All black market "arbitrageurs" listen up: it is time to stop selling bread in Zimbabwe and start importing beemers to Singapore. The reason: a baseline 3 Series BMW sells for $260,000 (US) in Singapore. Yes, that's more than a quarter of a million for a car that in the US leases for a few hundred a month. "Francis Goh sits in a bronze BMW 335i convertible in a Singapore showroom, waggling the wheel and feeling the leather. He isn’t fazed by the S$340,000 ($260,000) price tag, five times what the same car costs in the U.S. “I see the price of a BMW, to me it’s reasonable,” said Goh, adding that he may instead go for a Mercedes-Benz E200 or Audi A5 to replace his Subaru Impreza WRX." However, unlike pretty much everything else (and take a look at Cotton and Corn today to see our broad definition of "everything"), this particular price surge is not due to endless Fed liquidity. Or at least, not so much: buyers have the Chinese trillions in Renminbi loans and the Singapore economic miracle to thank for this one, as well as Singapore's unprecedented hatred of car ownership.
Record economic growth in the city state is enabling buyers like Goh, a 34-year-old financial industry worker, to splash out on Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Daimler AG autos even as a 24-fold jump in the cost of a car permit inflates costs. As the government cuts the number of new autos on sale, prices which are already among the highest globally look set to rise further.
Singapore has increased spending on public transport and reduced the number of new car licenses to rein in auto sales and curb pollution and congestion as the booming economy boosts the buying power of the country’s residents. Last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong promised to spend S$60 billion over 10 years to double the size of the subway network.
Car buyers in Singapore must pay for excise and registration duties of about 150 percent of the vehicle’s market value, as well as bid for a limited number of government permits, called certificates of entitlement, that allow a car on the road for 10 years. The cost of a permit alone would now buy a new Porsche Boxster in the U.S., or a C-Class Mercedes in Hong Kong, where curbside pollution rose to a record last year.
It appears that car sales in Singapore are very comparable to medallion purchases for New York taxi cabs:
The Ministry of Transport has cut the number of new-car permits it auctions twice a month, driving the price of the so- called open-category COE, which can be used for any size of car, to an average S$71,339 in January. That permit cost S$19,889 at the beginning of 2010 and as little as S$3,000 two years ago. Once the certificate expires, owners either have to bid for a new 10-year permit, export the car, or scrap it.
Yet no matter the reason, demand in this case appears to be perfectly inelastic.
“High customer disposable incomes” are spurring demand for cars in Singapore, said Vivek Vaidya, automotive and transportation director at researcher Frost & Sullivan. The reduction in permits “is bound to put the prices in upward spiral.”
Just like the new subprime in the US, i.e., deadbeats buying up Government Motors cars with government-funded loans, these prices are only sustainable due to massive crediting:
“If we stick to Japanese cars and the budget-constrained segment, we are not going to make money,” said Dennis Lim, owner of dealership Auto Equator, which sells brands such as Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, as well as Isuzu. For high-end autos, “the extra S$20,000 to S$30,000 on the COE is nothing when the total car price is S$300,000 or more. They’re not so price- sensitive.”
Luxury car brands including Aston Martin, Porsche and Fiat SpA’s Ferrari saw sales surge as much as 115 percent last year, the Straits Times reported on Jan. 28. Overall auto sales dipped to 42,000 units, less than half the annual average in the past five years, the newspaper said.
“Our biggest hurdle is for customers to get over the upfront cash they will have to fork out to purchase the car,” said Ron Lim, general manager at Tan Chong Motor Sales Pte Ltd., Singapore’s official distributor of Nissan cars.
Still, for those who dream of executing the arbitrage of a lifetime and selling a two year old BMW for the price of a new Ferrari, Singapore is your bubble:
“The demand for used cars has gone up,” said Hong, whose stocks included a pre-owned 2008 BMW 335i convertible, which he sold two days ago for more than S$300,000. “The COE for new cars has been going for more money. Those people who choose not to pay the premium, they go for used cars as an option.”
We wonder how long before surging labor and commodity costs force the Bavarian car maker to import the idea, and the prices fo the US, where the ultra wealthy should have no problem with affording BMWs at any price. As for the remainder (or 99%) of the peasants, who cares?