Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Don't get caught in a bubble - Part 3

The 3rd bubble that we will talk about would be Singapore's own property bubble in 1996-1997. This is the most interesting example bcos it is the only 1 in my 3 examples whereby prices have surpassed the previous peak.

However that doesn't mean that investors who invested at the peak did ok. In fact most people will still be under water. But at least, they have much better chance to recover their capital even though their compounded return will still be quite miserable.

The Singapore property bubble actually started in 93-94 when Asia experienced tremendous boom. In fact, four economies were given a very special name - Asian Tigers (or was it Dragons?) due to their spectacular double digit growth. They are of course, our beloved motherland, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Even so the rest of the region enjoyed high growth. Singapore properties were snapped up by Malaysians, Indonesians, Taiwanese and closer to 1997, of course, the Hong Kongers, who feared major upheavals following Hong Kong's return to China.

Well that's of course just part of the story. Many many factors came into play and even today we cannot say for sure what caused the spectacular rise and fall of the Little Red Dot's real estate prices.

Besides that foreign demand story, the other factor would of course be the lack of supply of property at that time. Back in the early 90s, HDB was lagging behind the curve (as usual) and cut down on building new flats even though demand for flats remained high as the economy grew. So, young couples were made to wait 4-5 yrs for their flats after they get married. And meanwhile the Govt expects more babies when young couples have to dunno-live-where for 4-5 yrs after getting married.

Also back then, private condos project developments were not built by the truckloads (probably approval wasn't that easily given that HDB's thinking was always about 3 yrs behind). So there was a general lack of supply and huge demand from both foreigners and young married couples. And as they say, the rest is history.

Property prices went through the roof. The highest end luxury stuff was like S$2,000 psf and even prices in undesirable locations like Boon Lay, Hill View also hit S$800-900psf, HDB in Bishan sold for a record $800k or so. There was no general price index that I could find but some charts indicated that if we use 1993 prices as 100, prices in 1997 were 120% or so higher.

After that, again a confluence of factors push prices down by roughly 50% (like HDB building 150,000 new flats in Seng Kang and Punggol when they realized they were wrong to stop building flats 5 yrs ago), only to rebound significantly in 1999 and 2000 and then went into a gradual decline until it bottomed at 2005. Prices at 2005 were 30% below its peak in 1997. Of course, things turned around in 2006 and 2007 with en-bloc, Integrated Resorts, Middle East investors, F1 and the other usual Ra-Ra stuff.

See Chart 1 for the whole history of our roller coaster ride!

And so today average prices finally exceeded the peak made in 1997 after 11 years, Well that's kinda good news when comparing to other bubbles, where usually, the previous peak was never surpassed. Nevertheless, if you have bought some of those luxury high end stuff at $2,000 psf, today you might be able to sell at $2,500 psf (that's a big assumption since your property will be 11-yr-old while some other cool stuff are just next door and brand new). So your return will be 25% after 11 yrs which is about 2%pa. Abt the same as fixed deposit today.

Well that's great right considering most other bubbles you usually don't see your capital.

So, moral of the story: Don't ever ever get caught in a bubble!
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