Back on the road to growth
Demand for Emira shares is on the rebound as the company’s restructuring efforts begin to gain traction
After a few years of rather uninspiring returns, Emira Property Fund has quietly emerged as the top-performing property play among the JSE’s 50-odd real estate counters in the year so far.
The stock has notched up a total return of about 27% from January 2 to August 10, way ahead of the SA listed property index’s dismal -21% over the same time. Emira was out of favour for a few years, mainly because of its overexposure to the underperforming office market.
However, Momentum Investments head of property Nesi Chetty says management, under CEO Geoff Jennett and COO Ulana van Biljon, has _ made impressive headway in trimming its exposure to the office market and recycling the proceeds into higher-growth investments.
In addition, Emira’s overall vacancies are at a fairly low 4.5%. “Management has done well in terms of tenant retention,” says Chetty. “The extent of negative reversions in its office portfolio has also moderated somewhat.”
Last year, Emira decreased its office exposure from 40.5%to 38.2%of total assets. Over the past six months, the company has disposed of a further batch of properties worth about R240m. That brings the number of directly held office, retail and industrial properties in Emira’s R12.7bn SA portfolio to III, down from 164 in 2010.
The mid-cap diversified real estate investment trust (Reit) has indirect exposure to a further 21 shopping centres valued at R900.8m through its interest in BEE venture Enyuka. Management’s restructuring efforts have already paid off for shareholders.
Emira announcedits return to dividend growth in February when it declared a 2.5% year-on-year increase in its income payouts for the six months ending December. That followed a 2% drop in dividend payouts for the 12 months ending June 2017.
Apr! May! Jun ! Jul – The company is expected to have made further progress in returning to an inflation-beating dividend growth path when it announces its full-year results to June this week. The proceeds of Emira’s rebalancing strategy are being reinvested in two key areas: US retail centres and the local rental housing market.
The company has been somewhat of a pioneer in both these sectors. It is the first SA property company to venture into the US real estate market, where it has acquired four grocery-anchored convenience centres in Midwestern states such as Ohio and Indiana, in partnership with experienced US property company the Rainier Group.
Chetty says early indications suggest that the joint-venture model between Emira and the Rainier Group is proving to be very successful. “Emira has a robust balance sheet with a loanto-value sitting at 37%. So there is still room to do more value-accretive deals in the future.”
Chetty notes that Rainier sources the opportunities in the US across the retail spectrum, while Emira funds the deals. “There seems to be a healthy pipeline of deals building up, which we expect Emira to tap into,” he says.
Emira’s latest US acquisition is a 49%stake of Stony Creek Marketplace in Noblesville, Hamilton County, in Indiana. The deal takes the combined value of Emira’s US interests to about R420m andits exposure to the US to 3%of total assets. Its international exposure to developed markets now sits at 9%of total assets.
The bulk is made up of a R940.4m investment in Growth- _ point Properties Australia.