Sunday, 30 November 2014

(NST) AEON, Thai retailer open furniture store in Putrajaya

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian retailer AEON Co (M) Bhd has partnered Thailand’s leading furniture and home decorative retailer Index Living Mall Co Ltd to open its first furniture store called Indexlivingmall at the IOI City Mall in Putrajaya.

AEON Malaysia managing director Nur Qamarina Chew said the company is optimistic of its new venture.

“With our ‘customer-first’ philosophy, AEON will continue to accelerate business in the Asean region, with the goal of becoming Asia’s number one retailer,” she said on Saturday.

Indexlivingmall offers home lovers a dedicated 5,704 sq m store of infinite ideas and design inspiration of home furniture and decorative items.

The furniture retail mall will be managed by AEON Index Living Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between AEON Malaysia and Index Living Mall Thailand to provide customers in Asean, especially Malaysia, with homes furnishing of superior quality and designs at affordable prices.

Index Living Mall Thailand’s founder and chief executive Pisith Patamasatayasonthi said the company began more than four decades ago as a humble metal furniture manufacturer to become a leading furniture manufacturer in Thailand today.

(The Star) Households under microscope

Khazanah Research Institute has released ‘The State of Households’ report which sheds light on problem areas including housing, food, education, salaries and BR1M, among others.

FOR Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) managing director Datuk Charon Mokhzani, one of the most surprising things he and his team found while doing research on the state of households in Malaysia is how much data is already there.

“You wouldn’t know if you never looked. There are all kinds of data publicly available,” he says in an interview.

So with its focus on the “pressing issues of the nation”, KRI pored through data and information from various government departments, ministries and bodies such the Department of Statistics, Economic Planning Unit, Education Ministry, EPF, Fama, Bank Negara, World Bank, and Demographia to come up with its 68-page “The State of Households” report.

KRI was set up about a year ago and its objective is to carry out data-driven analysis and research on “pressing issues of the nation” and come up with policy recommendations to the government.

The State of Households report is its first.

“We managed to do it in less than six months. It gives a broad picture of the state of households – an overview of where we are,” says Charon.

Dr Kuppusamy Sigaravello from Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Economics and Administration, who read sections of the report, thinks it is “well presented in a graphical way” that would help the layman understand it.

“It’s the new way forward to explain things easy,” he says.

A number of facts in the report are quite revealing.

For example, only 10.4% of the country’s working population have a degree, while the “vast majority” are not educated beyond Form Five! So the vast majority work at lowly-paid jobs.

Real median household income in the country grew by 19% between 2009 and 2012 and the median monthly salary for individuals in 2013 was RM1,700 a month.

(Median income is different from average income. With average, you total up the incomes and divide it by number of people. With median income, it is the half-way mark you get, if you list down all incomes from lowest to the highest and take the mid-point figure where half would be earning more and half earning less. Median is seen as a fairer assessment than average.)

The report also shows up huge disparities in income and spending patterns in the country.

About 74% of households in the country earn less than RM6,000 and of this, 23% take home less than RM2,000; and that only 4% of active EPF members make more than RM6,000 a month.

The report also highlights wealth inequality in the country.

At one end, there are 38,000 Malaysian millionaires, wealthy Malaysians are buying million ringgit houses and luxury cars, Malaysians were the fourth largest buyers (4%) of newly built property in London in 2012, and are the top buyers of homes in Singapore.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who earn low wages and have no savings, who buy their electrical appliances and furniture on interest-based instalments and end up paying as much as a quarter of the purchase price in interest alone, who are really affected by rising food and utilities prices, and the poorer households are able to afford only RM55 a month or RM1.83 a day on meat.

Charon says KRI will be doing a more in-depth study on food soon to see how to bring prices down.

“If Malaysian food prices are not following world food prices, then we want to know why, and if there is a good explanation for it or if there is a monopoly or middle man involved.

“People always blame the middle man. We don’t have the data yet to tell you if there is a middle man. This is something we are looking to find out.

“There are permits for food importation and incentives for different types of food, and we want to look at all that and see what needs to be changed so that we can bring food prices down to as low as possible.”

He, however, points out that if world food prices go up, Malaysia would not escape the price rise.

“What we want to get away from is that if world prices go up by a little bit, should our food prices go up many times?”

UM’s Dr Kuppusamy thinks it is “simply nonsense” when the government says it can control the price of food.

“Most food are value added along the food supply chain and whether you want it or not, it is also related to the price of fuel and other inputs because food has to be transported and the workers, including those transporting food products, have to be paid,” he says.

He adds that enforcement of price control in the country is poor and done only occasionally and reactively.

“Government enforcement goes ‘off’ about a month after some controls,” he says.

The KRI report also estimates that less than 23.8% or RM5.6bil of the entire fuel subsidy went to households in 2013 while the remaining RM17.9bil went to corporations, businesses and elsewhere.

In calling for a removal of the “blanket subsidies”, the KRI report favours targeted cash transfers like BR1M to help cushion the impact for the lower income group.

“If you want to help people, then decide who you want to help and give them the help. But don’t do it in a wasteful way through blanket subsidies for all. Subsidies encourage wasteful behaviour, smuggling and all kinds of bad behaviour. People are wasteful if things are cheap. If we stop subsidies then people will be less wasteful,” says Charon.

Dr Kuppusamy is all for removing subsidies and assisting those in need with cash transfers like BR1M “if the method to identify the target group is implemented correctly.”

He says the recent move to remove fuel subsidies is the right move, but thinks “the way it has been done is too fast and too soon”.

“Prices of goods have escalated way before the targeted removal of such subsidies. In real terms, the government gains but the rakyat loses faster than the government can react to help those who need help,” he stresses.

He points out that removing the sugar subsidy does not “hit people that much” compared to the fuel subsidy which affects almost everyone on the ground.

“I expected a gradual removal of the fuel subsidy. However, the rich seem to be ‘punished’ for earning more through high tax while the poor is ‘released’ tax-free.”

What this means, he says, is that the rich end up having to pay more for goods especially at the higher end.

The KRI report also touches on the tough housing problem people are facing in the country.

The report states that affordable housing should cost three times the annual median income, but in Malaysia prices are 5.5 times the annual median income.

This makes houses here, in median income terms, more expensive than in the United Kingdom (4.7 times), United States (3.5 times), Ireland (2.8 times) or even Singapore (5.1 times).

The profit margin of property developers in Malaysia too is high at 21%, which is almost double that of the US (12%), the UK (17%) and Thailand (14%).

UM’s Dr Kuppusamy says he actually expected the profit margin of Malaysian property developers to be higher than 21% because housing is purely business and “driven by the private provision of goods”.

Charon says KRI came up with these numbers by going to Bloomberg and having a look at the profit margin of all housing developers in the country and comparing it with the listed property developers in other countries.

And, as affordable housing is now one of the main concerns here, KRI will be doing an in-depth study to see if and how prices can come down.

“There are three elements which are the cost of land, the cost of building the house and financing it, and we are looking at how to lower these.

“Maybe it can be through better technology or maybe there is anti competition in the construction supply chain so the price of cement and other supplies are higher than it should be,” says Charon.

There are many other interesting findings in the report including the ethnic, gender and urban-rural disparity in income, the number of luxury cars sold in 2013, high level consumption of households (98% own a television set, 95% have mobile phones, 91% have washing machines,78% have cars, 57% subscribe to Astro, and 39% have Internet subscription.)

Despite the fact that 74% of the households get less than RM6,000 a month currently, Charon believes Malaysia is still on track to becoming a high income developed nation by 2020.

He says efforts are being made for people to have more disposable income and better purchasing power through higher incomes with better jobs and reducing food, household and transport prices.

“You can’t change the economy tomorrow but you can change it over time,” he says.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

(The Star) The true cost of living

It's hard for the average Malaysian wage earner to understand why the cost of living has risen when the rest of the world is seeing lower inflation given that global oil prices are trading below US$80 a barrel. 

Simply put, people have gotten used to unrealistically low prices due to Malaysia’s subsidies regime covering fuel, basic necessities and electricity. This regime has distorted market pricing. 

Critics argue that if oil prices have fallen, why are prices going up? After all, fuel is an important component of the cost of goods and services. 

But in recent years, subsidies have been slowly curbed and come Dec 1, the Government is scrapping the RON95 fuel subsidy, allowing prices to be based on a managed float system and better reflecting market rates. 

People will have to come to terms with paying for the real prices of goods and services. In other words, Malaysians are now facing the true cost of living and local firms will now have to pay for the true cost of doing business. 

AllianceDBS Research chief economist Manokaran Mottain says Malaysians will have to get used to the higher cost of living. “It may take them some time to adjust but this is the reality,” he tells StarBizWeek. 

The dean of Malaysia University of Science and Technology’s business school Dr Yeah Kim Leng, an economist, says next year’s inflation will have a negative impact on the real income of the 40% of Malaysian households with monthly incomes of less than RM3,000. 

“This group tend to spend proportionately more on ‘essential’ items such as food and fuel. Price changes of these items tend to be higher and more volatile. Since income of this group tends to be relatively fixed, the 5% expected rise in inflation will squeeze their savings or increase their debt level to the limit,” he says. 

To appreciate how much costs will rise, remember when older family members used to reminisce about how much cheaper everything used to be? 

The disconnect between CPI and cost of living 

The latest consumer price index (CPI) data released by the Statistics Department on Nov 19 showed October headline inflation (which includes volatile food and energy costs) rising marginally to 2.8% year-on-year after having moderated to 2.6% in September. 

This looks like prices are coming down given that in August, inflation was up 3.3% while in February and March, inflation spiked to 3.5%. On a year-to-date basis, inflation averaged 3.3%. 

However, as economists point out, this is just a statistical calculation, given the high base of inflation in September 2013, when the Government cut the RON95 fuel subsidy by 20 sen. 

In reality, people still face rising prices due to cost-push inflation because businesses will pass the higher costs to consumers. 

Besides the fuel subsidy cuts last September and this October, businesses have had to contend with the full implementation of the minimum wage and the hike in electricity tariff rates from Jan 1. Then there is the looming deadline of April 1 next year, when the goods and services tax (GST) will be implemented. 

The World Bank’s senior country economist for Malaysia Dr Frederico Gil Sander says in an email reply that the impact of subsidy cuts to the cost of living for low-income households is between 2% and 9%. 

Citing a study done by the Global Subsidy Initiative, he says this includes both the direct impact of higher prices from goods such as fuel and indirect impact, such as the cost of transportation of goods. 

“In many cases, indirect impacts are even larger than the direct impact,” Gil Sander says, adding that in respect to Malaysia, price increases will not impact low-income households as much since the GST will not cover goods consumed by this group. 

“Overall, one could expect a modest impact in the cost of living to the poorest households that could be effectively offset with targeted cash transfers,” he adds. 

However, to the ordinary wage earner, the cost of living will still be higher at the end of next year and going into 2016 due to a combination of low-wage pressures and the continued adjustment of prices to market levels. And this is despite Bank Negara’s forecast of inflation normalising to 3% towards end-2015 after spiking to 5% in the first-half of the year. 

A major cause of the average Malaysian wage earner’s concerns are likely due to what Yeah says is the divergence between the CPI and the cost of living inflation. 

He points out that CPI inflation is not the same as cost of living inflation, which measures the change in expenditure needed to maintain a certain standard of living. 

Yeah says cost of living varies across households and social strata, with price mark-ups and changes varying markedly for the higher quality or branded segments. 

“Not surprisingly, therefore, the cost of living increases and people’s perception of inflation diverge sharply from the official CPI statistics,” he says. 

That perception is underpinned by the fact that almost 70% of Malaysian households live in urban areas, because they have been impacted by the rapid rise in residential property prices and rentals in urban areas over the past four years. 

Yeah noted that education, medical and transport services costs have risen more sharply compared with the national average captured in the CPI. 

In addition, high household indebtedness coupled with low savings has eroded the affected families’ discretionary spending power. Households and businesses saddled with high debt servicing payments will find it harder to cope with rising prices and interest rates. 

“The inability of household income increases for a large segment of society to keep pace with the rising cost-of-living, therefore, has caused people to question the veracity of the official CPI inflation rate,” he adds. 

However, Yeah says while the divergence is real, there are psychological biases in the perception of inflation. 

“Individuals tend to give more weight to price increases than declines. In other words, people prefer no change in prices than the off-setting changes of two prices, one up and one down,” he adds. 

Furthermore, consumers tend to notice large but infrequent changes in price-controlled items and people tend to associate rising inflation with the price changes for daily use items such as food and fuel and ignore the decline in prices of computers, hand phones and other consumer durables, which are purchased less frequently. 

Productivity and wages 

To help ordinary wage earners cope with the cost of living, the Government continues to have subsidies for basic necessities and electricity. For eligible households and individuals, the Government has, since 2012, given out cash under the 1Malaysia People’s Aid or BR1M programme. 

Manokaran says there is an urgent need to address the issues faced by the lower income group. “They can’t make ends meet,” he says. The recent Khazanah Research Institute report titled “The state of households” shows how much households earn in this country. 

“If the economy is to grow, then those in the lower-income group must see their wages rise so that they can help boost private consumption,” Manokaran adds. 

The authors of the Khazanah report noted that 23% of households earned less than RM2,000 per month while at the individual level, based on Employees Provident Fund (EPF) data from 2013, the median monthly salary was RM1,700. 

“This is consistent with the data from the EPF that show that 62% of active EPF members earned less than RM2,000 per month and 96% earned less than RM6,000,” they noted. 

Therein lies the dilemma. For wages to rise, productivity and output must rise but while Malaysia is steadily transforming its economy, it looks as if inflation is rising faster than wages. 

Productivity remains an issue, admits Manokaran and that is also reflected in economic growth. In the aftermath of the 1997/1998 Asian financial crisis, policymakers had recommended that the Malaysian economy should move up the value chain. 

The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) is addressing this issue but, judging from wages alone, while there have been improvements they are still slow. 

Dr Yeah says based on the rising investments in higher value-added, more technology-intensive and skills-based industries attracted under the ETP, there are grounds to be optimistic that these industries will be able to pay wages that are higher than the existing industries. 

“In turn, a tighter labour market will result in the desired gradual increase in wage levels as industries will have sufficient time to adjust by raising productivity,” he noted. 

But Yeah says the concern is still the large pool of unskilled and cheap foreign labour in the country. 

“This dependence will have the undesirable effects of retarding technological upgrading, upskilling and wage increases,” he says. 

(The Star) No fear of office space glut at the moment

Despite a huge supply of office space coming into the Klang Valley over the next three years, the situation is controllable and not expected to result in a glut.

According to CB Richard Ellis executive chairman Chris Boyd, some 25 million sq ft of office space is due for completion by 2017.

“Some of this supply might be delayed or postponed. Yes, there’s a lot of supply coming in but it hasn’t reached alarming proportions,” he tells StarBizWeek.

Boyd says there was currently around 96 million sq ft of office space within the Klang Valley.

“On the positive side, there’s still healthy demand for office space, especially within the oil & gas sector and companies wanting to upgrade from old to new buildings.

“The supply coming in is not unusual,” he says.

According to Boyd, occupancy rates of office buildings within the Klang Valley usually hovers at around 80%.

“This inches up a little when a new generation of employees join the workforce – and then it falls down to 80% again (when there’s new supply).

“So, despite the 25 million sq ft of supply coming in, we don’t hear alarm bells.”

Boyd adds that rates are expected to remain stable.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for tenants to move to modern buildings without paying too much extra in terms of rent.”

Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents (MIEA) president Siva Shanker says 25 million sq ft of office space “is a lot.”

“But do I think it will result in a glut? No I don’t think so,” he says, adding that the situation could lead to a potential overhang.

“This means that some buildings might not be fully taken up, as supply may be a little higher than demand. This is unlike the situation of a glut, where there would be scores of buildings having problems getting tenants.”

Siva also says the level of supply coming in was “normal”.

“There’s more supply coming in but it will be taken up eventually.”

He adds that in the past, the trend was to set up office within the city or as close to it as possible.

“Today this is no longer the trend. Many are moving to suburban locations. A lot of blue-chip companies have accepted that it’s actually alright to work far away from the city and still have a good feel and address.”

Siva cites Bangsar South and Mid Valley as preferred locations that many companies are moving to.

According to property consultant CH Williams Talhar & Wong Sdn Bhd (WTW) in its snapshot on the Klang Valley office sector, a total of about 2.89 million sq ft of office space was completed by the second quarter of 2014.

The incoming supply include Menara Hap Seng, Menara TH @ Platinum Park, Menara Bank Rakyat, The Cascades @ Kota Damansara, Centrus @ CBD Perdana and Menara Pinnacle @ Sunway City.

This, it says, will exert pressure on the current market in terms of performance while rentals are expected to remain generally stable especially in the central Kuala Lumpur area.

In the first quarter of the year, WTW says a drop of about 0.8% in vacancy rate was observed within the Klang Valley, registering at 13.7%.

“Similarly with Kuala Lumpur office buildings, improvement was noted with vacancy rate improved by 0.9% registering at 12.5%.

“In terms of space taken up, Kuala Lumpur registered about 605,300 sq ft with the Klang Valley overall registering about 916,700 sq. ft during the review period.”

It says average prime rentals in Kuala Lumpur remained stable at RM6.80 per sq ft in the first quarter of 2014.

“Prime average capital value and yield remained at RM1,000 to RM1,100 per sq ft and 6% to 6.5% respectively.”

(The Star) Alphine Return bullish about project

Alpine Return Sdn Bhd is unfazed by the rising competition in property development taking place in the vicinity of Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC).

Judging by the response to its Star Development project, one can assess its strong showing for the project which is scheduled for completion in 2019.

Chief operating officer Alan Koh says that to date about 80% of phase one of Star Residences Tower One has been taken up and he is confident the balance will be taken by the first quarter of next year in view of the upcoming campaigns for the project. Phase two of the mixed development will be launched by June next year, he tells StarBizWeek.

On the breakdown of its phase one purchasers, he says 75% are locals and the remainder 25% are foreigners mainly from Singapore, the Middle East, Taiwan and China.

Due to the good demand, prices have gone up by a further 5% since launching phase one, he says, noting that for phase two, Alpine Return is looking at an additional 15%-20% jump in prices (from that of phase one). The prices for phase one are between RM1mil and RM1.3mil.

Koh is confident the project will be well received due to its unique architecture and fine amenities. The tower is three-quarters the height of the Petronas Twin Towers which measures 450m.

The partnership with Samsung C&T as the main builder with strong emphasis on quality and safety is a feather in the cap for the company in terms of strengthening its position as one of the leading developers in the Klang Valley, he says.

Alpine Return recently announced the appointment of Samsung C&T during its award signing and ground-breaking ceremony held at its site on Nov 18.

The South Korean construction giant is well-known worldwide to have successfully delivered landmark projects with great emphasis on quality, on-time delivery, safety and compliance.

Samsung C&T is best known for the construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is currently the world’s tallest building, and the Petronas Twin Towers.

Star Development is also backed by two reputable property developers in Malaysia – Symphony Life Bhd and United Malayan Land Bhd (UMLand Bhd). In terms of structure, the use of contemporary wood, metal, natural stones and coloured texture/patterned finishing is designed to reflect and replicate the Petronas Twin Towers architecture, he explains.

Apart from this, Koh says the company is “incorporating” a hotel-like ambience for the residents coupled with painting and artwork which will distinguish it from other residential developments.

The mixed development project which is situated on 4 acres comprise two key components – Star Residences and Star Boulevard, and is set to be the tallest developments in KLCC with a total gross development value of RM3bil.

Star Residences comprise three residential towers – a 57-storey tower and two 58-storey towers. Star Boulevard includes five blocks of six-storey Signature Retail food & beverage and entertainment hub with a total net lettable area of 12,077sq m. It boasts of lifestyle amenities catering to Star residents, offices, visitors as well as professionals within the surrounding areas.

Another plus point, Koh opines, which will give the development a boost compared with other property developments around the vicinity of KLCC is the Star Walk of Fame.

The Walk of Fame, which is designated to be a tourist attraction and the first of its kind in Malaysia, is a 200m stretch featuring both local and international celebrities, similar to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and Hong Kong’s Avenue of Stars.


According to Koh, there are 36 international celebrities who are expected to hand print on it. The first was inaugerated by the project’s ambassador Datuk Jimmy Choo.

He is upbeat that Star development will be a new tourists attraction and plans are under way to invite international personalities such as Will Smith, Madonna, Beyonce, Elton John, David Beckham, Jacky Chan, Chow Yuen Fatt to endorse their hand print on the Walk of Fame.

On the property market outlook, Koh feels that although the market may slow down in the short term, but over a period of three to four years it could pick up, underpinned by various infrastructure projects like the mass rapid transit (MRT) system.

“Location-wise, places like Mid Valley, KL Sentral and KLCC could see their property prices going up due to scarcity of land and MRT linkages.

Global research has shown that property prices have gone up by at least 30% where there are MRT stations within a radius of 500m from the property development projects,” he says.

(The Star) Hospital closing down

The 125-year-old Penang Maternity Hospital is closing its doors on Dec 15.

The three-storey building in Jalan Sepoy Lines, which was built in 1889, is expected to be demolished early next year, to make way for a new Women and Children Hospital at the site.

This is the first time the one-block building, which houses 112 beds, will be demolished.

The construction of the new building will be undertaken by the Public Works Department.

Tanjung MP Ng Wei Aik, who held a press conference outside the hospital yesterday, told reporters that he found out about the hospital’s closure after his pregnant assistant informed him.

“My assistant had gone to the hospital to find out about delivering her baby there, but she was told by the nurses that the hospital was closing down and that it is not taking in anymore expectant mothers.

“They also told her that they could refer her to other district hospitals,” he told reporters after meeting with one of the hospital’s senior officers to find out about the hospital’s closure.

“I am shocked and disappointed that the hospital management has yet to inform the public about the closure,” he said.

He added that he decided to call for the press conference, so that the matter could be brought to the attention of the public.

Ng said he was told by the officer that the building was no longer safe for occupancy.

He said the First Class and Second Class wards had started closing down beginning Nov 24.

“The Third Class patients are being moved out currently,” he said.

He also said that the equipment and furniture in the hospital would be moved out between Dec 15 and Dec 31.

The expectant mothers who require surgery or face complications, Ng said, would be moved to the Penang Hospital by Dec 15.

However, only 53 places will be available at the Penang Hospital for those facing high risk.

“I was told that from Dec 15 onwards, expectant mothers will be referred to the district hospitals for their delivery or they can also opt to go to the private hospitals,” he said.

Ng hoped the hospital would inform the public about the closure as soon as possible.

When contacted, a Penang Hospital spokesman said a statement would be issued soon on the matter.

(The Star) Luxury development marks entry of HK developers into M'sia

The developers behind the 92 semi-detached villas and four bungalows of the Vila Seni project in Johor Baru say the guarded and gated community covering 4.9ha provides the best in a residential enclave.

When the first phase of Vila Seni @ New World Garden was officially launched last year, the project was already 50% completed as it was being developed under the build-then-sell model.

One year later, the Vila Seni project, which has a gross development value of RM250mil, has been fully completed.

The project’s architectural quality was benchmarked under the Construction Quality Assessment System, which serves as a standard assessment system on the quality of building projects and has been widely accepted globally, including in Singapore, China, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and India.

“The Vila Seni project is headed by Taipan Eagle Sdn Bhd, a joint development company formed by Hong Kong-listed New World Development Co Ltd and Luen Yum Development (M) Sdn Bhd,” said Pacific Lucky Holdings Ltd president William Yip.

Pacific Lucky Holdings is a subsidiary of Luen Yum Development.

New World Development is one of the leading property developers in Hong Kong. It has been listed on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong since 1972.

“As an investment beginning from RM2.4mil and also a home, Vila Seni property owners can enjoy a rare gem making its mark in Plentong, Johor, especially with the well-equipped 3,716 sq metre clubhouse and high five-tier security with trained Gurkha guards, plus concierge facilities offering,” said Taipan Eagle Sdn Bhd director Michael Tham.

He added that the combined philosophy, vision and experience of the companies involved in the project was focused on delivering the maximum standards of quality so as to match the expectations of home owners.

Thanks to the creativity of the designers behind coveted Hong Kong addresses such as The Signature, The Pavilai Hill, Grand Austin, Harbour Place, Prince Ritz and Double Cove Starview, Vila Seni homeowners can expect and enjoy the best of nature and nurture with a dash of modernity.

Vila Seni’s central location means that it is just a short drive to Johor Baru’s city centre, Danga Bay, major arteries such as Tebrau and North-South highways, Legoland, key hypermarkets and recreational facilities, and also to Woodlands via the Causeway as well as Senai and Changi International Airports.

For more information, go to

Friday, 28 November 2014

(NST) Buyers to wait-and-see on properties in first half of 2015

JOHOR BARU: Buyers may adopt a wait-and-see approach in deciding to buy properties in the first half of next year with the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) next April, a property developer said today.

Sunway Bhd’s Executive Director for Property and Construction, Southern Region and Singapore, Tan Wee Bee said property buyers would likely take that stand as they await the impact of this initiative on the market.

“We are currently assessing the impact. We do not know what and how much the impact would be on the market, however as for now, we think it will be minimal.

“As usual, every time there is policy implementation, buyers will likely take a wait-and-see approach,” he told reporters after the introduction of Sunway International School (SIS) Sunway Iskandar, Nusajaya, late Thursday.

Tan was responding to a question on whether the property market would be affected with the implementation of the GST next year as well as the removal of oil subsidies.

He said property developers were well-versed with the changes happening in the market and would continue to adopt the right strategy in line with the changing trends.

“I wouldn’t say it will be rosy next year but it will be challenging. However, property developers will have their own strategy moving forward and their way to differentiate themselves from the general market and basically to continue to perform next year,” he added.

At the end of the day, Tan said the property developers would continue to develop products according to market needs.

On SIS Sunway Iskandar, he said residents in Iskandar would have the privilege of world-class education which would in turn shape the holistic lifestyle of the community.

Scheduled for its first intake in 2017, SIS Sunway Iskandar will be the only school in Iskandar to offer the Canadian (Ontario) curriculum.


(The Star) Mall expected to be ready mid next year despite delay

KUCHING: The start date of proposed roof over India Street Pedestrian Mall here has been delayed due to a sewerage project.

According to Kuching North City Hall (DBKU), the 120m roof over the historic street would only begin construction in January and still hope of meeting the original completion date of mid- year.

“We initially promised the retailers here that by this time, the roof project should be 10% completed. However, the sewerage project has caused a delay said Datuk Bandar Datuk Abang Abdul Wahap Julai.

Wahap said it would not have made sense to commence with the roofing development and then to follow that up with the sewerage project.

“That would have just created a greater mess,” he said.

“No sacrifice, no gain,” said India Street Pedestrian Mall management committee chairman Datuk Wee Hong Seng, who is also a DBKU commissioner.

“We have allowed extended working hours for the sewerage contractor. We didn’t ask them to do it day and night as that would have increased their cost. Also, they are cutting up the tiles, which will be too loud to be done at night,” he added.

The roof over India Street, which is designed to look like a rainforest canopy made of steel and glass, was announced in February this year.

It is a series of tree trunk-like columns rising from the street-level, supporting panels of green and yellow above.

Due to the different heights of the shoplots, the roof structure is split into three “layers”, from 8m to 12m above the street.

It is designed with natural ventilation in mind, while beneath it, there is enough clearance for fire engines to still drive into the street. The columns that hold up the roof will have built-in water harvesting modules.

(The Star) Latest phase of development draws strong interest

After the successful launch of its Garden Heights project, Low Yat Group has launched the first phase of a development called Acacia Park within its Bandar Tasik Puteri (BTP) township project.

The 224-unit Acacia Park development comprises double-storey terraced houses on a 16.7-acre site within the fast growing BTP township, which spans over 2,670 acres in Rawang.

The units with four bedrooms and three bathrooms offer built-up areas ranging from 1,660sq ft to 2,067sq ft, and are priced from RM447,100 onwards.

The project is expected to be completed by early 2017.

Low Yat Group sales, marketing and business development senior area manager Wang Ie Ian said sales at Acacia Park has been very encouraging, with 95% of Phase 1 sold two months before the official launch.

“The project caters to young families, first-time home buyers and young executives who want to have their own home.

“The price of the units make them appealing for home buyers seeking to own a landed property in a large secure community near Kuala Lumpur, adjacent to the 27-hole Tasik Puteri Gold and Country Club, and close to 33 acre central park,” said Wang.

BTP is located about 30km from the Jalan Duta exit via the KL-Kuala Selangor Expressway (Latar) highway. Low Yat Group also allocated more than RM100mil for the BTP interchange on the Latar highway to shorten the travelling time to the township.

“The BTP interchange is due to be completed by 2016 and will shorten travelling time from Jalan Duta exit to the township exit by about 20 minutes,” said Wang.

In terms of security and safety, each phase will have perimeter fencing, security cameras and guarded entry and exit points.

“Security posts will be constructed and managed by neighbourhood residential associations,” added Wang.

“The price is definitely appealing for the environment, features, and facilities, ” said first time home-buyer Gobinath Vartharaju, 28, after signing up to purchase a unit at the launch.

Acacia Park will have a total of four phases, with a gross development value of RM500mil.

Registration for Phase 2 of Acacia Park was also opened on the launch day as well.

The 215 units of double-storey terraced houses in Phase 2 are priced from RM468,000 and are expected to be completed in mid-2017. Phase 3 and Phase 4 are expected to be launched by first half and second half of next year, respectively.

The company expects all four phases to be fully sold by next year.

Other projects by Low Yat Group in BTP township include the double-storey terraced houses of the Garden Heights development that are 50% sold, and the three-storey shop offices of Medan Puteri 2. The developer also said it is planning for a development of link semi-detached and semi-detached houses called Seiring Residences.

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(The Star) AEON Fantasy to open 18 more outlets in Malaysia next year

AEON Fantasy, a company specialising in the operation of entertainment facilities, has recently marked a new milestone with 500 children and family indoor amusement outlets across seven countries.

As of Sept 30, the company had 471 outlets in Japan, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia and recently expanded operations to the Philippines.

There are 52 outlets in Malaysia where Aeon Fantasy (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd has three types of entertainment centres, namely Molly Fantasy, Kidzoona and Fantazia.

Its managing director, Chong Swee Ying, said the company had invested RM20mil this year to open 15 outlets.

Four outlets were opened this month, consisting of Kidzoona Aeon Bukit Indah, Aeon Bandaraya Melaka and Aeon Taiping and Molly Fantasy Aeon Taiping.

“We will reserve RM25mil for our expansion plan next year, which will see the opening of 18 more outlets in Malaysia,” she added.

To celebrate the 500th outlet, they organised a fun day out at Kidzoona, an all-you-can-play discovery learning centre in Empire Shopping Gallery Subang Jaya for children of Persatuan Rumah Kids and Rumah Titian Kaseh.

The children from the homes were spoilt for choice as they could play on the slider, air bouncer, ball-pool and paper town for several hours.

The homes were also given RM5,000 each, a sum accumulated through Molly Fantasy’s “Lala and Friend’s Fund”.

On March 21 every year, funds are raised from entry fees to Molly Fantasy, as a celebration of their mascot Lala’s birthday.

The Lala and Friend’s Fund was launched last year to help children in need, especially those from orphanages and with disabilities.

In conjunction with the celebration, Aeon Fantasy will also offer activities and promotions from now till Nov 30, where Molly Fantasy-goers will get a 2015 calendar with the purchase of 30 tokens or credits and a keychain with the 500th outlet logo when they buy 20 tokens or credits.

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(The Star) Public libraries in Selangor get comprehensive facelift to entice more readers

It may be a monumental task, but one woman is determined to draw readers and bookworms back to the public libraries in Selangor.

For many book-lovers in present times, walking into a bookstore is more appealing than visiting a library.

Especially since there is a general perception of libraries as places where old materials, ranging from outdated fiction novels to decades-old magazines, still dominate the ceiling-high shelves.

“Hence parents often prefer to take their children to the bookstore when they are looking for books, rather than visit the many libraries within their neighbourhoods,” Selangor Public Library Corporation (PPAS) director Mastura Muhamad noted.

“Students no longer ask their friends if they are visiting the library after school or organise study groups because they think the library is a boring place and they would rather study in a cafe or at home,” she said, adding that getting the right ambience was important to attract the younger generation.

Mastura embarked on a mission with her team to refurbish old rural and city libraries run by the state with a new look, on the heels of the successful Raja Tun Uda Library in Shah Alam.

Visitors are allowed to utilise the computers available at a minimal charge of just 50 sen for 30 minutes.
Visitors are allowed to utilise the computers available at a minimal charge of just 50 sen for 30 minutes.

In 2010, the state government reopened the Raja Tun Uda Library in a new, picturesque location chosen by the Sultan of Selangor himself.

It was almost a dream come true for bookworms as there were hardly any other such facility in the country properly equipped to cater to the varied interests of visitors young and old.

Located adjacent to the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Golf Club, the Raja Tun Uda Library has attracted more than double the number of visitors compared to the National Library since it opened its doors.

As the first step in her mission to inject new life to the 96 public libraries in Selangor, Mastura and her team visited in 2010 the establishments that were popular and took detailed notes of the features that made them successful.

Among those in their list were the Petronas Resource Centre in Kuala Lumpur, the National Library of Singapore as well as its Space Discovery Centre, and the Hong Kong Central Library.

Some of the ideas that caught Mastura’s attention were escalators and even gyms made available to both staff and visitors.

The design and colours used were also contributory factors.

“The walls have to be colourful and inviting, not just a matter of slapping white paint on it,” said Mastura.

To-date, she and her team have revamped and refurbished 20 libraries under PPAS’ care, six of which were done up this year.

The remaining 76, she said, would undergo the same facelift once funds were available, be it from government allocation or contributions from well-wishers and sponsors.

There are five different types of public libraries in Selangor — district, branch, town, village and mobile.

Membership to all 96 libraries is free, with minimal charges of RM1 to RM1.50 per hour for computer usage and other facilities such as photostating or printing.

In comparison, libraries run by local authorities have a compulsory membership fee.

For example, the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) library in Section 3, Petaling Jaya, charges a membership fee of RM31 for a new applicant.

Those who intend to visit the Subang Jaya Municipal Council’s (MPSJ) three hypermedia libraries in Seri Kembangan, Sunway and Puchong, have to pay between RM7 and RM17 for membership before they can use the facilities.

In order to encourage more people to visit public libraries, PPAS has scrapped membership fees in its facilities.

“We have also made it easy for people to register and they can even do so online from the comfort of home,” said Mastura.

PPAS libraries allow their members to borrow up to five books for two weeks.

“If you feel that you need more time with the book, all you need to do is call us to extend the date,” added Mastura.

When asked how books were selected, she said: “We told our employees to choose books that they would want to read or the books they would buy for their own children.

“Consequently, the titles stocked became popular with the visitors,” she said.

Since the premises vary in size, the facilities on offer are different as well.

Larger ones have seminar rooms, playground, cafeteria, parking lots, shower rooms, breastfeeding room and meeting rooms besides the basic washrooms and prayer room facilities.

Visitors to the library can also view video materials at no extra charge.
Visitors to the library can also view video materials at no extra charge at the Raja Tun Uda library.

Some of the public libraries are located in shophouses, allowing the public more convenient access.

The smallest facility measuring 74.3 sq m is at the Sungai Perantau low-cost flats in Port Klang while the biggest in Sungai Udang, Klang takes up 696.77sq m. The latter cost about RM1.4mil to set up.

Mastura has high hopes that the upgraded libraries will be as successful as the six-storey Raja Tun Uda Library.

She said its modern, up-to-date facilities and longer operational hours were essential to cater to both working adults and school-going children.

Last year, about 754,478 people visited the Raja Tun Uda Library.

“On an average weekend, we have about 8,000 visitors,” Mastura said.

She believes the number will continue to grow as long as the library is well-maintained with modern facilities and, most importantly, up-to-date materials.