Housing affordability has become a topical issue with everyone from politicians to the man in the street having an opinion. Top of the discussion list is negative gearing. Those in favour of its abolition argue the favourable tax treatment has created a surge of investment from mum and dad investors and SMSFs into residential property which has pushed up prices.
What is missing in the debate is the acknowledgement that without these investors we would not have a deep stock of rental accommodation. Despite having one of the world’s largest pools of capital through the superannuation system, Australia’s super funds and institutional investors have, for a variety of reasons (low yield, tax, inability to get scale), not invested in the provision of private rental accommodation.
Experience with overseas institutions
IP Real Estate, one of the leading magazines for global institutional real estate, has just published a major feature on institutional investment into residential real estate in Europe, the US and Canada. Here’s a small selection of insights:
- Bill Hughes, Head of Real Assets at Legal and General Investment Management in the UK pointed out that they have invested more than £2.5 billion (A$5.0 billion) in the past three years across social housing, student accommodation and care homes, and have a pipeline of 29,000 units and 17,600 student accommodation units. He noted that “the proportion of residential real estate in portfolios can vary between zero and 30% at the moment, but proportions are expected to increase as the sector becomes more mainstream.”
- Syntrus Achmea Real Estate and Finance, a Dutch real estate investment manager, has invested approximately €4.5 billion ($7.0 billion) in the Dutch residential market with 30,000 units in the portfolio.
- Ivanhoe Cambridge, the real estate arm of the Canadian pension fund Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec, plans to increase its residential exposure to 12%, up from 3% in 2011.
In the US, pension funds (the equivalent of our superannuation funds) and listed real estate investment trusts (REITs) are major investors into residential real estate.
According to the Pension Real Estate Association, which represents all the major US pension funds who invest in real estate, in 2013, 22.9% of their overall real estate allocation was invested in multi-family apartments and single family homes, a staggering $US49 billion (A$62 billion). In Australia, not one major super fund owns a portfolio of rental accommodation. Again, some do developments such as CBUS but just like Mirvac and Stockland, the developments are sold off upon completion.
Multi-family (the US version of apartments) represents around 13% of the total market capitalisation of all REITs listed on the NYSE. By way of comparison, we do not have one listed A-REIT on the ASX that provides residential rental accommodation (apartments or houses). We have a few listed developers like Stockland and Mirvac but they only develop and sell residential apartments and houses. We also have a few A-REITs focusing on seniors accommodation – AVEO for retirement villages, Ingenia, Lifestyle Communities and Gateway for manufacturing housing estates.
Who will provide the rental accommodation?
Before we go and change the rules around negative gearing, let’s stop and think who will step in to provide the much needed rental accommodation in Australia? Based on the evidence to date, it won’t be our institutions.
Adrian Harrington is Head of Funds Management at Folkestone Limited (ASX:FLK). This article is for general information only and does not take individual objectives into account.