Real Estate

Singapore property market shows superficial signs of recovery but problems run deeper

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Don't believe the hype about a Singapore property pick-up, Nomura said, as it addressed some "half-truths" about one of Asia's long-time real estate hotspots.

That came as buyers and sellers looked cues for whether the city-state's property market had finally neared the bottom.

Singapore's private residential property prices dropped 1.5 percent on-quarter in the third quarter, according to government data, marking 12 straight quarters of declines and the largest quarterly drop since 2009, during the global financial crisis.

But the first "half-truth" about the market's next step was that the city-state's private home sales had seen strong gains, Nomura said in a note dated Thursday. In September, sales of new private residential properties picked up, rising 49.3 percent on-year and nearly 9 percent on month to 509 units.

But the bank noted that on a rolling 12-month average, developers' private home sales had hovered around 600 units a month since the end of 2014. It didn't expect that some large sales figures for October, such as a new development called The Alps Residences, and that Forest Woods had sold a combined 607 units, would matter much to the full picture.

But in a more encouraging sign, secondary market transactions have picked up, averaging 690 private homes each month for 2016's first eight months, up from 560 in the same period last year and 480 in 2014, Nomura said.

Secondly, Nomura said signs of a demand pickup for prime luxury properties were overstated.

While 600 new private homes sold in the core central region in the first nine months of this year, up from 430 in all of 2015, more than a third were from just one development, and this year's average of 67 units a month was still historically low, it said.

Additionally, it said the luxury segment, or properties priced over 5 million Singapore dollars ($3.59 million), were averaging a relatively low 114 units a quarter.

The third half-truth was that unsold inventory was low, especially in the suburbs, Nomura said. While unsold inventory overall and in the suburbs had fallen to 35 and 25 months respectively, down from 2014's peak of 46 and 35 months, it was still high compared with averages of 30 and 22 months from 2009-2015, the bank said.

"We believe the unsold inventory should be measured against the prevailing demand, rather than in isolation," it said.

Another myth was that the vacancy rate for private residential property had finally reached the peak, Nomura said.

The 30,000 new private homes completed from 2015 through the first half of this year pushed the vacancy rate above 10 percent in the second quarter, its highest since 2005, Nomura noted. But it noted that another 30,000 units would be headed to market in the second half of this year and through next year. That worked out to around 20,000 units a year, it said.

"To put things in context, the pace of private housing completions between 2000 and 2013 was about 9,200 units a year," it noted.

Finally, Nomura said that it was a half-truth to expect that the prime luxury segment had reached a pricing bottom. It noted that unsold inventory in the core central region was equivalent to more than 100 months of demand, with 76 percent more completions slated for the coming 18 months than in the previous 18 months.

"We are concerned that there could be more downside to rents and capital values in the prime luxury segment, notwithstanding the fact that rents and capital values have already corrected 50 percent and 27.6 percent respectively from their first quarter of 2008 peaks," it said.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1

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