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Monday, August 17, 2009

Room for more listed REITs in Malaysia

REIT transactions account for only 11% of local market capitalisation

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia, which has 11 listed real estate investment trusts (REITs) and two property trusts, can accommodate more listed REITs to add further depth, liquidity and asset choices to the stock market.

Currently, REIT transactions account for only 11% of market capitalisation in the country compared with 52.1% in North America.

According to the latest Asian Public Real Estate Association’s weekly REIT report, Asia’s REIT industry has a market capitalisation of US$58.86bil, with Japan taking the lead with US$30.5bil.

Malaysia’s US$1.43bil in market capitalisation is behind the rest of the pack, including Singapore (US$15.1bil), Hong Kong (US$8.3bil), Taiwan (US$1.53bil) and Thailand (US$1.52bil).

Come next year, if Sunway City Bhd goes ahead with its proposed listing of its RM3.7bil REIT on the local bourse, it will be the industry’s largest. Also in the pipeline is CapitaLand Ltd’s retail REIT, which will be the first foreign-sponsored REIT on Bursa Malaysia.

Axis REIT Managers Bhd chief executive officer and executive director Stewart Labrooy said shareholders’ current expectations of high dividend yields would not be conducive for new REIT listings.

“The average prevailing yields of 8% to 10% are considered high. When the market stabilises and the unit price of REIT goes up, yields should come back down again to around 7% to 8%. When that happens, it will be a better time for new REITs to be listed,” he said.

Although the market environment has turned more positive following the Government’s liberalisation measures, Labrooy said there was a need to create a more attractive tax regime for REIT investors in relation to withholding tax.

“We would like to see distributions for Malaysian REITs not to be taxed to promote greater retail participation. A higher retail investor participation in the market will create a higher liquidity and trade volume,” he said.

He lauded the Securities Commission (SC) for doing a great job in supporting the local REIT industry by constantly engaging with industry players for feedback and acting on them.

“There was a complete revamp of the REITs guidelines last August. The SC has been very innovative and was the first to come out with Islamic REIT guidelines,” Labrooy said.

He said there was potential for new sectors to be introduced including toll-roads, airports, serviced apartments, university accommodation and even prisons.

In terms of total returns over the past one year, Labrooy said five Malaysian REITs (M REITs) emerged among the top 10 performing REITs in Asia. They were Al-Hadharah Boustead REIT, UOA REIT, Al-Aqar KPJ REIT, Axis REIT and AmFirst REIT.

The total returns (comprising the share value plus dividend yields) for these top performing REITs ranged from 17% to 30%.

Labrooy said M REITs had bounced back from their lows in December last year and were “displaying the true characteristics of how REITs should behave in a volatile market by making steady gains over a period.”

Although the worst may be over for M REITs as most of their unit prices have recovered to match their net asset value (NAV), there are still some challenges that need to be addressed by industry players.

“There is a need to move short-term debt into medium to long-term debt to match the leasing period and remove uncertainties of volatile interest rates. At the end of the day, it is better for industry players to opt for longer term debts and a good ratio will be 60:40 of long term to short-term debts,” he added.

There is also a need for a higher retail investor participation in the REIT market as currently the market liquidity is still low. This can be addressed by expanding portfolios and market capitalisation of each of the listed funds.

Labrooy said following the improvement in the market, Axis REIT has recently got back on its asset acquisition trail with the latest addition of a RM65mil logistics centre in Port Klang.

At the same time it is also planning a placement of 51.18 million new units into the market which will provide the funding for the purchase of an additional RM120mil of new assets which have already been identified.

“Our intended goal of achieving RM1bil in assets under management was delayed by the crisis last year but we are back on track and will continue to execute our strategy for the benefit of our unitholders,” he said.

As at June 30, Axis REIT has 19 properties under its stable with assets under management worth about RM728mil and approved fund size of 255.9 million units.

By The Star (by Angie Ng)

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