SG provides rental relief to ease retail pain during coronavirus pandemic

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Since the Singapore government unveiled S$60 billion (US$42 billion) in stimulus package two weeks ago, an A-list of landlords – some of which majority-owned by state investment arm – have rushed to share the goodies with businesses to protect jobs. The government even enacted a law, just to make sure of that.

That is music to the ears for Bluebell group, the region’s biggest distributor of luxury retail brands with US$2 billion in sales, who pays some of the most expensive retail space in malls across Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.

“The landlords in Singapore have been more understanding and the government has been giving out subsidies, including property tax rebates, which they can pass to tenants,” said Nelly Ngadiman, managing director for Southeast Asia at Bluebell. “We have seen a slowdown in sales since February, a bit later than Hong Kong.”

The swift response is a stark contrast to Hong Kong, where landlords have offered what the industry calls “slow-drip” concessions to retailers even as sales cratered under months of social unrest, long before the pandemic pushed Hong Kong to unveil its record HK$137.5 billion (US$17.7 billion) relief package.

While no two programmes are similar, the level and readiness of policy support could shape impressions and decisions among investors long after the current public health crisis is over. Both financial hubs compete for everything from initial stock offerings to talents and billionaires.

Singapore’s gross domestic product per capita is estimated at US$105,689 based on purchasing power parity basis, according to the International Monetary Fund, or 1.6 time more than Hong Kong in 10th place. It attracted the stingy moniker from The Economist a decade ago for its antipathy towards public welfare.

These days, the government through its state investment arm owns equity stakes in some of the city’s biggest landlords, notably its 51.5 per cent holding in CapitaLand, and 32.9 per cent stake in Mapletree Commercial Trust, according to Bloomberg data.


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