Developer showing new spirit of daring

PHOTO: Developer showing new spirit of daring

SINGAPORE - The property market is supposed to be cooling down, following the multiple rounds of curbs - but someone obviously forgot to pass the script to local developer Frasers Centrepoint (FCL).

The firm, a wholly owned unit of conglomerate Fraser & Neave (F&N), has raised many eyebrows with its recent aggressive bidding for land sites.

Last week, it secured a Yishun mixed-use site with a $1.43 billion tender, a jaw-dropping 47 per cent higher than the next highest offer of $969.3 million.

This added to last month's acquisition of a Telok Ayer commercial site for $924 million - a hefty 19 per cent above the second-highest bid.

Developers typically have similar calculations for pricing and profit margins, so the land bidding tends to be close.

The winner typically bids less than 5 per cent above the second-placed tender, say analysts. If the margin is more than 10 per cent to 15 per cent, word starts spreading that the winner is overpaying.

"Tenders (have been) intensely competitive," said a DTZ note this week on land sales.

"Some sites were secured with less than a 1 per cent winning margin over the second-highest bidder."

FCL itself used to be quite conservative in bidding, but it seems to be quickly adopting its new Thai owners' gung-ho attitude towards corporate acquisitions.

In fact, parallels can be drawn between FCL's new confidence and the way Thai tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi beat down the competition en route to claiming F&N in January.

Sceptics initially doubted that he would be rich or audacious enough to table a general offer for F&N, but they were silenced last September when he launched an $8.8 billion strike for F&N, or $8.88 per share.

The battle hit a stalemate after Overseas Union Enterprise (OUE) pulled out a $9.08 per unit counterbid, and the Securities Industry Council had to unveil a laborious step-by-step open auction process to resolve it.

There was no need to get to that. Mr Charoen dramatically raised his offer to $9.55 per share in January - more than 5 per cent above that of OUE, which dropped out after the knockout punch.

After months of dilly-dallying, the son of a Bangkok hawker showed he was not shy to open the chequebook when it mattered, even at the risk of overpaying slightly.

"The Thai attitude is that you don't waste your time bidding if you don't have any intention of winning," said one property analyst.

"I've heard from the broking side that under the new Thai owner, FCL's philosophy is different from previously... If you want to bid (for the land), you better win. Don't try for fun and hope to get the site cheap."

Of course, there are other reasons for the strong bids.

The Yishun site that FCL won is next to Northpoint mall which it controls, so the firm would want to prevent a competitor from stepping in.

International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong added that "the synergy has extra value".

"You can have adjourning shelters so these buildings are connected to one another," he said.

He added that FCL would have done its homework, and could well be laughing all the way to the bank in five years' time.

Also, FCL is on course to be split off from F&N for a separate listing, and could be trying to bulk up its land bank before that.

As investors often impute profit margins into the land held by developers, it would boost FCL's valuations if it held more prime land.

Mr Christopher Tang, chief executive of FCL unit Frasers Centrepoint Commercial, told The Straits Times that FCL always conducts its due diligence and is confident that it can realise the potential of the Yishun and Telok Ayer sites.

Regardless of whether it meets its profit expectations, FCL looks set to shake up the local property market - the way Mr Charoen shook up the stock market with his stunning F&N takeover.

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