Here’s what’s ahead for 2017.
Global real estate investors will soon be able to invest in real estate and infrastructure in India, as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are expected to make their debut in the world’s largest democracy. Next year, Blackstone is expected to offer its first issuance of these securities, a development that could pave the way to boost India’s broader market for properties.
REITs were created in the United States in the 1960s, and are a significant conduit for investment into U.S. real estate today. The securities offer investors special tax considerations and typically provide steady dividend yields. Other countries, including Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom, have followed and created their own market for REITs.
While investors globally have benefitted from this $1.6 trillion market, the gains they could bring to India will be unique in the way of adding credibility to the country’s real estate investment market and its valuation.
Political and business corruption have hindered India’s economic development for years. The country ranks 76th out of 168 countries, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which is on par with Brazil and Zambia. Real estate deals fare no better, according to global real estate services firm JLL’s transparency index. The introduction of a REIT market in India would significantly enhance the transparency and governance of the property market, which is necessary to withstand public market scrutiny.
Culturally, most Indians invest in real estate since the asset is tangible and they see it as a relatively safe investment. The latest census in India shows home ownership at 87%. While not directly comparable, it is higher than rates in the U.S., where home ownership stands at 64%. It would be a short leap for the average Indian retail investor to begin making investments in an Indian REIT market, while the benefits would be profound. These investors could acquire an ownership stake in real estate that is professionally managed by some of the world’s most prominent investors and valued based upon property level analysis and globally accepted principles.
However, the speed of development of this market could be dampened by two primary factors. Real estate ownership in India today is fragmented with few players owning portfolios large enough to attract interest from the public capital markets. However, this is expected to change as the industry consolidates. The second possible headwind comes from the Indian government, which has on occasion amended legislation retroactively to the detriment of investors. Any such change in the rules of the game that disrupt steady dividend yields post-issuance would alarm investors.
While affordability has made residential investment sluggish recently, foreign funds have increasingly invested into class A office, retail and logistics properties at attractive entry price points. Indian and foreign development companies alike will have a viable mechanism for unlocking the value created within their Indian assets with the development of an Indian REIT market. This will allow them to reinvest these proceeds into new commercial and residential developments across the country, further enhancing the stock of property within India, which should accelerate the country’s modernization and benefit the average Indian citizen.
This comes as India is also introducing legislation for infrastructure investment trusts (InvITs), which work similar to REITs, but the securities instead focus investments on infrastructure assets, such as toll roads and airports.
In addition to allowing access to returns on the infrastructure opportunity in India, InvITs provide even deeper benefits on top of a mature REIT market. Adequate infrastructure is viewed as a critical element to the long-term success of India’s real estate market, exactly as highways, light rail and airports have enhanced real estate values within the United States. Its purpose is to upgrade the quality of Indian infrastructure to meet the anticipated $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion of infrastructure investment required over the next 5 to 7 years, and offers investors a unique and lucrative chance to get in on the ground floor of infrastructure investments in India. A functioning InvIT market is implicit to a successful REIT market and vice versa.
Sunil Madan is the Associate Director of the Steers Center for Global Real Estate at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. The authors are not investors of Blackstone.