Seeking winning strategies in the property sector

Property has proved to be an attractive asset class for investors in the low interest rate environment of recent years. In 2013, global transaction volumes1 reached near 2006 levels, totalling US$518 billion. Institutional Investors typically make allocations of 8-10% to property, but it is becoming more difficult for investors who are not sector specialists to generate desired returns. Many investors are consequently exploring and allocating to specialist strategies in their search for alpha. In sustainable property we define “green alpha” as the premium that can be generated by successful investment in sustainable property over and above the “normal” market return. We see interesting investment opportunities in the sustainable commercial property market where supply is low and demand is increasing, driven by tightening regulation and occupier preferences.

A value creation opportunity

Sustainable buildings are increasingly commanding a rental premium, have shorter vacant periods, slower depreciation and reduced obsolescence, and ultimately command higher capital values. Most new buildings are constructed to high sustainability specifications but there is considerable scope to create value for investors by adapting existing buildings from “brown to green”.

The EU’s 20:20:20 targets are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, improve energy efficiency by 20% and increase renewable energy sources by 20%; all by 2020. The broader energy roadmap adopted by the EU aspires to reduce emissions to 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050. In 2013 the UK government introduced carbon taxation on organisations consuming in excess of 6,000 MWh of electricity per annum priced at £12 per tonne.

Furthermore, the property industry is currently in consultation with the UK Government as the Energy Act 2011 places a legally binding obligation on the Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change to tighten regulations to improve the energy efficiency of both domestic and non-domestic private rented buildings in England and Wales. These regulations must be in force by 1 April 2018, and will require all private rental properties to meet a Minimum Energy Standard or Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of E.

EPC ratings have by law to be displayed on letting and sales particulars and are colour coded ranging from A-G. Property consultants DTZ estimate that 24% of offices in the UK have a rating of F or G. By 2018 these will be deemed as unlettable subject to any transition arrangements that are part of the current consultation. This will have serious valuation issues for the commercial property sector.

EPC certificates

Source : Landmark, Spring 2013 (Note This is data for all asset classes from registered EPC’s. The property Industry estimates that up to 20% of buildings may not even have an EPC Rating).

Occupiers are becoming increasingly discerning in the management of their liabilities and their total occupation costs. Buildings that are demonstrably resilient in terms of building fabric, location and income streams are, in effect, future-proofed and more attractive to occupiers and owners. Sustainable buildings generally offer more attractive working environments, helping to attract and retain staff, while also ensuring that brand integrity and corporate and social responsibility objectives are achieved.

Our approach

We have historically invested in locations that are non-car dependent and that have the potential to deliver top quartile resource efficiency results. Sustainability related considerations include energy consumption and ratings, materials, location and transport, water (consumption and flood risk) waste, pollution, and the quality of indoor environments. We also risk manage away from the physical aspects of climate change for example flood risk.

There is a compelling investment opportunity to upgrade existing buildings to the latest environmental standards. An existing property with a poor G Energy rating can be brought up the scale, (to say a C-D rating), through core energy efficiency measures. These could include upgrading to LED lighting, installing new heating, lighting and cooling controls and smart meters to maximise the efficient use of energy. The relative costs of retrofitting these improvements are reasonable and proportionate to the underlying value. The payback period is typically three to five years.

On the new build side there will also be opportunities for joint venture developments with both developers and major occupiers.

We have a five year track record of delivering sustainability returns through this investment approach. We have proven access to the market and see increasing opportunities to invest as legislation and occupier demand strengthen in an improving UK economy.

Sustainable property is a rapidly emerging asset class, and investor interest continues to gather momentum as the opportunity to generate green alpha becomes recognised. The demand for sustainable buildings outstrips the demand, driven by occupier preferences, investor demands and ever tightening buildings energy efficiency regulations. We believe that the sector will continue to expand and we see many interesting investment opportunities emerging.

The Impax Climate Property Fund raised £69m in 2008/9. It is a mainstream property fund that invests through a sustainability lens. The fund achieved GRESB (Global Real Estate Benchmark) top quartile “Green Star” Rating 2011, 2012, 2013.

1Source: DTZ, Money into Property, Global 2014. Page 1.

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