Singapore developer CapitaLand takes the long-term view on China

Company bullish on long-term growth prospects in real estate sector despite the recent market fluctuations

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2016, 10:10pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2016, 10:10pm

Lim Ming Yan, 53, is president and chief executive of Singapore-based CapitaLand.

He was the chief operating officer of CapitaLand from May 2011 to December 2012 and chief executive of Ascott, the world’s largest serviced apartment operator – owned by CapitaLand – from July 2009 to February 2012.

Before joining Ascott, Lim was the chief executive of CapitaLand China Holdings from November 2000 to June 2009, responsible for growing CapitaLand into a leading foreign real estate developer in China.

Amid China’s economic slowdown, is CapitaLand still bullish on the business outlook for the country?

We have been dealing with property development businesses in China for more than 20 years and we always take a long view. We are still bullish on China’s market and it’s not unusual that the market witnesses short-term fluctuations. In terms of economic forecast, China, as one of the world’s largest economies, remains attractive given a projected 6.5 per cent to 7 per cent annual growth. The growth will appear to be just relatively smaller than in previous years.

Could you elaborate on your expansion plans in China this year? What’s your plan for increasing the land bank here?

We are still optimistic about long-term property development in China’s first- and second-tier cities. More infrastructure projects will be built in the future and new hub cities will come into existence. Opportunities will also arise from the efforts on the massive redevelopment of some old cities. For CapitaLand, we will continue to focus on developing large-scale mixed-use complexes in top-tier cities. We will actively seek to secure new projects to develop mixed-use projects. In the next two years, several projects that are under construction now will be completed. We not only build, but manage our properties. After our Raffles cities in Chongqing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hangzhou are put into operation, we will continue to manage the projects.

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Competition in the top-tier cities is believed to be cutthroat due to short supply of land in prime locations. How will CapitaLand enhance its competitiveness.

It’s certain that competition is heated. CapitaLand focuses on five major urban clusters and mixed-use complexes. A lot of developers can handle pure residential properties, but mega mixed-use projects are beyond their reach because they have a higher threshold for developers. In Shanghai, for example, some of the commercial projects require developers to own 100 per cent of the properties after development. The requirement will kick out the developers without an operating system. CapitaLand’s advantage lies in its overall strength including development, management and finance. CapitaLand is confident that we can secure good locations in first-tier cities despite the fact that land supply is tight.

We must take a long view and it’s obvious that internet technologies can’t be ignored at present
Lim Ming Yan, president and chief executive, CapitaLand

CapitaLand is also embarking on a “go-digital” campaign to expand businesses. Can you share details of the plan?

O2O (online-to-offline) businesses started to develop quickly in 2015. The O2O market in China is expected to post an annualised 30 per cent growth in the coming years. Internet-related businesses in China now account for 7 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Internet technologies help shopping malls and retailers accurately spot their customers and potential customers. They are of great benefit to commercial businesses as data analysis enhances operational efficiency. Retailers can understand the demands from their customers before sending them relevant shopping information and discount coupons. We are still in an early stage of embracing the internet to improve our businesses. CapitaLand is not a technology firm but we believe that, by making the most of technological innovations, we will eventually create a new business model.

Will you partner with leading internet firms to develop the businesses?

We need to work with external companies, including home-grown and international IT giants, to better use the internet to fine-tune our services. With the internet, the use of retail and office space can be more flexible. We must adapt to new situations to provide proper properties for clients.

What drove CapitaLand’s decision to invest in internet businesses and do you think e-commerce will rival shopping centres?

I think it’s necessary to invest in IT. We must take a long view and it’s obvious that internet technologies can’t be ignored at present. We are studying how to meld internet technologies into our businesses. It’s quite likely that the marriage between the internet and our property businesses will create new growth engines for CapitaLand in future. Physical stores won’t survive alone, neither with e-commerce. After all, you have to have a channel that can facilitate direct communication with customers. The two should be combined.

What’s your take on the development of real estate investment trustsin China? Will CapitaLand consider issuing reits here?

Reits is a good financial product and it’s also a good investment tool for investors. For CapitaLand, issuing reits that are backed by our mature commercial properties not only reward investors with a stable and long-term return but also help us raise funds to replenish new projects. If conditions are ripe in China, we will consider listing reits here. China has yet to create a transparent legal framework for reits since the current rules and regulations are not complete.

Have CapitaLand’s China businesses been affected by the economic slowdown?

The negative impact does not appear to be big. I believe our businesses here will maintain stable growth in the next few years.