MUMBAI/BANGALORE: The depreciating rupee may have helped improve property sales to NRI buyers, but it isn't helping the saviour of real estate developers — private equity firms — which are not only stuck with their earlier investments, but can't raise fresh funds either.
Indian currency's record depreciation against the greenback and weak property market have restricted realty private equity offshore funds' fresh fund raising efforts as well as trapped their earlier investments since FDI gates were opened in 2005. The rupee has depreciated nearly 27 per cent since April 1 to touch a record low of Rs 68.63 against the dollar on August 28. Over the past two years, when most of these exits were being planned, the currency has slipped 46 per cent to touch this level.
It has almost wiped out foreign private equity funds' meager returns from real estate, and any exit now will lead to at least 25-30 per cent loss in dollar terms. "The environment for raising fund from overseas investors is not very conducive. Offshore funds that have invested during the last few years when the US dollar was quoting at Rs 42-52 will find it challenging to offer good returns now because of the fall of the rupee and weak underlying market," says S Srinivasan, CEO at Kotak Realty Fund.
Investments made in Indian real estate sector are cumulatively estimated to be around $15 billion since foreign direct investments were allowed in the sector. Around 20 per cent of this was expected to get an exit in the past two years, but seems a distinct possibility now. Private equity firms with offshore funds are in a state of flux not only because of their stuck investments and delay in project completions, but are also concerned about not being able to raise fresh funds in the current scenario.
"Most capital in Indian real estate was invested at the exchange rate of around Rs 40 to a dollar with the expectation of 25 per cent returns. The current phase of currency depreciation would impact the real estate sector adversely as foreign investors would wait for the full cycle to play out and exchange rate to settle down before taking any fresh investment calls," says Rajeev Bairathi, executive director, capital transaction group and north India, Knight Frank India.
Most real estate funds that have invested at dollar rate of around Rs 40-45 are likely to get an exit after these seven years at more than Rs 60, which is a loss of around 30 per cent in the currency itself. Moreover, most assets, given the weak property market, have not seen any major appreciation.
"Although rupee has depreciated a lot since these funds invested in projects and is showing no signs of returning to 2006-07 levels. As funds are coming to an expiry and savvy investors are likely to press for exit even at a loss as they are aware that most currencies globally are also following a similar trend," says Ramesh Jogani, Managing Partner of private equity realty firm Indian Property Advisors. According to him, several funds that have already tried to exit their investments in the past two years and have had little success, may not be able to hold on to their assets for long in anticipation of the dollar-rupee parity reverting to its Rs 45 level.
Private equity investment in Indian real estate nose-dived in the first half of 2013. For the first six months this year, real estate private equity investments were recorded at $276 million (Rs 1,638 crore), 46 per cent lower than a year ago. Private equity funds invested $514 million (Rs 3,050 crore) in the first half of 2012, says a recent report of Cushman & Wakefield, an international property consulting firm.
Bhairathi of Knight Frank does not expect significant foreign capital to flow into the country until the macro environment stabilizes. "This in our view would take at least another two to three quarters and the next general election might offer major triggers for the capital flow to resume. Till such time, it would be extremely difficult to raise fresh offshore funds. Further, the disbursement of capital on the already announced deals might be put on hold till stability returns," Bhairathi says.
While many experts are concerned about the probable exits at losses and their impact on further fund raising activity, there are some who differ. "In rupee terms, returns are still good. A fund or fund manager cannot be held responsible for currency risk and most seasoned investors usually hedge their position on their own. As an after effect, the sharp depreciation in rupee is likely to result in increasing these hedging costs incurred by investors at their end," says Shobhit Agarwal, MD, capital markets, Jones Lang LaSalle. Agarwal accepts that the rupee depreciation will impact the fund raising efforts as investors' investment allocations will change hereon. But, he is also hopeful that it will not stop the capital flow completely.
Private equity deals, given their structure and longer tenure, are not covered through any hedges and this leaves room for sharp impact of currency risk on exits. "In the past five years, currency has depreciated by 3-4 per cent compounded annually depending on tenure of the fund. There will be cases where funds will put exits on hold and wait for rupee to appreciate for better returns," says Amit Bhagat, CEO and MD, ASK Property Investment Advisors. The 2013 fall is not a sustainable phenomenon and is a matter of concern, but it is not a long term event, he says.