DBS Group Research analysts Geraldine Wong and Derek Tan have identified Frasers Centrepoint Trust (FCT) and Lendlease Global Commercial REIT (LREIT) as their top picks among the retail-focused Singapore REITs.

The report, dated May 19, comes as share prices of retail-focused S-REITs have recovered from the initial share price weakness of up to -5% when the government announced the tightening of measures to contain the spread of community Covid-19 cases.

“This [surprising] strength implies that investors are willing to ‘look beyond the operational hump’ and towards a recovery, which is likely to be immediate if Singapore can swiftly contain the community spread by the middle of June 2021,” write Wong and Tan.


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On their picks, Wong and Tan have rated “buy” on FCT with a target price of $3 for its exposure to the more resilient ‘essential tenant trades’. They have also rated “buy” on LREIT with a target price of 90 cents for its attractive valuations and “dominant positioning” of [email protected].

Wong and Tan have given “hold” calls to Starhill Global REIT and SPH REIT with target prices of 55 cents and 80 cents respectively.

To them, food & beverage trade (F&B), which is directly impacted by the tighter measures, is one of the key retail trade sectors for most retail malls.

As a matter of fact, the F&B trade accounts for around 30% to 35% of net lettable assets (NLA) for most malls.

“While we believe that most F&B establishments are ‘more ready’ this time round and have already engaged online delivery platforms (either offered by the landlords or third parties), the orders from take-in will likely be far lesser than what a typical dine-in customer will be ordering and thus sales will likely fall,” say the analysts.

“With the expected decline in foot traffic at the malls, especially from families, and while brave couples may head out to shop (or window shop) in the coming months, overall mall sales from other trades like fashion, beauty, services (for those still allowed to trade), will likewise see a dip in sales over the period,” they add.

Among the landlords, Wong and Tan expect suburban malls to continue to outperform.

With that, they believe FCT’s portfolio is structurally stronger post-Covid-19 due to the fact that workers are likely to spend a bigger portion of their time at home in the near term and mid-term as flexible work arrangements take some form of permanence.

“This will imply increased traffic and money spent at FCT’s suburban malls over time, as workers continue to work from home. As seen in the previous circuit breaker back in Apr-June 2020, we noticed that not only FCT’s sales performance has been more resilient in the downturn but its recovery has also been faster and its performance has moved closer to pre-Covid-19 levels as well,” they write.

“We believe similar trends to persist in the next month when malls remain substantially closed for dine-ins,” they add.

Despite the impact on sales in the near-term, Wong and Tan expects retailers to see a “sharp recovery” once the measures are lifted.

They also believe that the targeted assistance programmes from landlords will adopt a “more holistic approach” compared to the circuit breaker in 2020, where financial assistance made up the bulk of the solutions.

To Wong and Tan, the semi-circuit breaker would be a “good test bed to see how well online platforms such as Fraser’s Makan Master compare to those of delivery giants like Grab and Food Panda”.


 

SEE: Singapore retail REITs: A brighter outlook ahead?


 

“The former will benefit landlords as opposed to third-party platforms, as landlords test the resilience of the retail eco-system they have fortified since circuit breaker,” they write.

“Given that most residents are still gainfully employed and with higher ‘savings’ through this phase 2 (heightened alert) period, we expect to see a swift rebound in sales (revenge shopping!) upon the relaxation of the measures come the middle of June 2021 (hopefully), if the number of cases dwindles,” they add.

While landlords have not given any guidance on the rental assistance packages yet, Wong and Tan also estimate declines of 6% to 10% of their distribution per unit (DPU) estimates for retail REITs in the FY2021, should there be a portfolio-wide one-month rental waiver given.

That said, the analysts say they estimate FY2021 DPUs to likely be higher than that of FY2020 on the assumption that landlords will not hold back on distributions.

Units in FCT, LREIT, Starhill Global REIT and SPH REIT closed $2.30, 74 cents, 53.5 cents and 83.5 cents respectively on May 21.