Saturday, December 26, 2009

Asset Bubbles

"The instinct of ownership is fundamental in man's nature" - William James

Many bankers and economists voiced concern about asset price distortions in an environment of plentiful liquidity which may be sowing the seeds of financial instability, especially in emerging markets.

China's property and stock markets are a "bubble" that will burst when inflation accelerates in 2011, former Morgan Stanley chief Asian economist Andy Xie said. China's residential prices rose last month at the fastest pace since July last year, spurred by the 4 trillion yuan stimulus package and record lending.

Inflation is a concern, so is the depreciating value of our money when governments keep printing money.

In Hong Kong, a shop just 1,212 sq ft in one of the city's busiest districts was reportedly sold for a record US$108 million which work out to about US900,000 per sq ft. The shop houses luxury retailer Emperor Watch and Jewellery. How many watches and jewelleries they need to sell to justify the return on investment? Money laundering?

Here in Singapore, prime good class freehold landed bungalows rose 18.6 per cent for the year, setting fresh record high of S$1,447 per sq ft. More wealthy buyers are willing to fork out more for such properties, 17 were sold for above 20 million each this year. The rich poor gap is widening everywhere, the rich getting richer and the poor suffers.

My parents bought a 3 room HDB flat at S$11,000/- 35 years ago which is now worth more than S$200,000/- . A friend bought a 15 year old 3 room HDB flat in Queenstown, near the MRT station 2 years ago at S$300,000/-, I thought he was crazy to pay such a high price for a 65 sqm old flat. He recently sold it for a 20k profit nett, free lodging for 2 years.

Will there be a asset bubble? With Gold price hitting above US$1,000/-, Oil price above US$70/-, a plate of mee siam costing S$3/- with only half an egg and costly taxi fare, I don't see property prices crashing down. A crash will be a good buy!

A friend complained recently after having lunch at a restaurant in ION Orchard, he asked for 3 glasses of plain water, 2 of the glasses were refilled later. He was shocked when he was billed S$5/- for plain tap water, S$1/- each for the paper tower and S$3/- for a small plate of peanuts,++ (7% GST and 10% service charge.

The properties in Orchard are expensive and with big developers bidding high prices for them, the rental for the shops and restaurants is not going to be cheap.

Who benefits most from such high property prices? Who else but the biggest land owner! The government of course, adding much to their coffers and higher property prices would also mean higher property taxes as well, the government is getting so rich. We the citizen, need to work very hard.

Many of my friends are concern whether their children can afford to buy a property when they grow up with prices increasing at such an alarming rate. One solution by the government is in building ever smaller HDB flats, a 5 room flat have shrunk from 125 sqm to as small as 105 sqm now. More 3 room flats are built to be affordable and not comfortable, live with it if you are poor.

We are one of the most densely populated country in the world yet our planners are still trying to squeeze more people into this tiny island. To be more competitive? Higher growth? Better living standard? I think it's more stressful for the ordinary citizen.

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