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Singapore's commercial property faces a gloomy outlook. Here's why

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The outlook for Singapore's commercial property, including retail, office and industrial space, may have turned grim, according to forecasts from real-estate services provider Colliers.

Singapore's retail landlords and tenants face "challenging times," Colliers said in a note dated Monday, forecasting demand for retail space to lag behind supply this year, with a rise in new space pushing up island-wide vacancy rates.

Colliers said leasing activity slowed and rental declines accelerated in the third quarter amid poor retail sales and online competition.

Singapore's retail sales fell 1 percent in August on year overall and excluding the 30 percent jump in car sales, fell 6.5 percent, with drops in categories including jewellery, restaurants and recreational goods, according to official data.

"In the near term, the uncertain economic outlook and heightened unemployment risk will probably be dampening factors on consumer spending," Colliers said, although it expected the year-end holiday shopping season would mitigate the hit to retail sales.

It forecast ground-level shopping-mall rents in 2016 would fall by 2.0-2.5 percent in regional centers and by 2.5-3.0 percent in the prime Orchard Road shopping belt.

Singapore's office segment may not fare much better.

"Overall office rentals across Singapore continue to slide under pressure of oversupply and lacklustre demand as the market saw the fifth consecutive quarter-on-quarter rental decline in the third quarter," Colliers said.

"Underpinned by gloomier economic outlook from potential U.S. rate hikes, an uncertain Chinese economy and concerns on the repercussions of Brexit, business sentiments and overall office space expansion remain restrained," it added.

Colliers noted that Singapore's preliminary gross domestic product estimate for the third quarter showed a 4.1 percent on-quarter contraction, with some economists saying a technical recession was a possibility.

When it comes to office rents, grade-B office buildings were taking a bigger hit as tenants fled to better quality space, it said.

"We expect competition among landlords to fill the backfill spaces, especially in older office buildings, to intensify over the next few quarters," it said.

Colliers forecast the office vacancy rate would surge, with premium and grade-A supply in the central business district (CBD) set to rise 5.6 percent this year and another 12.1 percent next year as more buildings were completed.

It expected rents in that segment would decline by up to 3.0 percent in the fourth quarter, for a full-year decline of 7.0-12 percent.

When it came to industrial property, Colliers advised it was an "opportune time" for tenants to evaluate their needs.

"Given the tentative economic outlook, we expect industrial rents to remain soft over the next three to six months," it said. "Coupled with the ample space options available, there will be opportunities for industrialists to secure choice business premises at competitive rents. "

It expected 20 million square feet of new industrial space to be added this year, pushing up vacancy rates island-wide.

Colliers forecast that rents for prime multi-user conventional industrial space would fall 7.0-14.0 percent this year.

Amid tough competition for tenants, it expected rents at independent high-specification industrial buildings located outside the science and business parks would fall further in the fourth quarter, for a full-year decline of 9.0 percent.

But in business parks, it expected rents would rise a modest 1.0-2.0 percent for the year as higher rents were attainable at newer developments.

Colliers noted, however, in the third quarter, landlords didn't cut rents by much across industrial properties.

Most landlords weren't willing to cut rents by large margins in the period after sharp cuts in the first half of the year and were instead giving tenants more incentives, such as longer rent-free and fitting-out periods, covering alteration works and subsidizing repairs, it said.

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

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