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Blackstone's first-of-a-kind India IPO confronts rate jitters

Planned listing of Reit could be delayed should investors demand a higher-than-expected yield: sources

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A successful listing of Blackstone's Reit would send a hopeful message to India's cash-starved property companies, which are still recovering from sweeping policy changes over the past two years and struggling for new loans.

Mumbai

ABOUT two years after the Blackstone Group registered India's first real estate investment trust (Reit), the private equity giant is close to taking it public. Rising interest rates, however, threaten to get in the way.

Blackstone and local partner Embassy Group plan to file a prospectus for an initial public offering of the Reit as early as next month, a deal that may raise as much as US$1 billion, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Even so, the listing could be delayed should investors demand a higher-than-expected yield, according to the people, who asked not to be identified as the information is private.

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A successful listing of Blackstone's Reit would send a hopeful message to India's cash-starved property companies, which are still recovering from sweeping policy changes over the past two years and struggling for new loans.

However, rising returns from safe instruments such as government bonds are pushing investors to seek higher payouts from riskier ones like Reits.

Investors may demand yields as high as 15 per cent to subscribe to the Blackstone offering, said Devendra Singhvi, Mumbai-based head of fixed income at Aditya Birla Sun Life Insurance.

That's almost double what 10-year Indian government bonds yield.

Blackstone's Reit is focused on commercial real estate and is said to include properties that count Rolls Royce Holdings and Microsoft Corp as tenants.

This could render it less vulnerable to rising rates given that India's seeing a revival in the commercial segment of the property market.

Demand for office space grew 23 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2018 after a 5.7 per cent gain the same period last year, data from Colliers International show.

Appreciation of a Reit's underlying assets, together with the yield, would boost total returns for investors.

Holding a Reit unit for 10 years may generate returns as high as 15 per cent annually, said S Sriniwasan, managing director of Kotak Investment Advisors.

"There will be good demand from evolved and patient investors who understand the yield-plus growth fundamental driving the total return that this product offers," he added.

Reits have been in the making for about half a decade in India, as the regulator kept tweaking rules.

Investors have to pay 30 per cent short-term capital gains tax on Reits in India compared with zero in Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia.

The minimum initial investment of 200,000 rupees (S$3,986) is also a deterrent for retail investors.

Moreover, investors are wary of these products after much-hyped infrastructure investment trusts failed to meet market expectations.

IRB InvIT Fund has plummeted about 22 per cent and India Grid Trust declined 3 per cent since their listings last year.

"If InvITs have not done well, there will definitely be an impact on Reits," said Sandeep Upadhyay, chief executive officer of Centrum Infrastructure Advisory.

He predicts Reit investors will seek a premium of at least 3 percentage points over the 7.86 per cent sovereign 10-year bond yield.

Surabhi Arora, a senior analyst at property services firm Colliers, said that Indian Reits will be unable to pay much above 9 per cent, given that the overall property market is still recovering.

It was hit in 2016 by the Indian government's shock decision to clamp down on cash transactions.

Home sales plunged to a seven-year low, leaving developers grappling with debt and banks clamped down further on lending.

Bank loans to commercial real estate rose less than 0.5 per cent in the two years through April 2018 while overall non-food credit increased almost 16 per cent. BLOOMBERG