License article

Australian real estate investment trusts considered a haven

Australian real estate investment trusts have moved into the spotlight as a haven option in the current environment of low interest rates and post-federal budget unrest.

The corporate activity with Westfield and the Westfield Retail Trust and Stockland and its indicative, non-binding tilt at Australand has also kept investors and analysts busy in recent months.

Westfield and WRT investors will vote on the proposed $70 billion restructure on Thursday, with investors still split as to the outcome. If it is approved, a new company, Scentre, will be created to run the Australian and New Zealand shopping centres.

CLSA analysts said the Westfield-Scentre vote this week should be extremely close. ''We downgrade Westfield Group, Westfield Retail and Dexus to outperform [total expected return below 20 per cent but exceeding market return] from a buy rating,'' the CLSA team said.

''If it fails, Westfield Group will bear costs and uncertainty, but we see limited downside risk for WRT. There are benefits to both if it passes. If it fails, this would be a short-term negative for Westfield Group, given $43 million of costs and uncertainty regarding its Australia exit. We see the most likely outcome as either a revised offer, or a 'status quo' Westfield with a gradual sale of non-core assets.''

Overall, the brokers predicted continued strength in A-REITs this year: ''A-REITs offer an attractive dividend yield of 5.6 per cent with EPS [earnings per share] growth of 4 per cent.''

Macquarie Equities analysts said the overriding theme for the REIT sector was that a positive backdrop for net tangible assets will benefit the entire sector. ''However, against this backdrop of rising asset values, we believe stocks such as Investa Office Fund remain takeover candidates, should a significant share price discount to NTA emerge,'' they said.

According to a report from BDO, the sector's underlying strength can be seen in the 5.5 per cent median return among all REITs in the index.