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'Conviction is what matters': CEO d'Estienne d'Orves of IREIT Global

Feng Zengkun
Feng Zengkun • 6 min read
'Conviction is what matters':  CEO d'Estienne d'Orves of IREIT Global
d’Estienne d’Orves: We want to be first movers, not followers, that’s what we have in our DNA
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In 2021, during the height of the pandemic, real estate investment trust IREIT Global UD1U -

(IREIT) made a surprising move, buying sporting goods giant Decathlon’s retail properties in France to lease them back. “Everyone was saying we were crazy, that retail is over due to e-commerce and Covid-19,” recalls Louis d’Estienne d’Orves, the REIT’s CEO.

“For us, it was a mix of conviction and data. We looked at studies, but we also believed that even if people buy light bulbs and things like that online, they will go to shops for things like tennis rackets and running shoes, things you want to feel and test. We secured the Decathlon properties at a very attractive price, and we see now that people are still going shopping.”

For him, thinking outside the box is essential for taking the lead and maintaining a competitive edge. He explains: “If everyone is rushing to sell, that means there might be something you can do to take advantage of that. Any kind of disruption creates an opportunity. We want to be first movers, not followers, and I think that’s what we have in our DNA.”

The REIT is the first Singapore-listed one to focus exclusively on Western European properties. Its portfolio comprises 44 retail properties in France and 10 freehold office ones in Germany and Spain, with a combined lettable area of about 446,000 square metres and a valuation of about EUR899 million ($1.3 billion) as of Dec 31, 2023.

“By investing in these countries, we are giving Singaporean investors the chance to diversify outside of Singapore. The Singapore market is very competitive, so this is a way to have more income or yield from these other, well-established markets. Furthermore, with our blue chip tenants like Decathlon and Deutsche Telekom, I think we are a pretty safe bet,” he says.

Seizing the occasion in European real estate
He adds that looking ahead, western Europe continues to offer new and exciting possibilities. The shrinking of liquidity across the region has led to repricing in different asset classes, especially in Germany, opening up options that the REIT could capitalise on and secure soon. This will also enable it to diversify its portfolio further.

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“We started with four German offices in 2014. Now we have 54 properties in three countries and across two asset classes. It’s really about continuing this diversification and balance because you would prefer not to have all of your eggs in the same basket. By diversifying, we will also have a more sustainable distribution per unit.”

In France, the REIT also acquired 17 retail properties used by European leading discount retailer B&M Group last year. The B&M stores are located across the country, in areas away from city centres with lower rental costs for tenants and attractive yields for investors.  

IREIT is looking into potential purchases to expand into the logistics sector, “where there is a lack of supply in terms of space”, and considering other mergers and acquisitions.

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“Some assets are trading with significant discounts. Ultimately, we want to make sure that our portfolio is diversified from both the geographical and asset class points of view.”

With the REIT’s prudent capital management policy, its bank borrowings are almost fully hedged, with a low cost of debt at 1.9% interest, and a healthy loan-to-value ratio of 37.9%, putting it in a good position to seize the moment and benefit from the array of opportunities in the market, d’Estienne d’Orves adds.

He notes that the REIT’s offerings to raise capital for its acquisitions have been oversubscribed, even during the Covid-19 crisis and subsequent economic slowdown, reflecting unitholders’ support and confidence in its plans. “It shows that they understand what we are doing, what we are trying to achieve,” he says.

Growing with strong support from sponsors
The REIT also has the backing of its joint sponsors, global real estate firm City Developments Limited C09 -

and international alternative asset management group Tikehau Capital.

With Tikehau Capital having its headquarters in France and offices throughout Europe, it has built a large network of connections in the region that IREIT can leverage.

“For our diversification into logistics, for instance, Tikehau Capital has local experts in various markets who are sourcing opportunities and helping us to secure them. This makes it easier for us to go into the logistics sector, which is not an easy industry, and is one that many other asset managers want to go into as well,” d’Estienne d’Orves elaborates.

The REIT and its sponsors also share the same philosophy in business, which is being flexible and agile, and always keeping an eye out for growth avenues.

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He continues: “There’s a really strong alignment in our approach and interest, and our sponsors are committed and keen to develop and grow the REIT even more.”    

Currently a managing director in Tikehau Capital, d’Estienne d’Orves was seconded to IREIT in 2020 to serve full-time as CEO of IREIT. He had spent 11 years in multinational insurance company AXA’s real estate and investment managers divisions, also specialising in property transactions in the latter and rising to the position of co-head of transactions and special situations.

He shares: “I think real estate is something that speaks to everyone, because everyone needs real estate, and we are also surrounded by real estate. It’s exciting when you can work on this kind of product that everyone knows. I also enjoy figuring out the financial aspects of a deal, the financial structuring, so that you have something that makes sense for the unitholders.”

He has big ambitions for IREIT, too. “Within the next few years, we hope to have assets across five Western European countries with a total valuation of between EUR2 billion to EUR3 billion. I don’t have a crystal ball, and we are still cautious in our asset and capital management, but we are doing what we need to do to reach these goals.”

About IREIT Global
IREIT Global is the first Singapore-listed real estate investment trust with the investment strategy of principally investing, directly or indirectly, in a portfolio of income-producing real estate in Europe which is used primarily for office, retail and industrial (including logistics) purposes, as well as real estate-related assets.
IREIT Global is managed by IREIT Global Group, which is jointly owned by Tikehau Capital and City Developments Limited (CDL). Tikehau Capital is a global alternative asset management group listed in France, while CDL is a leading global real estate company listed in Singapore. The company’s website is https://www.ireitglobal.com/

 

About kopi-C: The Company Brew
kopi-C is a regular column by SGX Research in collaboration with Beansprout (https://growbeansprout.com), a MAS-licensed investment advisory platform, that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on SGX. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.

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