Historically, owning physical property seemed like a good bet to weather a downturn.
After all, the whole idea of investing in property is that it’s supposed to hold its value through economic cycles.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up some unwanted surprises for REITs.
Hospitality REITs have suffered a painful decline in gross revenue and net property income (NPI) as air travel is curtailed and lockdowns are implemented.
Commercial REITs face an uncertain future as more companies implement telecommuting arrangements and look to downsize the amount of space they rent to further cut costs.
And retail REITs, which had been recognised as one of the more stable sub-sectors of the REIT universe, saw visitor footfall drying up and tenant sales under pressure as movement restriction orders kept people at home.
Distribution per unit (DPU) was slashed for many prominent retail REITs.
As it stands, choosing a good REIT to invest in probably felt like you were wading through a minefield.
However, if you look more closely, you will find a couple of resilient REITs that have nimbly weathered the downturn so far.
Here are three qualities you should watch out for in such REITs.
Diversified tenant profile
REITs with a well-diversified list of tenants can mitigate downturns much better as less reliance is placed on any single tenant.
Investors should look at REIT presentations to assess the weightage of their top 10 tenants and how much these tenants contribute to its gross rental income (GRI).
The more diversified its tenant base, the better the REIT can withstand sudden, unexpected shocks.
Take Frasers Logistics and Commercial Trust (SGX: BUOU), or FLCT for instance.
The REIT had just completed a merger with Frasers Commercial Trust this year and now owns a portfolio of 100 properties across five countries, valued at around S$6 billion as of 30 June 2020.
FLCT has a well-diversified portfolio of both industrial and commercial tenants, with the top 10 tenants comprising 23.3% of its GRI.
In fact, no single tenant accounted for more than 4.7% of the portfolio’s GRI.
At the same time, the majority of portfolio tenants consists of government or related entities, multi-national corporations, conglomerates and listed companies.
These types of businesses are generally better-capitalised and more resilient during downturns.
FLCT’s share price has performed well year to date, up 10.6% compared to the 22% decline in the benchmark Straits Times Index (SGX: ^STI).
Another useful attribute to watch out for is the REIT’s weighted average lease expiry or WALE.
In a nutshell, a longer WALE provides more certainty for unitholders as it means that leases are locked in for longer periods, providing a stable stream of rental income.
The risk in having a short WALE is that during downturns, tenants may pressure the REIT to lower rental rates to provide them with some breathing room.
As a result, the REIT may experience negative rental reversions and DPU may correspondingly fall.
For Keppel DC REIT (SGX: AJBU), a REIT that invests in a portfolio of 18 data centres across eight countries, it has a long WALE of 7.4 years by leased area.
As of 30 June, only 8.8% of the REIT’s leases are up for renewal till end-2021. The bulk (79.5%) of leases are only due for renewal in 2025 and beyond.
Keppel DC REIT has performed well, with its share price up 38.5% year to date.
Finally, you should keep an eye out on the sub-sector that the REIT is invested in.
Resilient sub-sectors are the ones that run essential services that are allowed to continue operations despite the pandemic.
One example is Parkway Life REIT (SGX: C2PU). The REIT owns a portfolio of 53 properties consisting of private hospitals in Singapore and nursing homes in Japan.
Parkway Life REIT reported stable operations throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.
For the first half of 2020, gross revenue was up 5.1% year on year while DPU inched up 1.9% year on year.
Shares of the REIT have also outperformed the benchmark index, and are up 16.9% year to date.
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Disclaimer: Royston Yang owns shares in Frasers Logistics and Commercial Trust and Keppel DC REIT.