Tepid home sales, rising inventory levels and weak sentiment pulled down India’s property markets in 2015, with not much hope of a recovery soon. The sector awaits the return of investors and customers, who seem to be waiting for prices to stabilise and developers to honour project delivery schedules before they take the plunge again.
TRENDS TO WATCH
Year of fund-raising
Several private equity (PE) funds are either planning or are already on their way to raise almost $4 billion from overseas investors to invest in real estate in 2016. Among them, Edelweiss Alternative Asset Advisors Ltd, part of diversified financial services firm Edelweiss Group, is raising up to $1 billion for its first residential real estate fund. Housing Development Finance Corp. Ltd (HDFC), through an entity, is close to raising $850 million. With project cash flows still weak and bank lending not easily available, developers are securing much of their funding requirements from external pools such as PE funds.
A slow and gradual recovery
The real estate sector that suffered much pain in the past two years is moving towards a more rational regime where developers, having learnt from their mistakes, now focus on project execution and delivery. 2016 is expected to gradually move towards better home sales and see a spurt in launches in some locations. The year will also see the sector moving from an investor-driven to an end-user driven cycle. Home prices, which declined to some extent in 2015, may see further correction as customers are still delaying home-buying decisions. Prices may stabilize in some other markets.
More platform-type deals, more offshore investors to come in
With the government easing foreign direct investment (FDI) norms in the construction sector, more offshore investors are likely to invest in real estate. This will also enable smaller-sized investments. More exclusive partnership platform transactions between Indian developers and investors are also expected to happen, giving fund managers more control over investments and decision making. The relaxation of FDI norms in the midst of a prolonged slowdown in the sector is expected to bring back some cheer in the real estate sector.
Return of equity investments
After more than three years of PE funds doing primarily debt and debt-structured transactions in real estate, a few of them are again ready to infuse equity capital into projects to get better returns through long-term commitments. Housing Development Finance Corp. Ltd, through an entity, is raising an $850 million fund which will do pure equity deals. Some investors are looking to increase the equity portion in their new funds or are introducing equity, thereby taking on more risk.
Commercial office space
The commercial office sector, which was a saving grace during the slowdown, is expected to further shine in 2016. Vacancy levels have fallen and large firms, many in the e-commerce space, are taking up new space at a brisk pace. Buyouts of ready commercial space is on, and private equity funds are now even looking at investing in under-construction properties. Realty firms with office development portfolios are not only focusing on growing their business, but in some cases are also shifting focus from residential to rent-yielding office projects.
COMPANIES AND PEOPLE TO WATCH
DLF Ltd: Struggling DLF’s decision to sell to institutional investors 40% of the promoters’ stake in a subsidiary that owns many of the company’s rent-generating assets and a few land assets could be a game-changer. It will help monetize the company’s rental assets through a stake sale to PE investors or a real estate investment trust (REIT), and will also reduce DLF’s debt. The transaction, expected to be concluded in 2016, will be one of the largest in the real estate PE space.
Lodha Developers: Mumbai-based Lodha Developers clocked the highest residential sales in 2014-15, beating DLF Ltd, and has now set a sales target of generating Rs.9,000 crore and delivering 6,000 homes in 2015-16. The firm is also considering an initial public offering (IPO), which is expected to be one of the biggest realty public listings when it happens. The developer has primarily focused on the residential sector so far and plans to expand its commercial office portfolio now.
Piramal Realty: The real estate development arm of Piramal Group is probably the brightest spot among the younger real estate firms, having raised a total of Rs.2,700 crore from Goldman Sachs (Rs.900 crore) and an affiliate of Warburg Pincus (Rs.1,800 crore) in 2015. Funds will be used to buy marquee land parcels and distressed assets. Piramal Realty has around 10 million sq. ft of commercial and residential projects under development in Mumbai. Project execution, the most challenging part of real estate business, will be the key aspect to watch.
Paranjape Schemes (Construction) Ltd: The Pune-based realty firm, which filed draft papers for its IPO with the Securities and Exchange Board of India in July, is likely to go for a listing in 2016. The developer received the regulator’s approval in December to raise Rs.600 crore through an IPO. The firm will use the IPO proceeds to repay loans and to fund the development of projects. Paranjape’s IPO listing would be the first in five years in the sector.
Tata Realty and Infrastructure Ltd and Tata Housing Development Co. Ltd: The two subsidiaries of Tata Sons Ltd are on their individual growth paths. Tata Realty and its new investor partner, Standard Chartered Private Equity, plan to build commercial office projects and list the assets through a REIT. Tata Housing, which has a portfolio of affordable housing projects, is looking to set up an investment platform to build luxury homes. It is in talks with PE firms for the same, and the deal is expected to close in early 2016.