The impact of Coronavirus on Real Estate

Grant Atchison

Freehold Investment Management

While the primary impacts of Coronavirus are currently being felt by individuals and communities around the world, the duration and severity of its effect is still largely unknown.

Here’s what we have seen to date.

A first order impact that relates to our health and the ability to continue with our daily lives. Then, the secondary impact - the global reaction to Coronavirus, which is a combination of a flight to safety in the investment markets and a restriction on global trade both within and between countries. This restriction has an impact on the movement of goods, currency, people and ultimately GDP.

Listed versus unlisted property securities – different impacts

Depending on the duration of Coronavirus, the experience of investors in listed and unlisted property securities may be quite different.

Listed property securities, or A-REITs, are exchange traded and are valued second to second by the market. This results in an immediate valuation adjustment for any news, or investor sentiment. We have seen the impact of this over the past few weeks, with high levels of daily and intra-day volatility.

On the other hand, unlisted property securities are unit priced periodically (monthly, quarterly or annually) on an appraised valuation basis. The Trustees of unlisted property securities have a set valuation policy that determines when each asset in the portfolio is valued. Often 25% of the portfolio is valued each quarter, resulting in 100% being valued over the full year. This generally prevents an over or under reaction from any individual news event and delivers a less volatile experience for investors.

Although A-REITs are subject to daily market valuations, the assets held within each listed security are still valued on the same principle noted above for unlisted securities. Because of this, we can see large gaps between the implied value, based on the price of the listed security, and the Net Tangible Assets (NTA) of the assets, which lag.

Over the past 6 weeks for example, the A-REIT sector has gone from trading at a premium to NTA to a significant discount demonstrating this effect. Examples include Dexus Property Group (ASX:DXS), which has gone from 15% premium to 5% discount and GPT Group (ASX:GPT), which has gone from 3% premium to 19% discount. On the flip side, A-REITs will be the first to respond on any positive news with respect to Coronavirus.

Not all A-REITs are the same

It is important to assess the different risk profiles within the A-REIT sector.

At the lower end of the risk spectrum are the passive rent collectors. These A-REITs have a portfolio of existing core assets that are generally high quality, with strong tenant covenants and balance sheets that are conservatively geared. These securities represent a purer exposure to property assets.

Further up the risk curve, are the listed property securities that introduce equity-like risk from more active revenue streams such as funds management, development projects or operational risk. During periods of strong growth, these types of A-REITs tend to outperform because of the higher level of risk. However, when the market moves to ‘risk-off’, the defensive characteristics of the pure property securities provide some downside protection and a more sustainable level of income for investors. Despite this, with the extreme reaction to Coronavirus from the market, A-REITs are withdrawing their guidance provided during the reporting season less than two months ago and we expect to see some cut their dividends.

Different sectors, different impacts

In addition to listed property securities being embroiled in the stock market downturn, the most immediate impact of Coronavirus within the real estate sector has been connected to assets that host large groups of people that have a floating population, such as shopping centres and hotels. Foot traffic at major shopping centres is well down and in hotels, occupancy is low and cancellations are up.

The second group of assets, which also host large groups of people albeit with a more permanent population, include office buildings and social infrastructure such as aged care, childcare, schools and even prisons. The ability to compartmentalise and control these types of assets is far greater than the first group. Only now are we starting to see a reaction to Coronavirus with companies who occupy these properties implementing Business Continuity Plans with flexible working policies and quarantining taking place.

The final group of assets are more effected from the supply side. In this group are tenants of industrial buildings with logistics operations that are being affected by the restrictions on the movement of goods. Equally, in the residential property sector, the construction industry requires materials to complete properties and then purchasers to acquire completed stock – many, particularly offshore buyers, have left.

What are we doing during this period?

In times like this, it is important to be clear on your long-term investment thesis and interrogate your assumptions as to what, if anything, has changed.

At Freehold, we generally employ a defensive strategy in our core funds, through the inclusion of unlisted assets and from our strategy for the listed allocation, where we screen out equity-like risk from the universe of potential securities. This provides some downside protection and a more secure income stream.

In the near term, whilst monitoring our portfolios, we’re largely letting them do what they were designed to do. However, we are ready for when opportunities present themselves to add value to investor portfolios.

Focus on recurring income and low volatility

Decades of diverse experience come together to provide stable and reliable returns. We are specialist providers and managers of domestic property and infrastructure with highly differentiated client service.

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Grant Atchison
Grant Atchison
Head of Real Estate Funds Management
Freehold Investment Management

Grant co-founded Freehold Investment Management and was the company’s Managing Director for 11 years before merging the business with Alceon in 2021. He is now Head of Real Estate Funds Management where he oversees Alceon’s investment strategies...


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