Online shopping, home loans affected

Goods sold on popular e-commerce sites are now more expensive when their prices are converted to Singdollars.
Goods sold on popular e-commerce sites are now more expensive when their prices are converted to Singdollars. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The shock move to devalue the yuan has not only unleashed financial market turmoil but is also punishing shoppers and home owners here by sending the Singapore dollar down and interest rates up.

The Singdollar, which closely tracks the yuan, has weakened sharply against the US dollar, the British pound and the euro since China's surprise decision on Tuesday.

This will cast a gloom over a favourite local pastime - online shopping. Goods sold on popular US and Europe-based e-commerce sites such as Amazon and Asos are now more expensive when their prices are converted to Singdollars.

Those looking for a bargain will have to limit themselves to China-based e-commerce sites such as Taobao for the time being, as the yuan's drop has been even greater than the Singdollar's. This is making yuan-priced goods cheaper.

In fact, travellers who have booked trips to China are in luck as they will get more bang for their buck now. Dynasty Travel said it has seen a 15 per cent spike in inquiries and bookings for China for travel between September and December in the past two weeks.

But local home owners will have little reason to celebrate.

The Singapore Interbank Offered Rate (Sibor), the benchmark interest rate to which most home loans here are pegged, has risen to a four-month high in the wake of the yuan's devaluation.

This means that home owners looking to refinance their mortgage or take out a new loan will have to pay more.

"It's probably better to get a fixed rate loan for at least the next two years," said Promiseland financial adviser Wilfred Ling.

As the name suggests, the interest rate on a fixed-rate loan will remain unchanged for a certain period of time regardless of Sibor's movements.

But while Western imports and local home loans may get more expensive, goods and services across the Causeway have become cheaper than ever as the yuan devaluation has caused a further depreciation of the Malaysian ringgit against developed market currencies, including the Singdollar.

The ringgit is now at its weakest against the Singdollar in over two decades, with one dollar buying 2.86 ringgit.

One money changer that The Straits Times spoke to reported brisk business yesterday, with many customers changing Singdollars into ringgit.

Mr Mohamed Rafeeq, owner of Clifford Gems & Money Exchange at Raffles City, said: "Everybody has come to grab ringgit. Some passers-by saw the price and just wanted to buy."

He said the amount of ringgit he sold yesterday was up 20 per cent from Tuesday.

His shop also saw a 15 per cent rise in the amount of US dollars being sold by customers.

Malaysian Jenny Kok, 31, who commutes to work in Singapore every day, felt the benefits of a weaker ringgit were tempered by concerns about her country's future.

"I'm happy for now because I can change the Singdollars I have for more ringgit. But, in the long term, the weak ringgit would not be ideal if I were to work in Malaysia."

•Additional reporting by Annabeth Leow, Yvonne Lek and Jose Hong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2015, with the headline 'Online shopping, home loans affected'. Print Edition | Subscribe