Friday, May 16, 2008

Some sense returning to the real estate market

Mint reporting on the slowdown in PE deals.

New Delhi: India’s real estate party may be cooling down rapidly. Global private equity firms say that they would rather invest in the US realty market than in the Indian one because US property prices have fallen so sharply that yields on investments there will be more attractive—without the hassle.

Private equity firms made a beeline for India after the government allowed foreign direct investment in real estate in 2005. They were attracted by returns of 25-30%, but with home prices falling in the US, global private equity firms now believe it makes more sense to park their investments in that country.
See:Realty deals
“Last year, Japan was a more attractive market to put money in. If you look at the US, we can now get an internal rate of return of 25% there, so why would anyone want to come to India?” asked a senior executive at an international financial services group, who did not wish to be named.
Four out of six private equity funds Mint spoke to said they are no longer investing in India. They didn’t want to be identified.
The US, reeling from a subprime lending crisis, is seeing the worst housing slump since the 1930s. The median price for a single-family home has dropped 7.7% in the first quarter of the year, the biggest decline in at least 29 years, as values tumbled in two out of every three US cities, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Sales of single-family houses and condominiums also fell 22% to 4.95 million at an annualized pace, the slowest in a decade.
“It is true that there are certain transactions in the US where you can get similar returns (as in India) of 25%, such as buying a condominium project or a commercial project,” said Subhash Bedi, director at Red Fort Capital Advisors Ltd, a private equity firm. “When you can get similar returns in India and in the US, global private equity firms which have a mandate to invest anywhere in the world, will prefer the US market because there are lesser risks associated with investments there.”
The Indian market is riskier to invest in because government approvals for projects here take a long time and there is also an execution risk because Indian developers do not have a history of completing projects on time, Bedi said.
Project delays can sometimes run to two to three years and there aren’t enough laws in place to effectively protect investors. There is also no central registry of land titles in India, because land is a state subject and the system of record-keeping and rules vary from state to state, making investing compelling only if the returns are high. In the US, there is a central registry of titles and title insurance can be purchased to protect investors.
India, where property values doubled in a year and, in some cases, tripled in less than two years, is now starting to see some cooling off after values shot up so high that they bordered on the unaffordable, eroding returns and turning away investors. Realty values in Mumbai rival that in Manhattan, New York.
To be sure, while global private equity firms might choose to move their investments to the US, nothing changes for funds dedicated to India as they can only invest in Indian real estate.
There are around 125 private equity funds for real estate in the country, out of which 60% are global funds, according to Venture Intelligence, an agency that tracks private equity.
“It can become increasingly difficult for the local team of a global fund to justify investment in India when you can get the same return for lesser risks elsewhere,” Bedi said. “So, for the short term, say a year, global funds might decide to invest in the US real estate market instead of India.”
“There is a big liquidity crunch in the US,” Bedi said. “It is much less in India when compared with the US because banks here are at least not turning away all borrowers.”
While private equity investment will continue to come into Indian realty, the number of firms chasing developers will be fewer, another senior official at one of the world’s leading financial management and advisory companies said.
“We will see fewer private equity firms, say two or three, chasing a developer unlike last year, when 8-10 private equity players were chasing the same set of companies,” he said requesting anonymity.

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