The year 2016 has seen volatile financial markets globally with the commodity cycle still in recovery mode, economic growth in many countries still faltering and the roller-coaster political landscape.
Arguably, investors cannot be blamed for their conservative appetite for risk as finding investment gems is increasingly becoming difficult when the immediate future looks uncertain.
At a time when equities, bond and currency markets are under pressure, market watchers continue to find value in real estate markets during tough times – whether hitching their wagons to physical properties or listed property stocks.
On the latter, investors would be normally investing in a property company, which owns physical property assets and collects rental income from its tenants that can be distributed as dividends payouts.
“That’s why listed property is much more defensive than any other sector on the JSE,” said Stanlib’s head of listed property funds Keillen Ndlovu at the Liberty Retire Well Masterclass last week.
Although SA’s listed property sector did not initially pique the interest of many investors, who often had a bias toward equities, the sector has since courted a strong following.
Listed property firmly outperformed equities (JSE All Share Index), bonds (ten-year government bond) and cash over the past ten years in terms of total returns. This has since firmly entrenched the asset class as a bellwether.
The sector has also seen a flurry of JSE listings – from having only 20 property companies on the bourse five years ago to 44-odd companies that invest in student accommodation, shopping malls, office, industrial and residential properties.
Ndlovu said the listings have offered investors choice as SA’s property market has opened up to offshore markets, giving investors access to hard-currency earnings.
Underscoring this is figures from Stanlib which reveal that ten years ago the sector had no exposure to offshore markets and so far this year, 37% of earnings derive from markets including the UK, Australia, Central and Eastern Europe. “If you invest in some SA-focused companies, you are also getting exposure to offshore markets,” he explained.
Having listed property in your investment portfolio helps to boost returns. For example, Ndlovu’s figures show that if your portfolio is 60% invested in equities, 30% in bonds and 10% in cash over 15 years – you would have achieved a 13.7% annualised total return.
“If you add 5% of property exposure, you get a total annualised return of 14%. Add another 5%, you get 14.6% and add another 5% you get as much as 15% in total returns. But you have to focus more on the long-term.”
He believes that listed property allocations in an investment portfolio should be 10% to 20%. But this depends on your risk profile.
Despite SA’s worrying state of the economy and the pesky rand, SA’s listed property sector is achieving an average forward yield of 7% and property companies are expected to post inflation-beating dividend growth of 8% average for the next 12 months.
Residential buy-to-let properties continue to be beset by humdrum rental growth and property returns that have dimmed the allure of owning a rental property as an investment.
Latest figures from credit bureau Tenant Profile Network (TPN) and FNB show a rise in buy-to-let rental yields since two years ago.
National gross rental yields (before the rental properties’ operating costs such as electricity, water, maintenance, rates and taxes are accounted for) marginally rose to 8.6% in the second quarter of 2016 from 8.5% in the first quarter.
Rental yields are a key metric for a rental property’s return on investment, expressed as rental income over costs associated with the property.
To make matters worse for landlords, the upkeep costs of a rental property continue to rise faster than rental growth, eroding returns.
Finding value in the rental market is fast-becoming area specific. For example, if landlords are looking for better rental yields, TPN and FNB figures suggest that they might have better luck Johannesburg (9.51%) than in Cape Town (7.71%).
Despite tenants facing the sustained rise in living costs, interest rates, and unemployment, TPN MD Michelle Dickens said the national rental payments trend is still stable.
Dickens said 66% of tenants nationally and across all rental value brackets are paying rent on time and in full; 6% are in the seven-day grace period; 10% are paying their rent partially, and nearly 6% of tenants are not paying rent at all.
The best performing rental value bracket is the R3 000/month to R7 000/month bracket, which makes up 55% of the rental market share. The below R3 000/month is performing badly due to affordability issues.
“Investment property is still bricks and mortar, and you are still having capital growth albeit it’s not great at the moment. But ultimately it’s about the management of that property,” she added.