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Rising inflation across Asia mauls S’pore Reits

Trusts may still get big lift from higher rents, higher hotel rates, say analysts

SOARING inflation across Asia has sucked the life out of real estate investment trusts (Reits), whose high-yielding dividends have made them wildly popular among investors in recent years.

Reits, in general, have fallen about 32.5 per cent in value from their peaks last year, but those with assets in inflation-prone economies, such as China, have fared even worse, according to financial portal Shareinvestor.com.

CapitaRetail China Trust, for instance, has fallen 52 per cent in four months, as inflation in China galloped to 7.1 per cent – its highest level in over a decade.

Reits are financial instruments investing in real estate like shopping malls, office buildings and hotels.

Investors can buy units, which are much like shares, offering attractive dividend yields of 6 per cent to 8 per cent derived from rents. This is far higher than the 1.5 per cent interest on one-year fixed deposits at a bank.

Historically, a low interest rate environment has been good for Reits – if accompanied by low inflation.

Take CapitaMall Trust, the first Reit listed in Singapore. Its assets include the Tampines Mall and Junction 8 shopping centres.

It received an overwhelming response from investors when it listed six years ago, rising from just 96 cents in July 2002 to a record

high of $4.32 in July last year. Inflation played its part by staying at a benign 1 per cent.

As the consumer price index, however, surged from 1.3 per cent in June to 4.4 per cent in December, CapitaMall slid 20 per cent over

the period.

The inflation pressure is unlikely to abate in the near future.

Last week, the Government revised its estimates upwards to between 4.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent for the year, from an earlier forecast of 3.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent.

So, while fears of a United States recession are causing much grief among investors as they watch the value of their growth stocks evaporate, inflation is becoming a big threat to those with high dividend-yield plays like Reits.

One trader explained: ‘A Reit may offer 6 per cent in dividend yield. But if inflation is running at 4.5 per cent, the actual yield an investor is getting is only 1.5 per cent.’

To compensate for the lower return, an investor will demand a lower price for the Reit, which escalates the pressure on its share price.

Still, analysts have not stopped promoting Reits, despite their lacklustre performance, to clients.

Morgan Stanley made a case last month with a report arguing that investors had wrongly penalised Reits with concerns over acquisition growth and credit-tightening conditions.

Investors have ignored the ‘organic’ boost Reits may get from higher rents as leases expire and hotel rates are jacked up during peak periods.

Citigroup noted on Tuesday that while there may not be a clear growth strategy for Reits this year, some are trading at hefty discounts to their net asset values, despite offering single-digit or even double-digit dividend yields. ‘This makes Reits potential takeover targets, if they have loose shareholding structures,’ it added.

Its top picks include Ascendas Reit, Suntec Reit and Parkway Life Reit.

Source: The Straits Times 23 Feb 08

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