Investors are finding opportunities for yield in Singapore’s office market, despite high interest rates, with redevelopment projects and asset enhancements helping to boost returns, according to a panel of experts from BlackRock, Gaw Capital and TE Capital Partners who spoke at an industry forum on Tuesday.
After selling out all of the floors in its Solitaire on Cecil project earlier this year, TE Capital has made a fresh acquisition, with the company having signed a deal to acquire a new asset in the Orchard Road area, according to Emilia Teo, a managing director with the private equity affiliate of Tong Eng Group.
“This is not a very typical institutional kind of play but it is something that we understand and we know how to execute well,” Teo said, noting how Solitaire on Cecil, which it invested in through a joint venture with LaSalle Investment Management was sold out within three months of its official launch.
On the day of Teo’s appearance at the panel, TE Capital announced that a fund under its management had agreed to acquire the VisionCrest Commercial building on Penang Road. The fund, which is invested by LaSalle Investment Management, and has indirect backing from SGX-listed Metro Holdings, is now set to take ownership of the building for a reported S$450 million ($331 million).
Speaking in the same panel session, which was sponsored by Yardi, Andrew Lee, director and head of investments for Singapore and Southeast Asia at BlackRock along with Imelda Tham, managing director for investments at Gaw Capital, said investors with existing assets could boost returns through more active management.
“Gone are the days where you can find assets, sit back, enjoy the yield and the capital appreciation that comes along under a low interest rate environment,” Tham, said in the panel, which was part of Mingtiandi’s Singapore Forum.
Gaw Capital in 2019 teamed up with Allianz Real Estate (now PIMCO Prime Real Estate) to acquire the Duo Tower and Duo Galleria in the Bugis area for S$1.6 billion (then $1.2 billion), in one of the city’s biggest office deals of that year.
With the nearby Guoco Midtown project now achieving central business district-level rents in what was once considered fringe area, the Duo investment is seen by analysts as a prescient one.
While acknowledging that big-ticket transactions of commercial assets have been muted in Singapore since the second half of last year, BlackRock’s Lee says that his firm, which manages the Asia Square complex with its 2 million square feet (190,000 square metres of office space), sees the city growing in importance as a corporate headquarters location post-COVID.
“Blackrock itself, we have doubled our headcount to about 700 in Singapore. So I think that’s really… giving us optimism in the Singapore office market. We are seeing a lot of new tenants that are coming into the market, they are more (interested) in the higher-end space,” Lee told the audience of 200 industry executives.
Challenges in 2024
For the coming year, the panelists offered a range of views on investment prospects in Southeast Asia’s priciest real estate market.
TE Capital’s Teo said her company expects to see transactions picking up in 2024 as investors which have raised capital come under pressure to start generating returns.
“I feel that for 2024, some of that will have to be deployed. But then it may have to be, for example, in things like development where you can actually really get a much more meaningful return and you’re taking a long term view as well,” she said.
Gaw’s Tham predicts that deals will remain scarce as long as borrowing costs remain elevated and advised that investors should look for ways to increase profit from their existing holdings.
“If we want to deploy capital, we really have to put in a lot more effort, and be more creative in our strategies,’ Tham said. “If you do not have any investable opportunities at this point, then look at your current portfolio, look at how you can recycle your assets.”