Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Penang property in steady demand, will the housing market facing a glut?

Investment-friendly: A file picture shows visitors at the recent Star Property Fair in Penang. Affin Hwang believes that property developers with land bank and established presence in Penang will benefit from rising property demand.

PETALING JAYA: An increasing population in Penang coupled withlong-term property demand will be supported by major projects driven by public-private partnerships (PPPs), according to Affin Hwang Capital Research.

Among the PPP projects, the largest being the RM27bil Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), could be awarded by September. Singapore’s Temasek Holdings also has a proposed joint venture with Penang Development Corp (PDC) to develop an RM11.3bil business process outsourcing centre and an international technology park.

The research house said in a report that its top stock picks for infrastructure and property exposure to Penang were Gamuda Bhd, IJM Corp Bhd, and Eastern & Oriental Bhd (E&O).

It said the Penang government had pushed for the economy to move up the value chain by encouraging knowledge-intensive and innovation-led manufacturing and services.

“Property development companies such as E&O, Eco World Development Group Bhd and Ewein Bhd are embarking on new large-scale mixed development projects in the state with total gross development value (GDV) of RM60bil,” it added.

E&O has the highest exposure to Penang with property development projects in the state comprising 77% of GDV totalling RM34bil. The multi-billion ringgit PTMP has seen keen interest, with six consortiums submitting bids to be the project delivery partner (PDP) while Affin Hwang Capital understands that discussions for the joint venture with PDC were in the final stages.

“The joint development agreement is expected to be inked in July or August. Work on the BPO Prime is expected to start in the first quarter of 2016.” The entry of Temasek would also attract more Singapore companies and other foreign investors to Penang.

“We believe Gamuda will likely be appointed the PDP for the project. Also, being one of the largest contractors in Penang, IJM Corp is expected to win a substantial portion of construction work for the PTMP,” it said.

“The Penang government also managed to convince Hewlett-Packard to choose Penang as the location to set up its new RM1bil manufacturing facility instead of Iskandar Malaysia.”

The plant would produce high-speed inkjet printer heads for the global market.

A ready pool of skilled workers out of a total workforce of 797,700, developed infrastructure, established information technology eco-system, and consistent and investment-friendly state government policies could be the reasons why Penang continue to be attractive compared with Iskandar Malaysia.

The island’s popularity with tourists, diverse culture, historical attractions, beautiful coasts and famous cuisine were added attractions.

“We believe property developers with land bank and established presence in Penang will benefit from rising property demand in the long run.

“Job creation from rising investments in industrial and service sectors should support population growth from organic expansion and inbound migration,” said Affin Hwang Capital Research.- The Star/Asian News Network

The housing market in Penang today

With an abundance of newly built high-rise condominiums, is Penang facing a property glut?


Malaysia’s population crossed the 30 million mark in February 2014. According to the Population and Housing Census 2010, about three in 10 people fall in the 20-40 years old age group – the one most likely to be firsttime home buyers. By 2020, that group is projected to grow to 11.3 million. In Penang, the current estimate for this age group is at 0.6 million, or 36% of the state population. The average property price in Penang currently stands at RM336,521. Even with the 50% stamp duty cut, middle-income earners with two dependents can only afford houses priced at RM300,000 and below [1], and looking at the current national average price for all types of properties, RM300,000 is well below the average (Figure 1).

Besides increasing prices, public concern is on whether or not the property market is overheated; many suspect that currently there is an oversupply of properties, especially in Penang. The current existing stock of residential properties can house more than six people per household (Table 1), and as smaller households are the global trend for developed and developing countries, statistics indicate that there is still a growing demand for housing.


Source: The Malaysian House Price Index Q1-Q2 2014, National Property Information Centre (NAPIC).

To meet market demands and expectations, a steady addition of incoming and planned supply to the existing property stock in Penang is still expected in the near future. Based on the population projection given by the Department of Statistics for Penang (1.75 million in year 2020), Malaysia Property Incorporated found that there is an oversupply of about 45,000 units this year and 22,000 units by 2020 [2], assuming that the average household size stays at 3.98 people and housing supply stops after 2015.

A growing demand for housing with a potential oversupply of properties sounds contradictory enough, begging the question: will the potential glut be for a certain type of residential property, and are the right kinds of properties being built in the right areas?

Whither the low-medium cost housing?

On Penang Island, the most densely populated district is in the north-east; the area encompassing George Town, Jelutong, Air Itam, Gelugor, Tanjung Tokong and Tanjung Bungah still remains one of the most sought-after places for property. Despite limited land spaces, incoming and planned unit supply to this district has seen no sign of abating.

However, in recent years, the south-west of the island, where the airport and the industrial area are located, has become the hottest investment spot for bigname developers. The highest growth of property supply on the island is expected to be in this area, with the likely addition of 17,518 incoming units (33.3%) and 17,058 planned units (32.4%).


Source: Property Market Report First Half 2014, NAPIC and own calculation
Source: Property Market Report First Half 2014, NAPIC and own calculation.

On the mainland, the more populated central Seberang Perai (SP) is expected to see more new housing units in coming years, compared to north and south SP. The opening of the Second Penang Bridge and the announcement of a series of development projects in Batu Kawan, including IKEA and branch campuses of University of Hull and KDU University College, certainly give south SP a huge appeal for future housing development. So far, the housing demand there has not jumped markedly. However, as a prelude, following the announcement of the projects, land prices in south SP skyrocketed to between RM50 and RM60 per sqft, compared to previous prices of RM8 to RM9 per sqft [3].

Within the high-rise category, there is a trend of developers preferring to build higher value condominiums (Table 3). In coming years, especially on Penang Island, a higher proportion of new highrise units will come from condominiums. Although the construction of low cost flats is emphasised by both the federal government and the Penang state government, the supply of such units is slow and short in coming – at just half the number of the future supply for condominiums. The future supply of medium cost flats also cannot catch up with the supply rate and units of condominium, indicating that condominium sales seem more profitable for developers and that there may be an oversupply of higher value high-rise units in the near future.

Probably as the result of an influx of affluent local or foreign buyers, the supply for bungalows (detached) units has increased significantly. Service apartments have also become a new niche in the property market; the number of service apartment units is expected to double.
Source: Property Market Report First Half 2014, NAPIC and own calculation
Source: Property Market Report First Half 2014, NAPIC and own calculation.

The island factor
Penang Island’s attractiveness as a place to invest or settle in can be seen from its property prices; one condominium unit on the island normally costs more than twice or thrice that on the mainland. The same goes for the price of landed properties (Table 3).

Although this tendency is likely to persist for some time, the number of residential property transactions slowed down on the island for the first three quarters of last year whereas property sales in SP were generally unaffected (Table 4). Due to market-cooling measures – i.e. the introduction of more stringent real property gains tax (RPGT) and maximum loan-to-value ratio for individual and non-individual borrowers – laid by the federal government and Bank Negara to curb property speculating, the upward price index trend for both landed properties and high-rise units slowed down significantly for the first half of 2014. Given that the number of sales was also at a lower level in the third quarter compared to the previous year, property prices on the island for the latter half of 2014 were probably stagnant.

Source: Residential Property Stock Table Q2 2014, NAPIC
Source: Residential Property Stock Table Q2 2014, NAPIC.

With the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) on April 1, firsttime home buyers may rush to make property purchases in the first quarter of 2015 to avoid paying the incremental cost. Although residential properties fall under the “Exempt Rated” basket of goods, property prices look set to increase due to the inflation cost of construction materials. According to a market survey, developers are facing ever higher compliance costs. Therefore, it is unlikely that house prices will drop this year when higher inflation is expected. Meanwhile, the “Youth Housing Scheme” announced in Budget 2015 may encourage young families from lower and middle income groups to make their first home purchase. Under the scheme, those who qualify and are selected will be given RM200 monthly financial assistance by the federal government to pay the loan instalments, 50% stamp duty exemption on loan and transfer agreements as well as 100% loan financing.

Source: Residential Property Stock Table Q2 2014, NAPIC
Source: Residential Property Stock Table Q2 2014, NAPIC.

Old is gold
Interest from investors in George Town’s pre-war heritage properties has never been greater since the city was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008. Under the draft of the George Town Special Area Plan, there is a total of 4,665 buildings located within the core (50.2%) and buffer (49.8%) zones. Given the immense potential for capital appreciation or gain from investments, these heritage properties are in red-hot demand. With the booming tourism in George Town, many investors have transformed old, neglected heritage shop houses into boutique hotels or commercial premises.

Before the repeal of the Rent Control Act in 1999, there were very few transactions and the price index did not move much for properties situated within the conservation zones. Since then, the compound annual growth rate for such properties from 1999 to 2013 was at 12.7% [4]. For the first half of last year, the average price for pre-war properties in George Town registered a new highest record at RM1,300 per sqft.

Source: Henry Butcher Malaysia (Penang) and NAPIC
Source: Henry Butcher Malaysia (Penang) and NAPIC.

Similarly, the number of pre-war property transactions also soared especially after 2008 (Figure 2). However, despite the new highest record of average transaction price, there were fewer property transactions last year; the Penang Real Estate Market Research Report on pre-war properties published by Henry Butcher Malaysia (Penang) [5] suggests that the prewar heritage property market has more buyers than it has sellers due to a limited supply of good listings. Because of this, the pre-war property market price could be very much distorted. For example, in March 2012, a 2,000sqft shop house along Lebuh Pantai (considered a prime heritage area) was sold at RM4mil (or RM2,000 per sqft) [6] – an isolated case but way above the average market price nonetheless.

Since the number of pre-war heritage buildings in the historic George Town is fixed and more than a thousand of such properties were transacted since 2008, the proportion of “sellable” properties in the market will shrink by year while market demand for such properties remains high. Hence, it is reasonably expected to see even steeper transaction prices and fewer transacted pre-war property units in years to come.

 By Lim Chee Han
Lim Chee Han received his PhD in Infection Biology from Hannover Medical School, Germany. He is a senior analyst in the economics section of Penang Institute.