Custom Search

This blog is also available in the following languages

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Investing in REITs - Really for the yield?

Business model of typical REIT

People invest in Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) primarily for the stable dividend yield. REITs are supposed to provide good source of passive income for those with neither the cash nor the leverage capacity to invest in typical properties for passive rental income. Is this really so?

Before answering that question, let's look at the business model of a typical REIT. In layman terms, REIT acquire properties and lease them out for rental income. The funds for acquisition comes either from shareholders (share issue), banks (loans) or both. REIT is supposed to pay out ALL profit from rental income less all other business expenses (including bank loan interest) required to keep the REIT alive.

During Good Times

When the economy is booming, demand for factory, office and retail space pushed up rents and hence the record rental income for REITs, pushing up the dividend per unit (DPU) of these REITs. However, the prices of these REIT surge even higher, and hence the yield is actually very low. For blue chip REIT like the Capitalmall Trust, yield got as low as mere 3 to 4% in 2007. At such yield, I am quite puzzled whether the investor are indeed after the dividend yield.

During such time when demand for practically everything is high, profit is easy to come by and credit is even easier. DPU accretive property acquisitions continue to be made even when property bubbles seem to form. Perhaps the REIT management think no matter how much they pay for the properties, with easy credit, they can always milk much more from the tenants. Perhaps investor think the same way too, and look pass the current depressed yields for brighter future returns.

During Bad Times

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end one day, especially those built on excesses. The subprime crisis put an end to the easy credit and the ensuing recession saw demand for factory, office and retail space plunge, driving down rents and rental income for REITs. Since REITs pay out all their profit, little is left to repay debts and when the loan are due, some faced problem refinancing their debt. Investor confidence in such REITs sunk like a rock in water. For example, Cambridge Industrial Trust, without a strong sponsor and concern was material that it might not survive, its annualised yield at one point went above 25%!

Inherent to the REIT's business model of growth by debt and paying out every cent less all expenses, continual injection of funds is their sole source of life sustaining blood. Thus capital call in form of debt refinancing (at prevailing interest rate) or equity raising exercise via rights or placement is inevitable.

For debt refinancing, the consequent is dip in DPU if interest rate is much higher than before.

But for equity raising exercise, dilution becomes a significant concern for those who do not have the funds to subscribe to rights entitled to them or left out cold in an event of private placement to new shareholders. The latter is especially unfair to current shareholders and normally met with angry shareholders like the recent case of MacAuthurCook Industrial REIT's dilutive recapitalisation plan.

Whichever route the REIT take, by virtue of their business model, high DPUs or high dividend yields are never sustainable.


If high yields or high DPU is not sustainable, is REIT never a worthwhile investment? I don't think so. Like all businesses, each have their intrinsic business cycles and one can benefit by exploiting the ups and down. For REIT, during recession, rents are low, property valuation are low, credit are difficult to come by and share prices depressed. At this juncture, the moment they can sort out their outstanding debt issues (i.e. refinancing, rights, placements), there is no better time to buy them and await the eventual economic recovery.

Thus in my opinion, REIT is better as a one-off capital appreciation investment than long term passive income generator.


Friday, 11 December 2009

6/6 Hindsight vs 0/6 Foresight

6/6 Hindsight

Comment and analysis articles started popping up everywhere after Dubai World requested creditors to delay debt repayments for 6 months. Articles explaining how the collapsed of these property castles built on shaky grounds of leverage was just a matter of time and listed so many warning signs that any idiot could predict this crisis with ease. This kind of postdated prediction also occured after the subprime crisis erupted in the United States.

While it is true that genuine warning signs were indeed present and if people took heed, many of such crises could have been avoided. But in this era of information barrage, where one has to sieve real information from fake, good from bad and useful from useless, spotting a few true red flags from countless fake cry wolves are always a challenge.

0/6 Foresight

Future cannot be predicted but with adequate preparations and precautions, adverse consequences could be mitigated or potential opportunities exploited. That's precisely the reason why I neither believe nor made sense of technical analysis. Looking back, any bottom or peak looked so obvious, but looking forward, how many times had a double-top resulted in even higher 'top' when the forward 'obvious' would have been a sell down or profit taking? But understanding and appreciating economic cycles would give one a much better 'foresight' as all good things must come to an end one day or fine weather will one day re-emerge after a terrible storm.

Mistakes in investment

Commenting on the China-based firms listed on SGX and their corporate governance concerns following a year of scandals afflicting a few such firms, SIAS chief, Mr David Gerrad, mentioned business failure and human failure. I could not agree more that investors are already prepared for the first failure but not the second. That is what investment is about. Looking at my past mistakes (right up to the most recent one involving Macauthurcook Industrial REIT, MI-REIT), I need to add that human failure has another dimension- human failure by the investor.

Human failure on the corporate end cannot be tolerated but sad to say, can't really be avoided (if the management is out to be shady). But human failure on the investor side can be avoided if he exercise more care in his research on the company. Blame my luck if the CEO or chairman runaway with the company's cash but blame myself if I count my beans wrongly. Thus MI-REIT is my most painful mistake despite being one of the least costly simply because it is a systematic error on my part.

To me, business failures are random errors that can be mitigated by diversification & margin of safety. 0/6 foresight dictates that luck plays a part in the eventual outcome. However, human failure by the investor is a systematic failure that will skew the final result for the worse.


I neither bother to improve my 0/6 foreight nor believe it is ever possible unless I have privilege information, so all I can do is to be more careful and meticulous (being careless or lazy is a fatal flaw for any investor profile) in my future investment adventures.