YTL Group mulls venturing into Iskandar

PHOTO: YTL Group mulls venturing into Iskandar

SINGAPORE - Malaysian conglomerate YTL Group had long resisted the urge to leap aboard the Iskandar bandwagon, but the company is now sizing up opportunities in the booming growth zone.

The family-controlled firm, whose property arm has sizeable high-end projects in Malaysia and Singapore, believes it will not be able to stay away from the area for long.

Mr Joseph Yeoh, vice-president of YTL Land and Development, told The Straits Times: "There are opportunities there and we are currently reviewing these.

"It would depend on many factors such as landbank and whether the project passes some of our internal hurdle rates."

The firm, which is mostly inclined towards the niche high-end real estate segment, had up to now not considered venturing into Iskandar given most of the projects there are large-scale ones, said Mr Yeoh.

Mr Yeoh, 27, is the third child of Mr Francis Yeoh, the man behind the diversified conglomerate spanning Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Australia and Britain.

Iskandar has already attracted local and foreign developers in droves.

Its proximity to Singapore has been a strong selling point when pitching its appeal to buyers across the Causeway, so it's no surprise that Singaporeans are among the biggest foreign real estate buyers in Iskandar.

Plans to build a high-speed rail line linking Kuala Lumpur to Singapore and a Johor Baru-Singapore rapid transit system are making the area an even harder- to-dismiss investment opportunity.

YTL Land, listed on Bursa Malaysia, already has key insights on what property buyers here are looking for, particularly in the high-end segment.

Revenue from the Singapore operations helped bolster group revenue for the year ended June 2012 to RM580 million (S$228 million), from RM73 million a year earlier.

It was the first time that YTL Land, which has a market capitalisation of just over RM900 million, had consolidated the results of the Singapore subsidiary. As a result, the Singapore unit contributed about 80 per cent to group revenue.

"It's interesting. As YTL Land is a microcosm of the whole group where 80 per cent of contributions come from abroad," said Mr Yeoh.

YTL Land has built two luxury waterfront villa projects in Sentosa Cove, Sandy Island and Kasara - the Lake, which were handed over to home owners last year.

Sandy Island has sold all but one of its 18 villas with buyers from Singapore, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. Kasara was sold out three months into its launch.

The Sandy Island project faced its fair share of challenges. Its launch closely followed the 2008 Lehman Brothers' collapse, which triggered a global financial crisis.

"There were a lot of sceptics about our timing as well as the way we designed the place. But we managed to sell 17 units," Mr Yeoh said.

YTL's luxury condominium Orchard Boulevard is slated for preview next year. It comprises a 25-storey block of 77 apartments. Like other builders, YTL may face challenges wooing buyers to such a project given the slew of property cooling measures.

But Mr Yeoh is not too worried, not least because of the niche the group has managed to carve out in Singapore.

"I don't think anyone (can say he) is unaffected by these measures. That would be a lie to say," he admitted.

"Ultimately, for YTL, we've tried to create unique, one-of-a-kind homes with a holistic feel. There's a sense of discerning trust from our buyers that we've delivered the best products."

Mr Yeoh, who joined the family empire after spending a year at a law firm following his graduation from Britain's Nottingham University with a Bachelor of Law (Honours), added: "One of the best things about our target market is that high networth individuals are less affected by fluctuations in the market or market stabilisation measures. So, we are cautiously optimistic about Orchard Boulevard."

The firm plans to launch the project in Singapore first and may then set up sales galleries overseas.

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