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REIT rhymes with `sweet'
June, 21st 2007

You don't have to be a multi-millionaire to own "a piece of property in New York, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney, or even Seoul or Kuala Lumpur," assures Dominic Whiting in Playing the REITs Game (www.wiley.com).

Yes, the secret `real' key is REIT or real estate investment trust. "The right pronunciation of REIT in English rhymes with `sweet'." Sweeter should be the returns from the winning REITs, but first what is REIT? In its simplest form, REIT is a way of securitising property; it breaks down the ownership of one or more buildings into units that are sold to investors and usually listed on the stock market, explains the author.

While stock markets have given investors access to a myriad of companies, and bond markets let investors lend to governments and companies around the world, "new and fast growing REIT markets allow property to be traded from minute to minute in the US, Australia, and now several countries in Asia and Europe." In terms of risk and return, REITs are generally regarded as a halfway house between stocks and bonds, says Whiting.

Even as India waits for REITs to become a reality, the avenue is active around the world. "For example, in Australia, about 70 per cent of investment grade property is already in the hands of REITs both unlisted and listed property trusts (LPTs)." Japan has about $1.3 trillion of investment-grade property; Nippon Building Fund, the biggest trust in that country, saw its share price "double in its first three years of life."

In Hong Kong, Link REIT saw its share price jump as much as 70 per cent in its first month of trade in late 2005, recounts the author. The trust had been "formed with shopping malls and car park spaces sold by the city's housing authority in the world's biggest IPO (initial public offering) by a REIT."

Talking of IPOs, `India's biggest IPO' was that of DLF, a real-estate development company, which raised $2.24 billion, last week, in an issue that was oversubscribed nearly four times.

Blackstone, world's second-largest buyout fund that made its first management buyout in India, by acquiring the back office company Intelenet Global, is heading towards a $4.75-billion IPO, billed as the fourth-biggest in US history. Blackstone has been aggressive on the REIT front; its $39 billion leveraged buyout of Equity Office Properties Trust was a defining moment in the REIT industry. The US has the oldest REITs market; in 2006 it had "about 180 trusts with a combined worth of just over $300 billion." It may be a matter of time before India has an established REIT market, but a key problem can be the paucity of quality buildings, writes Whiting. "Of India's $300 billion of commercial buildings in 2006, only $83 billion worth can be considered investment-grade and could be considered for a REIT." New buildings, however, are rapidly coming up, and experts point out that these properties would make the grade.

In India, success can be haphazard, beginning with `the good fortune of owning prime plots of land,' observes the author. "The industry is hampered by poor foreclosure laws, tedious property registration processes, tax and transaction laws that vary by the state and frequent contests over property ownership."

Essential read for investment advisers and resourceful accountants.

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