Complete Property Market Updates of Singapore

March 31, 2008

Rising demand for Built-to-Suit space

Filed under: General — Propertymarketupdates @ 3:53 am

With CBD office rentals continuing to increase, companies are looking for cheaper alternatives, write CHRIS ARCHIBOLD and TAHLIL KHAN

WHILE demand for central business district (CBD) office space remains very strong, some significant trends have emerged in the way a number of multinational companies view options in terms of location and type of premises for future occupation.
The two most active industries looking at BTS schemes are financial institutions and IT companies. A lot of the interest has centred on Changi Business Park as one of the key advantages, besides the availability of greenfield sites, is the direct land allocation process.

This has come about from Singapore’s drive towards a knowledge economy as well as current market dynamics. Historically, the Singapore economy was largely based on trading and labour-intensive manufacturing industries. In the 1990s, there was a significant drive towards the information technology (IT) sector which grew as a result of the dotcom era. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a concerted effort to encourage R&D activity and more recently, the government has been encouraging various sectors. That notably includes positioning Singapore as a regional financial hub.

The growth of the financial services sector in Singapore has had a marked effect on the economy and on the accommodation demanded by global financial players. Many of these large financial houses have now reached a critical mass whereby they are looking to split their operations into both front and back offices.

The Singapore office market bottomed out in the second half of 2004 and saw a rental rise of 23 per cent in 2005 followed by 63 per cent in 2006 and a further 67 per cent in 2007 with fourth quarter Grade A CBD rents at $16 per sq ft a month. This dramatic increase in rents has been fuelled by lack of supply and unprecedented levels of demand from many MNCs, most notably from the financial sector.

The high-tech sector has also seen increases in rents of 12.5 per cent, 11 per cent and 97 per cent in 2005, 2006 and 2007 respectively. While 2007 saw a virtual doubling of high-tech rents, the increases from the bottom of the market till today have been nowhere near as dramatic as the office market which has trebled. We have a scenario today where there is a significant gap between office and high-tech rents.

The gap between average CBD core office rent and rents for high-tech space has widened from 140 per cent in the second half of 2004 to about 200 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2007. This is because of the higher increase in CBD core office rentals as compared to high-tech rents during this period.

With CBD core office rentals continuing to increase, companies began looking for cheaper alternatives. Some major financial institutions have chosen to relocate their backroom operations to high-tech space, thus pushing up high-tech rentals. The strong demand for such space at the tail end of 2007 and beginning of 2008 has resulted in high-tech rentals increasing at a faster rate than CBD core and decentralised area office rentals, narrowing the rental gap between office and high-tech space.

Nevertheless, compared to office rents, high-tech rents are more compelling than ever before from an occupational cost perspective. Given that all MNCs are looking to lower occupational costs, and with a disparity of around $11 – $13 psf per month between core CBD rents and high-tech rents, there is an opportunity to make substantial savings which makes a compelling case for corporate real estate managers (CRE) and chief financial officers (CFOs).

Given the above, we are witnessing unprecedented growth in the demand for high-tech business park space from both traditional occupiers and financial institutions. There are a number of reasons for this recent phenomena, including the following:

#Cost savings,
#Consolidation of operations,
#Critical mass,
#Diversification of locations (business continuity).
The current supply of high-tech space is extremely limited and hence the emerging trend for forward thinking MNCs is to enter into built-to-suit (BTS) projects. This can be either owner-occupied by the MNC or leased from a BTS developer on a long-term basis. It is worth noting that for a BTS project to be financially viable (for both occupiers and the developers) they generally have to be of a certain scale, approximately 100,000 sq ft and above.

The major considerations for MNCs looking at BTS projects in decentralised locations are as follows:
#Good corporate image with modern office-like facade and landscaping,
#Strong supporting amenities such as food courts and ancillary retail,
#Competitive rentals,
#Efficient transportation systems including access to MRT, buses and taxis,
#Greenmark certification as a minimum – many MNCs now have corporate mandates that dictate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR),
#Ability to create a quality working environment. Our surveys on the workplace environment have demonstrated that a quality working environment increases productivity. Lower rents per sq ft enable MNCs to dedicate more area for staff facilities and welfare. In the main, the areas that are considered by MNCs for BTS projects fall into four preferred locations: Changi Business Park (CBP), Jurong East including International Business Park (IBP), One-north and Science Park.

Market talk indicates there are likely to be other locations which may be designated as high-tech locations such as Paya Lebar. The reason the above locations are favoured is the current availability of quality sites that meet MNCs’ requirements. Recently, the 15-year leasehold transitional office sites (such as those in Newton, Mountbatten and Tampines) have provided occupiers with attractive propositions in terms of affordable rents in good locations which will facilitate BTS developments. The BTS trend has been borne out in a number of recent well-publicised acquisitions. In terms of the financial sector, these include acquisitions of substantial back office BTS facilities by DBS, Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank. OCBC is also rumoured to be in discussions on a BTS scheme in Changi Business Park. Recent BTS acquisitions by non-financial services companies include Tolaram Group in IBP and IMC Shipping in Changi Business Park.

There are numerous other corporates that are in discussions for BTS projects that will go live in 2008. Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) is currently advising a number of large occupiers in various industries on their long-term strategies for Singapore. Table 2 details the industry profile of the occupiers that we are currently advising with regards to the potential acquisition of BTS facilities.

An interesting point to note is that based on JLL’s current instructions, the two most active industries looking at BTS schemes are financial institutions and IT companies. A lot of the interest has centred on Changi Business Park as one of the key advantages, besides the availability of greenfield sites, is the direct land allocation process which provides corporates with line of sight in terms of costs and certainty in terms of timing.

Given the current and increasing future importance of CSR, BTS facilities are giving major corporates an opportunity to reduce their environmental impact and impress shareholders with their drive to be good corporate citizens. Almost every recent commitment to a BTS project has incorporated at least the minimum level of greenmark certification. Some of the occupiers are aiming to achieve Gold Plus or even Platinum levels of certification.

Our house view is that Singapore will see a continuing trend of BTS facilities over the next couple of years, with the likely takers of BTS projects being full relocations (including front office operations) for the IT, consumer products and manufacturing industries and back office operations for financial institutions.

This will continue to be driven by current influencing factors, ie, rents and the lack of supply. In the case of financial institutions, this will also be driven by the fact that many now have the critical mass in Singapore required for a split front and back office location.

The impact of these BTS schemes on the office market and high-tech market remains to be seen and is very much dependent on the scale of BTS commitments over the next 12-24 months. Equally, this is also dependent on the percentage of space that is taken up as expansion requirements compared to take-up that is pure relocation from current buildings.

Chris Archibold is regional director, head of markets, Jones Lang LaSalle; and Tahlil Khan is associate director, head of industrial, Jones Lang LaSalle

Source : Business Times – 27 March 2008


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