Singapore property market will 'stay healthy'

Cooling measures will leave impact but market won't crash: OCBC chief

There will probably be a correction in property market prices but a crash is unlikely, said OCBC Bank's chief executive officer, Mr Samuel Tsien.

Part of the reason for its resilience is because the Singapore market holds a certain appeal to investors, he said.

Still, rising interest rates and cooling measures will have an impact, Mr Tsien told The Straits Times at the sidelines of a major China forum at the Shangri-La Hotel yesterday.

"As a result of the different measures imposed by the Government in making sure that speculative demand has been removed, there will be a slowdown in market activities," said Mr Tsien.

"I don't think there will be a crash in the market. There will be some downward adjustment to prices but that is healthy in the long term."

The Government has instituted seven rounds of property cooling measures since 2009, with the latest round in January.

Other moves aimed at reducing the froth in the markets include lowering limits on loans and raising stamp duties.

The measures have worked to stabilise prices.

In the three months to June 30, prices for mass-market apartments rose 3 per from the previous quarter.

But prices of homes in the city centre dropped 0.2 per cent in the second quarter, after growing 0.6 per cent in the first.

More recently, the central bank put new curbs on loans to prevent borrowers from becoming over-leveraged.

The outlook for interest rates is that they will likely rise in the next two years.

The United States Federal Reserve has indicated that it will start to slow the pace of its monetary stimulus programme and eventually raise interest rates.

The normalisation of rates will help OCBC, said Mr Tsien.

He also feels that the bank, as well as others, will benefit from normalising interest rates, as "it's going to be beneficial to banks with a significant amount of Casa (current account, savings account) balances".

This is true for OCBC, as its "Casa balances represent about 51 per cent of our total deposits".

Casa accounts combine savings and checking accounts to encourage consumers to save with banks.

A higher Casa ratio would mean that a bank has access to a cheaper source of funds, because it pays out less interest on Casa and can lend at a higher rate.

"That will benefit OCBC Bank because lower-yielding deposits or zero interest rate deposits will be able to make some money as a result of the rising interest rates, by lending that money out to the market."

Mr Tsien also took questions over the bank's risk management practices, especially regarding the interest rate setting processes.

Last month, OCBC was among the banks here to be censured by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), and most were told to set aside extra funds to be parked at MAS at zero interest rates.

The amount that OCBC Bank has to deposit as additional reserves is between $700 million and $800 million.

Mr Tsien said that the impact is not significant, as it relates to the opportunity to earn interest on the amount.

He added that the bank has introduced a series of new checks to tighten the rates submissions process.

rachaelb@sph.com.sg