Link Real Estate Investment Trust : Seeking Growth on a Solid Foundation amid Uncertain Outlook

Link Asset Management Limited (Link, or referred below as the Group), the manager of Link Real Estate Investment Trust (Link REIT, stock code: 823), has announced its interim results for the six months ended 30 September 2022.

Nicholas Allen, Chairman, said:

“I am pleased to present our solid performance for the six months ended September 2022, as our portfolio, which is heavily exposed to community commercial facilities, has exhibited strength and resilience. While we continue our capital and social investments in new development projects, asset enhancement, placemaking and stakeholder engagement initiatives to energise the Hong Kong community amidst the economic headwind, we also keep in mind portfolio expansion across geographies and asset classes has been a key driver of our growth over the past few years. Going forward, in view of the prevailing market uncertainty, we are patient in waiting for asset repricing opportunities as we continue to seek expansion prudently. We aim to reduce risk, seek resilient cash flow, achieve sustainable growth and ultimately build a volatility-proof portfolio. We are working to reinforce that Link is not only a crucial entity strengthening Hong Kong’s socio-economic fabric, but also a reliable and attractive investment partner for individuals and institutions even during turbulent market times.”

George Hongchoy, Chief Executive Officer, said:

“As always, we actively manage our assets and portfolio, and stay highly selective in screening investments to ensure a buffer against volatility while we seek growth. We are positive on the community commercial segment as it generates resilient cash flow during challenging times. We are also interested in logistics and cold storage segments in Mainland China and rest of the region because of their prospects, they are complementary to our retail portfolio and offer synergies with our existing tenant base. To strengthen our growth pipeline, we have entered into several co-investments in recent years. These capital partnerships have enhanced our expansion efforts and helped increase our access to new investment opportunities. With the current interest rate environment, we will deploy our financial resources even more strategically. While we will continue to broaden our investible universe across high-tier cities in Mainland China, Australia, Singapore in addition to our home base Hong Kong, we will also consider capital recycling opportunities to refresh and optimise our portfolio for sustainable long-term growth.””

Overview

The six-month period under review was characterised by waves of pandemic-driven operating challenges, geopolitical tensions, inflationary spike, interest rate hikes and global economic headwind. Link continued to demonstrate its portfolio resilience with solid performance:

  • Year-on-year growth of 4.6% and 4.5% in revenue and net property income respectively
  • Growth of 1.9% in interim distribution per unit (DPU) from core operations
  • High occupancy and rental collection rates, each of both stood at 90% or above, throughout all property segments of Link’s investment portfolio across Hong Kong, the Mainland China and overseas

During the period, the Hong Kong portfolio exhibited strength and stability, Link’s retail tenant gross sales per square foot continued to outperform the market with 3.8% year-on-year growth recorded. There was also encouraging improvement in car park and related business, and the segment was buoyed by full-period contribution by the two car park/ car service centres and godown buildings acquired in December 2021.

The retail and office sectors in the Mainland China faced headwind owing to the COVID response and prevention measures. However, the negative impact was partially offset by the newly added revenue stream from the logistics assets in the Greater Bay Area.

The Group’s portfolio was further strengthened as the acquisitions of the retail and office portfolios in Australia have been completed during the period, bringing in additional property income.

Financial Highlights

Six months ended
30 Sep 2022
$ (m)
Six months ended
30 Sep 2021
$ (m)
%
change

Total distributable amount

3,277

3,190(1)

+2.7%

Interim DPU

155.51 cents

152.59 cents

+1.9%(2)

With discretionary distribution of 7 cents:159.59 cents

-2.6%

Revenue

6,042

5,778

+4.6%

Net property income

4,587

4,391

+4.5%

Profit after taxation and before transaction with uniholders

14,017

6,342

+121.0%

NAV per unit(3)

$80.86

$77.1

+4.9%

Investment properties valuation(3)

223,485

212,761

+5.0%

Notes:

  1. Total distributable amount for the six months ended 30 September 2021 excluded discretionary distribution of $146 million.
  2. Interim DPU for the period grew by 1.9% to 155.51 cents if the discretionary distribution of 7 cents per unit in the first half of 2021/2022 is excluded.
  3. These comparisons are based on figures as at 31 March 2022.

Hong Kong portfolio

Link’s Hong Kong portfolio performed satisfactorily during the period and recorded 4.3% and 5.3% year-on-year growth in total revenue and net property income, respectively. The overall rental collection remained healthy at 96%.

The retail portfolio in Hong Kong, as the pillar of Link’s overall portfolio, delivered strong performance with revenue improved by 1.2% year-on-year and a strong rental reversion momentum. Average reversion rate continued to rise from 5.9% in the second half of 2021/2022 to 8.5% for the reported period.

Leasing sentiment remained buoyant in Link’s community commercial facilities with over 400 new leases signed during the reporting period. The occupancy rate of the retail portfolio stayed high at 97.5% despite Hong Kong market general leasing sentiment still undergoing recovery.

Link’s overall tenant gross sales has also outperformed the market with a 3.8% year-on-year growth in tenant gross sales per square foot recorded. Overall rent-to-sales ratio further normalised to 12.6% with improvements in F&B and general retail segments.

The improving consumption sentiment also contributed to the encouraging growth of hourly car park rental revenue which has surpassed pre-COVID levels. Coupled with the encouraging improvement in monthly ticket sales and the full-period contribution from the two car park /car service centres and godown buildings in Chai Wan and Hung Hom, revenue from car park and related business grew by 12.7% year-on-year.

The Quayside, Link’s flagship office property in Kowloon East, continued to benefit from the “flight-to-quality” trend with committed occupancy rate at 98.2% as of 5 October 2022.

Mainland China portfolio

Link’s Mainland China portfolio recorded 3.3% year-on-year growth in total revenue attributable to the new revenue streams contributed by the logistics properties in the Greater Bay Area. Net property income slightly declined 1.2% year-on-year due to the headwind faced by the retail sector in the country. Overall rental collection remained healthy at 90%.

Amid the uncertainty of ongoing COVID response measures which dampened consumption and leasing sentiment, Link’s retail portfolio (including Qibao Vanke Plaza in Shanghai, Link’s qualified minority-owned property) in Mainland China recorded an average reversion rate of 8.4% during the period. Link has swiftly adjusted its leasing strategies in its retail portfolio, including offering short-term leases and pop-up stores, and forming strategic partnerships with local brands to attract footfall. Link has granted RMB24 million rental concessions and property management fee waiver to provide continued support to its tenants.

Link’s logistics properties in Mainland China performed satisfactorily during the period owing to their strategic locations which are well-positioned to enjoy strong leasing demand in this sector. Apart from the modern logistics properties in Dongguan and Foshan which contributed full period of revenue during the period, another proposed acquisition of three logistics properties in Jiaxing and Changshu in the Yangzi River Delta was made in May 2022 with Jiaxing property already completed on 29 June 2022. Link has been progressively building a local team to oversee these properties to support its growth aspiration in the logistic sector as it will continue to explore related investment opportunities to capture the supply/demand imbalance of this sector in the country.

Maintaining a high occupancy remained as Link’s strategy for Link Square, its office building in Shanghai. Despite the negative office reversion due to softening demand in a competitive market, Link Square continued to achieve a high occupancy rate at 96%. Link has completed the first phase of the facilities upgrade at Link Square and the entire facility enhancement will be completed by the end of 2022.

Overseas portfolio

With the acquisition of the retail and office portfolios in Australia completed during the period, Link’s overseas portfolio expanded to ten properties. The portfolio delivered $281 million and $179 million in total revenue and net property income, respectively, with an overall rental collection rate at 93%.

Consumption sentiment in Australia has remained robust since the full reopening of its international borders. Retail sales growth and tenant demand were well supported by post-pandemic recovery and have already returned to pre-COVID levels. The occupancy of Link’s retail portfolio in Australia was 95.9% as at the period end. Link is now working with its partner to increase the leasing efforts of its iconic retail portfolio in Australia to cater for new, post-pandemic trends and expectations, and to tap into the continuing economic recovery.

Link’s office properties in Australia and the United Kingdom are protected with long WALE of 6.1 years and stable income. As COVID restrictions eased, back-to-office rates in both geographies were in gradual recovery. Benefitting from the “flight-to-quality” trend, the overall occupancy of Link’s overseas office portfolio (including a joint venture in a prime office portfolio in Sydney and Melbourne) remained high at 91.8% as at the period end.

Asset Enhancement

During the first half of 2022/2023, Link completed three asset enhancement projects in Hong Kong, including Lok Fu Market, Tai Yuen Market and Tak Tin Market and, which involved a total capital expenditure (capex) of $136 million with estimated return on investments (ROIs) of 23.7%, 21.8% and 9.3% respectively.

Link actively manages its assets to drive productivity by constantly improving trade mix to ensure the shopping and dining facilities remain relevant to shoppers as their lifestyles change. Five asset enhancement projects in Hong Kong are underway, including Fung Tak Shopping Centre, Tung Tau Market, Kai Tin Shopping Centre, Butterfly Plaza and Sau Mau Ping Shopping Centre, which are estimated to incur a total capex of $268 million and expected to complete in early 2023 to early 2024.

In response to the Hong Kong Chief Executive’s policy address which advocates the promotion of green transport and expedition of low carbon transformation in the transport sector, and in concert with the Government’s Hong Kong Roadmap on Popularisation of Electric Vehicles, Link announced on 3 November its electrical vehicles (EV) charging programme – in which it aspires to become the largest private provider of public EV charging points in Hong Kong by offering, together with three strategic EV partners and other providers, 3,000 EV chargers across different districts by 2024.

In Mainland China, the first phase of the asset enhancement of Happy Valley Shopping Mall in Guangzhou commenced in September 2022 with an estimated capex of around RMB200 million. The mall will have more F&B, kids/entertainment and general retail to attract young consumers, white-collar workers and family customers.

Property Development

On 31 August 2022, Link won the tender of a commercial-use land parcel located at Anderson Road, Kwun Tong with a land premium of $766 million. Link plans to develop the land into a community commercial property with retail facilities, a fresh market and car parks by 2027. The total development costs including land premium are expected to be approximately $1.6 billion. Upon completion, this commercial property will be connected to nearby populated housing estates and the Sau Mau Ping area where it is strategically positioned amidst a cluster of Link’s shopping centres, which would strengthen the company’s commercial portfolio in the area by creating synergies and allowing it to optimise the trade/tenant mix.

Capital Management

In light of the interest rate hikes, heightened geopolitical tensions and prolonged pandemic disruptions, Link has continued to adhere to a prudent capital management approach and proactively secured low-cost funding via diversified funding sources to maintain ample financial resources and liquidity for operational needs and strategic acquisitions. A total of $6.7 billion debt in different currencies was raised during the period to replenish the liquidity and fund the company’s acquisitions in Australia and Mainland China.

The Group’s gearing ratio only slightly increased from 22% to 22.7% as at 30 September 2022 amid certain acquisitions were completed during the period. Average borrowing cost maintained as low as 2.5% with 56.1% of the debt portfolio maintained at fixed interest rate as at 30 September 2022.

Link continued to return capital to its unitholders through unit buyback. During the period between 1 April 2022 and 7 October 2022, Link bought back 6.7 million units at an average unit price of $60.7 utilising $408.1 million (including transaction costs). Link will consider further unit buybacks subject to market conditions and other regulatory requirements.

The announcement of Link REIT’s interim results has been posted on the HKEXnews website and is accessible via the following hyperlink:

https://www1.hkexnews.hk/listedco/listconews/sehk/2022/1109/2022110900099.pdf

Note: All dollar amounts are in Hong Kong dollars unless specified otherwise.

Appendix

Financial Highlights for the Six Months Ended 30 September 2022

Download Interim Results Presentation

– End –

About Link

Link Real Estate Investment Trust (Link REIT; Hong Kong stock code: 823) is the largest REIT in Asia. It is managed by Link Asset Management Limited, a leading real estate investor and asset manager in the world. Since its listing in 2005 as the first REIT in Hong Kong, Link REIT has been 100% held by public and institutional investors. It is a constituent of the Hong Kong securities market benchmark Hang Seng Index, as well as a component of the Dow Jones Sustainability Asia Pacific Index, the FTSE4Good Index Series and the Hang Seng Corporate Sustainability Index. From its home in Hong Kong, Link Asset Management Limited owns and manages a diversified portfolio including retail facilities, car parks, offices and logistics assets spanning from China’s Beijing, Greater Bay Area (Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen), and Yangtze River Delta centred around Shanghai, to the UK’s London and Australia’s Sydney and Melbourne. Link Asset Management Limited seeks to extend its portfolio growth trajectory and grasp expansion opportunities in different markets in pursuit of sustainable growth.

For details, please visit https://www.linkreit.com.

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