Demand for Australian industrial assets growth to be driven by e-commerce and technological innovation

Demand for Australian industrial assets growth to be driven by e-commerce and technological innovation
Demand for Australian industrial assets growth to be driven by e-commerce and technological innovation

EXPERT OBSERVER

We expect industrial assets to outperform Australia's (Aaa stable) broader commercial property market over the next several years. This expectation, in large part, reflects our view that the sector will benefit from a combination of accelerated growth in e-commerce activity and technological innovation that create a wider range of applications for industrial assets, making them more resilient than in previous property cycles. State governments' large infrastructure spending will also improve connectivity and drive valuation growth.

We believe that these trends most benefit A-REITs with large, diversified, well-located industrial portfolios, particularly with large exposure to the tightly held Sydney market, including Goodman Group (Baa1 stable) and its largest fund Goodman Australia Industrial Partnership (GAIP, Baa1 stable) and Charter Hall Group's (Baa1 stable) Charter Hall Prime Industrial Fund (CPIF, Baa1 stable). We also expect that diversified A-REITs, such as Mirvac Group (A3 stable), Stockland Group (A3 stable), Dexus (A3 stable), and GPT Group (A2 stable), will continue to increase their industrial exposure to take advantage of these trends.

Demand for industrial assets will continue to grow

. This is driven by a combination of factors, mainly: (1) the growth in e-commerce and related industries as a result of the increasing popularity of online shopping; (2) technological advances that offer supply-chain efficiencies and create demand for industrial space outside traditional warehousing/storage; (3) large investment programs in public infrastructure that improve transport efficiency and connectivity; and (4) the strong underlying fundamentals of the Australian economy with 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth, rising private consumption and solid labor market fundamentals.

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Demand for Australian industrial assets growth to be driven by e-commerce and technological innovation

Total current demand for industrial space exceeds both the supply and long-term demand averages. Major metropolitan areas continue to suffer from a shortage of available industrial zoned land, especially in densely populated areas and around key transport nodes. Industrial transaction volumes continued to trend lower in fiscal year 2018, ended 30 June 2018, (Exhibit 2), reflecting the diminishing availability of quality industrial assets as well as a limited land-supply pipeline. The shortage has been further exacerbated by the active rezoning of industrial land towards alternative uses, particularly residential.

The high demand for industrial assets has benefited A-REITs with industrial exposure as land values appreciated across major metropolitan areas. Sydney values increased by around 50% over the last three years, followed by Melbourne and Brisbane at around 35% and 25%, respectively (Exhibit 3). Higher land prices have put downward pressure on A-REIT cap rates (Exhibit 2). We expect cap rates will likely compress further over the next 6-12 months, as rising rents support asset values.

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Demand for Australian industrial assets growth to be driven by e-commerce and technological innovation

 

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Demand for Australian industrial assets growth to be driven by e-commerce and technological innovation

Occupancy levels continued to rise for rated A-REITs as tenants rushed to secure lease space before rents increase materially. Occupancy levels were at around 98% for the 12 months ended 30 June 2018 - an all-time high for the industrial sector. We expect occupancy levels to remain at around 97%-98% over the next 12-18 months.

We believe the elevated demand for industrial assets will continue over the next 2-3 years with land prices and rents to rise faster in locations where there is higher population density and higher competition for alternative uses. We expect A-REITs with exposure to the Eastern Seaboard assets, where around 80% of Australia's population is located, to outperform others. This includes companies such as GAIP (100% portfolio), Mirvac (100%), Dexus (99%), Stockland (94%) and CPIF (86%).

Of this group, A-REITs with overweight exposure to Sydney, such as GAIP (84% portfolio), Mirvac (100%) and Stockland (69%), are best positioned to derive above-average levels of rental growth due to the city's superior economic fundamentals, higher take-up levels, and lack of available high quality industrial land relative to other major metropolitan areas. We consider South Sydney to be the most resilient among sub-markets, as the region is supported by major strategic transport gateways (Sydney Airport Finance Company Pty Ltd (Baa1 stable) and Port Botany) and the close proximity to Sydney's wealthy inner-metro region.

At the same time, as major ports on the Eastern Seaboard (Port of Melbourne, Lonsdale Finance Pty Limited, Baa2 stable), Port Botany, Port of Brisbane continue to expand due to the pick-up in the freight activity, we expect higher demand for industrial assets located close to these infrastructure assets.

As large blocks of land become harder to secure in the Sydney area, failing to accommodate the full footprint of international players, we expect tenants to increasingly look for comparable and cheaper options in Melbourne and Brisbane, servicing Sydney out of these cities.

Population growth and solid economic fundamentals will support an acceleration in demand growth for industrial assets over the next several years. Meanwhile, increasing diversification of industrial asset usage and tenants, reflecting e-commerce penetration and technology advancements, will drive underlying demand.

Increased e-commerce activity will remain a major driver of demand for industrial property -- and will reshape the portfolios of A-REITs
We consider the growth in e-commerce as one of the major drivers of the significant level of investor demand for industrial assets in Australia, particularly as industries associated with residential construction enter a slowdown. We expect the growth in online shopping to accelerate over the next 2-3 years, which should have a positive spillover effect on demand for industrial space.

We see large untapped potential for the e-commerce sector as the penetration rate in Australia lags those of other developed nations like the US and UK (Exhibit 4). Online as a percentage of total sales in Australia was around 9% in 2018, which lags the US by around four years and the UK by seven years. The US and UK penetration rates are now around 13% and 17%, respectively.

The growth of online retail in Canada also provides evidence for increasing online penetration in Australia. Both Australia and Canada have similar logistical challenges of servicing densely populated Urban areas with large distances between cities. Canada's e-commerce sales as a percentage of total sales was much less than Australia's in 2012, however, it has caught up with Australia since then.

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Demand for Australian industrial assets growth to be driven by e-commerce and technological innovation

Demand for space will be driven by the expanding needs of online players such as Amazon.com, Inc. (A3 positive) and Alibaba
Group Holding Limited 
(A1 Stable). A-REIT issuer feedback suggests that e-commerce retailers usually require more space than traditional retailers as they need to stock a greater range of readily available products. Further, we expect supporting industries such as transportation, warehousing, logistics, postal and third-party logistics (3PL) to expand to address the growth in e-commerce.

As consumers continue shifting their purchases online and demand faster delivery at minimized costs, we expect to see an increase in demand for smaller fulfillment centres that are located closer to end-consumers. These centres are used for last-mile delivery and are supported by larger distribution centres located in outer locations. We also believe that increasing land scarcity and surging land prices in densely populated Urban areas will increase the usage of multi-storey warehouses, helping to ease the pressure of delivering items to consumers as quickly as possible. Therefore, we expect assets in densely populated areas or with proximity or access to key transport nodes to continue to rise in value.

Demand will also come from brick-and-mortar retailers that will require new distribution space and capabilities as they continue to invest in digital and expand their online offerings. At the same time, as store sales growth lags online growth, we expect physical retailers to continue rationalizing their existing retail footprints, putting pressure on the retail assets of A-REITs.

To capitalise on strong demand, diversified landlords with industrial exposure will likely leverage off their relationships with retail tenants to accommodate the tenants' needs in industrial space. We expect companies like Charter Hall, Stockland, Mirvac, and GPT to benefit the most due to their large exposure to big retail groups like Wesfarmers Limited (A3 stable), Coles Group Limited (Baa1 stable) and Woolworths Group Limited (Baa2 stable).

The growth in e-commerce will most benefit large pure-play industrial A-REITs such as GAIP and CPIF and those diversified players with large industrial exposures such as Stockland and Dexus. Further, we expect other A-REITs to rebalance their portfolios towards the industrial sector over the next 2-3 years, by shifting away from retail as negative sentiment impacts this property segment. We have already seen A-REITs announcing this shift in focus, with Mirvac, Stockland and GPT planning to increase the allocation to the sector. Dexus is partnering with Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC to create an AUD2 billion unlisted logistics property trust, seeded with assets from Dexus' portfolio with an active development and acquisition mandate.

Technology and innovation will continue to create additional opportunities for landlords and tenants

We believe that advances in technology are creating additional opportunities for both tenants as well as industrial landlords. Tenants will benefit from utilizing technology, such as big data, cloud software, machine learning, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, drones, robotics, and autonomous driving, to optimize their operations and create more efficient distribution networks.

At the same time, technological advancements provide a range of benefits for the industrial A-REITs. Increasingly sophisticated industrial assets can accommodate a wider range of uses, such as e-commerce, data centres, high-tech logistics, health care, “dark stores”,etc. Increasing applications of industrial space will improve demand beyond the historical tenant base and provide greater tenant sector diversity, reducing the risk of a correlated downturn among A-REITs' customer base, increasing the pool of potential future tenants to fill vacant space.

This also means the sector is less reliant on traditional “blue-collar” manufacturing industries that face structural decline in Australia, primarily due to high domestic labor costs. We view this diversification as a significant credit positive for industrial A-REITs, providing resilience to the cash flows and earnings through the property cycle.

Large investments in technology by tenants mean longer payback periods for these investments. We view this as positive for landlords as this will make moving facilities less attractive and will translate into longer weighted average lease expiry (WALE) through longer new leases, better retention and reduced vacancy risk. For example, some of the largest Australian retailers like Woolworths and Coles have signed 20-year leases for their respective distribution centres, putting extensive amounts of capital in internal fitouts and automation systems.

This trend for longer leases might moderate the recent declines in WALE across rated REITs, which, in part, was caused by the large amount of leases signed by 3PL companies that sign leases with an average duration of 3-5 years.

We expect A-REITs to also benefit from technological advancements in building and construction as properties now can be constructed more quickly and cheaply, offsetting the rising costs of land. Moreover, the increased application of green technologies such as solar panels should provide A-REITs with an additional source of income from selling energy to the tenants as well as lower their own cost base in an environment of rising energy expenses.

Solid economic conditions and large infrastructure investment on the Eastern Seaboard will support the long-term demand for logistics
We expect Australian economic growth, increased trade flows in Asia and large public infrastructure investment on the Eastern Seaboard to support long-term demand for logistics.

Robust economic conditions in Australia with over 26 years of uninterrupted growth will continue to be underpinned by (1) the current outlook for global economy, and particularly Asia, where a lot of Australia's key trade partners are located; (2) solid labor market and wage growth stabilizing; (3) relatively low Australian dollar boosting net exports, and; (4) strong rates of population growth.

Increased trade flows are expected to have a positive impact on industrial property demand, especially for assets that are located close to key infrastructure such as ports, motorways, airports and intermodal terminals.

Public infrastructure spending is expected to accelerate over the next 2-3 years with the value of announced projects at a record high (Exhibit 5). The state governments of New South Wales (Aaa stable), Queensland (Aa1 stable) and Victoria (Aaa stable) plan to increase their respective infrastructure spending programs the most, although we believe the major benefits of this spending for industrial assets will be in the longer term. This will be further supported by the Australian Government's (Aaa stable) commitment to spend more than AUD75 billion over the next 10 years on transport infrastructure across Australia under the National Infrastructure Plan.

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Demand for Australian industrial assets growth to be driven by e-commerce and technological innovation

 

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Demand for Australian industrial assets growth to be driven by e-commerce and technological innovation

We expect A-REITs which focus on NSW and particularly Western Sydney to benefit the most as this is where the largest investments will be made over the forecast period. Spending includes large projects, such as the Western Sydney Airport project (set to open 2026) and Western Sydney Rail. Melbourne will also see some benefits from projects like Fisherman's Bend urban renewal project.

Overall, we think that infrastructure improvements will benefit both the tenants, through improved transport efficiency, connectivity and productivity, as well as the industrial A-REITs that will see valuation uplift for properties located next to the upgraded networks. Further, industrial landlords will see continued demand from industries that are supporting these infrastructure projects.

Moody's provides credit ratings, research, tools and in-depth analysis on the widest possible range of debt market topics.

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Infrastructure Industrial Market

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