Wing Tai picks top architects for 2 projects

Few cities can claim to have buildings designed by 10 Pritzker Prize winning architects, and Singapore is now one of them.
Belle Vue Residence: Wing Tai has upped the ante in the race for big names by commissioning eminent Japanese architect Toyo Ito for its luxury development in Oxley Walk. Mr Ito is well known here for designing Vivocity

To date there are only about 30 winners of the prestigious Pritzker Prize - the architectural equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize - and thanks to Wing Tai Holdings, Jean Nouvel, the latest recipient, will be the 10th winner to design a building here.

Mr Nouvel, who follows in the footsteps of architects like Philip Johnson, Kenzo Tange and James Stirling, will design his first project here - a luxury 43-unit apartment building in District 9 to be called Le Nouvel Ardmore.

On the choice of architect, Wing Tai deputy chairman Edmund Cheng said: 'Architecture influences who we are by defining how we live. That is why we set high standards for the architecture in our developments - to provide timeless elegant designs and thoughtful functional spaces.'

For Le Nouvel Ardmore, Mr Nouvel has created a 33-storey tower derived from the concept of a rotating Rubik's cube.

While the tower will not actually 'rotate', automated screens will be incorporated into the facade so homeowners can 'frame their own views' and create unique living spaces.

Mr Nouvel's design also calls for an outer structural lattice in the form of a grid detached from the living spaces to create an buffer of greenery and layering of spaces.

Besides giving the tower a distinctive look, the buffer space will be planted at certain levels to correspond to the villas-in-the-sky ambience of the development.

Internally, units will have high ceilings bathed in light from big windows that will provide 270 degree views.

'We know who our buyers are, we understand their needs and lifestyle requirements,' said Mr Cheng. 'They have keen appreciation for differentiation and seek sophistication in their properties.'

As homebuyers become more discerning, developers here are increasingly commissioning big-name architects.

'Discerning homebuyers and investors are increasingly drawn to good architecture,' said Mr Cheng. 'They have a higher sensitivity towards good design and are willing to spend not only on the interior of their apartments but also the exterior. Projects equated with quality are likely to attract higher premiums for their uniqueness and beauty.'

Wing Tai seems to have upped the ante in the race for big names by commissioning eminent Japanese architect Toyo Ito for its other luxury development, Belle Vue Residences in Oxley Walk.

Mr Ito, who received the 2002 Gold Lion Award at the International Architecture Exhibition of Venice Biennale, is already well known here for designing Vivocity.

For Belle Vue Residences, he has pushed the boundaries by coming up with a floor plan inspired by the branches of a tree and setting a distinctly organic tone.

The 176-unit development will have intimate pockets of space designed to mimic nature's branching pattern, integrating interior and exterior spaces.

The organic branching effect also results in more exposed wall surfaces and windows for more natural light and better ventilation.

As a result of organic planning, there are about 160 unit types, with most responding to the landscape in unique ways.   - 2008 September 25   BUSINESS TIMES

Market could do with Wing Tai plainspeak

Wing Tai Holdings holds its fourth-quarter and full-year results briefing next Tuesday, it will be the last of the major Singapore-listed property groups to announce results for the period ended June 30, 2008. Net earnings are expected to be lower than the $382 million record performance for the preceding year. But the wait may still be worth it, if the Cheng brothers who helm the group once again give a candid assessment of the state of the Singapore property market.

The duo has made some of the frankest pronouncements on market prospects. Last August, during the early days of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis, Wing Tai chairman Cheng Wai Keung was probably the first major developer to say publicly that sub-prime woes had slowed property transactions across the entire market in Singapore.

He said: 'Yes, temporarily, it has affected some of the take-up rates. But it is actually not a bad thing. The market needs a bit of consolidation. High-end home prices have gone up 100 per cent within the last 6-9 months. It's just not sustainable. But if sub-prime settles within a reasonable period, I believe there is still room to grow in the property market. We're not at the end of the property cycle.

'On the other hand, if sub-prime or the credit market continues to be in turmoil and it affects confidence in general, then, of course, it will be a completely different scenario,' he had added.

That was in August last year. By February this year, when the sub-prime crisis and its bite on the local property market had worsened, some developers here were still singing a positive tune, hoping the sub-prime gloom would blow away after mid-year.


But Wing Tai deputy chairman Edmund Cheng told BT at the time that it may not be realistic to expect sub-prime problems to fade away by mid-year. 'They are likely to linger beyond this year, as the exposure has extended to many other areas, and it may still take some time for the full extent of exposure to be discovered,' he said.

Now, with the official forecast for Singapore's GDP growth this year trimmed and all-round warnings for tougher times ahead, the market will hopefully once again be able to count on the Cheng brothers to deliver an honest verdict for the property market - and perhaps even offer some advice for property investors caught in the turbulence.

After all, Wing Tai itself has been through tough times. It was one of the worst-hit developers during the Asian financial crisis. It chalked up huge losses and was strained by a pile of debt.

It had bought some high-priced residential plots in Singapore in June 1997, on the eve of the Asian crisis. These included a 99-year leasehold residential site at Draycott Park that it purchased at $1,103.60 per square foot per plot ratio (psf ppr) and another plot in the Newton Road area for $611.91 psf ppr. The price of the Draycott plot remained a record for 99-year leasehold prime district residential land for about a decade.

Better shape

Wing Tai had high net gearing ratios (over 1) during the Asian crisis years and again during the more recent property slowdown in 2000-2004. Today, the group is in much better financial shape. As at March 31, 2008, its net gearing ratio was 0.5.

Like all developers, Wing Tai will try to hold off launches given the current weak market sentiment, especially since it has strengthened its financial position from the recent Singapore residential market boom between 2005 and 2007.

But, as Morgan Stanley Research said in a recent report: 'Should the residential market remain subdued for a prolonged period, Wing Tai may have no choice but to stomach lower selling prices to entice buying activity, particularly if the other developers have cut selling prices in their projects.'

The group's existing Singapore residential land bank was by and large acquired at more attractive prices, except for a 40 per cent stake in a 99-year leasehold plot at Alexandra Road bought for $639 psf ppr late last year.

Fortunately for Wing Tai, its other prime district freehold sites like Anderson 18, Ardmore Point, Belle Vue and Newton Meadows were acquired between 2005 and May 2007 at relatively attractive prices of $1,650 psf ppr and $1,369 psf ppr for Anderson 18 and Ardmore Point respectively and about $660 psf ppr for both Belle Vue and Newton Meadows.

If necessary, Wing Tai could take a hit on selling prices for new condos on these sites and should still be able to make a decent profit. Wing Tai seems to have learnt its lessons from the past and, hopefully, history will not repeat itself. As a bonus, the Cheng brothers may again offer probing insights into the local property market next week.   - 2008 August 22   BUSINESS TIMES

Wing Tai chief cautiously upbeat on property prices

Wing Tai Holdings' head honchos yesterday said the US sub-prime woes have slowed property transactions across the whole market here but believe that property prices are still on a growth path 'if the sub-prime (crisis) stabilises within a reasonable period'.

Mr Cheng: Sub-prime crisis has temporarily affected property market

Wing Tai chairman Cheng Wai Keung said: 'Yes, temporarily, it has affected some of the take-up rates. But it is actually not a bad thing. The market needs a bit of consolidation. High-end home prices have gone up 100 per cent within the last six to nine months. It's just not sustainable. But if sub-prime settles within a reasonable period, I believe there is still room to grow in the property market. We are not at the end of the property cycle.'

Mr Cheng and his brother, Edmund, the group's deputy chairman, were fielding questions during the group's full-year results briefing.

'On the other hand, if sub-prime or the credit market continues to be in turmoil and it affects confidence in general, then of course it will be a completely different scenario,' he added.

Mr Cheng also acknowledged that Wing Tai had seen an increase in buyers not exercising options but the rate is 'not alarming', at 'just a handful'.

Buyers giving up options is a factor of two things: how aggressively a developer pushes for a sale and its selling price. 'Our style is that given that the market is slow, there's no point to push for a sale (and then have the buyer) back out later. Secondly, our pricing maximises our profit but we also leave something on the table (for the buyer) so at least he has a hope that the price is supportable,' Mr Cheng said.

As for the proposed changes to legislation governing collective sales, Mr Cheng reckons they will slow down en bloc sales since such deals will now take longer to execute. 'From a positive angle, it will slow down supply of land with redevelopment potential which means there will be less competition for companies that already have some landbank. But on the other hand, if you have less land to buy, then you cannot grow your business as fast as you would like to.

'But given the recent run-up in property prices, people will be a lot more cautious in buying more development land. So in a nutshell, I think it's good. At least it allows the market to consolidate and adjust itself, and also takes away some of the uncertainty under old en bloc rules.  -   SINGAPORE BUSINESS TIMES  2007 August 31

Wing Tai's Cheng family own all of 222-yr-old Gieves & Hawkes

Admiral Lord Nelson wore it. So did the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

Now businessman Cheng Wai Keung and male members of his clan are also outfitted in them - suits from Gieves & Hawkes (G&H), the upmarket purveyor of menswear from London's Saville Row.

Mr Cheng, chairman and managing director of Wing Tai Holdings, and his family will soon own all of G&H in a 2.28 million (S$5.98 million) takeover exercise.

The amount is for the remaining 29 per cent of the company that Hong Kong-listed USI Holdings, an associate of Wing Tai, does not already own.

Singapore-based Mr Cheng, who confirmed the deal, said the transaction was done through USI whose core business is garment manufacturing for international labels like Gap, DKNY and Ralph Lauren.

USI, whose chairman is Christopher Cheng, elder brother of Wai Keung, has controlled 71 per cent stake of G&H since 1997. It amassed the stake through a combination of share purchases in the open market on the London Stock Exchange where the 222-year Gieves & Hawkes is listed, and a loan note which was converted into equity.

Explaining the decision to purchase and delist it eventually, Li Kwan, USI's group financial controller (apparel division), told BT in a telephone interview from Hong Kong: 'It is a historic name and we want to build on it. By taking it private, it's easier for us to expand.' In its offer document, USI noted that market sentiment towards smaller quoted companies such as G&H has been poor. There were also 'significant' costs borne by G&H associated with maintaining its public company status and a listing for the shares.

According to Mr Li, USI made an offer of 25.5 pence for each G&H share, a 21 per cent premium from the pre-offer price of 21 pence. The 25.5 pence offer was also the tailoring firm's net book value.

Since last month's offer, the thinly-traded counter, which has a market capitalisation of 7.9 million, has hovered around 24 pence. Mr Li expects minority G&H shareholders to accept USI's offer which closes at end-May. Delisting could then take place at the end of next month.

Founded in 1780, G&H has seven outlets around the world and owns the freehold land at No 1 Saville Row, one of the best known addresses in men's tailoring. The G&H shops in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China are held by licensees. It does not have a presence in Singapore. The firm, however, lost money in the last two years, no thanks to the foot and mouth disease in Britain and last year's terrorist attacks in the US. 'These were the exceptions. Otherwise we have been making profits,' said Mr Li.

Prior to the two years, G&H chalked up an after-tax profit of 500,000 for the year ended Jan 31, 2000.

The purchase of G&H has made chairman Christopher Cheng the purveyor of 'bespoke' suits would cost between 2,000 to 3,000 apiece. An off-the-peg suit from No 1 Saville Row would set back a customer by about 1,000.     - by Loh Hui Yin     Singapore Business Times      15 May 2002

Wing Tai Holdings said it has sold a block of 58 freehold apartments at The Tessarina condo in Bukit Timah to IP Property Fund Asia for $54.4 million. Wing Tai has agreed to lease back the units for three years, assuring the investor of a yield during this period.

BT understands the price works out to about $655 per square foot and the gross yield on the investment for IP Property Fund Asia - whose investors include ING Group and Singapore's CapitaLand - is 'in excess of 4 per cent'.

Analysts said the deal is slightly profitable for Wing Tai, which is said never to have made a provision for the development. The condo stands on the former Rothmans site that Wing Tai bagged in 1994.

The $655 psf average price for the deal is based on the 58 units' total saleable area of about 83,000 sq ft. This includes roof terraces, private enclosed space and air-con ledges, sources say.

Wing Tai said in a statement the 58 units sold comprise a mix of two-, three- and four-bedroom homes, with sizes ranging from 990 to 1,851 sq ft. There are also two penthouses.

Jones Lang LaSalle brokered the deal, the developer said in a statement yesterday.

With the deal, the 443-unit Tessarina is more than 85 per cent sold. IP Real Estate Asset Management managing director Robert Lie said that with the lease-back arrangement, 'we are confident that it will provide good rental yields in the future in line with our fund's objective'.

The company, a 50:50 joint venture between ING Real Estate and CapitaLand, manages the IP Property Fund Asia. Besides ING Group and CapitaLand, with respective stakes of 52 and 20 per cent, the fund's other investors include a Dutch pension fund and ING Life, an insurance company in Australia.

The Tessarina is the fund's seventh acquisition since it was set up in late 1998. Its earlier investments here are Caltex House (25 per cent), 11 apartments at Parc Stevens, 20 condo units at The Avalon and 22 apartments at 11 Amber Road. The fund also has a 70 per cent interest in two blocks of serviced apartments in Bangkok and has invested in the Hong Kong residential property market.

All the investments have positive carry - that is, returns are more than enough to pay interest expenses, said Dr Lie.

The fund has raised equity of US$193 million, of which a little over 70 per cent has been invested. On average, the acquisitions are geared at about 50 per cent, which means the fund should be able to buy total assets costing some US$400 million.

IP Property Fund Asia is still scouting for more investments in Hong Kong and Bangkok, although Dr Lie is not ruling out another investment in Singapore, where the fund still has capacity to invest about US$20-30 million - 'if we find the right project'. This takes into account a limit of investing not more than 50 per cent of assets in any one country. - Singapore Business Times  2003

Home shopping scales new heights
Two new stores widen consumers' choices in picking the finest for their personal and office spaces as well as travels

From fashion, WingTai Asia Group subsidiary Wing Tai Branded Lifestyle has expanded into a retail segment that one would have expected it to move into much earlier.

Living it up: The 2,500-sq ft Zone Singapore is making its debut at Raffles City and is stocked with more than 2,000 products to furnish all areas and rooms of a house

As a leading Singaporean property developer, one would have thought that Wing Tai's retail arm might have added furniture and home decor stores to its retail offerings long ago.

But better late than never, as they say. And now that Wing Tai Branded Lifestyle has stepped into this space, it's not pulling any punches.

Zone Singapore is a one-stop store for home, bathroom, kitchen and office ware - the first franchise store in Asia for a Danish brand founded by Poul Jepsen.

Making its debut at Raffles City, the 2,500 sq ft store is set up to furnish all areas and rooms of a house. The 2,000-plus products are categorised into PersonalZone (bath accessories), LivingZone (living area), FoodZone (kitchen) and WorkZone (office).

Zone has teams of designers in Denmark, Hong Kong and China that conceptualise Scandinavian-style products. The focus is on classic functionality and quality, says Mr Jepsen, who was in Singapore for the launch of the Raffles City store this week. 'But we also want to reach out to the younger crowd, so there's a variety of new materials used, like rubber and silicone.'

Mr Jepsen founded the brand in 1991, having grown up as part of a family with a homeware business.

Helen Khoo, executive director of Wing Tai Branded Lifestyle, says that Zone is an extension of the group's lifestyle activities. 'Shopping for the home has also become like buying fashion. Home furnishing is an expression of the owner's personality. We had to look for the right partner to bring in - and Zone was just what we were looking for.'

Zone is run on a franchise basis, a proven and systematic retail model. 'We're not wasting a lot of time and effort reinventing the wheel,' says Ms Khoo. 'We just need to understand local consumers' needs.'

Zone is distributed in the United States and some European countries and has standalone stores in Cyprus, Greece, Sweden, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Hong Kong.

The company aims to have 100 stores by 2011.

In Singapore, Wing Tai Branded Lifestyle plans to set up three to five stores over the next two years, plus at least one in Kuala Lumpur by next year.

With products ranging from a slim satin-steel sugar dispenser at $12.50 to a saucepan with lid at $702 and a seven-cm satin-steel York candlestick holder at $22 to a coconut designer vase at $162 as well as cotton washcloths at $8.50 to five-litre stainless steel pedal bins at $192, Zone is pretty much the equivalent of a high street fashion brand for homeware.

'The choice of Zone as a partner reflects WingTai's retail outlook,' says Ms Khoo.

'We started with mass brands that are affordable and accessible, like G2000, before we moved up the market to UK high street brands. Now, we're concentrating on the mid to mid-high range of brands. We're moving in sync with our property arm,' which is now building luxury properties.

Mr Jepsen chose Wing Tai Branded Lifestyle as its local partner because of its retail experience.

'We also prefer to partner with fashion retailers because they understand the way we display our products,' he says. 'Like fashion, we'll have new products in the shop every month to create the demand among consumers.' -   2007 September 8   SINGAPORE BUSINESS TIMES


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