Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Asian property market volatility expected to continue

Asia property stocks are definitely out of fashion in 2009, but brave contrarian investors may find dabbling in Japanese landlords or Chinese developers could pay off.

Asia property markets are slumping in the same way they did after the 1997-98 financial crisis and probably will not recover until 2010, with home prices in Singapore and Hong Kong forecast to slide 20-25 per cent this year as the global economy weakens.

But a strong rebound in property counters across the region towards the end of 2008, even as developers reported slumps in home sales, suggests investors will buy if they see deep value.

More bad economic news in Asia, such as waning exports, would spark flurries of broad market selloffs, but also give investors with longer-term investment views a chance to hunt for bargains.
‘The market’s divided on whether stock prices will make new lows in 2009, but we expect volatility to continue,’ said Adam Upton, who helps manage the JF Asia Property Fund in Hong Kong.

‘In this environment the fund will look to take advantage of near-term trading opportunities.’ The JF Asia Property Fund is keen to trade volatile Chinese property stocks, but is underweight on Australia and mostly neutral on other markets in the region.

Asian property stocks have risen more than 30 per cent from lows in late 2008. Chinese shares led the way with a 70 per cent surge after Beijing unveiled measures to aid the ailing sector, even though many analysts believe government efforts to build mass-housing will undercut listed developers.

Investment house CLSA is neutral or negative on all Asian property markets but likes Hong Kong property trust Link Reit and some property trusts in Japan, as well as office landlord NTT Urban Development Link Reit has been billed as recession-proof because many retailers in its shopping malls sell necessities ranging from rice to toothpaste, unlike swanky new malls where retailers are struggling as consumers cut spending on expensive items. Tokyo’s office market, seen by some as the last stronghold for property investors in the recession-hit economy, is expected to stay resilient because of a shortage of top-notch buildings.

Even with vacancies creeping up, rents for existing contracts will decline only slightly, and not until 2010, according to CLSA. Landlords reacted slowly to a climb in office values in the last four years and are still able to nudge rents up this year. Asian developers learnt the lessons of overbuilding in the 1997-98 crisis, and only Singapore has a large supply of new office blocks coming onto the market in the next few years.

‘We have less of an issue of supply,’ said Frankie Lee, fund manager with Henderson Global Investor in Singapore. ‘It’s all about demand and whether the growth will pick up later this year, after all the government stimulus take effect.’

Analysts warn investors to steer clear of Hong Kong and Singapore office landlords as both cities will be hit hard by the global trade slowdown and upheaval in financial markets.

Source: Business Times - 28 Jan 2009

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