Monday, December 15, 2008

Challenging year ahead seen for secondary residential properties (2009)

It will continue to be challenging in 2009 for the secondary residential property market as buyers continue to adopt a wait-and-see stance on property purchases due to the global economic slowdown, property experts said.

The degree of softening in property sales would depend on the severity of the economic downturn next year, they said.

Regroup Associates Sdn Bhd executive director Paul Khong acknowledged that the secondary residential property market has been quite slow as potential buyers have been holding off decisions on house purchases. “This has significantly impacted the property market especially in the current quarter,” he told StarBiz.

“The quiet period is expected to continue through to the first quarter of 2009 after all the holidays are over.” S.K. Brothers Realty (M) Sdn Bhd general manager Chan Ai Cheng said buyer sentiment had taken a beating due to the current economic uncertainties.

“It’s a waiting game for buyers. There are even ‘aborted’ cases where buyers have placed an earnest deposit to purchase a property and subsequently pulled out from the transaction, in the hope that prices will come down further or in search of fire-sales while others are uncertain of their job stability and postponing the purchase commitment,” she said.

Nevertheless, Hartamas Real Estate Sdn Bhd managing director Eric Lim is anticipating stable to moderate growth due to bargain hunting in certain segments of the secondary property market, especially landed residential property. “(However) the market for properties that are purchased for investment and speculation will be slower,” he acknowledged.
The agency experienced a 20% to 30% drop in sales in the second half of the year versus the corresponding period of 2007. “This is quite substantial for us. Sentiment is still not good,” Lim noted.

CH Williams Talhar & Wong Sdn Bhd managing director Goh Tian Sui concurred. “The last two to three months have been quite bad – enquiries and sales activities have dropped. Owners are more open to negotiations in pricing,” he said. The prices of certain secondary residential properties could also face more pressure next year due to a lack of demand and an increase in supply of completed projects.

Citing an example, Regroup’s Khong said the situation for high-end condominiums in the KLCC and Mont Kiara areas were getting critical and there would be more pressure on rental and capital values as many of the projects in the vicinity would be completed within the next one or two years.

“Supply will be mounting on a monthly basis as demand continues to be low and this will eventually translate into lower capital values and rental.

“An easy 15% to 20% shed in values are envisaged for this sector generally,” Khong said.
The asking prices for middle-class residential properties in general, for example, terrace houses in good locations such as Sri Hartamas, Bandar Utama and even Taman Tun Dr Ismail, had already been adjusted 5% to 10% lower to reflect current market conditions, Khong said.
Khong & Jaafar Sdn Bhd managing director Elvin Fernandez noted that prices of high density condominiums with a low occupancy rate in not-so-choice locations were about 10% lower now compared with a year ago.

“Although prices have softened, it is still difficult to sell such properties,” he said.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

YTL Power a BUY?

YTL Power International Bhd’s proposed purchase of Singapore’s PowerSeraya Ltd looks unattractive from the earnings record of the latter. It was announced on Tuesday the YTL Power group will purchase the entire equity of PowerSeraya, owner of two power stations that has 25% of Singapore’s electricity generation capacity.

The price for PowerSeraya is S$3.4bil (RM8.09bil) and the assumption of a S$200mil debt that owner Temasek Holdings Ltd owes the former. As the debt is owed to a company that will become YTL Power’s wholly-owned subsidiary, it is believed the debt can be cancelled.
The acquisition is expected to be completed in the first half next year and in its first full year of contribution in 2010, PowerSeraya is projected to produce a net profit of RM76mil, YTL Power said. That translates into an earnings per share contribution of 1 sen for YTL Power, the company added.

That sounds miniscule for an investment outlay of S$3.4bil. It should be noted, however, that PowerSeraya’s net profit was much higher at S$218.3mil for its year ended March 31 (FY08). The reason for the wide fluctuation in its profitability is not known.

It could be due to factors such as scheduled maintenance shutdown at a certain period. PowerSeraya’s earnings in FY08 would be a return of 6.4% on YTL Power’s purchase price. The free cashflow from PowerSeraya should exceed that because depreciation, a large non-cash item, would have been deducted to arrive at the profit figure.

In addition, PowerSeraya is constructing two 379MW cogeneration units that will be operational in 2010, which will expand its revenue-generating capacity. Power project investments are premised on free cashflow of the acquired assets being used to repay loans taken to finance the acquisition.

YTL Power said the PowerSeraya purchase will be funded by S$1.15bil from the former’s cash reserves and S$2.25bil from a loan.

Outlining a scenario, an investment banker told StarBiz yesterday that if YTL Power took a 10-year loan for S$2.25bil, half of that would be repaid in five years from PowerSeraya’s own cashflow. At that time, S$1.125bil of debt would have been repaid and become equity for the YTL Power group.

In 10 years, the entire loan would have been repaid and YTL Power would then own PowerSeraya with the entire debt repaid. Effectively, YTL Power would have gained an equity value of S$2.25bil by then.

That’s a huge sum in equity value, although it’s not an acquisition primed for high growth. The objective is steady, assured wealth creation. Furthermore, YTL Power is not getting PowerSeraya at a distressed sale price because Temasek is not in any form of distress. The word on the street is the internal rate of return (IRR) - the return to be earned on invested capital - for PowerSeraya is about 10% or in the low teens.

For a richer IRR in the mid-teens, YTL Power will have to trawl further afield for distressed asset sales which, no doubt, it is working on.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Petronas revenue still up!

Despite falling oil prices, national oPeil company Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) continued to chalk up an impressive growth in net profit on the back of higher average prices of the commodity.

Petronas posted a 46% year-on-year growth in net profit to RM42.68 billion for the first half (1H) of its financial year ending March 31, 2009 from RM29.27 billion, after paying tax expense of RM20.5 billion.

Revenue was sharply higher at RM157.2 billion versus RM102.8 billion a year ago. Pre-tax profit soared nearly 49% to RM63.26 billion from RM42.57 billion previously. Higher earnings boosted Petronas’ cash pile to RM124.6 billion from RM113 billion as at March 31. The group’s other liabilities, however, shot up 47% to RM112.8 billion from RM76.9 billion in the previous corresponding period.

The surge in Petronas’ profit did not come as a surprise given the 64%, or US$49.50 (RM179.68), jump in the average price of Tapis crude to US$126.48 per barrel during the six months under review. The average price of the commodity was US$76.64 in the corresponding period last year.

Tapis crude is the benchmark for Petronas’ production.

However, the national oil company which contributes over 40% of the government’s coffers in the form of petroleum taxes and dividend, is likely to see lower profits in the second half of its financial year in tandem with the drastic drop in crude oil prices since July when the worldwide commodity boom collapsed.

The average price of Tapis fell to US$74.77 in October, down 30% from US$106.92 in September. Yesterday, Bloomberg Asia-Pacific Tapis crude oil spot price was US$50.03 per barrel. The current level is the lowest since January 2005. The price has plunged 67% from the peak of US$153 in mid-July.

The last financial year, ended March 31, 2008, was a record year of profit for Petronas. The operating environment has since turned harsh, for on top of the meltdown in crude prices, the weakening ringgit and increase in production costs will further erode the group’s profitability.
According to Petronas president Tan Sri Mohd Hassan Marican, every 10-sen fall in the ringgit against the US dollar will take away about RM2.5 billion from the group’s profit.
The US dollar has strengthened substantially in recent months due to its standard currency status. The greenback has appreciated to RM3.628 against the ringgit, up almost 13% from the US$3.21 level in July.

International operation is Petronas’ biggest revenue contributor, generating RM68.9 billion or 44% of total revenue, followed by exports with RM56.7 billion or 36%, and domestic opertation, RM31.5 billion or 20%. But domestic operation, including exports, is still the most profitable due mainly to the lucrative production-sharing contracts it has with international oil majors for exploration and production (E&P) activities.

Giving a breakdown, the oil business, including refined petroleum products and crude oil trading, is the most profitable division, accounting for 40% or RM25.7 billion of the company’s operating profit. Gas is the second biggest profit-earner, contributing RM20.8 billion or 32.5% to group operating profit. Next comes E&P with 19% or RM11.9 billion.