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The price of converting to REIT

Posted On Thursday, 23 May 2013 01:31 Published by Commercial Property News
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Many listed property companies are converting or considering converting to real estate investment trusts (REITs) in South Africa since the new tax regime for list REITs was enacted.

Other countries have gone down this road and one may ask as to how their share prices fared as a result of such action.

U.S.-listed real-estate investment trusts, or REITs, are on track to issue more new equity in the U.S. than in any year since 2001, according to Ipreo, a capital-markets data and advisory firm. REITs have raised $16.8 billion in U.S. IPOs and secondary stock sales so far in 2013, a pace that would top 2012’s record $36.6 billion.

During the last couple of years, REITs, aided by investors' rabid appetite for income-producing investments, consistently have trumped the broad market. In 2011, while the S&P 500 was flat, the FTSE Nareit U.S. index jumped 4.3%. Last year the S&P was up 3.8%; the REIT index, 5.9%. And there are attractive opportunities to play this trend through the shares of companies likely to undergo a conversion.

In the US, for example, and much of the world follows the lead, a company seeking to become a REIT must satisfy two main criteria: It must derive at least 75% of its revenue from rents and other direct real-estate activities, and it must pay out at least 90% of its profits to shareholders as dividends. In return, those profits are untaxed at the company level, and the hope is that yield-focused investors will flock to the shares.

One of the most prominent conversions last year was American Tower, the leading owner of mobile-communication transmission towers, which moved to become a REIT soon after it had used up its tax-loss assets. The switch, effective last Dec. 31, immediately made American Tower the second-biggest publicly traded REIT. Its current market value is $26 billion. The stock gained 14.7% in 2011's second half, after it started the conversion process, and last year added another 8%.

According to REIT commentators Online Barrons, Jeff Kolitch, portfolio manager at the Baron Real Estate Fund (BREFX), says that the average REIT fetches 22 times AFFO, a measure comparable to operating cash flow. At a recent price of around $50, SBA was trading at about 17 times this year's forecast operating cash flow.

The lofty valuations that REITs now command in the US might not be sustainable over the longer term, especially if interest rates rise, offering good alternative income investments. And the requirement that 90% of earnings be paid out to shareholders means earnings can't be accumulated for future investment, necessitating that still-growing REITs sell equity or debt to buy or build additional properties.

There has been some price corrections in the US, but at the moment, the haste to be a part of the REIT structure holds rewards for discerning investors.

Last modified on Thursday, 23 May 2013 01:52

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