Infrastructure spend boosts property markets

30 September 2016

Sydney, 30 September 2016

Infrastructure spend boosts property markets

When it comes to investment in infrastructure, there’s no question that the NSW Government has work to do. Decades of under-investment in critical services has left a gaping hole, but recent State Budgets have at last announced substantial plans and funding for road, motorways and even more importantly, better public transport.

It’s good news for property as well. Here Jason Huljich, CEO of Unlisted Property Funds for Centuria, talks about the effect on commercial property markets of investment in infrastructure, and looks at whether, and where, property investors should be looking now.

Infrastructure is vital to economic development and prosperity. Because it comprises the essential services that underpin growth, its development contributes substantially to employment, productivity and competitiveness.

It’s also a very good thing for property markets. Infrastructure upgrades usually result in strong demand in local markets, because property investors will pay more for locations with good infrastructure, or with infrastructure developments in the pipeline.  Transport infrastructure, in particular, both rail and road, makes areas more accessible, and therefore more attractive. This in turn pushes rental growth and occupancy levels in local commercial sectors.

At the same time, infrastructure projects are generally targeted at high growth areas, so this can be used by property developers and builders to estimate employment growth. They boost the local economy by creating new jobs and attracting more people to a precinct, which in turn leads to other, indirect benefits, such as increased consumer spending and the social benefits associated with community development.

According to the NSW Government $20 billion is now being spent rebuilding NSW, and funding to some of the more critical projects has been accelerated. These include the Sydney Metro (City and South-west), the Parramatta Light Rail, Regional Road Freight Corridor and the Western Harbour Tunnel. A new underground railway station at the Barangaroo development in Sydney has also been announced.  In Sydney city, Stage 1 of the Sydney Metro is the $8.3 billion Sydney Metro Northwest is set to open in 2019. Stage 2, extending metro rail under Sydney Harbour and through the CBD is expected to be open by 2024.

For investors seeking to identify areas likely to grow more quickly than others, an understanding of where infrastructure development will be focused is key. Because the effect can be dramatic.

In 2000, Centuria purchased two properties in Waterloo Road and Byfield Street in Macquarie Park, for $24 million. At that time, there was little infrastructure in the area, and public transport links in particular were poor. Centuria took the view that the area would benefit from planned infrastructure developments, including the Chatswood to Epping Rail Link and the expansion of the Macquarie Centre, both of which were completed. The Macquarie Park office precinct is now larger than the North Sydney office precinct, and there has been an ensuing strong demand for space.

In 2016, Centuria sold the properties for $101 million providing investors with a fivefold increase on their investment and an internal rate of return of over 20% – a significant total return given the sixteen-year life of the fund.

Chatswood is another example of a precinct set to benefit from improved infrastructure and transport links. Sydney’s North Shore office market is already a strongly performing market and in our view is set to perform more strongly still in the coming years. Commercial office space is being withdrawn for residential conversion, which is reducing supply while pushing rents up and vacancy rates down. We believe that the Metro currently under construction will continue to drive above trend growth over the longer term.

In May of this year, we partnered with global investment manager BlackRock to purchase the best office building in Chatswood –  the Zenith office complex for $280 million. Our 50% stake is held in the unlisted Centuria Zenith Fund, and our forecast is for a 7.6% income return in the first year, increasing to 7.7% in the 2018 financial year.  As for total returns over the life of the fund, we are confident that active management of the property by our specialist asset management team, which includes $30 million in capital expenditure to make the property best in class will result in excellent total returns for investors over the longer term.

Regardless of research or experience, there are no sure things in investment, in property or any other asset class. However, there are themes and trends which influence returns over time. The link between infrastructure spend and the performance of property markets is one of these.

Infrastructure provides essential services that drive economic growth, employment and productivity, and property in the areas where infrastructure is well-developed, performs better than property in other areas. Given the NSW Government’s focus on infrastructure investment, investors would do well to look at areas where money is being spent, and consider the long term possibilities and outlook for commercial property there.

Disclaimer: This media release was issued on 30/09/16. Issued by Centuria Property Funds Limited (Centuria) (ABN 11 086 553 639, AFSL 231 149). The information in this article is general information only and does not take into account the  financial circumstances, needs or objectives of any person. Centuria is the responsible entity of a number of unlisted property funds, each of which are issued under a product disclosure statement (PDS) that is available on Centuria’s website for all funds open for investment. An investment in any of Centuria’s property funds carries risks associated with an investment in direct property including the loss of income and capital imvested. The risks relating to an investment  are detailed in the each Fund’s PDS and Centuria strongly recommends that the PDS be downloaded and read before any investment decision is made.  Centuria receives fees from investments in its property funds.