Mike*, a business owner, will soon have to sign a new commercial property loan agreement for his factory building in the western part of Singapore.
He plans to replace his current commercial property loan, which is pegged to the Singapore Dollar Swap Offer Rate (SOR), with a new floating-rate loan based on the Singapore Overnight Rate Average (SORA).
While some of his fellow business owners expressed concerns about taking a new property loan agreement on a borrowing rate they did not know much about, Mike regards SORA as a reliable interest rate benchmark. He understands how SORA is calculated, having renewed his company’s credit line earlier this year to replace an older floating-rate agreement that was expiring.
Mike is one of many commercial property owners who will be affected as Singapore transits to using SORA as the key interest rate benchmark. The transition impacts not just floating-rate loans and mortgages, but also any financial contract tied to SOR or the Singapore Interbank Offered Rate (SIBOR), including bonds and derivatives (such as currency and interest rate swaps).
What are SOR, SIBOR and SORA, and how are they different?
Ensuring a seamless transition
In the coming months, borrowers will need to switch out of their SOR-based loans. This is because SOR will be discontinued immediately after June 30, 2023, when the US dollar (USD) London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) – a key component used in the calculation of SOR – is no longer available.
Borrowers with SIBOR-based loans will also need to switch out in due course as the widely used one-month and three-month SIBOR will no longer be published after December 31, 2024.
Since May 1, 2021, banks in Singapore have stopped referencing SOR in new loans and securities maturing after end 2021. Banks have also stopped issuing new SIBOR-based loans from October 1, 2021.
As SOR will be discontinued at an earlier date, banks are working to transition customers with existing SOR-based loans first. The approach for converting SIBOR-based loans is in the works, and further details will be made public in due course.
The switch to SORA is in line with global reforms to improve the robustness and integrity of financial benchmarks. Mrs Ong-Ang Ai Boon, director of The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), says that banks in Singapore have been preparing over the past two years to ensure a smooth transition to SORA for all customers.
“There has been a strong increase in the take-up rate of SORA financial products across wholesale and retail markets in recent months, reflecting customers’ increased confidence in using SORA. We expect this trend to further accelerate in the coming quarter after banks stop offering new SIBOR loans, and stop using SOR in new derivatives from October 1, 2021.”
Options for commercial borrowers
Commercial borrowers with existing SOR-based property loans can either switch their mortgages to reference SORA, or take up other loan packages currently offered by their bank, including fixed-rate loans or loans pegged to other reference points such as fixed deposit rates or board rates.
Singapore banks are aiming to convert all corporate SOR exposures by December 31, 2022, so as to avoid any potential disruptions for affected borrowers once SOR ceases.
While 2023 may seem a long way off, borrowers are strongly encouraged to contact their banks early to understand their options for switching to alternative loan packages.
Says Mrs Ong-Ang: “Given that the transition is inevitable, we encourage borrowers to explore their options early and contact their banks sooner rather than later. This will allow borrowers to make an informed decision for a smooth transition.”
Click here to learn more about SORA and get the latest updates on Singapore’s interest rate benchmarks.
*Mike is a persona drawn up based on common concerns of business owners.
This is the third of a four-part series on the banking industry’s transition to SORA, the new interest rate benchmark in Singapore.