A-REITs not attracting high levels of investor interest

A-REITs not attracting high levels of investor interest


Australian Real Estate Investment Trusts (A-REITs) have failed to attract the same level of investor interest as other asset classes, despite a run of outperformance that stands in stark contrast to recent negative returns from Australian and global shares.

According to the latest Australian Listed Property Securities Sector Review, published by Lonsec Research, A-REITs returned an average of 11.4 per cent over the year to March 2016, and 15.8 per cent over a five-year period. However, while returns have been strong, net flows across the sector have been weak, which may point to a lack of interest from investors.

“You might normally expect that when an asset class performs as strongly as the A-REIT sector has done over the past few years, retail investors would sit up and take notice,” senior analyst at Lonsec Research Nick Thomas says. “However, with one or two exceptions, any pick-up in fund flows has been conspicuous only in its absence.

“Looking at A-REITs within our active peer group, half of them experienced negative net fund flows in the year to December 2015.”

So, where is the money with A-REITs?

Over the 12 months to March 2016, A-REITs returned 11.4 per cent on average, compared to 4.5 per cent from Global Bonds, and 3.8 per cent from Global Listed Infrastructure.

Equities were in negative territory, with Global Equities returning -3.3 per cent and Australian Equities -9.3 per cent. A-REIT returns over three- and five-year periods have similarly outperformed, although over 10 years returns remain affected by the global financial crisis (GFC), which saw the S&P ASX 300 A-REIT Accumulation Index fall 72.2 per cent from its high in 2008 to its low in 2009.

The reasons behind the current lack of interest in actively-managed A-REITs could be a desire for global listed property exposure, or a preference for more passive investment styles.

However, Thomas believes that investor wariness of the listed property sector following the GFC could still be a substantial factor.

“The GFC may be in the past, but a lot of investors haven’t forgotten the pain of capital losses from a sector they expected to be more defensive,” he says.

“On one level, you can understand why investors may still be cautious, but on the other hand they may have missed structural improvements within the sector since this time.

“In the past few years A-REITs have proved to be a solid asset class that has been a beneficiary of the low interest rate environment, even through the general market volatility of 2015-16.”

Active managers deliver in tough markets

According to Lonsec Research’s analysis, in the period following the GFC, active A-REIT managers were able to achieve significant excess returns relative to the benchmark, highlighting the ability of the sector to provide outperformance when it’s needed.

With the sector accumulating strongly since 2014, these excess returns are harder to find, and active managers have begun to fall below the benchmark. However, according to Lonsec Research, A-REIT managers have shown an ability to add value over the market cycle, which could prove valuable when current conditions change.

“What we have seen is that, immediately after the GFC hit, active A-REIT managers were able to take advantage of a sector that had been all but deserted by the market,” Thomas says.

“However, with the bull market continuing into 2016, valuations in the sector have started to look stretched, and it has become more difficult for active managers to find value.

“But when market conditions change, that’s when an active strategy should begin adding value once again.”

About API

Founded in 1997, API is Australia's highest-selling property magazine.

Original author: API
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