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Singapore's surprise property moves applauded by businesses

Singapore's largest listed property firm is broadly welcoming revisions to the city-state's property cooling measures after more than 3 years of sinking prices.

"Together with the government's policies to support population and economic growth, such measures will help to ensure a stable property market and healthy demand for new homes in the long term," said Wen Khai Meng, CEO of CapitaLand Singapore, in a Monday email to CNBC.

The company is South East Asia's biggest property developer and manages a global asset portfolio worth 78 billion Singapore dollars ($55.1 billion). Its stock has risen more than 22 percent year-to-date.

"We believe that projects with excellent locations and transportation connectivity, good range of facilities, proximity to shopping malls and established amenities, and a reasonable pricing will continue to attract buyers," he added.

The comments come after policymakers surprised the sector by detailing a series of "calibrated adjustments" to the Seller's Stamp Duty (SSD) and Total Debt Services Ratio (TDSR) — relaxing regulations in a bid to stabilize a market that has seen house prices decline for 13 consecutive quarters.

The government had indicated a reluctance to curb its cooling measures in the past and the rapid roll out of the reforms appeared to catch major firms and investors off guard.

CapitaLand President and CEO Lim Ming Yan said in a February interview that "there is no compelling reason for the government at this point to make major changes" to property curbs, suggesting an expected continuation of the policy.

Other sector support

International real-estate firm City Developments described the policy relaxations as "both measured and prudent."

"We welcome the government's adjustments to the Seller's Stamp Duty (SSD) and Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) framework," the company said in an emailed statement to CNBC.

The firm has developed more than 36,000 homes and is one of Singapore's largest commercial landlords. Its stock has been a core beneficiary of the reforms, with shares advancing as much as 10 percent on the Friday announcement.

The Port of Singapore.
Chris McGrath | Getty Images
The Port of Singapore.

Shares in City Developments continued to rise an additional 3.45 percent on Monday and settled at 10.50 Singapore dollars ($7.42) — its highest level of the year.

"Real estate is one of the key instruments of investment. The revised SSD in particular, will provide flexibility for property investment and is expected to inject increased activity into the residential property market," it added.

City Developments also said it believes the measures support the aim of buying property as a form of long-term investment.

"We are confident that the government will continue to monitor the market conditions closely and make necessary tweaks to the other property cooling measures as and when the situation warrants," it concluded.

Other major firms were yet to respond to a request for comment.

Future curbs ahead?

Regarding the Stamp Duty revisions, analysts at CBRE and DBS struck a similar tone in their reaction reports.

"This is not expected to have a major impact on transaction volumes in the near term, as it applies to residential property purchased on and after March 11," said Desmond Sim, head of CBRE research in Singapore and South East Asia.

"However, this benefits buyers as it offers a respite as they would not have to wait up to four years to sell their property without incurring SSD."

While analysts at DBS Bank acknowledged the announcement came without warning, the top local bank said the relaxation "kick starts a loosening trend."

"We have previously highlighted the possibility of a government policy tweak in 2017 but the timing of this relaxation in 1Q17 caught us and investors by surprise following cautious statements from the government to maintain property measures prior to this move," it said in a research note authored by Derek Tan and Rachel Tan.

"Although the adjustments are marginal and the impact to the property market should be gradual, we see this as a signal of a turn in policy stance which could lead to further relaxation in the future. Given uncertainty from the pace of Fed rate hikes and its impact on mortgage affordability, this move confirms expectations that the government is ready to act preemptively to stabilize the property market."

Small business boon

Online property portal PropertyGuru also said it welcomed the revisions.

"PropertyGuru is encouraged by the government's move to tweak cooling measures as a sign that the government is closely watching the sector, and seeking to ensure a healthy, thriving real estate market, while addressing concerns from home owners and investors," Property Guru Chief Executive Officer Hari Krishnan said in a statement.

"Downward revisions on Seller's Stamp Duties (SSD) are likely to stimulate investment sales, especially in the short to medium term. This change will most likely benefit real estate investors looking to exit their investments after three years, as they will be able to place their properties on the market earlier, without the burden of stamp duties."

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