Why it’s time to invest in defensive property assets

By Cameron Micallef 13 September 2019 | 1 minute read

With the Australian economy showing signs that it is slowing down, it’s time for investors to move away from residential and commercial properties vying for more retail property assets, an analyst has warned. 

Australian shopping centre

At a recent property briefing, Grant Berry, an AREIT portfolio manager with SG Hiscock, outlined why he believes it’s time for investors to buy defensive assets, which includes retail property assets.

This is despite strong growth shown by Australian real estate investment trusts (AREITs) due to tailwinds in recent years, and Mr Berry has indicated that the recent changes to the economic environment could drive the retail sector.

“History has shown that retail is the least volatile sector of the property market, even during times of recession, and our research shows that retail is the most superior form of real estate exposure over the long term,” Mr Berry offered.

He acknowledged a number of people hold concerns about retail, “but I like retail because it’s seen as very defensive”. 


‘The unloved sector’

Describing retail as the “unloved sector”, Mr Berry explained that investors hearing about how leases are falling by 3 per cent need to actually understand how they are measured.

"You have to put into context how these leases are structured,” he said.

He gave the example of Scentre Group: “They grow their rents by CPI plus 3 per cent over five years. If you get to the end of five years, [and] if they go down 3 per cent, you’re still well in front in the game as they have gone up the best part of 30 per cent in five years”.

The portfolio manager also noted that retail lessors often don’t give any incentive to existing tenants, which other sectors, including commercial owners do.

The ‘R word’

Despite consumers cutting spending, Mr Berry expects the retail sector to remain strong in a weakening market.

Caveating his explanation with the ’90s recession being commercial led and today’s slowdown being residential led, the portfolio manager believes that retail will hold. 

“If you think about your own household, you’ll still go down to the supermarket to buy your groceries.”

Instead, “you might eat out less”, Mr Berry explained.

He also acknowledged that he does not believe in the “retail recession”.

Instead, its businesses not embracing the current environment that are suffering, not the industry at large.

“Interestingly, just in the reporting season, JB Hi-Fi, one of the heavily shorted stocks, went up 50 per cent – what a great result!”

Regarding David Jones’ talk about a retail recession, Mr Berry countered the argument by saying that there isn’t a retail recession because retail sales are growing. 

Instead, “they are just not the best equipped retailer in the current environment”.

Issues facing the sector

Despite Mr Berry’s optimism, weak wages growth has been highlighted as a potential red flag for the sector.

He did content that the lowering of interest rates and the flattening of tax brackets will still give consumers more scope to spend.

Why it’s time to invest in defensive property assets
Australian shopping centre
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