Singapore: The Next Global Domino to Fall in Real Estate

Singapore has the highest standard of living of any country in Asia and higher than the U.S. There are two reasons for this:

  1. It’s one large city that’s very strategically located.
  2. It has high value-added jobs from a heavy concentration of finance and trade, rather than mere manufacturing.

That’s why it’s called the Monte Carlo of Asia…

The problem is, because it’s 100% urban and has limited land, it has some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Why is that a problem?

Well, take a look at this chart…

Singapore Real Estate Prices

You can see how real estate prices in Singapore have risen 68% since early 2009… and 110% since the 1999 low after the Southeast Asian financial crisis.

Once the country’s governrnment began actively attracting foreign professionals and investors, the value of prime properties rose 80% from 2004 to 2013, increasing on top of already high global prices.

Today, the price of central-city real estate is $18,406 per square meter versus $10,381 in New York. The average home price adjusted for purchasing power parity is $10,382 per square meter versus $6,728 in London and $6,111 in Paris. That’s extreme, when you consider that residents of Singapore pay 78% more than New Yorkers while they make 25% less on average.

That’s clearly a bubble… and as I constantly reiterate: Bubbles ALWAYS burst.

In the beginning, they burst from their own extremes. In the U.S., the subprime crisis triggered the fall, but when you look at China today, cracks are appearing due to massive overbuilding and vacancies.

Singapore has its own trigger as well.

Like Hong Kong, it is a wealthy and developed country city. It features high-level middle-class households and not just marginal ones. Recently, there’s been a public backlash against foreign buyers who are bidding up real estate and making it unattainable for the everyday, $60,000-a-year household.

This happened in Hong Kong and in San Francisco also, but in different ways. In San Francisco, the locals particularly hate large tech companies like Google, who are forcing them out of their neighborhoods in the Bay Area.

In Singapore, however, the governrnment decided to react to the public sentiment. After all, it’s a democracy. Those in charge instituted a succession of strong measures to curb foreign buying and speculation in general.

The first was an up-front property sales tax of 18% for foreign buyers… ouch!

The second was additional taxes on properties that were flipped: 16% within one year and 12% within two years.

So, foreign buyers flipping real estate in Singapore are now being taxed 18% on the front-end and as much as 16% on the back-end… for a total slap in the face of 34%!

The third step Singapore’s governrnment took was to cap the amount of debt a borrower is allowed to take on compared to their income.

How effective were these measures? In 2014, new property sales were half of those registered in 2013. So unsurprisingly, residential prices fell 4% in 2014. Double-digit declines are forecast for 2015 and I would see more than that as likely.

At the W Residences, one of the newest high-end developments in the country, fewer than half of the units have been sold. Most of the expatriate professionals living there rent now instead of owning a property.

Even worse hit has been Sentosa Cove that attracts ultra-wealthy Chinese, Malaysians and Indonesians. There you have extravagant homes, including one designed like an Egyptian tomb. But now few people are buying and the ones that enter are largely leasing.

Sentosa had become the poster child for the extreme rising inequality in the country. Now it is suffering from the natural revolt that inevitably follows, especially in more affluent middle- and upper-middle-class societies where the people have more power.

In short, serious fissures are now showing in Singapore’s real estate market. Recently, an apartment that was bought in 2007 for 7 million Singapore dollars was sold for 4 million Singapore dollars. That’s a painful 43% loss. And it’s only the beginning as this domino begins to tumble.

There is also a massive load of commercial properties set to be completed in 2016, just in time for the global bust to manifest in full force. Commercial properties should be an absolute blood bath, especially as the China bubble continues to burst.

My view for years has been that the real estate bubble globally (and nationally) is much more varied due to different supply and demand pressures around the world. The best cities are almost all in bubbles. Japan first, and then the U.S., then Ireland, then Spain have led the popcornrn popper of bursts around the world. Now China and Singapore are starting to pop.

In fact, Singapore is a disaster waiting to happen.

I see all major bubbles bursting in the next several years. The more cities that crack, the more it breaks this grand illusion that real estate never goes down, especially in the best places and on the high-end.

History says that it is especially in the best and priciest cities and developments that you see the greatest bubbles burst when they finally go bang.

Be forewarnrned.

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Harry Dent

Bestselling author and founder of Dent Research, an affiliate of Charles Street Research. Dent developed a radical new approach to forecasting the economy; one that revolved around demographics and innovation cycles.