With volatile currencies across numerous countries, what can the property market in Asia expect in the near future?

By Alfred Chia

Currency volatility has become the new norm. Shifts in the global financial markets come as a result of structural changes in the economy, achieving record high asset prices in some countries while others have seen dramatic declines. Gone are the heady days of dynamic global growth; on the whole, economic slowdown is set to remain in the short term, diminishing the fundamentals underpinning high and stable asset prices seen in the past years (refer to Figure 1).

Indeed, a brief study of markets today does reveal that important developing countries such China face slowing growth. Emerging markets in the Asian region in particular – such as Malaysia and Indonesia – have experienced a rapid depreciation against the U.S. dollar as well.

It is anticipated that systemic volatility will remain high with risk management set to become increasingly complex. Japan, India and other emerging South-East Asian economies are predicted to continue experiencing mild currency devaluation within the next three years.

The resulting doubt over potential returns is likely to have a slightly negative effect on demand from international investors in these markets. Moreover, Central Bank intervention, such as that from the U.S. Federal Reserve, will create further uncertainty – whatever decision the Fed makes over its interest rates will certainly have a profound impact globally.

All is not gloom and doom though. It is possible for currency volatility to open up new areas of growth for an investor’s portfolio, especially so when it concerns cross-border investments. For one, cheaper currencies support potential real estate opportunities in the tourism, retail and export industries.

For countries with relatively strong currencies such as Hong Kong and Singapore, cheaper currencies carries added advantages by providing domestic investors from these countries to leverage on acquire assets abroad on account of their stronger purchasing power. As such, many savvy Singaporean investors are capitalising on current trends to focus their attention on overseas property as a form of investment diversification.

Figure 1: Global currency trends (YOY comparison from 9th November 2014 – 2015). Each currency is compared to the USD. These currencies also represent some of the most popular countries for property investment for Singaporeans.


Source: Bloomberg

What does it mean for Singaporean investors?

Many countries in the world, including developed countries such as the United States, Europe and Japan combat inflation by managing their interest rate policy. On the other hand, Singapore adopts an exchange rate policy. MAS monitors the Nominal Effecting Exchange Rate (S$NEER) of the Singapore Dollar (SGD), which is a non-disclosed, weighted basket comprised by Singapore’s main trade partners.

This is because Singapore is an island nation with no natural resources. Virtually all the resources we consume has to be imported from another nation. Hence, by maintaining a strong currency, inflation can be combatted more effectively. Figure 2 shows a snapshot of Singapore dollar movements against a basket of other currencies, while Figure 3 shows how the US dollar has made further gains against the Singapore dollar since the beginning of the year.



Over the past 10 years, while the Sing Dollar (SGD) seems to have outperformed most of the currencies in the basket of comparison except for the Chinese Yuan, it has not been a straight line appreciation. Although Singapore’s growth seems to be slowing down, her currency continues to remain more resilient compared to the others. In fact, the SGD reached a record time high of 3.1207 and 10,366 against both the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) and the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) respectively in 2015.

While a strong Singapore currency does have its advantages, it is not necessarily ideal to let it gain unhindered from an economic standpoint. While a stronger currency would mean cheaper imports of raw materials, other nations would find Singaporean goods more expensive to consume, resulting in a worsening trade balance. This is because domestic consumption is inadequate to absorb all of the goods and services produced locally. As such Singapore needs a balanced currency policy to keep our economy going.

Because of the Singapore dollars’ resilience and the balanced stance of Singapore’s Central Bank, it makes sense for foreigners to hold on to our currency, especially those who want to hedge against their own currencies potential depreciation. When considering long term, high value investments like real estate, this makes even more sense.

For example, let us take a look at an Indonesian investor who had invested in Singapore property between January 1996 to January 2015. In January 1996, one Singapore dollar would have changed for 1,631.90 Rupiah. In January 2015 however, one Singapore dollar would have changed 9,414.97 Rupiah. The SGD has appreciated by 477 percent against the Rupiah. If the property was purchased with leverage of 70% financing, the Indonesian investor would have made a return on capital of 2,065 percent.

What about Singaporean investors who invested in Malaysian property from 2001 to 2011? A local Malaysian who purchased property on leverage of 70 percent financing would have made a return on capital of 176 percent. However, for the Singaporean, he would have made a lesser return on capital of 95 percent. This is due to the Ringgit depreciating by 16 percent against the SGD during the same period.

Investing in overseas properties for Singaporeans can be a double-edged knife when you factor in exchange rates. While there are opportunities if you get in at the right cycle, you also need to factor in the risks. Head down to PropertyGuru’s inaugural Real Estate Investment Conference on 5th and 6th of December, 10am – 7pm at Orchard Hotel, Level 2 Conference Centre to find out more about how to optimize your currency strategies for successful foreign real estate investments! Sign up today at bit.ly/event_real-estate



The PropertyGuru News & Views This article was first published in the print version The PropertyGuru News & Views. Download PDF of full print issues or read more stories now!