The property sector has been the best place to invest in the past five years, with an annualised return of 20,95% compared with 17,1% for the all share, 9,3% for bonds and 5,3% for global equity. Yet property firms believe they can do a lot more to attract serious institutional shareholders - both foreign and domestic.
A trend this year has been to move from specialised funds towards large funds that can attract serious attention from institutional shareholders. More than 20% of the sector by market cap is owned by property funds of funds. Asset managers such as the Public Investment Corp own, at least, another 20% directly. For property shares to prosper they can no longer simply appeal to property specialists.
The template was set by Growthpoint, which from humble beginnings in 1987 has become a truly diversified group.
Growthpoint is now the largest property share on the JSE. "We think it is in the shareholders' interests to give a diversity of income streams," says CEO Norbert Sasse, "and I don't think there would be the same demand for three separate specialised businesses with a market cap of about R7bn each. Perhaps when each portfolio is worth R20bn we can reconsider." Its size undoubtedly helped Growthpoint raise almost R2bn in borrowings earlier this year and no other major property fund has been able to raise money so easily.
Other listed property companies have distributed their profits from development activities, and from the sale of properties, to shareholders. This increases their dividends in the short term, but it is irresponsible as this is not annuity income that can be repeated the following year.
Growthpoint has proved that internal management can work - until two years ago it was managed by Investec, which employed all its staff. But since it bought out Investec's management contract for R1,5bn it has been able to run the business at a materially lower cost.
Growthpoint's success has led its main rival, the Marc Wainer-led Redefine group, to change its business model.
Madison, a listed property asset manager, was the external manager for Redefine, ApexHi and Hyprop. Shareholders have recently approved the merger of Redefine, ApexHi and Madison to create a business that will have a comparable market cap to Growthpoint, especially as ApexHi is close to completing a takeover of Ambit. Hyprop is the missing link that would have given the new Redefine its flagship centres such as Canal Walk on the Cape Flats, Hyde Park and the Mall of Rosebank.
But Stanlib Property Income Fund co-manager Evan Jankelowitz says that you don't need nice tiling and luxury boutiques to make money in property. "If you look at Golden Walk in Germiston or Maynard Mall in Wynberg [owned by ApexHi], those centres have proved to be a lot more resilient than the five-star centres in the northern suburbs."
The great unresolved issue is the future of Hyprop. Redefine has a 30% stake in Hyprop, but the management contract (which will move from Madison to Redefine after the merger) is still being renegotiated. Says Hyprop chairman Mike Aitken: "The major shareholders made it clear that they still want a specialist retail fund." He says the fund would like to keep a relationship with Wainer and partner Wolf Cesman at Redefine, even if the contract is somewhat looser than the current arrangement.
Not that Hyprop is free of blemishes. Its Stoneridge centre in Modderfontein still has 10% vacancies six months after opening. It also has a rather pointless 40% holding in property firm Sycom - it has no board representation but is blocking the existing controlling shareholders Acucap and Parkdev from extracting the most value from the business.
Property has been a sleepy industry. Some, such as the Wapnick family's Premium were well run and often surprised analysts at how much income they could extract from their unglamorous portfolios.
Other businesses have been shaken by new ownership. Des de Beer is a shaker of note. Of the 57 properties he inherited in Capital 10 years ago, only two are left. "I don't agree that it is in the shareholders' interests to be all things to all people and have something in every sector," he says. "We have three funds in our stable. One day it might make sense to merge Capital and Pangbourne, both industrial and commercial portfolios, but Resilient - our retail fund - will stay separate." Resilient has a higher p:e ratio than Hyprop, though it has few luxury boutique/tenants. It focuses on nonmetropolitan areas, with centres such as Highveld Mall in Witbank.
Property is not cheap after such a long bull run - over the past 12 months, for example, it is still 1,8% up while the Alsi is still down 28,5%.
There are several specialist funds launching to buy distressed foreign firms. The Phoenix Fund, run by Mike Flax at Madison, will invest R1bn into about seven companies. Louis Norval at Parkdev will soon launch the Karoo Fund with a similar mandate.