Strangely enough, despite being 36 years old this year, the upcoming Malaysian general election is the going to be the first one for which I will be in the country as an adult of voting age. Since Malaysian politics bore me in general so this post won’t be about that. Instead, this post will deal with a good question posted by someone in the general LYN stock market trading thread: historically speaking, how does the local stock market respond to elections? Are there any patterns at all? Out of curiosity, I spent some time making charts of the KLCI for the six months before and six months after each of the four previous elections. So here they are:
Since it’s been almost exactly a year since I made this post, I thought that an update would be in order. I did end up investing money in REITs and have been very impressed with the results. Perhaps too much so. My average returns are close to 20%, which is too frothy for my tastes. Of course, most of this is due to the economic recovery. Like everything else, REIT prices were somewhat down in 2008 and this is just a return to par value. Going forward, I don’t expect to see returns of more than around 7-8 percent a year.
Most of the investing public still don’t seem to have clued in on REITs yet, but clearly they’re getting hot. Sunway’s recent launch seems to be one of the most attention-grabbing IPOs so far this year and more are in the offing, such as the one from CapitaMalls Asia Ltd., apparently with a substantial stake in Sungei Wang Plaza. This makes now a good time for me to raise some of my concerns about them.
- Quite a few of the REITs currently listed in Malaysia are linked to larger companies. For example, Starhill, UOA and AmFirst have obvious links to the far larger groups they’re named after. The new Sunway REIT will be another example. This is bad for the minority investors in them. AmFirst’s properties for example are mainly rented out to AmBank, its parent company. This is a clear conflict of interest as it calls into question how fairly the rental rates for the properties are assessed. I believe that the market has taken these factors into account and this is why Axis is one of the most valued REITs in the country, because it has no clear parent company and its shares are widely dispersed amongst different owners, including KWSP.
- Many of the property acquisitions and disposals that the REITs have conducted are with their related party companies. It’s especially bad when the REITs have to raise new capital to acquire new properties from related companies but only offer the new shares, which are always at a discount to the current market price, to private parties instead of the open market. This of course dilutes the shares of the other shareholders. Independent valuers are supposed to ensure that the purchases are being done at fair market value, but who trusts this kind of stuff in Malaysia?
- Strangely enough, the new REITs being announced have predicted yields that are substantially lower than just about all of the REITs already on the market. Both Sunway and the expected REIT from CapitaMalls are supposed to have yields of only around 6.8%. Take a look at the current yields for the various REITs in the country. Axis is considered to be slightly overvalued now but its yield is still better than the proposed IPOs. I predict that the share prices for these IPOs will tank. Actually, REITs in Malaysia do have a history of trading below initial prices after being launched. Since the total valuations for the REITs are still quite low, this makes me curious about why their prices are being traded up and their yields consequently depressed. The only explanation I can offer is that as trading volumes for REITs are very low, you’d have to increase your bid prices very quickly if you were looking to accumulate a substantial stake in any one of them within a reasonable time frame.
- The only advantage that I think of that the new REITs have are their more diversified portfolios of property. Al-Aqar for example has only one tenant, the KPJ hospitals. Similarly Atrium has very few properties and consequently tenants. So even though REIT prices so far have been very stable, in theory, it doesn’t take much to cause them to wobble if one of their tenants have problems with rental payments. The newer REITs have lower yields but should in theory be less risky.
Anyway, sorry for the somewhat rambling nature of this post but perhaps there will be readers out there who might be interested in my thoughts on them. Be sure to check out the REITs discussion thread on LYN. It’s a fantastic resource on the subject.
So I’ve been thinking recently about opening a stock trading account for the first time and buying some shares on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. Granted, I already have money in various unit trust funds and insurance saving products, so I’m already indirectly invested in the markets, but I’ve never actually purchased shares for my own account before. What prompted the current interest is what looks to me like ridiculously attractive dividend yields on many of the REITs being traded here and the intense discussion this has generated on the Low Yat forums.
According to a popular blog on the subject that I’ve been folllowing on and off for the past couple of months, the average yield on the REITs based on current prices is a delicious 8.84%. One of the REITs most popular with the LYN folks, Axis, is listed as having a yield of 10.4%. Even better, Axis has a policy of redistributing 95% of its income and has recently moved to a quarterly distribution policy, meaning you get a nice fat cheque every 3 months.
In theory, investing in a REIT should be approximately similar to investing in property yourself, except that in return for a management fee, you are spared from the hassle of actually scouting for good properties, arranging to buy them and finding and managing tenants for them. Since the REITs are all at least partially funded using loans as well, this means that their yields are inflated by leverage, just as an individual investor’s yield would be in buying a property personally using a mortgage.
Being the pessimist and financial conservative that I am, however, I’m still somewhat wary of something that looks too good to be true. For one thing, the yields looks so good and the size of the REITs so small (Axis is worth by my calculations a mere RM 380 million or so, Atrium, another popular REIT is worth only around RM 120 million in total) that I don’t understand why institutional investors don’t just snap the whole thing up. I see that the Employee’s Provident Fund is already the largest shareholder of Axis, at 7.59% of total issued units, but what’s stopping the big players from just taking over such a sweet operation?
As always, I suppose there’s the risk of property prices dropping, tenants leaving or not paying rent (I understand Atrium gave everyone a scare when it announced a lawsuit against a big tenant over rent arrears earlier) and the value of the REITs dropping due to the general market sentiment, but it still looks like a stupidly good buy to me. Am I wrong? I’d appreciate it if anyone has any interesting comments on this before I pull the trigger on this.
Since I got into, well, not exactly an argument, but at least a rather heated discussion over this topic on the LYN forums, I thought it might be interesting to write down a summary of my posts there and also what I’ve learned from that thread. Please note that all of this mostly applies only to Malaysia.
Now I’m just a neophyte investor and I don’t make any claims to exceptional knowledge or skill. But I do take care to read through the basics and try to educate myself in whatever it is I’m getting into. One of the most basic and well known ways to invest your money is through the stock market. You can either do it yourself, picking stocks that you personally believe will do well and pray, or you can entrust it to “professional” mutual fund managers and pray. I’m guessing that most working people don’t have the time or inclination to actually do their own research and will opt for the latter. That’s what I did and this is where things get interesting.