ELEVATED INFLATION WITH LOOMING MACRO RISKS
Europe saw a slightly positive return of 0.9% (U.S. dollar gross total return) in June, just edging Asia Pacific but still lagging well behind North America’s positive, 4.7% return for the month. In both the second quarter (–3.2%) and the first half (–6.1%), Europe trailed well behind North America. Stubborn inflation data and longer central bank tightening cycles have been the main factors behind Europe’s continued underperformance this year.
Inflation figures have been on the decline in the region since November 2022, but the level of inflation still remains high throughout Europe. That elevated level is especially true in the U.K. Headline inflation is coming down only slowly, and core inflation has so far resisted the pressure of higher interest rates. Companies with weak balance sheets remain on near-record discounts to net and gross asset values because they are still exposed to refinancing risk and falling cash flows. Cap rates moved up quickly in the second half of 2022 in response to major upward moves in bond yields last year and have moved out further this year, but share prices are still implying further moves in private market cap rates. Our focus remains on companies better equipped to withstand the risk of further corrections as macroeconomic and geopolitical risks remain prevalent in the region.
CENTRAL BANK POLICY IN FOCUS
The Asian real estate equity market ended the second quarter weaker, delivering a –3.3% return2. Hong Kong declined the most (–9.6%) for the quarter, followed by Singapore (–4.9%) and Japan (–1.2%). Australia was the only exception, delivering a 0.2% return for the quarter.
The current situation presents an interesting dilemma wherein bad macroeconomic news could benefit real estate equities as long as interest rate hikes slow while net operating income is maintained. In Asia Pacific, attention would centre on how the Fed, the Bank of Japan and the Chinese government move in the coming months. With continued evidence of sustained inflation in the core services sector in the U.S., the Fed recently telegraphed two further 25-bps hikes in the Fed funds rate. This was largely contrary to prior market expectations of rate cuts in the latter half of 2023. The possibility of rate cuts has been further delayed on the back of persistent, sticky core inflation in the U.S. With 2024 as an election year, it remains to be seen how forceful the Fed would be in pushing rates higher, which could inadvertently engineer a recession in the U.S. In China, expectations remain that the government would have to stimulate its economy in the coming weeks albeit in a more controlled fashion. The Bank of Japan is widely expected to adjust monetary policy at its upcoming meeting due to stronger wage and inflation data.
We remain positive on Australian self-storage and manufactured housing as demographic and market consolidation trends provide structural tailwinds for those sectors. As Hong Kong’s reopening remains on track, we favour the retail and residential sectors. Given rising interest rate pressure, we prefer Japanese developers that exhibit strong shareholder returns with greater reopening exposure. We also favour hospitality names that would benefit from tourism reopening and logistic JREITs given their strong fundamentals leading to growth in distribution per unit. In Singapore, we prefer the fund manager/landlord plays. For SREITs, we like hospitality and industrial names with solid dividend growth underpinned by strong fundamentals.
1 Represents the U.S. portion of the FTSE EPRA NAREIT Developed Index as of June 30, 2023
2 FTSE EPRA NAREIT Developed, Asia Pacific. As of June 30, 2023.
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