Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Singapore REITs - History and Regulations

Singapore has probably done more than any other Asian country to grow and foster its Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) market.  Since the first REIT was listed till now in 2012, the number of listed REITs in Singapore has grown and looks set to surpass Japan for the top spot in terms of market capitalisation in the next 5 years.  Its foundation was not without trouble though.

In the beginning....

The first REIT to be listed in Singapore did not take off.  Its public offering took place in November 2001.  The developer was Capitaland and the REIT was SingMall Property Trust.  Offered at S$1.00 each with a forecasted earnings yield of 5.75% for 2002 and 6.05% for 2003, it was scrapped when the issue was only 80% subscribed.  The cause for the weak market sentiment was probably due to the aftermath of Sept 2011  and the uncertainty that was around.  Poor understanding of what a REIT was could also be a contributing factor.

A year later (July 2002), the original three major shopping centres/malls of Junction 8, Tampines Mall and Funan the IT Mall were repackaged into CapitaMall Trust.  The yield offered was 7.1% this time and investors were hooked.  This ushered in the start of the REIT market in Singapore.

The next few REITs to be listed on the Singapore stock exchange (SGX) were Ascendas REIT ( November 2002) and Fortune REIT (October 2003).

Today, there are around 20 REITs listed in Singapore covering various property types like commercial, residential, hospitality, hospitals, industrial, and retails.  Many of these are also cross-border REITs and own properties outside of Singapore.  These include CapitaRetail China Trust, First REIT, Frasers Commerical Trust (previously known as Allco REIT), Ascott REIT, LippoMall Indonesia Retail Trust, etc.

With many sponsors being developers too, it is highly likely that these sponsors will also inject future properties into the trusts already established.

Friendly Regulations played a part

Regulatory changes probably played an important role in fuelling investors' enthusiasm for REITs.  Withholding tax was set at 10% while there was full tax exemption for local and foreign individual investors.

The gearing limit (i.e. amount of debt the REIT could raise), was also increase from 25% to 35% and went up to 60% (on the condition that the trust received a rating from a credit rating agency).  Of course, some analysts have commented that the 60% gearing is not conditional on any rating the trust receives as long as a rating is obtained.  Through borrowing, a trust could potentially fund new purchases using cheap debt while increasing the amount of distributions to unit holders.  And that probably explains the acquisitions that followed for SREITs after the gearing level was increased.

REITs listed on SGX

Do note that some trusts are listed on the SGX too and these are not to be confused with REITs.  REITs are required to pay out 90% of their profit as distribution to enjoy tax incentives. Trusts do not have to do that.  So there is certainly less certainty on the distributions that one obtains from trusts as compared to a REIT.

Most of the REITs (if not all of them) are equity REITs in the sense that they hold real immovable properties unlike some of the mortgage REITs listed in the US stock exchange.

Here is the list of REITs listed on SGX:

  1. CapitaMall Trust
  2. MapleTree Industrial 
  3. Ascendas REIT
  4. CapitaCommerical 
  5. Suntec REIT
  6. Mapletree Logistics
  7. Mapletree Commercial
  8. Saizen
  9. First REIT
  10. Cambridge REIT
  11. LippoMalls Indonesian Retail Trust
  12. Cache
  13. Starhill Global
  14. CapitaRetail China
  15. Sabana
  16. Ascott
  17. Fortune REIT (HK$)
  18. Frasers Centrepoint Trust
  19. Frasers Commercial Trust 
  20. Keppel REIT

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