorless interchangeable-lens digital camera (MILC) is equipped with an interchangeable lens mount and unlike a digital single-lens reflex camera, a MILC does not have a mirror-based optical viewfinder. This enables manufacturers to keep the camera body smaller and lighter.[1]

In Japan, where consumers tend to value easily portable products, mirrorless cameras account for around a third of all interchangeable lens models. In the United States, their market share is closer to a tenth.
Canon’s move will ratchet up competition with Nikon, its main rival for hefty single-lens reflex cameras used by professional photographers and enthusiasts.[1]
The Canon EOS M
The Canon EOS M - Source : mashable.com
The first mirrorless camera in the market was Panasonic’s DMC-G1 in 2008. The Nikon 1 system introduced last September left Canon as the last holdout, a lag it attributes to the additional time spent on development.

Singapore pricing for The EOS M has not been announced yet. The camera will be sold for around US$800
(Singapore $1,010) with the 22mm pancake lens in USA. The EOS M will be available in Singapore in 
early October 2012. A zoom and pancake EF-M lens will be launched together with The EOS M. Plus, an EF-EOS M mount adapter makes the camera compatible with Canon’s EF and EF-S lenses, 
including all their autofocus functions.[2]

[1] - Canon to enter mirrorless camera market
[2] - Canon goes mirrorless

50 years home loan in Singapore

One more sign of housing bubble in Singapore has came last week, United Overseas Bank (UOB) has introduced a 50 year home loan in Singapore (half a century!) which allows the home owner to stretch his home mortgage to 50 years!

UOB introduced this longer loan duration as more customers have been requesting for such loans. 
However, these loans come with conditions. 'This type of loan is applicable to private residential and HDB loans only,' said Ms Chia Siew Cheng, UOB's head of secured loans and personal financial services. As well, borrowers above a certain age are not eligible, but UOB declined to say what the cut-off age is. 
And if the property is leasehold, it needs to have at least 35 years left on the lease at the end of the 50-year loan. 
Ms Chia noted that the loan has its pros and cons. Having a longer term 'will result in a smaller monthly loan instalment and will be easier on monthly cashflows. However a longer repayment period also means that more interest will be payable'. 
Financial adviser Damian Pang warned that by taking on such a long-term loan, the homeowner will be servicing the loan long into his retirement years.
Source :  Home loan repayment can now stretch to 50 years

Although 50 years home loans may help to feel many that they can afford to buy a 1 million SGD+ (mass market!) condominium unit, as they will be able to pay the installments now, it means the borrower will pay the loan well into his retirement (and probably his kids will continue to pay after he dies) and at the end he pays a huge amount of what should be his retirement saving as interest to the bank.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan criticized the 50-year housing loan as a “gimmick”, and urged prospective home buyers not to fall for it:

"Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a community event, Mr Khaw called on home hunters to spend
within their means. “My message has always been prudence ... There is now some gimmick, a bank offering 50-year loans. Please don’t fall for that, it doesn’t make sense,” he said."
Source : 50-year loan a gimmick: Khaw

Currently, a 50 year mortgage with 1.7 percent interest rate on 1 million SGD property translates into $2,475 per month mortgage payment, which can easily be covered by the rent of that unit. Same loan would translate into $3,578 per month for a more common 30 years home loan. But when the interest rates goes up to just 3 per cent, less than historical average, monthly payments goes up to 3.220 SGD per month.

The plain truth is this: If you cannot afford a house with 30 years of loan, you cannot afford it. Even if you can afford a house with 30 year loan with current interest rate but you cannot do this with historic interest rate average + 2-3 points, you can also not afford that house.

Remember, 50 Year Mortgage were introduced in California in 2006, just before the great housing bubble in USA were about to explode:
"In the United States, 40-year mortgages were offered during the housing bubble of the early 2000s, as house prices climbed dramatically. There has been talk of creating 50- and 100-year mortgages in the future, and these options are occasionally available today in the form of seller-financed loans." 
Source : What Is the Longest Mortgage?
These loans just signal that people are demanding to buy properties which are extremely unaffordable for them. Some would remember the 100 years home loans introduced in Japan before great Japanese property bubble has exploded taking all the national economy down with it. Below article is from 1990s, from heights of Japanese housing bubble which was about to burst:
"The Japanese, famous for saving, are now loading their future generations with debt. Nippon Mortgage and Japan Housing Loan, two big home lenders, are offering 99- and 100-year multigeneration loans with interest rates from 8.9% to 9.9%. Borrowers put up their homes as collateral. Such deals represent sound fiscal planning for some families, especially the very wealthy living in Tokyo who, perversely, can almost not afford to inherit a house: Japan's graduated inheritance tax can take up to 70% of a family's assets, including its home. Under the 100-year loan plan, a second generation can move into a deceased parent's home and pay inheritance taxes on only a fraction of the house's value. Most Japanese, of course, don't have such problems. Their challenge is to find a house they can afford, especially if they want to live in Tokyo. The housing crunch there inspired Robinsons on the Sand, a 1989 hit movie that's now No. 8 on Japan's VCR rental list. It tells the story of a salaryman and his family, who are willing to do anything to escape the misery of their tiny rented apartment. The ''anything'' turns out to be living on constant display as a ''model family'' in a spacious model home while potential buyers tramp through. Jealous neighbors bully the children and make obscene phone calls. Before long, one of the two sons turns delinquent, the daughter is killing kittens, and the father ends up homeless in the street. Mom and the kids finally return to their old apartment, where they watch TV in the closet in blessed privacy. So much for that particular family's Japanese dream."

As you can remember from the ridiculous Bloomberg article Singapore Homes Most Affordable As Rents Climb by Pooja Thakur and Sanat Vallikappen, many think a property is affordable if you can cover its monthly payments now, in the age of artificially low interest rates. We have repeatedly seen what happens to that so-called affordability once the interest rates go up. As a commentator wrote:
"There is no mention of the huge risk leveraged buyers face when interest rates eventually normalize. As well, there is no mention of any down payment required in order to achieve the monthly mortgage payment that apparently beats the rental payment. 
Be that as it may, the best days of Singapore property are in the past, as Singapore property is already in late stages of a bubble. Sadly, many inexperienced local "investors" will lose their life savings once the bubble bursts. Articles like this only help to drive fools into the abyss."
Source : Singapore Homes Most Affordable As Rents Climb
How will Singapore home buyers react to these new loans? Although UOB  says more customers have been requesting for 50 years loan, average loan period for Singapore is around 30 years:
At mortgage consulting firm HousingLoanSG.com, about 70 per cent of its clients opt for 25- to 30-year loans, with 15 per cent going for 30 to 35 years, and the rest choosing less than 25 years. Longer tenor loans are more suitable for investors as “the less capital they put into the property, the higher their return”, said the site’s founder Dennis Ng.Source : Home buyers ‘still prefer shorter-term loans’

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Marina Mandarin Hotel Singapore

Our friends with their kids arrived to Singapore this week and they wanted to stay in hotel here (privacy is king). They originally wanted to stay in Marina Bay Sands Hotel but the wife confused the name of hotels and they have ended up staying in Marina Mandarin Hotel.

Marina Mandarin Hotel is a large (575 room), 5-Star hotel at Marina Square. It is integrated to Marina Square Shopping Mall. The rooms overlook Marina Bay and have a very good view of Marina Bay Sands and some parts of central business district.

The hotel building is quite interesting, it is a atrium composed of one vertical facade and two sloped facades. So there is a huge, empty space in the building which is lighted by a large glass roof and houses restaurant facilities of the hotel. This is not the first time I have been to this hotel, one of my friends from Australia regularly visits Singapore for visits and sometimes he stays here. Actually Marina Square area is full of these high end hotels for business and leisure travelers. It is because; the place is very near to cities central business district (CDB). It is also near-by one of Singapore’s casinos, Marina Bay Sands, and with a short MRT ride, you can arrive anywhere conveniently.

Marina Mandarin Hotel
View from a room in Marina Bay Hotel Singapore. Marina Bay Sands casino complex, Gardens By The Bay can be seen from here. 
Although the price for the hotel room is normal for Singapore, 350 SGD per night is a little expensive. But these guys were even willing to pay 500+ SGD for Marina Bay Sands so the price did not hurt them.

For Singaporeans and Singapore’s residents, the hotel has weekend staycation promotions. One of them is named Weekend Retreat from $298++ per night in Executive Deluxe Room. This 1 night stay here comes with Complimentary buffet breakfast for 2 at AquaMarine, 20% off F&B dining credit for all outlets inclusive of Room Service (excluding Ruth's Chris Steak House), complimentary 24 hours internet access and 1 complimentary self-car parking per room per stay (subject to availability). The other is named Meritus In Style At Marina Mandarin Singapore and Daily Breakfast for Two, Two Hours of Internet Per Day and S$30 Food and Beverage Credit Per Day.

See also
Marina Bay Sands Hotel Review