Reits open Saudi property market to smaller investors

The creation of real estate investment trusts (Reits) in Saudi Arabia will open up the property market to smaller investors and support government efforts to resolve a housing shortage, experts said yesterday.

The Capital Markets Authority (CMA) has put in place a new set of rules allowing for the formation of Reits on the kingdom’s stock exchange, according to an announcement made by the regulator on Sunday. The CMA stated that the closed-end funds are being introduced as part of its efforts to develop capital markets, as well as introducing new investment instruments in line with Saudi’s National Transformation Plan.

Its rules state that funds must have a minimum size of 100 million Saudi riyals (Dh97.9m), and that at least 75 per cent of this must be invested in assets within the kingdom. Funds will not be allowed to invest in raw land assets, and only 25 per cent can be used to fund development projects. There are also restrictions on leverage, with debts not allowed to exceed a ceiling of 50 per cent of a fund’s assets.

Funds will be invested mainly in commercial assets such as offices or retail, but can also be placed in build-to-lease residential schemes. Up to 90 per cent of profits generated will be periodically redistributed to investors.

Jamil Ghaznawi, national dir­ector and country head of JLL in Saudi Arabia, said that although the trusts will be open to international investors, he expects demand to come mainly from Saudi nationals.

He said that Reits “will open the market to smaller investors who are looking for a more sec­ured revenue streams from real estate”.

Saudi Arabia has set ambitious targets as part of its National Transformation Plan. It is looking to double the contribution that real estate makes to the country’s GDP – to 10 per cent by 2020 from 5 per cent currently.

The kingdom also wants to increase the percentage of housing paid for by developers to 30 per cent from its current level of 10 per cent. Development funding is more likely to come from real estate funds (whose structures were outlined by the CMA a few months ago) than Reits, but Chris Webb, a Riyadh-based associate with law firm Al Tamimi & Co, explained that ” by providing liquidity it certainly assists” development projects.

“There is a housing shortage and the reason that has been identified for this is a shortage in real estate finance. This development is one of a whole suite which is designed to make property financing in Saudi Arabia easier. Developers will know that there is more money in the market at the end of the project,” he said.

Mr Ghaznawi said that he expects the market for Reits to develop quickly.

“We know about a couple of funds who have started actively structuring investments and they are about to submit to the CMA for approval. I think they will come to the market within the next three months.”

One of these could poten­tially be run by Equitativa Real Estate, the parent company of the management business running Emirates Reit.

Sylvain Vieujot, the chief executive of Emirates Reit, said that it had been following developments in the Saudi market for some time.

“It’s one of the big local markets so it clearly is of interest. We are talking to many potential local partners over there,” he said.

Joseph Morris, the Middle East head of capital markets for Knight Frank, said that the introduction of Reits in the kingdom “will not only provide access to institutional real estate to individual investors – offering real diversity that is difficult to achieve for most private investors – but also offer new funding routes to developers [which will] alleviate the traditional reliance on the banking sector for development finance”.

He added that the transparent proposed structure of Saudi Arabia’s Reits, with 90 per cent of profits being funnelled back to investors annually, would be “an attractive proposition as the global search for income continues”.

mfahy@thenational.ae

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