Real Estate

Singapore central bank chief: City-state’s property market stabilizing


Singapore's once-bubbly property market has been stabilizing in the wake of a slew of cooling measures, the city-state's central bank chief said.

"The measures that have been taken have -- with each passing month and quarter I think we can say with a little more confidence -- made a fair amount of progress towards stabilizing the market," Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), said at the UBS Wealth Insights conference in Singapore on Monday.

"[Policymakers] are very conscious, deeply conscious, that we don't go back to the situation that we had before, because a bubble is an extremely difficult thing to deflate gently," he said.

Singapore's property prices surged more than 60 percent from 2009 through 2013, propelled by rock-bottom global interest rates and quantitative easing in developed economies that followed the global financial crisis, even as the city-state's government enacted a series of cooling measures to prevent a bubble from forming.

From 2011, Singapore's government imposed a series of cooling measures, including an Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty, which adds much as an additional 15 percent to the purchase price for foreign buyers and Singaporeans with more than one property.

A Singapore public housing estate
Getty Images

It also instituted a Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR), which aimed to ensure that buyers' monthly debt payments do not exceed 60 percent of their income, to keep them from being caught out by a spike in interest rates. Most mortgages in Singapore have adjustable, rather than fixed, rates.

The measures appeared to have had an effect, with the property price index falling around 11 percent from the peak in the third quarter of 2013 through the end of 2016, according to data from Deutsche Bank. The occupancy rate for residential units fell to 90.8 percent in 2016 from as high as 95 percent in 2009, the data show.

Menon said the government had done "reasonably well" with the market.

"I think we've been very lucky. We don't want to go back to that situation," he said. "It's a very careful balance. There are many mixed signals."

Memories of what happened when Singapore's property bubble of the last 1990s burst may be long.

Singapore's property market fared poorly in the wake of the crash during the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s.

It wasn't until 2009 that the city-state's private residential property prices returned to their 1996 peak level, according to the government's property price index data.

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

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