Thursday, July 11, 2013

Indian real estate: time to pile in, thanks to the falling rupee?
~~by Avantika Chilkoti 
Jul 10, 2013: As the Indian rupee hits record lows against the dollar, there are all sorts of knock-on effects. Perhaps take a holiday to India or remit savings to relatives in the country where the dollar goes much further?

Or perhaps invest in property? Jones Lang La Salle, the property services company, expects Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) will take advantage of the cheap rupee by investing in real estate.

Property in India has become more and more expensive – it’s bad news for the country’s low-income population but good news for people earning abroad and investing that money into bricks and mortar in the subcontinent. Since the financial crisis, prices have rocketed by around 40 per cent in major markets, according to Jones Lang La Salle.

And with the rupee down 10 per cent against the dollar in the past three months, buying real estate in India is now relatively cheaper for NRIs earning abroad and keen to take advantage of those high returns.

“The devaluation of the rupee is about a week or ten days old so, while deals have not really concluded, we are seeing a higher level of inquiries,” Ashutosh Limaye, head of research at Jones Lang LaSalle India, told beyondbrics.

“This is particularly in residential real estate because historically the residential asset class has given the maximum appreciation and it has been a safer investment than offices and shopping centres. The residential asset class is a lot more mature in terms of coverage in different cities in India and flexibility in offering options for just about every budget.”

Surely putting money into India is a good option for foreigners in general right now (for anyone who isn’t earning in another weakening emerging market currency). So, why the focus on NRIs?

Firstly, NRIs are thought to have a strong emotional bond to India which makes them important investors. A survey from Sumansa Exhibitions, organisers of the annual India Property Show in UAE, shows that NRIs value property back home more highly than property elsewhere.

Secondly, NRIs are better informed about what works in India, meaning they are confident putting their money into the country.

And lastly, Limaye says points to legal factors that make it harder for foreign investors to exploit the depreciation of the rupee. “Individuals without citizenship aren’t allowed to buy real estate here,” he explains. “They have to constitute a company first to invest.”

If Jones Lang La Salle is right and NRIs do start pouring their spare cash into Indian property, where is that money being diverted from? The answer: Dubai.

The property market in the Emirate has just begun to pick up after the financial crisis. Real estate prices recovered for the first time in 2012, up 10 per cent year-on-year, according to the Dubai Land Development authority data. And expats – especially Indian citizens – are responsible for a lot of the investment there.

Limaye explains in a note to clients:

    Merely the incremental return of ~12.0% owing to exchange rate fluctuation is comparable to the 10-12% of total returns expected by DLD in the near-term from investment in Dubai real estate.

It does make sense but don’t brace yourself for a further flurry in Indian property markets just yet.

“Real estate is a long term investment,” says Neeraj Bansal, a director at KPMG India. “So, this is more about an NRI already weighing an investment which could now be triggered.”

If the rupee remains low – or falls further still – that’s when Bansal sees NRIs really moving the market.

“When you look at the proportion NRI investments do form a good component,” he says. “And they act as a good counterweight. In current times when property prices are higher and the rupee is lower, from the Indian consumers’ perspective investment decisions are getting deferred. But from the NRI perspective the opportunity for arbitrage is significant.”