S'pore firms eye growth opportunities in Australia

Trade pact in May paves way for investments in sectors such as real estate, infrastructure

A recently concluded partnership agreement between Singapore and Australia could help newly re-elected Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull deliver on some objectives of his agenda.

Mr Turnbull was sworn in for a fresh term last week after protracted vote-counting gave him victory in the July 2 polls, with the ruling conservative Liberal-National coalition hanging on to power by a whisker.

The Australian government's agenda includes budget reform, job creation, and boosting growth in the economy through trade and investment. And that final objective is where trade pacts and agreements, such as the Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), could help.

The landmark CSP agreement, concluded in May, will see the two countries deepen collaborations in various areas, including trade, defence, people-to-people links and innovation.

Several large Singapore corporates are already eyeing potential business opportunities arising from the closer bilateral ties, amid better-than-expected economic growth in the first quarter.


The Ascott has acquired a 221-unit serviced residence (above) in Docklands, Melbourne. The company hopes the trade pact will open up more scope for its expansion in Australia. PHOTO: THE ASCOTT

Australia's gross domestic product expanded 1.1 per cent in the first three months of the year, and was up 3.1 per cent year on year - the fastest pace in four years. The growth rate, lifted by strong export volumes, beat economists' forecast.

REAL ESTATE SECTOR OPPORTUNITIES

Responding to a query from The Straits Times, The Ascott - the serviced residence business unit of CapitaLand - said it hopes the agreement will open up more scope for its expansion Down Under.

Its chief investment officer, Mr Gerald Yong, noted: "The new measures to increase trade and investment flows between both countries will also stimulate corporate travel - a key customer segment for Ascott as expatriates prefer the spaciousness and privacy of serviced residences."

The implementation of multi-year visas is also expected to boost the number of leisure travellers and spur demand for its serviced apartments, Mr Yong said.

The Ascott owns and operates nine serviced residences with more than 1,200 rooms in Melbourne, Perth, Hobart and Greater Sydney. Earlier this month, it announced the acquisition of a 221-unit serviced residence in Docklands, Melbourne, through a joint venture for A$71 million (S$72 million), as part of its partnership with Quest Apartment Hotels.

  • 1,200

    The Ascott owns and operates nine serviced residences with more than 1,200 rooms in Melbourne, Perth, Hobart and Greater Sydney.

    A$71m

    Earlier this month, Ascott announced the acquisition of a 221-unit serviced residence in Docklands, Melbourne, though a joint venture for A$71 million (S$72 million), as part of its partnership with Quest Apartment Hotels.

    85%

    Ascott's properties in Australia are "performing well", with an average occupancy of 85 per cent, reflecting the strength of the country's hospitality market.

Mr Yong said that Ascott's properties in Australia are "performing well", with an average occupancy of 85 per cent, reflecting the strength of the country's hospitality market.

Another real estate industry player, City Developments (CDL), said it continues to seek "attractive high-potential investment opportunities" in Australia, which is one of its five core overseas markets.

CDL chief executive Grant Kelley told The Straits Times that the CSP agreement "will benefit CDL as we advance with our diversification plans in Australia".

Last December, CDL made a re-entry into the Australian residential sector with a joint venture project in Merivale Street in Brisbane. The development, comprising two 30-storey towers named Ivy and Eve, has 472 apartments, of which 89 per cent have been sold.

"Early construction works have commenced and we expect to realise profits from this (Brisbane) project in early 2018," Mr Kelley noted.

SUPPORTING CORPORATE CLIENTS

The coalition government has in recent years embarked on an ambitious trade agenda, concluding free trade agreements with Korea, Japan and China. Australia's increased economic participation with its Asian partners is one factor that prompted DBS Bank to set up a branch in Sydney in June last year, focusing on corporate banking.

"Over the last year, we have grown the book significantly, supporting clients in industry sectors such as real estate, energy, infrastructure and telecommunications," said Ms Helen Yap, country head of DBS Australia.

The lender sees the supporting of Asian investments in various sectors in Australia as a key growth opportunity. It also looks forward to serving Australian firms as they seek growth and opportunities here.

The Singapore Business Federation said investment in Australia allows local companies to expand their portfolio and grow their market value, citing examples like The Ascott and Singtel Optus.

EXPANDING PORTFOLIO

Singtel acquired Optus, the No. 2 telco in Australia, in 2001. Optus contributed 24 per cent of the company's net profit for the 2016 financial year to March 31.

Singtel group CEO Chua Sock Koong said: "We welcome the commitment to deepen ties between Singapore and Australia by tackling trade barriers, improving mobility and access, and promoting greater collaboration on innovation."

Ms Chua added that the investment in Optus has enabled Singtel to have a "good balanced portfolio", with exposure to developed markets such as Singapore and Australia, and high-growth developing ones such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Africa.

Mr Peter Jolly, global head of research at National Australia Bank, noted that some sectors that could see potential investments from Singapore companies include education services, infrastructure development and tourism-related industries.

"The exchange rate has been lower, so service exports like tourism and people coming to Australia to be educated have done well... Australia's population continues to grow so it does need new infrastructure," he said.

Australia is the fourth-largest investment destination for Singapore companies, with investment reaching $43.5 billion in 2014, data from trade agency IE Singapore showed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore firms eye growth opportunities in Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe