Blackstone, others gear up to list REITs

Written by Reuters | Updated: Jun 27 2014, 06:58am hrs
Blackstone Group and its partner, Embassy Group, are laying the groundwork to cash in on their property holdings by setting up Indias first real estate investment trust (REIT) and listing it on one of the countrys stock exchanges.

The move comes as the government works to finalise rules as early as next month that will govern the trusts. The finance ministry is expected then to clarify tax rules for REITs in the Budget, sources said.

The world's biggest property investor and Embassy have a joint portfolio of more than 20 million square feet of offices in India, which is likely to help value their REIT at $2 billion, said Jitendra Virwani, chairman of Bangalore-based Embassy.

Listing REITs gives companies like Blackstone, The Xander Group, an emerging markets investor backed by the Rothschild family, and private equity firm Red Fort Capital, which counts Abu Dhabi Investment Authority among its investors, an attractive option to exit some of their investments.

We are actually gearing up because we feel the pace the government is moving at is faster than what we would want, so it is better to be prepared much earlier than later, said Virwani, who was set to meet Blackstone to draw up a plan for the listing.

A spokeswoman of the tax department did not answer requests for comment. Blackstone did not respond to a request for comment. The long-awaited move by the government will be implemented by market regulator Sebi after the ministry clarifies tax rules to transfer assets into a separate vehicle before listing the trust, which had triggered worries over double taxation.

Implementing REITs will also be one early sign from PM Narendra Modi of how he wants to bolster the economy, which is suffering its longest spell of under-5% growth since the late 1980s.

India issued draft regulations for REITs in 2008, but was forced to shelve the plans after the global financial crisis dried up investor interest and an economic downturn dimmed the outlook for real estate investments. If REITs are approved, India will follow China, where regulators in April approved the first property trust. The absence of REITs in China and India made Singapore and Hong Kong the preferred markets for listing property assets in the region.

REITs, listed entities that invest mainly in leased office and retail assets and distribute most of their income to shareholders as dividends, will give developers a new avenue to raise funds by allowing them to sell finished commercial buildings to investors and list them as a trust.