June 2023 quarter ASX A-REIT market update
Stuart Cartledge, Managing Director, Phoenix Portfolios
AREIT market update
The S&P/ASX 300 A-REIT Accumulation Index moved higher in the June quarter, rising 3.2%. Property stocks reversed recent trends and outperformed broader equities in the quarter, with the S&P/ASX 300 Accumulation Index adding a lessor 1.0%. This outperformance is relatively surprising considering the 10 Year Australian Government Bond yield increased meaningfully over the quarter, finishing at approximately 4.0%.
Many property owners released their valuations as at 30 June. Broadly speaking properties saw expansions in capitalisation rates (cap rates). For industrial property owners, strong market rent growth mostly offset this cap rate expansion, holding valuations close to flat in most cases. Retail and office properties did not hold up as well, with market rents holding relatively steady amidst cap rate expansion. Properties with long weighted average lease expiries (WALEs) and low capitalisation rates saw the biggest declines in values due to their interest rate sensitive nature.
Property fund managers were predominantly outperformers during the quarter. Smaller capitalisation fund managers performed particularly well, with Centuria Capital Group (CNI) up 13.1%, Qualitas Limited (QAL) gaining 12.6% and Elanor Investors Group (ENN) adding 9.3%. Goodman Group (GMG) was also a solid performer, lifting by 7.6%, while Charter Hall Group (CHC) gave up ground, off 0.7%, likely due to its exposure to office property.
Retail property owners were the major underperformers during the quarter. A series of more negative data points came out across the period. Firstly, retail sales figures underperformed expectations. Furthermore, many retailers who provided sales updates during the quarter disappointed investors. Fashion retailer Universal Store Holdings Limited (UNI) severely disappointed and fell almost 40% in May. Larger retailers JB Hi-Fi (JBH) and Super Retail Group (SUL) also had soft performance, declining by more than 10% from intra-period highs. This weak performance of retailers was reflected in the share prices of their landlords. Vicinity Centres (VCX) lost 5.1%, Scentre Group (SCG) gave up 3.6% and offshore property owner Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield finished 3.8% lower. The performance of less discretionary neighbourhood shopping centre owners was not as weak, however still underperformed the broader property market, with Region Group (RGN) and Charter Hall Retail REIT (CQR) off 0.1% and 0.6% respectively.
Office property owners had mixed fortunes in the June quarter. Dexus (DXS) recovered some lost ground in the period, adding 7.0%. In contrast, Centuria Office REIT (COF) lost 1.7% and Growthpoint Properties Australia (GOZ) gave up 5.0%. Direct office transactions have been extremely limited in recent periods, with buyers and sellers appearing to have divergent price expectations. Those properties that have traded have done so at discounts to book value of between 10% and 25%.
Those with exposure to residential development had a very strong period of performance. Mirvac Group (MGR) led the way, up 11.2%, while large capitalisation peer Stockland added 4.9%. Peet Limited was also an outperformer in the quarter, gaining 9.3%. Resilience in residential house prices has been surprising, with developers likely to be supported by high net immigration numbers along with limited supply of new housing.
The listed property sector is in good shape and provides investors with the opportunity to gain exposure to high quality commercial real estate at a meaningful discount to independently assessed values. While share market volatility may be uncomfortable at times, the offset is liquidity, enabling investors to rebalance portfolios without the risk of being trapped in illiquid vehicles. Rising interest rates have been a headwind for many asset classes, with property, both listed and unlisted, a particularly interest rate sensitive sector.
The August reporting season saw a number of listed stocks come under pressure as short term interest rates hedges are beginning to roll off and higher interest costs are impacting earnings growth and distributions. Long term valuations are driven by “normalised” interest costs, meaning the impact of short term hedges maturing is mostly immaterial.
The industrial sub-sector continues to be the most sought after, given the tailwinds of e-commerce growth, the potential onshoring of key manufacturing categories and the decision by many corporates to build some redundancy into supply chains to cope with current disruptions. All of these factors are contributing to ongoing demand for industrial space, which is evident by rapidly accelerating market rents and vacancy rates at historic lows of around 1% in many markets.
We remain cognisant of the structural changes occurring in the retail sector with the growing penetration of online sales and the greater importance of experiential offering inside malls. Recent performance of shopping centre owners has however been strong, with consumers showing resilience. It is interesting to note the juxtaposition of very high retail sales figures despite very low levels of consumer confidence, no doubt impacted by rising costs of living.
Importantly, we are also now seeing positive re-leasing spreads in shopping centres, indicating strengthening demand from retail tenants. The jury is still out on exactly how tenants will use office space moving forward, but demand for good quality well located space remains. Leasing activity is beginning to pick up, and there has also been some transactional activity, albeit at prices typically at discounts to book values.
Incentives on new leases do remain elevated and some vacancy in the market is becoming apparent. We expect to see further downside to asset values in office markets, but elsewhere expect market rent growth to largely offset cap rate expansion, particularly in industrial assets. Listed pricing provides a meaningful buffer to such movements.