Real estate developers like DLF, Phoenix Mills and Embassy are studying options to launch Real Estate Investment Trusts (Reits) after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the income they generate will be taxed at the hands of investors.
Reits are like mutual funds that pool money to buy into real estate. They are tax efficient structures that distribute the majority of their incomes among their investors. While Sebi had come out with draft guideline on Reits, it deferred a final decision due to lack of clarity on paying tax when income was generated by the fund, and then again in the hands of the investor.
"We will definitely look at launching them," said Rajeev Talwar, executive director at DLF, the country's largest developer that has 28 million square feet of leased assets.
Atul Ruia, managing director at Phoenix Mills, said, "After we understand the guidelines, we will decide on the launch. We have done some work." He added taxation would have to be looked at three levels, transfer of assets to a special purpose vehicle, to a trust, and to shareholders. Bangalore-based Embassy group, which has a joint venture with Blackstone, is also exploring options to launch Reits. Mike Holland, chief executive officer of Embassy Office Parks, a unit of the group, said, "If everything falls into place, early 2015 should be a reasonable time for us to launch Reits. But it should not be a rush, given the kind of problems local and global investors faced in the past."
Many in the industry said Reits would be a reality in the next 9-12 months. Both the government and developers believe Reits will open up a new avenue of financing for realty companies that are facing a cash crunch due to falling sales and rising cost of credit.
"These structures (real estate and infrastructure trusts) reduce the pressure on the banking system while also making available fresh equity. I am confident these two instruments will attract long-term finance from foreign and domestic sources, including non-resident Indians," Jaitley said on Thursday. J C Sharma, vice-chairman and managing director of Sobha Developers, said, "Reits will bring a lot of capital for developers from domestic and foreign investors." But Adhidev Chattopadhyay, an analyst with HDFC Securities, said in a report developers could face challenges in launching Reits because a majority of leased operational assets have lease rental discounting that leave limited room for distribution of rental income in form of dividends after interest payments.
Developers do not think this is an issue. Talwar of DLF said developers could replace the lease rental discounting and then bring assets under Reits.
Shobhit Agarwal, managing director, capital markets, at Jones Lang LaSalle, said there was a provision for leveraged Reits.