The moves to cool off the overheated property sector by Malaysia in the last few years were wise (if a bit late). The 6% sales tax was also likely wise. Real estate development tends to get overheated and collapse – taking much wilder swings than other areas of the economy. Reducing those swings is useful but challenging. How the current situation plays out will be interesting and requires government paying attention and taking action to prevent bubbles and excessive speculation, as well as watching for signs the bubble is deflating too quickly.
Malaysian property companies are grappling with higher costs in an industry already reeling from central bank curbs on lending last year and the first interest-rate increase in more than three years in July. Property transactions in 2013 sank the most since the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, while home prices in the first quarter rose at the slowest pace since 2010.
Property transactions dropped 11 percent in 2013, according to the National Property Information Centre, the most since a 32 percent slump in 1998, when Malaysia had its first recession in 13 years. The Malaysian House Price Index rose 8 percent in the first three months of 2014, the slowest growth since the third quarter of 2010.
Developers offered 6,339 new units in the first quarter, a drop of almost 50 percent compared with the previous quarter. Only 30 percent of the units were sold.
It is possible the slowdown in real estate development will be too sharp which creates problems. But if that happens the main reason will be the bubble was allowed to build too quickly. And there is also the possibility the slowdown will not be quick enough (the bubble will keep growing); this seems less likely.
Luxury condos in Johor Bahru seem the most bubbly of all areas in Malaysia. It seems like Kuala Lumpor and Penang are also in danger of too must leverage and speculation. The moves to reduce that leverage, speculation and bubbly markets are good. We will see how the market develops the rest of this year and next year.
I was in the KSL Mall a couple weeks ago and one of the temporary pop up displays they often have selling real estate (often to be build condos…) or wedding materials or… was for investing in palm plantations. Since it was the middle of the week and no-one was around I talked to the salespeople a bit. I am a pretty skittish investor. I am willing to take investment risks but I want to understand what the risks are. I can’t see myself actually investing in this now, but it was somewhat interesting.
They, Golden Palm Growers Berhad claim a 6% guaranteed rate of return. I asked who guaranteed it and I couldn’t really get an answer I understood. They did seem to agree the guaranty wouldn’t protect against some natural disaster or if palm oil prices feel below a certain level (I think the equivalent of $40 a barrel for oil). They seem to be able to use guaranteed much more liberally than would be allowed in the USA related to investments.
On top of that return there was a “discretionary bonus” that in initial years was based on income earned on excess capital. I still couldn’t really understand the investment totally but it seemed similar to a limited partnership where the company was the general partner (owning the land and managing the care of the palms and selling the palm nuts to processors). I can certainly understand that the general partner may want to take on limited partners. In such situations the general investment market (palm oil) is important but it is also extremely important to trust the competence and reliability of the general partner. Their interest can be somewhat shared with yours but they have an interest in high management fees (to pay themselves) which is exactly counter to all the limited partner investors.
As I understand it, after 6 years the palms should start producing. The scheme is for 23 years (I think palms have a productive life span of about 17 years, so 17 + 6 = 23). During the productive years investors enjoy 100% of net profits with a minimum return of 9% expected, if crude palm oil exceeds RM 1,500 per metric tonne (today close to $US 500) and I believe equivalent to $40 a barrel for crude oil. It looks like the price might be at about RM 2,500 today (but I am not clear if this is