* Lowest number of homes sold since January 2009
* Few new property launches
* Sales seen falling in 2014 (Adds milestone, background on developers)
By Brian Leonal and Anshuman Daga
SINGAPORE, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The number of private homes sold by developers in Singapore in December fell more than 80 percent from a year earlier, with the property industry bracing itself for a tough 2014 as a series of government measures to cool the market start to bite.
With developers putting few big new projects on to the market and potential buyers hampered by rules limiting how much they can borrow, only 259 units were sold last month in the city state, the lowest number since January 2009, according to figures from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
Governments across Asia have been trying to cool their property markets following three years of strong price rises triggered by low interest rates brought about by quantitative easing in developed countries.
Signs are emerging that those efforts are starting to make a significant impact, with figures last week showing property sales in Hong Kong hitting a 17-year low.
In Singapore, where private property prices have risen by around 50 percent since 2009, analysts said they expect home sales to remain muted for most of this year.
“Assuming that the current cooling measures and lending rules are in place, the total number of new developer sales are expected to be at least 30 percent lower compared to last year’s developer sales,” said Alice Tan, head of consultancy and research at Knight Frank Singapore.
However, analysts cautioned that fears the city-state was on the verge of a major correction in its property and credit markets are overdone.
“What happened for this year is that there was a sprint in the first half, and now it is slowing down to take a breather after the measures came in,” said Desmond Sim, Head of Research at CBRE, who expects between 10,000 to 12,000 property units to be sold in 2014 compared with just under 15,000 this year.
On Tuesday, Singapore’s central bank said in a statement it believed the country was not at risk of a credit bubble and the property market was stabilising in response to a column on the Forbes website predicting the city-state was heading for an Iceland style meltdown. Economists backed their view.
“While comparing Singapore to Iceland makes for attention grabbing headlines, the bottom line is that both countries have very different macroeconomic fundamentals,” said Credit Suisse economist Michael Wan.
Earlier this month, figures showed private home prices fell in the fourth quarter of 2013, the first decline in almost two years and analysts expect the downward trend to continue at a moderate pace.
In a report titled “Slow Grind” and published ahead of the release of property data, CLSA forecast a drop in Singapore property prices this year of around 5-10 percent.
“Low inventory among developers and strong household balance sheet will mitigate a sharp correction in our view with government intervening to ease policy measures as another price support,” the report said.
Singapore property stocks took a beating last year as the impact of strict government measures affected the sector. Tougher rules for bank financing have hit buyers and property developers are offering steep discounts to boost sales.
Last year, property and hotel company, City Developments Ltd was the worst performer in the benchmark Straits Times Index, with its shares plunging by about 25 percent as investors braced for a weak market.
Singapore’s real estate index fell 9.7 percent last year and was the second biggest sector loser after jumping 48 percent in 2012.
Since 2009, the Singapore government has introduced eight rounds of cooling measures intended to prevent a property bubble from forming.
In June last year, new rules came in to ensure that a property buyer’s monthly payments do not exceed 60 percent of his or her income, a move aimed at making sure home owners are not caught out when interest rates start to rise.
Private homes in Singapore house around 20 percent of the city-state’s 5.3 million population, with the rest living in government-built housing. (Reporting by Brian Leonal and Anshuman Daga; Additional reporting by Laura Philomin; Writing by Rachel Armstrong; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)