February 17, 2021

Author: Tim Phillips

Singapore best REITs

Friends of mine often ask “how do I pick the right REIT to invest in?” and my answer tends to be the same.

I lay out what I look for when I choose a REIT to invest in – and this is the crucial dealbreaker – over the long term.

The goal of investing in a REIT is a simple one; you want capital growth (of its unit price) and a rising distribution payout (distribution per unit or otherwise known as the “DPU”).

REITs are a large – and growing – part of the local Singapore stock market, and for good reason. They allow individual investors to benefit from partial property ownership while also providing steady, as well as tax-free, income streams.

So without further ado, here are my top five tips for investors that are looking to buy best-in-class REITs.

1. Low gearing ratio

If a REIT has low debt levels, also referred to as the “gearing” or “leverage” ratio, then it tends to instill a certain level of confidence that management is not only responsibly managing debt but is also leaving further headroom for growth.

REITs in Singapore need to have gearing that is below the regulatory ceiling of 45%. Given this, I tend to focus on REITs that have gearing in the late-20s to mid-30s range.

That way, you can tap into growth without worrying that the REIT will be overextending itself in the process.

2. Strong sponsor

For any REIT I tend to look at as a potential investment, a strong sponsor is a must-have.

A sponsor is the parent company of the REIT that can provide support for the REIT, for example by offering the REIT a pipeline of properties where it will have right-of-first-refusal.

Sponsors also tend to be major shareholders within the REITs themselves. Some examples of well-known sponsors in Singapore include CapitaLand Limited (SGX: C31), Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd and Frasers Property Limited (SGX: TQ5).

3. Diversification

Diversification is one of the basic tenets of investing and can also apply to REITs. In terms of REITs though, it’s diversification by geography and tenants.

I prefer to look for REITs that aren’t too heavily reliant on one specific tenant for its revenue as this can potentially jeopardise the DPU should that tenant move out or significantly cut its occupied space.

Similarly for geography, it might be preferential to have a REIT that has at least a meaningful level of overseas exposure rather than being focused 100% on one particular country for its revenue.

4. Consistently rising DPU

This might seem an obvious one to readers but for REITs, a solid track record in consistently increasing its DPU is a valuable asset.

Effectively it means that investors can comfortably rely on their investments for future income streams.

What should be identified with any potential REIT is to aim for ones where the annual DPU is growing at least in line with inflation and has done so for a number of years (ideally over a period of five).

A high distribution yield for a REIT might look attractive at first sight but it’s actually much more important that the DPU has been growing and is sustainable.

5. Longer weighted average debt maturity

Again, this comes back to responsible fiscal management on the part of the REIT.

When you invest in a REIT, you want the management to be prudent in managing the debt it takes on to grow the portfolio.

Part of this involves how often the REIT has to roll over debt. If the REIT can lengthen the time required to roll over this debt then it can give itself breathing room in terms of how much interest it pays on those loans.

Taking a holistic approach

It’s worth reminding investors who are looking at REITs, that the above are a great starting point to identify the best REITs.

However, you should also look at a variety of other factors. These can include, but are not limited to, the weighted average lease expiry (WALE), growth of average rental rate or portfolio occupancy rate.

If investors can get the formula right for investing in REITs then sustainable long-term income and capital growth are easily within reach for anyone.

Disclaimer: ProsperUs Head of Content Tim Phillips doesn’t own shares of any companies mentioned.

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