Saturday 3 December 2016

Comment: Lack of Irish investment in REITs a worry for the future

Published 08/09/2015 | 02:30

It's no exaggeration to say tax payers were cleaned out by the property crash, and yet once again, it can seem like all we want to talk about is property and how much money there is to be made in it
It's no exaggeration to say tax payers were cleaned out by the property crash, and yet once again, it can seem like all we want to talk about is property and how much money there is to be made in it

What is it about the Irish and property? It's almost exactly decade since the peak of the property bubble, seven years since the Bank Guarantee.

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It's no exaggeration to say tax payers were cleaned out by the property crash, and yet once again, it can seem like all we want to talk about is property and how much money there is to be made in it.

But it seems we haven't learned to much about what happened before. The crash was marked by ordinary punters being stuck with an illiquid asset - say a handful of buy to lets - and so unable to meet a cash call from the banks (ie, their loan repayments).

REITs were supposed to fix that problem. One of the main reasons for the Government bringing in legislation to allow real estate investment trusts was that they would provide Irish investors with a way to get into property, and crucially, a way to get out quickly.

If you could buy shares in a well-run property firm, and sell them when you wanted, then you wouldn't need to go off and develop an apartment block with your mates, or buy a couple of houses to let out.

But a glance over the share register of Green REIT reveals that it is owned overwhelmingly by institutional investors from overseas. Franklin Templeton, the US firm that bet so heavily on Irish bonds during the crash, owns 11pc, while the hedge fund run by US billionaire John Paulson owns another 11pc.

Five US institutions own more than 40pc of Green on their own. Irish names, even Irish related funds, are conspicuous by their absence.

The share registers of the other main Irish REITs show similar owners.

It seems Irish investors who do go for property still prefer to stick to having a direct interest in the property themselves rather than being involved in an instrument that gives them the stake, if not the control, that they may want.

One wonders what it will take for the Irish to have a mature, sensible relationship with property.

Irish Independent

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