Saturday, December 11, 2010

Unsustainable Policy : HDB

Minister Mah Bow Tan has continued to claim that HDB flats are "affordable" inspite of the 30 years mortgage. He has however, made a few interesting points lately.

One of the points he made has somewhat RETRACTED from his earlier position that it is alright to have high HDB prices because we could "monetize" or sell our HDB flats for retirement. He said that we may not need to sell our flats and downgrade for retirement.

I have explained why selling flat for retirement is NOT A WORKABLE and SUSTAINABLE OPTION at all.

Before I talk about why this scheme of "selling flat for retirement" is not sustainable in the long run, I would like to address the basic fundamentals of why such HIGH HDB PRICES under the guise of "asset enhancement" is the deliberate policy direction of PAP government.

High Property Prices to solve Aging Population Problems

Since early 1980s, PAP has suddenly realized that their aggressive "TWO IS ENOUGH" policy is flawed and it would create unprecedented acceleration of an aging population. By doing a demographic projection, it would mean that the CPF scheme may not be sustainable in providing adequate retirement financing for this aging population.

The burden of providing retirement financing lies on the government to give constant returns to CPF account holders. If less and less people are going to work in the work force while more and more people are going to withdraw their CPF money in future, it would create cashflow pressures on CPF. This problem will aggravate in time to come.

The brilliant idea of maintaining high HDB flat price comes about to solve a lot of these problems derived from aging population. The followings are the reasoning:

1) If Singaporeans have less savings in CPF, the government won't be burdened by interest payment to the account holders. i.e. the government will wash its hands off from retirement financing of an aging population.

2) How or who will finance the future retirees then? A 30 year mortgage plan will DEFINITELY force Singaporeans to sell their flats for retirement! This is basically because their CPF accounts will have very little amount of funds left! By allowing HDB prices to increase, these future retirees could well "withdraw" their "retirement funds" by selling off their HDB flats at high prices! This would solve their retirement financing!

Impact of HDB flat for Retirement Financing

Such simplistic thinking will have a few impacts. All of these impacts are unfavorable to Singaporeans but very favorable to the Government.

1) The Government could benefit from selling HDB flats at high prices to citizens and they no longer need to fork out money for any subsidies. All so call subsidies are basically on paper accounting, market subsidies.

2) The first adjustment is to raise land prices. HDB, on paper, is in deficits because it has to buy land from SLA (both under Ministry of Development) at market prices. Please note that SLA has become the biggest land owner in Singapore through forceful acquisition of private land with monopoly power to determine prices.

3) All proceeds from Land Sales go directly into the reserves and that is why our reserves grow at rapid rate since 1980s.

4) The government earns interests, instead of paying interests, from making loans to HDB buyers. This also means that while Singaporeans are paying higher HDB prices using almost all their CPF monies and they are also incurring mortgage interests.

5) The prices of HDB flats MUST increase substantially over time in order for this scheme to be sustainable. If not, the whole system will collapse.


What are the implications?

Apparently, the government benefited the most from such scheme. It relinquishes its responsibility of providing retirement financing for an aging population. It basically transfers this burden to the future generations in terms of HIGHER HDB PRICES. It MAKES PROFITS from these higher HDB prices which transferred into reserves which make them look good. On top of that, it makes money from interests collected from HDB buyers

What the government gains will be what the citizens will lose. HDB is the MONOPOLY of the new HDB flat market and it is also the lender who earns interests from all outstanding loans.

What the government gains will be what the citizens will lose. HDB is the MONOPOLY of the new HDB flat market and it is also the lender who earns interests from all outstanding loans.


This model is NOT sustainable in the long run. The reason is pretty clear. In order to preserve the purchasing power of the amount of money Singaporeans have put into their HDB flats, the future price of their flats has to increase tremendously to cover the interest cost as well as inflation throughout the 30 years period.

However, wages of the working class will normally grow at the rate just enough to cover inflation. That is why we are witnessing this impact of wages lagging behind HDB price growth for the past two decades. From the following graph prepared by Lucky Tan .

Wage doubled while HDB prices grow by FOUR folds during the period from 1990 to 2009. It corresponds to the increase in the mortgage payment period from 15 years to 30 years. In time to come, our future generations may have to pay for a 40years or even 50 years mortgage for just a decent HDB flat

Is this sustainable?

There are CONFLICTING policy objectives. On one hand, in order for the scheme of utilizing high HDB prices as a means for retirement financing, we need HDB prices to outstrip wage growth but in order to maintain "AFFORDABILITY" for all generations, we need to maintain the price increase according to wage growth! How could these CONFLICTING policy targets be met simultaneously?

Nobody can guarantee property prices will grow forever at such rapid rate. With an aging population, demand will be lower while supply will be increasing due to the increasing number of elders trying to sell their flats. This will have downward pressure on relative prices.

This is really an ill-thought out HDB-retirement scheme by the PAP government. This scheme benefits only the present government by alleviating its burden to provide for the retirement funding needs for the citizens while benefiting from all the higher HDB prices and interests earned from loans to HDB owners. This is in the expense of Singaporeans both present and future.

Almost all present Ministers will not be around in 30 years time to take responsibility for the effects of their policies. It is important for Singaporeans to understand the great implications of this HDB-retirement scheme upon our present generations as well as future generations.

I have come to this realization of this scheme ever since PAP started to embark the so call "Asset Enhancement Scheme" back in early 1990s. I have written a number of articles in protest of this scheme but many Singaporeans were overwhelmed by the immediate gain of paper capital gains. There were even Singaporeans trying to capitalize on the sudden increase in their flat value by upgrading or multiple upgradings. In the whole process, they committed higher and higher debts.

The latest report has indicated Singapore's housing debt has constituted more than 51% of total loans from our financial loans! This is even higher than Hong Kong's 20%! We will be doomed if there is a property crash! The whole financial system will be burden with unperforming loans!

An economy cannot invest too much of its financial resources in assets like properties which are not "productive" for the economy. If the property sector takes up too much of the financial resources of the economy, it will crowd out resources for financing investments by our local entrepreneurs. It would also mean that the financial sector would be over-exposed to a potential bubble which would wipe off our wealth when it bursts.

Experiences from Japan, Ireland and even US have shown that over-exposure of the financial sector to the bubble-prone property sector will destroy the economy. Japan has hardly recover from its collapse of economy due to property bubble since 1990s!

It is up to every Singaporeans to judge on whether what I write here make any sense. It is easy to sell greed to the masses but it will create irreversible damage to our future generations. It is not easy to convince people that high property prices are BAD for them. I have waited this long for the opportune time to explain what I have learned throughout these years. I urge every reader who agrees with my views to help me to spread this message to your friends and relatives.

This unsustainable and potentially damaging HDB-retirement scheme must be stopped and ceased else our future generations will suffer in vain for our inaction.

Goh Meng Seng


Anonymous said...

Mr Goh, thank you for standing up for the average Singaporean. Your grasp of current policy and your opposition to its detrimental impact on future generations put the multi-million dollar minister to shame.

As Singaporeans, our 'elected' officials should be the one's with the most vested interest in safeguarding our future generations. But all this current crop of ministers care about is money, and how to squeeze more of it out of us. We need people like you, Mr Goh, to stand up and fight for us common Singaporeans who are so caught up trying to make ends meet and survive.

Please keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Please continue to provide more expose of the wily schemes of the govt. All the scales will eventually fall from our eyes and we will see the naked truth of the govt. the emperor has no clothes!

Anonymous said...

Its really a joke of the century for NSP to send a 24 yrs old as candidate in Marine Parade GRC .

Pls stop treating the GE as a playground .It will reflect badly on the opposition as a whole .Dont expect to get high vote in Marine parade GRC if thats the candidate you are sending .

Sporean is piss off with the ruling party ,but that doesnt means they will vote for any tom,dick n harry or a 24yrs old as candidate .

Although i understand that NSP want to give sporean a chance to vote and they know it too well ,they dont stand a chance to win in Marine Parade GRC .But why send a 24yrs old at a time when they can send in a more mature ,experience candidate with a higher chances of scoring big ?