Australian funds looks to Asian property markets as domestic opportunities run dry

Zoe FieldingNovember 23, 20140 min read

Australian superannuation funds will increasingly look to invest in global real estate in 2015 as they are close to Asian cities that are benefiting from major demographic shifts, while there are fewer opportunities in the domestic market, a fund manager has predicted.

The forecast comes as a separate study by Australian researchers, released by the US-based Defined Contribution Real Estate Council (DCREC), shows an allocation of just 10% of a fund’s portfolio to real estate can match or beat the returns of a fund with less property exposure at a lower risk to investors.

TIAA Henderson Real Estate executive director Nick Evans, who heads the fund manager’s Australian business, said sophisticated investors such as superannuation funds were attracted to creating tailored real estate portfolios that suited their particular risk and return profiles.

Australia’s largest super fund, AustralianSuper has partnered with TIAA Henderson Real Estate to invest in emerging global real estate.

“Major investors are approaching global real estate in a very different way to pre-GFC days and we expect to see more Australian funds building a tailored approach that gives them the flexibility, exposure and returns they need,” Evans said.

He added that Australia’s superannuation funds were searching for better investment solutions for their ageing members who wanted secure income at a reasonable level of risk to support a lengthy retirement.

The study, which was released by the DCREC in the US in early November, found that allocating 10% of a portfolio to a mix of listed and unlisted real estate enhanced the risk-return profile of a defined contribution plan portfolio.

Defined contribution plans are investment vehicles where members contribute set amounts over a period of time, such as Australia’s superannuation funds where members contribute 9.25% of their salary each year.

The study, A Path to Better Retirement Outcomes: Allocating Real Estate Assets to Retirement Portfolios was conducted by researchers at Australia’s Griffith University, professor of finance Michael Drew and Adam Walk, also from Griffith University, and Jason West from Bond University.

It found a portfolio that includes property could smooth fund members' transition from accumulating savings to drawing a pension and could help investors avoid mistakes such as selling risky assets during a market downturn, which locked in losses.

The study noted that funds often used listed real estate investment trusts (REITs) for property exposure due to their liquidity, diversity and valuation cycles that mirrored stocks and bonds, but had been slower to adopt unlisted real estate.

Unlisted property could deliver returns that were closer to those of bonds with less risk than stocks, regular income, low volatility and low correlation to listed markets, the study showed. Some types of unlisted real estate could also act as a hedge against inflation.

Zoe Fielding

I am a freelance journalist and editor with more than 15 years experience specialising in personal finance, property, financial services and financial technology. A skilled writer and researcher, I have extensive experience producing high quality content for corporate and media clients. I am used to working to tight deadlines and tailoring the pieces I produce to suit a variety of audiences and formats.
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