Singapore Industrial REITs - Phillip Securities 2017-08-18: Buying Opportunities Still Exist, Despite Sector Weakness


Singapore Industrial REITs - Buying Opportunities Still Exist, Despite Sector Weakness

  • Maintain Equal Weight view on Industrial REITs sub-sector.
  • Oversupply situation abating, and we believe rents to bottom by end-2018.
  • Occupancy has not picked up, despite higher industrial activity.
  • Top-down strategy of buying REITs that are positioned to benefit from the shift towards higher value-added manufacturing: A-REIT and MINT are our favourites.
  • Bottom-up / special situation play: Trading Buy on Sabana REIT.

What Is The News?

Key takeaways from the quarter 

Outlook for negative reversions to persist in 2H 2017 

  • Our view for negative reversions to persist in the near-term remains unchanged since our last Industrial REITs quarterly update (8 May 2017). 
  • During this season's results briefings, we repeatedly heard Managers caution for negative reversions in 2H 2017. 
  • Ascendas REIT (A-REIT) had +1.1% reversions, but was due to one-off effect from first-cycle renewals at Aperia. Excluding the one-off effect, rental reversion for A-REIT's Singapore portfolio would have been negative. 
  • Other casualties with negative reversions were Mapletree Industrial Trust (MINT, -2.0%), Soilbuild Business Space REIT (SBREIT, -9.8%) and an outlier renewal at Cache Logistics Trust (Cache, -20%). 
  • Our previous view was for rents to bottom in 2017. We now believe rents to bottom only by the end of 2018.

Leasing enquiries have picked up, but it is still a tenant's market 

  • Managers generally gave feedback that they are seeing more enquires YoY and QoQ. However, it is still a tenant's market – tenant retention and maintaining occupancy remains the priority for Managers. This will put pressure on rents.

Decline in rents in 2017 will negatively impact year-end property valuations 

  • Sabana Sharia'ah Compliant REIT's (SSREIT's) portfolio was valued downwards by S$27.9 mn to S$964 mn in 2Q 2017. This resulted in higher QoQ aggregate leverage from 36.1% to 37.0%. 
  • REITs with significant exposure to master lease expiries are AIMS AMP Capital Industrial REIT (AA-REIT, 7.5% of rental income) and SSREIT (22.6% of net leasable area). All things held equal, lower YoY rents in 2017 would result in lower end of year valuations. This would have the effect of raising aggregate leverage as the existing debt is across a smaller asset base.

Another Oil & Gas tenant defaulted during the quarter 

  • Following the default by Technics Offshore Engineering at Soilbuild Business REIT (SBREIT)'s property (72 Loyang Way) in 2016, Tellus Marine defaulted at ESR-REIT's property (21B Senoko Way) during the quarter and consolidated its operations at its existing SBREIT property (39 Senoko Way), where a new annex block was completed in November 2016.

Investment Actions 

  • We maintain our "Equal Weight" view on the Industrial sub-sector.
  • The tailwinds for the sector are the tapering of supply of Industrial space in 2018 and the uptick in industrial activity in 1H 2017 to expansionary mode. However, occupancy is lower QoQ and YoY in 2Q 2017. 
  • The uncertainty is the exact timing of the bottom for rents, but we believe it to be by end-2018. Meanwhile, we expect to negative rental reversions to continue in 2H 2017.
  • With the recent run up in prices of the Industrial REITs, our view is that positive expectations have been factored in, and there is now a greater probability for disappointment rather than a positive surprise. 
  • We would like to see occupancy to improve, in order to upgrade our sector view for Industrial REITs.

Strategic top-down view 

Maintain exposure to Business & Science Park properties and Hi-Tech/HiSpecification buildings 

  • Singapore is evolving towards higher value-added manufacturing and there is a push with the Smart Nation initiative. We like REITs that can capture this opportunity with Business & Science Park properties and Hi-Tech/Hi-Specification buildings. Our favourites are: 
    1. Ascendas REIT (Accumulate, target price: $2.86). 57% of A-REIT's Net property income is derived from Business Park and Hi-Specs properties in Singapore. Its Sponsor's pipeline of over S$1 bn of Business & Science Park properties offers growth opportunities. A-REIT has a track-record of DPU growth through its portfolio rebalancing strategy and stability through its diversified portfolio. AREIT's aggregate leverage of 33.9% is lower than the sector median.
    2. Mapletree Industrial Trust (Accumulate, target price: $1.98). MINT's aggregate leverage of 29.8% is one of the lowest within the S-REIT universe, giving it the firepower for inorganic growth. MINT is growing its Hi-Tech Buildings segment. A build to suit (BTS) project for Hewlett-Packard was completed in June 2017. In the pipeline are the development of a 14-storey Hi-Tech Building at Kallang (completion: 1Q2018) and a six-storey data centre in the West Region of Singapore (completion: 2H2018).

Tactical bottom-up view / special situation 

Consolidation thesis still in play: Sabana REIT (Trading Buy, $0.57) 

  • Our recent report (8 August 2017, Sabana Shari'ah Compliant REIT - Will There Be Closure For Unitholders?) outlines our bottom-up view of an acquisition of Sabana REIT's assets, either by e-Shang Redwood (ESR) or ESR-REIT.
  • We view SSREIT as a high-yield play that offers a ~7.3% yield (1H17 DPU of 1.69 cents annualised) with a free call option if it gets acquired. There is minimal risk of unitholder dilution this year, as the Manager did not secure a general mandate at the FY16 Annual General Meeting. 
  • The key risk to DPU in 2H 2017 is occupancy level, master lease conversions and negative rental reversions. The key risk to our event-driven thesis is that the sale of assets does not materialise.

ESR-REIT appears to be building up its war chest and posturing for an acquisition 

  • ESR-REIT announced the proposed divestment of 55 Ubi Avenue 3 in January 2017. ESR-REIT subsequently announced the proposed divestment of two other non-core properties (23 Woodlands Terrace and 87 Defu Lane 10) during 2Q 2017. No further announcement has been made on any proposed property acquisition.
  • At the same time, the Distribution Reinvestment Plan (DRP) was switched on this quarter, after a hiatus of five quarters. The last time the DRP was applied was for the 4Q 2015 distribution.

How Do We View This?

Two-speed PMI while Industrial Production index has moderated 

  • PMI remains in expansionary mode, with the electronics sector leading the charge. At current levels, we think there is a higher probability of disappointment rather than positive surprise. 
  • At the same time, Industrial Production has moderated and we do not expect to see a repeat of the 22.4% YoY growth seen in December 2016.

QoQ lower occupancy not a concern for now, as occupancy usually lags activity 

  • QoQ lower occupancy came as a slight negative surprise, in view of robust numbers for industrial production. Higher output has not resulted in higher demand translating to higher occupancy. Upcoming new supply is still higher than historical supply, and demand is still lower than historical demand.
  • We are not overly concerned at this time, as occupancy usually lags manufacturing activity by about two quarters to a year. Furthermore, we hear feedback from the managers that there have been more leasing enquiries. Nonetheless would still like to see higher occupancy as evidence of better demand.

Multi-User Factory: Oversupply in 2H 2017 worse than in 1H 2017 

  • Total planned supply for 2017 represents 5.3% additional space to end-2016 stock, compared to the 2.2% that was added during 2016. Occupancy dipped to a new low during the quarter and would likely worsen as a further 2.9% additional supply over existing stock is added in 2H 2017. 
  • The Rental Index appears to have stabilised, but reversions will likely range between negative low-teens to high single-digit for the remainder of 2017.

New supply of Hi-Specs/Hi-Tech industrial space is likely to come from asset enhancement initiatives (AEIs) to upgrade existing properties or through BTS projects.

  • Within the sub-cluster of Hi-Specs/Hi-Tech industrial space, demand is expected to rise, in line with the push towards the Smart Nation initiative.

Warehouse: Supply pressure with highest percentage stock added in 2H2017 

  • Total planned supply for 2017 represents 10% additional space to end-2016 stock, compared to the 6.6% that was added during 2016. Occupancy dipped to a new low during the quarter and would likely worsen as a further 3.9% additional supply over existing stock is added in 2H 2017. 
  • The Rental Index appears to have stabilised, but reversions will likely range between negative low-teens to high single-digit for the remainder of 2017.
  • New demand for logistics space to come from the e-commerce sector as it continues to entrench itself in Southeast Asia.

Business Parks: Most stable sub-segment because of limited supply, but upside in rents is capped 

  • We expect Business Parks to be relatively stable compared to the other two types of industrial space, due to limited new supply. However, there has been some change in the supply pipeline profile. Previously there was no new supply from 2019 onwards, but that has changed in this quarter. Some new supply of 51,000 sqm has crept into the pipeline for 2019.
  • Consensus favourite has been Business Park assets, but we are less sanguine in terms of rents achievable. We still hold the view for Business Park rents to remain competitive as it is a substitute to traditional Office space and the rental differential has to be maintained. 
  • We also view that tenants occupying larger spaces will have better bargaining power during renewal negotiations and have the ability to drive down their rent.

Overall, we expect reversions to be flat in 2H 2017.

Richard Leow cFTE Phillip Securities | http://www.poems.com.sg/ 2017-08-18
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