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Monday, May 10, 2010

New accounting method likely to affect property stocks

PETALING JAYA: The International Financial Reporting Interpretations Committee on real estate development (IFRIC 15), which will become applicable for the accounting period commencing July 1, is likely to affect investor sentiment in property stocks, analysts said.

Under the new ruling issued by the Malaysian Accounting Standards Board, property developers are to recognise revenue based on the completion method instead of the percentage-of-completion method in current practice.

ECM Libra Capital Sdn Bhd research head Bernard Ching said the new ruling could deter shareholders that based their investments on a company’s earnings.

“Investors that are not so sophisticated and less informed about the company’s operations will be deterred when they notice that the company’s earnings aren’t so consistent,” he told StarBiz.

“Fundamentally, this new ruling does not change anything as there is no cashflow impact. The only difference is recognition of the company’s accounting profits,” said Ching.

He said developers exposed to strata-high-end projects, which often take three years (as opposed to landed residential projects that take only two years) to complete would be most affected.

“Developers with projects that are few and spaced would have the most impact as opposed to say, township developers that have more projects. Large companies with good track records are least likely to see any impact.”

Ching said a way around this was for developers to become more transparent with their investors.

“The bulk of the listed property companies do not engage their investors. Companies like Sunrise Bhd are great at engaging investors, as they have regular analyst briefings and are quite transparent with their projects.”

“It’s up to the developer to be more transparent with their launches. Companies that consistently make headlines will continue to do well under the new ruling.”

An analyst from a local bank-backed brokerage who requested anonymity called the new ruling “silly.”

“It’s a silly rule. What is wrong with the way earnings are reported that requires it to be amended? Whoever came up with the ruling I feel has zilch industry experience.

“In terms of dollars and cents, it’s business as usual for the developers. Only on paper does it look different. However, it would deter investor confidence as company earnings would look choppy.”

He, however, added that the reaction, if any, would be temporary.

“Investors who are not aware may be shocked and this may create a knee-jerk reaction. But I think after a while, they will adjust.”

The analyst said he wasn’t going to revise his outlook for property stocks because of a “change in accounting rules.”

“A company’s share price is based on cashflow, not on accounting profit. A change in accounting rules does not mean the company isn’t making money.”

Affin Investment Bank, in a recent research report, said earnings for developers were expected to be lumpy and volatile, and might appear negative on the surface.

“Analysis on profit and loss, such as profit margins, (including quarterly earnings) will be tough, as it will be purely based on the guidance from developers on their job completion schedule. Earnings from newly launched properties can only be seen two to three years after the properties are completed.

“As such, valuations based on earnings are not quite valid to reflect future earnings prospects. Instead, valuations based on RNAV (revised net asset value) will be widely used to assess the relative attractiveness of different property stocks,” it said.

The research house does not anticipate developers to continuously launch projects just to have a healthy balance sheet.

“The property sector is known to be cyclical in nature and pretty much depends on economic conditions. Despite the adoption of IFRIC 15, we believe developers will still launch new properties at the best and right time that they reckon.

“Rolling out new properties regularly to smoothen out earnings does not make sense as developers will have to carry higher inventory, especially during bad times, which slows down turnaround time.”

It also said developers with fewer launches and smaller landbanks could be badly affected.

“Earnings could be in the red for a few years before we see positive earnings contribution from property sales. Furthermore, companies which have established a dividend policy may not be relevant anymore and investors and analysts will have to depend on guidance from management.”

By The Star

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