Foreign workers play an important role in our local economy, especially in the construction, marine shipyard, and process (CMP) sectors, where jobs cannot be easily filled by locals. As the COVID-19 restrictions eased in 2022, demand for foreign workers in the CMP sectors outstripped pre-pandemic levels, with 415,000 work permit holders employed as of December 2022, compared to 370,100 in December 2019, as companies rushed to complete projects that were put on hold.
As a result, there is a significant demand for the roughly 439,000 beds in the 1,600 dormitories in Singapore, which are typically used to house foreign workers. This plays strongly to Centurion Corporation (SGX Code: OU8), the largest Purpose-Built Workers Accommodation provider in Singapore and Malaysia. It operates 9 PBWA in Singapore, comprising 33,898 beds, and 8 PBWA in Malaysia, comprising 26,313 beds, under the Westlite brand.
Centurion also operates 17 Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) under the dwell brand, comprising a total of 6,080 beds in major education hubs like Australia, South Korea, United Kingdom, and the United States.
With demand for worker and student housing expected to remain high in 2023, here are 5 things to know about Centurion Corporation.
What is Centurion’s competitive advantage over your industry peers?
As a pioneer and leading provider in the workers accommodation industry, Centurion believes in continuous innovation to address evolving consumer needs and regulatory shifts, which keeps us ahead of the market. For instance, we developed our Singapore PBWA such that all apartment units have been equipped with ensuite toilets, showers and kitchen since 2011. This was before the COVID-19 outbreak, which led local authorities to specify ensuite toilets and showers as the better solution for pandemic-management.
Besides structural design and build, Centurion’s philosophy of ‘Business with a Heart’ is also core to our business. Our stakeholders value our dedication, experience and expertise in delivering care and concern for our multinational and multicultural resident communities. We believe that understanding residents’ needs and ensuring quality living condition are significant factors. These include room inspections for hygiene and cleanliness, active event calendars for social inclusion and mental wellbeing, as well as addressing security and safety concerns.
In terms of portfolio growth and scalability, we have established management platforms and processes, agency and partner relationships, technology platforms and tools as well as talent development programmes. This enables us to quickly replicate operating capabilities into new markets and properties, with optimal ramp-up periods.
Interest rates are expected to stay elevated for the next two years. What impact does this have on the Group’s businesses and how is it managing this risk?
We have, over the past years, prudently pared down our leverage, from a Net Gearing Ratio of 51% as at 31 Dec 2019, to 43% as at 31 Dec 2022. This has helped to moderate the impact of rising interest rates.
At the same time, we continue to monitor and manage the risks. We have a long-term bank debt maturity profile of 6 years, and our interest cover is healthy at 3.9x. We have also hedged our interest rates risks, where relevant and appropriate.
What is Centurion doing to maintain/increase occupancy and rental rates?
Centurion believes in providing high quality product and service, which the Group develops, maintains and innovates to ensure its attractiveness to our customers. For instance, we put care into the design and build of our properties (from the apartment units to the amenities we provide within each property) and ensure that our assets maintain the highest standards of hygiene and safety.
We also have strong management capabilities and service standards, which represent the soft aspects of our offer. These include understanding the needs of our customers and residents. For example, our Resi-Life programmes aim to care for the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of our residents.
By consistently addressing the needs of our customers and residents, with commitment to their wellbeing, we build brand trust and reputation, which should result in greater customer preference, loyalty and referrals.
With many economists predicting a slowing economy and a possible recession in the near term, how is the Group preparing itself to ride out this storm?
Our specialised accommodation business segments, both worker and student accommodation, enjoy robust demand as well as short supply in the countries and cities where we operate. The strong demand and supply fundamentals are expected to continue through the next 18 months. Moreover, demand for migrant workforce and higher education tends to be counter-cyclical, and resilient to economic swings.
The Group will monitor the market conditions closely, and aims to mitigate the impact from inflation, continuing interest rate hikes and a possible slowing economy or recession, with focus on management efficiencies, optimizing rental revenues, and prudent cash conservation.
What are the most significant ESG risks or opportunities your company is facing? How are you meeting these needs?
For Centurion, it is important that we actively ensure that our migrant workers and student residents have a holistic living experience. We also focus on integration efforts among our migrant workforce and international students within the respective Westlite and dwell communities as well as with the local communities.
Calendar milestones such as Deepavali and International Migrant’s Day are some examples of moments in the year where we organise activities within and outside our dormitories.
Beyond this, we have an active calendar of events throughout the year where our residents can partake in e.g. excursions and interactions with schools and non-profit organisations for cultural exchange.
In addition, we actively invite welfare organisations (such as non-governmental organisations and non-profit organisations) to engage with our student and worker residents. This can be in various forms, such as providing free physical health screening, mental wellness consultations and educational talks.
Editor’s Note: Some answers for this article were extracted from the SGX 10 in 10 series published on 14 March 2023 and have been republished with permission. You can read more on Centurion Corporation on the SGX website.