Rumours rife in REITs sector

Up to $2 billion will wash through the real estate investment trust sector (REIT) in the coming weeks after most of them are now trading ex-dividend, and a significant proportion of the cash is tipped to be re-invested.

Up to $2 billion will wash through the real estate investment trust sector (REIT) in the coming weeks after most of them are now trading ex-dividend, and a significant proportion of the cash is tipped to be re-invested.

A percentage will also go to upcoming capital raisings.

Already, up to $1 billion has been raised from institutional placements and more are tipped as the REIT sector looks for more direct asset purchases.

There is also the spectre of mergers and acquisition among REITs, as the funds managers look at their businesses and to simplify part-ownership structures for the new financial year.

Brokers say a deal could be in the wings involving the two listed trusts, Commonwealth Property Office Fund (CPA) and CFS Retail Trust (CFX) with GPT and possibly Charter Hall and the CBA.

GPT Group and the Commonwealth Bank/Colonial First State have declined to comment on speculation, although the ownership interests in the two trusts are periodically reviewed by the bank's internal managers.

JP Morgan analyst Richard Jones said recently that the trigger for the latest round of speculation stemmed from the changes under Basel III, where bank capital requirements from holding listed equity investments have doubled.

He said that could make it more difficult for the CBA to justify holding its 7.8 per cent investment in CFS Retail (worth about $430 million) and 6.2 per cent in CPA (about $150 million).

Mr Jones said one outcome could result in Colonial selling or internalising its Colonial First State Global Asset Management (CFSGAM) platform and the interests in the two trusts.

That could trigger asset sales such as CPA's half share in 5 Martin Place in Sydney.

"The CFSGAM Property business manages about $20 billion in assets across CFX, CPA, the listed NZ fund, and wholesale funds and joint ventures," he said. "The business generates about $70 million in earnings before interest and tax and if put to the market could sell for about $650 million."

Another tier to a deal could be the Gandel Group, CFX's largest shareholder at 15.5 per cent, which gives it first right of refusal on CBA's 7.8 per cent stake, valued around $430 million. "We believe Gandel's existing ownership in CFX is more than adequate exposure, so we don't expect it would exercise its right over the units," Mr Jones said.

Another potential deal is what CapitaLand will do with its stake in Australand.

The deal rumours come as share prices in the REIT sector continue to be hard hit, in line with the rest of the market.

Last week investors, mainly from offshore, sold out of the sector thanks to the weaker Australian dollar.

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