Viva Land has agreed to sell 39 Robinson Road in Singapore for S$399 million ($300 million), parting with the core office asset at a more than 20 percent mark-down just over five months after a Vietnamese tycoon linked to the company was arrested for swindling investors.
China-based Yangzijiang Shipbuilding, which has been tangled in its own legal dispute this year, announced to the Singapore stock exchange late on Wednesday that its Yangzijiang Realty unit had agreed to buy the 169,251 square foot (15,724 square metre) freehold building in Singapore’s central business district for the equivalent of S$2,357 per square foot of gross floor area as declared by Yangzijiang. Viva Land had paid a record S$500 million to acquire the building in 2020. Considering the property’s net lettable area of 134,362 square foot, the deal reflects S$2970 per unit of area.
“Having been listed on the SGX Mainboard for 16 years and being an STI index component company, the acquisition gives us an opportunity to deepen our roots in Singapore with our very own office building,” Yangzijiang executive chairman and CEO Ren Letian said in a statement. “Furthermore, considering the highly inflationary environment, we see this as a good vehicle to preserve our existing capital over the long term while also providing us stable rental cash flow.”
Viva Land had been shopping both 39 Robinson Road and an adjacent five-star hotel since the beginning of this year, having set a target at the time of closing the tender in early February.
Ho Chi Minh City-based Truong My Lan, who led investment manager Van Thinh Phat Group and had been identified by Vietnamese media as the head of Ho Chi Minh City-based Viva Land Management & Development JSC, which shares management with Viva Land in Singapore, was arrested in November last year. Representatives of Viva Land in Singapore have previously denied any links between the two companies.
Multi-City Liquidation Sale
Yangzijiang Shipbuilding, which counts Singaporean tech financier Danny Toe of ICH Group among its early investors, indicated that its ability to tap internal cash reserves to execute a prompt settlement without relying on external financing was key to securing the property at the discounted price.
The below-market pricing may also reflect the risk of potential repercussions from Van Thinh Phat’s legal drama in Vietnam, where reports this week implicated a former central bank official in the ongoing investigation. Yangzijiang will also face the task of bringing the 1997-vintage property into compliance with tightening ESG standards which are driving corporate tenants to newer buildings, as 39 Robinson Road stands at around 55 percent occupancy, according to an offering document issued earlier this year.
Earlier this year, Singapore-based TE Capital and LaSalle Investment Management agreed to sell a floor in their nearby Solitaire on Cecil project on Cecil Street, two blocks from 39 Robinson Road, for the equivalent of S$4,196 per square foot, or around 30 percent more than the price per unit area which Viva Land secured on a net lettable area basis. Yangzijiang’s latest acquisition is located between the Raffles Place and Tanjong Pagar MRT stations in Singapore’s traditional commercial strip.
At the time that Viva Land had put its Singapore assets on the market, it was asking S$470 million for 39 Robinson Road, or around 6 percent less than what it had paid to acquire the 21-storey office tower three years ago. Potential buyers who spoke to Mingtiandi noted that the controversy surrounding My Lan’s arrest and questions regarding the properties’ ultimate ownership stood as obstacles to a sale. Viva Land had engaged JLL and CBRE to market the assets.
In its tender, Viva Land had been asking S$200 million for the 134-key Hotel Telegraph after buying the hotel at the corner of Robinson Road and Boon Tat Street in May last year for a record-breaking S$240 million. The market for that leasehold property, which incorporates a historical building, has been further hobbled by restrictions on re-use of heritage properties. The Hotel Telegraph was known as the So/ Singapore until after its purchase by Viva Land.
In addition to the sale of 39 Robinson Road, My Lan’s husband Eric Chu in February sold a development site in Hong Kong’s Quarry Bay for HK$435 million ($55.46 million), with that transaction representing a 35.8 percent mark-down from the HK$678 million which the local investor paid to purchase the property in 2018.
Buildings, Boats and Bytes
The deal for 39 Robinson Road keeps a spotlight on Yangzijiang Shipbuilding, which is based in the city of Jingjiang, just across the Yangtze River from Changzhou in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, with the company serving as an agent for the building of ships.
On 17 March Singapore’s High Court ruled that a unit of Yangzijiang which formerly held 43 subsidiaries must be wound up, after failing to compensate a customer for S$4.8 million owed for a failure to deliver on a sales contract. Yangzijiang said on 19 March that it is considering appealing the ruling.
In its statement, Yangzijiang Shipbuilding said that 39 Robinson Road, “will be managed by a professional real estate manager and marketed as a financial hub for institutional investors and family offices.” It also pointed to the purchase as a way to secure an inflation hedge and stable cash flow.
Yangzijiang Shipbuilding owns 81 percent of Yangzijiang Realty, with Danny Toe’s ICH Singapore Holdings holding 9 percent and private entity 9Co Parker Pte Ltd, which is linked to Sunray Woodcraft Construction, having the remaining 10 percent. According to the ICH Group website, Danny Toe co-founded two listed technology companies, MyWeb and WizOffice in the early days of the Internet and later invested in Alibaba, Li Ning and Yangzijiang Shipbuilding.
ICH Group is also an investor in online investment platform ADDX, where Danny Toe, who founded the company, serves as group chief executive. During 2022, Yangzijiang Shipbuilding spun off Yangzijiang Financial as a separate unit, with Danny Toe’s brother Vincent named chief executive.
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