Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Office Reits

Kim Eng on 5 Mar 2014

  • The key to rental rate increase in the Central Area lies in continued hiring in the financial, insurance and business services sectors.
  • But an uptick in headcount is unlikely this year, considering sub-trend GDP growth, sluggish financial services activities, lower hiring expectations and tightening labour market
  • Short-term reprieve next year but ample supply still looms. With vacancy rate tipped to rise in 2016, we see modest rental upticks of 3%/5% in FY14/15 before sliding 2% in 2016.
What’s New
The office REITs segment was recently abuzz with renewed interest from investors after the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Office Property Rental Index recorded a ~1% YoY increase in rent for both the Central Area and Central Region in both 3Q13 and 4Q13. The uptick came on the back of four consecutive quarters of YoY decline since 3Q12.

What’s Our View
Abundant supply a nagging worry. While we anticipate a reprieve from new office space next year, the fact remains that there is still ample supply – an estimated 6.4m sq ft of net leasable area in the Central Business District (CBD) is expected to come on-stream in 2014-2017. With the labour market moderating and overall hiring expectations on the wane, we do not think headcount numbers will jump sharply this year, especially considering the sub-trend GDP growth and financial services activities remaining sluggish. We estimate net absorption during this year and next would balance out previous outstanding (~4.8m sq ft in the Central Area) and new incoming supplies, leading to an occupancy rate of 90-92% in the Downtown Core (4Q13: 90%). However, in 2016-2017, occupancy rate could slide to 88-90% as ~5m sq ft of new office space becomes available.

Maintain Neutral. With vacancy rate tipped to creep up only in 2016, we see rents rising a modest 3% in 2014 and 5% in 2015 before declining 2% in 2016. We maintain our Neutral stance on the office REITs sector, with HOLD calls on CapitaCommercial Trust (CCT, TP SGD1.50) and Keppel REIT (KREIT, TP SGD1.25). The key downside risk to our call is an abrupt capital flight from Asia. Liquidity outflows will not only hit asset prices sorely, but may also lead to a cutback in headcount for the financial, insurance and business sectors, causing a dent in rentals.

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