REITs, Shipping Trusts are some of the good types of investments that you should add to your portfolio. Or is it? Many do not know that ultimately the owners that sells the properties to the REITs are the overall winners and investors are only taking much of the burdens.
Generally, no business trust will pay down its debts, because it is not in the interest of the trust manager to do so. The trust manager is paid as a percentage of assets, not equity. Therefore, the incentive is to borrow as much money as possible to raise the assets under management, thus raising fees, and never pay down the debt except under duress from banks.
An investor in a business trust has to understand that the trust structure is basically a packaging gimmick. It is given tax incentives by the authorities to encourage a more “sophisticated” capital market. Essentially, the original owner of the assets can enjoy tax savings if he owns the assets through a trust instead of within a normal corporate structure. With an IPO his ownership decreases, but he then enjoys the management fees. As a result he gains several advantages:
1. The management fees are economically an inflation-indexed annuity;
2. Partial asset divestment through the IPO raises cash for other higher-return projects;
3. Reduced ownership reduces the amount needed to fund a future rights issue; and
4. Trust distributions are taxed at a reduced rate (normally 10%)
Net-net, the overall income decreases slightly as the reduced share of trust income is partly offset by the management fees, but the potential liability decreases greatly. It is a huge risk-reward improvement.
Investors should not harbour any delusions that REITs are created primarily for their benefit. REITs are created first and foremost to help owners dispose of unwanted assets.