Foreigners Expanding Australian Property Options, Invesco Says

Foreign investors, who traditionally focus on Sydney and Melbourne office buildings, are turning to properties in other cities amid rising competition for assets, according to Invesco Ltd.

Global pension and sovereign wealth funds are increasingly investing in malls and warehouses in Brisbane and Perth, said Ian Schilling, head of Australian real estate at the Atlanta-based asset manager. That follows a drop of about 50 basis points in capitalization rates for premium office towers as competition from foreign and local investors climbs, he said.

“Over the last couple of years, the weight of capital focused on quality Australian opportunities has increased,” Schilling said. “A lot of clients tend to focus on major office markets in gateway cities, but we see that being diversified as they become comfortable looking at other markets.”

A building’s capitalization rate is a measure of its investment yield, which falls as prices rise. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

About A$8.6 billion ($8 billion) of office properties changed hands in the first half of 2014, compared with A$13.1 billion for all of 2013, preliminary figures from Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. show. There were some A$11.5 billion of sales across all commercial properties, matching the pace of 2013 when a record A$23.8 billion were sold, according to the July report.

New Benchmarks

“There remain large investors looking to deploy large amounts of capital into core products,” Rob Sewell, the broker’s head of office investments said in the report. Sales this year “will result in new pricing benchmarks.”

Invesco’s Australian property unit invested almost A$750 million in four deals last year, and now manages A$850 million, accounting for 15 percent of Asia-Pacific holdings, Schilling said. The company, which entered Australia in late 2012, expects a similar volume of transactions this year, he said.

While competition has driven down capitalization rates, they remain at “attractive spreads to the borrowing rate,” Schilling said. “So the return on equity is still appealing.”

After an investment in a Melbourne residential development by closely held Grocon Pty, Invesco is seeking similar opportunities this year, Schilling said.

“There’s a big boom in residential development at the moment,” he said. “A number of developers want investment to help their funding gap and that’s where we can step in.”

Home prices across Australian state and territory capitals rose 10.2 percent in July from a year earlier, according to the RP Data-Rismark Home Value Index.

Pension Funds

Invesco has also invested about A$500 million in U.S. and European properties on behalf of Australian pension funds over the past 18 months, Schilling said. That will continue to increase, he said, declining to quantify the growth.

“Australia represents about 2 percent of the global commercial real estate investment market, but is the fourth-largest source of investment capital globally,” he said, adding the country is set to move into third place as government-mandated employer contributions to pensions rise to 12 percent of salaries by 2019 from 9.5 percent. Australian pension funds realize that “with that growth and the relatively small size of the Australian market, they will need to look offshore.”

Invesco manages about $53 billion of real estate globally.