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The revival of Land & General

KUALA LUMPUR: When Hong Kong-based property tycoon Tan Sri David Chiu emerged as a substantial shareholder in Land & General Bhd (L&G) in August 2007, there was speculation of a possible asset injection or takeover exercise. It pushed the stock from 20 sen to over 80 sen in six months, but there was no asset injection.

Instead, the new management spent the last few years quietly cleaning house and strengthening the foundations of the company.

Now, after a few years in a lull and with L&G's stock price at undemanding valuation of 44 sen, things are looking up for the company with projects worth RM2.41 billion in gross development value (GDV) in its pipeline.

"With a pipeline of good projects in the implementation stage, we now have the growth momentum, and stronger numbers shall appear in FY13 (ending March 31) and from then on," said managing director Low Gay Teck in an interview with The Edge Financial Daily.

Low was excited over the brisk sales of L&G's latest project — Phase 1 of The [email protected] luxury condominium project in Ampang was 60% sold in two weeks for a sales value or GDV of RM200 million. He also pointed out what is going to be the major, lucrative development for L&G going forward — its remaining 43 acres (17.2ha) of freehold development land in Sri Damansara, the jewel in the crown.

Note that while the Sri Damansara area is fast catching up in value due to its proximity to Mutiara Damansara, L&G's net book value (NBV) for the land is carried at less than RM20 per sq ft, according to Low. In comparison, freehold commercial land in Mutiara Damansara is now valued at more than RM400 psf, observers said.

Although Mutiara Damansara is considered a prime area compared to Sri Damansara, the low carrying cost of L&G's Sri Damansara land at less than RM20 psf is difficult to ignore.

The low land cost could translate into fat margins for L&G, much higher than the standard "20-over percent" margin for an ongoing project such as The [email protected] (or for projects where land was acquired two or three years ago), said Low.

Completed service apartments or condominiums in Mutiara Damansara are now being sold for more than RM600 to RM700 psf, while in Sri Damansara developers such as TA Global Bhd are now trying to price their new units at more than RM400 psf or even RM600 psf.

Low said L&G plans to develop only half the 43 acres in Sri Damansara into high-rise residential units while retaining the rest for greenery and parks.

Still, with the first phase launch price of more than RM400 psf for built-up units, he expected the Sri Damansara landbank to generate more than RM1.5 billion in total GDV over its nine-year development period, which will be broken into three phases.

"Phase 1 of the Sri Damansara project will be launched later this year, comprising 928 units of luxury condominiums with built-ups of 1,200 to 1,600 sq ft. We are looking at a selling price of more than RM400 psf," said Low.

Investors had largely neglected L&G despite the recent rally in property stocks. At its closing price of 44 sen last Friday, the company has a market value of RM263.3 million. Note that L&G had no borrowings and had cash of RM141.4 million as at Dec 31, 2010, with shareholders' funds of RM248.2 million.

"We prefer to build up the business before we engage with the analysts and fund managers," said Low, who described himself as an engineer due to his civil engineering background rather than a "finance guy".

But while the stock has yet to stir investor interest, the company has gained the confidence of house buyers. L&G was mired in financial difficulties a few years ago before the new management came in and launched The [email protected]

"We actually started the piling works (for The [email protected]) in December last year, before we launched the project. We want to make sure that we can complete the project ahead of its three-year schedule," said Low.

Phases 1 and 2 of The [email protected] have a combined GDV of RM700 million. It is a joint-venture development between L&G and the Mayland Group, a vehicle of Chiu that owns a 16.94% stake in L&G. The launch of  Phase 2 (Block B) is scheduled for the later part of this year.

Low remains undaunted by the better-known Mah Sing Group Bhd's upcoming launch of the "M-City" service-apartment /commercial project close to The [email protected] He said the two projects offer different products catering for different groups of buyers, although the selling price is within the same range.

"[M-City] is more commercial, ours is residential. There is synergy with our project because our residents can walk to the commercial centre, it is just two minutes away," said Low.

He said L&G's unbilled sales are currently about RM45 million, arising from the [email protected] Damansara project which only has 10% of construction works to be completed. But this unbilled sales figure excluded its 50% share of the RM200 million GDV sold in the phase 1 of The [email protected]  

Meanwhile, Low said L&G, with a cash position of RM141.1 million, is scouting for more landbank. Negotiations are ongoing and he expects more land deals to be concluded in the next few months.

Just last week, L&G had concluded the acquisition of 200 acres (80ha) of bungalow plots and a 27-hole golf course in Seremban for RM25 million. A project with a total GDV of RM555 million is planned for this tract, to be launched next year.

"With The [email protected], Sri Damansara Phase 1 and the Seremban project, we expect higher billings to kick in in FY13 (ending March 31). These projects would generate strong cash flow and beef up our reserves to undertake more bigger-scale projects," he said.

Low, who also sits on the board of Mayland, declined to comment on whether Mayland, which currently owns 16.94% equity interest in L&G, would increase its stake. He said there could be more JV developments with Mayland and did not exclude the possibility of a possible asset injection by Mayland in the future. Note that the land for The [email protected] project, which is a JV between L&G and Mayland, was acquired from a third party.

Certainly, L&G has come a long way since the Chiu family, via Mayland, bought a stake and rejuvenated the once ailing developer. Judging by the pipeline of projects in place, especially its landbank in Sri Damansara, the prospects look bright for L&G.

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