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WeWork failure takes shine out of office property sector

By Sarah Kendell
03 December 2019 — 1 minute read

The high-profile IPO failure of office share start-up WeWork may have turned the tide for the office property market, with investors now turning their mind to less speculative areas of the listed property sector including retail REITs, according to SG Hiscock.

SG Hiscock lead portfolio manager Grant Berry told SMSF Adviser that while the office property sector had been riding high on low vacancy rates and high rents, the maturity of the business cycle in the sector had now been demonstrated by the heat coming off speculative parts of the market such as co-working companies.

“Share offices and the co-working model was a big part of the growth in demand and that model is now seriously challenged,” Mr Berry said.

“The WeWork IPO was a disaster and I think it’s got bigger ramifications because it’s actually changed the mindset in the broader equity market — people have shifted away from blue-sky investing and back to bread and butter stocks.

“Sydney rents are peaking, vacancy rates are as low as they’ve ever been, so things are probably as good as it gets for office, and if we are in this late stage of the cycle, you don’t want to be chasing those returns.”

Retail property stocks, on the other hand, were “a steady player and not an exciting player” in the current market, with moderate growth levels and economic fundamentals that were improving over time, Mr Berry said.

“We’ve still got a very cautious consumer, but I do believe we’re on the pathway for some modest improvement,” he said.

“We’ve had weak wages growth, but the wage growth story was really at its low point in 2017 and that is now somewhat turning, so I think [retail] is seen to be a steady player.”

Given the discounts that stocks such as Scentre Group were trading at, now was also a good time to buy into retail REITs for a fraction of what their underlying portfolios were worth, Mr Berry said.

“If you look at commercial property [compared to residential], it’s a superior yield; you don’t have the transaction costs and friction costs and you can buy some of the best assets in the country — you can buy a piece of Chadstone or Bondi Junction, which is attractive,” he said.

“At the moment, Scentre Group is trading at 14 per cent below its NTA, so you can buy the whole Westfield portfolio for cheaper in the public market than the private market and that’s another attraction.”


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