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A City-Sized Sandbox

By Stansberry Research Interview Series
Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dawn in downtown Singapore is a sight to behold.

From the 59th floor of the Swissotel on Stamford road, I had a truly incredible view... To my right was Orchard Road, the main strip for any and all shopping. Orchard Road is Singapore's Fifth Avenue or Oxford Street.

Last year, 9.6 million tourists – more than two times the entire country's population – came from all over Asia to buy Calvin Klein shirts, Coach bags, and other goodies. But at six in the morning, the streets were empty and silent.

Directly in front of me and across the Singapore River was Raffles Place: Singapore's Wall Street. The tightly packed group of skyscrapers towered over everything in sight. From my balcony, the scene almost looked like part of Manhattan had been transplanted to downtown Pittsburgh: a dense cluster of banking skyscrapers built off the banks of a river. Singapore is the fourth-most densely populated country in the world. Looking at Raffles Place, I'd believe it.

Finishing my second cup of coffee and reaching for a third, I took in one of the more stunning skylines I'd ever seen. The whole scene was bathed in the baby blue of predawn light.

Singapore's severe legal system and the government's stranglehold on public discourse have earned it a great deal of criticism from the West. But the benefit of this iron grip is an extremely clean, quiet city. The nights are absolutely still. No cars honking, no rambling drunks shouting at the top of their lungs, just pure quiet.

I traveled here to find a way to profit on Singapore's real estate explosion. In the last year, office property prices have more than doubled. Condo sales are set to increase by 25% this year alone. Big money is being made in Singapore real estate.

Buying land in Singapore is not like buying land in the West. For starters, the tiny island is only one-fifth the size of Rhode Island. Scarce land supplies are made even scarcer by the fact that 23% of the country is comprised of forests and natural habitat. Add to this a government obsessed with controlling development, and you've got a very small supply of land available.

But demand is reaching a boiling point.

Despite its small size, Singapore is the world's 17th-largest economy on a per capita basis. Put another way, a city-state you could drive across in less than an hour is on par with Japan and Australia in terms of economic clout.

Singapore has an extremely sophisticated financial industry. It's the fourth-largest foreign exchange trading center behind London, New York, and Tokyo. The accounting here is the best in Asia, save for Hong Kong. Singapore is the Switzerland of Asia: The Monetary Authority of Singapore estimates the country's private banks manage roughly $200 billion in assets. It expects this figure to grow by 25% next year.

And with English as the primary spoken language, Singapore is particularly attractive to Westerners looking for an entry point to the East.

Foreigners, and foreign money, are pouring into the country. New corporations don't pay a cent in taxes on the first $66,666 in revenue for the first three years of operation. And starting in 2008, the first $200,000 in revenue will be taxed at only 9% for every corporation in Singapore.

Even more incredibly, the government is setting a tax ceiling of 18% for corporate income above $200,000. That's likely to go even lower seeing as Singapore has lowered corporate taxes by 2% each year for the last two years.

Because of this, GDP growth for the first half of 2007 hit a whopping 7.6%. Unemployment is at a six-year low. And property values are soaring as international businesses and resident entrepreneurs set up shop.

Things are getting so out of control that Singapore's government has decided to increase the country's landmass by 16% in the next 23 years.

In other words, it's increasing the actual geographical area of the country.

How can they do this, you may ask?

The government's increasing Singapore’s landmass through a process called "reclamation." In its simplest form, sand and earth are dumped into the ocean, then barricaded with cement. Once finished, the land is allowed to settle for several years.

It sounds crazy, but it's worked wonders for Singapore in the past. The country has used reclaimed land to increase its area by 20% in the last 40 years. Several times during the week, I would be admiring a particularly green patch of earth near the city only to have my cab driver comment, "You know, all of this used to be the ocean," with a sweep of his hand.

(On a side note, if you come here, hire cabs. Don't try to drive yourself. The driver's seat is on the right-hand side of the car, traffic is bad, and you can go to jail for road rage or other traffic violations. It's not worth it.)

I passed one of these reclamation sites in the back seat of a taxicab on the way to my 10 a.m. meeting in Raffles Place. It looked like a giant sandbox filled with 80 construction cranes.

I came to Singapore to find out how we could get in on this incredible real estate boom. The answer is in the sandboxes. It's construction.

The Business Times reported at the end of June that Singapore construction will hit a whopping $55 billion by 2011. A contact tells me the number of cranes in downtown Singapore has jumped dramatically... in the last month alone!

It's only going to get busier.

Good investing,

Graham Summers

Market Notes


Turns out few things help a shaky brokerage statement go down as easily as a tall, cold, frosty one.

Americans downed more and more alcoholic beverages throughout the dot-com bust of the late '90s and early '00s.

The following chart shows the earnings of Anheuser-Busch (BUD) between 1999 and 2004. As you can see, this beer maker's earnings steadily climbed throughout the recession.

BUD's stellar performance wasn't unique. Over the past four recessions, the company outperformed the S&P 500 by about 39%. For most consumers, it seems, a cold brew is not a discretionary expense.

– Ian Davis

Stat of the week


Annual oil dividend being paid to each Alaskan citizen who has lived there for at least one year as part of the state's oil royalty investment program.

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