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Private equity firms eye bonanza in India's affordable housing projects

Reuters/ 15 Feb 19 | 12:42 PM

With funding from NBFCs drying up in the aftermath of a string of defaults at lender IL&FS, developers are being forced to explore debt and equity funding from private equity.

India’s cash-starved residential real estate market is set to get a boost from foreign and domestic private equity firms, which are lining up big bets worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the sector.

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The domestic residential real estate space has been in a rut for years with failed and delayed projects putting buyers off. Developers more recently have been hit by a credit squeeze as banks struggle with bad debts and a crunch in the shadow banking sector.

Private equity firms are now swooping in to buy assets at attractive valuations, say industry insiders, as regulatory changes and a more dovish monetary policy outlook bode well for the sector.

“With major impetus being given to affordable housing ... PE investors are sensing a big opportunity in this segment," said Anuj Puri, chairman at Anarock, a real estate consultancy firm.

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“The expected 8-10 percent annual return in the affordable segment of residential real estate is attracting not just Indian investors but also foreign entities from the U.S., Singapore and Canada."

Blackstone Group, one of the largest owners of commercial real estate in India, this month agreed to buy a majority stake in Aadhar Housing Finance - an affordable housing project, and committed 8 billion rupees ($112 million) of additional equity to the asset.

Piramal Enterprises and Ivanhoe Cambridge, the real estate arm of Canadian fund Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), last week announced a $70.15 million investment in Palava - a project of Lodha Group on the outskirts of India’s financial hub, Mumbai.

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Several domestic real estate funds, including HDFC Property Fund and Kotak Realty Fund, are also scouting opportunities in the real estate space, say industry sources aware of the talks.

And one industry source said that Canadian asset management firm Brookfield Asset Management is exploring roughly half a dozen residential real estate investments and it aims to nearly double its bets in the space to over $1 billion, from $450 million in the coming year.

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), along with Hines Investments is also poised to announce an investment in the space, a source involved in the deal said.

Brookfield declined to comment, HDFC Property, Kotak Realty, ADIA and Hines were not immediately available for comment.

TIMING IT RIGHT

Rising bad debts and real estate project failures have made banks cautious on lending to developers, leading to a slowdown in the property market that relies heavily on borrowing for both home building and buying.

Developers in the country were typically averse to private equity as it is more expensive funding compared to debt they could raise from banks, or non-bank finance companies (NBFCs).

However, with funding from NBFCs drying up in the aftermath of a string of defaults at lender IL&FS, developers are being forced to explore debt and equity funding from private equity.

ALSO READ: Realty sector to be challenging and opportunistic in 2019: Hiranandani

“For the PE players the valuations are probably a lot more attractive today than they were four to five years ago," said Anshul Jain, managing director at Cushman and Wakefield India.

“From a risk perspective too, risk is slightly lower as some green-shoots are visible in the segment. PE can see that pricing and sale pricing is at an all-time low, so valuations are at an all-time low, so it’s a good time for them to enter."

The government has also announced several incentives for the real estate sector in the interim budget earlier this month.

“This is a very positive budget from a real estate point of view," said Samir Jasuja, managing director of PropEquity, an online real estate data and analytics platform.

The government announced a total tax rebate for individuals with annual income of up to Rs 5 lakh and offered some tax incentives that would benefit both property developers and potential homebuyers.

These measures, along with the rate cut by the central bank last week, are expected to give an added push to the segment.

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