Investors are putting money into real estate companies outside the U.S. at a record pace as interest rates recede, economies expand and opportunities remain to buy assets at discounts amid lingering distress from the global financial crisis.
The SPDR Dow Jones International Real Estate ETF (RWX), the largest exchange-traded fund for non-U.S. real estate, attracted net inflows of $304 million in August, the most of any property ETF, driving its shares outstanding to a record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Last month’s surge catapulted property ahead of energy for the first time in industry fund flows year to date, the data show. ETFs typically are passively managed funds that aim to replicate the performance of benchmark indexes for various industry groups, though actively managed funds have slowly entered the marketplace in recent years.
Real estate has emerged as the asset of choice following the global financial meltdown because of its relatively high yields. While the U.S. has claimed a large share of interest for its perceived stability and enduring appeal of gateway markets such as New York and Los Angeles, investors also have increased purchases in Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.
“Many investors that have moved to have real estate allocations in the U.S. are now looking to do so internationally,” said David Mazza, head of ETF investment strategy at State Street Global Advisors. “Investors are looking ahead to greater cyclical recovery and taking advantage of some pockets of distress” outside the U.S.
Japan has the largest weighting in the SPDR Dow Jones International Real Estate ETF, at 21 percent, followed by the U.K. at 14.1 percent, Australia at 13.6 percent, Hong Kong at 10.5 percent, Canada at 10 percent, France at 9.2 percent and Singapore at 7.7 percent. The Netherlands, Switzerland and South Africa round out the top 10.
A Bloomberg index of U.S. real estate investment trusts fell 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter amid concern the prolonged period of suppressed interest rates would cease, then rallied 21 percent this year as the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.3 percent from 3 percent at the end of 2013. That meant borrowing costs would stay low for the time being.
Whether it’s private-equity firms and foreign pensions flush with cash chasing commercial and housing distress in Europe and Australia, economic growth in South America or Russian billionaires and wealthy Chinese buying homes in London, Canada and the U.S., cross-border real estate flows are increasing.