Singapore REITs – Defensive The New Offensive
Sector outperforms for fifth consecutive year despite interest rate fears
Yield plays were at the forefront in 2018.
- As we headed into 2018, the market and our DBS economists were expecting the global economy to enter a period of synchronised growth, and in Singapore, the residential property market would rebound given diminishing supply and aggressive bidding of land by developers. Thus, investors were positioned into the more cyclical stocks. However, as the year progressed, growth expectations were dialed back on account of escalating trade tensions between the US and China.
- Furthermore, due to the 9% jump in Singapore residential prices, the Singapore authorities introduced additional property cooling measures which is expected to chill future demand for new launches. This caused investors to turn cautious on developer stocks.
- Consequently, due to macro uncertainties, investors refocused on yield, with S-REITs back in favour despite concerns over the impact of rising interest rates. Nevertheless, with the overall market down for the year, S-REITs on an absolute basis have declined c.4% (including distributions as at 31 December 2018) but still outperformed the STI and Developers index which fell c.6% and 16% respectively. This is the fifth consecutive year that SREITs have outperformed the STI.
- See S-REITs share price performance and also Straits Times Index Constituents share price performance.
A more gradual hike normalisation in 2019.
- Our DBS economists recently revised the US Federal Reserve to increase interest rates twice in 2019 in line with consensus compared to a more hawkish four hikes before. The reason for the revision is due to the current global economic uncertainties brought about by the trade war between US and China. The US Federal Reserve is close to end of the current normalisation of interest rates with our DBS economists projecting no further rate hikes until the end of 2020.
Impact of higher interest rates to filter through but have limited impact on distributions.
- To combat the threat of rising interest rates, S-REITs have conservatively hedged a large proportion of their debt into fixed rates estimated at c.75% as at end-Sep 2018. This level has been maintained by the S-REITs over the years.
- We note that the sector’s average cost of debt has been fairly stable at c.2.7% during 2014-2018 despite the increase in base interest rates over the same period. This is mainly due to a compression in credit spreads that S-REITs have been able to obtain when loans came up for renewal during the period, with average spreads over the 3M-SOR declining by an average of 1.74% (1.66%-1.79%) over 2015-2017 to 1.18% (as of 3Q18), implying a compression of over 50bps.
- Looking ahead, with credit spreads at a multi-year low and base rates expected to rise on the back of continued hikes in the FED funds rates, we see limited room for spreads to compress further from current levels. While selected S-REITs may prefer to refinance their loans to shorter term maturities in order to keep interest costs low, in general, S-REITs will be faced with higher interest costs as their debts fall due after the increase in benchmark interest rates over the last two years. In our sensitivity analysis, a 1% hike in interest rates will cut FY19-20F distributions by 1.1%-1.2%.
But cyclical upturn in rents will see DPU growth accelerating.
- Despite expectations of higher borrowing costs, we believe S-REITs on average can still deliver DPU growth, which is projected to accelerate from 1.9% in 2019 to 2.3% in 2020. This is largely due to the boost from acquisitions made in 2018, but more importantly the cyclical upturn in rents across the different property submarkets as supply pressures ease, offsetting headwinds from higher borrowing costs.
Long bond yield to peak in 2019 with interest rate overhang easing thereafter.
- While investors have been fretting about a spike in the 10-year bond yield, we are approaching a peak soon according to our DBS economists. They expect the Singapore 10-year government bond yield to rise from c.2.45% currently to 2.90% by end-4Q19. Thereafter, with downside risk to US growth in 4Q20, they expect the Singapore 10-year bond yield to fall to 2.7% in 3Q20 and 2.5% in 4Q20.
- While there may be short term volatility in share prices as we approach the 2.90% level, but after hitting the peak, we believe the overhang from rising interest rates both at the short and long end should dissipate over time.
Improving rental outlook translating to stronger DPU prospects
Recovery in office and hotels.
- Prior to 2018, there was an oversupply in the office, retail, industrial and hotel segments following the release of land by the government 5-6 years ago in response to the rapidly rising spot rents which impairs Singapore’s global competitive position. However, in 2018, this oversupply situation reversed for the office and hotel sectors as new supply moderated and will remain low going forward.
- On the back of healthy demand for office space due to robust GDP growth (2018 GDP growth of c.3.5%), this translated to Grade A Office rents hitting S$10.45 psf/mth at end September 2018, c.17% from the lows in 1H17. Likewise, strong tourist arrivals (+7.5% in 9M18), resulted in revenue per available (RevPAR) jumping c.3% in 9M18, after declines over the last few years.
- With modest new supply and healthy growth in the Singapore and regional economies projected by our DBS economists, we expect office rents and hotel RevPAR to increase 5-10% and 3- 4% y-o-y respectively in 2019.
Upturn to extend to industrials and retail.
- Heading into 2019, we believe the positive momentum in the office and hotel sectors in 2018 should also spill over to the industrial and retail sectors. Industrial supply is expected to peak in 2018, and moderate from 2019 onwards. This in turn should translate to 2-3% growth in spot rents. Meanwhile, retail rents should bottom out in 2019 and recover thereafter as supply is expected to peak during 2019 and fall from 2020 onwards.
- While near term supply is a major concern for some investors, we note that c.90% of the new supply has already been precommitted, there should be limited pressure on rents from the new malls opening next year.
Positive boost from organic rental growth.
- While we and the market had expected DPU growth to resume in 2018, this did not materialise. This was largely due to the underperformance of the hospitality REITs as the upper scale and mid-tier hotels lagged the overall market recovery, and impact from equity raisings this year.
- Nevertheless, for 2019, we remain confident that DPU growth will show positive growth as the S-REITs recognise the full year impact from c.S$10bn worth of acquisitions made in 2018, and more importantly a more convincing recovery in spot rents across most subsectors.
- Overall, we expect the S-REITs to deliver steady 1.9% DPU growth in 2019, increasing by a further 2.3% thereafter in 2020.
Retail and commercial REITs to grow the fastest in FY19.
- We expect the retail/commercial sectors to deliver the fastest growth supported by inorganic growth from CAPITALAND MALL TRUST (SGX:C38U)’s recent acquisitions and reopening of its Funan mall, and MAPLETREE COMMERCIAL TRUST (SGX:N2IU)’s recently completed asset enhancement initiatives (AEIs).
- Meanwhile, positive rental reversions achieved in the office sector in 2H18 should start to filter through, leading to a recovery in DPU growth in 2019 for most office REITs. Besides the recovery in spot rents, the industrial sector should continue to maintain its track record of steady DPU growth largely due to acquisitions made in 2018.
- Finally, following a disappointing 2018, the hospitality REITs should finally benefit from an overall uplift in the Singapore hospitality market but at a more modest pace.
Acquisitions tougher to come by in 2019
Record year for acquisitions.
More Info: research.sginvestors.io