The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka (SEC) have announced the launch of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), giving average investors an opportunity to reap the benefits of real estate investment and the advantages associated with investing in publicly traded securities on the CSE.
While investing in real estate appears to be a popular choice, the rising cost of property poses a significant challenge to individual investors who typically resort to bank loans to finance such investments. This timely introduction by the CSE and SEC provides greater access to all investor segments to commercial real estate projects and an opportunity to benefit from the recently observed spiralling property prices.
REITs were first introduced in the United States in 1960, creating a mechanism for individual investors, especially middle-income earners, to generate income through investing in large commercial real estate. This product has made rapid progress within the Asian markets as well with its growing popularity especially in Thailand, Malaysia and India and is also viewed as a mechanism to broad base the real estate ownership within a country.
A REIT is essentially a structure which typically owns and operates income-generating real estate. The income-generating real estate assets owned by a REIT may include office buildings, shopping malls, apartments, hotels, resorts, self-storage facilities and warehouses.
A REIT would enable unit holders to earn a portion of the income that is generated through renting, leasing or selling these properties which is required to be distributed directly to the unit holders of the REIT. The CSE and SEC have introduced a framework which mandates the distribution of 90% of the generated income to its investors.
This innovative introduction, which has been formulated specifically taking into consideration the local environment, would open up new horizons for real estate developers and owners to convert completed income generating projects into a REIT, have its units listed on the CSE following the mechanism now made available to them and have them publicly traded in the secondary market, similar to equity securities listed on the CSE.
The framework for REITs has been introduced by the SEC via Rules made by the SEC in terms of section 53 and 13 of the SEC Act which came into effect from 31 July in the form of a Gazette notification. The comprehensive formation of SEC rules will govern the overall mechanism of REITs in Sri Lanka. The CSE has also formulated Listing Rules for the listing of units of REITs.
A REIT would enable investors to further diversify their portfolios by investing in this lucrative investment vehicle which would produce long-term returns. Investors would benefit from a stable stream of income, swift entry and exit route through the secondary market and also benefit from the returns of the overall real estate asset appreciation.
The economy at large would also benefit from the introduction of REITs with the anticipated creation of jobs, economic growth, increased tax revenues, liquidity through listing and would also attract foreign direct investments into the country. REITs would also require stronger corporate governance and increased transparency which would help the investor community and regulatory bodies to assess the viability and quality of projects.
Similar to any stock market investment, the investor is required to take into account his/her own financial status and also consult with an investment advisor prior to making an investment decision. A review can also be carried out on the REIT’s disclosure filings, including the annual and quarterly reports, prior to making a decision to invest in REITs.
The CSE and SEC will continue to focus on setting up a more conducive environment along with the regulatory authorities to facilitate greater company and investor participation.