MUMBAI: At a time Indian realtors and investors are struggling to roll out real estate investment trusts (REIT) amid regulatory complications and tax uncertainties, Pakistan has gone ahead to launch South Asia's first REIT at a premium of 10% to the offer price, earlier this month.
A REIT is a financial instrument where the underlying asset is real estate. The rental income from the property assets are distributed by the Trust as dividends to the investors or unit holders of the trust. Typically therefore, a REIT invests in completed, revenue generating commercial realestate assets.
Mid-June, Pakistan-based Dolmen City launched its REIT offering that got subscribed 1.7 times. It owns a commercial property which has a mix of mall and office space and an occupancy of 96%. The company expects a net income of $21.9 million in first year while dividends are expected at $20.7 million. This was also the first REIT listing in Pakistan after the country came out with the regulations.
Interestingly, yields for the Dolmen City REIT's investors in the first year are a percentage point lower than the current yields on Pakistan's government securities (GSec) that are now trading at 9.75%. Typically,world over REITs notes trade at positive spread. This was based on estimation of rental income from the asset, 90% of which are to distributed back to investors. But even then, there were few global investors who bit the story -- only 0.6% of HNIs/Institution allocation.
For starters, Pakistan has streamlined the process significantly to make it attractive for investors. For example, their REITs attract a withholding tax of 10% (in-line with Mutual fund taxation) with no further tax liability for individual investors. Moreover, the regulators there have agreed to concessional tax regime for transfer of an asset into a REIT with significant reduction in stamp duty across the region.
In comparison in India -- despite the recent relaxations on taxability like MAT exemption, tax pass through to REIT - and simplification of structuring, the REIT controlled special purpose vehicles are still subject to corporate and dividend distribution tax ( DDT) which limits the pass through nature of REITs. This makes it imperative on the SPV to restructure to reduce the tax blow. Analysts feel while debt infusion at SPVs could improve the yields of the instrument, a simplified structure allowing tax pass throughs would improve transparency and improve visibility of returns to investors.
"Indian REITs in the current form have a significant tax disadvantage with double taxation in SPV-REIT structure and high transaction cost in direct holding structure," said Abhishek Anand of JM Finance in his report on India REITs on June 12. "We believe tax regime needs to work towards simplifying the domestic REIT structure, and needs to reduce double taxation in order to make returns more attractive for investors."
"Typically REIT is successful in the mature economies where it gives returns of 7 to 9% and government securities gives returns in the range of 1.5 to 2.5%," says Hemal Mehta, senior director of Deloitte. "While, in India, government securities gives risk free returns in the range of 8 to 9% and hence, to make this instrument very attractive fiscal benefits like dividend distribution tax, minimum alternate tax and capital gain should be waived off to make the REIT attractive for Indian investors."
Echoing this, a senior official of a leading real estate focussed PE fund says if the government considers such waivers, REITs alone have the potential to attract investment in the range of $15 to $20 billion from FII and NRIs.
According to Chandubhai Mehta, Managing Partner of Mumbai-based law firm Dhruve Liladhar & Co, which advises many developers, complexities in taxation to unit holders in REIT as well as to owners of the assets are the hindrance in the way of making this a popular instrument.
"REIT is beneficial to both the investors and the industry because it provides the investors with an investment avenue, which is comparatively less risky than investing in under construction properties and provides regular income," says Mehta.
In India, many marque PE investors including Blackstone together with real estate JV partner Embassy or developers DLF were reportedly planning to go ahead with mega REIT listings, but till date have stayed away due largely on account of the tax complications. But realtors are hopeful of an early resolution. "There are issues related to taxation but as the market evolves, am sure the government will also change the rules according to market needs," said Rajeev Talwar, Group Executive Director, DLF.