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Housing prices still manageable [10-03-2011]  
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The rise in residential property prices is still manageable and measures such as the My First Home Scheme will allow those in the lower-income brackets to own homes.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said at a press briefing yesterday, following the annual meeting with Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, that the rise in house prices was being monitored.

“We're watching the increase in property prices closely which we think is still manageable,” he said, adding that the My First Home Scheme, which was launched on Tuesday for those earning less than RM3,000 a month, was a people-friendly measure to enable the lower income groups to own houses.

Those who qualify for the scheme can obtain 100% financing to buy their first home with a repayment period of 30 years for houses costing between RM100,000 and RM220,000.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz at the press briefing.

Najib added that the Government was also looking into the supply side of housing to see if measures had to be taken to build more residential properties around the RM200,000 level.

According to data released by the Valuation and Property Services Department, the national house price index rose 6.2% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2010 after rising 6.2% in the second quarter and 5.7% in the first quarter.

Najib said any new issues of Islamic bank licences and foreign banks looking to increase their shareholding in local banks would be looked at on “merit” and on a “case-by-case” basis.

He said last week during a visit to Australia that the Government was open to allowing Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd (ANZ) raise its stake in AMMB Holdings Bhd, which owns AmBank (M) Bhd.

Currently the limit for foreign shareholding in local commercial banks is 30%. ANZ has a 26.59% stake in AMMB, making the Australian bank the single largest shareholder.

Najib said the foreign shareholding limit for banks here would be reviewed individually and there would not be any changes to the Banking and Financial Institutions Act 1989 because this was an “administrative issue”.

So far, there has been no proposal by ANZ to raise the bank's stake in AMMB and other foreign banks have also not applied.

Meanwhile, Najib said the economy was expected to grow by 5% to 6% this year but would face challenges due to slower global growth, which would affect external demand.

He said the challenges were from higher crude oil prices, inflation and the sovereign debt crisis in the euro-zone.

“We'll monitor these developments closely and take the necessary steps,” Najib said.

He added that several interim measures would have to be taken to support private consumption and investment should energy prices continue to rise to a “critical point”.

However, Najib said the Government was committed to long-term subsidy rationalisation, although on a gradual basis, with savings from the lower subsidy to go to those in the lower-income brackets.

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