Business Times - 21 May 2009
Prime office rents check their slide
Pace of decline slows down but new supply looms over the next few years
By KALPANA RASHIWALA
(SINGAPORE) The pace of decline in prime office rents slowed in the first six weeks of the second quarter and the improvement has been most visible in the key Raffles Place sub-market, going by latest data from Cushman & Wakefield.
The property consultancy's monthly average rental value for prime Raffles Place slid 6.6 per cent in the six weeks since the end of Q1 2009 to $9.44 per square foot as at May 15, a much smaller decline than the 28.8 per cent quarter-on-quarter drop registered in Q1 this year. This brings the total year- to-date decline to 33.5 per cent from $14.20 psf a month at end-2008.
The average Grade A Raffles Place rental eased 8.7 per cent in mid-Q2 2009, again a more moderate drop than the first quarter's 27.7 per cent Q-on-Q slump.
The moderation in rental decline was also seen in the other micromarkets in Cushman's prime office basket - namely, Shenton, City Hall and Orchard. Cushman's overall prime office vacancy rate crept up 0.4 percentage point to 5.5 per cent as at May 15, milder than the 2.1-percentage point Q-on-Q hike to 5.1 per cent in Q1 2009.
'The deceleration of rent declines is not surprising in light of the recent global stock market rally and signs of the oft-mentioned green shoots starting to emerge in major economies around the world,' Cushman said in its report. This has caused a mood shift among landlords - from one of nervousness to a 'more considered and cautious stance'. 'The continued caution is understandable in light of competition from the oncoming stream of new office supply,' Cushman added.
CB Richard Ellis executive director (office services) Moray Armstrong acknowledged that the pace of rent declines has 'shown signs of easing in the past couple of months' and expects this trend to continue. 'There's some semblance of confidence seeping back into the system,' he said.
'Relocation and leasing activity has been very limited for the past six to nine months. We're looking out for a restoration of normal level of leasing activity, combined with the restoration of positive occupier demand. Those will be the signs that we're emerging out of the office downcycle. We're not there yet,' Mr Armstrong added.
The office market may be weighed down by looming new supply - with 9.9 million sq ft net lettable area of offices slated for completion from 2009 to 2013. This year alone, the new supply is projected at about 2.56 million sq ft, 83 per cent above last year's 1.4 million sq ft.
Demand-wise, the Singapore office market has already seen two consecutive quarters of negative take-up: 366,000 sq ft in Q4 2008 and nearly 323,000 sq ft in Q1 2009, based on official figures.
Cushman's director of research Ang Choon Beng predicts around 40 per cent full-year contraction in prime office rents, with a bigger slide expected for Raffles Place.
'While our forecast model predicts that prime office rents would continue to be weak through 2009, we believe the market has, in some instances, already priced in 70 per cent of the anticipated full-year decline. With the significant portion of the rent declines behind us, we think tenants can start to be more confident of entering into leases.'
Cushman's figures show that in the Shenton micromarket (which includes Shenton Way, Robinson Rd and Anson Rd), the average monthly rental value slipped 6.5 per cent in the first six weeks of Q2 2009, slower than the 18.7 per cent Q-on-Q contraction in Q1. The City Hall location - which includes the Marina Centre area - saw an average 9.4 per cent rent reduction in the first six weeks of Q2 from the end-Q1 level, against a 27.2 per cent Q-on-Q drop in Q1. Similarly, for the Orchard area, the 9 per cent mid-Q2 drop was smaller than the 15.5 per cent slump in Q1.
Cushman's director of commercial and industrial agency Kelvin Chiang says that along with an uptick in tenant inquiries and demand in the first six weeks of this quarter, there wasn't much sublease (shadow) space being added to the market. Neither does he foresee any significant supply of additional 'shadow space' - which refers to excess space that companies try to sublet - in the months ahead.
DTZ executive director (occupier services) Angela Tan says that while there has been no let-up in the amount of shadow space in the market, there is healthy interest in such space as it offers 'good value proposition for short-term use since the space usually comes fully fitted out and reduces the initial set-up cost for the new occupier'.