The much anticipated interest rate hike in December had caused a sharp recent drop in the price of REITs recently. Many REITs are now trading at the 2016 low, retreating generally about 7-10% from its peak level at 2016 high and around 15-20% from their all-time high. During the low interest rate environment like in the past few years, many have seen buying into REITs as a no-brainer investment, with yield of between 5% and 8% of passive income, depending on the type of REITs. With the recent falls, many people see them as opportunities. Whether, these REITs are going to be good investments…well, seriously, I do not know. It is too early to tell. There are actually several other factors apart from the REITs price itself to determine if one is buying into a gem. The income of a REIT can fall drastically because state of economy or a change in the customer mindset, resulting in a drastic fall in the DPU going forward. The REIT manager could also take advantage of the generally depressed property price to add more properties into the REIT portfolio or it could be the REIT has some issue with re-financing such that it has to issue rights at depressed price to get existing unit-holders to support the corporate action. All these could happen with swipe of a pen, to get existing unit-holders to fork out more funds instead of the note-holders getting passive incomes out of the REIT.
In fact, by now many bond-holders or note-holders have experienced rude shocks of bond prices falling off the cliff. Several offshore and marine notes are now trading 35-40 cents on a dollar, erasing two-third of the value. Yes, the note holders had enjoyed 6%-7% in the last one or two good years of coupon distribution, but these returns simply are not able to offset the huge fall in the bond price. Many note-holders are now having legal tussles with the note-issuers. These tussles will take months and even years to resolve with no guarantee that note-holders can get their money back. After all, it is a situation of a willing buyer and a willing seller when the transaction was made. The promise of high return is bundled together with the risk that the issuer could get into a default.
With the local low interest cycle apparently coming to an end, there came a herd of companies trying to tap into pockets retail investors by issuing notes and perpetual bonds with seemingly high coupon rate ranging between 4.5% and 6% in the first half of the year. These companies are highly indebted. The reality came when Swiber Holdings default its coupon payment in July 2016 and all these bond prices are now trading below the IPO issued prices. Even before the first coupon was issued for all these bonds, the yield has already shot up showing that retail investors are probably paying too much in exchange for the risk assumed. In fact, those that missed the over-subscribed IPOs enjoyed a better yield by buying from the open market. However, the crux of the matter is whether any of these companies will default. It is still too early to know. But we do know that these companies are highly indebted and may get into serious financial trouble when the interest rate perks up.
With the spectre of interest hikes coming up soon, investors are now off-loading interest rate–sensitive financial assets in exchange for safer assets such as bank stocks, which are said to benefit when interest rate rises. After all, the bank stocks just one week ago, were trading either below book value or close to book value. But again, this is just a flight to safety. While the banks delivered fairly good results in this quarter, it is not expected that they would perform extremely well going forward given the state of the economy and their exposure to the offshore and marine sector. But still, over a short span of a few days, the banks shot up between 3.5% and 8%. While I am generally happy with this situation due to the components of my portfolio, the interest rate increase may be a double-edged sword for the banks. It’s not the time to be too aggressive.
Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 26 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.