Nation smiles again
Like a boxer on the ropes, Thailand somehow manages to hit back just when you think it has received a knockout blow.
Despite political violence that saw more than 90 people killed and almost 2,000 injured on the streets of Bangkok in April and May, the kingdom has managed to bounce back more quickly from the global recession than most of its rivals.
Thailand's economic indicators continue to defy the doom-mongers. Gross domestic product expanded by 9.1 per cent in the first half of the year, the government has raised its growth forecast to 7.5 per cent for the year, the baht has strengthened against all major currencies, exports continue to grow, and the tourism industry is strengthening.
Tourism, which employs about 15 per cent of the population, was boosted by 7.5 million international tourist arrivals in the first half of the year, up 14 per cent from the same period last year. The rise was mainly driven by an increase in East Asian visitors.
The encouraging statistics were reflected in the property market. Condominium presales by listed developers almost doubled to 31 billion baht (HK$8 billion) in the first half of the year, according to Raimon Land's latest research publication, Condominium Focus Thailand. Presales were only 15.9 billion baht in the first half of last year. The first six months also saw a record number of 4,098 new condominium units completed in Bangkok's inner-city areas, increasing the supply by 7 per cent. Another 9,866 units are in the pipeline, of which 75 per cent have already been sold.
The average price of condominiums in inner-city Bangkok during the first half was 108,125 baht per square metre, while top-end launches in prime locations are selling at prices of up to 350,000 baht per square metre.
Sukhumvit remains the area with the most supply. The area's five new projects - Aguston, Millennium Residence, Noble Remix, Hive Sukhumvit and Life@Sukhumvit - accounted for half the units completed in the inner city in the first half. More than 65 per cent of these were one-bedroom or studio units, reflecting a trend for smaller apartments in the capital.
Raimon Land's CEO Hubert Viriot believes the sector will continue to grow at its present rate because of strong demand.
'International demand is likely to focus on the luxury end of the market, particularly in Bangkok, where luxury condominiums remain relatively inexpensive compared with other Asian cities, such as Hong Kong, Singapore and even Kuala Lumpur. Potential capital gains are, therefore, very attractive,' he says.
'The political events of May were relatively short-lived and had a limited impact on Thailand's economy and property market. While the baht has strengthened quite significantly against the euro in the past few months, it has remained relatively stable against the US dollar, the largest currency denomination among buyers. The baht's fluctuations had a limited impact on foreign demand for luxury property. Most property investors have a long-term view on Thailand.'
Raimon Land has noticed growing demand from domestic buyers for Bangkok condominiums near existing or upcoming mass transit stations, especially in the central business district. Condominiums are also becoming their first choice.
In the resort city of Pattaya, demand is increasing for urban beachfront condominiums, while on the resort island of Phuket foreign buyers prefer low-rise townhouses and condominiums.
'The most vibrant market is now Bangkok. We believe this trend is likely to continue in 2011 with the prospective launch of condominiums in great locations offering freehold status, as well as convenient transport and unparalleled views,' Viriot says.
'Our research shows that condominium resale prices continue to climb on a par with off-plan rates of recently launched projects. Some transactions early this year achieved capital gains of up to 25 per cent of the off-plan price, largely offsetting currency fluctuations. This indicates an upward trend in prices.
'The strength of the sector is also evidenced in the rental area, with rental yields in inner-city Bangkok maintaining an average of 7 per cent per annum. This provides an attractive return.'
Pattaya expects to see a 20 per cent increase in condominium supply by the end of this year, according to research by property consultant Colliers International Thailand.
While Thai buyers looking for a second home away from Bangkok continue to be big players in the Pattaya market, foreign retirees are driving the lower end of the market, particularly in areas away from the beach.
Phuket has led Thailand's tourism recovery this year, with traffic through the island's airport increasing by 28 per cent year-on-year to 1.74 million visitors in the first six months.