For qualified investors in Switzerland

Public REITs for long-term property exposure

The Global Property Equities Team believes that apart from relative valuations, there are other key reasons to favour public over private REITs for forward-looking investors.

Guy Barnard, CFA

Guy Barnard, CFA

Co-Head of Global Property Equities | Portfolio Manager


Tim Gibson

Tim Gibson

Co-Head of Global Property Equities | Portfolio Manager


Greg Kuhl, CFA

Greg Kuhl, CFA

Portfolio Manager


17 Aug 2023
6 minute read

Key takeaways:

  • The impact of interest rate rises on listed property and the resulting discrepancy between public and private real estate investment trust (REIT) valuations is well known.
  • The era of “free money” is over. Real estate fundamentals and operating acumen are becoming the primary driver of real estate returns, which plays to the strengths of public REITs.
  • Public REITs’ relatively low cost of capital leaves the asset class well positioned to take advantage of future opportunities.

This idea that public (listed) REITs are trading at much lower valuations to their private counterparts’ reported values has been written about extensively and is now accepted wisdom. We believe that the relative valuation gap between public and private real estate is not the most important reason to invest in public REITs today.

Aside from relative valuation, we would point long-term investors to two other factors that we think will be more important drivers of relative return between public and private real estate over the next decade:

1. In a world where money is no longer ‘free’, real estate fundamentals and operating acumen will be the primary driver of real estate returns. In this regard, we think public REITs have a meaningful advantage over their private counterparts.

Generationally cheap debt was a very significant driver of returns for highly leveraged (high debt usage) private real estate vehicles over the decade leading up to the pandemic. Some might even argue that the performance of certain private real estate funds was more about financial engineering than real estate fundamentals over this timeframe. Conversely, public REITs spent the 2010s deleveraging their balance sheets (reducing balance sheet debt), which was a headwind to cash flows. But US public REITs still outperformed their private counterparts by around 2.0% per annum1.

How did public REITs outperform with lower leverage?

In our view, public REITs outperformed private during the 2010s mainly because of superior real estate fundamentals. This includes more favourable property type exposure and stronger operating platforms that are costly, difficult to assemble, complex and better suited to infinite-lived public companies.

The majority of private real estate investment has been and remains in the core property types of office, retail, industrial, and apartments. Public REITs also offer high quality exposure to the core property types, but the majority of exposure today is to non-traditional property types like cell towers, data centres, self storage, senior housing, single tenant net lease and single-family rental.

Private real estate’s focus on the core property types is partly an exercise in necessity. For example, for a large private equity real estate manager, it is far more expedient to underwrite and acquire one office building for $400m and hire a real estate services firm to manage the asset, than to underwrite and acquire 40 self-storage facilities for the same price and establish an operating platform servicing thousands of underlying tenants.

Non-traditional property takes more time to assemble into a quality portfolio and is typically more operationally intensive than core property types. This makes non-traditional property a good match for infinite-lived public companies that can typically continuously access capital via the debt and equity markets. The core property types generally have ‘chunkier’ (higher dollar value) individual assets that are more conducive to the third-party management approach employed by private real estate. Non-core property types typically require much lower maintenance capital investment. They can benefit from more favourable supply/demand dynamics relative to the core property types given they are more exposed to demographic and technology tailwinds, increasing the potential for better cash flow growth.

For investors who agree with our view that the next decade of real estate returns will not be driven by cheap debt, but instead by the cash flow growth of underlying properties, public REITs can be a great place to be.

2. High-quality real estate naturally flows into the strongest hands, i.e. those with the best access to capital and the lowest cost of capital. Today this is very clearly the public REITs. The value of real estate compounds slowly over time; public REITs’ ability to enhance and expand their portfolios today should pay (literal) dividends over the next decade and beyond.

During the 2010s, cheap debt provided massive buying power to investors who were willing to pay the highest prices for real estate. Over this period, the average coupon on commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) debt – a key source of debt financing for private real estate – was 4.5%, this then declined to 3.8% during the second half of the decade. The average term on CMBS debt was five years and the average spread (added yield) over a 5-year US Treasury Note was 160 basis points (1.6%). Today (11 August 2023), the yield on a 5-year US Treasury Note is about 4.3% and the average CMBS spread over Treasuries is 237 basis points (2.37%), which indicates a generic CMBS coupon of 6.7% 2. For office and retail assets, debt financing rates can be significantly higher than this.

What’s the impact now that real estate faces higher debt costs?

Real estate that was financed at high loan-to-values (LTVs) in the latter half of the 2010s at coupons averaging 3.8% are likely to see a dramatic decline (or elimination) in cash flows to equity when this debt needs to be refinanced at rates higher than 6.5% now. Balance sheet pressure for private real estate owners is very real.

Financial strength now a key characteristic of the sector

US REITs raised $21.6 billion from secondary debt in the first half of 2023

Source: NAREIT, S&P Global Market Intelligence as at 30 June 2023. Secondary debt is the trading of debt after it is issued.

Balance sheet stress combined with redemption queues means we are likely to see private real estate owners selling real estate to raise capital. Public REITs with generally lower debt coupled with continuous access to the unsecured credit and equity markets are ready and waiting to take advantage of acquisition opportunities as they arise. We have already seen meaningful examples of this and expect there will be more to come. Real estate compounds in value slowly over time – today’s acquisitions of high-quality real estate look set to fuel increased growth in public REITs for years to come.

Conclusion

Investors willing to study the historical context of public versus private real estate portfolio construction and returns in conjunction with the very different environment that exists today may come to appreciate our point of view on the long-term investment merits of public REITs vis-à-vis their private counterparts.

A cheap valuation relative to private real estate may be the “sizzle” for investing in public REITs at the moment, but the “steak” comes in the form of an increasingly divergent return outlook, which public REIT investors may likely savour for years to come.

Balance sheet: a financial statement that summarises a company’s assets, liabilities and shareholders’ equity at a particular point in time. Balance sheet strength refers to the financial strength of a company.

CMBS: a fixed-income security created by banks by bundling a group of commercial real estate loans, which are rated according to risk then sold to investors.. CMBS loans are used by REITs to finance property investments.

Coupon: a regular interest payment that is paid on a bond/debt.

Investment grade rating: awarded to a bond or portfolio of bonds/debt that are deemed to have higher credit ratings and as such a relatively low risk of defaulting on their payments.

Loan-to-Value (LTV) ratio: calculated by dividing property loan amount by the property value. Used by lenders to assess the level of risk exposure when underwriting a loan/debt.

Spread: difference in the yield of a corporate bond over that of an equivalent government bond.

Unsecured debt: debt that is not backed by any asset or collateral, therefore there is a higher risk of default risk, which is reflected in higher interest rates to compensate lenders.

Yield: the level of income on a security, typically expressed as a percentage rate. For a bond, this is calculated as the coupon payment divided by the current bond price.

FTSE Nareit All Equity REITs Index tracks the performance of the U.S. real estate investment trust (REIT) market.

ODCE Index is a core capitalisation-weighted index that includes only unlisted (private) open-end diversified core strategy funds with at least 95% of their investments in US markets.

1 Bloomberg, Janus Henderson Investors 10 years to 31 December 2019. FTSE Nareit All Equity REITs  Index vs NCREIF ODCE Index. Past performance does not predict future returns.

2 Bloomberg, US 5-Year Treasury Note yield; ICE BofA U.S. Fixed-Rate Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities (CMBS) Index OAS versus Govt as at 11 August 2023.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

REITs or Real Estate Investment Trusts invest in real estate, through direct ownership of property assets, property shares or mortgages. As they are listed on a stock exchange, REITs are usually highly liquid and trade like shares.

Real estate securities, including Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) may be subject to additional risks, including interest rate, management, tax, economic, environmental and concentration risks.

These are the views of the author at the time of publication and may differ from the views of other individuals/teams at Janus Henderson Investors. References made to individual securities do not constitute a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security, investment strategy or market sector, and should not be assumed to be profitable. Janus Henderson Investors, its affiliated advisor, or its employees, may have a position in the securities mentioned.

 

Past performance does not predict future returns. The value of an investment and the income from it can fall as well as rise and you may not get back the amount originally invested.

 

The information in this article does not qualify as an investment recommendation.

 

Marketing Communication.

 

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Important information

Please read the following important information regarding funds related to this article.

The Janus Henderson Horizon Fund (the “Fund”) is a Luxembourg SICAV incorporated on 30 May 1985, managed by Janus Henderson Investors Europe S.A. Janus Henderson Investors Europe S.A. may decide to terminate the marketing arrangements of this Collective Investment Scheme in accordance with the appropriate regulation. This is a marketing communication. Please refer to the prospectus of the UCITS and to the KIID before making any final investment decisions.
    Specific risks
  • Shares/Units can lose value rapidly, and typically involve higher risks than bonds or money market instruments. The value of your investment may fall as a result.
  • The Fund is focused towards particular industries or investment themes and may be heavily impacted by factors such as changes in government regulation, increased price competition, technological advancements and other adverse events.
  • This Fund may have a particularly concentrated portfolio relative to its investment universe or other funds in its sector. An adverse event impacting even a small number of holdings could create significant volatility or losses for the Fund.
  • The Fund invests in real estate investment trusts (REITs) and other companies or funds engaged in property investment, which involve risks above those associated with investing directly in property. In particular, REITs may be subject to less strict regulation than the Fund itself and may experience greater volatility than their underlying assets.
  • The Fund may use derivatives with the aim of reducing risk or managing the portfolio more efficiently. However this introduces other risks, in particular, that a derivative counterparty may not meet its contractual obligations.
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  • Securities within the Fund could become hard to value or to sell at a desired time and price, especially in extreme market conditions when asset prices may be falling, increasing the risk of investment losses.
  • Some or all of the ongoing charges may be taken from capital, which may erode capital or reduce potential for capital growth.
  • The Fund could lose money if a counterparty with which the Fund trades becomes unwilling or unable to meet its obligations, or as a result of failure or delay in operational processes or the failure of a third party provider.
Janus Henderson Capital Funds Plc is a UCITS established under Irish law, with segregated liability between funds. Investors are warned that they should only make their investments based on the most recent Prospectus which contains information about fees, expenses and risks, which is available from all distributors and paying/facilities agents, it should be read carefully. This is a marketing communication. Please refer to the prospectus of the UCITS and to the KIID before making any final investment decisions. The rate of return may vary and the principal value of an investment will fluctuate due to market and foreign exchange movements. Shares, if redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. This is not a solicitation for the sale of shares and nothing herein is intended to amount to investment advice. Janus Henderson Investors Europe S.A. may decide to terminate the marketing arrangements of this Collective Investment Scheme in accordance with the appropriate regulation.
    Specific risks
  • Shares/Units can lose value rapidly, and typically involve higher risks than bonds or money market instruments. The value of your investment may fall as a result.
  • Shares of small and mid-size companies can be more volatile than shares of larger companies, and at times it may be difficult to value or to sell shares at desired times and prices, increasing the risk of losses.
  • The Fund is focused towards particular industries or investment themes and may be heavily impacted by factors such as changes in government regulation, increased price competition, technological advancements and other adverse events.
  • The Fund invests in real estate investment trusts (REITs) and other companies or funds engaged in property investment, which involve risks above those associated with investing directly in property. In particular, REITs may be subject to less strict regulation than the Fund itself and may experience greater volatility than their underlying assets.
  • The Fund may use derivatives to help achieve its investment objective. This can result in leverage (higher levels of debt), which can magnify an investment outcome. Gains or losses to the Fund may therefore be greater than the cost of the derivative. Derivatives also introduce other risks, in particular, that a derivative counterparty may not meet its contractual obligations.
  • If the Fund holds assets in currencies other than the base currency of the Fund, or you invest in a share/unit class of a different currency to the Fund (unless hedged, i.e. mitigated by taking an offsetting position in a related security), the value of your investment may be impacted by changes in exchange rates.
  • When the Fund, or a share/unit class, seeks to mitigate exchange rate movements of a currency relative to the base currency (hedge), the hedging strategy itself may positively or negatively impact the value of the Fund due to differences in short-term interest rates between the currencies.
  • Securities within the Fund could become hard to value or to sell at a desired time and price, especially in extreme market conditions when asset prices may be falling, increasing the risk of investment losses.
  • Some or all of the ongoing charges may be taken from capital, which may erode capital or reduce potential for capital growth.
  • The Fund could lose money if a counterparty with which the Fund trades becomes unwilling or unable to meet its obligations, or as a result of failure or delay in operational processes or the failure of a third party provider.