By Thabang Mokopanele
JSE-listed Equites Property Fund expects to achieve 10% to 12% distribution growth over the next financial year, should stable macro-economic conditions prevail after posting a 14% increase in full year distributions to 110.37 cents per share for the year ending February 2017.
Despite facing some of the toughest economic and political challenges to date specialist logistics property fund since listing in June 2014, the company has grown from a portfolio of 17 properties valued at R1 billion to 52 properties valued at R6,2 billion at the end of February, less than three years later.
Equites CEO, Andrea Taverna-Turisan, said that “despite facing some of the toughest economic and political challenges to date, the group remained largely insulated from market vagaries. We attribute this to our focus on strong property fundamentals which resulted in virtually no vacancies across the portfolio and no tenant defaults. The range of attractive acquisitions and developments undertaken in recent times, has further served to position Equites as a low risk, high growth fund in a top performing sector”.
The results were achieved through solid operational performance which included healthy escalations, a high occupancy rate and a reduction in the net property expense ratio to 2.5%. This was further buoyed by the inclusion of yield accretive acquisitions and recently completed developments, as well as lower finance costs following the accelerated book-build in November 2016.
Whilst building scale, Equites has continued to improve the quality of its portfolio. Almost 92% of revenue is now derived from blue chip tenants, while 70% of leases have tenures in excess of 5 years. Following the acquisitions and disposals during the current year, almost 97% of the portfolio is in the industrial sector. All new acquisitions have been logistics facilities with triple net leases. Logistics facilities now comprise 89% of the portfolio, while 95% of the portfolio have triple net leases. Triple net leases are especially attractive as they not only cover rent, but also taxes, insurance and maintenance of the property.
Equites’ growth strategy is to develop and acquire A-grade logistics and distribution facilities, let to quality tenants on long-term leases. The company continues to see strong demand for modern distribution centres in the major logistics nodes and the value of its committed capital projects has increased to R419 million at year end. This demand is supported by the centralisation of distribution by major retailers, increased levels of imports into South Africa and a shift towards online retailing. Equites has a proven ability to meet major tenants’ requirements to upgrade to modern facilities with high specification levels, which improve the efficiency of their operations.
Equites recently also entered the United Kingdom logistics market. The scarcity of suitable high quality logistics assets for acquisition in the South African market, as well as the need to mitigate emerging market risks, prompted the company to utilise management’s extensive experience in the UK market to expand into a jurisdiction that offers a mature and stable economic and political outlook. The UK is one of the leading countries when it comes to distribution penetration and technology advancement in the distribution warehousing sector of the property market.
Equites has strong in-house development expertise and owns a portfolio of strategic land holdings for future developments.
Land available for development
Equites has a further 35.7 hectares of prime, serviced industrially zoned land available for development in Cape Town and Gauteng. Equites is pursuing a number of opportunities for distribution centres on these parcels of land which will continue to contribute to a healthy development pipeline.
Following a successful accelerated book build that raised R1 billion in November 2016, the group ended the year with a loan to value of 21.2%. Equites continues to take a prudent approach to interest rate risk, with 100% of outstanding debt and committed expenditure hedged against further interest rate increases on maturities of nearly 5 years.
The low gearing, combined with undrawn bank loans of some R1.3 billion, positions Equites well to pursue opportunities locally to acquire logistics properties that meet its investment criteria and that are expected to contribute to long-term, predictable distribution growth. This will be complemented by a measured diversification into the United Kingdom, which will be limited to 25% of the portfolio value in the medium term. Equites has agreed funding arrangements with the Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC in the UK to fund its acquisitions there. 100% of UK debt is hedged on 5 year maturities with all in rates around 3%.
“Modern logistics properties, as an asset class, has proven its resilience and we continue to see strong demand for modern distribution centres in the major logistics nodes. We will grow our portfolio value and distributions through further acquisitions of quality logistic assets and portfolios in South Africa and the UK and our healthy development pipeline. Our focus on strong property fundamentals and low gearing provides protection from the volatile economic climate and should enable Equites to continue delivering sector beating returns,” Taverna-Turisan said.