Family fortunes across Asia take a beating from $143b Reit rout

  • AseanPlus News
  • Thursday, 09 Apr 2020

The showroom of SingHaiyi Group’s condominium development, The Gazania and The Lilium, in April last year. The group invests in commercial and residential properties in Singapore and has expanded to the US and Australia.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE, April 9, Bloomberg - The Tangs are a classic Singapore power couple.

Mr Gordon Tang, a former professional windsurfer and avid sailor, and his wife Celine moved here from China in the 1990s, founded trading firm Tang Dynasty and then established a real estate empire.

Their SingHaiyi Group invests in commercial and residential properties in the island state and has expanded to the United States and Australia.

Mr Neil Bush, brother of former US president George W. Bush, is on the board, where Mrs Tang serves as group managing director.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. The value of its holdings in four real estate investment trusts (Reits) has dropped by over US$300 million (S$428 million) this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

These include a stake in Suntec Reit, owner of One Raffles Quay, and OUE Commercial Reit, which has properties across Singapore and Shanghai.

Another of their investments - Eagle Hospitality Trust - suspended trading last month after Bank of America demanded immediate repayment of a US$341 million loan.

The pandemic and the drastic containment measures have roiled Reits, long considered a safe haven because of their high yields and prosperous property markets.

The 249 Reits trading on stock exchanges across the Asia-Pacific region have posted an average decline of 25 per cent this year, wiping US$100 billion (S$143 billion) from their market value.

"Due to Covid-19, the cash flow of various businesses has been disrupted and that could in turn put some pressure on rental income," said Ms Christine Li, head of research for Singapore and South-east Asia at Cushman & Wakefield.

"Yet, it's still too early to assess how various landlords, particularly the retail landlords, will be impacted in the short term."

The Tangs declined to comment.

They are far from the only wealthy clan to take a hit from the coronavirus crisis and its impact on real estate. The pain is global.

US Reits have tumbled as stay-at-home orders threaten shopping malls, hotels and office buildings, as well as mortgage payments.

Thailand's richest person, Mr Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, who controls retail and real estate conglomerate TCC Group, has lost US$7.5 billion this year from his fortune and is now worth about US$12.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

That is in part because of investments in Reits, including Frasers Hospitality Trust.

Singapore's Ng family, worth US$14 billion and behind property developer Far East Organization, is down more than US$250 million after stock in Far East Hospitality Trust fell 43 per cent.

Chinese tycoon Tong Jinquan, meanwhile, has seen the value of his holdings in five Singapore-listed Reits, including ESR-Reit and IReit Global, drop by more than US$358 million this year. The loss comes after he sold a substantial stake in IReit Global earlier this week to investors including Tikehau Capital and City Developments.

Singapore Reits, which offer the region's highest yields, may be hit harder by the pandemic than the 2008 financial crisis, according to Jefferies Financial Group.

The nation has enacted some of the toughest measures globally to combat the pandemic, including curbing all social gatherings in private and public spaces.

Still, Mrs Tang was of the view that real estate is more than just an investment, and one that will not go away.

"It's everyone's dream to own his or her own home - this is something tangible that lasts," she said in an interview published by The Straits Times last year.

"For some, it marks a coming-of-age milestone and creates a sense of belonging. This is why property ownership is a long-term trend that will never die out." BLOOMBERG

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