Singapore’s real estate market is looking up, but don’t buy property, Maybank-KimEng says

Mall on Singapore’s Orchard RoadMall on Singapore’s Orchard Road

Singapore’s residential market outlook is positive, but the best way to play it isn’t physical property, Maybank-KimEng said in a note this month.

“Stamp duties and leverage limits could shave 11 percentage points of returns when investing in physical properties. Switch from physical investments to equities,” the brokerage said.

It tipped developer stocks and industrial REITs for better returns than physical properties. The brokerage said it was positive on Singapore property developers, noting they currently trade at a discount to the physical market. It rated all six stocks under its coverage at Buy. It tipped Bukit Sembawang as the “most concentrated proxy” for Singapore’s residential property market.

It added that it expected home prices would remain resilient to a 100 basis point rate hike.

“While interest rates are rising, they remain fairly low vs history. Home buyers are already stress-tested to a normalised rate of 3.5 percent, under Singapore’s Total Debt Servicing Ratio framework,” the note said.

Maybank-KimEng also expected low supply in the market over 2018-19; “With demand outpacing supply, we expect home prices and rents to rise.”

The brokerage also pointed to opportunities in data-center clusters, noting they occupied around 2.3 million square feet in 2017, or 0.4 percent of industrial stock. It noted that Mapletree Logistics Trust divested a Tai Seng warehouse to its sponsor for redevelopment into a data center late last year.

“Strong demand for data centres should support further conversions. The Tai Seng cluster, with its valuation disparities, offers selective opportunities. REITs are available proxies,” it said.

It noted that Keppel DC REIT, which it doesn’t rate, is the only  pure data-center S-REIT, with 45 percent of its assets under management from three Singapore assets.