Global Investing

Home is where the heartache is…

On a recent trip home to Singapore, I was startled to learn just how much housing prices in the city-state have risen in my absence.

A cousin said he had recently paid over S$600,000 — about US$465,000 — for a yet-to-be-built 99-year-lease flat. Such numbers are hardly out of place in any major metropolis but this was for a state-subsidised three-bedroom apartment.

Soaring housing prices have fueled popular discontent — little wonder as median monthly household incomes have stagnated at around S$5,000.

For its part, the government — which houses 80 percent of people on the densely populated island — insists that public housing prices are shaped by ‘market forces’, pointing to a raft of financing schemes to help first-time buyers.

What’s less contentious is that Singapore is only part of a regional real estate boom that has driven property values by as much as 70 percent since the start of 2009 in cities such as Sydney, Hong Kong and Beijing.

from DealZone:

Buffett seen raising bet on housing

BuffettWarren Buffett is in talks to buy GMAC's mortgage lender Residential Capital, the New York Post reports. Teamed up with Appaloosa Management and Avenue Capital, Buffett has large debt positions in the gut-shot company, according to the Post. In September, Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and Leucadia National agreed to buy Capmark Financial Group's mortgage loan and servicing business for up to $490 million.

If the residential property market hasn't begun a solid recovery, it certainly established a solid bottom over the past six months. New home sales figures out yesterday were shockingly weak, but keep in mind that November and December are not particularly hot months for residential real estate, and new home sales are a much smaller chunk of the market than the existing portion. Lots of analysts were expecting the housing recovery to face a test as we get closer to the extended deadline in March for the $8,000 homebuyer tax credit.

But it's a rare investor who gets rich betting against Warren Buffett. And if he's looking to buy low, he could hardly have done better than ResCap. The lender has been flirting with dangerously low capital levels, with the Post reporting it is bouncing around the minimum required net worth of $250 million. It had a tangible net worth of $409 million at the end of the third quarter. The mortgage company has lost over $10 billion in the last three years. The number of loans delinquent rose to 13.40 percent at the end of June from 11.50 percent at the end of 2008.