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Two of India's large business houses, the Birlas and the Tatas, are looking at real estate as a major investment area, albeit in different ways.
While the Birlas, through a financial services arm, are offering real estate as an alternative investment option to clients, the Tatas are planning to develop surplus land held by group companies. The Tatas may also invest in the sector part of funds raised through recent public offerings.
These moves come at a time when real estate prices are correcting and low demand for projects has prompted large developers to default on financial commitments and project deadlines.
Aditya Birla Management director Ajay Srinivasan, who also heads the financial services business, said the conglomerate is merely gearing up for the future. "We are now putting a team in place and want to be ready when the time is right," he told ET.
The financial services arm of the group is setting up a real estate and private equity arm for its wealth management units. To be headed by Sashi Kumar, the real estate business would be managed through Birla Sun Life Asset Management. The Birlas plan to subsequently launch two real estate funds, one offshore and the other local, for the sector.
Although funds will be raised overseas as well, the investment destinations will be in India and can include distressed real estate assets. Tata Housing Development, a real estate player, has already said that it plans to leverage its tie-ups with banks by developing properties on surplus land owned by other Tata group companies.
Tata Housing is now identifying excess landbanks owned by companies such as TCS, Voltas, Rallis India, Tata Motors, Tata Coffee and Tata Tea. Tata Capital, the financial services arm of the Tatas, is scheduled to close a largely successful non-convertible debenture issue on Tuesday; it has so far raised Rs 2,300 crore against a targeted Rs 1,500 crore. Although Tata Capital has said that it won't lend to group companies, it has proposed to invest in most asset classes.
Anticipating a large value erosion in the realty space, Indian corporates are planning to float new funds to acquire assets in the domestic property market. Real estate funds such as Saffron Advisors have either floated or are in the process of floating funds with corpus ranging between Rs 500 crore and Rs 1,000 crore.
"As far as Indian realty is concerned, for the right projects, funds are still available," said Saffron Advisors MD Ajoy Kapoor. "Conservative European investors, after conducting extensive due diligence and research, are more comfortable with investing in Indian real estate, provided they are able to align with right partners," he added.
A few months ago, Munich-based retail aggregator Deutsche Capital Management underwrote $20 million for Saffron India Real Estate Fund I, an India-focussed real estate fund. DCM is raising a specific fund for investing in Indian real estate through Saffron Advisors.
Tough lending norms, unfavourable primary market and global financial worries have affected fund flow into the Indian property market. Real estate deals have fallen and fancy valuations by developers are being corrected to a large extent.