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Office REITs Recovering

REITSIn the US the latest economic recovery has been very different from previous recoveries for office REITs, as job growth has been lukewarm and didn’t produce the anticipated demand for office space. In its place, tenants are using space more efficiently, so they require less space as their headcount grows. For example, banks, legal entities, consulting firms and accounting companies have all been growing their employee base, but their overall real estate requirements have actually reduced.

During last year, office market fundamentals improved moderately. Overall vacancy dropped to 16.0% from 16.7% a year earlier, and direct asking rents were up 2.2%, according to Cushman and Wakefield. Likewise, office REIT portfolios showed little, if any, improvement in occupancy and rent growth. Due to their high quality assets and professional management, REIT-owned properties started with stronger fundamentals and had less room for improvement.

• S.L. Green (SLG) occupancy for Manhattan properties was 91.7% at year-end 2012 versus 91.5% one year earlier. Its suburban portfolio occupancy was 81.3% in 2012, down from 82.6% in December 2011.

• Total occupancy for Boston Properties (BXP), the largest office REIT, measured 91.4% at year-end 2012. This was down slightly from 91.7% one year earlier. BXP’s CBD properties, with 96.4% occupancy, are performing significantly better than suburban properties, with 83.6% occupancy. (Source: REITCafe)

Limited new construction has helped maintain balance in the office market. Pipelines are growing, though few markets have had strong enough recoveries to rationalize significant office construction. Cushman and Wakefield reported 4 million sqm of new construction underway at year-end 2012. REITs are well positioned to undertake development projects because they can raise inexpensive money on the secondary market or borrow from lenders with confidence in their track records. Some REITs are turning to development because they can achieve better returns than by acquiring existing properties at aggressive price levels.

• Kilroy Realty completed the redevelopment of two projects in Southern California in 2012. Two additional projects totalling 50,000 sqm, which were 70% pre-leased, were close to completion at year end. The company is increasing its presence in the San Francisco Bay Area and has another four buildings totalling 1.4 million square feet under construction.

• Boston Properties is developing eight office projects in New York, DC, San Francisco, and Boston totalling 250,000sqm. The buildings were 66% preleased at year-end 2012. The Company, along with Hines Interests, recently broke ground on the 130 000sqm San Francisco Transbay Terminal Tower, which is scheduled for completion in 2017.

REITs have expanded through acquisitions by taking advantage of the current low borrowing rates. In 2012, Boston Properties acquired four properties totalling 240 000sqm that were 93% leased, while S.L. Green acquired a fee interest in four properties totalling 81,000 sqm that were more than 90% leased. Kilroy acquired 14 buildings totalling 163 000sqm in 2012 and two additional buildings totalling 30,000 sqm located in Seattle in January 2013.

Office REITs have been sturdy so far this year. As a result of high occupancies, the largest REITs have experienced limited improvement in occupancy and rent growth. Like all REITs, across the board, they are continuing to use their balance sheets, taking advantage of low interest rates, to grow their portfolios through acquisitions and to some degree new construction.

The Price of Converting to REITs

Many listed property companies are converting or considering converting to real estate investment trusts (REITs) in South Africa since the April 1st 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%. No wonder, then, that companies in industries including digital-transmission towers, data warehouses, private prisons, and health-care facilities are seeking to convert to REIT status. 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%.

 

Now, American Tower’s smaller rival, SBA Communications (SBAC), is setting the stage for a conversion, already reporting adjusted funds from operations, or AFFO, as REITs do, alongside its usual operating-company results.

 

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. At 22 times, the stock would be around $66.

 

Datacentre REITs are currently performing well and are popular among investors who are attracted by their high dividend pay-outs as well as by growing demand for datacentre real estate. The strength of the sector could push other datacentre companies to go public or adopt the REIT format. One example of this is Equinox, a company operating datacentres for the likes of AT&T and Amazon.

 

The following three datacentre REITs are good examples of REIT switching success stories;

 

• CoreSite Realty (COR), with market capitalization of $580 million, is most similar to CONE. COR is the smallest datacentre REIT, but its stock value has increased 33% since the end of October, and its dividend yield measures 3.6%.

 

• Digital Realty Trust (DLR) is the largest of the three data centre REITs with market capitalization of about $8.4 billion. Its stock value increased more than 16% since the end of October, and its dividend yield is 4.1%.

 

• DuPont Fabros Technology (DFT), with market capitalization of $1.5 billion, is the second largest data centre REIT. Its stock value grew 14.8% since the end of October, and its dividend yield measures 3.3%.

 

Finally Corrections Corp. of America converted to a REIT and is the nation’s largest operator of private prisons. The company operates 66 correctional and detention facilities, and has a total capacity of about 91,000 beds, yes, that’s real estate, in 20 states.

 

Correction Corp.’s funds from operations (FFO) per share, a key REIT cash flow metric, grew 7% to $2.34 in 2012 from $2.19 a year earlier. Corrections Corp. has provided guidance for a 16% rise in 2013 FFO per share to between $2.72 and $2.87. Some of this growth will likely come from a one-time tax benefit of between $115 million and $135 million from converting to a REIT. Corrections Corp. plans to pay quarterly dividends at an annualized per-share rate of $2.04 to $2.16 this year. At the mid-point of this range, shares yield almost 2%. In addition, the company will pay a special one-time dividend of at least $650 million to investors during 2013. The special dividend will be a combination of cash and stock.

 

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. REIT conversions could boomerang down the road. But at the moment, the haste to be a part of the REIT club holds rewards for discerning investors.

Private Prison REITs Released

xlarge_chinopenPrivate prisons are big business and two big players with facilities in South Africa, US, Australia and the UK have just undergone REIT conversions. Corrections Corporation of America (CXW) and GEO Group (GEO) each received favourable Private Letter Rulings from the IRS and began operating under REIT rules.

By reducing their corporate tax liability, improving their access to capital and lowering the cost of capital the REIT structure provides more opportunities for these companies which are capital intensive by nature.

South Africa

thumbTo zoom in on a South African example: MMSP( Mangaung Maximum Security Private Prison),was the first of two South African Private Prisons and  the brainchild of the first Post-Apartheid Minister of Correctional Services, Dr. Sipo Mzimela, who, upon taking office in 1996, was appalled by South African Prison conditions, up to 300% overcrowded, and a seething hotbed of corruption.   In such conditions reformation is impossible. The GEO Group promised and by all reports delivered, more humane conditions.

The South African government signed two 25-year concessions for maximum security prisons in Bloemfontein and Louis Trichardt (Makhado) as part of its Department of Public Works’ Asset Procurement and Operating Partnership Systems (APOPS) in 2000. The two winning consortia were responsible for designing, building, financing, operating and transferring the prisons. The facilities hold about 3,000 inmates each and were fully operational in 2002 at a cost of about $245 million (Bloemfontein) and $259 million (Louis Trichardt), respectively. The Geo Group now manage these.

The prison gets 60% of its revenue from company-owned or leased real estate.

The Geo Group is the second largest of the two big players in the US. It has a current market capitalization of $2.5 billion and/or manages 100 correctional, detention, and community re-entry centres with 73,000 beds across the US, Australia, South Africa, and the UK. (The prison gets 60% of its revenue from company-owned or leased real estate.) The company estimates $45 to $50 million in annual tax savings from its REIT conversion. In January, GEO raised its quarterly dividend from $0.20 in 2012 to $0.50 a share, resulting in an implied yield of 5.6%. Shares of GEO have more than doubled (+105%) during the past twelve months.

Biggest Operator

imagesThe bigger name on the block is  one of the largest prison operators in the United States. CXW’s current market capitalization is $3.8 billion. The company operates 67 facilities and owns or controls 51 facilities in 20 states with a total capacity of about 92,500 beds. CXW’s REIT conversion greatly reduced corporate tax obligations. The company increased its quarterly dividend from $0.20 in 2012 to $0.53 after the conversion, resulting in a 5.5% implied dividend yield. Shares of CXW climbed 47% between March 2012 and March 2013, at least in part due to the REIT conversion.

No Shortage of Prisoners

Private prison facilities have increased their percentage of all prisoners growing steadily over the past few years, increasing from 7.9% in 2010 to 8.2% in 2011. Currently 10% per cent of total prison capacity in the US is operated under contract with private companies such as CXW and GEO. The remaining 90% of total prison capacity is operated by state and federal government. In light of government budget constraints, both federal and state governments have increasingly turned to private prisons. With only a few companies in the private sector and high barriers to entry, private prisons face limited competition.

Unaffected during a recession

The private prison industry is largely unaffected during a recession. States/countries may release some prisoners early to control costs, but overcrowding means demand is unlikely to fall significantly. According to a 2008 study by the Pew Centre, the US incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country and people are staying in prison longer, underscoring strong demand for facilities.

Controversy

2347746278It’s worth noting that some of these facilities are controversial because their profit motive encourages incarceration. In contracts to operate state prisons, CXW requested a minimum guaranteed occupancy rate of 90%, which did not go over well with many public interest groups. Private prisons achieve profit margins by controlling costs and spending less for personnel than their public counterparts, which raises the issue of the quality of staffing at these privately-run facilities. By way of example CXW now faces a staffing scandal in its Boise, Idaho, facility where 4,800 hours of supposed work time were falsified. That’s a direct violation of its contract with the state, and an internal and external investigation is underway. We’ll see how it plays out.

REIT conversion for CXW and Geo Group has unequivocally improved their financial positions and contribute to sharp growth in their stock values during the past year. Although prisons are relatively immune to the negative impacts of a recession, inmate populations generally accelerate when economic growth resumes and governments have more to spend on incarcerations. With the recession behind us, demand for these REITs should improve.

South African Self Storrage – Ripe for a REIT?

Self Storage

Self Storage

There are REITs (real estate investment trust) in the US buying up self-storage facilities, speculating their high investment potential in commercial property.  Which begs the question: is there much of self-storage market in South Africa waiting to form part of a REIT?

To give you an idea of self-storage REITs in the US, Real estate investment trust W. P. Carey Inc. has acquired three Florida self-storage facilities from Safeguard Self Storage for approximately $25 million. The purchase was made through CPA: 17 Global, one of W.P. Carey’s publicly held non-traded REIT affiliates.

“We believe that these are very well-positioned and attractive assets. The quality of the assets in combination with the capabilities of the Extra Space management team and our own experience in the self-storage sector makes us confident that this will be a good and stable investment for our investors,” said Liz Raun Schlesinger, W. P. Carey Executive Director

Through its publicly held REIT affiliate CPA: 17 Global, self-storage investor W. P. Carey & Co. LLC has acquired five self-storage facilities : Alabama (1), Louisiana (1) and Mississippi (3) for approximately $17 million. The acquisition comprises approximately 117 348sqm. The properties will be rebranded under the CubeSmart name and managed by the self-storage REIT’s property-management division.

W. P. Carey Executive Director Liz Raun Schlesinger added, “We believe that adding these seasoned assets while retaining the experienced CubeSmart management team will enhance the value and stability of this investment. We know the CubeSmart management team well and look forward to working with them to maximize the value of these assets for our investors.”

outdoor-self-storage-spacesOne may want to argue that self-storage is an American phenomenon. Not so. It is true that self –storage in South Africa was practically non-existent 10 years ago. However, a few agricultural-land owners began building 25 to 50 garages on their plots on city outskirts. They developed the properties in phases as they generated cash flow, building an average of 300 units per facility. These facilities enjoyed an average occupancy of 90 per cent and a decent rental income.

The residential market was the target market for most self-storage firms.  The consumer was largely unaware of the industry’s existence. Marketing was scarce and almost no value added services were included.  It was also extremely difficult to buy an existing facility as the original developers were getting excellent returns and had no motivation to sell. Nor were there any specialty self-storage property-management companies, or an association to welcome potential investors into the industry.

Many of these shortfalls have been rectified. There are now roughly 70,000 self-storage units in South Africa, with an average occupancy of 80 per cent, meaning 56,000 units are occupied at any given time.  As the self-storage industry grows in South Africa, it also evolves. Innovations have been introduced such as precast concrete building systems, which allow a 400-unit development to be completed in just six months at half the cost of brick buildings. Sectional title developments are also available for small investors, who can purchase and register any number of units in a facility, much like purchasing apartments in a complex.

Storage Genie, started by Father and son Herbert and Dylan Wolpe,  is in the process of finalizing deals with American steel-building suppliers to import buildings based on a unique joint-venture strategy. The idea is the buildings are supplied on a rent-to-buy basis. Storage Genie provides the land and management, and the building supplier shares the revenue and future profit from resale.

The South African self-storage industry ranks fifth in the world in terms of the number of operating facilities, according to SASSI. Based in Cape Town, the company promotes the development of and investment in institutional-quality self-storage assets throughout South Africa. Pritty Woman

“The S.A. self-storage sector remains highly fragmented, and recent market turmoil could have the effect of hastening the first round of consolidation or hindering its progress.” Gavin Lucas of ISS (Inside Self-Storage) Depressed market conditions mean there is less capital to support an attempt to take the industry through an initial consolidation. However, the distressed trading environment will also present the opportunity for an established operator with the correct business model and platforms to acquire facilities that are struggling due to their own inefficiencies.

We may not be quite in the ballpark of REITs for self-storage yet but  the self-storage industry is pregnant with possibilities and waiting for savvy players to swoop in and make a go of an industry that shows a great deal of promise both for expansion and investment potential.

US REITs Keeping an Eye on your Neighbour

So it’s a well-worn phrase, “when America has the flu the rest of the world catches a cold.” But it’s hard to deny the influence of US trends. Following trends in the US REIT market may just give you the edge here in South Africa as REITs begin to manifest.

The Property Loan Stock Association have been working with National Treasury for over five years to formalise Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) legislation in South Africa. The internationally-recognised REIT structure exists in countries such as the US, Australia, Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the UK. So it seems prudent to keep an eye on the international ball as more and more REITs are going to be making their presence felt here in South Africa soon.

Scanning the US, February results highlight the role that dividend yields are playing to attract investors to the REIT sector. Total returns in February were largely driven by dividends, rather than price appreciation. REITs continue to attract investors because their dividends are more appealing than other investment opportunities in the current low interest rate environment.

The strongest in the REIT sector is the mortgage REIT’s 11.49% February dividend yield, although the sector’s total return was 1.65%. Everything once ‘tainted’ with the word mortgage seems to be shaking that stigma as each month progresses. In February, two new home financing mortgage REITs announced IPOs, Maryland-based Zais Financial (ZFC), who raised $201.1 million, and Florida-based Orchid Island Capital (ORC), that raised $35.4 million.

For lodging, regional malls, timber, self-storage and industrial REITs, February dividend yields measured between 2.5% and 3.0%. With the exception of timber, total returns for each of these sectors were negative in February, indicating that investors may not have the stomach for REITs with lower dividend yields.

REITs that own single tenant retail facilities, free standing Retail REITs, climbed to a steady 5.37% in February. Since tenants are liable for all costs, free standing retail REITs’ leases are not unlike bonds in that they generate regular income over extensive periods of time with low risk, especially if the tenant has a strong credit rating.

With monthly returns of 5.35%, returns for Health Care REITs were similar to that of free standing REITs. The positive effects of Obamacare as opposed to the negative impacts of the sequester have influenced investors here. The 4.44% dividend yield helped to fuel the strong monthly returns. It’s becoming clearer to investors that the Healthcare REIT market is less dependent of the US government than previously believed.

A number of REIT sectors had February dividend yields in the 3% to 4% range. Boosted by their dividend pay outs, general shopping centres (3.80%), manufactured homes (4.32%), and office (2.85%) REITs had solid monthly total returns.

One may note that the S&P market did better than the REIT market In February. Although US REIT return growth slowed in February, performance was on a par with wider international market trends. Improving market fundamentals and higher dividend yields continue to attract investors. As we wait for March results there is anticipation that it will be a stronger month than February.

The US Continues to Diversify its REITS Sector

The US continues to see the diversification of its REITS sector. South African REIT watchers are viewing US REITs with interest as their own country saw laws changing this year that are freeing-up the market.

Businesses aim to enhance shareholder value by taking advantage of REITs’ favourable tax treatment. Timber and cell phone companies have already established REITs. Other non-traditional real estate companies, ranging from riverboat casinos to sports arenas and prisons, are also considering the REIT format. Among the emerging subsectors are billboard REITs, which are expected to debut in early 2014.

You may ask how billboards qualify as a REIT? As it turns out the infamous US tax department, the IRS, has relaxed REIT rules by widening the definition of what constitutes “real” property, which is eligible for REIT status, versus personal property, which is not eligible for REIT status. Prior to recent years, the IRS considered whether structures were physically moveable. Recently, however, the IRS has shifted its view to consider the owner’s intent for a structure. Therefore, if owners intend for structures to be permanent, like billboards or cell phone towers, the companies can now qualify for tax treatment that is appropriate for real property, making them eligible for REIT status.

Quite how the South African players will manipulate the market when the new REIT structure will come about this year is hard to tell but it may be worth watching how the US trends play out. The case in point is an arguably obscure Billboard REIT.

There are just a handful of players in the US billboard markets.
– CBS Outdoor America is to be converted to a REIT. The plan is to sell outdoor operations in Europe and Asia. Analysts value the business at $4-6 billion. Upon IRS approval the REIT conversion should be up and running by 2014.
– Louisiana-based Lamar Advertising, with a market cap of $4Billion has announced plans to pursue REIT status.
– Clear Channel Outdoor, the second largest firm in outdoor advertising in the world, reported that they have no current plans to convert to a REIT.

But alas, the billboard REIT subsector is considered to be looking at very modest growth over the next few years. Any growth that is forthcoming  is likely to come from acquisitions, given the fragmented nature of the industry and hence the scope for consolidation.

Another challenge faced by billboard REITS is that of rents which are exceptionally dependent on the health of the economy. In difficult economic times, it is easy to pull back on billboard advertising.

On the up-side, growth is expected from digital billboards and posters, with higher rents as they become more commonplace. Digital displays allow advertisers to change their messaging more often, allowing them to target demographically at different time periods. Wifi technology also enables advertisers to send ads from billboards to mobile phones adding further flexibility.

The IRS has ruled that billboards qualify as real property. Specialized REITs have been very popular in recent years, but in the crowded REIT space, it remains to be seen if this new property class with modest organic growth prospects will pique the interest of US investors. Whether South Africa will see this same rush to ’REITise’ every industry remains to be seen. If all the property companies currently listed on the JSE adopt the REIT structure, South Africa will boast the eighth largest REIT market in the world.

US REITs Reward Investors With Solid Growth and Strong Dividend Pay-outs

REIT

REIT

Believe it! The FTSE NAREIT ALL REIT Index returned 6.05%, outperforming the NASDAQ (+5.53). So far this year the US REIT sector has experienced steady, healthy growth. Analysts’ predictions, looking into 2013, range from a firm thumbs-up to cautiously optimistic.

To kick off, there seems to be an increased demand for warehousing which is being attributed to the US general economic recovery. Industrial REITs are benefiting as a result.  Year-to-date, the sector posted 8.90% return. Many believe that Prologis (PLD), whose $16.75 billion market capitalization represents almost 75% of the US industrial REIT sector, has driven the sector’s expansion.

In January, Prologis announced plans to set up a REIT in Japan through Nippon Prologis. PLD has also announced an agreement with Amazon.com to build a more than one million square foot distribution centre in Tracy, California!

Lodging REITs are also performing well in the new year, most probably based on the anticipated economic strengthening in 2013. Year-to-date through February 15th, the lodging sector returned 9.74%.

As the U.S. housing markets strengthen, the demand for lumber is growing. In December, housing started climbing to an annual rate of 954,000, the highest rate in more than four years. (In the US most houses are made of timber.) The result sees the timber REIT sector growing by  (8.89%).

Bucking the trend slightly is retail. Despite an improving economy, concerns remain about growth in the retail sector. The overall return for retail REITs so far in 2013 is 5.59%. Market fundamentals have benefitted from the lack of new construction (of retail), but retailers are cautious about expanding. Retail sales growth in early 2013 is positive.

On the other hand Office REITS are up (5.59%) – looking steady. Office market fundamentals in the large coastal markets are good, but office returns have been moderated by many markets that have not yet recovered.

Returns for healthcare (6.42%) REITs are solid. Many believe that the healthcare sector received a boost from Obama’s November victory and the early stage implementation of Obamacare, with increased demand for health services.

Of all the REIT subsectors, mortgage REITs are among the strongest, with a return of 11.44% year-to-date. Coming into the New Year, Annaly Capital Management (NLY), a residential financing REIT, announced plans to merge with CREXUS (CXS), a commercial mortgage REIT in late January.

” The real estate sector is currently benefiting from a number of tailwinds that include the general search for higher yield (REITs pay dividends) and lower volatility, better data emerging from key markets and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s continued focus on the mortgage and housing markets, EPFR Global said in a press release on Friday,” Kenneth Rapoza wrote for Forbes

The positive effects of low interest rates for mortgage REITs continue to outweigh the negative implications of mortgage prepayments that drew the sector down in 2012.

So it’s clear that Lodging and Industrial REITs are benefitting for the US economic recovery. Retail and apartment fundamentals are good, though a little uncertain. Housing market recovery is fuelling growth among timber REITs. Due to their strong dividend pay-out and improving market fundamentals investors continue to favour REITs.

 

 

Lodging REITs Looking at a Healthy 2013

Shangri-la Hotel

Shangri-la Hotel

The US lodging sector is looking more and more attractive to investors in 2013. The sector has emerged as one of the strongest players in the equity REIT markets, with sector returns of 9.09% year-to-date through January 29th. In comparison to the equity REIT market, whose overall return was 5.30% over the same period, 2013 is looking promising indeed.

Market watchers Seeking Alpha have commented that the hotel REIT sector as a whole is drastically undervalued relative to other REITs, pointing out that the sector trades at an FFO multiple of 11.7, as compared to the SNL Equity REIT Index, which on average, trades at a multiple of 15.1.

You may ask, why the discount? This has been blamed on everything from: an inactive congress resulting in low Washington D.C. hotel room occupancy, to Hurricane Sandy and reduced travel from Europe to East Coast hotels.

In 2012, Smith Travel Research reported 6.8% RevPAR (revenue per available room) grew to $65.17, a growth that was driven by a 4.2% gain in ADR (average daily rate) and 2.5% increase in occupancy. Despite this positive upturn in 2012, factors like the fiscal cliff, international economic concerns, and Hurricane Sandy took a toll on the travel business. But by the end of December, the lodging sector was comprised of 17 REITS with total market capitalization of $30.3 billion, an increase of almost 25% from $24.3 billion in 2011.

Looking ahead, an updated lodging forecast released last month by Price Waterhouse Coopers US, anticipates stronger RevPAR recovery in 2013, compared to the previous outlook. Lodging demand growth, which had eased in the third quarter of 2012 on a seasonally adjusted basis, gained more strength than expected in the fourth quarter.

Regardless of near-term economic challenges, lodging demand and pricing, are expected to remain on positive trajectories.  PWC expects lodging demand in 2013 to increase 1.8 per cent, which combined with still restrained supply growth of 0.8 per cent, is anticipated to boost occupancy levels to 62.0 per cent, the highest since 2007. Hotels in the higher-priced segments are expected to experience the strongest gains. Hotels in the lower-priced segments have not experienced as solid a recovery in occupancy, but are still expected to realize increased room rates as demand gradually strengthens.

Supply growth is expected to accelerate in 2013; however, by historical standards, supply will stay low and will not negatively effect market performance. The STR/McGraw Hill Construction Dodge Pipeline Report indicates that about 87,000 new rooms will be added in 2013, representing about a 1% increase in supply. Most of the new development will involve properties in the upscale and upper midscale segments. While not large in numbers, upper upscale openings are also expected to increase pointedly.

The improvement in the lodging sector in 2013 is expected to be a result of ADR rather than occupancy. U.S. residents and business will increase spending on travel as the economy continues to strengthen in 2013. International tourism to the Unites States is expected to grow, as regions like Hawaii and the West Coast are expected to experience an increase in tourism from Asia.

Prospects for 2013 for the lodging sector are positive as the US economy continues to firm up. If domestic or international markets suffer significant economic setbacks, the performance of the lodging sector will be affected.

REIT commentators RETI Café sum it up thus: “Lodging sector REITs will benefit from the market’s improving fundamentals. With a low interest rate environment, and large dividend pay-outs, lodging sector REITs have become particularly attractive in 2013.”

 

 

 

Crowdfunding – Will South African Real Estate Bite

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding

Is it possible that investors will second guess putting their cash into Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) in favour of Crowdfunding? Why hasn’t South Africa got a Real Estate Crowdfunding platform? Shouldn’t someone be considering it?

It may seem unlikely that anyone will waver in favour of Crowdfundings whilst pondering investing in REITs right now, especially in South Africa since no such option exists, but already in the US, Real Estate Crowdfunding platforms have emerged. For instance, Fundrise was founded by Ben and Dan Miller, who spent the last few years building up a booming commercial real estate business. Frustrated with Wall Street investors, the brothers decided to build Fundrise to democratize the process of investing in commercial real estate.

Given the novelty of Crowdfunding many remain in the dark. According to Wikipedia Crowdfunding, or hyper funding “describes the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.” Crowdfunding is utilised widely to fund blogs, political campaigns, scientific research, start-up companies, music, the arts, as well as so called Angel Investing and now even real estate.

Ben Miller of Fundrise: “We felt that the private equity funds we looked to raise money from typically had no natural connection to the neighbourhood buildings we were developing,” So the brothers cut out the traditional middlemen and created the opportunity for direct investment. Now Ben says they believe that Fundrise “provides a platform that can revolutionize who influences neighbourhood development by giving the general public the opportunity to invest in and own local real estate and businesses.”

Forbes estimates that annual Crowdfunding transactions go as high as $500 billion annually compared to 2011’s $1.5 billion (anticipated to be $3 billion in 2012).  If Crowdfunding even begins to approach that scale, it will completely change the landscape for start-up financing.

To get one’s head around the concept of Crowdfunding a trip back in time may be required. Wiki describes Crowdfunding as having an historical antecedent in the 18th century idea of subscription. Back in the day many artists and writers found it difficult to find publishers for their books, and instead persuaded large numbers of wealthy benefactors to ‘subscribe’ in advance to their production.

Marillion

Marillion

Today Rock groups like Marillion and Electric Eel shock have funded tours and albums using Crowdfunding platforms. Independent films are booming thanks to raising funds with Crowdfunding.

In essence Crowdfunding is a form of “Micro patronage”, a system in which the public directly supports the work of others, donating via the Internet. This is as opposed to traditional patronage now many “patrons” can donate small amounts, rather than a small number of patrons making larger contributions.

Sticking with our example, how does Fundrise work? The first offering on the site allows users to buy shares in 1351 H Street NE , a restaurant location on the booming H Street Corridor in Washington DC. The building is leased to Maketto that combines a Japanese-themed culinary “night market” with a clothing boutique for DURKL, a popular DC-based street-wear company. By investing in the project, you get a portion of the 10 year lease proceeds (projected to be 8.4% year), a portion of the profits of Maketto, and a portion of the future appreciation of the building.

Allen Gannett of TNW explains about Fundrise thus: a $100 share qualifies you for Kick-starter-style rewards, as well as access to shareholder events and parties. For $1000, you get a 10% discount on all food purchases and DURKL clothes and for $10,000, you get an annual dinner prepared by their chef. By combining economic rewards with Kick-starter-style benefits, Maketto gains a population of customers who are literally invested in its success. Ben explained that “by giving the neighbourhood and potential customers the opportunity to become your partner, Fundrise creates a whole new form of brand loyalty.

Other African countries are emerging as if Crowdfunding was designed for Africa. Countries long considered on the periphery of the world economy are benefiting. “We want to get Africans into the crowdfunding space to invest in Africa’s own start-ups,” said Munyaradzi Chiura, head of GrowVC’s Africa operations in Harare, Zimbabwe to Crowdsourcing.org. “Crowdfunding is particularly suited to the African context because the amounts are small, thereby reducing the risk, and investors are not going it alone.” Projects in which “anyone can invest” could receive backing from outside Africa.

South Africa’s has an important Crowdfunding platform in Crowdinvest. Investing with the businesses it backs may allow unusual rewards: investors in a film, for example, would get walk-on roles or on-screen credits. On the other hand, it also offers more conventional schemes, with investors in small firms and start-ups getting a share of the profits or of the company’s ownership. It runs checks on any business wanting to register: “It’s not open to anyone to upload a pitch,” said CEO and founder Anton Breytenbach.  Crowdinvest returns the funds to users if the full amount sought isn’t raised, after which the project will shut down.

Barak Obama

Barak Obama

Considering that the US leads the way in so much, it’s worth noting that this year, President Barack Obama signed the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Start-ups) Act; this piece of legislation effectively lifted a previous ban against public solicitation for private companies raising funds. As of August 13, 2012, the Securities Exchange Commission has yet to set rules in place regarding equity Crowdfunding campaigns involving unaccredited investors for private companies; however, rules are expected to be set by January 1, 2013. Currently, the JOBS Act allows accredited investors to invest in equity Crowdfunding campaigns. In South Africa no such legal framework has been ventured and so far no one has challenged existing legislation that may impede the growth of Crowdfunding.

Considering the ups and downs, one has to look favourably on Crowdfunding in that it allows good ideas which do not fit the pattern required by conventional financiers to break through and attract funds through the ‘wisdom’ of the crowd. Proponents also identify a potential outcome of Crowdfunding as an exponential increase in available venture capital. On the down side, business is required to disclose the idea for which funding is sought in public at a very early stage. This exposes the marketer of the idea to the risk of the idea being copied and developed ahead of them by better-financed competitors.

So is there someone in South Africa ready to take on Crowdfunded real estate? It may not hold the lofty promise of creating high growth tech companies, but it does offer people the chance to own a piece of their neighbourhood. “Its social innovation meets investing” says Ben Miller of Fundrise. He believes that Crowdfunded real estate is providing a means for community member’s access to collaborative investment, while becoming part owners of the spaces and people they support. We could do with some of that in South Africa. Right?